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!