Olivia Hosey
Olivia Hosey
Haiti 2018 - 2019
Bonjou! I am living in Gonaives, Haiti for a year working with 2nd Story Goods, a social entrepreneurial retail company. I will be serving as the Administrative Assistant. In this role, I will be assisting them with their marketing and operations plans; I will also be working with local entrepreneurs to develop their business plans. Read More About Olivia →

open mind, open heart

I have officially made it through what I thought was the hottest month, July, only to find out that August is actually supposed to be the hottest month! Wish me luck!

A few weeks ago, I had the sweetest treat with some visitors coming to Gonaives. Renee, who is the lady who I went on my second trip to Haiti with and the one who introduced me to Kathy to begin with, brought a team of rising college freshman to Gonaives for 2 days. I knew since they were from my home town of Knoxville and involved with Young Life, I would probably get along well with them, and I was right; they were truly such a great group! Since we don’t host mission teams at 2nd Story Goods, this was my first experience helping a team plan out their time; other than them being left at the hotel restaurant alone trying to order 10 pizzas, not knowing that a catered meal was on its way, it went surprisingly well! Having them here enabled us to bring several people who had been laid off back to work for the day which was such a blessing to us; since the team was mostly girls who found plenty of stuff to buy, it also really positively impacted our sales for the week!

Explaining the group’s time here will give you a taste of what your time might look like if you ever come see me in Gonaives! We had homemade Haitian spaghetti and fresh juice ready for them when they arrived, which was a huge hit since their bus took 4 extra hours to arrive due to breaking down; while they ate, Beaver shared with them the vision and story behind Much Ministries. They did a Make and Take session, which is when people get to work side by side with our artisans to make their own piece of art to take home. I ran around trying to help where I could as everyone enjoyed making bracelets, Haitian paintings, and shirts.

In the evening, we went to play soccer at the local stadium against a group of Gonaives Young Life kids. I was thankful to finally get to meet the guy in charge of Young Life here and am planning on visiting one of their Young Life clubs when the school year starts; Young Life was a huge part of my life in the US and something I really miss, so I’m really excited about that! It was my first time playing soccer since high school (over 5 years!) and man, I had appreciation for how in shape I was in high school until that day. I had such a hard time keeping up, but it was so much fun. I have missed playing soccer so much, and this incentivized me to try to find more opportunities to play here (last week, I shared this with a Haitian friend and she has already me invited to play with her and some friends soon!).

After the soccer game, the group checked in at their hotel, which also has a restaurant that is my favorite place in town and pretty much the only other place I go rather than work and home. We call it “Narnia” because it feels like a magical land that is a stark difference from the city, filled with lots of trees, greenery, silence, and peace. The next morning, the team woke up early to go on a bike tour with Pedale. Pedale is the official name of the new biking group that my friends run. It has developed into it’s own branch under their photography company, We Do. Renee’s group was there first official tour group! We rode to our favorite spot by the river, which we have coined “Flamboyant Beach”, named after the beautiful tree with red flowers- yes, the plant’s real name actually is Flamboyant! We swam in the river and ate a wonderful breakfast that included fresh pineapple and mango.

We headed back in town for everyone to get cleaned up. Over lunch, I told the group how I ended up in Haiti and how meaningful it was for me to have them in Gonaives. I explained that the centralization of Port au Prince makes what’s already a struggling economy struggle even more, and that’s why at Much, we are committed to the development of Gonaives. Having visitors coming to Gonaives to see the beauty it has to offer and to partake in the economy here is such a big deal! After lunch, the group got to do some quick shopping before they went to tour Benson’s leather workshop. Benson is our leather artisan who employs over 20 people in Jubilee, the developing community on the outskirts of town where 2nd Story Goods started. He is incredibly intelligent and inspiring. His favorite thing to tell groups when they come to see him is: the way you keep poor people poor is by giving them everything they need. I love to watch the awe-inspired faces of visitors as they meet Benson and hear his story of approaching MK with a Bible he had rebound in leather himself over 8 years ago, and then get to look around at his workshop and see what he has built in that time. It is so incredibly beautiful. His workshop truly feels like a sacred space.

Having this team come was honestly an answered prayer for me in more ways than one. Obviously, with our struggle with sales and people being laid off, it was such a blessing to have them come and lessen that burden a little bit. Additionally, showing them the best parts of Gonaives also gave me such an appreciation for my little slice of Heaven here; it made me realize how incredibly lucky I am to live this life. But most importantly for me personally, it really helped my view of short-term mission teams. Since living here, I have found myself having an unexplainably hard heart toward those who are here on these types of teams, and I have been praying about it a lot, because I know that is a toxic mindset that is not of the Lord. I think that knowing what my mindset was on my first two short term mission trips to Haiti- mostly comprised of a white savior complex- before I know what I know now is what causes me to cast unfair judgements on others. That is ridiculous because first of all, I cannot assume that everyone is thinking the same way I did on my first few trips, secondly, no one knows what they don’t yet know, and lastly, even if they are coming in with a similar mindset, they are just in a different part of their journey than I am- a part that was crucial for me in learning what I have since then- and when I was in that part of my own journey, I know I needed a whole lot of grace in order to keep journeying! Having this team here humbled me and filled me up. They wanted to learn just as much as they wanted to serve, and their open minds and hearts opened my mind and heart back up, too.

Update: everyone will be back at work this week at 2nd Story Goods! Thank you to everyone for your prayers, purchases, and words of encouragement. and please, keep them coming!

The wonderful Renee! I wouldn’t be here without her!

Had such a blast playing soccer, even though the Haitian team was literally running circles around us

Flamboyant Beach! there is a ton of natural clay there so I made everyone try out its healing properties on their face!

Pedale’s first ever tour was a success!

Had a beach day with our normal biking/hiking gang! Ate, drank, swam, and played the day away in the sun

Someone had a connection and we got this private beach with a pool and pavilion for the day for a super great deal. Look how beautiful!

wins and learns

There’s a famous quote by Nelson Mandela: “I never lose. I either win or learn.” We stand by that at 2nd Story Goods, calling things that some might see as losses “learnings” instead. I am learning to apply that philosophy to my life here as well.

The past week has been the busiest I’ve had in a while. What’s funny is I’ve been nowhere near as busy as I used to keep myself in college, but I have been exhausted from it nevertheless. I have come to terms with the fact that I simply cannot live the way I used to anymore, stuffing more things than anyone thought was possible into each day, and I am thankful for this post-grad season that has helped slow me down a lot. I now spend a good amount of time outside of work in my house; when I’m not cleaning, cooking, or doing dishes,(all of which does take up a good amount of my time) I’m calling friends, reading, occasionally watching Netflix, trying new recipes, napping, doing yoga on my porch, and journaling. Wow when I put it out there like that, doesn’t that sound nice?! I realize that life will not be like this forever (i.e. if I get married and have kids) but I really am thankful for this time that I get to be selfish. And with all the time for reflection, I am seeing a lot of internal growth, which I trust is preparing me for the unselfish seasons to come. (I’d say this is both a win and a learn right now! It can feel like a loss to have a less flourishing social life than I am used to, but I am learning to be okay with being alone more often, and even to really enjoy it!)

All that being said, this past week included very little time in my house, and that was a wonderful break from my routine, especially because I’m an extreme extrovert. Rebecca, Kathy and Beaver’s daughter, who is also one of the people I work closest with at 2nd Story Goods, came to visit. She is our retail sales manager and also handles all of our social media marketing, so technically I am her manager. But we are close in age, so most of the time it just feels like we’re friends! She works part-time while she is currently in school in California, and this was actually the first time we’ve gotten to work together in person. We worked long days, doing several photoshoots, rewriting some copy on our website, and doing a lot of thinking and talking about where we see our brand going. Outside of work, I joined the Brooks for dinner, we went shopping, went on a bike ride, had a pool day, and hung out with Val and Jude. I knew before Rebecca  left that I would be so sad to have her leave, and I was right. Especially because Kathy ended up leaving on the same day to go back to the US for a month and a half. Jude and Val are my closest friends here now, and I love spending time with them; I’ve never had such close guy friends and I am truly so grateful for it. But still, I cannot deny that I have always been a girls’ girl through and through.  And all of this made me miss Laura, my best gal pal here who is still on sabbatical in the US, because we used to do all those fun things together. I can’t wait for the day she comes back! And I am already counting the days until Kathy is back at the end of August. And Rebecca and I are already making plans for her next visit! (This whole week was a big win! especially because we got some really great work done)

Like I’ve mentioned before, our sales have been way down this year due to the political unrest in Haiti that has caused a decrease in tourism. Traditionally, 28% of our sales have come from in the country; however, sales in country have been almost non-existent this year compared to years past. Because of this, unfortunately we were forced to lay everyone off here for at least 2 weeks, while those of us who work with the US market try hard to make up the sales there. This isn’t the first time ever that the company has been forced to do lay-offs, and it feels like something that can come with the territory of building a company in a developing country. But it is my first time experiencing something like this, and is definitely challenging, especially when I’m newly in charge of sales and marketing. But I stand by what I’ve said the past few months (because our sales have not been where we know they needed to be for most of the year), and that is that I truly believe everything in our company is moving in the right direction. When I look at how things are constantly being uncovered that need to be done differently, new systems are put in place company-wide, and our brand is being communicated more clearly, I am so encouraged. So, though I feel even more pressure now to increase sales than I did before, I also have had practice these past few months in learning the lesson that I need only to do as much as I can and know that is all I can do. I’m trying to remember that even as I do get a little frantic trying to find new wholesale clients and tweak our retail strategy. (this is obviously a learn. we are learning SO much right now about how to do things better. So so much.)

