Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pay it forward

On Xmas eve morning, a stranger ahead of me in line bought my coffee.  I hadn't been the recipient of a random act of kindness in quite some time so I decided to pay it forward.   Yesterday I bought the person behind me in line their coffee… I got so excited handing over my money that after getting my change back I started to drive away- big grin on my face, looking back in the rearview mirror, feeling all good and knowing how fun it is to surprise others- especially strangers and then I heard- "Lady! LADY! your forgot your coffee!"  So embarrassed.  I had to have the whole line of cars behind me (it was a long line) go in reverse so I could get back.  Flustered and red in the face- I grabbed my latte and had a small laugh with the starbucks guy.  As I drove off the second time I did hear the cashier say "she just bought your coffee".  Yes. Little moments, even when bumpy are still sweet. Pay it forward.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Bassin Bleu- day off

Thursday May 16, 2013
It was my morning to teach yoga to the volunteer group before our days activities started.  Knowing that the groups energy was starting to fizzle as we were nearing the end of the week, I decided to lead a slow, mellow, nurturing hour. Chakras, mantra's, Ommmmmmm.  It felt good to do something familiar and to be guiding inhales and exhales- taking each deep breath along with everyone, really it helped me start the day on a good foot.  Thank god for yoga.  

The excursion to the Bassin Bleu waterfall was unreal.  It was just the volunteers, as a day-off,  to see some of the beauty of Haiti.  We were all in need of a day like this. Good timing...  John, the tap-tap driver and his red truck started stalling out right at the base of the mountain.  We were informed that this spot is where the last group from January had to walk from.  Not knowing where we were headed I didn't realize how far we were away from where we wanted to be.  "Get out!" Naima (one of the head nannies) yelled at us from the front seat.  The truck started rolling backwards down the hill and John slammed on the breaks.  We all started frantically hopping out the back as fast as we could.  The smell of gas fumes and burning transmission/brakes made a cloud around us.  Bonking my head getting in and out of our mighty tap-tap, over and over. "Ok- get in!"  We loaded back on and started to take off again.  Gear shift grinding. Jolt. bump. and WHACK.  The back of my head slammed back against one of the metal bars while John was shifting gears.  I hit it so hard I thought I would for sure be bleeding.  Nope, no blood but an instant bump.  When in Haiti...  Let it go.  Shake it off.  You are fine.  But ouch really.

The yell of "get out!"...  "Ok! get in!"... back and forth happened maybe 6 times?  I might be exaggerating but I don't think I am.  Our tap-tap just couldn't get up the super steep incline climbing the mountain with out stalling every 100 feet or so.  So we walked.  This woman that came from out of no where started walking towards us and onto the road we were on.  Seriously where did she come from? we were in the middle of a mountain side?  This woman approaching us, well, the best way to describe her look I hate to say it- but my first thought was that of a prostitute.  Wild hair, baggy loose t-shirt, short skirt, obviously no bra, minimal teeth, sort of a hippy swagger, and carrying something on her head.  I overheard someone in our group say "Oh god, let's go." with a level of uncertainty in their voice, and when I hear that I move my ass with determination.  Left, right , left, up the mountain we go.  Hot sun, sweating beads, hiking up the road until John got the tap tap moving again.

We heard him get the engine going and we were still on such an incline we just waved him on.  "Allez!  Allez!" we all kept screaming for him to keep going.  He eventually stopped again at a flat surface and we hopped back on.  I forgot to mention that before we got to the mountain we drove through a river bed/ garbage dump.  I took in more fumes then I care to think about as there were piles randomly burning all around.  People were all over the river bed washing their moto's, their clothes- (what!) one guy walking his donkey on a rope... pigs were roaming around in the garbage.  Whoa.  It was like a day at the market- but instead of an actual market they are on a garbage dump bordering a river.

Along the way up I see beauty.  It was so refreshing to see this magical view and pure nature allowing my brain to realize that it's not all awful here.  That there are still some amazingly goregous places and that this land isn't totally polluted.  I'm not sure how it started but we started to sing songs.  We started to notice that while we were singing the tap tap wasn't stalling out as often.  Just keep singing, just keep singing.  Everything from the Sound of Music tunes to 80's classic- whatever we sang it keep us moving upward.

