Sunday, March 31, 2013

Port au Prince in Color ~

Here are a few more pictures of my time in Haiti. It was hard not taking pictures; the colors and life that is lived out loud in the streets there is such a symphony of wonder.


Port au Prince in Black & White

I took these pictures of Haiti over a couple of days. The movement, the noise, and the overwhelming need resonates with my soul.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Montagne Noire


Part of the reason this trip to Haiti was so great was I had the joy of seeing a new side of Port au Prince with my dear friends Esther and Matt.

Esther is beautifully pregnant and though we had hoped she’d go into labor while I was there, none of us seemed too intent on pushing things prematurely.

So on our last full day together instead of inducing her, we went for a hike. Esther is the only mama-to-be I know who goes hiking at term. She’s incredible.

They took me to Montange Noire, one of the last remaining forests in the country which is located just north of PAP. The hike was scenic, serene, and full of happy memories for me.

Enjoy a few pictures for that beautiful day!
Changing our shoes before we got started on the hike.
Can you see all the fun faces beside each tree?

We ran into a cloud on the way down... stunning!
Such a beautiful family! Love you guys!
We had a delicious Haitian picnic lunch brought to us.
Me and Esther on top of Montagne Noire.
Thanks for making my stay in PAP so wonderful Esther and Matt. I loved spending time with you and the kids!

Police Clearances: Part Two

(If you have not read the first part to this entry, please click here to catch up.)

Let’s see. Where was I?
    -- Oh, yeah! Haiti.

A month or so back when God told me to come to Haiti, I argued. Apparently, that is my go-to response with God these days.

Argue. Complain. Do it anyway.

I kept hearing Him say, “You need this police clearance, and you’ll have to go there in person to get it, my child.”
-- “But I don’t want to go... I hated it there,” I whined.
-- “Go back anyway. Trust me.”
-- “But what of the finances? It’ll cost so much.”
-- “I am the God of provision. Remember? I own it all.”
-- “But I don’t have the time... I leave for Mozambique in just a few weeks.”
-- “I am the God of time. Remember? I created it.”
-- “But, Loorrdd. I don’t wanna go...” I persisted.
-- “Why, my child?” He queried.
-- “I don’t know why,” I confessed, “I just don’t.”
-- “Then go. Obedience is not dependent on feelings. Just know that I have much for you there,” He promised.
-- “Yes. Lord.”

Once I stepped out to arrange this trip, God moved on my behalf.
    --As always. As promised.

He provided frequent flyer points to get my tickets. (Thank you BH!)
He made a place for me to stay at no cost. (Thank You B&JM!)
He went before me in every way.

Getting here: The red-eye Saturday night was brutal but happily forgettable. The lay-over in JFK was long but strong coffee and the chirping of wild swallows and grey-breasted song birds in the airport lobby fed my soul, making the hours feel like minutes.

Wrinkled and weary, I landed to find PAP’s airport transformed. Gone were the dusty tarmacs and cramped halls filled with frowning, suspicious faces. Instead live musicians played as stiff-legged travelers wound their way through brightly lit air-conditioned rooms to baggage pick-up. There were well groomed custom officials, duty-free gift shops, and even an escalator!
    --Had I landed in the right country?

My wonder-bubble didn’t last long, however. It popped by the time my bag arrived. The long wait compounded by the frantic press of luggage porters and impatient travelers crowded in close.
    --Yes. I was most assuredly in Haiti.  

I first came to Haiti in 2009 to work with Heartline ministries for three months. Heartline was started 27 years ago by John and Beth McHoul. They have done a number of ministries over the years (orphans, church plant, work projects, etc.) but when I first met them they had just started the birthing clinic.

I love and admire the McHouls so much, not only for their dedication but also for their immense love. Months ago when I told them I needed help with my Haitian police clearance, they immediately started working on it. But they kept hitting the same brick wall as I did; It wouldn’t be possible without coming in person.

So, when I arrived this week John pulled out all the stops and called Rosemine --a Haitian friend and neighbor who works for the national police-- for help.

