Thursday, August 28, 2014

On a Moto: Episode 23, Backwards Man

A friend of mine sent me this picture earlier tonight.  It took me a few seconds to figure out what was going on here.  Just to help you out, this is not a conjoined twin scenario or a quadruple-legged man.  

Thanks Charles.


To see the whole series at once, click HERE.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Recipe: Avocado Season Guacamole

It is currently the most wonderful time of the year here in Haiti if you love avocados.*  The season is in full swing and avocados are for sale on every street corner.  And they are cheap!  If you're white, you can get them for about 10-15gourds each ($0.22- 0.33 US).  If you're Haitian, you can probably get them for 5-10 gourds a piece ($0.11- 0.22US).

So I thought I'd share my favorite guacamole recipe-- something that is a great, mostly healthy snack or meal.


  • 3 large ripe (but not over-ripe) avocados (For reference, most of the avocados we get here are softball sized or larger, so if you're using smaller avocados, adjust accordingly.)
  • 2 ripe plum tomatoes
  • 2 key limes (Probably won't be able to find them in most places in the States.  So, use 1/4 to 1/2 of a small regular lime.)
  • 3 cloves of fresh garlic (or more if you like things very garlicky)
  • 2 shallots (or 1/4 of a small normal onion)
  • 2 Scotch Bonnet peppers (These are the best hot peppers around.  Unfortunately they are not available in the States, so you can substitute habenero, but just know it won't be as awesome.  In addition to being spicy, the Scotch Bonnet adds a great flavor.)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

Squeeze the juice out of your limes and set aside for just a minute.  Cube up your avocados and throw the lime juice over them, tossing them quickly to prevent browning.  Using the small grater on a cheese grater (you know, like the one you'd use to grate parmesan cheese), grate your shallots, garlic cloves, and Scotch Bonnet peppers.  It will kind of look like a soupy dollop of snot.  Don't worry, it's supposed to look like that!  Add this into the avocado mixture and mix well, using a fork to break up most of the avocado lumps, but not all of them.  It's better with some lumps in there.  Dice your tomatoes and fold them in at the end.  Salt and pepper if you wish.

Vwala! (Yes, that's how we spell it in Haiti.)  You will love this flavorful (but not too spicy) guacamole.  We think it's served best with papitas (fried plantain chips, which I think Trader Joe's has), but you could just do tortilla chips if you wanted.  

It's a really simple recipe and probably nearly the same as every other guac recipe you've tried, but let me tell you what-- when the avocados are ripe off the tree and you have just a tiny bit of a kick from the Scotch Bonnets.  Man, it is slap your Manman good.  (Although I do not recommend you do this.  Especially if you have a Haitian Manman.  Because she will right that wrong with a switch.)

# # # #

Here's a couple of other recipes made with local foods we love and have taken the time to get just right:

Fritzie's Pikliz

Classic Macaroni Salad

Cabbage and Roasted Beet Salad

Salad Dressing (Sos Manman Nick)

Haitian Spaghetti (NOTE, this was a recipe we started using a long time ago and is an Americanized version.)

We (and by we I mean Nick) has other great recipes that he's been adapting for local foods and will share them as he perfects them.

# # # #

*Note:  Avocado season is the only redeeming factor of Haiti in August. It is so incredibly hot in Haiti that I LITERALLY have sweat dripping off of me right now as I sit here with a cold glass of water.  And it doesn't matter at what time of day you read this, I will still be sweating if it's still August and I am still in Haiti.  It's so hot we have hot water-- scalding to be precise, because it sits up in a tank on our roof getting ready to scar the poor unsuspecting sweat-er who gets in the shower to cool of from said sweating.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


A few months ago, in an effort to try to connect with one another, Nick and I started taking these morning walks.  Y'all, our house is Crazy Town.  That's not a complaint, really.  (Okay maybe it is.)  It's a blessing to have so many great kids in our family.  But it is never quiet.  There's no place to go that's really away from it all, and the interruptions are constant.  But we found out that if we could get up while the kids were still sleeping and slip out the door before someone needed something, we'd have this great space to walk and talk.  Plus, I was tired of being so out of shape and figured walking couldn't hurt.

