Month: September 2013

How I’d Make the Perfect Mission Opportunity

I was going to write a blog post, in response to some requests from my frequent readers, about the perfect mission team. I was going to write a fictional account of one mission team that did everything right and could serve as a positive example that other teams could look to for inspiration. But as I wrote out all of my ideas of how I think volunteer teams could approach cross cultural service in a more effective way, it was becoming much too far-fetched to actually represent any real group. It started turning into more of a proposal for an organization that should exist to facilitate these sorts of teams and provide them with the resources that they need to carry out the relationship building that I believe should be the foundation of any good mission/volunteer/work team.

Now, I’m not starting this organization, for the record. I’ve got enough on my plate already. Although if I was looking for the next great idea to pursue, it would be this. So, if anyone else wants to take this and run with it, feel free to contact me for more brainstorming. I’d love to be on the board (thanks for asking). It’s possible that I’ve even already drawn up logos and thought of a name and color schemes and slogans and a brand identity. I have a sickness that causes me to automatically do that for any idea that enters my head. But this one, I really feel like is worth pursuing, just not for me at this time in my life.

The future of mission, voluntourism, international relief, and anything else that falls into the good-doing basket, is changing. It must change if it wants to keep up with the way the world is evolving. In order for that to happen we who are involved have to be willing to change the way we do a few things too. I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but based off what I’m continually seeing in the present times, I think that we need to move away from a mindset of projects and programs and focus more sincerely on people. I think that we need to start connecting with people on a human level where we don’t define them based on what they need but who they are. Right now I feel like this is one of the greatest problems facing mission (read: volunteer, aid, relief) in today’s world. The people that are claimed to be on the benefitting end are always defined based on what they need. They need medical help, or they need house repairs, or they need educational opportunities, or they need business support, or they need encouragement, empowerment, or justice. There’s already a problem here because most of these needs are decided upon by the external party and seldom voiced by those on the receiving end in the first place. However, what’s at the root of why this causes problems is because when we define people through their needs such as this we always miss out on seeing who they truly are.

My proposal for how to address this issue while still encouraging cross cultural experiences and doing good things while still being able to travel, is for an organization to exist solely for the purpose of connecting people between cultures that have different needs. Share their stories and then create connections across cultures between people whose stories resonate with one another. That’s it. There would be a website featuring stories of people from a particular place, a community in Haiti, for example. And people wanting to go on a service trip could browse the site and choose a person or people that they want to get to know. There would be a people budget assigned for the group to raise money for rather than a project budget. Teams would be kept small to facilitate the greatest possible relationship building. When a team selects the people that they are interested in connecting with, they would have an application to fill out, a chance to tell their story. And the original storyteller on the receiving end would have to accept their application before having them come. It would be their choice who gets to come and invest in them personally. Once a connection is agreed upon the team or volunteer would come and simply spend their time getting to know that person and their family, and others that are close to them. They would learn about their culture and their life. They would spend all of their time investing in their personal relationship with that person. Teams with multiple members, and an ability to raise higher people budgets, could select multiple people in the same community as long as they were spending enough time there to sufficiently build the relationship. The money would be given directly to the person without conditions, without proposed solutions, but for them to do with whatever they felt they needed most. They could start a business, buy all new clothes for their family, give it to their neighbor who is in greater need at the time, deposit it in the bank, or go bet it all on cock fights. They would have to report how they spent it but wouldn’t be told how to spend it. And then the team would go home. After spending their time getting to know each other both sides can decide to what extent they want to pursue the relationship further. Just like real people do. There would be no dependence based on skewed expectations. There would be no unsuccessful projects due to lack of cultural understanding. There would be no helium filled donations floating off into the world of need hoping to do some sort of good. Just people investing in relationships with other people that they would never have had the chance to otherwise and allowing organic mutually beneficial actions to evolve from those relationships.

The theory would be that we each have a story worth sharing and those stories have power. Rather than trying to help someone, we each would have the chance to find someone whose story we want to become a part of. Once their story draws us in, we can take the chance to get to know them and find out how we can play a role in the next chapter of their story and how they can play one in ours. I guess I believe that the grand story of humanity is more beautiful the more its different pieces overlap. This system would allow that overlapping to happen naturally whereas the current system of aid causes the pieces to collide and ricochet.