A few weeks ago, I made yet another mistake that caused some people at work to be upset with me, and rightfully so. I posted something on our instagram story that was less than honoring because it sounded like we were giving hand-outs at work,  which  wasn’t true. It is a sensitive thing here because nobody likes to be painted as needing hand-outs, but that is often the way foreigners like to present Haitians to the rest of the world. Though like always it was very hard to hear that I did something hurtful, even though it was completely unintentional, it was a huge learning lesson. It ended up leading to some deeper revelations about how much I care about what others think and how I constantly feel misunderstood, and often time just plain disliked, as a foreigner here.

Val explained to them that I was so sorry and added that I was going to keep making mistakes as I continued to learn, so they would need to continue to be patient with me. I wasn’t there for that conversation, so without me even having the chance to apologize directly first, each person who had been upset made a point to either give me an extra long hug the next morning, ask how I was doing, and even invite me to hang out outside of work. The tears of frustration and impatience with myself from the day before turned into tears of gratitude for the undeserving grace I am shown here, for knowing that I am loved and accepted even when I am sometimes misunderstood. (this was a really good and important learn)

Even on the hard days, like making yet another cultural mistake or feeling the pressure of getting enough sales to bring everyone back to work, I am still so thankful to be here. Even on those days, I still cannot imagine myself being anywhere else. Even on those days, I am overwhelmingly grateful that this is my life right now and for -especially on those days- how much it is teaching me, both wins and learns included.

Couldn’t get the women’s world cup final to stream in Haiti on any platform, so my family FaceTimed me into the game. This was a BIG win!

Throwback from my Timehop app! 4 years ago, when I was in Gonaives for the first time as an “intern” with 2nd Story Goods! I put “intern” in quotations because in reality Kathy and I just had a few email exchanges through which she agreed to let me come, and then I hopped on a plane and followed her around for 3 weeks.

Rebecca and me after a full day of taking photos! We had the best week together!

Becca and me soaking up the sun after swimming in the river mid bike ride.

Went downtown via tap tap on Becca’s last night to get street food and milkshakes. I don’t typically go out at night so this was actually very fun!

When things were slow in the sewing room, I asked a few of our sewers to make a t-shirt blanket for me, and it turned out beautiful! Last time I came back from the US, I brought some of my most meaningful t-shirts for this purpose. It includes several Belmont shirts of course!

the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet

Happy July!

Friday, we went to Port au Prince to move all of our stuff out of and close down the 2nd Story Goods store at the Marriott Hotel. Unfortunately, after renting the space for 3 years, it just was not financially feasible for our company, especially with the large decrease of visitors coming to Haiti this past year. This was the first really difficult decision I’ve had to help make since being here. Though it will result in a slight decrease in our overall sales, it will automatically make us financially healthier as a company, and that is currently the most important thing for our survival. And for me, as head of marketing and sales, it will free me up from constantly trying to figure out how to increase sales there and enable me to put all of my energy into the US market for now.

We now are starting to prepare to move into our new storefront at Market Place Gonaives (the new building being built by our parent non-profit, Much Ministries). The building is getting closer and closer to being finished every day, and though it is still difficult to predict an exact opening day, we expect it to be this fall. The downstairs of the building is ready for the grocery store vendor to start their build out and move in process, but with the recent state of the country, everything has been a little delayed. We expect to be able to start moving into our new store in the next few weeks, which is very exciting! When I was here 4 years ago interning with Kathy, I actually helped them move the store for 2nd Story Goods from the foyer of their house into the garage next door, and it was one of my favorite parts of my time here. Everything was on a much smaller scale then and it’s pretty cool to think about how far the company has come since then.

Since I was in Gonaives with 2nd Story Goods for the first time exactly 4 years ago, I have been reflecting more recently, mostly on how crazy it all is and how lucky I am to be exactly where I am doing exactly what I’m doing. I don’t even think I can explain how perfect it all feels, how natural it has all been. Kathy always said that after I was here 4 years ago, she hoped I would come back but was almost positive I wouldn’t; that I would maybe get swept into a swanky corporate America job or something after college. It’s funny because when I left Gonaives 4 years ago, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because the 3 weeks I spent here were some of the best and most formative of my life, in large part because of everything Kathy came to mean to me and taught me in that short time, and in seeing the dignity and joy with which the employees of 2nd Story were working. It was completely different than anything I had ever seen, and everything and more I had hoped it would be.  And the more time that passed throughout college, the more sure I was that I had found my calling at this little company in Gonaives and that when I returned to work in Haiti after college, I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. I think about all the internships, classes, travels, and experiences that I had between that first time in Gonaives and returning here after graduation, and I’m so glad that I didn’t just drop everything and stay, even though that’s kind of what I felt like doing. By the time I got here in the fall, I had grown into exactly I was supposed to be at the time before coming back to Haiti in every single way, and the timing could not have been more perfect. It all reminds me of one of my favorite Frederick Buechner quotes: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” That is exactly what it feels like I am experiencing here.

I finally got my Haitian visa! After 4 visits to the immigration office in Port au Prince, it is officially in my hands, meaning I can legally stay in Haiti for longer than 3 months at a time. From now on, I will just have to renew it every year. It is such a relief to finally have it, and now it is official that I won’t leave again until my Lumos presentation in October.

Lately at work, I have been trying to focus my attention on acquiring new wholesale clients. I have been doing a lot of research into possible stores, churches, coffee shops, etc. who would be interested in buying our products wholesale to sell ( if you’re reading this and happen to know of any, please let me know!) Thanks to the work of the Enactus team this past semester, we have a beautiful, super professional looking wholesale packet that we are sending out to all the brick and mortars, and I am emailing the PDF out to the online stores. One of the Enactus students is even going to stores in Nashville this summer and passing out the physical copies personally! Enactus also PAID for several copies of the packet. We are so very thankful, and I already feel so much comfortable doing cold calls, knowing that we have something so professional to give them.

I am also trying to figure out how to finish up our fundraiser so I can stay here next year; we have about $12,000 and need $13,000 more, so we’re almost halfway there. The original idea that I helped come up with was to do a kickstarter style where people get something in exchange for their donations at different levels; we are going to pivot from our current strategy and try that next! In addition to the money to do needed equipment upgrades and provide my salary for the next year, the money we are currently fundraising will also provide for a marketing budget (think: better marketing= more sales= more work for our current artisans and the creation of new jobs for more people= whole families lives stabilized and changed!). Since I have pretty much been working without a budget at all for the past 9 months, I am SO excited to have this money to work with to increase sales, and plan to use a good bit of it to try to grow our retail sales. I also found out this week that our retail sales have doubled in the past year. It was so encouraging to hear that the fruit of our labor is truly making a difference and that growth is happening, even when we feel like we are so far from where we need to be.

