Saturday, January 17, 2015

That pesky issue of short-term teams in Haiti: Part 1

First, let me say that my use of the term pesky is not meant to imply that short-term teams are inherently pesky (although let's just all admit that they can be.)  I use the term pesky to refer to my opinions regarding the whole conversation about short-term teams.  And really, the issue is pesky to me personally.  Because EVERY time I think I've made a call on how I feel, I consider something new that changes my mind.

A few caveats to mention before I dig into things.

  • I can only speak from experience in terms of short-term teams in Haiti.  I've have no experience any other place.
  • I have not studied this issue academically.  I have read some books and articles about it, (and there are A LOT of opinions) but what I am saying is founded almost entirely on my experience with short-term teams.  And I have experience as a participant, as a host, and as an outside observer.
  • Our family does not host short-term teams anymore.  We used to.  And honestly the decision to stop was not centered around most of the issues below, but was far more selfish in nature.  We just couldn't keep our family all on the same page while hosting a group of short-termers for a week or two at a time.  (That being said, we do love to have visitors in our home... people who want to come and just experience Haiti, I will get to that in a future post.)
So here we go.  Today I want to talk about my first short-term team.

If you believe the creation story in the Bible, you know that God created Adam and Eve.  And there's this verse in Genesis that talks about how God created mankind in his image.  Notice this, it's not just that God created a single man and a single woman in his image, but that he created mankind in his image.  So what's my point?  My point is that the whole of mankind is created in his image. If we want to know God more and more, it makes sense that we would need to get to know more of the mankind he created in his image.

I was almost in my thirties before I really understood that, but I got a glimpse of that right after high school.  I lived all of my childhood up until 18 years of age in New Jersey, and then I moved to North Carolina for college.  I couldn't believe the differences I saw between people in "The North" and in "The South."  It was pretty crazy.  And it wasn't just the way people talked.  It was the way people treated each other.  And it was the things people seemed to value.  And I don't just mean the unsweet vs. sweet tea thing. ;) (Team unsweet all the way, baby!)

But I was 28 the first time I left the country.  This time it was on a short-term team to Haiti.  And in a single moment, that moment when I walked out of the Port au Prince airport, there was this instant and shocking paradigm shift that told me my life would never be the same.  It was so jarring that I can still remember it very clearly.  It was this realization that the kind of photos I'd see in National Geographic actually happened in real life.  That was shocking.  I guess I knew that in my brain somewhere, but seeing it with my own eyes-- yeah, that was something different.

My short-term team experience was so super stereotypical.  We came in loaded heavy with army duffels full of supplies.  We had matchy-matchy t-shirts. Our said (and I am not making this up) "Christian Servant" on the front.  (No really, seriously, I am NOT making this up.)  I asked every typical short-term team member question- "Where is everyone walking to?" "Why is there so much garbage?"  "How can these children's moms just give them away?"  Our hosts were a couple who were new full-time missionaries, having lived in Haiti less than a year.  But since they lived there, I figured they knew all the answers and accepted their answers as truth.  After all, they spoke Kreyol.

I wore long skirts and a bandana over my head. I hugged and kissed countless random children I did not know. I fell in love with one specific baby there and cried and cried and prayed and prayed over his plight. 

Short-termer, Gwenn Mangine, circa 2005.  Exhibit A- head coverings, holding a Haitian baby 24/7,

I came armed with everything from REI that I might need-  things like camping toilet paper, tons of hand sanitizer (in little bottles that strapped to my belt loops or backpack, AND in a bigger bottle to refill the little bottles), waterless shampoo, and 97% DEET bug repellant.  (Note: I am not suggesting causation, but I did give birth to a child with a severe heart defect after that... so perhaps we should leave the 97% DEET to, like, well, no one.)  

We did a VBS in the same place that did the same VBS with different American teams the previous three weeks in a row.  It was in Kreyol and was called "Peche Pou Jezi."  Now, knowing what I know now, this is a little big funny.  The intent was that it was to mean, "Fishing for Jesus" and the kids learned about Jesus' disciples who were fishermen and about how Jesus talked about how they'd no longer fish for fish, but that they'd fish for men.  The problem is that the word peche can also be translated as sin.  So in retrospect, it was unclear if the theme song we sang "N'ap peche pou Jezi" was to mean "We're fishing for Jesus" or "We're sinning for Jesus."  (But I digress.)