We finally get to the top where we can't drive any further and I start to see a whole gaggle of men approaching the tap-tap.  The all were yelling in Creole as we were getting off the back.  A familiar face to D2C appeared, Wallace, and he looked very happy to see us.  He would be our guide to the waterfall- our final destination.  While we were getting situated I could feel the tension of at least four men that weren't backing down around our group.  There was one in particular that was totally muscle pumped and looked like he just stepped off of a boxing ring.  Ok, I think I will stand over here.  Starting to move away from this group of men,  a full on yelling match broke out about who would guide us.  Finger pointing, hands waving, the level of them yelling at each other made me want to leave quickly.  Wallace eventually won- but we did end up having two of the men that were like little shadows during the hike.  Megan was off walking around the property and got into a conversation with this one man sitting on a deck.  She told me later that he held out his baby towards her that he was holding and exclaimed "I make people!"  Her response was "Yes!  You do that very well!" Love it.

We headed off through the trail, hiking over rocks, carefully over wet rocks (as I'm in flip flops), over a flowing river, and I noticed that even way up in this mountainous area where the views were breath taking- there was still a noticeable amount of trash along the first path.  But the beauty out won the plastic bottles and wrappers. It was gorgeous.  Again, I am so blessed. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Climbing up steps, repelling down a rock wall, we made it to the two part waterfall.  It was like a dream.  Super green, blue, clear water.  At the top of one big huge boulder Sam and I decided we should jump off at the same time.  "I'll jump, if you jump... 1,2,3!"  The water was awesome.  The two part waterfall was another leaping option.  Everyone was so supportive and encouraging to just go for it.  By the time our swimming was coming to an end every single one of us had made the plunge from the rock ledge bordering the waterfall.  Truly a magical day.  Blessed. Blessed. Blessed.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

School Day

It's Wednesday and our plan for the day is to visit the kids school, see the home building project that part of our fundraising efforts went towards, and then off to the beach with the kids.  Back on the "tap-tap" we go.  

I noticed that along the drive to the school we stick out. Like a lot.  It's not an odd thing to see a very fully loaded tap- tap go by, but when it's filled with 8 white women and 1 white 8 year old- we tend to turn heads.  The first look from those on the edges of the road was like "what the....?" kind of a shocked expression, then eventually at times a big smile, or the blank stare, and most often the kids would wave at us and/or yell something enthusiastically.  Main form of transportation in this part of town is either by foot, or motorbike/scooter.  Totally normal to see 3-4 on a scooter at a time.  I saw one man driving with what I assumed was his wife on the back, and in her hands were a crate of two dozen eggs.  Hope they didn't have far to go.

We arrive at the school and honestly my memory of what that area looks like is sort of a blur.  Just following the crowd I started to walk up a dirt path into what looked like a huge cornfield on the side of a tall hill.  Steeper steps to get to the top- bright full sun and it is HOT.  Humid hot.  Like you just stand there and start sweating hot.  Reaching the top we arrive at a small clearing and see all the kids- a flurry of navy blue and crisp white outfits sitting along wooden benches underneath a blue tarp.  About 5-6 kids per bench maybe 8-9 benches total? Starting to do the math then getting distracted by the squeals of excitement coming from the kids as all 9 of us enter their "classroom".   I noticed a structure of sorts with a door tucked into the corner and what looks like another classroom full to the max with kids inside.  I assume this is where the older kids are but I can't see inside- as the kids outside look to be around 5-7 years old.  

They all get up and swarm us! Hugs all around. Immediately I feel my arm get tugged down and a little boy grabs my hand and puts it right on his chest.  Gulp.  Lump in my throat already.  I can feel his heart beating a mile a minute and my eyes begin to well up.  He won't look up at me and just keeps his hand on top of mine, which now seems huge covering his little skinny torso.  He snuggles in even closer to my leg and we just stand there.  Then two little girls come and take my other hand.  They are playing with my ring, holding my hand, smiling at me, and coming in for some snuggles too.  Oh. My. God.  Now I don't spend a lot of time with kids in my day to day life so I question 'maybe this is normal behavior in a group of children? swarming adults for affection?'  but my gut tells me a maybe- no, and I think about how shy most kids are at home.   I have never been on the receiving end of so much excitement to just receive touch.  They were SO excited to just be held.  We can even communicate.  "May Re-le Staaaaa-cy."(phonetically spelled)  I said it over and over.   (Which is My name is Stacy- in Creole).  "Bonjou!"  (Good day/Hello!)  Some of the volunteers in our group immediately scooped them up into their arms and the kids were in heaven- attached around their necks like how you would see a child holding onto their own mother.  Oh my heart.

