Olivia Hosey
Olivia Hosey
Haiti, 2018 - 2019
Bonjou! I am living in Gonaives, Haiti for a year working with 2nd Story Goods, a social entrepreneurial retail company. I will be serving as the Administrative Assistant. In this role, I will be assisting them with their marketing and operations plans; I will also be working with local entrepreneurs to develop their business plans.
Some sweet 2nd story goods ladies!

Holidays in Haiti

I am writing this blog 9 whole days after I planned to do so. Sometimes, that’s how life goes I hear, especially when said life takes place in a developing country. About a week ago, I returned from a Saturday morning hike and felt a little achy. I reasoned that it was probably soreness from the hike and went on with my day. As I walked through the market trying to buy things I need for my apartment, I began to feel feverish, and it all went down hill from there. I spent the next week in bed, too fatigued to even read or watch a movie most days. I missed an entire week of work, spent most days without leaving the house at all, and felt constantly weak and tired. As someone who rarely gets sick, this was quite the challenge for me. I don’t think I’ve had a fever since middle school, and I am not used to just completely stopping everything I’m doing. I love being busy and am an extreme extrovert, so being home alone in bed was not so fun. Perhaps the most frustrating part was that I felt fine, just too tired to do anything.

Several people I know here were sick at the same time. Beaver even had to fly home to America to get care because he was extremely weak. Laura also had to stay home from her job as a social worker at a local clinic for most of the week and is now planning on flying home tomorrow since her symptoms haven’t improved. The three of us all have had similar symptoms, which we believe possibly point to Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness, but we are still not positive that’s what it is.
On Thursday, Laura and I both went to the clinic she works at to get blood tests and IVs. The blood tests came back normal and I successfully got my first IV ever. It took over 2 hours because of the method they used to give it to me.

On Friday, my fever finally broke and I started to regain my strength. I went to work for a few hours in the morning just because I needed to avoid losing my mind by staying in all day again. I had an extremely itchy red rash all over my body, so I went home and took Benadryl, and slept for the rest of the day into the night. I thought it was ironic that the first day I didn’t wake up exhausted, I had to take medicine that made me feel even more exhausted than before. On Saturday, I only took one nap all day and even went on a long walk. Today- Sunday- I have been awake and sitting up for much longer than I have all week. Things are looking up for me to return to work tomorrow, and I couldn’t be happier about it! A week from today, I will be headed to meet family friends in the Dominican Republic on the other half of the island on my way home to Tennessee for Christmas.

The past few weeks, I have been trying to prepare for the holidays in Haiti, but no matter how hard I try, it feels very strange to be listening to “Let it Snow” in 90 degree weather. Laura brought me back a few things to prepare for Christmas when she came back from a trip from the states a month ago, including hot chocolate and an advent calendar. We decorated her apartment with more Christmas stuff than I knew you could possibly find in Haiti, and it was one of my favorite Christmas memories maybe ever: making it feel like Christmas together as much as possible when we all wished we could be home celebrating and decorating with family and friends.

We had a big Thanksgiving with our American community here. We did it Haitian style, poolside of course. We had bbq chicken catered instead of turkey, and everyone brought a side dish or dessert. I Facetimed in to my own family’s Thanksgiving celebration and it was the first time I’ve truly missed home since I’ve been here. However, I was so very thankful to be surrounded by new friends who have quickly become family here in Haiti. I am very excited to get to go home for Christmas and spend some much needed time in cold weather with friends and family, reflecting on what these first few months in Haiti have been for me.

Jude, my photographer friend from work, asked if I would be a part of a Christmas photo shoot after work one day. A group of us chased the sunset down to the beach and had a blast taking photos all night long. This same group has continued to go on hiking adventures on Saturdays and have movie nights and I am so thankful to already have a great group of friends here that I get to come back to after Christmas.

This next week before leaving Haiti for the first time since I’ve moved here is sure to be a full one. I will be working hard trying to catch up at work after missing a week being sick; my main focus this week will be reading Traction and planning strategic planning sessions to have with the company when we all return after Christmas. In my next post, I will talk more about what I’ve accomplished in these first few months!

Reciting the 2nd story goods core values..in creole!

Reciting the 2nd story goods core values..in creole!

Some sweet 2nd story goods ladies!

Merry Christmas from me and my crew!

Merry Christmas from me and my crew!

Chasing the sunset

Chasing the sunset

Enjoying a new view of Gonaives!

Enjoying a new view of Gonaives!

Wearing these words proudly and sporting my favorite fruit on the island

“You can do it, but you’re scared.”

 

 

 

 

“You can do it, but you’re scared.”

These were words that my co-worker Jimson said to me as he was guiding me through a painting at a Haitian painting class that he was leading. He was referring to the fact that I was extremely hesitant with my paintbrush, afraid to make any mistakes, and thus, afraid to give it my best shot.

I don’t think he meant these words to be profound (or maybe he did because he’s a very smart guy), but they struck a chord deep within, and I haven’t forgotten them since. They have proven to be extremely applicable during my first 6 weeks in Haiti, and I am sure they will continue to be throughout my time here. I can go to the market to buy my groceries by myself, but I’m scared. I can get a moto taxi to take me where I’m going by myself, but I’m scared. And, perhaps most of all, I can at least try my very best to speak Creole, but I’m scared.

