Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Rain, rain go away!

As children, we loved rainy days. The warmer the weather, and the heavier the rain, the better. There's no way you'd catch us inside- we'd be outside running down the streets barefoot through all the puddles, finding the muddiest spots on our yard, and seeing who could drench the other with the biggest bucket of water.

However, in Haiti, rain takes on a whole new meaning and a hundred questions start running through our heads. Is it just a drizzle that's only going to last for 2 minutes? Or is it going to suddenly downpour and therefore it's smart to shut all the windows so it doesn't drench our beds? Is it going to possibly rain all night and maybe it's safer to put towels by the door so it doesn't flood our front room? Do we need to put buckets out to catch the drips from the ceiling? What about at school... did we accidentally leave anything important under a window or on the floor that's going to be ruined by morning?

Haiti life is unpredictable and Haiti weather is unpredictable, and boy did we ever get a good dose of Haiti's unpredictable weather this past weekend.

It started Thursday. Our day at school was fairly uneventful, aside from the fact that the pink eye epidemic had still not completely died out. As the day went on, we could see black storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and knew some nasty weather was probably headed our way. We're not in rainy season anymore, and so if we do get rain at this point, it's usually in the early morning and passes by after an hour or two. We made it to the end of the school day, and still no rain- a definite blessing. We have mixed feelings about rain during school. On one hand, it makes our classrooms significantly cooler... on the other hand, if it rains just a little too hard, the sound on the tin roofs of our classrooms makes it impossible to teach. But by evening, it arrived with a vengeance. It rained all night long, so loud at points that were unable to sleep. When we left our house for school that morning it had still not stopped, and the decision was made to cancel school. The roads weren't safe for the bus, and even though there was the possibility it would stop raining soon, we knew keeping our kiddos safe was more important.

Well, what a great decision that turned out to be. The rain didn't stop at all that day, and we wouldn't have gotten anything done at school anyway. We also figured maybe it was a blessing in disguise and the last of the pink eye would disappear after a 3-day weekend.

Well, the rain didn't end up stopping for nearly 96 hours.

Almost four straight days of rain. It was enough to nearly drive us batty. The rain would stop for 15 minutes or so quite often, and then start right back up again, giving us false hope that it was going to stop soon. The sky stayed the same dark gray-brown colour all day, and eventually became the color of the ocean as the storm churned the waves into a raging, muddy mess. Looking out from our balcony (when we dared to venture outside), all we could see were the trees of our immediate area, and a wall of gray-brown that never lifted, never changed.

Our house became the congregation point over that four-day rain-cation. We would cook and eat meals here, sit and talk on our floor because we don't have enough room for chairs, and play games (at exactly 4pm everyday). We were feeling every level of stir-crazy and praying for the rain to stop. By Sunday morning the rain had finally quit, but we all knew it wasn't going to be for more than a couple hours. We took advantage of it and made ourselves a big pancake breakfast, which we ate while listening to a sermon outside on the balcony. We must have been getting a little too comfortable outside, because before we could even finish church, the rain came back in driving sheets, and we huddled under Paul and Bethany's small porch overhang, trying to shield ourselves with umbrellas so we could hear the end of the sermon. It didn't let up again for the rest of the day, and by that point school was undoubtedly cancelled for Monday. The roads were dangerous and washed away in places, and we had not been able to leave the compound to assess the state of our school. For all we knew, our classrooms were flooded, and all the stuff hanging on our walls ruined. Monday turned out to be the last of it. We woke up to grey skies, but the rain never came. We were all desperate to leave the walls of our houses, and made the decision to head to Les Cayes to buy groceries (which we were almost out of by that point as well).

We were not truly prepared to face the damage the rain had done over those nearly 96 hours. In spite of new roofs post-hurricane, we knew most houses were not going to withstand that much rain over so many days, and expected to see clothes, blankets and mattresses drying on every available inch of non-wet ground. What we were not prepared to see was the physical damage from the force of so much rain. Chunks of road were washed away, boulders had broken loose and fallen down the mountains on to the road below, mudslides had made a mess of properties, low-sitting houses were flooded, huge trees were floating in the ocean, and the giant rivers had gone up nearly 10 feet. We read reports of several people drowning from being swept away by rushing rivers, and several of the streets in Cayes were flooded as well.

As we drove down the road in silence and took in the aftermath of the past four days, we couldn't help but compare what we were seeing to the days following Hurricane Matthew. By the mercy of God our area didn't receive enough rain to cause substantial flooding in October, but now, we were dealing with the rain and flooding we expected to see then. It made us all feel a little bit sick inside, thinking of wet, shivering kids, cold beds, hungry bellies and flooded floors.

So here we are today- first day back at school, and not quite sure what to expect. Our classrooms had no flooding, and we all breathed a prayer of thanks for that. We expected some absences, which there were. We expected our kiddos to eat like little ravenous wolves (which they did and which they always do after more than a weekend off of school, since they don't have as much food to eat home), and we expected them to forget how to behave at school (which they did and which they always do after more than a weekend off of school).