On Monday morning, Rosemine gathered information on what it would take while John helped me get all the paperwork in order. But we couldn’t do anything else that day... but wait. On Tuesday, Rosemine dressed in her police uniform then met John and I at the Heartline office. It was time to hit the sidewalks and stand in the lines... or so I thought.

Rosemine explained that we needed to first get a paper signed and stamped by the local administrative office. When we arrived, I’m not sure if I drew more interested glances or if she did. She certainly looked the part in her neatly pressed uniform and holstered fire arm. But more than anything, she played the part --jumping the line, talking on my behalf, greeting everyone with a swift hand salute.

Before I knew it we were done. We were in and out of there in less (and I mean less than) 5 minutes.
    --Unheard of!

Smiling in disbelief, we climbed back into John’s truck and bounced our way over to our next destination --the main police department. 

While we rode, I laughed at how quickly we were able to get my paper, but Rosemine just smiled. John laughed with me, explaining that Rosemine had a nickname --Le Cle.
-- “Le Cle?” I asked repeating the word out loud to myself. “Why ‘Le Cle’?”
Despite my French skills, its meaning did not immediately appear to me. Only then did John translate for my benefit.
-- “It means ‘The Key’ in French,” he explained. “She’s our key. She unlocks doors. She’s amazing.”
I couldn’t help but agree wholeheartedly.

Rosemine just smiled wider, enjoying the praise.

The traffic was heavy, so we didn’t get to the main police department until well after noon. I thought for sure we’d have to wait for lunch breaks and such.
    --But I was wrong.

With Rosemine by my side, we had to stop every few feet to greet other well groomed Haitians in uniform. Some also took the time to shake my hand and greet me, but no one asked my name. I felt like I was walking with a superstar.
    -- I now think that I was.

Surprisingly, the line for the police clearance was long. Dozens waited their turn to be fingerprinted in a rickety outdoors “office” comprised of long benches, two lopsided tables, and a weigh scale.

Behind the front table, sat a man with papers --piles and piles of papers. He assured that my papers were in order, had me fill out others, then sent us to the front of the line. It did not occur to me that I was cutting the line until I was casually informed to take off my shoes and stand on a scale.

Another man in a dark uniform then proceeded to weigh me (Yikes! I thought I could fudge that number!), then measure me (I couldn’t remember how many centimeters I was anyway!), then send me to the front of the line. Again.

The fingerprinting was old school --meaning still done with ink and paper-- but the officer doing it was expert. He had me in and out of there quickly. The thing was... there was nothing to clean the ink off my hands.

Afterward, I stood there awkwardly trying not to touch my dress while Rosemine conversed with a bright eyed officer with pristine teeth. He indicated where I could wash up and then we were done --at least for that day.

All in all, we’d been there no more than 20 minutes.

Rosemine took me back to where John waited for us then rushed back inside. She had more officials to talk to, apparently.

The problem was it would take a week for me to get my police clearance. She wanted to see if it could be expedited and was going to ask on my behalf.

It’s hard to say how long she was gone, but when she came back she was smiling.
-- “What happened?” I asked, eager to learn if I could get my paperwork by Friday (when I was scheduled to leave).
-- “Oh... I had to talk to my chiefs. They say you’ll get your police clearance tomorrow,” she explained with a smile.
-- “Tomorrow? Really!? Wow... You really are “Le Cle’”, I teased.
-- Smiling past my excitement, she added “I had to talk to four chiefs. Four of them! Had you been a Haitian, I would have had to only talk to one chief. But since you’re a Blan (White/Foreigner) I had to talk to FOUR of them!”

We all laughed at the complexity of skin color, then headed home. There was nothing left to do that day but wait.

The next morning, we headed back to pick it up. In the back of my mind, I kept wondering what all this expediting would cost. Would I have to pay all these chiefs for their signatures and stamps? No one seemed capable to telling me.

But when we got there, they had the papers ready as promised. We just had to sign for them! It was as simple as that!

Can you believe it? After months and months of waiting, praying, and organizing I can happily announce that I’m on my way to Mozambique!

