Category Archives: Luxury

First night in Haiti

After over a year of serious planning (plus a number of years before that during which the dream took root in my heart), I was actually there.

In Haiti.

The real Haiti, the one that conjures images of dirt and orphanages and voodoo and poverty and primitive living.  Images that are, sadly, all too accurate.

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It was absolutely surreal.  I couldn’t believe I was really there, seeing the thatched-roof huts and middle-aged women peddling bananas and paintings and trinkets on the roadside.  Orphans swarming around my legs like puppies clamoring for attention.

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And yet, despite the crazy knowledge that I was fulfilling a lifelong dream, in a way, it all felt rather…mundane.

I had such romanticized notions of how Haiti would be, how inspirational and heartbreaking and life-altering the experience would be for me.  I had raised support from my church family in order to go, labeling it a “mission trip” and feeling rather noble.

But then I arrived in Port-au-Prince.  My friend and I maneuvered our way through the hectic airport, met up with the orphanage staff that had picked us up, traversed bumpy dirt roads for an hour and a half in a hot, dusty Jeep, and at last arrived.  This orphanage would be our home for two and a half weeks.  Just a blip in our lives, really, but at this moment, it felt like it would be a lo-o-o-ong stay. Suddenly I no longer felt equipped to handle the physical demands or the emotional aspects of volunteering with orphans.

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The kids were soooooooo freaking adorable.  When we first stepped into the nursery, dozens of babies and toddlers met us, faces streaked with snot and dirt, reaching up grubby hands to  be held.  Heart-wrenching.  Precious.  Also kind of terrifying, truth be told.

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Who was I to do anything for these children?  Yes, I could spend a few weeks with them, playing and singing and snuggling, but then I would return to my comfortable life and they would be left here awaiting adoption.  This particular orphanage is run in a very efficient and loving manner, and every effort is made to care for the children as well as get them adopted by loving families as soon as possible.  But given the nature of international adoption and the mountains of paperwork and money required to accomplish this, it takes time.   So my purpose there was to love the kids for a short period of time as a way of bridging the gap between their arrival at the orphanage and their eventual placement with an adoptive family.

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I’m ashamed to admit this next part.

That first night in Haiti, I regretted ever coming there.  I wanted my own bed, my own hot shower, my own home, and everything familiar and comfortable.  I didn’t want to be in Haiti, sharing bunk beds and showering only every other day for ninety seconds, living with a bunch of other volunteers who were undoubtedly better with children than I was.

I was a fraud.

I had traveled all this way, planned for all these months, and now all I wanted was for it to be over.  I wasn’t cut out for this type of service.  I felt like more of a baby than the kids I was assigned to love.

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See her bewildered expression?  That’s pretty much how I felt that first night.

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I’ll return to this story in upcoming posts, but for today, I want to leave you with this thought:  When have you struggled with unmet expectations, particularly when you’ve disappointed yourself?  How do you deal with that kick in the gut, the realization that you may not be all you thought you were?  Do you back away in fear, never to face those situations again?

Or do you persevere, allowing Christ to be the strength you lack?

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Hot meals or hot showers?

 Which would you rather have: a really delicious meal or a long, hot shower?  Or rather, let me rephrase that: which would be harder to live without?

If zombies invade your town and life, the opportunities for both of those luxuries will be few and far between, if they exist at all.

I’m not talking about just having enough food to survive, enough to get you through each day.  During a zombie apocalypse, finding sufficient food to fill you up and sustain your energy would be challenge enough.  Who could worry about the pleasure of a culinary experience?

I’m talking about the pure enjoyment of eating.  Wouldn’t you miss it?  Being able to sit calmly, eating a delicious meal, perhaps one that includes multiple courses of salad, appetizer, entree, and dessert.  Eating more than just the calories and nutrients needed to keep you going.  Enjoying a wide variety of flavors and savoring every carefully prepared morsel.

Then again, imagine your life without the opportunity to take a nice hot shower or bath at the end of a long, hard day.  Instead of regularly washing away the day’s grime, you have to sit in that filth as it multiplies day after day.  You don’t get to use your fruity or flowery scented shampoos and bath gels or stand under a hot spray of water just because it feels good.

The closest I have ever come to that situation was while volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti for a few weeks in 2007.  Due to the cost of water, we were only allowed to shower every two days, and only “Navy-style”, where you turn water on for a few seconds, then turn it off while lathering up.  It was an adjustment, but perfectly bearable.  That first shower following that trip, though?  Heavenly.  The brief period of slight deprivation gave me a new appreciation for that luxury.

While watching  The Walking Dead, Nate and I sometimes let our minds stray  from the survival aspects of the plot and wonder about these luxuries.  The show does touch on food needs fairly frequently, but rarely does it mention the showers.  I wonder how long it would take living in the post-apocalyptic world before you’d get used to the smell (both yours and of those around you) and the gross, icky feeling that must pervade your skin and body without proper showers.

I wonder how long it’s been since Rick and Glenn and Maggie and the gang have tasted cookies or cheese or anything they’d consider especially tasty. I suppose you would have to redefine your idea of a really great meal.  Perhaps after a year or two of running from zombies, you’d be pretty excited about any food that didn’t come from a dusty can.  You’d probably be missing your comfort foods and drinks–maybe hot coffee in the morning, or bacon and eggs, or pizza.

I waffle (uh-oh, reverting to food again!) between the two.  Usually it’s right after a great meal that I want to pick the food option.  La Sardine in Chicago is a fun little bistro I take my students to for our yearly field trip.  That saumon and tarte aux pommes  are so awesome, I can’t imagine never having the opportunity for another  meal like that. I tell myself, I’d get used to the dirt, and it wouldn’t be so bad going without showering.  Well, except for the pervasive germs from rotting zombie corpses.

But then, after a tough, sweaty workout, spending an extra couple of minutes in my nice warm shower sounds incredible and I go back to thinking that would be my favorite luxury.  The soap and water seem to take on magical powers on certain rough days.  They turn me into a new person, refreshed and ready to face life.

So, I put this question to you:  if you had to make the choice between a terrific meal and a hot shower, which would you choose?