I am currently on the lookout for a marketing mentor to give me advice and feedback on my strategic decisions as well as how to spend real money wisely (spending real life money is scary! ), so if you happen to know of anyone who may be a good fit, please let me know (big plus if they are in a similar industry/start up type company) . I’ve realized that if I were working in a bigger company, there would be people with more experience with marketing as well as specialized degrees above me who I would be learning from, and though I am so thankful for the opportunity and up for the challenge, I suddenly became IN CHARGE of marketing, less than a year out of college, with only two introductory marketing classes under my belt and no prior experience. Though other experiences in college taught me a lot about it and I do feel like it comes pretty naturally to me (not to mention that I’m a millennial who knows so much about the power of social media and there is so much free helpful info online), I have decided that it would be wise for me to find someone who has more experience than me (which obviously isn’t too hard!) to bounce ideas off of and learn from. I think the thing that really drives me here is that I believe wholeheartedly in our company and what we are selling, and I think that really comes through in all of the efforts put on by our marketing team! I don’t really know how people sell things they don’t believe in! I know there are people who are very much okay with doing jobs that they aren’t passionate about and pursuing their passions on the side, and many people who just are not privileged enough to do differently, but I feel extremely blessed that my job is my passion. Now that I have that in my very first job, I am probably spoiled and would be very difficult for me to ever be able to do a job I’m not passionate about from now on! Ha. 

For now, I am so happy and present where I am that I cannot even begin to try to imagine what the future holds. And I consider myself so very fortunate to truly be doing a job where “my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

The Saturday bike riding club is turning into a really beautiful thing! More to come on this later

 

Last Saturday, the bike riding included impromptu wall climbing and mango eating!

Every bike ride includes some time to swim in the river!

All moved out of the Marriott store :/

The whole staff took a little field trip to the new store! We are so excited for new beginnings here 🙂

Went on a spontaneous adventure last weekend to find this incredible spot!

highs and lows

The past few weeks have been filled with highs and lows. Kathy always says that’s how life is here: raw. The highs are unbelievably high and the lows are painfully low. The beauty is so crazy tangible and yet the pain is as well.

So, the lows. First, a not so serious one. There was a rat in my house for a time, taking bites out of my bananas (the only food I leave out and an absolute staple in my diet!). I actually had been told about it by a girl staying in my apartment before returning from the US and came prepared with no-touch, no-see mouse traps. When I got back, I realized that it had to actually be a rat. I have an actual phobia of these rodents and was so scared to be anywhere but in my room! After a few weeks, I realized that it was sneaking in at night through my front door and then leaving which brought me a little relief to know that it wasn’t always in my house. I bought some sticky pad rat traps on a trip to Port au prince, and the rat just ended up escaping from them every night. Valéry helped me make an attempt at a home made trap, with a bucket and a ramp and a cardboard piece where you put the bait, and then they fall in, and I woke up in the morning to find the bait missing and no rat in sight. Thankfully, I haven’t seen any hints of the creature in about a week now, and have moved my bananas to an unreachable spot. I knew when I moved to Haiti I should expect these kinds of things to happen, but I got so used to not having any problems that it really got to me when it happened! I guess this little guy was just trying to welcome me to the reality of my new home 🙂

Another low: I am so used to what life looks like here that I go through most days just operating “normal”, how I always have (which I have discovered over the past few years is not letting myself feel emotions I categorize as negative). But lately, I have found myself having moments when the extremity of the poverty here hits me. One day in particular stands out. While I was walking from work to my creole lesson- only a 10 minute walk- 3 different people asked me for the equivalent of 10 cents US. By the end of the walk, I was almost in tears. What kind of desperation does it take to ask for 10 cents? What can you even do with that? Buy two little packs of water or maybe a banana or a pack of crackers? Then I thought about what I was wearing. I realized that the earrings that I bought from another artisan company in Haiti had cost $32, which is more than some people who have what are considered decent paying jobs make in a whole week here.

Then I came home, and on Facebook I read a post from a missionary here. She does birthday celebrations for the kids in her after school program, and she was talking about what this one teenage boy wanted to do for his birthday. He requested that all the money that would be spent on doing something for his birthday would instead go towards buying a bike. He was still short some money, so he saved the money his mom gave him to eat at school each day until he finally had enough. He said he had always wanted a bike, ever since he was a little boy, and never thought he would actually be able to get one. And all I could think about was how having a bike as a kid in the US is not considered a luxury, but the norm. And for this kid, getting a bike was an actual dream come true. While these things are not easy to think about or feel, it is vital that I do- both as someone dedicating my time here to improving living conditions through job creation and really just as a fellow human being. And sometimes I simply do not let myself feel these things enough. If I do not let myself feel it, then what am I really doing here? I quickly become disconnected from the mission and go through the motions. This, I am realizing is yet another result of my privilege, and something to continue to be aware of and dismantle.

And now for the big low. For the past week, Haiti has been under political unrest in the form of protests yet again. The main road that runs from north to south has been dangerous to travel on at times because of roadblocks set up by demonstrators. While gonaives has had some protests, it was still safe to go to work all of last week. Next month will mark one year since all of this started when the government announced the end of subsidized gas prices. Soon after, the people started demanding answers for what happened to all of the money lended from Venezuela for development purposes, because it obviously had not been invested into the Haitian infrastructure.

Unfortunately, due to the unknowns and unrest, I had to cancel a trip to go to the DR to visit my friend Emily’s family while they’re on vacation this week. Emily was also supposed to come back to Haiti with me after, which now also has to be canceled. No one is sure what is next, but I am praying hard for peace and needed change to come through justice, for the darkness of lies and corruption to be brought into the light, and for provision and safety for the people here throughout it all. Please join me in lifting up Haiti and her people in prayer!

Some highs: I finished decorating my room! Since I plan to stay in this apartment next year (because I love everything about it) I have made an effort to make it more homey. While decorating pretty much just consisted of buying a few pillows and baskets from 2nd Story Goods and putting some of my favorite photos and mementos on the wall, it has already made me feel so much more at home. I want to put up a few more pieces of Haitian art in the living room and kitchen, build a book case for my room out of pallets, finally hang up my shower curtain and get some chairs for my kitchen table, and then the whole apartment will be done! I really believe in the importance of creating a space to come back to where I can unwind and do some self care no matter where I am, and I think it’s even more important when living in a new environment in a developing country. While the idea of moving to a developing country and trying to live like the locals do sounds like a good idea in theory, for me at least, it is not very practical. There is already so much change and adjustment in a move like this, that it makes sense to try to keep some things the same as they were in your previous home. If I am to bring my best self to work every day, I am going to need to take care of myself. And for me that looks like putting my gas in my generator sometimes so I can have a fan at night and get some quality sleep!

Also exciting update! I have figured out a way to keep my fridge colder for longer. After a tip from beaver that the fridge is actually kept cold only because of the freezer, I tried a little experiment. I bought a big block of ice here on the street and put it in a freezer bag. It froze and unfroze in my freezer for weeks, and kept basically everything cold enough the whole time. Because I’ve had power consistently every other day, this works for me! Every once in a while I’ve had days where I haven’t had power for 2 days in a row, and then it didn’t work so well. But this is very exciting and honestly changes my daily life because I can keep food fresher for longer!

Another high: my friend from work, Jimson, invited me to visit his family’s farm in the country side town of Gros Morne to pick mangoes. The whole day was just amazing. He called me an hour before we were supposed to leave and said his wife had prepared lunch for us to eat before we headed out; since she is pregnant and we weren’t able to get a car for the trip, she wasn’t able to go along. She wished us farewell and we set off on a moto taxi for an hour long ride spattered with a few homes here and there and farmland and amazing views of the mountains. We arrived to the narrow streets of Gros Morne and walked up the stone road to Jimson’s house where his mom greeted us excitedly and his dad walked up in his work clothes pulling his new horse with a rope, mountains and palm trees in the background. It was one of those moments where I wished I could just snap a photo, but I knew 1) I couldn’t in my very first moments of meeting the man 2) it wouldn’t even begin to capture the beauty of the moment. They showed me some plants growing in their backyard and explained that we wouldn’t be able to go to see the farm land because the water in the river was too high. I insisted that I could roll up my pants legs and carry my shoes across; they laughed at my determination and Jimson, his dad, and I set off. We walked to the edge of town and through the tallest palm trees I’ve ever seen (outside of LA, which might not really count), then ventured across the river. We arrived to their land and I saw baby avocados and okra and other crops as we walked towards our official destination: the huge mango trees. We threw rocks at the trees and watched mangoes rain down (really they only fell down with his dad’s precise aim). I ate a mango straight from the tree and made a huge mess, with mango juice all over my face and clothes, while the two guys ate them without getting any juice on themselves whatsoever (classic rookie move, and also classic Liv move). Then they led me further up the hill to see the place where they process sugar cane. From what I understood, they mostly turn it into alcohol there. I got to eat some sugar right off the cane, something I remember doing on my first trip to Haiti because of my dad’s insistance.

