Heart problems & resolutions.. why I love going to Haiti

This past week we were blessed and reminded of the scarcity and sanctity of life. 

As I previously mentioned our daughter was diagnosed with a Heart arrhythmia, but they had no idea how severe or mild it was.  But knowing how worried we were Chris & Junior did an amazing job squeezing us into the Cardiologist before we flew out on Monday morning (despite the torrential downpours and the 2-3 feet of rivers blasting through the streets).

So, I can tell you that doctors in Haiti work much differently than in the U.S.  The doctors there keep open hours, even with 3 million some odd people – you don’t make an appointment, you just show up.

We showed up, and waited about 5 minutes, the doctors brought us in, got a little bit of the background story, talked to Christella in French (I didn’t know she knew French too) – and then placed her up on the table. 

He at first said “Oh, yes, I can hear it, it’s very distinguished”, then as tears welled up in my eyes he stated “There is nothing congenital, she has a slight murmur probably do to her severe malnutrition or anemia”.  He video taped it, wrote a report and handed it to us all in 20 minutes, costing $75 U.S.  The tears of joy that even now fall thinking how blessed we and she are that there was nothing seriously wrong.

And that very weekend, at home, my father had a stroke, which we didn’t find out until we returned home.  He seems to be doing ok, a lot of weakness, some confusion, but otherwise, nothing to serious (we think).  They’ve done MRIs, brain scans, chest xRays, echo Cardiograms, taking hours at a time, and days to get in, costing thousands and thousands of dollars… but we really haven’t heard the results of everything yet.

Apart from the reflection of the differences in the medicine (even though it is scarce) in Haiti, with the U.S. – it all just reminds me of how little holds us within the embrace of life from the clutches of death. 

One thing that I LOVE about going to Haiti is through the vast array of business, the University, Leadership development, house chores, work; it really forces you to come back and realize that as short as life really is on this earth, everything should funnel to a point.  Everything I do, everything, should be to support and love and care for mankind rising up to an ultimate love and responsibility to my family, and all I do for my family should be to God’s glory.

If at any time, I find that the all the support mechanisms I have for that triad (People, Family, God) are getting in the way, I need to step back and take a breather.  In the end, it doesn’t matter how smart I become, how many degrees I have, how much money I can make, or how much respect in my field I can earn:  People: that is where the true investment is.

Senyè a bay! Senyè a pran! Lwanj pou Senyè a!

Maine – the way life should(nt) be…

So we drove into Portland last night, from Miami, and Haiti the day before (around 95 degrees and 90% humidity).  We were in shorts and t-Shirts, and we jumped out of the car to get a bite to eat. 

As we were sitting in the restaurant Donovan said to me:  “Papa, when we came back to Maine, there was a sign that said ‘Maine, the way life should be’; but let me tell you, Life shouldn’t be like this, unless you live in Antarctica!”.

Amanda and I couldn’t stop laughing….!

The other side of the story…

Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with Mary, Ralph’s mother.  She said that this year was the first year that Ralph was in the compassion program, and his older brother has never been in the compassion program, that their need is very recent.

Mary’s husband has the skills of a mechanic and a mason, but there is no work in Haiti.  He was working in the Bahamas as an illegal so he could send money back to them so they could live.  They caught him and sent him back to Haiti.  She works sometimes as a cook, but it doesn’t bring in very much money at all, and her husband cannot find any work now.

I asked why they didn’t apply for a Visa; she said that it used to be that Visa’s were much easier to come by, if you had money – around 1,000$ US (which is a years worth of rent) – but now, you can’t even get them that way anymore.  They give out so few Visa’s that it’s near impossible to get them, and there is probably no possibility of ever getting a visa after being caught illegally in another country.

Apparently the economics of Visa’s goes something like this: very few Visa’s are given to people wanting to go to countries that are economically better than their own country – they are afraid the people will skip town and not come back.  Additionally, for every one migrant worker there is a worker that is displaced, replaced from that country.

And yet, these migrant workers will do the jobs that a lot of people don’t want to do in the country they are going to – mostly because they are hard, tireless and difficult, and sometimes even dangerous.  Most of the time these migrant workers work VERY hard, because they are supporting so many people that they can’t afford to be displaced, and the very little they get paid is like a fortune in the country they come from.

Towards the end of the day Mary described her situation and told me that their greatest need right now is financial; they pay about $80 US a month for their rent… I found out that the average Haitian income sometimes ranges a little higher than I previously thought – between $30-80 a month, but with a rent of $80 a month, that doesn’t leave anything for food.

Now that I’ve seen the impacts first hand from the immigrant workers perspective, with my own eyes, I may very well be in the process of changing my views…  Odd how experiences can do that to you….