Perhaps it was these words that prepared me for the change of heart I had with Creole 2 weeks later. I was hanging out with a group of Haitian friends and even though some of them speak English, they were mostly all speaking Creole to each other all day. I found myself getting so frustrated when I didn’t know what was going on, and getting overwhelmed by how many words I didn’t know yet. However, through some words in a Henri Nouwen book that I just happened to have with me at the time, God led me to a change of attitude towards Creole right then and there. I felt the Lord leading me to focus on the words I do know and building from there, rather than getting stuck on the words I don’t know. Everything changed from that moment on. I started making a list of the words I do know already as well as of the questions I have. I started thinking about all of the words I know in French and asking others if the words are similar in Creole. I started trying my best to formulate sentences and reverting to Crenglish (Creole and English) or Crench (Creole and French) when necessary, because at least then I would be getting some Creole words out and would most likely still be understood.

I can’t express how amazing it has felt to get over the imaginary wall I had built up that was blocking me from continuing to learn and to really start making strides in the language. Just a few days after that change of heart, people at work started complimenting my Creole and congratulating me on how fast I was learning. Also I have found that the more I try, the more I learn, and the more willing others are to struggle through a Creole conversation with me and correct me along the way. Thank you to everyone who has specifically prayed for me as I learn the language, because God has definitely provided so much guidance in this area.

I have also been taking moto taxis by myself more often. I am learning how to negotiate the price and am getting more comfortable with it every day.

I finally got WiFi in my apartment, which has been a game-changer in so many ways, but of course it happened to be during a 10-day stretch in which we did not have city electricity. While we have a generator at my apartment, gas is expensive, so we try not to run it more than we need to. I have also been busier socializing with my neighbors and friends when I’m not working, which has been such a great thing that I didn’t expect to happen so quickly but am so grateful for! So I haven’t felt that much better about keeping up with family and friends at home through facetime and phone calls, but I think I’m starting to accept that (unfortunately) that is just part of living abroad. While this was of course a reality when I studied abroad in France, I had a false hope that it would somehow be different here. However, thanks to social media (specifically Instagram stories) I have felt like I’ve been able to update others on daily happenings here, while also being able to keep up with what’s going on with them. While there are so many things about social media that aren’t great, I am very, very thankful for the fact that it is helping me stay more connected to people at home during this season.

However, spending more quality time with people here has really helped me forge some strong relationships already with other Americans and Haitians alike. We have had movie nights, pool days, and even started a hiking/adventure club! The little kids who live in the downstairs portion of my house started inviting me to play cards with them, which was the most precious thing. The more I let go of fear and just put myself out there, the more I find that relationships here are growing.

Two things I’m still struggling with a little are getting in a routine with exercising and eating healthy. These are two things that are so important to my personal stress management and overall wellbeing. Although it is typically an issue here, especially as we’ve struggled worse than usual with electricity the past few weeks, all of the fresh food I buy in the market goes bad so quickly. I feel like I’m often not eating as much as I usually do because it takes a considerable effort to get healthy food here and I’m not used to that yet (not to mention my appetite has died down probably because of the heat), and then when I do eat, I’m eating super heavy stuff like rice, pasta, fried food, and bread. I know this is something I will figure out in time, and until then, I will just try to do the best I can.

As far as exercising goes, I am not getting as much movement in as I’d like. I loved my gym in Nashville and miss the HIIT classes I’d do there a lot. I’ve been spoiled the past few years and have grown used to having fitness classes to motivate me rather than leading my own workouts. I thought I would run a lot here, but there are a few problems with that. I don’t really know my way around well enough yet, it is very hot, my road isn’t paved and (me being the klutz that I am) it would be extremely easy for me to hurt myself, and the roads that are paved are generally very busy with traffic. My roommate Christine goes to a gym here and I am planning to try that soon to see how it works for me. The most exciting thing though is that a few weeks ago, we had a yoga instructor visit from the states and I got to do yoga with her 4 days in a row. I have always wanted to do more yoga, because as an achievement-oriented, fast-paced person, it is such a good break and practice for my both my mind and my body. I thoroughly enjoyed the way she taught us to truly listen to our bodies and to do small movements with great intention, so I have started trying to practice yoga more regularly on my own. Since I am not yet experienced and majorly need guidance through online videos as I do yoga, not having wi-fi for a while, having problems with data on my phone, and issues with electricity have prevented me from incorporating it into a routine, but all these problems have been addressed within the past week, so I hope to start incorporating the practice into my daily life more often. This season is definitely challenging when it comes to making sure I am taking care of myself, but I am thankful that I was made aware of the importance of this prior to moving to Haiti, am glad that it has awakened me to the privilege and accessibility I had in caring for my health in the U.S., and even kind of enjoy the new challenge that this is bringing up.

Still, I can’t shake the words of my friend Jimson: “You can do it, but you’re scared.” These words assure me of my worthiness and give me confidence in my God-given capabilities, while challenging me to recognize the hold fear has on me and to make the choice not to let it have the final word. I challenge you to ask yourself what you are scared of doing today, to dare to recognize that fear and counter it by affirming your own abilities, and to see where it can take you. You may surprise yourself by what you can accomplish as you let God’s perfect love for you right where you are speak louder than the fear that tries to hold you back. I know it has surprised me over and over again these past few weeks, and cannot imagine the ways it will continue to surprise me in the months to come. Here’s to living a life in which we allow perfect love to drive out our every fear!

