Second Mile Haiti

Welcome to our blog! This is a place for us to keep friends and supporters up-to-date with the latest 'Second Mile' happenings! Check in often. Things are moving fast!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas miracles

I think it has been over 3 months since I have last written. That's intense.
But that doesn't mean I haven't had anything worth saying.. actually it's the opposite.
By the way I have not been able to talk for the last two days so I guess that's a sign saying I should write instead of trying to talk when nothing comes out.

I spent a good 9 days in the States this month. It was a quick but very effective trip. Might I add that it was freezing cold? I actually experienced a 100 degree temperature difference in one day. Yep, that's how cold it was. 
I met some amazing people and businesses while on my trip. It's always overwhelming for me to meet people who are interested in this story.. a story that takes place several thousand miles away. It's overwhelming when they are touched by people the people we are helping (or trying to help) that they don't even known and that likely they will never know on a personal level. One thing comes to mind… the body of Christ.

People kept saying to me, "you are his hands and feet" but over and over I kept thinking, "no, you are his hands and feet." You are making it possible for this ministry to exist and for us to serve people in Haiti even though you have no idea where we live or who we are serving. When you break it down that way… how awesome. How beautiful is the "body of Christ." Jesus said we must become disciples and extend our reach to all ends of the world. In order to extend love to all ends of the world we need people in every corner, people like the people I met in Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

My first-ever visit to a "real" Christmas tree farm.

I got back to Haiti last Tuesday afternoon. Boy, was I excited. While I was gone I caught a mean Minnesotean cold (which I wasn't too excited about). So I took the rest of Tuesday off out of consideration for the staff members and the moms. It just wouldn't have been good to show up to the land after traveling a day and a half. I can be a bit grouchy and gross (not having showered in a while). During this half-day off Amy and I took the opportunity to decorate a Christmas tree and make our apartment seem like we are in the Holiday spirit. We finally made the decision, just the day before, that it would be beneficial to the organization and us if we didn't leave for the holidays. We have too much going on with the moms, some possible surgeries, end of the year stuff, and just preparing for the New Year.

Don't worry about us. We have a list of Christmas movies that need to be watched before the 25th. I promise we won't skimp on any of the holiday festivities. We already kicked the movie-marathon off last night with The Christmas Story! We plan to be pretty traditional and I decided that we each get not one stocking, but two. We will have our own cookie decorating party with some of our friends here and we will have an awesome Staff party at the land. Oh, and this past weekend we met a couple "new friends" that all happen to be staying over the Holiday season as well. Be jealous... well don't be jealous but you can pretend you're jealous. 

Wednesday was the day. It was the day to see how Dadou (Haitian Director) did while I was gone. Dadou took over all my responsibilities which include finances, employment oversight, checking to see if mom/babies have everything they need, looking after all sustainable projects, and taking care of anything and everything that pops up.

He did well. He did really well. It's amazing to see how much Dadou has grown in 2 years time.
So good to know.. I can leave.

Amy was overwhelmed however with the amount of stuff she had on her plate the last week and a half. We had a decent amount of sick kids and two pregnant mommas to worry about on top of that. Our community health worker and Amy worked extra long hours. I think it's a perfect time to say how thankful I am for Amy and how our organization would be nothing if we didn't have her. I guess you can say we are a real team.

Amy and I decided on Thursday she would take the day off. A day off she very much deserved. It was one of those times where if she didn't have a day off she might crack. We do that every once a while but we are working on getting to the point of resting before the cracking begins.

Thursday was a unique day. A day I have never experienced before. I received a call early in the morning saying that one of the moms was in labor, and was asked what should we do. We have been thinking about this for awhile and had plans A, B, and C. Plan A was to have her give birth at the hospital where she has regular appointments (45 minutes away). Plan B was to have her give birth at the closest hospital and Plan C was to have the village birthing attendant deliver her baby at the land. We didn't have our truck (it was in shop) which was going to make Plan A and B difficult and we knew that the birth was going to happen extremely fast (this was her 8th delivery). We also knew that it was the mom's preference to give birth right there in her room with a traditional midwife assisting. She had had all of her other children at home. So I had them call the local birth attendant and let them know that I was heading out the door. Luckily I have my motorcycle so it took me only 10 mins to get to the land.