First time for many things…

Today we started out with a standard typical Friday in Haiti – we were not going anywhere, we were just sitting around the Hotel, we swam a little, ate a little, etc.

Then this afternoon, we all decided to take a crazy trip.  I took my family out the guarded gate (big shot guns standing by the gates), down the street, around the main road, and way up the hill to a ‘fast-food’ restaurant.   Apart from the smells of sweat and rotten trash, and the murky water flowing by on the streets, and the crazy cars that would speed by and honk their horns to let you know that if you get hit, it’s your fault for not paying attention (that’s the way it works in Haiti, as long as a driver honks, it’s the pedestrians fault for getting hit), apart from all that, we made it safe out and back an hour or so later.

We had a lot of stares, ALOT of stares, some smiles, and a few requests for ‘dollar’.  One lady it was very hard to say no too; she was very, very skinny and was carrying a baby, on the way up, she said she was hungry, “Mwen grangou, Mwen dwè fè manje, Mwen grangou”, but we knew there was no way that we could hand her money; if we pulled out money and handed it to her, we ran the big risk of being overwhelmed with people, perhaps creating a pretty scary incident; and I had my wife and three little children to watch out for on the way there (on the way back, we had about 10 women, twice as many children, and one other guy besides myself).

On the way back out; she was still there, and she pulled out medical papers showing what looked to be a prescription and asking for money; I have no idea if the prescription was real, but I’m sure she could have used some money for her and her baby, but there was just no way I could risk handing her some.

We also got to spend some time with Ralph, one of the little boys we sponsor through Compassion.  He came with his mother and two compassion representatives.  He was so excited to meet us; and he had a blast playing fotbôul with Donovan and loved playing in the pool, although I asked him “Ralph, Ou nage byen?”, Ralph reponn, “Wi, mwen nage byen” he then proceeded to slip and fall into the pool and go under, we had to scramble to get him, he was down there for a good 15-20 seconds.  That’s the third child that has fallen into the pool so far this week, my daughter was the first… funny though, these children clear out their nostrils and climb right back in… they’re not scared at all.

Speaking of which, it’s also funny how the Haitian children are cold in 90 degree weather when they go swimming, they actually shiver…  Christella has been warming up to me over the last two days, today she wanted me to hold her, she wanted me to cuddle her, she wanted me to play with her, she talked with me a little too.  I’m so happy.  I miss my children at home, but I also have a growing sadness welling up as I look to our trip home next week, once again leaving my beautiful children behind for who knows how long. 

Anyway, we took so many pictures and printed out a whole bunch for Ralph and his mother.  I’ve decided to post some pictures tonight.


Donnie LOVES his little brother


Ralph and his mother Mary


Our baby girl Christella – she is Christella Bèl La!


Ralph loved the bubbles!


Donnie decided today that he could like football.


Baby goats and tons of fruit trees out near the hotel.


Ralph and his Mother


Our family that is in Haiti right now


Donnie and Ralph the Football players!

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Me and Ralph together


Christella would not let me put her down tonight


Christella and Manman Christella

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This was us stuck in the monkey cage during the down pour in the mountains at the Baptist Mission.

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Pictures of our little man!


Donnie & Christella


Amanda and Ralph in the pool


Another day in Haiti…

So, I had to pay another 50$ today (I got a little bit of a discount) to drive the three miles to the Embassy.  The drive took almost 2 hours.  We took a little different road than yesterday too, because we had to cut down a lot of side roads to circumvent the stand still traffic.  The car wouldn’t stay started either, so we had to keep popping the clutch, and even had to be pushed once to get it started again.

And even after the 110$ price and a full day of embassy travel (between yesterday and today) and waiting we cannot file our I600a this time.  Christella’s parent’s are both dead, and DHS told Chris to have her Uncle make out her name with his last name instead of her father’s last name.  But the Embassy said that just won’t work.  So now we have to redo a bunch of Christella’s paperwork over, and we also have to get an amendment to our Homestudy stating that we can adopt a child with a disability (Heart Arrhythmia is considered a disability).  So we’re not close to being done – and I will probably have to find the money to come back down to Haiti to file sometime very soon in the future.  I guess, on the upside, we now know these things before we get our papers into the legal system; it should help us in the long run.

Anyone who is reading this blog, please pray for our little girl that the Arrhythmia isn’t very bad, or perhaps not even there.  She is going for an echo cardiogram next week, and will see a cardiologist in June.

David is one amazing little boy, he is so full of laughs and talks he doesn’t complain at all except when he is hungry or he wants to be held – otherwise, he is content with everything!  Not like an American children we’re used to spending time with, they have almost no complaints at all, most of them are just happy to have a belly full and a place to sleep… 

Christella seems to be coming out of her shell, just as we’re getting ready to leave (in 3 days) – today she kept asking to hold my hand, she wanted to sit with me; we even had a couple short conversations.  This morning she even laughed when I tickled her, although she hid her smiles, she didn’t want me to see it.