Rain is bitter sweet. We love it and will always love it- it's the best excuse to make some tea and huddle under a blanket and read a good book. But in Haiti, rain can cause a lot of pain, a lot of hardship, and a lot of unexpected difficulties. So today as we look outside and see sunshine that hurts our eyes after so many dreary days, we are praying a prayer of thanks for safety and sun and dry ground and blue sky (and for freedom from the walls of our house).

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Mon Deye Mon [Problems after Problems]

We would never make it without Jesus.

Seriously. Never.

We don't even have enough fingers combined to count the number of times that life here in Haiti has completely blindsided us.

But let me back up a couple of weeks and catch you all up on what's been happening.

The third week in March we finished our second trimester at school, and went through the craziness of testing, report cards and parent conferences. That's normally a challenge in and of itself, but this term was particularly difficult because we've been playing catch-up ever since Hurricane Matthew hit since we missed a month of school, and have had to try to make up all that time. In spite of how busy that period in March was, it was in a sense a really cool milestone for us both. We were asked by our director to give "teacher speeches" to our classes of parents before we went into individual conferences, and we spent days writing and memorizing our speeches in Creole. We could have asked for translators, but just really felt in our souls that it was important for us to make the effort to communicate in their language, even though we knew we would make some embarrassing mistakes along the way. IT sounds silly now, but we were both so nervous- number one, because every time we've asked these parents to do something that goes against the grain of their culture they've laughed at us, and number two, it has been an uphill battle trying to gain their respect and support. Well, we did it- Creole-ed our way through speeches about classroom discipline, not beating children, about being upstanding examples for their children and taking their education seriously. And not a single soul laughed or yelled at us.

This day was also a milestone for us in the sense that at every other parent conference day, we've either had a translator with us to help, we've used the little Creole we were learning, or we've relied on our Haitian co-teachers to communicate to the parents what we wanted them to know. Well, not this time. Both of our co-teachers threw us to the wolves and asked us to complete half of the parent conferences by ourselves in Creole. And we didn't just fumble our way through. This does not sound humble, but we totally rocked those conferences without uttering a single word of English. We were thanked over and over, and even hugged by these parents and it was enough to bring tears to our eyes. Haitian mamas are fierce and scary, but we come to love them a little more every time we meet with them.

Normally after parent conferences and report cards in the spring, we have a Spring Break- but this year we didn't. We jumped right back into our third trimester the day after conferences and haven't slowed down since. It was also especially busy after this because we knew come the first week of April, we would be leaving to go to Sioux Falls for our annual Mission Haiti fundraiser banquet. That meant we would be missing a week of school and our kiddos wouldn't be getting any English; so we bumped up the number of English teaching days to try and make up the days we would be missing.

We ended up being gone for a week, and it was the best possible thing that could have happened to us. We were so burned out and exhausted at that point that we felt like running away at the thought of facing another week of school. We ate a ridiculous amount of good food, shopped until we almost dropped, got a massage, fellowshipped with dear friends, and slept in longer than we've slept since school started in September. Even though we couldn't go back to Canada to see family and friends, we joke that Sioux Falls is now one of our homes anyway, and so many people that have become near and dear to our hearts live there that it was just as filling as going home.

We joke in Haiti that once things seem quiet for too long that something dramatic is bound to happen- well it did, unfortunately a couple days after we left for the States. We don't know how it happened or even who did it, but the generator at our school that provides all of our electricity was stolen in the middle of the night by a group of people who were able to saw the deadbolt and haul the generator over the school wall. This meant that for nearly two weeks we have not been able to have lights in the morning when we get to school in the pitch black, have not had fans going in our sweltering classrooms during the day as the temperature climbs, charge our technology such as iPads and laptops, use projectors for lessons, or have running water in our bathrooms or sinks for our kids.

These people deliberately waited until we were in the States to essentially commit this act against Mission Haiti as a whole, not just our school. It is so discouraging to realize that after all Mission Haiti has done and is committed to doing in the future for this community, after everything that those in the States have done to support Mission Haiti and keep it running, after everything we do here to serve, there are those who seek to tear down what we are trying to build up. It's in these times that it's so hard, but even more important to remember that when you are a Christian and love Jesus with your whole life, there is one who seeks to tear down and destroy all that God is trying to do through your life. Our battle is not against these people, but against the one who has confused and lied to them, and our greatest weapon right now is prayer.

On top of that, we have the worst pink eye epidemic at school that we have ever seen. It started while we were gone in the States, and Sunday when we got back to the compound, we were warned by many, many people that is has been going through the village. All of our cooking/cleaning ladies have it, some of our Haitian teachers, and nearly all of our students have gotten it last week or just this week. This morning we spent half an hour Lysol-ing everything in our classes, from tables, to chairs to markers and pencils. Thank goodness that Bethany has a stash of eye drops, but our days are essentially filled with schedules of drops and sanitizing our hands obsessive-compulsively. We are praying to the good Lord that this epidemic stops soon.

On top of all of this, a short-term high school team arrives on the ground this afternoon...
We find ourselves muttering that there's no rest for the weary, and have to remind ourselves that rest was made for the weary, and we have to make it a priority!

We love you all and are so grateful that you take the time to read our updates and pray for us. Like we said at the beginning, we could not do it without Jesus and your prayers.

Sending love from Haiti!