 

Playing casino, a Haitian card game, with the neighbor kids!

Playing casino, a Haitian card game, with the neighbor kids!

Jimson holding the painting he so patiently helped me with. Can you tell which palm tree is mine? Haha

Jimson holding the painting he so patiently helped me with. Can you tell which palm tree is mine? Haha

Got to go to the Gonaives men’s basketball final and left with so many thoughts about how we spend way too much on sports/how we take them way too seriously in America! This was such simple free fun for everyone to enjoy!

Got to go to the Gonaives men’s basketball final and left with so many thoughts about how we spend way too much on sports/how we take them way too seriously in America! This was such simple free fun for everyone to enjoy!

A view from the first hike with the hiking club. This hike was chosen by pointing to a random mountain and saying, "let's climb that one!"

A view from the first hike with the hiking club. This hike was chosen by pointing to a random mountain and saying, “let’s climb that one!”

Company yoga class with Madison, the amazing yoga instructor!

Company yoga class with Madison, the amazing yoga instructor!

Wearing these words proudly and sporting my favorite fruit on the island

Wearing these words proudly and sporting my favorite fruit on the island

Christine's family's dog had puppies that are currently staying with us and I am so very happy about it.

Christine’s family’s dog had puppies that are currently staying with us and I am so very happy about it.

 

Christine and I on a hike to Mount Byenak, the prettiest view in the whole city!

Easy and Light

 

 

As of yesterday, it has officially been a month since I made the big move to Haiti. And what an incredible blessing this first month has been. It has been nothing like I expected, but immeasurably more than I could have ever asked or imagined in every way. This first month has been all about adjusting and I know I still have quite a bit adjusting left to do. I am extremely blessed to have so many people helping me through these adjustments. I feel like the verse that describes what this first month has been like is “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Many people close to me know that the past year leading up to my time in Haiti has been the hardest of my life, and I truly feel that God has blessed this past month as a gift and signal that the old season has gone and a new has come; he has intentionally made this first month feel easy and light, and I feel so loved and cared for as a result. It reminds me of when I was interviewing for the Lumos award last fall; my mentor Maddy called me before and prayed for me and I remember her asking for it to feel easy as a result of God’s presence. I was going through that incredibly difficult season at the time, and the Lumos process is by no means easy, but somehow, when I walked into my interview with the 10+ members of the Lumos board, I felt so confident that this was the next step for my life, and it did indeed feel rather easy. So it’s pretty cool that this first month has had the same atmosphere as that interview; it’s almost like it was all meant to be or something! Ha! While I know it most definitely won’t feel this easy and light the whole year, I am so grateful that it has so far.

 

For my first two weeks in the country, I stayed at a guesthouse near the Much building. While it was a great place to be while I was making all my other adjustments, I was so happy to finally move into my own apartment two weeks ago! The two-bedroom apartment is actually brand new and even closer to the Much building AND the family who lives in the downstairs portion of the building has a tiny puppy! The puppy was just born when I came to look at the apartment on one of my first days here, so I like to think I have a special bond with him since he came into the world as I came into my life in Haiti. His name is Mickey and he may or may not be a big part of the reason why I chose this apartment.

 

Christine, another employee of 2nd Story Goods, is my new roommate, and I don’t think I can express enough how blessed I am for this. She was born in the Philippines but her parents moved to Haiti as missionaries when she was very young. So she has lived in Gonaives her whole life, except for when she went to the U.S. for part of high school and college. So this girl speaks both Creole and English fluently and knows everyone in Gonaives (I’m not kidding- during my first few days she took me to set up my phone and get money at the bank and had friends who work at both places). She has been so patient with me as I’ve learned how to use the gas stove, how to turn the generator on, what to eat here, and countless other things.

 

Laura, the friend I went to the beach with my first weekend here, (and have been back to the beach with every weekend since hehe) offered to take me on a grocery tour around town. Gonaives doesn’t have a full-sized grocery store yet (Much is in the process of making that a reality!) so we go to a few different places to buy things. She took me to a few smaller stores and to the market; the market is like a big farmers’ market that happens every day, all day long, and is where people buy most of their food here. She showed me the loop she usually makes to get all the things she needs, and introduced me to all of her sweet machanns (merchants). If you know me, you know that I am kind of obsessed with avocados, and since I’ve been here, I’ve been able to get 3-4 HUGE avocados for less than $1 US! This is very exciting for me even though I still haven’t actually cooked a full meal on my own. We have a snack bar at work where my co-worker Rosemanie makes spaghetti, sandwiches, and pate most days, so that’s what I typically have done for lunch so far. In the evenings, I have had a mix of street food, restaurant outings, dinners at friends’ houses, and my fair share of peanut butter sandwiches and avocado and tomato salads. Not having easy access to things like spinach and chicken has been an adjustment, as these are every day staples in my diet in America, but it is one I will get used to in time. What I get to do is focus on the things I do have and make the best of that, and I’m excited that this includes stuff for smoothies and avocado toast!