Jimson told me about memories he had of playing in the river and how he used to have to make this 20 minute walk most days to get water for their home. I let it sink in that his dad has made the walk to and from to tend to his land almost every single day for the past 30 years. Jimson shared that he’s saving to buy some irrigation equipment for his dad soon. We had to get back to their house before the rain came (it comes almost every day this time of year there, making it fruitful farm land!). Jimson gave me a tour of town, showing me his church and the workshop where he first learned to paint when he was a teenager.

Back story: Jimson stumbled upon the opportunity to learn to paint at a workshop set up by foreigners but run by Haitians in his home town. Kathy met him when he approached her with his paintings while he was a university student in Gonaives. She has watched him earn his degrees, improve in his painting craft, become an entrepreneur with a trade school he helps to direct, become one of our book keepers at 2nd story, and carefully save his money and plan every step of the way. Now he has built his own house, is married and has a baby girl on the way. He talks of how he’s saving to do more things to his home, buy a car, and provide for his family. He is such an awesome example to me of what hard work, gratitude, faith, and dedication can do for someone, even within the difficulties of a developing economy.

After seeing the workshop, he took me to meet his in-laws. They were the kindest couple and showed me places where the earthquake in October had caused damage to their home. Jimson explained that he’s also saving to help them repair it. I could tell how much they adore him and are so ecstatic to have him as a son in law. They sent me off with a bag of homemade cookies and we headed back to Jimson’s house, where his mom had prepared a meal for us and they filled up a huge bag of mangoes for me. The rain started to pour as we were about to leave, so we elected to take a tap tap back to gonaives. This tap tap was uncovered (so literally just an old pickup truck) so Jimson suggested I pay extra to sit in the front. The people in the back covered themselves with a tarp, another girl squeezed in the front with me and my huge bag of mangoes, and we took off, the driver constantly having to tell me to move my leg so he could access the clutch. As we drove through the mountains, the rain flooded the dirt roads so much that it just looked like we were floating most of the way back. After we had gotten through the worst of it, we pulled over and I didn’t know why everyone was looking behind us. Then everyone in the car oohed and ahhed as we saw a huge stream of water rush down the mountain behind us, and it looked like a flood gate had just been opened. I looked to the left and saw a huge rainbow over a distant mountain. I remember to gonaives and passed out mangoes to some kind neighbors to lighten my load on the way home, feeling filled to the brim by the dreamy day I had just had.

Another high: our hiking club has transformed to also including biking. We have gone on a few bike rides over the past few weeks and have had so much fun. This past weekend, we rode to the prettiest swimming hole with pristine water and swam and had a little picnic. When I got back to gonaives, I decided it was time to stop using a borrowed one with a very uncomfortable seat and difficult-to-change-gears and bought my own; I got a beautiful blue bike for less than $45 US and am really excited about it!

Yet another high: I got approved for my Haitian visa! This will enable me to legally stay in Haiti for more than 3 months at a time. Though I had to take 3 trips to port au prince to make it happen and even had to bring our HR manager with me the last time, I finally got approved! Because of the protests, I haven’t yet been able to make it back to port au prince to pick it up. But it will be a happy day when I do!

Work itself has had lows and highs. Lower sales numbers than we need to see but high excitement for a new cotton project we’re developing, new clothes to be released soon, and a previous designer visiting Haiti to train our artisans on new jewelry designs. Even when things feel difficult and unchanging at work (mostly with sales numbers, which hello! Is my job now!) I take a step back and see that everything is truly moving in the right direction, and that gives me encouragement.

Highs and lows. That is life here and everywhere. It is raw. I am learning to even be thankful for the ups and downs of it all. For the ways they force me to feel both the good and the bad and the ways they help me to know the heart of God more. The lows drag me down to my knees in prayer and the highs lead me to stretch my hands towards heaven in praise. We can’t have the highs without the lows. It is the rhythm of life, these mountains and valleys. And yet, somehow, even though it still seems to take me by surprise every time, the lord’s faithfulness does not waver despite them.

another high: trying my “hands” at pottery on our new wheel at work!

another high: visiting Marmalad, a magical garden/forest north of Gonaives with these precious ones

the bamboo forest at Marmalad! they make furniture out of it too! I bought 2 bamboo plants and a lemon tree for $1 each!!

cannot get any of the photos taken this way to rotate! But here is jimson’s dad and his horse!

Jimson leading me through the narrow streets!

The big mango tree!

My forever photographers and friends! In and out of work!

Impromptu photo shoot when the power went out on our movie day. My beloved home and some pretty baskets from the market on the wall!

 

Home, Not Alone

It’s June! And I’m not yet melting from the heat in Haiti. Honestly I’m surprised I haven’t struggled with the heat so much..maybe I have adjusted? Or (more realistically) maybe it’s because I choose to sit in the coolest room in the building at work? Or because I’ve been able to figure out a system to have at least a battery powered fan at night? Or maybe it’s just because we aren’t in the middle of summer yet? Stay tuned to see how I survive the real summer heat.

These first few weeks back in Haiti have had ups and downs, but I’m also noticing how comfortable I’m beginning to become here and how normal life feels for me here now.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Callie, one of my best friends from college, came back to Haiti with me from the US. We had so much fun while she was here and both agreed the trip was too short (it was only 4.5 days!) Being her first international trip, I was unsure of what she would think of Haiti, but she ended up loving it! It was a such a joy showing someone I love something I love, and them learning to love it as well. We flew in on Saturday and went straight to the beach to stay overnight. We soaked up all the sun, food, and AC we could. I knew that Callie was going to be fine for the rest of the trip here when she chose to have a cold shower at the hotel instead of a hot one.

The next day, we got to Gonaives and my house was covered in dust from me being absent for 2 weeks. We walked to have dinner at the local Americans’ favorite restaurant that we have deemed “Narnia” because it feels like a lush, beautiful escape from the city.

Monday, Callie came to work with me and I introduced her to all my coworkers, showed her what I do, she helped me with some marketing stuff, and she did one of our “Make and Take” sessions. In these sessions, visitors get to sit with our artisans while they create their own one-of-a-kind piece of art. Callie worked with Phillipe to make a beautiful shirt! That evening, we had dinner with Kathy and I was so happy to have two people who are so close to me spend time together.

Tuesday morning, we woke up early to hike the mountain in town. Once we started, we made a last minute decision to stay in a lower spot that had a beautiful view instead of going to the top. We sat in silence for 10 minutes and as we sat there, I had an epiphany of sorts. Since studying abroad in the French Riviera and realized that it’s possible, I have always said that I wanted to live in a place that had both the beach and mountains. For some reason, I thought that was something that probably wouldn’t happen ever, and if it did happen, it would be later in life. While sitting in that spot on the mountain, I looked to my right and saw the sea stretch out into the distance, and to my left, I saw tons and tons of mountains. In that moment, I realized that I am actually living that dream right now, alongside my dream job. It was one of those reminders of God’s faithfulness and his promise to fulfill every desire of our hearts; it was a really sweet moment, and I plan to make that little spot on the mountain a place that I visit more often to remind me of that truth.

We spent the rest of the day shopping in the market and playing with kids at the pool. That evening, we set up the projector to watch a movie, one of my favorite things to do here! The next morning, we headed to Port au Prince early to spend the day running errands before dropping Callie off. After stopping at a coffee shop, (such a luxury I don’t take for granted when I get to do!) I went to the immigration office for the second time to try to obtain my visa. I was turned away again, and told I was missing yet another document that wasn’t on the list I was given and to come back with the person who wrote my letter of employment. I was so frustrated, but I was warned by many to expect these kind of delays in obtaining it. After, we went to our 2nd Story Goods store that is located in the Marriott Hotel. This was the first time I got to spend more than 5 minutes there (in the past, I have just been there for dropping off product). I got to meet one of the employees who I haven’t met yet and talk about ideas for increasing our sales there. As I’ve mentioned before, our in-country sales have decreased dramatically over the past year due to the political unrest here that has resulted in less tourism. I was thankful to finally get to spend some time in the store, and so many ideas came flooding in by being there in person. After that, Callie and I got to go on a wholesale shopping spree for 2nd Story Goods at Papillon, one of the biggest artisan companies in Haiti. We did a trade with them so they could have more of our product and we could have more of theirs to sell. We got to pick out all the product, and then eat cheeseburgers at their cafe for lunch! After, Callie helped me get groceries at the grocery store. Since I typically can only get things like meat, cheese, and lettuce at the grocery store in Port au Prince, it is always an exciting event for me. I am counting down the days until Much finishes the building and we have a full-sized grocery store in Gonaives! It will be one happy day!

