Thursday, October 27, 2011

Passport Procrastination

  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I'm a procrastinator.  I've learned to accept this about myself, knowing that I'll meet the deadline in the end.  So with just nine days until I leave for Haiti, I headed into D.C. this morning to renew my passport.  For others (my mom, for example :) this might have been a stressful day, but I rather enjoyed myself.  Just see for yourself:

It started off with typical commuter traffic and rain, but I was entertained listening to a news report about a man who just received a prosthetic arm that contained a cell phone...Still trying to wrap my mind around that!

For once, I had no problem finding parking, and I even scored the early bird special! 

Walking into the passport agency, there were only 11 people before me in line.  Another dozen people followed me.  That made 24 people scheduled for 8:00 am appointments with only 3 clerks working.  Government math!  It turned into just a 40 minute wait....Compared to the local DMV, the wait time was nothing short of miraculous.  And it gave me some time to read more from my latest obsession:  The Hunger Games series!

Once my application was submitted, I found myself with more time on my hands than anticipated.  So to somewhat quote a famous saying, when in Washington, D.C. on a workday, do what the Washingtonians do:  walk around, shop and eat.  I did just that, minus the D.C. standard-issue power suit!

I walked over to H&M, a favorite since my days as a poor college student, to buy some work clothes for the build.

Along the way, I stopped to check out "Occupy D.C." at McPherson Square.  No celebrity sightings like in Central Park, though.

Randomly, I stumbled across an international horse show just a few blocks from the White House and watched the groomers at work for a while.

Nearby, I noticed the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.  After having spent hours trying to master bricklaying and mortar flicking in Jordan and Thailand with HFH, I was tempted to try to join the union myself :)

That is, until I started noticing all the new food joints downtown.  I was tempted by the idea of a maple bacon pancake....

and was drawn in by the smell of real Canadian poutine (french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds) at the Eat Wonky food truck.....

But eventually decided to take shelter from the rain at the Shake Shack.

Good decision.  Simply the best chocolate malt ever!!

My new passport should arrive on Monday.  Eight days left now...I guess it's time to start buying supplies :)

And it's not too late if you've procrastinated with making a donation to Habitat for Humanity Haiti....We only need $470 to reach the goal of raising $5000 to fully fund a house for a family in Haiti!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Haitian Packing List

Okay, this is what I'm hoping to avoid, not hoping to pack!!

As many of you know, I'm a bit of a procrastinator, especially when it comes to getting ready for a trip.  With ten days to go until I leave for Haiti, it's probably time to start gathering supplies.  Usually, I'm a light packer, but I'm heeding the recommendations of HFH and bringing along some special items on this trip, including:

some strong insect repellant to keep away pesky mosquitoes (and malaria and dengue fever!),

a bottle of Chloroquine (anti-malarial pills) in case the mosquitoes just can't resist me,

some antibacterial gel since I'm not a fan of cholera,

sunscreen with a high SPF, as anyone with Swedish and Danish genes should,

rehydration packets since I'm not accustomed to heaving around cement blocks everyday,

clothes that wick away moisture and are breathable in heat....thanks to the Underarmor outlet nearby,

my trusty Merrill workboots that have traveled to Jordan, Thailand and Guatemala,

work gloves dipped in latex...important when working cement so the lye won't seep through and wear away the skin on your fingers!  A lesson learned in Thailand :)

fun bandaids just in case I hammer a thumb,

a Haitian-Creole phrasebook to use with the fantastic families we'll be meeting and working with,

a flashlight as electricity will be limited at the camp, and

toilet paper, a lesson learned in previous trips!

Tents, cots, and netting are provided by HFH.  Hoping mine is as stylish as this:

The most important thing I'll be bringing with me, though, is all of your support!  Thank you sooo much for your donations to HFH Haiti. 

And it's not too late to still donate....We're just $670 away from reaching our goal raising $5000, the cost of building a house for a family in need!!!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Brilliant, Valuable People!


  "Habitat for Humanity is about standing shoulder to shoulder with people and giving them visibility.  It's about acknowledging them as people--brilliant, valuable people." 


    I love this quote from Mary Guidice, the director of operations at Habitat for Humanity Haiti!

    In a recent email from HFH, I was introduced to some of the brilliant, valuable people I'll be meeting in Haiti in just a few short weeks.  Let me introduce them to you:
Marie Veronila Antoine (What a fantastic name!)
   Marie is assistant coordinator of the Association of Women's Solidarity in the Santo community.  She is a force of nature, dressed in a Halloween vest and skirt in midsummer, with bright-colored curlers in her hair and carrying a purse covered with black-and-white images of Lucy and Ethel.  She seems to know everybody in the community of emergency shelters, stopping often to exchange a laugh.
Her good humor belies the living conditions that she and two of her three children--daughter Johanna and son Nicolas--have suffered since the 2010 earthquake
   "We do not want to live in these conditions," Antoine said. "This Habitat project is a new life for us.  We need to show everybody here there is a new life."
   The Santo Association of Women's Solidarity's purpose is to help prevent violence against women and children, and to educate women on how to improve their own lives.
   "In Haiti, they say girls cannot work like men, but we like to show them different,"  Antoine said.  "we like to show that we can work equal as men."