 

Beaver took me on my first real tap-tap ride. Tap-taps are pickup trucks that have converted the truck bed into a mini-bus. I rode a tap-tap once on another trip here, but it was with all Americans so it didn’t really count. The funny thing is, it never occurred to me why they are called tap-taps before. Maybe you were wondering? It’s because, whenever you want to get out or someone wants to get in, you tap on the truck, so the driver knows to stop. Imagine my reaction when, after hearing this term for many years, it all clicked while I was sitting in the back of one. The ride was interesting because Haitians sometimes can’t help staring at white people or “blan” because we stick out so much here. When I’m walking down the street or riding in a car, I can look down and pretend not to notice, and it goes by quickly. But in the tap-tap, it felt like a full-fledged staring contest and with people on all sides of me, I wasn’t sure where to look.

 

I made up my mind that I was going to take my first moto ride by myself to take my laundry to a new friend who I am paying to wash it (people also take motorcycle taxis here to get around). However, right before I was about to leave, I found out Kathy was about to drive in that direction, so I was able to join and I still haven’t done a solo moto ride. Even the other day, I was really needing to go to the market and was going to try to find my way there, but Christine and her friends ended up needing to go as well, which ended up being wonderful for me since my Creole is still minimal, I’m not a seasoned negotiator yet, and before I got the currency, Haitian gourdes down, I was introduced to the fact that machanns also speak in Haitian dollars. There is 1 Haitian dollar to every 5 gourdes and 70 gourdes to every 1 U.S. dollar (not to mention it’s all spoken in Creole) so my head is constantly spinning while I’m trying to figure out how much money I’m spending. So all that being said, I haven’t had to do much completely independently yet, and while I am very thankful for how that has made this first month so much easier, I know that it won’t stay this easy forever, and I do need to eventually become more independent.

 

Though in general, things have felt easy and light, there have still been many challenges this first month. One thing that I know will greatly help my independence is becoming more comfortable with Creole. Every time I’ve been left alone at the market or at a store, people have tried to talk to me in Creole and I have had no idea how to respond and have been left feeling helpless. These situations, on top of wanting to know my neighbors, co-workers, and new friends better, have greatly increased my desire to learn. My six semesters of French in college and studying abroad in France have definitely helped me so far, but I don’t have a ton of experience actually speaking in French or listening to French speakers that aren’t my professors. So when I tell people I can speak some French and they start speaking quickly or saying words I don’t know, I still don’t understand. I am catching on to Creole relatively quickly because of my French background, and I know I could improve much more quickly if I wasn’t so afraid to just try. This all comes down to my fear of failure. In France, I was often discouraged when I tried to speak French and people would just respond to me in English; but here, people are generally very happy that I am trying and very understanding as I’m learning. I’m much more comfortable trying to speak Creole than French because it feels more relaxed, there are no conjugations (hooray!), and the accent isn’t as difficult, but in the times that I can’t communicate in Creole, I can and should use French as a fallback because everyone who has gone to school here can understand French. I have a friend at work, Berge, who is helping me with Creole as I help her with English, and many more people around me who are willing to help and answer any questions I have. I also have a book and several other resources to help me learn, and am hoping that I will feel somewhat comfortable with the language by the time I go home for a break at Christmas. Ultimately, I just need to have more grace for myself, practice as much as possible, celebrate the daily victories and give myself credit, laugh at myself, and not be afraid of making mistakes because the mistakes will make me better in time.

 

Speaking of mistakes, I accidentally locked not one, but both of my bedroom keys inside my room last week. Our landlord had to come pry the door open for me to get in. Then, a few days later, I accidentally locked myself inside my room because the door was messed up from when it was pried open. I also went without a shower for a few days because I accidentally sent both of my towels to get laundered. A few days later, I mopped myself into my room and had to wait for the floor to dry with my feet hanging off the bed. I could use some prayers for common sense. But to celebrate the little victories: I successfully learned how to use the gas stove, made my first trip to the meat market (though I’m not sure I want to go back) learned how to use a mortar and pestle, and learned how to peel vegetables without an actual peeler (it’s the little things okay?! Haha).

 

One thing that has been difficult that I didn’t expect has been keeping up with people from home. This sounds like the kind of thing you would see coming, but I assumed I would have nothing to do during the evenings after work and that I would have Wi-Fi at my house. Neither have been the case, so I have had a pretty difficult time of keeping up with friends and family. The bright side is that this has helped me truly be where my feet are, but I won’t lie that I will be very happy when I finally have Wi-Fi at home so I can keep in better touch with my people.

 

I got to spend my 23rd birthday here in Haiti last week! Being my first post-college birthday and my first birthday away from home, I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a wonderful day. Since it’s difficult for people to send gifts here anyway and Much Ministries is in the process of finishing their fundraising for the MPG building, I decided to do a birthday fundraiser on Facebook. I was blown away as the goals I set were continually exceeded! The last goal I set was for $1000 (and since they have a matching grant right now that will equal $2000) and I have extended the fundraiser into next week in case you’re reading this and would like to contribute via Facebook.