So, Callie got to see pretty much every aspect of my life within a very short amount of time. We were both so sad that she had to leave, and I can’t wait until she can visit again! A few days later, Kathy left once again for the U.S., and though it was just for a week this time, the sadness and loneliness from my close friend Laura leaving for sabbatical and Kathy coming back and forth every other month this year sunk in. Though I enjoyed having a weekend by myself to eat all of my Port au Prince food and rest from my fast-paced month, the sudden difference in being with so many people to being suddenly alone was a difficult adjustment. A few days later, two of my closest friends who I work with told me that they are considering moving to Port au Prince because there is more opportunity for them there. It was shocking and heart-breaking for many reasons, and though it’s just a consideration and not happening for sure, the news hit me pretty hard. Obviously I love them and personally just want them here selfishly for that reason. That alone is hard enough, but the thought also breaks my heart because it is a yet another demonstration of the centralization of Port au Prince. It’s estimated that Port au Prince has over 6 million people, while the second biggest city, Cap Haitien has 600,000, meaning it is just a tenth of a size. This is a huge reason we are building a grocery store in Gonaives, in an effort to bring economic development and opportunity outside of the capital city. And I can’t blame these friends for considering it, when they think about the one life they have and wanting to start saving to be able to provide for their families; I think if I were in their shoes, chances are I would do the same thing.

In the mean time, I am soaking up all the time I can with them (and possibly making too many passive aggressive comments about them leaving me and continuous arguments of why they should stay) just in case they do move. Coming back from the US here shows me that one of the biggest differences in my life here and there is my social life. I spend far more time alone here, especially since my roommate hasn’t been in the apartment since January. I have learned to appreciate my alone time, but when I see friends from home together, I would give anything to be there. Especially as I am in the process of learning the language and culture, I  feel somewhat lack of social connection with those around me who don’t speak English. This motivates me even more to work hard on improving my Creole, so I can lessen that gap. I’m looking at this next season ahead, knowing that it may be more lonely at times, but also making an effort to step more fully into the truth that I’m never really alone, because the Lord goes with me wherever I go. I hope that no matter what is in the future for my social life, I can hold onto that truth.

Soaking up the sun and the food at the resort!

“Learning from the master” as Callie said!

Obviously Jude had to do a photo shoot for us, one of my fave activities!

Callie wearing the shirt she made while market shopping

A very successful visit to Papillon!

Balancing

I am now back in Haiti after a FULL 2 weeks in the US with a FULL range of emotions. Since my last trip to the US was unexpectedly long, this one felt like it went by very quickly; I was running around a lot trying to make sure I got to see as many friends and family members as I could. My time at home was sweet and refreshing, though exhausting at the same time. Adjusting back to my fast pace in the US really took some energy out of me! But while there I made sure that I took lots of hot showers, sat in lots of AC, and ate lots of Mexican food!

Both times that I’ve been home so far, I’ve been forced to stop and reflect on how I am really doing, what I’ve learned, and in what ways I’ve grown so far in Haiti. Both times it has been a really good opportunity for me to take a step back and process, especially because I am a verbal processor and catching up with people means answering questions about my life. When I went home in December, I was elated about the way my first few months went. In every way it was better than I could have ever dreamed or imagined. Everything was new and exciting, and yet I knew a day would come when things would get harder, because well, that’s life, especially in a developing country. I was right about that, because the past 3 months have been more difficult. Though I have loved getting into the rhythm of a routine, with that comes monotony; this is something I haven’t had a lot of until now. In college, there was always a new semester, a new trip, or a new internship just around the corner; now, I am getting used to the adult life of settling into a job and a home and as each day passes, the excitement of something new wears off a little more.  Though I have loved the challenge of living a simpler life, with that comes, well, a challenge (I.E. less things to distract me or to fill my time and space.) Though I have loved living in Haiti, with that comes the many adjustments- no constant refrigeration, no AC, new language and culture, and many other things. Being home this time made me realize that this time has been more difficult than I have let myself admit. There was a mix of emotions as I felt like I wanted more time at home with the people I love, yet I missed what now feels like home in Haiti.

Recently, it has been pointed out to me several times that I have been really committed to staying in touch with my people in the U.S and that it is rare, being both post-grad and now an ex-pat. I think that might be what makes this whole thing a little harder, while also making it a lot easier. When I go home, I have a lot of people there. I get to do a lot of catching up, I get filled up with needed conversations, and I get cared for and loved on. When I’m back in Haiti, I talk to some people regularly enough that they get a basis for what’s going on in my life and I get the same from them. With that comes not always being as present as I could be here. And with all of this also comes the missing people and important events. I’ve already missed my Young Life girls’ graduation, am going to miss a friend’s wedding this summer, and miss several events, birthdays, and holidays that I wish I could be there for.

I think this is going to be a balancing act for the remainder of my time in Haiti, however long that ends up being. Still, I am thankful I have a job that I can do remotely for periods of time, and that a flight to the U.S. is not too far or expensive so that I can continue the balancing, the holding of my two worlds, each so different yet so precious to me.

The group facilitation training, Zenergy, that I went to in North Carolina was so great. It was a small group and everything was about experiential learning and getting lots of positive and constructive feedback. I learned a ton about ways to integrate the whole person into group discussions, the power of collective intelligence, and about my own strengths and weaknesses. Collective intelligence involves listening  intently to those you are working with, paying attention to your surroundings, and letting those things lead you to your answers together. I have already integrated the experience into my work at 2nd Story Goods and am thinking a lot about how to spread it throughout the company. I am really looking forward to when Liam, the friend who gave me the scholarship to attend the training and one of Zenergy’s coaches as well as the founder of its sister organizational culture company (the Zone), comes to Haiti in the fall to work with us. I think it will be a game-changer for our organization and I am so excited to have some background to what the work will be about so I can help implement it and keep it going when he leaves.

On the next blog, I will share more about my two precious worlds colliding when my friend Callie came back to Haiti with me and about my transition back here. But for now, I have a ton of work to do now that I am finally back at my desk all day long and I’m honestly pretty excited about it. I guess that’s how you know you’re in the right job 🙂

Was thankful to be home both to celebrate my dad’s birthday and mother’s day!

The first day of the Zenergy training! Whole person facilitation and collective intelligence include using art and nature and other unique things to create an environment in which people thrive.

The lake at the mountain resort where the facilitation group training took place. It was so wonderful to get some time in nature in between and even during sessions!

Seeing my dogs is always one of the best parts of coming home

Split the remainder of my time in the US between Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Nashville. Every time I go back to Nashville, it seems that so much has changed!

An overview of what the Zenergy course included throughout the week. Since it was experiential learning, we all took turns leading different sessions, which was both fun and challenging!

Back in Haiti! And I bought myself some flowers to celebrate 🙂

Creating space

Today, I am headed back to the US for 2 weeks! Since I have been unable to obtain my Haitian visa, my 3 months of being in Haiti runs out on May 7. Providence would have it that I have been gifted a place in a facilitation training program that starts on May 7, and though this particular course takes place all around the world, it just so happens that it is taking place in North Carolina, 2 hours from my hometown of Knoxville!

The story of how I received the scholarship for this training course is pretty crazy! While I was studying abroad in France 3 years ago, my parents and I randomly met a man named Liam at a coffee shop who has a company that consults companies on organizational culture worldwide. I ended up having a life-changing meeting with him in Monaco, in which we talked about my purpose in life and my career plans. I’ve stayed in touch with him ever since, updating him on internships and my move to Haiti. When I got to Haiti, I informed him about Prolead, our program through Much Ministries that is focused on employee training and organizational culture, and told him I would love to set up a call to introduce him to Kathy and Beaver. That was in October, and being the busy person that he is, we didn’t end up having the call until late January. It was worth the wait! On the call, I sat back and listened as two of my craziest God stories (meeting Kathy and Liam) collided and they quickly discovered that they are on the same page about world change. During the call, Liam offered to come to Haiti this fall to work directly with Prolead, as well as for me to take his facilitation course, all for free. Of course the details for the first session of the course (out of 3 total sections to receive the certification) worked out perfectly, and all has fallen into place.

Through this course I will learn about the art and practice of group facilitation, and learn the best ways to facilitate group discussions so that each person brings their whole self to the table and collective intelligence is formed. One funny thing about me is that, unlike most students, I have always loved group projects, and unlike many business people, I love having meetings. Ever since meeting Liam, I have thought a lot about doing the kind of work he does at some point later in my career, so I am so excited for this opportunity.