I sort of went into a little shock.  This was by far the moment of the trip that hit my heart to its deepest core.  I stood there like a statue, with all of these kids swirling around just wanting to have their hand held next.  My heart cracking into tiny little pieces wanting to know the story about every single child there and what their home was like...  Then realizing this is when you buck up.  Swallowing the lump, coming back into the present moment I just started to love them up.  Smiles and introductions, huge hugs, and hand holding.  The girls liked to play with my hair and my ring.  

It was starting to get chaotic, loud and the kids were getting jumpy so Amber started to play follow the leader to create some organization to our visit.  Out we all went into the corn field which was about 20 steps away.  After Amber lead us out to more open space, Megan stepped in.  Megan is a pre-school Montessori teacher back home in Boston so this was totally her forte. The kids were immediately engaged- all eyes on Megan.  For a moment I caught my breath.  Then Emily hopped in.  Also a total natural leading kids, her movements also incorporated sound effects... Beee-dee-booop-booop-booop.  Again playtime to save the day.  We weren't there for very long (as it was only during their recess time) so we gave another round of hugs goodbye "Au revoirs" and headed back to the tap-tap.
What was probably in total maybe 45 minutes?  Total game changer.  My heart would never be the same.  Thank you to that first little boy.  You cracked me WIDE OPEN.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Meeting the kids

Our first morning in Haiti and we all needed some yoga.  I was sooooo ready to get onto my mat after the crazy long day of travel the day before.  My roommate and I woke up early and kept chatting in our room until it was time for class.  As we walk up I see a group of about 6 heading into a runner's lunge. Huh?  It's 8:15?  yoga is at 8:30?  Nope.  It's 9:15 and there is 15 minutes left of class. We were an hour off and missed most of it.  DAMNIT!  Time difference didn't quite get figured out.   Feeling sorry for myself that I missed a desperately needed yoga class- then quickly having images of the kids walking in garbage and then looking around at what I get to look at while practicing yoga....  O.k.  I need to let this go and be grateful. Roller coaster emotions... Breathe. 

Already my perspective on what to get upset over is being challenged by what I witnessed on the drive to Jacmel. Not that missing a yoga class was a big deal- but it got me noticing my reactions to things, circumstances, really noticing how I live and what is actually going on 'out there' in the world behind the walls of our hotel.  I felt so naive. Stating the mantra "I am so blessed" has begun.  Hardcore.  Over and over.  Excited and nervous to meet the kids we sat at breakfast talking over the days plan.

We loaded onto our "tap-tap" which is basically a pick up truck that has two long benches bolted into the bed of the truck.  Some have tops, some have an arched bar (placed in just the right place for my head to whack when loading and unloading) and this is how we will get to and from the kids home, their school, the home building project and the waterfall-excursion- adventure- travel- trip.
We took our yoga mats and folded them in half to create some sort of a cushion for the ride- and it really did help.  My friend Muriel had warned me about "tap-tap ass"  a coined phrase from her Seva trip last January.  I now know exactly what she meant.  We even made up tap- tap songs (more on that later).

We arrived at the house pulling up to the red gate.  The kids weren't home from school yet- which was a good thing.  We wanted to unload all of the donations we brought and put the majority of them away before they came home.  Kristin O'Connell (the founder of D2C) had mentioned to us at breakfast that they are trying hard to break the pattern that the kids see: "white people arrive and always bring presents".  She called it stopping the 'Santa Claus Syndrome'.  I think this is brilliant and very smart of her to do it this way (even though in the back of my mind I wonder what DO the kids think when we all show up?)  

We hear them all arrive home from school and see them come into the gate.  Dressed in their school uniforms, white shirt and navy blue shorts or skirt/ jumper apron for the girls.  We are all giddy and sitting on the front porch.  They walk up one by one (like someone had previously told them what to do) and one by one gave each one of us (we were 9 total) a kiss on the cheek and a very light touch hug.  Then ran off into their bedrooms (boys on the left, girls on the right) and changed out of their school clothes into "play clothes".  Racey is an 8 year old, American, blond hair, blue eyed, fair skinned, strong and extroverted young girl from Maine on the trip with her Mom, Melinda.  I watched the kids excitement to see another "kid" in the group.  It was awesome to see.  They immediately all began playing.  Speak any English, Creole, French?  Didn't matter.  Kids will just be kids, and it was time to play.