We were walked around the village and I was introduced to several of the children including Jackson, the local vodou priest's son.  An adorable boy with beautiful locs, I thought he was the cutest kid I'd ever met.  I gave him my favorite wooden beaded necklace that I wore every day of my life before I left (see pics above and below for pics of said necklace).  And while I am on the subject of giving things away, I gave pretty much everything else away, too.  I left almost everything there, tossing it into the "missionary barrel" to be distributed in the community.  (Sidenote:  One of the jobs we were given on our short-term team was organizing the shelves in the bathroom.  These shelves were BUSTING with supplies that other team members had left behind... you know, camping toilet paper, big and little bottles of hand sanitizer, waterless shampoo, and 97% DEET bug repellant.)

And finally, although I am embarrased to admit this, I will show the following picture.

Short-termer, Gwenn Mangine.  Circa 2005.  Exhibit B- cornrows.

I got my hair cornrowed.  Yep.  Just owning that I did this.  As you can see, I really did do EVERY stereotypical thing.  I feel a little silly now, looking back on this trip.  But y'all it was great for me.  (For the people hosting us and the Haitians we came into contact with-- yeah, jury is still out on that.)  And it is 100% truth to say that this trip was life-changing for me.  It was the beginning of our family's journey towards living in Haiti and the whole Mangine Many adventure.  So I will always be grateful for this trip.  But looking back now, I can see so clearly how my future, and the lives of the Haitians I encountered on my trip would have been better had some things been different.  (I will get to that in Part 3 of this series.)

That's where I am going to leave you for now.

Stay tuned in the next few days for Part 2, where I will detail what it was like to host short-term teams.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Freedom soup

Tomorrow is Haitian Independence day and every Haitian household will be serving Soup Joumou.  (Pumpkin soup.)  This has has an historical significance.

Before independence, though the slaves were the ones who prepared this delicacy for their French masters, they were expressly forbidden from partaking.   Once freedom was won in 1804, the slaves, in sort of a display of defiance and newfound freedom, took pleasure in preparing the soup for themselves and eating together.

And the Haitian revolution -- remember, the only slave revolt ever to result in a free nation --would have ripples throughout history that would impact the fight for human rights everywhere.  I love this quote--

“By creating a society in which all people, of all colors, were granted freedom and citizenship, the Haitian Revolution forever transformed the world. It was a central part of the destruction of slavery in the Americas, and therefore a crucial moment in the history of democracy, one that laid the foundation for the continuing struggles for human rights everywhere. In this sense we are all descendents of the Haitain Revolution, and responsible to these ancestors.” - Laurent Dubois

So every January first, this tradition continues.  It's a holiday and as you go visiting from house to house, you will be offered soup joumou at each place.  Everyone has their own spin.  Some are thicker-- like a stew, some are thinnner-- like a broth.  It's filled with chunks of citrus-infused beef and an assortment delicious vegetables like cabbage and mirliton;  roots like carrots, and yams (true yams as well as sweet potatoes), and turnips; and spices like scotch bonnet peppers, shallots, and leek.

My staff has already started preparing the vegetables for it.  It will simmer all night tonight, and that is all we will eat tomorrow whenever we get hungry.  In some ways I don't feel worthy of partaking in such a beautiful ritual.  But seeing as how we are running a Haitian household here (albeit with American parents), it's a must.

2014 Year End Wrap Up

To my DEAR Family and Friends.

We made it through 2014!  (Well, almost.  Nia would tell me now to not count my chickens before they are hatched...  But let's just go ahead and make the assumption that we will make it until tomorrow.)

What a fun, crazy, sick (in the bad way), beautiful year.  So much that happened can't be summed up in a year end review-- we've seen so many "clicks forward" with our family and each individual child entrusted to our care. 

This year I wanted to do something different.  Since this is my blog and all, I thought I'd close out the year that show how I passed the year-- not the Mangine Many, per se.  But me.  Obviously this intersects the Mangine Many (and others as well), but I thought I'd tell a few micro stories based on how they touched MY life this year.

In January/February it was Karnaval season.  We were downtown showing our friends James and Lindsey some of the Sunday Karnaval festivities when we got black'd by our friend Gayly who was with a group of Lanset Kod.