The past few weeks in Haiti have been sweet. Two weekends ago, I finally got to go to the beach for the first time since the fall and it was restoration for my soul, as the ocean always is. A few weeks ago, as I was walking down the street, a couple offered to give me a ride to work. It really struck me because no one has done that before, and I kept looking for them on my road after, hoping to continue a friendship with them. This past week, the lady approached me as I was walking home from work. I didn’t recognize her at first and also struggled to understand what she was saying. My American self thought she was asking me to give her a gift, but really she was asking me to come to her house so she could give me a gift. I followed her, still unsure of what was happening. Her husband greeted me with a huge smile and they gathered a bag of produce for me from the pile of vegetables that they sell. She said that they know I must be tired when I get home from work, so they wanted to give it to me. I immediately hugged them and started crying, overcome by the kindness of this gesture.

Being a foreigner in Haiti has honestly been mostly difficult. Though I love the people I work with and they have been unimaginably kind and overly accommodating to me, some of my time spent in public includes negative experiences, as it does for every foreigner who lives here. You get used to it, they say, but I am not yet. People yell rude things at me or address me rudely as “blan” which means white. People try to overcharge me when I buy things because they assume I have a lot of money. And in general, the Haitian culture can just be described as more harsh than the southern United States, which isn’t a bad thing, just a big adjustment for a southern girl like me! I know it will be much easier when I feel more comfortable with the language and can challenge these things more, but it is more difficult now when I feel like I just have to kind of take it. It is difficult for me to talk about these things because I never want to paint Haiti in a bad light, I know that these actions mostly come from those who are uneducated, it is not personal to just me, and that there is SO much history behind the way Haitians see people with white skin. But I am learning that to process my experience, I just need to be honest about it. And I have also learned so much about the importance of welcoming the foreigner and hope that I will always remember this lesson for the rest of my life, no matter where I live. It is extremely difficult to adjust to a new place, a new language, and a new culture, and this leaves me thinking about the immigrants in the US and how important it is to lessen that burden rather than adding to it, by being welcoming and kind. So, all of that to say, the gesture from my sweet neighbors left me crying tears of gratitude the whole night, so thankful that someone went out of their way to make me feel welcomed.

This week I had to say good by to my best American friend here, Laura. She recently decided to go on sabbatical in the US for an undetermined amount of time. I got the chance to see one of her programs in the clinic here, and it was amazing to see what she’s built as a formula program for babies who’s mothers have died in childbirth. It is shocking how many mothers die of childbirth in that neighborhood alone, and amazing that because of her program, the babies’ new caretakers are able to keep them, feed them, and be educated on how to care for them rather than having to put them in an orphanage. It was the highlight of my week getting to see so many babies in one place! When she returns from the US, she hopes to help open a birth center so that moms have a safe, reliable place to give birth rather than having to do it in their homes or in unprepared hospitals. Laura has been my go-to since I got here, and is the person I spend the majority of my time with outside of work. Not having her here will surely be an adjustment and I miss her already! But I am excited to use this time to really focus on creole and on feeling more being comfortable by myself more often.

Last week, Jimson, my friend from work who has helped me in so many ways, invited Laura and I over to his house for dinner with him and his wife. This was my first time having dinner in a Haitian home, and it did not disappoint. She brought out all the stops for dinner, complete with rice and beans, chicken, fries and plantains, fruit, fresh watermelon juice and more! Jimson is an example of a Haitian who is working so hard to accomplish his dreams and contribute to the betterment of his country. I have gotten to visit his trade school on numerous occasions, and am amazed at all they are able to offer being completely Haitian started and funded. My dream is for him to be able to get some more connections and more funding for growth, and he has let me in on some business conversations with him and his business partner. It is so beautiful seeing all the trades they offer training in and their hearts for developing skills in those who are unemployed. I was so thankful to be invited into their home, that by the way, they have literally been building brick by brick, saving and expanding as they go!

I finally got to drive in Haiti, and it went so well! Driving here has been intimidating to me, as it should be. There are different rules to the road here, and I wanted to get used to riding and paying attention to how others drive before diving in myself. I finally felt confident enough to do it when I came back in February, and Laura was kind enough to teach me a few times in her car before leaving. I hope to get to practice more so I can be ready to do it if need be in the future.

Another blessing has fallen upon 2nd Story Goods recently. We have been in need of more lifestyle photos of our products, showing our products being used in the US. We had not one, but two different photographers offer to do this for free! It has been a new game figuring out the logistics of it all, and adding to the lead time of our product launches by having to wait until we have the photographs taken stateside. We are in a season of kind of haphazardly releasing new products this year, but plan to start releasing them in collections soon, and I already can appreciate the way that will make all things a little smoother for marketing.

Recently, I changed my work schedule to go in later on Tuesday and Thursdays, since those are the days when I have creole class in the evening. I am so grateful that both Kathy and Valery (our HR/operations person who I work closet with) both encouraged this, This has made a huge difference in creating time for me to shop for groceries and prepare healthier meals, as well as do all the other things I need to do to take care of myself. I even started running again since I have more time, and I hope I can keep it up through the heat of the summer!

It feels as though space is being created for me. Space in that I have more time to do the things I need to take care of myself, space to grow while Laura is away, space to be challenged at work in the role as marketing director, space to develop deeper relationships with neighbors and co-workers. And for the next weeks, I get to take space to grow in the art of facilitation and rest up a little with people I love. And for all of this, I am so grateful.

Working with our clothes is one of my favorite parts of this job!

Searching for jewelry in the warehouse

  1. First time driving! 

    Easter with Laura!!

Working beside Kathy Brooks, still a dream come true!

Learning humility

The past 2 weeks have been mostly same old same old, working hard towards marketing goals and trying to find ways to generate cash flow for the company, improving in my Creole, and trying to find time to eat healthy, work out, and take care of myself! Life here is starting to feel normal and routine.

Often, I think about how much I’ve learned and grown since my first trip to Haiti. It has been a true transformation that greatly affects how I live here now, and I am so thankful for it. Since that first trip, I have constantly been humbled and changed by the ideas of “when helping hurts”.

When I was 16, I did my first week-long trip to Haiti wrong in a lot of ways. I let friends from home pump me up by telling me how much of a difference I was going to make there, how I was changing the world, etc.

My best friend and I brought suitcases full of cheap toys and candy from the dollar tree and we passed them out as we walked down the street like we were Santa Claus.

We were told not to give people food or money outside of a guest house we stayed at so that people would not become dependent on the foreigners’ hand outs. A lady begged at the gate to us and we did it anyway.

I made no real attempt to learn the language prior to the trip.

It was technically a medical mission trip. I was not a certified medical personnel nor did I ever plan on becoming one.

I took piles of photos with kids whose names I didn’t care to learn. Just for my Facebook profile picture.

I packed only clothing I didn’t want anymore so that I could donate it when I left and presumably come home with an empty suitcase and full ego.

Ouch, some of that hurts to admit. But oh, how much I have changed since I was 16! And the ways I see Haiti and my work here have completely shifted from first being about building my own ego of how helpful I was to now maintaining the dignity of the marginalized and empowering them to change their own lives.

During my second trip to Haiti right before starting my freshman year of college, I was reading “Kisses from Katie”, a book about an 18 year old girl who moved to Africa and adopted several orphans. I remember being so overcome with guilt that I was leaving Haiti to go to college and thinking that maybe I should stay in Haiti and just take in some orphans? An older, wiser girl who was living in Haiti at the time promptly corrected me and told me that education is the goal for all of the people we are working with. If we don’t take that opportunity for ourselves, how can we tell them that getting an education is important? And then there’s the obvious that getting an education will actually educate me and better prepare me for my work.

I am so thankful for those 4 years of college that prepared me to be here. I chose to study international business so that it would give me a skill that would be of use here, I studied French so that it could help me learn Creole, I got the chance to use my business skills in Guatemala and Panama, I studied abroad in France (which showed me how challenging it is to live abroad), and I did several internships that taught me so much about both the non-profit and corporate worlds.

I would also say that my time with Enactus in college is largely responsible for my growth and preparation, as well as my time as a Young Life leader at an inner-city school. On my 3rd trip here, Kathy shared with me a book called “Friendship at the Margins” which is about exactly what it sounds like: becoming friends with the marginalized and learning from them, rather than viewing them as a project and thus automatically putting yourself up above them and becoming their savior. I also got to watch the Poverty, Inc. video with a mission team they had visiting them in Gonaives at the time; they showed this “when helping hurts” based video to every team that came through because they believed it was so important to educate teams on negative impacts they can have. I have read up on the white savior complex and am still identifying pieces of that in myself often, and probably will be doing that work for a long time, because it is something that has been so deeply ingrained.

