Again, it's hard to summarize what all we learned from the people of Haiti but there are some things that Pat and I continue to talk about as we digest the trip. One of our first experiences with the people of Haiti was during a Saturday prayer/worship service. We had been working in the morning, changed into something more appropriate and sneaked into the back. We walked in during one of the most lively worship experiences I have ever seen. People were up and down the aisles dancing with each other, smiling and singing loudly. It took us all awhile as we observed and soon we were dancing right along with them. How can you not?! The next morning we attended the Sunday church service and it wasn't as lively with all of the dancing but there was still some serious worship going on (see photo below).
We both were struck by how uninhibited the people were in the way they worship. We're used to the Hamilton County way, which is reserved and protected. Sitting in a super hot church, for a three hour service, would make you think the people would be somewhat like us back home. But that's so far from how it was and it was such a breath of fresh air to be part of it.
During church, Pat and I sat towards the back with some of the high school boys of the group. The girls made their way to some pews and immediately were handed sleeping babies from the moms sitting behind them. I had a bit of jealousy as I watched all the babies resting their heads on the girls' shoulders. As I was literally thinking "I want to hold a baby," a little girl, probably age seven or eight, came out of nowhere, sat as close to me as she physically could and grabbed my hand. We sat like that for the whole three hour service. She ended up passing out on my lap, and drooling all over my skirt which was super cute. She undid my braided hair a bunch of times and kept playing with my wedding band and staring at Pat when I would point to him to show her what the band stood for. I never did catch her name because she ran off pretty fast after service but it was such a sweet moment, or three hours for me.
I mentioned before that I didn't always bring my camera with me when we went into the village. The first time I brought it I learned that I needed to be able to hide it at times and after that brought it in our backpack. It was so interesting how my big camera brought all the boys over to me to see if they could figure it out. One boy had my camera for at least 30 minutes and figured it out pretty well. I think he took close to 100 photos. These are some of his photos. He was very proud of them and kept showing them to me and all his friends after he took them. They got a huge kick out of how fast my camera took the photos and were laughing at how it sounded. Boys of all cultures like figuring out gadgets!
One of the nurses, Aubree, grabbed my camera to play with it and I loved seeing some of the photos she captured. Here are our girls painting the toe nails of a bunch of the village girls.
During the English Speaking camp we got to learn a lot about the kids. I was with the 8-10 year old group (with two 5-year-olds). Trying to teach them some new games was pretty entertaining. They didn't seem to care for American football too much so turned it into this football/soccer combination. We did girls against boys for many of the games and just like here, they were super competitive. The boys kept getting mad because the girls were winning when we played kick ball. Pat was with the 14-15 year old group which was mostly made up of teenage girls. It was funny to hear their stories of the games because the girls got super competitive.
I loved seeing how the kids took in the lessons. I'm not sure what I was expecting but they truly were just like any other kids their age. The classroom was mixed with those truly paying attention, squirmy kids, kids with their head on their desk trying to stay awake and others drawing in their notebooks. The team at NVM did a great job with our age group and tried to keep them as active as possible to keep them engaged.
The sibling protectiveness is easy to see. There were a couple of siblings in our age group and the older ones would always make sure their younger siblings were taken care of, which meant for me that the five-year-olds were passed off to me. Their sisters would come to check on them or look back to see if they were doing okay. Something that struck a lot of us was how the kids shared their candy prizes when they won a game. The gave out Jolly Ranchers and the kids would put them in their mouth, break it into pieces with their teeth and then pass out the broken pieces to their friends. I have never seen a child in American do that! I do have to admit it was mostly the girls doing this and I didn't see a whole lot of boys sharing their candy. It just was amazing to see how little they have and how rare candy is, yet they willingly shared it.
Here are two of the siblings that were in the youngest age group, Elisha and Jenina. Elisha always made sure where I was and wanted to sit by me or hold my hand.
One of the days that we walked to the children's home, Pat and I saw this boy drawing in his Spiderman pajamas and I knew I had to show it to Zane. Even though you see logos, Disney characters and super heroes all over everything, they aren't aware who those people are. They don't have TV to see the shows and don't have access to the books the characters are in. Seeing this boy drawing brought a huge smile to Pat.