Oh, but alas, I can hear the naysayers and tradionalists already wailing, “Wait! Won’t this create jealousy?” Yes, it probably will. Good things usually do because human beings tend to be petty and don’t want to see others have good things. Whatever you do is going to create some jealousy unless absolutely everybody benefits from it. And that’s not going to happen, so let’s all agree to get over that excuse for crappy do-good methods right now. “What about accountability?” Our Western ideal of accountability has long limited the rest of the world’s freedom to create their own solutions to their own problems. By telling someone they have to be accountable for our money it is our fancy way of saying “You need to prove to me that you did what I wanted you to do with this money even though it’s your life that’s going to be affected.” It’s our fancy way of saying, “I don’t trust you.” That’s the difference between giving a gift to someone that you care about and making a donation towards promoting your own ideals of what the world needs. If it’s a gift, then the person becomes the priority, but if it’s a donation requiring accountability, then your precious money is the priority.

“But I have this really cool idea for a project that could really help people!” Allow it to change your life first, and if you decide it’s good enough to share with your friends, then you can do so. If it’s some extra healthy meal, cook it yourself and eat it on a regular basis. Then if you still think it’s a great idea, when you’re building relationships, share the recipe with your new friends, but don’t impose it on them as a solution to nutrition. If it’s a pair of shoes, wear them yourself and if your new friends like them, help them to get a pair for themselves, but don’t dump them upon a population without discretion. If it’s a new type of house, build one for yourself and your family to live in wherever you come from, and when you travel, share photos of your house with your new friends and if they like it help them figure out how they can build one for themselves. But don’t use poor people’s lack of options as a way to make them live in your poverty-solution-houses. Even if it’s information that you think needs to be shared, build a relationship first and share your knowledge casually with your new friends, and then if they find it valuable and interesting, then encourage them to organize a meeting with their friends and neighbors to share the information. But don’t schedule a seminar with a bunch of people in a community that you’re entering just because you assume they need to know the information. And if your new friends decide that they don’t need any of those things, so what? Just spend time with them. Give them some money and let them decide what to do with it. And if they decide that the most important thing that they can do with that money is open a bar to sell booze and cigarettes, so what? If they decide they want to open a brothel, it’s their decision. If you don’t like that decision you don’t have to be their friend anymore. (Once getting to know each other, its doubtful that anyone would use your money to open a brothel if it’s clear you wouldn’t approve. Booze and cigarettes, however, could be a very plausible result, in Haiti anyway)

I think that our mission as humans needs to be getting to know as many other people as possible. Not helping as many as possible. Random acts of kindness in our everyday life to help people that we encounter, yes, by all means, do them without hesitation. But making plans to actually spend thousands of dollars, leave our home and our families and our work for a number of days, and live in an environment that is unfamiliar and likely uncomfortable to us, probably get sick along the way… lets only do that to get to know people and then help those people that we get to know in any way that we would help any other human that we have a close relationship to. I know lots of mission teams that after traveling talk about all of the relationships that they formed and how precious they were, but they were never the reason for traveling in the first place. They always come secondary to projects that detract from our human need for hearts and spirits that are willing to dance with our own. I know how counterintuitive it seems, but why don’t we forget all about our good-intended projects and programs and make our only mission be other people? Why don’t we make our volunteer trips nothing more than vehicles for people’s stories to travel and grow and reach their full potential? Why don’t we make that the goal and just see what happens? Why not?

Ready to go? You know how to get a hold of me.

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Two Nonprofitty Poems

I’ve started writing some poetry lately, not because I’m a poet, but because I think it’s an important discipline to make my writing more creative. There are some things that can be said through poetry that can’t be expressed otherwise. And I’m sharing them here once again, not because I think they’re any good as far as poetry goes, but because I think that there are some ideas that come out of them that are not able to come through other forms of writing.

This first one is about how sometimes our best intentions and our proposed solutions seem like good ideas from where we sit, but they are not at all natural to the environment or the culture that we’re trying to introduce them to. Sometimes it’s better for us to just listen to the nature of it all rather than try to make it better.

 

The Lights

 

There aren’t supposed to be lights here

Only stars and treefrogs

and the moonlit clouds.