Thank you all for your prayers. I couldn’t have done it without you, the help of the McHouls, and my new favorite Haitian Key --Rosemine!

Le Cle (aka: Rosemine) and me

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Police Clearances: part one

Months ago, October 2012 to be exact, I started working on the necessary paperwork for my Mozambican visa. Optimistically, I thought I’d be able to check these off my list fairly quickly.

I was wrong.   

Oh. So. Very. Wrong.

But then again... perhaps my idea of ‘quickly’ needed to be re-defined. Stretched. Qualified. And well... that’s exactly what happened.

Let me explain.

Some might say (and my mother would be first in line to agree) that I’m a bit on the impatient side. I tend to want things done immediately, regardless of possibility and extenuating circumstances.

This is not helpful when you work in places like Africa... or any place where people are involved rather than robots. But I’m getting off topic. Let me circle back..

My point?
    --Police clearances. 

To tell this story well, I’ll need to start from the beginning.

During my vision tour trip to Mozambique last fall, I was informed that I’d need to prove I was never arrested in any of the countries I worked in as a midwife. That required official police clearances from the States, the Philippines, Haiti, and South Sudan.

When I asked why I needed these papers I was casually informed that Mozambique did not appreciate criminals.

However when I assured them I was no criminal but a missionary instead, the official seemed unimpressed and muttered something to the effect of...

“Well...if you’re not a criminal who has been forbidden to practice midwifery in your country... why then would you be coming here?”
    -- Logical. Sadly logical... and wrong. 

So naturally, once God made it clear I was to return to Mozambique, I took note of this and immediately started work on getting these coveted documents proving my love for the Mozambican people. 

I knew it would not be simple --nothing in developing nations are-- but I was confident it’d at least be possible. The real question was... to what lengths would I need to go to get them?

As it turns out... some pretty serious lengths.

The American police clearance required fingerprinting at the local police department, a check, and a two month wait.
    --Pretty painless.

The Filipino one required, driving to LA, standing in line for hours, getting fingerprinted again on official Filipino paperwork, waiting a day to get that paperwork authenticated, driving around downtown LA endlessly trying to find a bank that could issue me a money order for the Philippines, failing to find this money order, picking up the authenticated fingerprints, mailing them to the Philippines with cash, waiting for two months, nothing arrived, calling the Philippines endlessly trying to figure out what was wrong, learned that my first police clearance got lost in the mail, mailed more cash to the Philippines, finally got it five months later.
    --Relatively stressful. Quite expensive. 

The South Sudanese one promised to be the simplest but in the end was the most challenging in terms of patience. Since there are few embassies for South Sudan and even fewer record systems currently in place in the country, I was informed there was NO WAY I could obtain the needed police clearance outside of the country. The only option was going there myself (which would have been very costly), or having someone from my organization in Tonj do the work on my behalf. My colleagues there are busy and my police clearance didn’t fall high on the list of to-dos. So for months, I waited, stressed, prayed, and then stressed some more. Thankfully last month, my director in S. Sudan was able to get this clearance within hours of trying. And I’m told it’s in the mail. Pray it arrives before I leave for Mozambique!
    --Very stressful. Moderately expensive. On its way still.

The Haitian one has proven to be the most challenging and yet somehow the least stressful for me. I’m not sure why. Despite the various Haitian consulates and embassies in the States, I was quickly informed that it’d be impossible for me to get my police clearance without coming to Haiti in person. The optimistic side of me balked at this. “Surely there had to be a way!” I argued.
    --There wasn’t.

Despite incredibly helpful friends in Haiti and months and months of trying, it finally dawned on me that I’d have to return to this tiny-half-island to get it. Every other option was a closed door.

So, last weekend I boarded a plane and here I sit. I’ve been in country for four days and it’s looking hopeful. I don’t have the time to tell you all the hoops I’ve had to jump through just yet... but I promise I will.

Please, please pray for this afternoon. I am told my clearance should be ready for pick-up. But it’s still undetermined how much it’ll cost. Ha!

More to come...