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.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

On a Moto: Episode 22- Hog tied.

Look close.  There are two...

EDITED to add:

A friend of mine in Jacmel, Jan, sent me this pic.  She happened to see the pig farther down the road!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Then and now.

Back in November of 2010, these two babies were born to a single mom named Carol who lived in one of the post-earthquake camps where I worked.  Their names are Jean-Reginald and Sara-Regine. (Reggie and Regine for short-- Haitians are into naming twins similar sounding names.)

This is them a few weeks later.  And then, once our camp program was finished, we sort of lost touch.

A few days ago I was in the market and I ran into Carol.  She begged me to come see the kids.  I told her I'd get to it soon.  But then the next day she called and said, "When?"  And I said, "Soon."

The next day she called and said, "When?"  And so I said, "Okay, coming over now."

Anyway, went to the camp and got to have a short visit with these two cuties, who are now three and a half.  In Haiti, losing touch for a while can be an uncertain thing.  But it's always nice to catch up after a while and the kids are not only still living, but appear to be thriving.  This mom, who was SO overwhelmed with her situation back then is doing a great job.  I am so glad she stuck it out when she thought she might have to give at least one of the kids up.  The kids even went to preschool last year.

Good news, eh?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mwen renmen manman'm

Back on Mother's Day, Nia wrote an acrostic poem for me using the Kreyol word for Mother-- "Manman."  I found it when I was cleaning up the other day--


I love my mother
With all my heart
In love and in anger
My mother helps me 
With Everything
In school and in life.

Isn't it amazing how good affirming words can make us feel?  
Take this as a reminder to encourage someone with your words today!

Monday, July 7, 2014

EDH: A love/hate relationship. (But mostly hate.)

EDH stands for Électricité d’Haïti.  It's our power company.  And, well, let's just face it.  It sucks.

According to this Wikipedia page, those of us in Haiti are "facing a deep, permanent crisis characterized by dramatic shortages and the lowest coverage of electricity in the Western Hemisphere with only about 12.5% of the population (25% if illegal connections are accounted for) having regular access to electricity."

Pa bon.  (Not good.)

And just to clarify, by regular access to electricity they don't mean 24 hour/day electricity, they mean the average (also mentioned on that page) of 10 hours per day.  And that's on a good day.  We are all in the midst of "power rationing" in Jacmel right now, meaning that we never know when (or if) we will have electricity, and when it turns on, we don't know how long it will stay on.  In fact, over the past 61 hours, we've had a grand total of 8 hours of electricity.  We had it from 10PM Saturday night to 1AM on Sunday morning.  And we had it from 8PM Sunday night to 1AM Monday morning.  (Definitely not the most useful time to have power.)  And just FYI- our EDH bill for the entire month is around $200+/-.

Now, unlike many of our Haitian neighbors, we do have a backup generator (which can run almost everything in our home) and an inverter/battery system.  (Actually, we have 2 generators.  One is smaller than the other so we use that during the day (if necessary) and the bigger one at night.)  When we have EDH, we have chargers that charge our bank of 8 deep cycle batteries, and then when power goes off, our inverter pulls from those batteries to power our home.  Currently, this system, (with 4 chargers and 8 batteries) gives us about 5-7 extra hours of power, if we turn off our freezers.  The range depends on several things.  First, did they get a full charge from EDH?  And then second, how much electricity are we pulling from the batteries?  Certain things pull more current.  (Ideally, we would get 4-8 more batteries and 2-4 more chargers and could get twice the amount of electricity saved up to make not using a generator necessary, since fuel is so expensive, but we have bigger priorities for money at this point.)

If we run the generator all day long (when we don't have electricity), it would cost over $30-40/day in fuel.   So, we try to run it for a few hours in the morning when the inverter dies to charge up the batteries a bit, and then flip over to the inverter which will give us another couple of hours.  Hopefully, EDH turns on by late afternoon and we're good to go.  But usually, we have several hours per day with no power.  We try to keep that to a minimum because of food safety, but it's the way it is.