Then again Man always seems

to stain the purity of it all.

“Innovation” he says.

But is it better to illuminate

than to train the eyes to see

how things look

from the point-of-view

of the evening dew

itself, invisible?

 

Ignoring the invitation,

Nature’s original intention

To dance in the dark

with the stars and the treefrogs

and the moonlit clouds.

Listen to her whisper,

“This is what I call Clarity.”

 

This second poem is just meant to reflect what most of my day to day life is like working here trying to manage a nonprofit that depends on foreign means of support which also means foreign understandings of the way things are “supposed to” work in the world.

 

Managing a Nonprofit

 

Siting in the gas station

waiting for the bones to fall

Sweating

The guy next to me

deemed deodorant

unnecessary today.

And the fan’s not oscillating

The wind’s not coming my way

Nothing is coming my way

Stagnant.

I can taste the poverty,

my poverty

It’s a bitter drop of salt water

choking me.

 

Tap, tap, tap, and send out a plea

A reminder

A desperate cry

A dirty offer to sell my body and soul

But it’s already 4:00.

My time, not at the bank

so I refine the lie

that I began to craft

when I woke up this morning

No, in my dreams last night

Or the day that I came here

for why

the bones didn’t fall.

I’m Sorry

Today I am going to do something that I’ve never done before on the Green Mango Blog: apologize. Specifically to the team and group of people who were offended by my recent post about changing the world, I’m sorry. My words were too harsh and my examples too specific. My intention with what I say on this blog is never to hurt good people and that is what happened this week. I regret that deeply. I have known some members of that team for a long time and truly appreciate the genuine love they have in their hearts for Haiti and her people. Perhaps that’s why I chose to use them as an example because I do know them well and I took that relationship with them for granted. Because what I was writing about was not specifically about them, but I used them to represent frustrations that I and other long term missionaries and aid workers here have with almost all short term teams that come into the country. And I also know that they were not the only ones offended. So, I would like to make this declaration to anyone willing to read it: I’m sorry.

For all those who come here for a short time no matter what you’re reasoning, please don’t be discouraged by my cranky old man cynicism. Your trips do make a difference in the lives of the people you serve here and to them their worlds are changed. Please continue to be a blessing to those around you wherever you go. The reason that I get frustrated is exactly because I do know just how good of people you all are. I know how good your hearts are and how good your intentions are. I know where you come from and I’ve heard you speak about why you want to be involved in Haiti. I understand your faith that pushes you to do it and I know the culture that encourages you to want to change the world. I know how good of people come on short term teams because I’ve been a part of many myself. I know the good. Unfortunately the Haitians who you interact with when you come on a short term team do not speak your language or know where you come from or have attended your church. They don’t know how good your intentions and your hearts are because they’ve suffered from a long history of being the victims of foreigners with horrible intentions and cold hearts. For decades they’ve seen mission team after mission team come and try to change them without getting to know them. And anyone on a short term team here must realize that coming into this culture you automatically become a part of that history. So no matter how good of people you are, without the language and cultural background to inherently convey that goodness, we have to be conscious about the nonverbal communication that tells the Haitians who we are and why we think we need to be in their country. Through your actions with the few people you meet, you will be able to demonstrate the goodness and love that you came to share. But there is still an entire population witnessing your presence here without those personal encounters, and they are the ones that are going to define for the rest of the community what your team means to them. I want them all to know the goodness which is why I share my thoughts. Because I have witnessed too many times myself Haitians missing out on the goodness because all that they know about a team is nonverbal clues they pick up on. It’s the fortified meal package that they received which tastes bad and takes too much work, or the TOMS shoes that they got to put on their feet which are ugly and impractical for rocky paths, or even just the clothes they see the team wear, or the way the foreigners hold on to the back of the motorcycle, or the way that their cameras are always around their necks, or the way that they can’t leave the house without wearing a bandana (guilty as charged). These seemingly meaningless nonverbal signs, when added to a history of offenses, end up meaning a whole lot. We can’t change the offensive history, but we can change a few of the other things.