 

The day of my birthday, I went to work at the best place in the world, went clothing shopping in the second-hand market downtown, and had a delicious homemade dinner with friends on Kathy and Beaver’s porch. Despite my lack of communication with friends in the states, I got a surprise birthday video with so many of my favorite people saying nice things about me and wishing me a happy 23rd year. It was so special. (shoutout to Callie for making that happen!)

 

Overall, this first month has left me feeling so loved, so cared for, and so meant to be in this little corner of the earth for the time being. I’ll leave you with something I wrote the day after my birthday:

 

Laying in my bed the morning after my 23rd birthday in a kind of love hangover. Laying here just letting the words and hugs and kindness that were poured on me yesterday soak into my soul. Wondering how the heck I got here, in Gonaives, Haiti, surrounded by wonderful people who already make me feel so loved and special. Thinking about all the people from the different seasons of my life so far who helped me get here with their encouragement and support. The ones who’ve held me up when I was down, the ones who’ve loved me when it was hard, the ones who’ve never stopped believing in me and my dreams. Wondering if I can take this love that I am feeling right now and do crazy things with it. Things like never forgetting that I am enough, things like knowing in the depths of my soul that I am the beloved, things like having grace for myself and others even on the hard days, things like showing myself and others that these truths are as real as we dare to believe them to be.

Here’s to one month down, many more to come, and starting 23 off filled to overflowing!

My new friend Mickey!

My new friend Mickey!

Learning how to use the gas stove in our new apartment. More photos of the apartment to come once we get more settled in!

Learning how to use the gas stove in our new apartment. Can you tell I was nervous?  More photos of the apartment to come once we get more settled in!

My famous avocado and tomato salad

My famous avocado and tomato salad

My wonderful birthday dinner!

My wonderful birthday dinner!

Beaver gifted me with a toaster for my birthday so I can make avocado toast!

Beaver gifted me with a toaster for my birthday so I can make avocado toast!

Christine and I on a hike to Mount Byenak, the prettiest view in the whole city!

Christine and I on a hike to Mount Byenak, the prettiest view in the whole city!

View of the sunset from my porch while I was locked out. Made the waiting less hard for sure!

View of the sunset from my porch while I was locked out. Made the waiting less hard for sure!

Haitian Spaghetti by Rosemanie at 2SG. They use ketchup instead of pasta sauce and it's actually really good!

Haitian Spaghetti by Rosemanie at 2SG. They use ketchup instead of pasta sauce and it’s actually really good!

Meeting outside with Kathy (CEO) and Valery (HR and Operations Manager) on re-writing job descriptions

Shaking Things Up

I cannot believe I’ve already been in Haiti for two weeks. At the same time, I cannot believe I’ve only been in Haiti for two weeks, as it feels like I’ve been here forever. These days have been filled to the brim with excitement, adjustment, and lots of joy. I am honestly very surprised by how easy it has all felt so far, and so is everyone else here when I tell them that. I have so much support here and feel that I have many people (both American and Haitian) who want to help me with anything I may need. I think that is just God’s way of welcoming me here and assuring me this is where I am supposed to be for now.

I spent my first weekend in Haiti at none other than a gorgeous beach (on a personal trip of course). Laura, a new American friend who also works in Gonaives, invited me to go with her after she had an especially difficult week. We stayed in a wonderful Airbnb and it was so important that I got to take some time to experience the beautiful, peaceful side of Haiti that foreigners aren’t as used to seeing in the media. Additionally, when living in a culture that is so different from your own, it is so important to prioritize self-care, and sometimes that looks like getting away from your normal environment and relaxing on the beach for a little while. People are often reluctant to come to Haiti as tourists, and foreigners here on short-term mission trips often feel guilty when their group spends part of their time at a resort when they feel they should be “helping”. But tourism is such a needed industry in Haiti, one that, in time, can greatly contribute to the economic development of the country.

On Saturday night, Laura and I were preparing to go to bed and had just turned on the air conditioning in the room when everything started shaking. I thought it had something to do with the AC and Laura thought it was the fan so we both ran around trying to fix them. Then, the shaking stopped, and Laura suggested that it was actually an earthquake. I didn’t believe her until our host confirmed it. We got in contact with our friends in Gonaives and everything was still standing and everyone was safe, but (quite literally) shaken up. We found out that a 5.9 magnitude earthquake had hit Port de Paix, a town only 50 miles (although a several hour drive) north of Gonaives. We found out later that at least 11 deaths, hundreds of injuries, and several damages to buildings occurred as a result. Immediately after though, since I didn’t even know what was happening until it was over and only felt it slightly anyway, I actually kind of forgot about the earthquake soon after it happened.

The following day, I was back in the guesthouse in Gonaives that I have been staying in. I was unpacking and organizing my room, when all the sudden, the entire room started shaking. The  metal-framed bunkbeds in my room banged around loudly while I heard several screams outside my window. I immediately knew what was happening and sprinted out of the house into the front yard. I was greeted there by the pastor who lives in the downstairs portion of the house and his family. Thankfully, he speaks fluent English, as I am still working on my Creole. He saw that my whole body was shaking from fear and offered me a hug as well as a chair to sit on. I sat outside with them for almost two hours. They were so kind and offered me food, conversation, and companionship as we all tried to figure out what had just happened and what to do next. We discovered that this was not an aftershock from the day before; rather, it was a completely separate 5.2 magnitude earthquake.

