My Eight Month Journey

This is sort of a difficult topic for me.  Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself and thought "Wow, that's not a very good picture."?  I'm sure we all have.  Well, last November, I looked at a picture that downright terrified me.  After having three kids and turning 30, I had come to terms with the fact that I'd never be a supermodel, but wow, that picture... was baaaaad.  Until that moment, I didn't realize how much I had changed over the last few years.  I knew that I wanted to look different.  Better.  Not thinner, but healthier.  Not skinny, but fit.

Three weeks prior to this picture, I had run my first half marathon.  One would think I was pretty fit, but I wasn't properly balancing my diet and exercise.  In my mind, I could drink a few glasses of wine or beer because I ran 5 miles earlier that day.  I could eat whatever I wanted, because I was running.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work quite like that.

For the next eight months, I made my health a priority.  I watched the foods that I ate.  I met with a trainer.  I regularly did cardio and weight training.  Did I slip up?  Sure.  I still enjoy dessert from time to time.  I'll have a few beers with friends occasionally, but not every day.  Do you know what I've learned from this?  I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything.  I love going to the gym.  I love running.  I love eating fresh veggies.  I love feeling great.  I've also learned that a great support system is key.  In addition to my husband and kiddos, I have a wonderful group of ladies that have have cheered me on every step of the way.  I'm a lucky girl.

I'm down just over 30lbs from my November picture and my dress size has gone from a size 14 to a size 8.  I'm still a work in progress and I plan to continue training and pushing my limits.  I enjoy the challenge.  I'll never be a supermodel and that's okay.  I am happier and healthier, and that's all that matters.

Haiti - Day 3

We woke up at 6:20 a.m..  We've been showering at night for 2 reasons:  1) It is hot, so it is a great way to cool down, and 2) we are nasty when we come back to our room, so we have to shower.  This has been helpful for the mornings though as our hair dries mostly during the night.  All we have to do is change and head out.

We rode the tap tap to breakfast and enjoyed the same eggs with onions and spices as the day before.  We also had mango, banana, peanut butter on bread and coffee.  I also had a small piece of cheese that was similar to farmer's cheese.  It was delicious.

After breakfast we met to discuss what project we'd be working on.  I chose to work on digging a trench to pour concrete in order to build an extension on one family's home.  Currently a mother, father and 3 or 4 children are living in a 2-room house.

The work was challenging but fulfilling.  I swung a pick ax and shoveled gravel and hard dirt.  I stopped for a few minutes to play with some kids.  I gave them stickers and let them run off with my iPhone and camera.  One boy discovered Robot Unicorn Attack and laughed and laughed as he played it.  I retrieved my camera long enough to take a video and thought of my brother-in-law and that, because of him (because he introduced it to me), kids in Haiti now love that game.

After several hours of work, we wet back to the church.  The kids were playing and we joined them for a minute.  They wanted me to hold their lands and lift them in their air.  My arms were exhausted from picking and shoveling but there is always enough strength left for that.

We headed to the Restoration House for lunch.  On the walk over, a boy kept saying "iPod? iPod?"  I smiled and then he said, "Justin?  Justin Bieber?"  I never wished so hard that I had Justin Bieber before on my phone.  Here is this kid, who may not have running water, but he knew what an iPod was and he knew who Justin Bieber is!  How cool is that!?!  A Restoration House, lunch was an amazing stew with beef, carrots, potatoes and dumplings.  We also enjoyed a Coke. :)

After lunch we went to the church to help with the feeding program.  Although it was a littel crazy, it was amazing seeing all the kids.  The best moment of my day was when I started asking for Rose, my sponsor child.  One child said that she was Rose's cousin and that he'd go find her.  A few minutes later he returned with a beautiful little girl in a blue and white dress.  It was Rose.  I said, "My name is Karen.  I am your sponsor."  She didn't understand and looked at her cousin.  He translated.  Her eyes got wide and she smiled.  She threw her arms around my neck.  It was like receiving a hug from an angel.  Best.  Feeling.  Ever.  I walked her back to the church and took pictures of her enjoying her lunch.  It is amazing to see that I really can make a difference in some one's life.