When I got to the facility, all the moms pointed to the room and made it clear that I should get in there fast! It was clear the baby was coming very very soon. Kerline (community health worker) and I ran all over the place finding blankets, bedding, gloves, alcohol, and anything else the birth attendant needed. 

It was happening fast. One of the other moms was holding and massaging the pregnant mom. She was telling her things like how to breathe and shooting up a couple prayers. I have never heard a prayer come out of this mom's mouth before nor did I ever expect this mom to be the one in the room helping with the delivery. It was part of what made the whole experience so remarkable.

Since I've never seen a baby born before you'll have to excuse me while I share my thoughts and emotions. Pretty much as soon as I arrived, I was told "it was happening." I grabbed the moms hand and continued to pray. It all happened so fast. I saw a head, and a whole lot of other stuff come out. I was maybe grossed out for 10 seconds but as soon as the rest of the body started to make it's way out I became overwhelmed with many emotions and all the grossness wasn't gross anymore.  I begin yelling wow, wow, wow. And "Merci Jezi." The baby was out.
I also remember saying, "this is AWESOME." I don't think I cried. But it's possible. 
It was all done in a matter of 5 mins.. All there was left to do was to examine the baby and cut the umbilical cord. I with leave out the rest of the details. But you can imagine that the birthing process looks a lot different here. 

The mom was tired. I heard cheering coming from the outside of the room. I heard Staff members yell "thank you Jezi." Everyone's first thought was to thank God. That too, made the experience beautiful.

Then all the moms went to work..  like they were on the same team and everyone knew what to do. One mom started to wash all the dirty sheets and clothes. Another mom started to mop and clean where the pregnancy took place. Another mom brought in water for the mom to drink. We wanted to send this mom to the hospital quick so everyone pitched in to help this mom and baby get prepared for the hospital. It was very beautiful. This picture of all the moms supporting each other was exactly what we envisioned when we dreamed up this place two years ago. It might be working out even better than we hoped for. Of course we weren't planning to have a mom give birth at our place, it's definitely not in our mission statement, but it was good to know that in this mom's moment of need each one of the other women cared for her and each other like they were on the same team, like they were sisters. It was clear that day that we were one big family/community. The rest of the day the moms watched her 2 year old daughter Jiselle, who is still on a 'round the clock feeding schedule.
Acts 2 anyone?

We care for each other no matter what condition a mom has or how little her baby is or even how difficult/rough her life is… no one is judged. We are all the same. That day I was feeling a overwhelmed amount of thankfulness. A thankfulness for life. A thankfulness for God giving us a vision and us being able to be a part of this very "awesome" story. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The things you sometimes hear when your car breaks down.

I'm sort of good at procrastination. And by that I mean that I am extremely good at being wildly productive while doing tasks of very low priority in order to avoid doing something less-enjoyable of significantly greater priority.

Sweeping, sorting photos in Dropbox "for the organization," and writing blog posts are a few of my go-to tricks when I want to avoid doing something. Oh and if you ever need a tutorial on "how to discover pure musical genius on You-Tube," I can help you out there too. It's another one of my hidden talents.

Tonight, I'm not writing an overdue paper for a class I may or may not regret having signed up for in the first place. Please don't tell the professor. (Just kidding, it's a great class!)

And with that I bring you a story about a mom and a girl that are sort of inseparable.

I want to write about this mom today. We call her Lovelie. 

Her daughter Loudjina is 17 months old. 

She’s been doing this every day for 17 months. And we’ve seen her everyday for almost 2. If she ever gets tired of holding, feeding, loving, and kissing her daughter I've never seen the evidence. 

Each and every movement means something. Their day together is like dance. They are incredibly in sync.

Loudjina is exceptionally communicative. And her mom can elicit a response with ease. She can calm Loudjina in seconds. Loudjina might be upset about not having Tampico... or milk... and mom can distract her by talking about her dad. Or laying next to her and joking with her about how she won’t let her momma off the hook, not even for a second. Her mother's words calm her. Her expression turns peaceful. She is still. She is content. Her mom's presence causes her to forget about whatever was hurting her or making her upset. 