After communicating with Kathy, I mustered up the courage to go back inside and pack an overnight bag, and then headed over to spend the night at Kathy and Beaver’s. We planned to sleep outside as a precaution, but a heavy rain came, so we ended up staying indoors for the night. As I lay down to sleep, memories flashed through my head of the semi-traumatic event that occurred just hours before. I somehow managed to still fall asleep relatively quickly and get a full night of rest.

First thing on Mondays, we have a thing called the Big Question meeting with the whole 2nd Story Goods staff. It is a beautiful time for everyone’s voice to be heard as we discuss important ideas related to Haiti or to us personally. Naturally, our Big Question involved how everyone was feeling after the earthquakes that occurred over the weekend. We have a few people on staff that were in Port au Prince during the devastating earthquake of 2010, and they were definitely the most affected by the recent happenings, as it brought up painful memories for them. Soon after we went back to work, Kathy started running around yelling at everyone to get out quickly. It turns out that she had mistaken a big truck passing by for another earthquake. It was clear that everyone was on edge, so she said that maybe we should just close down for the day. Instead, everyone insisted on working outside instead. They determinedly dragged their desks and equipment out from under the concrete building and continued working. As Kathy put it, it just “seemed like we were better being together”.

I keep reminding myself how in college, I used to do the kinds of things I’m doing for 2nd Story Goods “for fun” in my free time in my work with Enactus -a university student organization that partners with social enterprises and non-profits to help them with their business models- and now I am getting to do the work I’m most passionate about full-time! I was very involved with Enactus at Belmont, and 2nd Story Goods is actually one of Belmont Enactus’s projects this year, so I will be working closely with a team of Belmont students and delegating tasks that they can do to help us grow 2nd Story Goods from Nashville. I am so excited for this partnership, because Enactus was integral to my development in college and taught me so many skills and lessons that have prepared me to work in social enterprise in Haiti; it will be a joy to give other students the opportunity to learn like I did, and it will be such a blessing to have their much appreciated help and opinions on things we are doing here. I will be managing what they are working on from here by keeping in contact with their project manager, Bailey. On Monday, the Belmont Enactus 2SG team had their first meeting and I called in to meet everyone. It was surreal to Facetime with them and see their excited faces; they are going to start by researching new markets for 2nd Story to enter in the U.S. While 2SG does have three employees stateside currently, only one is full-time, and this team of students that is dedicated to increasing sales is sure to be a huge help to us growing the business, and in turn, being able to employ more people who are in need of jobs in Haiti.

My arrival to Haiti has already shaken things up in the company a little bit. We spent a big part of last week shifting the job descriptions of the 2SG leadership team as well as defining my own job description. One of my goals in coming here was to be able to provide Kathy with the space to do the things that we as a company most need her to do, and take the things off of her plate that she can pass on to other employees. She didn’t know that I was thinking this way, but after we discussed it, she told me that she has been praying for this kind of space to be created for her. We have cleared her schedule a little bit and delegated tasks that others can do so that she can spend more time writing and designing new products (not to mention taking a break from work on nights and weekends), two things that are her natural gifts as a writer and artist, and two things that are vital to the success of the company. I have essentially taken on the role of her personal assistant, so I can manage her schedule, keep things organized, and make sure these important things are being accomplished.

On a side note, if you are familiar with the Enneagram (a personality typing system that has transformed my understanding of myself and others), Kathy and I have a wonderful working relationship (and friendship) because we are both 3s and can completely understand how each other thinks; however, she is a 3 wing 4 and I am a 3 wing 2, so instead of driving each other crazy, we balance each other out. The 3 is the Achiever: the productive, goal-oriented type that can become obsessed with, well, achieving. While working closely together, Kathy and I will be able to hold each other accountable for not overworking, which will be very beneficial and healthy for both of us.

In addition to managing the Enactus team and Kathy’s schedule, I will also be focusing on developing and implementing marketing strategies and leading the leadership team through a book called Traction that will essentially help us develop a strategic planning process. I will also be working some with ProLead as they establish a framework for rehabilitating the culture and systems of existing organizations and incubating new businesses. I can’t express how perfect every single part of my job is for me. I couldn’t have come up with a better dream job if I tried!

When the earth does it, shaking things up is sometimes not the best thing. But when we do it, sometimes it can be really fruitful. Sometimes, we have to be willing to shake things up in our own lives and organizations in order to accomplish the things we truly want. Here’s to continuing to shake things up in the next year!

Our lovely room at the Airbnb!

Our lovely room at the Airbnb!

Meeting outside with Kathy (CEO) and Valery (HR and Operations Manager) on re-writing job descriptions

Meeting outside with Kathy (CEO) and Valery (HR and Operations Manager) on re-writing job descriptions

Our beautiful poolside view of the Caribbean Sea at the Airbnb!

Our beautiful poolside view of the Caribbean Sea at the Airbnb!

One of many bright sunsets from Jubilee, the neighborhood where many Much employees live

One of many bright sunsets from Jubilee, the neighborhood where many Much employees live

Some of the 2SG staff working outside the day after the earthquake

Some of the 2SG staff working outside the day after the earthquake

An early morning, pre-work bike ride with Kathy

An early morning, pre-work bike ride with Kathy

Manoucheka and I enjoying a home cooked lunch at 2nd Story Good's new cafe.