And yet, her happiness is clouded with tears.  At least once a day she breaks down into full shoulder-shaking sobs.  We don’t know why, she won’t tell us.  She has gotten used to us now, so we wonder if she is remembering her parents.  Christella lost her mom at 2.5 years old, and lost her father a year later at 3.5 years old, and she came to the orphanage starving, at 4.5 years old and 24 pounds.  She has had a unbelievably rough life.  I hope the time for healing has begun, I hope she can come home as soon as humanly possible, and pray that God will reach down and have mercy on her and bring her into our family rapide.

On another note, Haiti continues to amaze me in the things I learn.  As we were driving down the road today I saw two firsts… first first was a traffic light – in fact there are a couple of them in Port-Au-Prince.  While the driving is still crazy (someone hit us today on their motorcycle) there are actually traffic lights once in a while.

Second first was a trash truck.  Yesterday while driving through the town I saw trash ‘cans’ that were at one time full of trash, but all the trash had been pulled out and strewn all over the ground, and there were people with plastic bags picking through the trash and filling up their plastic bags – I can only assume that is where they got their meals from, and we’re not talking about a few people; there were so many people picking through the trash.  And all around them where people with small blankets spread on the ground with corn and onions and mangos trying to sell them. 

We went to the Baptist mission today, Donnie was quite perturbed at the street vendors that were down the road that we went to visit.  They were so pushy, they wanted us to buy from them, they asked, and basically begged, they wanted nothing more to sell something.  We bought quite a few carvings (Have I mentioned how AMAZING the Haitian people are in their crafts and arts); but we only had so much money to spend, and there were so many people that we didn’t buy from, but they continued to follow us back into the compound, asking over and over for us to buy from them. 

I had to explain to Donnie that they have families to feed, and this is the only way they have to do it.  On the way back down he saw people climbing up the mountain with huge baskets on their head full of artisan products to sell, for what little money they make, they do this day in and day out… not a very simple life, but they do what they have to do.

While at the mission it started a torrential down pouring, and we ended up getting stuck inside of an unused monkey cage for almost 30 minutes.  I drove back in the trunk of the jeep – the trunk leaked… What a day.

Tomorrow we should be spending a little time with one of the compassion boys we sponsor.  I’m also looking forward to staying put for a day. 

While here I fixed one desktop, donated one laptop that I brought with me, and picked up two laptops to bring back to the states to try and fix.  I guess even my skills can be useful to help in Haiti.

Another day, another 30 minutes past.  I miss my Brae Brae and Bella, but I’m starting to to feel the sadness that is going to be overwhelming having to leave my two beautiful and wonderful Haitian children, and having no idea when we will be back again, and how they will fare in our absence.


Signing off once again from the town of Pètion-Ville.  Bondye Beni Ou, Bondye Beni la Haitians.

Into the belly of the whale….

So I went much further into the interior of Port-Au-Prince today – with a guy I met this morning named Enock.  He was a very nice guy; he spoke Creole, and French and a little bit of English.  It’s surprising how much language that you have studied comes to you in a situation like that.  We were able to communicate quite well… only once did I need help from Alix (our hotel manager who found Enock for me) – when I needed to find out how long until Enock got back.  It actually wasn’t as scary as I imagined, I ended up driving with my windows down, mixing with the people – sometimes even talking with them at stops (mostly to say “No I don’t want to buy <whatever they were selling>”.  There are people standing on the streets selling everything in Haiti – even Air.  We had to stop to have a guy start up an old rickety generator to pump air into the tires of the car I was riding in.

He was supposed to wait for me at the Embassy, but he received a call and had to leave – at least he got me a note telling me that.  When he came back though, he seemed very anxious, and his car was stuttering and it appeared to be out of gas.  I asked him, “Ou bwenzen Gaz?”, and he (knowing that i could speak more French than Creole) rattled off a few paragraphs in French – I didn’t understand him, so I just said a quick prayer – a warrior prayer.  I made it back ok.

The trip into Port-Au-Prince was heart-wrenching… so many times I almost lost it.  These people are so beautiful, not only in physical appearance, but in their spirits.  The air is so thick with poisons, burning plastic, rubber, most cars pouring out black smoke, it makes your lungs burn and ache, you feel like you are suffocating, not only under the heat itself, but under the weight of the noxious fumes.  You try to breath light, which only makes your oxygen starved body cry out for more and make you breath all the harder.  My lungs are in pain… how can these people live like this?