So, once again I am sorry that in my effort to communicate that I did it in a way that was so hurtful to some. It’s been a very stressful time here in Haiti lately trying to get ready for the school year and I’m sorry if I let my stress turn into a very angry blog post at the expense of some good people. At the same time I would like to thank all the others who have sent supportive messages recently. Those who also live here and understand where I’m coming from, but are smart enough not to say anything publically. Many people who I have never even met, and who have served here in Haiti much longer than I have, who have sent me your positive comments privately. Thanks for seeing the reasons behind my hurtful words and helping me to see where to stay focused.

As my commentor pointed out it truly does take all kinds to accomplish the work together. I would never want to cut off my pinky toe as strange as I think it may look on the side of my foot, although in times of stress I may still tease it for looking funny. And ultimately I do also believe in the goodness of our God who created us each differently for very good reasons whether we always agree or not. The Haitians that I live with everyday do clearly know his goodness and I’m glad that they continually show me that as well. Without his grace and his sense of humor, there’s no way I would still be here.

This apology, a reminder, that I still have some ripening to do.

Sincerely,

Lee, The Green Mango

The Story of a Woman they Called Crazy

I want to share a story with you, a story of a woman who shared her story with us. I don’t want to share any commentary or opinions about it. But I just want to share it because I think within it there is something important for each of us to consider. Or maybe multiple things that are important for each of us. Or maybe none of the above but it will at least show you what just another day living here in Haiti might be like sometimes.

So there was this lady that came by the house the other day while we were cooking supper and they said she was crazy. As she walked across the field towards the house they warned us that she was crazy. And it was clear when she got there that she was indeed troubled. I think that’s what we’d say from an American perspective. We’ve got lots of gentler, less direct ways to say what Haitians would just call “crazy”. And we certainly would have used one of them to describe this woman. But there’s no beating around the bush here. “She’s crazy.” Pure and emotion-scathingly simple. Her braided hair was disheveled but not out of control. She was wearing a faded cobalt blue moo-moo with big pink flowers on it. Protruding out from her stomach underneath the moo-moo was something angled and sharp like the corner of a box that she had tied around her belly.

She approached us at a normal pace, as any neighbor might do while walking by. But she wasn’t from around here and no one knew why she had shown up, so we all watched with caution as she came up to us while we sat around the cooking fire and she began telling her story. She wasn’t looking for trouble and she wasn’t looking for charity. She seemed to simply be looking for people willing to listen to what she had to say.

“No one knows my suffering.” She began with her story, seeming almost unsure if those were the right words to use. “He betrayed me and entered into the gay life.” Of course I started filling in the blanks in my head assuming that this woman had a boyfriend or even husband that eventually, after years of lying to himself and her, accepted the fact that he couldn’t really love a woman. Now she was hurt and confused and now she was telling people about it searching for some sense of reason or at least consolation to ease the betrayal that she felt. But obviously I don’t know anything about psychology, because I was wrong.

“He was my only son,” she clarified. “And I wanted the best for him. When he was old enough I sent him off to the Dominican Republic to try to make life better. When he came back to me he wasn’t the same. They’d made him gay.”

Now she knew she had a captive audience from my friends sitting there with me. At first, Haitians wouldn’t want to hear about another Haitian being gay because it’s easier to stay in denial of that reality and it would give them no reason for sympathy towards the woman. But if it gives them another reason to hate Dominicans, then they’re interested. Then both the man and the woman become victims and they’ve all been symbolically wronged as Haitians. So the crazy lady began to preach.

“God tells us that men aren’t meant to be with men! He made us, women, to be with men! Ooooh, my son! He betrayed me. Now he’s lost. I haven’t seen him for weeks. Have you seen him?”

We hadn’t seen him, not that we knew of. He was out there somewhere, wandering, probably searching for a place to feel safe and accepted. Now she was wandering just the same, searching for him. As long as he’s still in this country, I doubt either of them will find what they’re searching for.

“He’s run away and I can’t find him! My only child!” She paused and looked up at the sky as if praying for a moment. Then back down at the ground where the girls were sitting. “So, what you cooking?”

No one said anything as she walked over towards the pot on the fire. Before she got there though, she paused right in front of me. She first glanced at me out of the corner of her eye then turned to face me straight on and stuck her hand out in front of me.

I was so puzzled by everything that had just happened that I didn’t react. I just stared at her hand and tried to let my mind catch up to the moment.