I have been told (and just an FYI- I have no way to verify that this is true) that the reason that EDH cannot provide power during the day is because government offices never pay their EDH bill.  And EDH can't shut power off to government offices.  And so several months ago, there was this new director at EDH who decided that she was going to improve EDH in two main ways.  First, she was going to aggressively work to cut down on power stealing, which is a huge problem here.  Second, she was going to go to the different government offices and hand them bills for the hundreds of millions of gourds they owe.  Both of those ideas had a lot of merit if you ask me.  However, this really irritated people in the government who all put pressure on EDH until they fired her.  The new director's plan for how to handle the situation is to have rolling blackouts.  Brilliant. (Not.)

The most frustrating thing about the whole EDH situation is that it EDH almost always provides power for the World Cup games.  They will cut on the power as the game is starting, and then cut it off when it is over.  But then they will need to "make up for it" in another place, which means no power that night or the next.  That doesn't work for me.  Or for local businesses who rely on having power during certain periods of the day/night.

Solar is an option we're looking into, but that's a big investment, and, if I am going to be honest, I really love having an AC unit in our room at night in the summer.  Solar is probably not going to produce enough power to let that bad boy run unless we have a giant system.

So, for now, we just degaje (make do).  We don't have the elegant solution for power right now, and we probably won't ever.  But it works.  (However, if Nick Mangine ever left me, I would have no idea what to do because he keeps it running.)

So that's our basic power situation.  I know we have it way better than most of our neighbors.  We try to be generous-- running an extension cord with a power strip at the end out to the front gate during times when the power has been off forever and we have the generator running.  This way our neighbors can at least charge their phones.  (Society practically shuts down during longer blackouts because no one can charge their phones, so no one can get in touch with anyone else.)

But until some major improvements are made on an infrastructure level, this power thing will always be a problem.  And with the bureaucracy the way it is in Haiti, I am not holding my breath that it will change any time soon.

Edited July 9, 2014 to add: So, it appears that fuel prices are going to be going up almost $2US/gallon. (Already about $5US/gallon.) That's a problem in a lot of ways. First, the cost of driving is going up. The cost of fueling our generators for power is going up. The cost of moto-taxis will be going up. The cost of public transportation. The cost for businesses to have power to run. But also, big ramifications for EDH, the electricity company, who seems to be preferring to cut our number of hours of electricity they are offering rather than shell out bigger electricity bills to people who will most likely manifest instead of paying them. 2015 needs to be the year of solar for the Mangines.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Winner winner, chicken dinner.

A few months ago, I wrote this blog post which I entitled, "The cost of comfort."   The point of the post was that it is really expensive to buy American-style food (read: processed food) & items in Haiti.  However, that doesn't change the fact that Nick and I get really, really, REALLY tired of Haitian food.

So long ago, we made this family tradition that Nick and I would work together to plan and prepare American style food on Sunday afternoons for the whole family (and live-in staff).  There's currently 16 people in our home and we try to keep it to a total cost of $50 for the meal or less.  Sometimes we're in a big rush and we get deli ham and cheese and make sandwiches and serve it with Pringles and cookies.  On those weeks we almost always go over budget.  But we usually try to make a really nice meal for the family.

Nick has this goal to open a restaurant here in Haiti when we "retire" from raising our herd of children.  He wants to call it "Manje Blan" (white people food) and serve American-style food, made from local ingredients.  To that end, he's always trying new recipes out so that we can try them on our family.  It's so amazing how much delicious (and nutritious) food can be made with locally available ingredients, and without shopping at the import grocery stores.

Here's what today's Sunday meal consisted of:

Roasted chicken. Cabbage/beet salad. Macaroni salad with fresh vegetables.  An all-fruit smoothie made with fresh mangoes, cherries, bananas, pineapples, watermelon, and passion fruit.

The grand total for 16 people's lunch?

$20.75 (or just under $1.30 per person).

Our family got a great, nutritious meal, and it cost less than HALF of what we normally budget.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner.