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.