Bonjou from Haiti!

As of Monday, I have officially made the big move to Gonaives, Haiti. It is so surreal to finally be here, and these first few days have been filled with so much excitement and joy as I’ve started to come to terms with the fact that this is actually my real life for the next year. I feel like I’ve stepped into my higher calling, and it has been so fulfilling already.

As providence would have it, my flight from Atlanta to Port Au Prince was the same flight as Beaver and St. Juste, leaders with MUCH.  They were making their way home from a week of fundraising in the USA. Beaver and Kathy Brooks are the founder leaders of MUCH. MUCH is organized into three distinct entities that work together to accomplish the mission: The transformation of individuals, families and communities from systemic poverty to a place of thriving at every level of life.  

Market Place Gonaives (MPG)  Strategy : A physical space that hosts an environment where businesses, entrepreneurs and employees  thrive. The renovation of the old Match factory in Gonaives into a commercial retail development.

2nd Story Goods  Strategy: Dignity through jobs   Those trapped in crushing poverty are best served when presented with opportunity to realize their abilities and earn a living by their own hands.

PROLEAD  Strategy: Education that flips broken businesses and employee relationships. Creating a healthy sense of personal power and responsibility and company culture where everyone thrives!

MUCH has been working on Market Place Gonaives (MPG)  for several years now. MPG will include the first full-service grocery store outside of Port au Prince in the entire country, as well as space for vendors, a cafe, an auditorium, and space for both Pro-Lead and 2nd Story Goods. MPG was supposed to open in September, but they received heart-breaking news in July that the outside walls of the building (which were already standing before the project was started) are not earthquake-proof. Beaver and Kathy were grateful to receive this news prior to opening the Marketplace, but described the news as feeling like they were climbing a really big mountain and thinking they were almost at the top, only to find out they had much farther to go. So, it is an interesting time for me to be here, as they are working very hard to fundraise the rest of the money they need to complete the building. (I have just skimmed the surface on MUCH’s projects here. If you are interested in learning more, please check out their website at much ministries.org)

My plane ride to Haiti was eye-opening. As soon as I got on the plane, I saw that the amount of Americans outnumbered the amount of Haitians and it made me feel a number of things, one of them being that it is a reminder of humility amidst texts from everyone at home telling me to “go change the world” that there are many people here already trying to do just that and none of us have found the answer yet. As I landed and looked out over my new home, I was overcome with a feeling that this was exactly where I was supposed to be all along and that it is God who has brought me here.

Kathy was waiting for us outside of the airport when we arrived. Kathy will be my boss for the next year, as I will primarily be working with 2nd Story Goods. When I was here 3 years ago, Kathy and I developed a deep connection, and she became one of my biggest role models and closest friends. We have kept in touch since I left, and I am so excited to get to spend this year working under her and learning from her, as she is one of the wisest people I’ve ever met! As we all piled into the car that was already half-way filled with materials for 2nd Story Goods, Kathy introduced me to Manoucheka, a woman in her 30’s who was adopted from Haiti when she was 3 and grew up in Holland. She studied fashion design and is in Haiti for 5 months; she is working with another organization doing fashion design for at least the first 2 months and we are hoping that she will come work with 2nd Story Goods for the remainder of her time in Haiti. So, she came along on the 3 hour ride from Port au Prince to Gonaives to spend a few days testing the waters at 2nd Story Goods. Manoucheka and I became fast-friends during the car ride; she has only been here for one month, so she is also adjusting to the culture, language, and hot weather. She stayed with me in a guest house for the few days she was in Gonaives, and I saw having her here as a huge blessing as I was adjusting.

In my very first few hours in the country, I got a taste of the complexity of the challenges that Haiti faces. We were all chatting away during the car ride when suddenly, St. Juste told Beaver to quickly pull over the car. We had, unknowingly, driven straight into the traffic caused by a manifestation. Manifestations are protests that happen in Haiti when the people are frustrated with the government and want to get their attention. They often cause road-blocks in the process. While we were waiting in the car, St. Juste got out to find out what was going on. He found out that the people were very angry because every time it rains, water floods their houses and businesses and they want the government to fix their streets so this doesn’t happen anymore. After waiting a little while for things to calm down, we were able to pass through the rest of the town safely.

We soon saw why the people were so upset when we passed a street that was flooded with at least 2 feet of water and it was getting in all of the buildings on that street, with various possessions floating around in the water. We were very thankful to get through and sat in silence for some moments as we passed by the pink and orange sun setting on beautiful rice fields and the beauty of Haiti shone through again, before they asked St. Juste his opinion. We had an interesting conversation about how there are ways for them to get this done without a manifestation; they form a community association and talk to the mayor, and then either the government or an NGO responds. However, often times the government takes a long time to do something, so they get very frustrated, angry, and grieved over time and a manifestation happens, in an attempt to get the government’s attention. Beaver made the comment that all they need to do is get the water in the houses of the people who are making the decisions, and then the problem would be addressed over night. This led to a conversation about loans that were given to Haiti many years ago for development projects and now it is time for the money to be paid back, but it is clear that the money was stolen by some a Haitians instead of invested. St. Juste said that he feels the best way for loans or aid to happen would be for the organization or country to ask the Haitian government to present which projects they think need to happen, and then instead of giving them the money, that group or country would oversee the development themselves in order to reduce the likelihood of corruption.