Two boys and two girls permanently live in the D2C home.  Alicha who is 6 years old is feisty, wide eyed, and has the most infectious smile- I notice her butterfly necklace and say "Papillion" slowly and probably too loud, meaning butterfly in french- one of the few french words that I think we might have in common with Creole.  She gives me a huge grin, and squeezes her little arms around my neck and walks away.   Shelove (what a name!) is  ___  years old?, she looks 4 but I think someone said she was 6 as well? tiny, adorable, skinny little chicken arms, and does a Haitian dance that will make you blush. I have a harder time making more of a connection with her as she is always on the move flying from one room to the next, dancing, singing, and playing with (aka giving the death squeeze-holding on way too tight around the neck) their new kitten Mocha.  

Darwin makes direct eye contact often- observing me observe him, and really tried to learn English and teach us Creole while we played a memory game. He has a bad cough and runny nose when we arrive.  Dawindi is on the quieter side.  He has dimples that are so sweet that when he smiles I just want to cry.  Why is that?  He is so happy and having fun playing and I am a puddle just seeing him happy.  Oh boy.

So here they are. In their home. None of them have parents to speak of, but they now have loving nannies that watch over them, feed them, and make sure they go to school.  Seeing where and WHO the fundraising donations are supporting fuels my fire to keep going.  Immediately I'm already thinking of 'who I know' that can support this organization in a big way. Here are these four sweet souls that got lucky.  I start to think about where they would be if Kristin hadn't come along?  I am starting to realize the impact that we are making and the absolute COMPLETE change of life that these four individuals have had due to D2C.  
My head is spinning with thoughts about what I am witnessing.  I'm proud to be there and we all start to play a board game.  Once we enter playtime, I'm not seeing poor and privileged, sadness and life-saving, it's just a bunch of us playing a game, laughing, and everyone wanting to win at the word game Bingo. 

Landing, first impression: Port-au-Prince ---> Cayes Jacmel

I'm writing this a week after coming home.  Honestly it has taken me about that long to just adjust back into 'normal life' and really digest all that I saw and experienced in Haiti.  But I think it's important to share (and I'm sure this is helpful for my processing too) and let those know what is really going on there... here I am- a real life blogger!  (I feel very old at the moment and not very blog savvy at all- so bare with me).

[Exerpt from journal May 15, 2013.]
It's now Wednesday and I've been in Haiti since Monday and I'm already partially numb at the way of life here.  I noticed that today I only cried twice at the heart break of the poverty levels, awful living conditions, horrendous looking "schools", and the roaming animals that don't have a chance at all.  

Backing up landing in Port-au-Prince the mob of people coming at us to simply push our luggage carts across the parking lot was CRAZY. Probably 20-30 deep surrounding each one of us.  The men in their "official' red shirts with name tags around their necks, targeting the only two blond haired, blue eyes in the room- me and Catherine.  I fell for it.  She fell for it.  This one man in particular was very pushy and manipulative for sure- "I need your luggage ticket"... so I immediately hand it to him- nervous that I don't know the way things happen in the Haiti airport.  "Why exactly?" I ask?  "It is better if I do it."  He said with his french/creole accent.  Then I caught on.  "I need to see that again- I don't think I have another one"...  as I grabbed it back from him.  This went on for a while back and forth and I could feel my insides starting to shake from the nerves.  Then he started to just hover and get frustrated when he realized I was not letting him get my bags for me.  Standing uncomfortably close to our cart, our luggage, just waiting for us to make a move outside.   But then we had a moment of smiles and "humanness"- when Emily offered him some wasabi peas.  All of the sudden it switched from him trying to scam our money by taking stake on our luggage- to him and his buddy laughing with us about trying this new odd looking food being offered by the "white girls".  We tried to explain 'HOT' 'SPICY' by yelling it louder and making hand gestures.  Why is that always the way we think others will understand English?

