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.