The first time I was told to “kenbe ko ou” was by some ladies returning home from a day selling at the market who were concerned about me tripping on my way down from our mountainous partnering community Vielo. I was curious as to why they told me to “hold your body” instead of a Haitian Creole equivalency to the usual English “be careful” or “pay attention”. Upon thinking about our interaction a little more, I appreciated the phrase they used recognizing that the slippery terrain is unchanging no matter how careful I am. I simply need to prepare and ‘hold’ my body properly to make it through (hopefully) without falling.
Now I often hear the phrase when I’m again haphazardly walking down a mountain or any non-sandal friendly surface slipping on the loose earth, and occasionally I continue to catch the phrase “hold your body” as a parting salutation by an older generation or by our cooks when I’m trying to carry too much food at once to avoid having to walk up and down the steps to our eating area.
I was reminded of this phrase a few days ago when driving by an advertisement for the Haitian beer company Prestige with a bold “Kenbe Prestige ou” painted on the cement block wall of the public beach not too far from our compound. This phrase keeps showing up out of nowhere!!...but for good reasons. It reminds me to keep my body strong regardless of the unpredictability of my surroundings or what I’m carrying and to keep moving forward with confidence and awareness. It acknowledges that the path ahead has obstacles, but proper preparation and attention will help see you through.
March has been a month of learning and teaching to “hold your body” firm in business and in life. This month’s business leader training meetings were centered around the character traits and sound practices of a successful business person/entrepreneur that allows them ‘hold their body’ in business, to maintain right business practices when things get hard, the business isn’t going well, and when people are doing business unethically around them. We have also been assessing and discussing opportunities for us to help others “kenbe ko yo” by meeting everyday needs through job creation projects in Disciples’ Village’s partnering communities.
Personally, I need to work on holding my business body a little firmer in holding those I work with accountable (the unpredictable transportation and ‘Haitian time’ combo makes arriving to meetings in a timely fashion difficult) and in taking more calculated risks. Lately I’ve found myself holding back on moving forward with job creation ideas because I don’t have all the answers to my one thousand questions, and the financial forecasts for the next three years are hard to create for a variety of reasons. My rule-following self needs to let go of the textbook way of doing things and step up into the real world, ‘let’s make things happen’ way of successful entrepreneurs.
The empathy needs to get dialed back a bit while I crank up the entrepreneurial spirit a tad more and just chase after some ideas that have been sticking around for a while now. I need to heed the ladies’ advise to just “hold my body” and run.
Life and work in Haiti just keeps getting better with time, and March was dream after dream filled with getting to meet some of the best [social] entrepreneurs in the country—literally the 2017 Digicel Entrepreneur of the Year and a runner up—exploring a variety of job creation possibilities and their viability for our communities, seeing a clearer vision for future business training and job creation in our villages, potentially finding someone interested in hosting DV’s first business training conference in 2019, and eating undeniably the best food I’ve had in Haiti so far. Like everyone needs to take a trip to Gonaïves sometime to stop at the not-so-fast food joint to indulge in the glorious fried plantains. And before I forget to mention it, I began preparing for my Lumos midterm presentation for my microfinance project that is on April 20th at 10 AM in Belmont University’s Johnson 395. I hope to see you there if you’re in the Nashville area that day! THAT’S LESS THAN THREE WEEKS AWAY!!
Without further ado, here’s the summary of the good, the bad, and the glorious of March.
- Starting to feel like a local, running into people on tap taps (public transportation pickups with covered trunks), them riding motos behind tap taps I’m in, and at local market days. So fun and such joyful meetings. I think it’s starting to settle in for those I work with that I’m here for the long haul, and although I’m a ‘blan’, I live here in Haiti just like they do. I take tap taps just like they do. I need vegetables from the market just like they do…although we eat them quite differently. Haitians like to cook their veggies very thoroughly, and I like eating them raw, especially the carrots and pepper. Preske menm bagay.
- Speaking of vegetables, I have started purchasing sweet potatoes and beets in the market and roasting them (I know, not raw) and it has been a game changer for my self-made meals here. And today I learned how to crack and extract raw coconut from the hard, exterior shell. It was the greatest snack this Easter afternoon!
- LOONNNGGG day in Port au Prince dropping off and picking up people from the airport, but the greatest day in between, finding an office supply store with coveted white copy paper, placing a monthly wholesale food order for the DV schools and Alex’s House, purchasing inventory for our souvenir store from the Croix des Bouquets Metal Market and seeing my ‘friends’ and favorite vendors after a few months, finding MyaBèl Cocktail Bar and Restaurant—Digicel’s Entrepreneur(s) of the Year—a Haitian fusion cuisine with famous mango pikliz (spicy slaw) and bottled teas. My goat was the best I’ve had, and the meal came with avocado automatically making it the best meal of the month. Period.
- I found some green gold—the rare avocado—on the way back from buying 300 lbs of chicken food one day. They were hard as rocks when I purchased them, and I hate to report that they rotted before I could eat them. Sad day. But on the bright side, they are slowly creeping their way back into the market and will hopefully make it closer to our area soon!
- Trying to run and train for a race one morning and getting chased by three dogs. I’ll admit that this was the scariest moment of my time in Haiti, and I’m thankful for the angel owner of the biggest dog that scared him off!
- Time change hitting me like a brick, it’s now dark until 6:30/45 AM making it difficult to wake up and get active. I think it’s what’s also upsetting the dogs now that I’m trying to run in the dark. Lesson learned!
- Coming to the realization that risk taking is not a strong suit of mine, and something that will likely hold me back as an entrepreneur one day if I don’t start working on it now.
- Fear has never been a struggle at the forefront of my mind, but lately I’ve been finding myself feeling afraid in quite a few situations—both reasonably and unreasonably so. I know that fear is from the enemy, and sadly I’ve let it hold me back from moving forward in a few things in the past few weeks (especially getting peaceful sleep!). I’m thankful for the constant reminders that my God is forever faithful, and as His child “I’m no longer a slave to fear.”
Job Creation Research Continued
- Two visits to 2nd Story Goods in Gonaïves and a long chat with the director provided much insight on how to advance Haiti through job creation in a social enterprise setting through promoting sustainability of work and in pushing towards excellence and out of survival mode—something that will take quite a long time to facilitate.
- While the idea of making and selling soap has continued to peak my interest, I’m also looking into the possibilities of beeswax and honey products to help differentiate from the many people already making and selling soap in Haiti. Ganaud and I were able to meet with a local beekeeper who works for a community development organization in a nearby town, and he gave helpful information on starting beehives and where to sell the honey and beeswax in markets found locally and in Port au Prince. An additional bonus to what the bees produce is the benefit they could have on the agriculture of our partnering villages.
- I was hopeful that one of our wholesale suppliers for food would have the staple ingredients for soap. They do not if fact carry those things, leaving me looking in other places to find them in Haiti.
- On a long day adventure in Port, we ate at MyaBèl who won ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ in 2017. We enjoyed the delicious Haitian fusion food and learning more about how they use unique Haitian products to promote sustainability of agriculture through their cuisines and bottled sauces and teas.
- We checked out a vetiver co op that farms, processes, and sells the vetiver essential oil to high end customers and airplane companies…super cool.
- One of my business leaders helps counsel recipients of micro loans from a local community advancement group. We got to tag along to a meeting with him, and I got to witness both great ideas in action and some areas that I would like to improve upon and hold people accountable in.
Zizi Ze (Sassy Eggs) Chicken Coop
- The chickens continue to lay more eggs than projected and eat less food than originally calculated—making our profit margins for the coop much higher than expected! Mesi Jezi!
- We are now getting into systems of our employee letting me know when she needs more food a few days before she runs out (we store the 100lb bags at the York House and transport rodent-proof buckets back and forth) and more regular checks on egg sales and number of eggs laid per day, instead of me having to check on these things myself when visiting the coop.
- I am still searching for more ready-to-lay chickens to purchase before June when our first supplier will have more available, but am struggling to get responses from the other companies. While I wait, it has been fun to look up best practices for smoothly transitioning more chickens into the coop—my favorite being to hang cabbage or other ‘treats’ in the coop to distract the chickens that intruders have arrived.
Alex’s House Kiddos’ Business Learning
- In March we made several improvements to the girls’ souvenir store by switching up the location of the paintings to make them more visible, purchasing some different types of inventory to test out their desirability from our customers, adding music to help foster a fun and light environment for the girls to work in and our customers to enjoy, and the most important change: our girls are now keeping track of the price and quantity of everything sold at their table to build upon their business knowledge and learn how to track inventory and help calculate total revenue.
- Plop plop (cold drinks business ran by our older boys) ended the spring season of teams well, and I look forward to implementing systems for better keeping track of drink inventory, number of drinks sold, and cost of goods sold for the teams coming this summer and thereafter.
With joy April arrives, and I’m expectant for what the next few weeks will bring and the opportunities to “kenbe ko mwen” that will unfold. Above all, I’m rejoicing in my Source of strength and the celebration of His resurrection that kicks off this month! Bon fèt Pak, tout moun!