We had so many great visitors this year, including a small stop-in from our friend Andrew T, a throwback to one of the amazing friends we made almost 5 years ago during the difficult earthquake times.  It's a joy to catch up with the people who have impacted our lives in Haiti, and it's also a joy to share Haiti with new visitors.  There's a lot here to show off!

We got to foster Mykerson for 3 months.  A sweet and sensitive toddler, Mykerson had just lost his twin sister, Mykerline, to illness.  It was a good time for our family to have him, but we're happy to report he is doing well at his permanent home with Children's Hope.

My mom came into town in April, and Nick and I were able to have a little getaway.  We traveled more of Haiti and went to Port Salut (pictured here) as well as Ile a Vache.  Beautiful, beautiful.

And while were staying at Abaka Bay Resort on Ile a Vache, we ran into the President of Haiti, Michael Martelly!

My "baby" Schneider isn't a baby anymore.  He's growing quickly.  We have the funds and the path to *start* his adoption in 2015 and we long for the time we can bring him back to the States with us so that all of you can meet him.  He's a spectacular child-- now that he's 4, his is super-inquisitive.  He asks about 400 questions per day.  This year we are working on his English.

I love this family pic.  Our good friend, Chad, is a pastor and photographer from Minnesota.  He often travels to Haiti and we have known him for years.  He blessed our family again this year with another great family pic.  Check it out.  (We are standing at the Moulin Price.)

This is me with my neighbor, Christian.  Living in a new neighborhood this year, we've gotten the chance to really start afresh with a new community.  For the first four+ years here we lived in an upperclass neighborhood in the Jacmel area.  But now, we actually get to live among our neighbors.  We've loved getting to know them and their kids, and hope that we've been a blessing to them the way they have been to us.

This year brought a lot of new friends. Nick and I have a special place in our hearts for making new people to Jacmel feel as comfortable as they can.  We were given the honor of meeting a lot of new people this year, like my friend Kira (on the right.) 

One of the best thing about working together with other missions and NGO's in the area, is getting to see the work they are doing and try to support them and encourage them.  This tiny preemie baby, Isaac, was brought to our friends at Re-Imagine Haiti.  They brought him to Jacmel where my friend, Sarah, and her staff with Olive Tree Projects, worked with Isaac's mom to help him gain weight and get big enough to return home.  Mom and baby stayed for a long time because Isaac was two months early and weighed just over 2 pounds when he arrived, but now he is over 8 lbs and healthy and strong.  Our family got to babysit Isaac once or twice.  We're thankful for missionaries who work in Jacmel to serve in these life-giving roles.  Having the chance to  personally witness actual miracles is something that I do not take for granted.

My mom came for another visit in September and I FINALLY brought her to Basin Bleu,  My mom is so supportive of Nick and my family.  She's down here often and she always has great ideas about how to involve other people.  For her 2015 initiative to get people involved, click here... especially if you have a goal to get in shape in the new year.

My mo took this pic the day before Nick and I left (with the American kids) for our annual furlough.  On our front porch, this is what we look like on a normal day.  Our look is definitely not "polished" most days, but getting to be all together makes this a beautiful pic, in my estimation.   (Plus, the fact that we use a disco ball to add a little fabulousness into our daily lives helps.)

While in the States, I was busy trying to raise funds for our adoption of Schneider.  This picture was taken at the OBX Bluegrass festival (where I had a booth to sell Haitian merchandise to benefit our adoption) and it was super special because I got to see a bunch of my family there-- left to right, my sister Gretchen, my cousin Trina, my Uncle Digger T, my mom Denise, and then, of course, Nia and me.

My parents kept ALL their grandkids for a week, which freed us up to go on another getaway.  Nick and I took a cruise to the Bahamas.  This pic was in Nassau, where we took a little horse-drawn carriage ride through the city.

And this was also in Nassau, where we got to hit the beach and enjoy the tropics again.  Before 2014, Nick and I had gone too long without a proper vacation, and so it was very nice to have TWO getaways with him this year.  I really do love growing old(er) with him.

October afforded the ability for me to be together with both of my sisters and their kids at the same time.  (THE BEST!!!) This pic was taken one morning SUPER early when we woke all the kids up to watch the lunar eclipse.  Not the greatest pic, but definitely the greatest people.