“It’s okay,” she said, “I’m African and you’re African, so we can touch each other.” Then she pushed her hand a little closer to my face.

I looked up into her eyes and she looked straight back at me. The girls by the fire, now behind her, snickered.

Although, clearly, neither of us were African, there was still some sort of genuinely beautiful truth in what she had just said to me. Especially since Africans are ridiculed here just as much as gays, the mentally handicapped, and Dominicans, but she chose to call us Africans to express our shared humanity.  Just as I started reaching out my hand to connect with my fellow African, Bebe, the father of the family at the house there, came out of the field to where we were and said, “They’ll eat you up here!”

With that the woman took off running but stopped at the back corner of the house and turned around to look at us all again.

“Really?” She asked.

“Yes! They’ll devour you!” Bebe said again.

Then she turned again and ran through the field behind the house to the next neighbor’s house, to see if they’d seen her son, maybe to search for more Africans, to tell her story once more.

How Not to Change the World

I would like to make this declaration for anyone willing to read it: Traveling does not equal changing the world. There are a handful of people in the history of all mankind that can legitimately take credit for changing the world. Most of them now have religions dedicated to them or wars on their resume. None of them were short term mission team members. None of them spent a week as a voluntourist in a notoriously poor place. Very few, if any, were from a white middle-class majority. And none of them ever had to declare their status as world changers on a t-shirt.

And we all know how sensitive I am towards bad mission t-shirts. This one that I saw recently broke all of my rules. “World Changers” it said. Some Bible verse was on there. Neon green, orange, and black, colors only appropriate for Halloween costume store employees to wear. And on a squad of short term mission teamers in Haiti. All middle class white Christians. Some of them, even friends of mine, whom I adore. Yet my face has been in my palm ever since seeing their t-shirts. But it’s not the first time that I’ve seen shirts like this on teams coming into the country. Some leaders of this particular group might even read this blog but most of the team was teenagers who probably loved the shirts and they still deserve to be encouraged. I wouldn’t want to crush any dreams.

Because it is a noble dream, to change the world. And far be it from me to ever discourage big dreams. If someone actually has a decent plan of how to change the world, I will be the captain of your cheerleading squad. (I shake a mean pom-pom). But let’s be real about what constitutes “changing the world”. Swooping in to Haiti from a privileged life and spending a week hugging kids and fixing roofs is not changing the world. Making a difference? Sure, I’ll give you that. Having an impact? I can meet you there. A good investment of the funds that it took to do it? Extremely debatable, but there’s still a case to be made for it. But changing the world? Please, spare me. There’s enough sugar in the coffee around here already.

You might as well slip your underwear over your pants and tie a cape around your shoulders.

I am not saying this to discourage short term mission teams. I just want to be clear that changing the world should not be the goal of a short term mission team. Set a goal that you can achieve for crying out loud! And don’t think that just because you’ve seen a different part of the world, that that means that you’ve changed the world itself. Be realistic. Set out to get involved in one community for example. Instead of “World Changers” the t-shirts could say “Awesometown, Haiti Partners” instead. (No, there’s no place in Haiti called “Awesometown” so don’t try to look it up on Google Earth. Although if I ever invent some sort of genius alternative housing solution for Haitians and decide to create an entire community of people with those houses, maybe that’s what I’ll call it.) Or you could just set out to improve the situation of one family who’s struggling. Then you wouldn’t have to declare who you are at all. You could just put a drawing of two horses eating hay and drinking tea on your t-shirt and write “going to hay-tea”. (I might even sign up for the mission team with that t-shirt, as long as it wasn’t neon. I vote navy blue.)

I know that the people back home at the church that sent these mission teams into the world want to think that they’re changing the planet. It makes them feel like the $10 they spent at  the team’s fundraiser supper was well spent because $10 is a pretty small price to pay for changing the world. But that team is going to spend their week abroad, come home all energized and changed themselves, and wake up the next morning to find that the world is still the same as it was before they left. They’ve undoubtedly gone through some personal transformation, and as I said, have probably made a difference in the lives of a few people that they encountered and helped out on their journey but the other 7 billion people on this planet aren’t going to notice.