Rose left and I played with the other children.  We painted their nails and then one girl wanted to paint my nails too.  Some of the children ran off with my journal.  They drew pictures for me and wrote messages to me in it.  The children understand and respect things that we let them borrow.  I had no problem letting a child walk around the community earlier that day with my camera.  I didn't mind them wearing my back pack or sunglasses or playing with my phone.  I knew it would all come back to me.

After playing for a while it was time to go back to the hotel and prepare to go out to dinner.  We came back to the hotel and I called my mom and Christy.  Our group chatted in the lobby for a while and then went to our rooms to take showers.  We went to dinner in the city at a place called "Sesonet" (or something similar to that).  I had roasted goat with fried plantains, fried potatoes, tomatoes, cole slaw, rice & beans and water.  I was on the verge of panic before dinner because both Candice and Elena felt sick and I just knew that we were all coming down with the flu.  After dinner though, they felt much better and we determined it was due to the heat and over exerting themselves.

On the way back to the hotel we rode in the tap tap (instead of the van that we rode on coming to dinner).  Riding through the city while sitting on the roof of a pickup truck almost gave me a heart attack.  It was much different than the slow bumpy roads near Restoration House.  I was white-knuckled the whole time.  It was nuts!

We arrived at the hotel and had a brief devotional.  I tried to take a shower but the water was ll gone.  No shower for me.  :(  Also, that meant that the toilets didn't flush.  Fantastic.

Please visit Restore Haiti.  Learn how you can sponsor a child for only $30 per month.  For non-reoccurring donations, consider providing over 400 children with a chicken leg for $250 or a glass of milk for $150.

Haiti - Day 2

We woke up at 6am and, having showered the night before, were ready and on the roof by 7am.  We prayed, took some pictures in our church attire and then went downstairs to go to breakfast.  

Breakfast was scrambled eggs with onions and spices.  There were fresh magoes and the best pineapple I've ever had  We also had some bread and peanut butter and the sweetest coffee on the planet.  

After we ate, we went to church.  The children were still in their service so we watched them sing.  It was amazing how well behaved they all were.  They listened, participated and recited bible verses from memory.  After church, we played with the kids for a while.  Candice gave out a handful of candy.  Mark, as if in slow motion, made the mistake of pulling out a whole clear bag full of candy.  The kids flocked to him and in a moment he was over run.  :)

The church

The kitchen just outside the church were all of the meals
for the feeding program are prepared

We went into the adult church.  Haitians know how to do church!  They all sang and participated.  They were excited to be there.  They even sang a song in Creole and English. It was great to be able to understand all of what they were singing instead of just fragments.  We introduced ourselves to the congregation and then listened to a plea from the pastor.  Apparently, the land in front of the church does not belong to the church.  The owner wants to build on it.  If he does that, he'll put a fence around it.  The church is located right on the property line, so a fence would block the doors.  The church has until the end of the month to raise $8,000 and prevent that from happening.  They are convinced though that God will provide a way and the money will come.

♪♫"I won't go back.
I can't go back
to the way it used to be
 before your presence came and changed me."♪♫

After church, we went to the pastor's house for lunch.  We had hot dogs, fried plantains, fried dumplings, fried potatoes and cole slaw.  The slaw had some sort of citrus in it and was very good.  After we ate, we went back to the hotel to rest up.  We were all still slightly sleep-deprived and Monday was going to bring a lot of hard work so the down time was welcomed.  

We met in the lobby and enjoyed a few Prestige beers.  In that heat, it was the best beer I had ever tasted.  


After our rest, we got back in the tap tap and went to the Restoration House for dinner.  Outside, Pastor Lafleur told us about his childhood and about the cycle of life in Haiti.  He said that his mother went to school for one day.  She did not have a pencil, so she came home and asked her father for less than a penny so she could buy a pencil.  He told her that he did not have the money to spend on school as he could barely afford to feed them.  The pastor further explained that that is the choice that most Haitians have to make:  go to school, eat, or have a roof over their heads.  The pastor's mother never went back to school.