It's sort of incredible to watch actually. It’s not like your average 18-month old who finds comfort by being scooped up in a soothing embrace, only to wriggle free after a few moments and waddle back to the play place. Although, I don’t deny that Loudjina definitely finds comfort in mom's arms. This is most evident in the way she lies silently in her mom's lap, while balanced awkwardly on the side of her head, a process necessary so that her wounds can be cleaned, assessed, and re-dressed. It's awkward, but she doesn't cry and she sometimes sleeps. She trusts that her mom won’t let her fall. 

But more than just being held, Loudjina’s relationship with her mom is very much a face-to-face one. She cries and mom is there. Mom talks to her. She squirms. She waves her hands. She rubs her head. She knocks on the bed where her bottle is located. She taps on her tummy when she is hungry.

 And when all her other needs are met and all she needs is mom, she puts her hand by her lips. I think that means, “mom, can you just come close to me?” 

On Tuesday... Loudjina’s mom had an appointment at the local hospital. She is 8 months pregnant and was getting some lab tests done. We expected Lovelie to be gone from 7 am - 3 pm so her mother, Loudjina's grandma came to stay with her while she was away. Loudjina wasn’t a happy camper. Well, things started out okay at first. Since it was Loudjina's dad that drove Grandma to our facility on a moto she got to spend some face-to-face time with her papa; there's no a better way to start the day! But after dad left, she started missing mom. She wasn't making it easy on Grandma. I decided to go ahead and do her dressing changes. When I finished, Grandma offered to keep Loudjina resting on her side for awhile to relieve pressure on the sores. This is an important part of wound care, I was totally on board. Loudjina was not. 

This is the part where I would like to stop and tell you a million reasons why I love and respect Loudjina's grandmother. But talking about her would likely extend this post far beyond an acceptable length so I will limit myself to just one reason. Let's just say, she cares about the people in her family, a whole lot. Her newest grandchild is a 6 week old baby boy. She personally takes him to the hospital once a week for casting appointments. The baby was born with bilateral club feet. Routine casting is the prescribed course of action; first weekly, then bi-weekly, and finally monthly. She went to three hospitals before arriving at one that could do the casting. It takes almost an hour to get to this hospital and it costs an arm and a leg to get there. But, I'm pretty sure she would stop at nothing to make sure this baby gets a chance to walk. She's tenacious. She cares. 

Unfortunately, Loudjina didn’t really see or appreciate her Grandma’s patience and sincere desire to help her heal. She was just upset about lying on her side. 

Apparently, when mom came back from the hospital Loudjina straight up "told on" on Grandma. She brought her arms to the sides of her head to indicate that Grandma had "forced" her to lie on the sides of her head. Oh the drama! When Dad came to pick up his mother-in-law, they all laughed about it. Whenever Dad, Mom, and Grandma are together all they do is talk about Loudjina.

So Loudjina missed her mom.  But something tells me that Lovelie missed Loudjina just as much. 

All day today she kept saying, “I can’t leave you, can I?” “Not even for a day.” 

She would follow this with: “I’m going to have to make you forget me, aren’t I?” 

But of course she doesn't really intend to make good on her threat. She says this with her faced smashed as close to Loudjina’s as is physically possible. 


I shared an interesting moment with this mom on our way to the land on Monday. Our truck had a bit of a malfunction just after I picked the pair up from their house. We hadn’t made it more than a hundred yards, but the car was no longer drive-able. 

Before long a swarm of people engulfed the car. First one, than 20. And they weren’t interested in me. 
There were a few comments about my foreign-ness. And a few helpful suggestions, like “go buy gas, blan!” 

Which was funny... I don't know much but I do know how to tell whether a car needs gas, And that was not the problem.

But I didn’t respond to the 'blan' comments because the real reason they were peering into the windows and then running off to tell their friends had nothing to do with me. Most of the people knew Lovelie. They had even seen Loudjina before, when she and her head were both much smaller. But others had simply never seen a child like Loudjina.

In fact the majority of comments revolved around the fact that Loudjina appeared to be so much like a "normal child" in so many ways.