This affects my day to day life here. The way I interact with children on the street, the way I try to make as many purchases here as I can in order to contribute to the economy rather than take away from it, the way I talk about what I’m doing here, the way I view my life and allow myself to have a lifestyle that resembles my life in America rather than forcing myself to “suffer” or live like a Haitian, because I am not a Haitian and it would be pointless for me to try to act like I am. That’s a big one, because it allows me to be my happiest and healthiest so I can make the biggest contribution at work. Sometimes at work, I want to go straight to one of our employees and talk about an issue or something I need to have done, but then I remember we have an intentional system in place. We have Haitian management and an org chart, which keeps things moving smoothly as well as keeps things from seeming to only be directed by the white girls. The way I have learned to see all people as equals, rather than as people who are in need of my help, and to form relationships accordingly, has completely changed the way I see myself and the world.

This is hard, humbling work. It is not ever easy to admit our wrongs, especially when our intentions were so good. But something I have been saying a lot lately is that intention is different from impact. Our intentions can be the purest and best in the world, but if our impact actually makes things worse than we found them, then it simply doesn’t matter. We have a responsibility to take our work with the marginalized seriously. I think it is of the same importance at home in the U.S. as it is in Haiti. To educate ourselves and to do it right, to the best of our ability and knowledge. I think we owe both the people we’re working with and ourselves that: our very best. We simply owe it to humanity. And it takes humility to admit that we don’t know everything and have some things to learn!

Living in a developing country is an all around humbling act. I am not exaggerating when I say I am truly humbled every single day by how much I do not know and how much I have left to learn, and by how much room I have to grow as a person. I am so grateful for all of the mistakes that have taught me what is right, and for the many more that are sure to come, because another thing I’ve had to remind myself of lately is “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Now, I am being intentional about finding out what I don’t know, admitting when I get it wrong, and always trying to do it better than I did before. Here’s to the lifelong work of humility and admitting where we were wrong, and the growth that comes as a result.

Got to go to the beach for the first time since the fall! It was much needed and much appreciated.

Joked with some Haitian pals that an egg pate is Haiti’s version of a mcdonald’s egg McMuffin. We didn’t even have to get out of the car because they brought it to us! Just like a drive through 🙂

A photo from my first trip to Haiti! I fell in love with this country and though so much has changed in the way I see things since then, that has not!

Still the luckiest gal to work at a place that makes me genuinely joyful every day!

Gratitude

I cannot believe it’s April! As of the 1st, I am officially half way through my Lumos journey! The first half has been better than I could have ever imagined, and I can’t wait to see what the second half brings. And I am so excited to stay in Haiti for at least one more year after my time with Lumos is up! I am just so very grateful!

I am now almost 2 months into serving as the marketing director for 2nd Story Goods. Stepping into this has been such a joy and a challenge at the same time. Five people now report to me, and while I do really enjoy managing projects and working with people, I do sometimes find it challenging to give orders to peers or those older than me, especially since I am so new here. But I am getting a hang of it, and also learning that all good things take time. Since this is a new position in our company, there is lots to be done in terms of organizing all of our marketing and sales processes. I am trying my best to take it one thing at a time, but it does feel like there is always so much left to do! I feel like the sky is the limit because I truly believe in this company, and it’s exciting to think that marketing and sales efforts are a vital part of us getting to the next level.

In these two months I have done many different things and as most people who work in business would say, it feels like that has largely consisted of meetings. I have had weekly meetings with those who report to me as well as the project manager of the Belmont Enactus team to check in on their projects; add in my roles as Kathy’s assistant and a member of the leadership team and the meetings multiply! I have planned out a rough picture of our marketing calendar and strategy for this year, created sales and promotions, begun to reach out to influencers, started to dream up new marketing materials and a more user-friendly shopping experience on our website, begun to create individual marketing plans for each new product, and more!

Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in accomplishing my day to day tasks, and then something happens and I am reminded that I am really here, living my true dream of working in economic development in Haiti. I think of everything that happened to get me here, and I become grateful all over again. Reminding myself of these blessings is super helpful when I get frustrated or worn out of the lifestyle here. Like the other night, when I ran out of running water because my neighbors had turned it off, my floor was immediately dirty again right after I cleaned because of all the dust, I was covered in bug bites from an unknown source, and then I asked for 2 cups of rice at the market and cooked it accordingly, only to find out they actually give you twice as much, so I accidentally cooked 4 cups without enough water instead.

Sometimes I forget to focus on the wins I have as much as I could. Last week was filled with lots of moments like the ones listed above, but probably just as many sweet victory moments. A friend offered to help me build a bed frame for my new bed (the one I was using prior was borrowed), I steadily improved in Creole, I ate the healthiest I have for a whole week since coming here, and it took me less time to clean my house than normal (getting it down!). I think it is vital to focus on these wins and the gratitude I have just for being here if I am going to be able to live here longer term.

Since July, when political unrest first started in Haiti, 2nd Story Goods has not been doing as well financially. 25% of our total sales come from retail and wholesale customers in Haiti, and the number of tourists and mission teams coming has greatly decreased since then. Since it has been a while since that happened now, and tourism has not yet picked back up, it has been hitting us harder lately. Nevertheless, it has been really cool to see how God has provided for this company throughout it all. A few weeks ago, I got to witness one of the most concrete examples. Our company bank account was down to the lowest it has ever been and we were at the point where we were not going to be able to make payroll for all of the stateside employees, and Kathy sent a screenshot of the the number to Brandon, our CFO; instead of choosing to freak out, she basically said, “I am so grateful that it is still _ many cents above zero. Hallelujah! Thank you Lord for that.” and he responded, “Amen.” 17 minutes later, a woman in the US messaged Kathy and said that her and her husband had a large donation they wanted to give 2nd Story, and were wondering if we could use it. As Kathy said, giving thanks opens heaven. We were able to make payroll that week.

And that’s just one example! People have come to the store in Gonaives randomly to shop in the times when we were most in need of cash flow. Two of those visitors, who work in Haiti themselves, left donations on top of their purchases. Someone donated thousands of dollars worth of pottery equipment and we got a grant to hire someone to help them refine their skill so that we can take that atelier to the next level; the guys in that workshop are so excited and are having so much fun learning new things. God has been faithful and kind and it has been a humbling reminder among tough financial times that the entire purpose of this operation is to aid in bringing his kingdom to earth; because of that, he keeps reminding us that he is very much present in it.

Even though it has been full of God’s faithfulness and blessings, seeing these tough financial times inspires me to think long-term solutions as the head of sales and marketing. It is my dream for this company to grow well rather than just to grow quickly, and this means making sure we have a solid foundation before we get too many sales that are beyond our capacity; this would be a crash and burn! I am getting more involved in our data entry, staying aware of happenings within our operations, giving my opinions when it comes to new product designs, and trying to notice gaps and come up with solutions throughout it all. I have loved getting to organize and systemize things and think of ways to do things better. I am thankful that as a small company, I get to focus on sales and marketing, but still take part in discussions about other areas of the company, especially since it is all interconnected.

At the end of the day, no matter how sweet or challenging, I keep trying to come back to gratitude. It is the thing I try to focus on in my daily yoga practice and meditation/prayer time, because I do notice, like Kathy said, that it opens up heaven. I can get caught up in all the things I still need for my house, worry about how I am going to eat healthy tomorrow, or stress about finances for the future, or I can make the choice to be thankful for each thing I have that makes my house more of a home (and just having a home!), for having food to eat at all, and for having money in my bank account for now. I can say thank you for that and know that it is enough for today. And I can trust that just as God has been good and faithful every day up until now, he will continue to be in the future.

I don't know what I would do without Jude and Valery! They are patient enough to practice Creole with me even though they speak English so well, they keep me laughing, and are such valuable members of our 2nd Story Goods team!

I don’t know what I would do without Jude and Valery! They are patient enough to practice Creole with me even though they speak English so well, they keep me laughing, and are such valuable members of our 2nd Story Goods team!

A live enactment of our newly organized organizational chart!

A live enactment of our newly organized organizational chart!

Me in my new 2nd Story overalls! Made out of up-cycled fabric that is shipped in tons from developed countries to Haiti. I had the pleasure of pushing our latest batch of clothing to the finish line as one of my first big projects as the marketing director!

Me in my new 2nd Story overalls! Made out of up-cycled fabric that is shipped in tons from developed countries to Haiti. I had the pleasure of pushing our latest batch of clothing to the finish line as one of my first big projects as the marketing director!