Education was very important to Pastor Lafleur's mother.  She sent the pastor to school and therefore he grew up without much food.  He said that he remembered going four days without food.  His mother put salt in some water and gave it to him to make him feel full.  The pastor says that he "ate books" so he could eat later.  He ate knowledge so he could have a better life.  He finished every year at the top of his class.  One year he was given a can of peas and a small amount of money for his good grades.  A few days later, on Good Friday, the pastor's mother told him to wait by the road for the bus to pass.  Her boyfriend drove the bus and he would give the pastor some money so that his family could buy dinner for Good Friday.  The pastor waited for the bus for eight hours.  When it finally came, there was a different driver.  The pastor went home without any money for their Good Friday dinner.  However, because of his good grades, his family was at least able to eat the peas.  His mother used the money that came with them to buy a small amount of charcoal so she could cook them for their Good Friday meal.

The story really really made me stop and think.  I thought of all the times I've said "I'm hungry" or my kids have said "I'm starving."  We've never been hungry and we most certainly have never been starving.  We are very lucky.  After the story, no one rushed to the dinner table that night.  in fact, we all ate slowly and savored every bite we had been blessed with.

Dinner was rice with chicken legs and peas.  We also had turkey and potato salad.  The potato salad was purple from the beets that were in it.  They were amazing - and I hate beets.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and tried to call home but there was no wifi.  We spent some time doing our Bible study and then headed off to bed.

Please visit Restore Haiti.  Learn how you can sponsor a child for only $30 per month.  For non reoccurring donations, consider providing over 400 children with a chicken leg for $250 or a glass of milk for $150.

Haiti - A Memoir (Or So It Would Seem... )

Since we returned home early on Sunday morning, I've been thinking about the best way to "talk" about our trip with my Facebook friends.  I don't want to write a summarizing post and risk missing the small details that made the trip special, but I also don't want to overwhelm you all with the 77 pages that I wrote in my journal.  I think the best way to share my experience with you is the same way God shared it with me, one day at a time.  Here we go....

Day 1

Today has been my first full day in Jacmel, Haiti.  Friday night, we met at the church at 11:30 p.m.  We drove to Atlanta and arrived at the airport at about 3:30 a.m.  I honestly thought we were leaving too early, but it seemed to be a good amount of time - especially with all of the luggage we had.  Between the six of us, there were 12 carry ons and 11 large checked bags.  We checked in at 4:30 a.m. and headed to security.  My carry on back pack set off their alarm so it was fully searched.  I'd really like to know what set it off so I know not to pack that again.  It took almost an hour to get us all through security.  We found our gate and Mark, Elena, Kristy and I went to grab breakfast.  My last full "American" meal was an omelet, sausage, bacon and cheese sandwich on a croissant with a diet Pepsi.  It was awesome.

On the way back to our gate, I passed a vending machine that had items one may need while flying.  One of those items was a Kindle - a Kindle in a vending machine!  Only in America....  

We sat down near the gate and Mitch and Candice went to get some food.  I saw that I had missed a call from Big Jake (my father in law) and called him back.  I promised to be safe on my trip.  When I hung up they began boarding the plane.  The four of us stood in line and kept letting people ahead of us since Mitch and Candice had not yet returned.  They appeared just as the airline called final boarding and we were off!

Once in Miami we found out that our next flight had been over-booked.  The airline was offering $800 vouchers to 6 people that would give up our seats.  It was very tempting but we had people waiting for us in Port-au-Prince and we did not need to delay the.  The flight was so crowded that the airline gate-checked most of the large carry on bags.  I couldn't help but think of the "United Breaks Guitars" song when I overheard one of the employees complaining that they were up to four guitars.  

We were warned that the airport in Haiti would be chaotic.  It definitely was.  We filled out customs and immigration forms and then waited in a hot, sticky mess of people to go through immigration.