Maybe I’m just being a cranky old man here. The truth is I’ve been here in Haiti for 6 years and I’ve been responsible for starting and coordinating many community programs that have made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people. But I certainly would never claim to have changed the world. And there are many people in this country, Haitian and foreign, who have lived here much longer and accomplished much more than I have, whom I admire greatly, but I would never say that they’ve changed the world, although they’ve definitely done some extremely important things. But they’ve accomplished those extremely important things by first simply wanting to get involved, taking a simple step into a situation where they might be of service. And can all of us, together, with our combined efforts great and small truly change the world with many steps taken in solidarity? Of course. No one believes that we are interconnected with all of humanity more than me and that every action we make does have effects in ways that we may never see or be able to describe. In this grand philosophical way, yes, we can each change the world and I hope that we can believe that in our hearts while not publicizing it on our clothes or our websites, or in our presentations. We must realize that it takes each one of us through our shared humanity to do so. It is nothing that any one of us can do by simply hopping on a plane and landing in the middle of a bunch of people who are poorer than we are and look very different than we do. If that is the definition of world changing, then we’re trying too hard. We’re much more likely to change the world when we are trying the least. Unknowingly we may set off a chain reaction of kindness and hope with a gesture that seems unremarkable to us that reaches much further than our intentional actions of helping others. And that comes from a state of being, not from a decision of doing.

If we’re actually hoping to change the world, then we need to stop saying that we are doing it, thinking that we’re doing it, trying to do it, and for the love of all things fashionable, stop writing it on t-shirts.

The Mission Fashion Pledge

So you want to join the mission fashion revolution with me? It’s simple, just raise your right hand and place the other on your travel guide to whatever country you’re traveling to (if it’s Haiti, then this should be your travel guide), if you don’t have a travel guide then a copy of Vogue or GQ can be substituted, and recite the following fashion pledge:

I Pledge…

  • To not wear cut-off t-shirts, ever.
  • To not wear gym shorts unless going to the gym, to bed, or into the ocean.
  • To not wear work boots that could be mistaken for cargo ships unless somewhere where something heavy could potentially fall on my toe or planning to tromp through deep mud for an extended distance.
  • To not wear matching team t-shirts unless purchased from my hosting organization
  • To not wear anything that I would be ashamed to wear in my home community
  • To wash my feet before going out in public wearing sandals.
  • To not wear anything that may cause flies to swarm around me.
  • To pack some cologne or perfume in my luggage.
  • To wear clothes that fit me appropriately.
  • To be proud of the goods God gave me without putting them on display like fresh fruit for sale at the market.
  • To not wear any t-shirt that has French on it unless I’m French. (Please take a moment to check whether or not you are indeed French before moving on.)
  • To only let little girls braid my hair because I know that it makes them happy, not because I think it looks good on me.
  • To not even entertain the idea of a fanny pack despite its supposed usefulness
  • To not wear socks that raise more than an inch higher than the top of my shoes.
  • To not wear safari gear unless I plan on seeing zebras along the way.
  • To not blame the community’s poverty for why I won’t find a mirror a look in.
  • To not blame the community’s poverty for why I won’t find water to bathe with or wash my clothes.
  • To not blame the community’s poverty for my own choices of how I present myself.
  • To not sacrifice form for function just because I’m changing environments.
  • To carry myself with a humble awareness that I am beautifully and wonderfully made and to dress myself like I believe it.

And, for your convenience, if you would like to print this out to share with your team, here is a PDF version, Mission Fashion Pledge, that you can download.

Storytelling

Some readers on this blog know me as a ruthless humanitarian critic, a pretentious fashion snob, or just an arrogant international blogger that’s hates mission teams. Others know me as a caring, yet honest brother, leader, and community member who just so happens to publish things that piss people off. (I’ve been getting quite the comments this week.) While any of this is true or not is certainly up for debate, there’s a side to this writer that isn’t presented much on this blog and it’s the storyteller and artist side of me. That’s the side of me that you’ll find if you read my book that just got published this week, The Grinder. Sure, you’ll get some of the same do-gooder criticism alongside evidence of my own good-doing in the book. Back in January I provided a preview of the book here on the blog, so if you read that you know what I mean. But ultimately the book is about the stories that make us human and make us one.