Being in the States meant a great visit from our BFF, Andrew Brown.  You guys.  I just can't even explain the friendship Nick and I have with him.  We've known him for 12 years now, and each year it just gets sweeter.   He's our number one supporter and encourager.  He's a partner with us in so many ways.  I would suggest that everyone I know starts praying for an Andrew Brown in their lives, because we all need one.  (And, um, this one is already taken by us and others, so you guys can't have him. :)

In November, Nick's parents, treated our whole family to DISNEY WORLD!!!  It was a really special, once in a lifetime experience.  Everyone loved being together and it was so much fun to be able to watch our kids experience the wonder of everything Disney.

We got back here to Haiti right before Christmas and had the most wonderful Christmas ever.  It was so perfect in so many ways.  Nick and I are so thankful for this team of people right here-- Felicia, Hugues, and Marijosette.  They not only keep things running while we are gone, they keep our family cohesive.  We are beyond blessed by them.

And that brings us right up to present time.  Two days ago was the Gala-- a dressup extravaganza that our family looks forward to all year.  This year while I was in the States, I bought gowns for all the girls at Goodwill.  And, as you can see, we stepped out in style.

So that's it- 2014 in 20  pics. In many ways, it was our best year yet.  And I don't mean that it was our easiest year-- that it was not.  But it was a year where Nick and I were able to go about life and ministry and family in a way that we've desiring for years.  Being mentally healthy and having a lot of new tools to handle conflict, our marriage is in a great spot.  We were able to handle the challenges that parenting traumatized children brings.  We were able to get through some really, really bad tropical illnesses this summer.  We saw God provide even in the most stressful of situations and we now have more reasons to trust him in the New Year.  And four of our children made decisions to trust Christ with their life in 2014.

New things are coming in 2015. We can't wait to share them with you as they happen!  Thanks for being in it with us.

With a very grateful heart, 

Gwenn for the entire Mangine Many

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Long Run (a repost)

In 6 days, Nick will be running his first marathon.  (And according to Nick currently, it will also be his last... he's really tired of training.)  But now, he's completed all of his training, and really just has some walks and rest days before the big event on Sunday.

I think anyone who wants to attempt a marathon is just a bit crazy.  But to do your first marathon in Haiti.  Yikes.  Totally freaking nuts.  That's what I love about him.  He's not afraid of challenges that push him forward.

My mom wrote an excellent blog post about Nick and the race he's running.  I will post an excerpt here--

Today is Nick Mangine's birthday. He is 35 and he is preparing for his first marathon in Jacmel, Haiti on January 4th. While Nick has spent months preparing for this event he has really been in training for years. He has always chosen to step up to the hard challenges. He has never been content to be on the sidelines when there has been a race to run.

Many of you first learned who Nick was shortly after the Haiti earthquake nearly five years ago. (January 12, 2010) That was when people got really interested in the 'race' that Nick and Gwenn were running. But the race began miles before the public interest.Nick sold everything and gave up a good career in 2009 and moved his wife and family to Haiti. Even that took over a year to prepare for. This truly has been a race of more than seven years at this point.

It was just that during those hard miles after the quake we all had a good view from the spectators stand. We watched the endless videos on CNN and saw the tragic photos. Our hearts bled with all of Haiti during the months that unfolded and much needed giving was drastically increased.

Over the last five years Haiti has been and still is in recovery. Cameras have turned to other tragic stories. The race continues.  Other challenging hard miles have come and gone since those early days. As a family they have dealt with more in these years than most can image. A middle of the night home invasion and being robbed at gun point on the way to the airport and more serious illnesses than I can list.They have seen death and life up close and personal.Poverty tries to suck the life out of everyone in Haiti and Nick and Gwenn are not strangers to going without...



Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rejoice with those who rejoice

There's this verse in the Bible that says this--

Rejoice with those who rejoice.
Mourn with those who mourn.
Romans 12:15

This is really good advice.  And, in my experience, this is something that Haitians are good at.  Excitement (good or bad) travels quickly (and loudly) around here.  I will focus on the mourning part another day, but today I want to share a few pics from Christmas to show what gift opening was like in our family.

For the next four pictures, I want you to notice not only Wildarne (the girl on the right being VERY happy to receive her new boots) but also Sanndi, on the left.

The morning was full of these moments.

Christmas present opening was not only joyful because of the excited cries from the recipients of gifts, but also from the cries of joy and clapping and celebration by their brothers and sisters FOR them.

What a great example for all of us to follow.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Elf on the Shelf in Haiti: Day 16

Lots of corn to be ground today into mayi moulin.