Everywhere there were school children, going to school, uniformed, playing, laughing, while all around them were hungry bellies, and putridity.  Trash heaps piled everywhere, people emptying what looked like slop water out into the streets.  All around were colorful signs painted on the walls, painted on billboards, i don’t think i ever saw a single bare wall, the murals were amazing; and yet, what kind of hope is there for these people? 

A life expectancy of 50; breathing in constant poisons, scrapping to feed families on a little less than a dollar a day.  I couldn’t imagine eating the food being sold and prepared in the market places.  I saw people filling old gas cans and bleach bottles with water – I wonder if they would drink it… something makes me think so.

The buildings were unbelievable, as you drove down the road, you could look over the ‘cliff’ of the road, and see two-three stories of buildings that went down into the ground and two or three stories that went up into the air… knowing that when storms come in Haiti there is massive flooding, it’s no wonder so many people die, in a town with millions of people, many living below grade…

I ache to save my children from their future here in Haiti…  I ache to help those left behind in anyway I can… I also had to spend a small fortune to get into the embassy ($60 US dollars for a 3 mile drive) – and I have to go back tomorrow… so I’m paying about $10 US a mile….  I didn’t have all the paperwork I needed…  into the belly of the whale again tomorrow, but Junior and Chris are going with me this time…

The trip to the beach was just as scary… sometimes reaching 70 miles per hour in a 14 seat van that had 28 people in it, no buckles, roads that were for the most part dilapidated and falling apart (although there was ALOT of rebuilding since the last time we were here from the hurricane the previous year).  Sometimes there were pits and ravines on either side, the roads crumbling into them, and we would swerve around going 60 mph.  Quite a few times we went head on to an oncoming car, at 60-70 mph, and the driver would swerve just at the last second.  Haitians are AMAZING, AMAZING, AMAZING drivers… American would likely die quickly on the roads over here… I SWEAR we grazed so many pedestrians, and they didn’t even blink…

Imagine, driving through your town at 70 MPH while 2-3 year old children play in and on the street, and they just blink and eye and slide out of the way of the vehicles that do not even attempt to slow down.

Apart from the noxious and poisonous fumes, I saw dead donkeys and dead cows along the road… 

The ocean, however, was beautiful.  Mountains in the panoply surrounding the ocean, mist, bright blue ocean, sandy beach, wildlife everywhere… but it took us 2 hours to get out far enough that the OCEAN was safe enough to play in…

On another note, we found out that our daughter has a heart arrhythmia,  please pray for her that it is not very dangerous – she is going to go for tests in a couple weeks, and then will go for a second opinion in a few weeks after that.  We also found out that our beautiful baby boy not only had malaria, but his GI infection was causing him to have bloody stools and he had dropped so dangerously low in weight, that they had to give him a feeding tube… after a second round of antibiotics he finally seems to be getting better…  Chris and Hal and the HIS Home staff, are amazing people!  Chris was so worried about our son that she used skin contact therapy to keep him with us… 

It makes me weep; I want them to come home with us … I want them safe…  Please pray for our children, please pray for this country, please stand up and do what you can to help.  I don’t care how these people look on the outside, and how well they seem to be taking their “lot in life” – these people HAVE to be hurting on the inside; they HAVE to know that this isn’t how life is supposed to be.  Why should they have to wait to die to taste the riches of life that God has given?  Why?  My 16$ pizza would feed a family of 6 for half of a month…  God, send your warriors!

And please, while you’re at it, heal my lungs, because I feel pain at each breath, and I can’t get the smell of poisons out of my nostrils.

Signing off in Haiti on Wednesday, May 20th, 2009.

Tomorrow is going to be an adventure… (to say the least) – Psa 37:3

So, I’m driving into the city of Port-Au-Prince tomorrow, by myself, with a fella by the name of Enoch that I’ve never met yet, and he doesn’t speak any English…  This is definitely a first for me, and I’m feeling a bit nervous (ok, quite a bit), for more than a few reasons which I will blog about tomorrow night (hopefully).

Alix, the really great manager of the Hotel we’re staying at says Enoch is one of the only guys that he trusts… hopefully that means I’ll be safe…  In a foreign city, by myself and can barely speak any understandable Creole…  … … …

(Psa 37:3)  Trust in the LORD and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

(Psa 37:3)  Mete konfyans ou nan Seyè a, fè sa ki byen! Pran peyi a fè kay ou, viv ak kè poze!

On another note, it was sobering tonight to realize that the price we pay for one dominos pizza (16 US) is a little more than half a months pay for the majority of people in Haiti – boy do we take a lot for granted!

And on that same note, I MISS my refrigerator with the built in ice and water.  It’s been in the 90’s with 90% humidity and each bottle of water costs us 1.50$  and we’ve been drinking a very large amount each day (between the 5 of us).


Here are a few pictures…