Since Monday, I have been settling in and defining more clearly what my day-to-day will look like in Haiti. I have been in lots of exciting meetings, and in the coming days, I will have exciting news to come about what my role will be here for the next year. I also promise to take more pictures, but this is what I have for now!

Manoucheka and I enjoying a home cooked lunch at 2nd Story Good's new cafe.

Manoucheka and I enjoying a home cooked lunch at 2nd Story Good’s new cafe.

The beautiful view from the guesthouse I am staying in for my first few weeks here

The beautiful view from the guesthouse I am staying in for my first few weeks here

One of Kathy's inspirational boards in the office at 2nd Story Goods

One of Kathy’s inspirational boards in the office at 2nd Story Goods

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Manoucheka, me, and Kathy at 2nd Story Goods

Moving to Haiti- a dream come true!

I officially have just over 2 weeks before I take off for my year of working with 2nd Story Goods/ Much Ministries in Gonaives, Haiti. I am actually writing this blog from Spain, where I am taking a personal trip and currently walking the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage of 500 miles across the northern part of the country. I have used my time walking in Spain to reflect on my life so far and to prepare for the next season I am about to walk into in Haiti. My time in Spain has been so fruitful and I am so very grateful that I had the opportunity to do this at this time in my life. I have learned lots of amazing life lessons that I know I will take with me to Haiti, like how being uncomfortable is where growth happens, there is so much beauty that can come through pain, and that the simple life is often the most joyful. I have also had the opportunity to practice my French more than I expected, since my walking partner and dear friend, Maddy, majored in French and we have met many French people along the way. The language spoken in Haiti is Haitian Creole, but it is largely based on French and French is spoken in the schools and government. So that has been an unexpected answered prayer in which the Camino has prepared me for Haiti!

So you might be wondering, how did I end up choosing Haiti for my Lumos journey anyway? I’d love to tell you one of my favorite life stories. My grandfather started a charity in Haiti in the 1960’s; it is an organization called Haiti Parish Twinning Organization that pairs Catholic churches in Haiti with Catholic churches in the U.S and it still exists today. Some of my earliest memories include my dad showing me pictures of Haiti and telling me stories of his own trips there. So from an early age, my dad instilled in me the importance of loving others and doing what you can to help people in need. Growing up, I dreamed of getting to go on my own trip to Haiti some day, and that dream was realized my sophomore year of high school when we went to visit my home church’s sister church in Haiti. That trip was so eye-opening and I was deeply affected by the extreme poverty yet strange joy I saw many people living in. After that trip, my best friend, Emily, and I decided that we had to get back to Haiti as soon as possible. Two years later, the summer after I graduated from high school, through a crazy sequence of circumstances, we had the perfect opportunity to go back to Haiti. Through an unexpected turn of events,  I ended up meeting Kathy Brooks, the director of 2nd Story Goods, very briefly on that trip. It was on that trip that I knew that God was calling me to work in Haiti for a longer amount of time. A few weeks into my freshman year at Belmont, I heard about the Lumos program and hoped that one day I would receive a Lumos grant to work in Haiti. I decided to major in International Business with a focus in French and entrepreneurship so that I would be prepared to work in economic development in Haiti upon graduation. During my freshman year, I emailed Kathy Brooks and reminded her that we met briefly the previous summer, and asked if I could come that summer to intern with them for 3 weeks. She unexpectedly said yes, we exchanged maybe 4 emails back and forth, and I went, having absolutely no idea what was in store. On the drive from the airport to Gonaives, Kathy explained to me why I was there. “There are lots of young girls who ask me to do things like this all the time, and I always say no,” she said, “but when you reminded me where we met, I remembered you, and I remembered that the Holy Spirit told me to pay attention to you, so that’s why you’re here.” My draw dropped and my eyes filled with tears as I realized a much bigger story than I could even comprehend was being written by God, and I couldn’t believe that I got to be a part of it. Those 3 weeks spent with Kathy and her husband, Beaver, changed my life. I’ve never felt more like I was supposed to be somewhere than I did then. I was so sad to leave, but I knew that I would be back some day, though I didn’t know what that would look like yet.
So here I am, realizing the biggest dream I’ve ever dreamed is coming true as I prepare to move to Haiti to work in economic development. I believe this country grabs onto a bigger piece of my heart every time I go, and I can’t imagine how much of my heart it will hold after this year. I keep wondering how this is really happening?! And then I remember that from the very beginning, it has been totally dependent on the goodness and faithfulness of my Abba Father. I have a lot of excitements entering this season and also a whole lot of fears. What about the adjustment to a new culture, new language, and new people? What about my living situation and no AC and cold showers? What if I don’t actually have that much to offer? But I’m reminded that the Lord would not carry me all the way to this place if he did not have some purposes he wanted to fulfill. And I’m reminded that it’s really been him doing it the whole time up until now anyway, so who am I to wonder if he’ll continue to provide a way? Oh, how thankful I am for the way he has written this story so far, and oh, how I can’t wait to see how the rest of the story goes!