I originally thought that I’d be writing a book about the earthquake, much like the many other experts and survivors who’ve already shared their perspectives. As a survivor myself who was left homeless by the disaster far outside of the capitol city that was shown on the news reports, I thought that my story would be worth sharing. My experience was unique and definitely showed a different side of the event than what most people know. But as I wrote The Grinder I discovered that the project was not about the earthquake at all, but about exposing the depth of the Haitian spirit that runs pure through the communities of people that depend on one another here. It was the earthquake that truly awakened me to understand what it meant to be a part of a Haitian community, even though I had already lived here for 3 years. So although the book is set within the devastating times of this devastating event, it’s about much more than the event itself. And although most of the world has already forgotten about what happened to Haiti on that day, this sense of community that can provide each of us with strength and hope is something that is absolutely timeless,and that’s what I really want people to take away from the book. In the preface to the book I describe why I chose to write it:BookCover6x9_BW_230_FINAL-001

When people find out that I survived the earthquake they seldom know how to react.  Most of them coming to Haiti probably were inspired to do so because of the earthquake and find it hard to believe that there were any foreigners involved in the country before that.  It’s easy to assume that people that look similar to ourselves and come from a similar geographic origin probably have a similar story to our own.  We expect the survivor stories to come from people who look like the Haitians that we saw on the news in those days following the quake and we don’t expect their stories to have anything in common with our own.  Because they exist on the other side of the lines that we draw between the people needing help and the people who can provide help.  And somehow life is easier to muddle through when all the people on each side of that line have one huge generalized story for each other.  That’s when it’s clear what pronouns we are supposed to use, “us” and “them”.

But when we take the time to hear just one individual story that line starts to fade because we are invited to participate in their story with them.  And with each additional story that is told and heard, the lines fade more and more until they are not even noticeable any longer.

This book is that invitation to participate in the story.  Not only my own story of what I lived through during the earthquake in Haiti of January 12, 2010, but the story of my community that lived through it with me. That community is Mizak, a rural area near Jacmel on the southern coast, miles away from Port-au-Prince and the devastation that was seen on the news reports all over the world in the days after the quake. Mizak, however, and those who live there, was not far removed from the tragedy that was born from that quake.  The people in this community felt the effects of the quake in a very different way than those in the capitol, but none less significantly, and this book is my way to share their side of the story.

The stories represented in this book were collected in the months following the earthquake as a project of Living Media International as a sort of therapy through creative expression. It was a way to remind each other of the beauty that remained in life.  Early on after the quake all anyone could see was the ugly.  Through allowing them the opportunity to sit down and share their stories and get them down in writing we could also push them to look for where the hope would lie farther ahead.  In the casual conversations with neighbors as everyone would tell what they had lived it was easy to focus on all the bad things that had occurred.  By structuring people’s story telling with a more concrete goal in mind and in an environment of support and understanding, then they could process the fears more effectively and begin to see beyond them.

No names have been changed as those involved wanted their stories to be shared in their truest forms possible and all agreed to having them included in the book.  To some this book was their only hope of having their voices heard.

I am fortunate to be considered a part of this community and am honored that they would trust me with their stories in this way.

Although through these stories many issues are explored such as humanitarian aid, religion, and racial identity, the intent is not to analyze such issues to arrive at any conclusion but simply to show their role in the big picture of the event.  As noted throughout the book my conclusion is that enough words have already been hurled at the country and at the situation caused by the disaster to try to provide reasons for it all, but they only make things more confounding in the end.  We can forever continue to ask why and try to explain something that’s not meant to be explained, but the only real way to step forward towards a different future is to begin to understand each other a little more completely.  That is what can happen through our stories.

By reading on in this book, you not only are agreeing to open your eyes to a different perspective and see what it’s like in someone else’s shoes, but you are agreeing to help carry the load of those who must walk in those shoes daily.  By reading you are sending a message that their stories have value and their struggles will not be forgotten.  Although you, the reader, may never meet any of these individuals who are represented by the stories in this book, by turning the page you are stepping into their community and walking alongside them as they push forward toward a future worth surviving for.

Sound good? Well guess what, you can buy the book now on CreateSpace or on Amazon! You can also like the book on Facebook to get the latest updates and follow the website for more previews, reviews, and more. I don’t make any money off of writing this blog, so buy a book for you and all your friends, and it will help me keep living this crazy life here in Haiti. Thanks!