And so the first few weeks, it was just that.  A time to be out with Nick, sans little people.  We talked.  Sometimes about work stuff, most times not.  And we just started to remember how great it is to be married to one another.  I snapped pics along the way on my iPhone that were a way to look back later into the great beauty and mystery of this amazing island.

Sometimes we walked out of town...

Sometimes we walked in town...

Sometimes we'd take in beautiful sights...

Sometimes we'd take in some crazy realities...

And we were cruising along with life.

Well, were until Chikungunya hit us.


That was a two month-long adventure hell for our family (that still continues with arthritic joint pain.)  We walked few zero times during that little jaunt because our feet would not allow us to.  And then slowly we started getting back into it.  But around that time, Nick started running.  He's signed up to run a marathon here in Jacmel in January, and realized that if he didn't start running, he probably wouldn't be able to do it.  (Especially post ChikV).

So that lead me to walks by myself.  Which, to be honest, when you're a white girl of my size in Haiti, can be brutal.  "Gade yon gwo blan ap fè sport!"  (Look at the big white girl exercising.)  "Gwo blan, w'ap fè sport?" (Hey big foreigner, are you exercising?)  "Mezami! Gad gwo blan." (Wow! Look at the big white girl.)  Seriously.


Now, this isn't (necessarily) meant as insults, but come on.  Hearing how remarkable it is that me, the big white girl, is exercising, was almost enough to make me quit.  But then I learned a secret weapon, recommended by my friend, Kyle, who happens to be a masochist endurance athlete.

What is this secret weapon, you ask?

Audio books.

You guys.  Want a break from reality and something to motivate you to keep you going?  Download an audio book for when you exercise (and ONLY when you exercise.)  Get a story that really interests you and go. (And don't feel bad about not finishing it if it doesn't, because most audio books are 12+ hours long... that's a lot of walks to see a lousy book through.)

And so now you can see me out there almost every morning, getting my walk on.  I still smile and say "Bou jou!" to the dozens (hundreds?) of people I pass each morning on my hour-long saunter down the very busy roads and paths, but I can't hear their responses now.  Could be a "Bon jou!" right back at me, or a "Ale tounen lakay'w blan!"  (Go back home, foreigner.)  Either way, I can't hear and can just believe the best in people.  And so, with my mind occupied and my feet moving, I am free to see and experience all sorts of scenes.

Things like puppies, farmer, and flowers...

 Beautiful children hanging out like these guys...

And playing like these guys...

 This lady working hard for her living...

Social messages (Let's always keep Jacmel clean), beautiful structures, tropical wildflowers, and skinned knees...

Occasional vodou offerings in the median...

Fathers walking with their sons, tiny steps and winding paths, earthquake remains of buildings and peristyles, turquoise waters, and tropical pastures...

Each day is a new challenge to find the beauty amid the chaos as I walk the mostly-familiar (although sometimes unfamiliar) roads, trails, and footpaths of this tropical paradise reality that I now call my home.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Lunch

A couple of years ago, Nick and I made a decision that we would give our staff Sundays off from cooking so that they could go to church together with the kids.  Before that, it was always one or the other of them staying home cooking while we all went to (Haitian) church and then came home and had lunch together.  We were already going to Church on the Beach on Sunday afternoons and so we were still able to go to church, so we figured by staying home, our staff could go to church with the kids and we could stay home and cook.