“Oh my, she has beautiful hands!” 
“She has such long hair!” 
“Her body is so normal, it’s not even small!” 
“It’s just her head that’s big!” 
"She's a beautiful child!"

But then the comments started to get a little too "up close and personal" for Lovely’s taste. 
She started giving some responses that made Loudjina seem like quite the little miracle. 

“I thought she was boy! She’s a girl Love?” ...”She’s always been a girl.”  True  
“She holds a bottle?” “yes, by herself.”  True
“She eats???” “yes, totally by herself.”  Mmm... not totally true
“Can she sit?” “yes, I help her sit.” A bit of a stretch. 
“Does she talk?” “yes, she says Mama and Papa.” Nope. Not true at all! 

I turned around and winked at her when I heard that one. Loudjina doesn’t talk. (However, she does enjoy her food quite loudly, which in terms of volume is much the equivalent of talking). But these neighbors, mutually uninterested and too interested, didn’t need to know that. So, maybe she told a few un-truths. Frankly, I’m kind of glad she did. These people were asking what felt to her like annoying questions about a child, her child, whom she sees as nothing but normal. She painted a perfectly "normal" picture of her daughter, a picture she sees daily, for people who wouldn't understand her value by any other definition. 

I’m afraid the chatter didn’t stop there. We were waiting for at least 30 minutes before my “help” arrived. 

A few of the remarks were simply unhelpful, and rude.  
Like, “you should go the hospital with her.” Brilliant! 
Or,  “why didn’t you just throw her away in the city?” Awful. 

Yes. Someone really did say that. 

And mom’s reply was sassy and pointed. “Why, because she’s a problem for me?”

The people surrounding our car were some of Cap-Haiten’s poorest. People move to this particular area when they cannot afford any other place to live. And our car broke down directly between “the Project,” a block of one-room homes that were been built by a charity organization, and a garbage pile the size of a swimming pool. This area is known for flooding and there is substantial rainfall this time of year. Navigating the dirt paths and the deep puddles is challenging. Let’s just say that wasn’t my first time being “stuck” near Lovelie's house. I'm almost convinced that the nasty mud pits are precisely why the garbage trucks which normally patrol the city wisely avoid this area.  Getting stuck just wouldn’t be worth it. Many generations of poverty were present in the crowd. Grandmothers, standing next to teenagers; both, with babies on their hips. It was nine o'clock in the morning and our car was surrounded. Neither work, nor school, compelled them to be elsewhere. 

So...not overly surprisingly, in this setting it may be more than a fleeting thought for some people, I suppose, to dispose of a child that everyone is telling you won't live anyway. Especially, when the future they speak of would most assuredly be more of a strain on you and your living family members that anything you could possibly imagine surviving. And you've survived a lot. So there's that. And not to mention, the enormous pressure you feel by people who are likewise stressed and traumatized by life's hard knocks. They are telling you that you will not, and should not have to, survive mothering this child. It will be too hard, they say. 

To be fair, the guy who made that final comment was a sarcastic teen, not more than 20. But these same messages can come from dads, grandparents, older sisters, noisy neighbors, and family members who expect to be heard and heeded...

Loudjina and Lovelie have been staying with us during the weekdays for 8 weeks.
Loudjina is growing. Her wounds are slowly changing and healing. We are pursuing surgery.
If the thought of giving up has ever crossed mom's mind, it hasn't shown.

One woman (one of the first to come over to the car) left her spot in front of Loudjina's window to give others a better view. She moved to the driver's side and was standing quite close to me. I could hear her clearly. “This life...” she said shaking her head, simultaneously burdened by and thankful for it in the same breath. 

“God gave me two healthy kids," she acknowledged. "It could have been another way...” 

It was as if seeing her neighbor, pregnant, and seated with a visibly heavy, disabled child lying across her lap and drinking from a bottle with two "beautiful hands" had brought her face-to-face with the uncertainty of motherhood and of life itself. Metaphorically, it was heavy. Of all the comments I heard that morning, I was probably most touched by hers. 



Today...four days after the incident, Lovelie brought it up again. 

“Did you know that those people we saw on Monday, were the same people that told me to throw her away?” 

"...I would never."