The crazy ride 2.5 hours to Cayes Jacmel- tinted windows through Port-au-Prince, advice to lock the doors, so much garbage- everywhere, dirty streets is an understatement, poverty everywhere, smells I can't describe, people carrying all sorts of interesting things on top of their heads.  I think I held my breath leaving the airport when my nerves were running especially high.  Came up for air when I would gasp at what I was seeing out the window.  We went past a funeral procession- all dressed in either all white or all black. There was a trombone player at the front of the line, right behind him they were carrying the coffin.  My heart.  A few minutes later- Oh boy- what's that smell?  Awful- omg hold my breath...  Francois told us it was a dead dog in the street.  Out the window of my air-conditioned, safe and tinted view I saw dirty children dressed in rags, toddlers standing in the filth in the street amongst plastic bottles, people all smooshed into the back of a 'tap-tap' like 25 people sitting on top of sacks, legs crossing over eachother, hanging on to the very edge just to hitch a ride.  Deep breath.  This week is going to rock my world. Whoa.  Guilt, embarrassment, shock, empathy, heart break, nervousness.
Curvy twisty roads over the mountain, finally the a/c is turned off and we can open the windows for some fresh mountain air.  I had no idea Haiti was so mountainous.  Reminds me of parts of Costa Rica. I start to chill out a bit.

The hotel feels like an oasis compared to what is "outside the walls".  Here it is Day 3 and it feels so complex and overwhelming to process trying to not feel guilty, to have unconditional love for all, and how we can help more. All of the ideas of what, why and how it got this way here... It's so wrong that there are people living in such filth, waste, disease and poverty. And where did the Hope for Haiti millions of dollars in fundraising go?  Must research that when I get home...  It's 2013.  Why is this country still in such awful shape?


A few years back I could feel the need, desire and search beginning to boil up for me to find "my SEVA"...  In the yoga world, this is the selfless service that we do to make the world a better place.  While working at the Nosara Yoga Institute in 2011, I was writing in my favorite orange journal...  Five countries and five words with each place.  Manifesting for the future places I wanted to see and why.  Well fast forward to March 2013- this orange journal still had a few blank pages to fill so I brought it back to Costa Rica with me again to NYI for Blooma's prenatal yoga teacher training.  

Kristin O'Connell, a midwive, yogi, mother of two and founder of Devoted to Children Foundation, was coming to Blooma's training to be a guest speaker.  We had asked her to speak about her work as a midwife, what the conditions were like birthing in Costa Rica and also to talk about her newly non-profit organization she started.  Just two days before Kristin was to speak, I opened up my orange journal.  Found a page titled "2011".  There were the five countries and five words listed.  Oddly enough four out of the five listed had come true as of this point.  The one that hadn't yet happened?  Country: HAITI.  Word: SEVA.  Huh.  Isn't that interesting?

Kristin arrived in samadhi mandir, set up on the platform/ podium of sorts and started telling her story.  I was sitting in the back engaged in her experiences and she started to explained how she did her apprenticeship for midwifery by following this woman through the hospitals in Haiti.  First chill.  She continued on to how Devoted to Children got started.  Second chill.  And oh. by the way we are having a SEVA trip coming up this May.  Whoa.  Head to toe chill, goose bumps covering my arms.  Yep.  I almost had to laugh.  Fast forward a week or so to a fundraising event she hosted in Nosara where she showed a video, slide show from her last trip in Haiti- me watching with a huge lump in my throat, coming up with every excuse in the book at why I can't go in May.  "Oh it's too soon."  "Oh, I need to be home then."  "Oh, I couldn't get the money in time".  

So now it's early April and I'm winding down my stay in Nosara and planning lunches, dinners, meetings with friends to have a final goodbye before going back to Minneapolis.  Kristin and I have lunch.  Long story short, by the end of lunch I was signed up to go on the SEVA trip in May!  You saw that coming right?

It's almost a running joke in my family that as soon as I come home from one trip (even on the ride home from the airport), I say "oh! so guess where I'm going?"   Fully trusting my manifestation from years back, trusting that the places I work at in Minneapolis would see this as something worth being gone for another week, trusting that I could ask people for money and they would give it to this cause.  That's a lot of trust.  I'm not going to lie.  It was scary asking people for money.  It was hard to 'sell' what it was that I was going to be using their money for.  It was also incredibly humbling to witness the amount of support that came from those I never would have expected it, the endless words of praise for the work I was about to start,  and the awesome generosity of the 26 people that donated to go above and beyond the 2K fundraising mark.  I returned back from Nosara to Minneapolis on April 4th and left for Haiti on May 12th.  In those five weeks, I raised $2, 320!  Fast and furious I was going to Haiti. Seva. Wow.  

It was that trip that prompted me to start this blog.  Even if I am the only reader- it's to see/read the power of manifesting what I want in life by writing it down, to document the journey, and to express gratitude to those that help me along the path.