In all truthfulness, the thought of an empty house to ourselves was really enticing.  It was a time when we could talk without being interrupted, where he and I could work together on lunch for the family, and where we could just... breathe.  However, it took a while to adjust to cooking for 20ish people.  I hated the cooking part, initially, because it took up most of the morning.  But as the months and years went on, it got easier.  We started finding things the kids liked and we learned how to make some of our favorite American-style food with locally available ingredients.  And I've even come to embrace the challenge of creating LOTS o' grub in a mini-oven that doesn't heat consistently and only has two working burnings.  Each week is an adventure-- like Nick and I are cafeteria workers on a reality show where they throw all kinds of extra challenges into the mix.  Bugs in the rice?  No problem.  Sift them out.  Not enough milk?  Run to the neighbor's house and buy evaporated milk and add water.  House smells like gas when we start the oven?  NBD.  Turn on a fan blowing the fas fumes towards the open door.  Believe me, if that were a reality show, (which I can't believe it is not considering that there's a show called Bridalplasty where would-be brides compete for plastic surgery), we'd win.  And we'd use our prize money to buy a bigger stove with all working burners and some freaking measuring cups that we'd guard with our lives lest they be absconded or "eaten" by our house as happens to so many things here.  But I digress.

But it's not really about the food.  It's that we've finally been able to create a time where we ALL sit down together and eat. The big boys come over and it's like this weird re-incarnation of "the old days."  There's nothing specific that defines Sunday lunch...  it's just a gathering place.

A place for Prisca to tell a funny joke.

And a place for Jerry to find that joke hilarious.

A place for Sanndi to roll her eyes at us. 

A place for Yves to try not to smile because he's mad we're telling him he needs to work instead of sitting around all day.

A place where Nico can lick the extra mashed potatoes from the evangelical cooking pot*.

A place where skinny Wildarne girl can savor every bite.

It's a place where Fritzie can get delightfully full on the mashed potatoes she enjoys so much that she literally comes to hug and kiss me afterwards as a thank you for making them.

It's a place for Jean Louis to refuse to look at the camera when he's scarfing down his food.

Where Josiah can (shirtlessly) eat chicken wings with a fork and eschew the mashed potatoes and coleslaw.

Y'all.  I have no idea how long each of our kids will stay in our care-- especially the older ones who are growing more independent everyday.  But I want to be able to consistently create a place where we can eat, love, share, smile, be pissed off, roll our eyes, tell jokes, and eat good food.  And even after they are gone, I hope they will come back home each week for Sunday lunch.


*Here's what I mean by the evangelical cooking pot.  This pot hearts Jesus.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

No offense, but...

Have you ever noticed that  sometimes, when someone is about to say something offensive, they start out with the phrase, "No offense, but..."

Sometimes what they are about to say is a joke and everyone will have a laugh.  But other times, it is actually an offensive statement/question, girded with "No offense, but..." to make themselves appear that they don't really think of you as adhering to the ugly thing they are about to say.  (Of course, if they didn't really think that, they would have no reason to tell you not to be offended... But I digress.)

For example, (and this is what this post is really all about), I once had a thin person ask me this--

"No offense, but if someone wanted to gain weight, how could they do it?"

That comment was about 5 years ago and it still plagues my brain at least a couple of times a month.  How could that NOT be taken offensively?  I mean seriously.  As a life-long "big girl" who struggles with food issues, trust me,  that hurt.  Recently another person I know made a really insensitive remark about overweight people and yeah, it was hard not to take it personally.

People.  I know I am fat.  It's not that I don't know this.  Since puberty I've been a big girl.  I will probably always be a big girl.  You don't know the struggles I've been through with my weight.  You don't know the medications I am on that make losing weight really tough.  You don't understand my family's disposition to addiction and food issues.  You probably don't know that during my "thin phase" I was exercising so obsessively that it became just as much as an idol as food.  I am not saying that I will never lose any weight.  I am just saying that it's a personal issue that you have no idea about.

I hope I haven't lost you in the whole "fat" struggle thing, because this post really isn't just about being thin or fat.  This post is about kindness.  And love.  And courtesy.  This post is about how, unless we've walked in someone else's shoes, we shouldn't try to judge their situation.  We don't know their story.  We don't know their pain.