The immigration officer took y passport and documentation.  He stamped them and gestured for me to keep going.  He didn't ask a single question.  The immigration area provided the last opportunity for a bathroom until we arrived in Jacmel.  You'd better believe that I took advantage of that opportunity!

The majority of our luggage was thrown in the floor, despite the conveyor belts.  After some searching, pushing and some mild panic (we thought a bag was missing), we found all of our bags.  We then paid a gentleman to help us and began to venture out of the airport.  Several men rushed our carts, trying to "help" us.  They were looking for tips.  We kept saying "No merci!" but they kept coming.

Finally Candice recognized Jean Mary and Mitch saw Chris.  We followed them to the van and our luggage was loaded.  There were three vans total.  One for luggage, one for a group from Tennessee and one for us.

It seemed like it took forever to get through the sea of vehicles around the airport.  If there are traffic laws in Haiti, they are not obeyed.  There were no speed limit signs, no lines on most of the roads, very few street signs and only  handful of traffic lights (which, surprisingly, were obeyed).  The horn is the most used signal in Haiti.  when approaching an intersection, the first to beep the horn proceeds.  When passing, the horn is beeped to signal the other person to move over.

Driving through the city of Port-au-Prince was eye-opening.  I knew going into the trip that it was a poor city, but seeing it really made it hit home.  It was obvious that the poverty existed long before the earthquake, but the quake definitely didn't help.

We drove passed several tent cities - all still occupied at least to some degree.  There was trash everywhere.

People rushed the van and tried to sell us drinks, ice cream and art.  It was very overwhelming.  We passed the capital building.  The dome was almost completely collapsed by the earthquake and the remainder of the building was in shambles.

The entire drive through Port-au-Prince took a little over 2 hours.  The poor road conditions and non-existent traffic laws made for very slow travel.

Outside of the city, we began our climb into the Haitian mountains.  If Port-au-Prince were on one end of a spectrum, the mountains would be on the other.  The road was very narrow and winding, but I didn't feel like I was in danger.  I enjoyed the ride and barely flinches as we swerved around cars, livestock and people.  The driver slowed down for me once so I could get a nice picture from the top of a mountain.

The air was so much nicer up there and, for the first time since arriving I thought, "The temperature might not bee too bad!"  It turns out though that Jacmel is not in the mountains.  It is on the other side in the elevation of hot and sticky.

We went straight to the hotel and unpacked the luggage.  We were given our room assignments.  Kristy and I shared a room that had a full sized bed and a twin sized bed.  The bathroom had a toilet, large shower and a sink.  No mirror.  There was a five gallon bucket in the shower.  This could be filled and used in case the water didn't work.  That happened once on our trip.

Back in the main area of the room I thought I was seeing things.  There was an air conditioner!  Praise God!!!  Throughout the rest of the trip, we referred to this wonderful amenity as the "magic box."

We had about 20 minutes to comb our hair, drink some water, check out the rooftop and meet in the lobby to go to the Restoration House for dinner.

We rode in the back of the tap tap which is a pickup truck equip with either benches for sitting or rails for holding on.  It was a fun but bumpy ride.  We passed several children playing near the road.  They smiled and yelled "Blanc!  Blanc!"

We arrived just in time for dinner.  After the blessing, we ventured over to the spread.  I don't know what I expected the food to be like, but I know it wasn't that.  We were served an amazing stew with potatoes, dumplings, beef and vegetables.  We poured the stew over rice and drank either mango juice or water.

After dinner, Pastor LaFleur  briefed us about what to expect while we were here.  We went back to our hotel on the tap tap and met on the roof top to discuss our day and pray.  As we had been warned, the power turned off at 2am.  It took 8 minutes for the generator to turn on.  After that, the "magic box" was back on and we were very happy.

Join me next time I have 20 minutes to myself for Day 2.  In the meantime, please visit Restore Haiti.  Learn how you can sponsor a child for only $30 per month.  For non reoccurring donations, consider providing over 400 children with a chicken leg for $250 providing the same children with a glass of milk for $150.