The girls loved to play with our hair. Mine was normally up really high in a bun so they didn't go after it a lot but Lauren's was a magnet for the girls. They did all kinds of crazy hair styles to her and Lauren took all the tugging and pulling like a champ.
Art goes through cross-culturally as well and a set of boys was really focused on tracing and drawing things. They loved one of the intern's tattoos and wanted a drawing of it. Time to call in Pat! He copied a portion of Jordan's tattoo and the boys made sure to let him know when he was missing parts that they wanted.
This is Rose. Baby Rose has a special place in a lot of the NVM staff's hearts and you can just see how loved she is by them. She's pretty timid with everyone else but when it comes to the nurses, she clings to them. There's some stories of Rose and her journey on Aubree's blog.
As you observe the children in Haiti you wonder how it is even possible that they can have huge smiles and laughing out loud. They are up against so much and yet you can't tell by interacting with them and the way they so willingly give love back to complete strangers.
This is baby Davidson. He's a month younger than Jude. I have read a bit about him on Brooke's blog so it was fun to get to meet him in person. He is completely attached to Brooke though and there's no one else that can hold him! I think because he is Jude's age his story has been so powerful to me. There's something about seeing a child the same age as yours and realizing how much your own child has access to. It was eye-opening to talk to the nurses and learn about why so many babies are unhealthy or near death. Of course there is the overall food issue but there are so many cultural things that women believe when it comes to breastfeeding, women having postpartum depression and just not knowing what to do with another child. I wanted so badly to talk to the moms about their struggles but the language barrier hindered that.
Brooke has been a friend since I started volunteering with Merge and she has been living in Haiti as a nurse. Pat and I both loved seeing her in her element. You can tell she has strong relationships with the women in the village and the kids just run to her. Here she is with two babies passed out on her and kids surrounding her.
Another cutie in the village.
Then there's this guy! Meet Jackenlyn, the other five-year-old in the youngest age group. When he came to the first day of camp Pat and I knew immediately that he wasn't eight, he looked the same age as Zane. Pat ended up playing with him a lot and playing tag until we had to break up into our groups. Watching him with the older kids it became apparent that he was going to need a bit of extra watching. I felt like it was somewhat of a familiar situation to me so I took on the responsibility of keeping an eye on him. Whew...that first day after camp was over I was exhausted! It's hard enough to run after Zane but when you can't speak the same language as a five-year-old it makes it even harder. He didn't want to play the games with the older kids because he was just too small and a bit scared. He participated as much as he could in class with help from his sisters but he usually lost interest pretty quickly. And during snack and lunch time he'd wonder off to investigate whatever was around the corner. Sounds like a typical five-year-old boy right?
The funny thing was that the other five-year-old in our group was Jenina and she was such a precious little thing, always following along and stayed right by your side. That whole "boys are totally different" thing goes for in Haiti too! At one point I could not figure out what Jackenlyn was trying to tell me so I grabbed one of the translators to help me. The translator laughed and told me that Jackenlyn said I remind him of his mom. I missed Zane and Jude terribly but getting to spend a ton of time with this little guy made it a bit easier to be away from them and get my all-boy fix.
This is Nephtalie and she was this shy, sweet girl in the 8-10 age group. She has the most gorgeous eyes I have ever seen.
It took the teenagers in Pat's group awhile to warm up to him. Again, they aren't used to having male figures around so Pat just tried his best to connect with them and finally a few of the girls warmed up to him. They were amazed that he was married and when he showed them who I was during lunch one day I could hear them asking if he loved me a lot. They were so curious about it.
This is another shot of the village of Onaville. This shows the vastness of the village. As I think about Haiti and the people there I am in awe of their strength. They are up against so much and yet continue to push forward. The Haitian woman in particular amaze me. When we were in the village one day a mother stopped by to say hi to the nurses and then left to get to water for her donkeys. Almost two hours later when we were walking back to campus we saw her coming back into the village. I wondered if I would have the strength to do that, to carry water so far and hours later return home. While so many of us saw the poverty the Haitians live in we also saw their determination and joy. There's still so much to learn and take in from them allowing us to be part of their lives for a week.