How many people struggling with unknown (or known) struggles have we offended along the way?  Struggles like:

  • Unwanted singleness
  • Infertility
  • Addiction
  • Religious decisions
  • Mental Illness
  • Job loss
  • Divorce
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Sexual orientation
  • Living with little money
  • A physical limitation
  • History of physical/emotional/sexual abuse
  • Adoption/attachment/abandonment issues
  • Learning disability
  • Chronic pain
  • And a whole other host of issues!

When we make critical remarks, biting jokes, sweeping generalizations (etc), we may not know that we've caught someone in the crossfire.  So be kind with your words, my friends.  For the tongue carries with it more power than you know.


Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
-Ephesians 4:29

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mangine Family Recap- June/July 2014

Hello friends and family,

I promised myself that I was not going to start this update complaining about the heat.  Well, I am breaking that promise.  ;)  We are in the THICK of summer weather here in Jacmel, and it is making everyone a little grumpy.  (Mostly me.)  The afternoons are long and hot and humid making everyone eager for sunset when things cool down just a bit.  We're fortunate to have many big shade trees in our yard, meaning that there's always somewhere to go to escape the direct sun.

The last time I updated you it was mid-June, so I thought I'd pick up there and bring you through the present.

After almost 3 months foster care with us, little Mykerson (left) went to his permanent home at A Children's Hope.  He's doing well there.  There are several other kids his age and he's become attached to the nannies taking care of him.  

Late in June I had the opportunity to take the girls (and Schneider) out to Cyvadier hotel to watch a local dance school give their recital.  It was fun to get all dressed up, even if we just ordered sodas while we watched the show.

June and July are filled with birthdays!  This pic is from Nia's party. (She's now 11.)

This pic is from Sanndy's party. (She's now 13.)

This pic is from Manita's birthday.  (She's now 8.)

With no school we've been trying to do as many organized activities as possible.  We've taken a few trips to the pool at a local hotel.  This was the day I brought the 6 boys.  Man, boys are a lot of fun!

Nick has started a little running club with the kids that also includes walkers.  He's got a great system down where he runs ahead for a few minutes, then runs back to the last runner/walker in the group collecting everyone along the way.  Repeat over and over.  He doesn't cover as much ground this way (obviously), but it keeps everyone together-ish and he gets to run the whole time.  He's wanting to run a marathon in Jacmel in January, so this is all good practice.  He's covering about 5 miles in an hour these days.

We've gotten all the kids signed up for library cards and we make a weekly library trip.  It's different from libraries in the States-- you can only take out one book at a time and you only get to have it for a week, but the kids are LOVING it.  We only have a few French books, and so for them to have access to books in French and Kreyol is a game changer.  It's fun to see the kids around the house reading for pleasure.  There is a VERY, VERY limited supply of English books at the library, so we've been going through our personal library and donating books we don't need anymore.

The kids are still very involved in karate.  This weekend is their last tournament in the local Jacmel championship.  Our sensei, Freeman, is fantastic with the kids.  The kids have two hours of karate lessons, three times each week. And the cost is VERY minimal, meaning that this has been a staple of our summer.

Jean Louis, who was in afternoon school this year wasn't able to participate in karate.  But now that school is out, he has the opportunity to join.  He will test for his yellow belt at the same time as the rest of the kids test for their orange belt.  That testing day will be for all the karate students in Jacmel, and we are hosting it at our home!

This past week I had a chance to get up to Lavanneau, which is about 20 minutes outside of Jacmel.  It's a pretty rural area, and Freeman teaches a big free class up there for disadvantaged kids that couldn't otherwise afford karate.  We have been partnering with him to try to collect karate uniforms for his students who lack the funds to purchase them.  This will allow these kids to be able to participate in tournaments.  So far we've collected about 60, but we are hoping to gather more.  If you have any old karate uniforms you'd like to donate to the cause, email me at

All the kids Nia's age and under were eligible to participate in a new summer camp held in Jacmel.  It was two weeks long and it was amazing.  Just a day camp from 8am-noon for 2 weeks, it was a chance for the kids to participate in an American-style summer camp with bouncy houses and slides, a waterside, a pool, professional dance classes, cake decorating, arts and crafts, a zip line, lunch each day, and much, much more.  To say that a good time was had by all was an understatement.  Big thanks to Crosspointe who helped fund the experience.