Genevieve Merveille and family
   Genevieve Marveille, 28, and her husband Fenes Mathurin, lost everything they owned in the 2010 earthquake.  But they survived with their three children:  daughter Mirlaine  and sons Kervins and Jean Felder.
    Merveille's husband drives a taxi in Port-au-Prince, a commute that often takes two hours in each direction.  Merveille is left to tend to the children, when they're not in school, and to try to make a tent a livable home.
   After the Carter Work Project, Merveille and her family will move into a simple, decent house made of concrete and wood, with a real foundation and a roof.  She is most excited about the difference a house will make on her children's health.  The youngest boy suffers from asthma, aggravated by the dirt floor in the temporary shelter.  And daughter Mirlain has had problems with her skin, caused by the extreme heat in the tent.
   All three children are good students, their mother said, although Kervins is the only one who doesn't have to be prompted to keep up with his schoolwork.
   "He only cares about studying," Merveille said, "He wants to be a doctor."

Rosette Louis and family
   Rosette Louis, 70, shares a tiny temporary shelter with three of her four grown children.  During the day, her children go out in search of work--anything to help the family survive.  At night all four adults share meager rations of rice and bed down in a space barely big enough for one.
   Before the 2010 earthquake, Louis rented a house in Leogane and eked out a living as a street vendor.  Since the earthquake, her situation has turned desperate, forcing her to survive on virtually no income in a tent made of worn tarps. 
   Yet, at age 70, Louis keeps up with workers less than half her age, helping a crew of 20 community members to clear the land for the Carter Work Project.  "I'm healthy.  When I'm tired, I take vitamins!  We are all happy to do the work."
    When asked how she feels about owning her own house, the slender woman breaks into an impromptu dance.

Adeline Auguste and family
   Adeline Auguste, 55, still bears the physical and emotional scars of the 2010 earthquake that took her husband's life and destroyed the home they shared in Leogane.  When the earthquake struck, Auguste tried to run outside but fell, and part of the concrete house collapsed on top of her.  Among many injuries, she suffered a broken wrist.
   "It still give me a lot of pain," she said.  The bone wasn't properly set, and her range of motion is severely limited.  In addition to the broken wrist, Auguste still copes with persistent headaches and a knee injury that requires prescription medicine.  Since she lives in a temporary shelter made of tarps, though, she cannot keep the medicine at a stable temperature.
   "It's too hot during the day and too cold during the night," she said.
   Auguste has attended all the planning meetings for the Carter Work Project and is excited about seeing this temporary community of shelters become a permanent home for her and her neighbors.
   "With the new house, I'll be able to follow my prescribed treatment," she said.  "It will be a total change for me."

     It's not too late for you to stand shoulder to shoulder with these amazing people and give them the visibility that they deserve.  Donate to Habitat for Humanity Haiti by clicking on the link to the right.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What do peanuts, a sweater and a hammer have in common??

     Only 30 days until I leave for my build in Haiti! I still need to renew my passport (thank goodness I live just outside of Washington, D.C.) and have yet to schedule an appointment for my tetnus shot.  There are supplies (mosquito repellent, anti-malarial pills) to be bought and Creole phrases to learn.  But right now, I want to take some time to say:

    Happy birthday, Jimmy Carter!  I hope you had a great day last Saturday and maybe got a little help blowing out those 87 (!) candles on your cake! I can't wait to see you and Rosalynn next month!!

    Because if I haven't mentioned it before, I'll be working on the HFH Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Leogane, Haiti.  I can't be more excited!!

     There is something special about your first memories of an acting president.  Politics are not part of your vocabulary or understanding.  You're young and full of hope, and you believe in the possibilities that this person represents and the words that he (hopefully, "she" someday soon) speaks.  For me, those memories are of Jimmy Carter.

     I can still remember Jimmy Carter talking to the country on the television, telling us to put on a sweater in the house and turn the thermostat down a few degrees.  His advice rings true now more than ever.

     I remember the photos of his daughter Amy as she walked into a public school in Washington, D.C.  As an elementary school teacher today (and one who has taught in DCPS), I applaud his faith in public schools.

Go, DCPS!!

   And I remember his brother Billy and his infamous Billy Beer.  It was kind of comforting to know that even the president had interesting characters in his family :)

     Years later, when I became involved with HFH I was delighted to learn about Jimmy Carter's involvement with the organization.  First memory presidents just have a special place in our hearts.  And I was even more excited to learn about how much he has done with Habitat.  Since first lifting a hammer on a build in New York back in 1984, Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn have led builds in 13 different countries, 18 states, and the District of Columbia.  In the process, they have helped to provide housing solutions for 4000 families.

   Several years ago, I experienced the Carters' work with HFH firsthand.  As I sat in the terminal in Seoul, Korea waiting for my connecting flight to Thailand for a JRCWP build, people around me stood up and started applauding.  It took a minute before I realized that Jimmy and Rosalynn had just come to my gate.  The flight staff quickly tried to board our plane, but President Carter took time before take-off to walk through the aisles, shaking everyone's hand and wishing us a good trip.  I was over the moon and spent much of the trip talking with the secret service agent seated next to me about the Carters (who go through several passports a year, I learned and "are the real deal" with their works).

Taken just after our handshake!  Wish it could capture the lively sparkle in his eyes and voice!

     Using his celebrity, President Carter's presence brought a lot of media attention to the build site, and by luck, he held a press conference in a shaded area directly behind the house I was working on.  I couldn't hear his responses, but I did hear him call out to the volunteers.  "Don't forget to take a lunch break...but make it quick and get back to work!"

     And then the 85 year old former president and his wife joined a team to work.

Jimmy Carter at work in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Carters, the new homeowners, and our team in front of a completed house in Chaing Mai.  I'm somewhere on the left side

     So when I learned about the opportunity to join the build in Haiti with the Carters next month, I jumped at the chance. 

     One of my favorite sayings is an old Chinese proverb:  Talk doesn't cook rice.  Thanks for being such great cooks with HFH Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.  See you soon!

     And thank you soooo much to everyone who has donated to Habitat for Humanity.  If you want to help the Carters (and me) cook some more rice, there is still time to donate :)