I went to the market to buy inserts for my new 2nd Story Goods pillow covers. They didn't have any that were the correct  size, so this sweet lady offered to make them right then and there!

I went to the market to buy inserts for my new 2nd Story Goods pillow covers. They didn’t have any that were the correct size, so this sweet lady offered to make them right then and there!

My friend Emory making my new pallet bed! This new bed has greatly increased my quality of life and fits my space so much better!

My friend Emory making my new pallet bed! This new bed has greatly increased my quality of life and fits my space so much better!

Growing

I have now been back in Haiti for just over a month, but it feels like it’s been much longer than that. The excitement of being in a new place that I felt in my first few months is fading as life here becomes my new normal. Though this adjustment has been difficult at times, it is still easier than I expected it to be; I love it here so much and truly cannot think of any place in the world I’d rather be working and learning.

I am in a season of real growth now, and I have thankfully been pushed to become more independent in this time. This is partly due to the fact that my roommate has been staying at her parents house here in Gonaives, looking after things there while they are on sabbatical in their home country, the Philippines. Because of this, I have had to do things like get drinking water and take the trash out to a place where it gets taken care of (typically trash that is collected is burned here due to a lack of landfills). I have had to take on the responsibility of cleaning the apartment on my own (I’m telling you guys, it gets SO dirty SO fast due to all the dust that comes through the windows from my dirt road). I go to the market for groceries by myself now instead of always with a buddy, and am starting to figure out a schedule to go more than once a week. Lack of consistent electricity makes all of this a bit more challenging, but I am thankful that I have pretty much had it every other day for the past month, so I’ve been able to plan cleaning and cooking accordingly with that pattern. Slowly but surely, I am getting into a rhythm of life here, and it is a great feeling to start getting the hang of things.

Luckily for me, a local Haitian recently decided to start teaching Creole lessons. This is something I had wanted to do when I first came to Haiti, but when I got here, I learned that there wasn’t anyone teaching at the time. So I was so excited to find out that it is happening now. Honestly, (and I can say this because I struggled with learning French in college and it was a huge source of self criticism for myself) I have been pretty proud of myself for how far I’ve come in Creole already- and all those hours of French are to thank since Creole is a French-based language. For not really needing it to survive, (since the coworkers I work closest with daily all speak English) I feel like I have picked it up pretty quickly. So this class is helping me to really solidify my foundations in the language as well as forcing me to keep learning new words and practice more often. As someone who always loved school, I have actually missed learning in a class setting, and I have really enjoyed getting to be a “student” again.

I have been going to those lessons 2 nights a week for 2 hours each time, and have been trying to make time to study and practice outside of that. I have also picked up much more responsibility as the Marketing Director at work, and am cooking and cleaning more often, as well as trying to practice self-care regularly by doing yoga or working out each day. So you can say I’ve gotten much busier. Those who know me know that I thrive when I’m busy, but they also know I have to be careful to not overdo it. So I’m trying my best to find balance and routine amidst it all. More growth!

I decided pretty soon after returning here that I needed to start doing something that scares me every day. This sounds adventurous and exciting but in reality it is mostly scary! Ha. But challenging myself like this has significantly increased my confidence in living here, though I still have a long way to go. Some example of things that I’ve gone out of my way to do are talking to more people on my way to and from work, pushing conversations farther than I normally would to test my creole, and buying different things I need from different people who sell them on the street rather than just going to the store that has all of it. Many times I get really frustrated when I get laughed at or can tell people are saying not-so-nice things as I walk by, when I don’t know how to respond to what someone is saying to me, or when people ask me for money. But other times I have sweet interactions that make it all worth it, like when an old man saw me waiting to cross the street the other day: he gently took my arm and stopped traffic on both sides as we crossed together and he wished me a good day.

Recently, I have been given more insight into the culture in Haiti and our Big Question Monday meeting that we have each week at 2nd Story Goods is largely to thank. A few weeks ago, I got the chance to ask the question, and I asked about what Haitians think of when they see foreigners here. I learned so much from this conversation that has really helped me understand why random people on the street can seem to be harsh towards me at times. Hint: the history of slavery here as well as white people coming and just giving people free things both play a huge role in it. The conversation turned into one about race and I was honored to get to listen and learn from it. The next week, the conversation shifted soon after the big question was asked; we ended up spending the entire time talking about employees being late too often, and that they were seemingly not taking their jobs as seriously in Kathy’s absence. People talked about how they could personally do better and that they needed to remember that they weren’t doing this for the big boss, but for themselves and their country, so that they need to be just as serious about their jobs whether or not Kathy is here. This was another example of the slavery mindset that can sometimes infiltrate the culture here (in the way that without even realizing it, employees were working more for their boss or “master” than for themselves)  and it was beautiful to watch as they dismantled it together and chose something different for themselves.

I ended up having a humbling moment when I spoke up and what I said was not taken as I meant it. I mentioned something about once coming to work 5 minutes late myself and no one being there yet, and I also said something about how we invest in this big question time as a company by paying them to be there in that time because we believe it is worth it. After being translated on the spot, it ended up being taken as I had come to work several times when every person was late (and they assumed I would pass this false information to Kathy); I also learned that it is never good to bring up money, so when I mentioned that, it turned something that was already being taken badly into something worse. I could tell that it wasn’t being taken well as I was speaking, and several people spoke about it with our human resources person after. He was so kind when I asked him what happened and he explained to me how what I had said was taken badly and helped me come up with a plan to make it better. I ended up apologizing the next week at the end of our big question time, and the most amazing thing happened. One of our employees who has had anger/behavioral problems in the past pulled me aside and apologized to me. He said that he had spoken to another employee about being upset about what I said and that he should have come to me first. It was a beautiful moment when I realized, this is what we are doing this for. For real change to come on both sides of the equation. As a foreigner, one of the ways the change comes in my heart is as my savior complex is dismantled and I realize how much I have to learn, and for the locals we work with, the change comes in that they have the opportunity to have meaningful employment in a company culture that values them as a whole person. We are all growing so much together.

I also had the opportunity to visit a Prolead class taught by two of my friends from work a few Sundays ago. As I’ve mentioned before, Prolead is the employment training program through Much Ministries. The purpose of it is to  shift personal and cultural habits that are barriers to success and prepare people to become good employees. I have heard a lot about the curriculum and went to their graduation in December but never got to experience a class for myself. In this particular class, I was able to follow along for the most part as they taught in Creole, especially as they wrote key words on the board. They talked about what makes a good boss versus a bad boss, what you can do personally to succeed if you work somewhere where you have a bad boss,  about clients and their needs, having good and bad experiences as a customer personally, and learning to not say “it’s not my fault” when you have a problem at work but to instead take personal responsibility to fix it. These things may not mean much as you read them if you haven’t been to Haiti, but it felt like Christmas day for me to observe this class and realize that these lessons are being taught here; all of these things are vital for Haitian employees to learn as customer service is notoriously not the best here and corruption is high in many businesses.

I have had to learn to have lots of grace with myself lately. To remind myself that I am still new here and I still have so much to learn. I find myself getting frustrated when I make a mistake or feel like I should have already known something. But you don’t know it until you know it, right? And I must remember I can’t skip this growing part. As Kathy said during our big question meeting the other day, it is good that our dreams don’t come easy to us, because we wouldn’t be ready for them. We are building the strength as we go to be able to hold our dream when it comes to fruition. And for this growth that comes along the way, I am so thankful.

Getting our new clothing collection ready to be shipped and sold!

Getting our new clothing collection ready to be shipped and sold!

As head of marketing, the manager of our retail stores in Haiti (we have 2) now reports to me. We’ve been working on new ideas to increase our retail sales in country, and I love getting to be a part of these conversations!

As head of marketing, the manager of our retail stores in Haiti (we have 2) now reports to me. We’ve been working on new ideas to increase our retail sales in country, and I love getting to be a part of these conversations!

 

Me as I entered haiti’s version of target on a weekend trip to Port au Prince where I bought some long awaited things for my home!

Me as I entered haiti’s version of target on a weekend trip to Port au Prince where I bought some long awaited things for my home!

On the way to port au prince, I got to stop at one of our wholesale customers in Haiti. We got to have yummy juice and tacos as well as see 2nd Story Goods side by side with other Haitian artisan made products!

On the way to port au prince, I got to stop at one of our wholesale customers in Haiti. We got to have yummy juice and tacos as well as see 2nd Story Goods side by side with other Haitian artisan made products!