The last day of camp they did a show for the parents.  There was singing, dancing, acrobatics, cake, and soda.  Super fun.

Last week we had some friends from Source Church in Manteo, NC visit us. Rob, Casey, and Nick  were first-timers to Haiti, so it was fun showing them around and having them meet our kids and our neighbors.  The guys funded a neighborhood picnic where we hosted 100 people to come and eat and have fun.  We had a blast.  In addition to a great meal, we had door prizes, dance contests (you simply must watch a video of one of the dance contests HERE), and a special performance by Rob and Nick, who are in a rap group in the States called WAR.  

After WAR performed, our neighbor, Jean Charles, wanted to sing/rap for everyone, so we handed over the mic.  Then another group of boys from the neighborhood wanted to rap for us and the mic was handed over again.

This turned into an open mic night that went late into the evening.  (As is evidenced by this really blurry, night photo.)  We love doing these neighborhood picnics.  It's a good way to get to know our neighbors better and a good way to just have fun together.  And we've learned that we need to buy a sound system, because clearly the way to our neighbors hearts was having a mic they could sing into!

Saving the best news for last, both Prisca and Sanndi have recently made decisions to follow Jesus.  They prayed to accept Jesus 2 weeks ago and were baptized by Nick and Rob on the beach in a special family church service last Sunday.  There is nothing that makes Nick and I happier than seeing our children chose to walk in the ways of Jesus.  At the same time, we are firm believers in letting them come to this decision on their own, in their own timing.   We celebrate the decision these girls made, and we look forward to helping them work out their salvation in the weeks, months and years to come.

As you can see, we've been keeping busy.  We're finally starting to get some relief from the dreaded Chikungunya virus that destroyed all of us this summer.  Many of us still have lasting pain, but it's definitely getting better.  And Chikungunya notwithstanding, t's been a great summer together with the children.  Nick and I have both noticed (as have others in our circle of friends here) that we are becoming more and more cohesive as a family lately.  We love what we get to do with our lives and we know that we're only able to do that because of the support that has been so generously donated by our supporters.  Thank you.

That being said, this summer has been a bit tight financially.  Donations have been down a bit, which is normal for most churches and non-profits during the summer.  Because we have been saving each month we've been able to pay all our bills and keep food on the table.  But we've been pulling more from savings for the past two months, and that is a finite amount.  We have big expenses coming up with the new school year and our furlough to the States, where we will get some rest, and get to visit our supporters, friends and family.  Please consider a one-time donation if you're able to help out.  Donations can be made quickly and securely at our webpage here:

Thanks for reading.  And thanks for being in our corner.

With a very grateful heart,

Gwenn (for the entire Mangine Many)

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Last week, Nick and I had some friends from North Carolina visit us here in Jacmel.  It was the first time in Haiti for all three of them.  It's always interesting to me to host "first-timers."  Getting to see Haiti through fresh eyes reminds me of when I first came to Haiti and was incredulous at all I saw and experienced.

About three days in, our friend Robert made this comment, "It's amazing to me how civilized people are here.  Haitians seems so much more civilized than people in the States."

My first reaction to his comment was confusion, because when I think of the word "civilized" I think about advanced civilization.  So that made me consider what I thought would constitute advanced civilization.  Thoughts that went through my head were (in no particular order): modern medical facilities, a reliable power grid, lack of political/social unrest, access to good education, technology that is accessible to the general population, etc.  Basically, everything that's NOT available in Haiti.

So I asked Robert to expand on what he meant.  His first example was how people drive here in Haiti.     And then I was really confused.  If you've never visited Haiti, you are probably confused now, too.  Driving in Haiti is a real gong show.  It's pretty terrifying to new-comers.  There are few stop signs, even fewer functioning street lights, and even fewer speed limit signs. (Which couldn't really be enforced because it's not like cops have radar guns.  They are lucky to have functioning headlights.)  It's kind of a free-for-all.

But Robert went on to explain that in the midst of all this traffic, and all this chaos, there's a certain groove to it that individual drivers adapt to.  Traffic has a flow to it, people are (generally) good at taking turns, and there is cooperation between drivers.  On an individual basis, people are extremely civilized in contrast to how these kinds of conditions would affect Americans.  I had to agree with him.  Imagine with me the kind of chaos that would occur with driving in America if we had no traffic lights/stop signs/enforced speed limits.  And I don't mean like when a light goes out and there is a policeman directing traffic at an intersection.  I mean just imagine none of these things being available and just letting society working out taking turns.  I can't imagine it being too civil.

Robert also gave the example of how people take care of one another here.  And when I thought about it, I had to agree with him again.  As a rule, people here share instead of hoard.  People lend their stuff freely, even their nicest things.  People take care of those less fortunate, even when they don't have much themselves.  Doors are always open to your neighbors and everyone keeps an eye on everyone else's kids.  Guests (even surprise guests) are treated with great honor, and there is always room for one more.  When someone comes over to visit (usually without calling ahead), people make the time to just sit and visit.  When I lived in the States, I would never just drop in on someone without calling ahead.  And when I did drop in to pick something up, or drop something off, it was rare that I'd go on in and sit down and visit.  It was more of a transaction. And forget about people dropping in unannounced.  I'd meet them at the door and hope they didn't want to come in because my house was probably a mess.  Now, I can't imagine my life without people dropping in-- dirty house or not.  People matter.  Clean houses don't.

The more I thought about this concept, the more I realized Robert was right.  I thought about how people will sit ALL DAY LONG waiting for their turn at the doctor's office.  Without being given appointments or numbers, the crowd will all agree on whose turn it is next.  People here generally don't try to get special treatment or expedited service, but just sit and wait well.  I suck at this. I can usually wait well until my phone battery dies and I can't browse Facebook or play Temple Run.  After that, I am internally agitated and I begin my usual silent script in my head that reads something like this, "This is ridiculous.  My time is worth more than this.  I should send this doctor a bill for the time he kept me waiting.  Doesn't he know I have a lot of important things to do today?" I get agitated watching the clock (if there is one), sighing super loud so that the receptionist knows I am irritated, etc.  Y'all, it's not pretty.  Meanwhile, the Haitians are just sitting there, calmly, waiting.  I've even seen where after hours upon hours of waiting, the doctor decided that he was tired and was going to go home early, meaning many people (who had waited for 4-5 hours already) wouldn't be seen that day.  Can you imagine that scene happening in the States? But the Haitians just roll with it.  They might sigh then, but then they get up and go home and come back the next day.

I also thought about how Haitians retain tight family connections, even when they don't particularly like someone.  They are your family, so you don't hold decade-long grudges.  You deal with it and get over it.  In the market, if you're set up and a vehicle needs to get through, you pick up your stuff and let the car through.  If you trip when you're walking, several people nearby will come over to help you up and make sure you're okay.  They will also pick up and reorganize the stuff you dropped.  If you're driving through a river and your car gets stuck, guys will come over and put rocks under your tires so that you can drive on.  (Possibly a strange example, but it's happened to me twice.)  If your moto runs out of gas, another moto (many times a stranger) will come up and give you a "tow", putting one foot of his on the foot rest of your bike and pushing you along to the next gas station.  (See pic above.)

And there are a dozen other examples I can think of which lead me to believe Robert was right.  On a macro level, we often look at Haiti and see all of the "uncivilized" things that plague the country.  And yes, there are some really serious problems.  But on an interpersonal level, I feel like Haitians are truly civilized human beings.  And we, in the "civilized" (on a macro level) American world, could learn a lot from our Haitian neighbors what it means to be civilized as individuals.