Labor of Love

I met Dawn Hobbie Sticklen when I responded to a post she wrote about the Muslim community in Joplin, Missouri. Since that time we’ve communicated over blogs and twitter. Today I’m sending you to her blog “Since You Asked…” to read a piece that she posted yesterday. If you’re wondering how you might break out of your comfort zone this year, her essay will be a great challenge and encouragement.

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In July of 2010, Cheryl Fogarty and seven others from Joplin, MO, boarded a plane bound for Haiti.  Once on the plane, Cheryl felt a wave of peace envelop her and she told herself, “This is what you’re supposed to do.”

And then she got off the plane in Haiti. 

Cheryl, who suffered from chronic asthma since childhood and depended on inhalers and several medications to breathe freely, was unprepared for the stench of decay she inhaled when she stepped off the plane and into the suffocating heat and humidity of Port-Au-Prince.  Her immediate thought was, “Surely God didn’t bring me all the way here to die.”  Once again, she began to pray.

Six months before her first trip to Haiti, Cheryl began a quest to understand her life’s mission.  As she recently told me, “I had achieved all my goals.  My husband and I have been together for twenty years.  We have four children, a beautiful home, and my practice is thriving.  Yet, I felt there was something more I was supposed to do……Read more here!

 

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In Which I order Two 25 Kilo Turkeys in Cairo, Egypt

We did our shopping on the weekend. The turkey, potatoes, green beans, mushrooms, jello (you must have jello) and so much more. As this time of the year comes around I think of Thanksgivings we have spent all over the world and all across the country. Pakistan, Chicago, Essex, Haiti, Egypt, Phoenix, Cambridge – all the memories make me smile.

But one stands out in my mind and to this day makes me laugh. 

To give context I did not cook a turkey until I was 34 years old and had four children.

Attending an international boarding school while growing up in Pakistan meant that we were never at home for Thanksgiving, that quintessential American holiday. Instead, the boarding school I attended graciously took the holiday and created their own version of a special meal (skinny chickens and mashed potatoes) followed by a musical concert. We called it thanksgiving and it was, for we were grateful for those scrawny but tasty drumsticks.

Furthermore turkey as known in the United States at that time was not available anywhere in the country outside of the American commissary, so Christmas dinner was generally chickens filled with homemade stuffing or the rich meat of wild duck.

It meant that I  never helped my mom cook a turkey. I didn’t know how to do it. I knew nothing about making a turkey or a roast, or any of those things that are considered good solid American fare.

But how hard could it be?

At 34 we found ourselves in Cairo on the Island of Zamalek responsible for 18 American college students in a semester-abroad program. I decided now was the time. So armed with my best Arabic I headed to a grocery store I knew well in Maadi.

The conversation went like this:

“Hosni, I would like to buy two 25 kilo turkeys for our feast”.

“Madame – I don’t know if I can find turkeys that big!”

“Hosni! I am having a lot of people. A lot of people ….I need TWO 25 kilo turkeys” He shook his head muttering but he had dealt with the likes of me before and knew there was no arguing.

When he called to tell me the turkeys had arrived, he apologized – he couldn’t find two 25 kilo turkeys, instead he had one that was 13 kilo and one that was 10. “I told you I needed BIG turkeys” I wailed. Hosni laughed “Oh, they are big!”

And then I went to pick them up.

They were massive. They filled two large boxes and packed beside them were their severed heads. In an instant I realized I was forgetting the weight difference between the metric system, used worldwide, and the American system, used only in America.

I had ordered over 110 pounds of turkey.

I was duly rebuked and humbled – no wonder Hosni muttered. We both laughed – he with glee and me with chagrin.  I often wondered if he enjoyed telling the story of this insistent white woman and her huge turkeys. Each year after we would laugh together about the 25 kilo turkeys.

It’s a good story to remember. The arrogance of my white-skinned insistence makes me cringe. This was only one of many times of having to admit that I was wrong; I didn’t have a clue. One of many “25 kilo turkey” moments of cross-cultural learning.

When we cross over into other cultures, we function most effectively when we can take 25 kilo turkey moments and recognize our need to listen and learn.

Thanksgiving dinner that year was amazing, the turkeys cooked to perfection. And the 25 kilo turkey moment remains a reminder, not only of an amazing Thanksgiving, but of the need for cultural humility, ceasing to be an expert and being willing to be a student of the culture where I was making my home.

Do you have cross-cultural holiday stories to share? Share your story in the comment section! 

What Haiti Taught Me

Today’s guest post is from Joanne M. Choi. Joanne is a freelance writer who will go anywhere to get a great story! Her passion is staying up-to-date on people and society.
You name it, she has written about it. She currently writes for Color Magazine and is the fashion blogger at Boston Event Guide. Otherwise, her time is spent finishing her first Young Adult novel, volunteering with Boston Cares, and traveling.

From the moment my feet touched down at Toussaint Louverture International Airport last year, my eyes took in this completely new world with both wonderment and confusion. That reaction was not unexpected as this was my 1st time to the Caribbean, Haiti, and on a missions trip. The feat was fierce as our group waited for our rides.

My first impression of Port-au-Prince as we drove away from the airport was beauty in the midst of chaos. It seemed like a place colorless and dusty with patches of vibrancy all the more brilliant for its unexpectedness.  Think endless rubble, children trying to dust off our van, potholes, the random art, and the brightly painted taptap buses with many Haitians crammed inside and out.

That crammed impression was furthered when looking upon Haitians conducting their day-to-day activities.  Those selling goods, other buying goods, graceful women passing by with items balancing nicely on their heads.  The men who seemed to be just hanging around adding to this tableau of densely configured spaces.

The children’s eager faces peered at us excitedly from windows and doors when we arrived on that first Monday to the Caped Orphanage to conduct a weeklong Vacation Bible School. I wonder what we represented to them as we emerged with, most of us armed with our supplies for the week and one with her guitar.

The perpetually smiling Pastor Dimanche and his wife ran the orphanage that had a fence around the property and a gate (I was pleasantly surprised) though the children shared the beds and others slept on the floor.  The Dimanches had one biological son and the rest of the children were between the ages of 2-20.

Schnadine, whom they called Bébé, was the youngest in the orphanage.  Like a delicate figure skater, she walked around carefully in frilly little dresses.  I adored her.  The older children made it a point to include her in games. Bébé had miraculously survived the earthquake and been rescued from the rubble though sadly her Mother had not survived.

As we started singing, John Carey burst into sobs as his thin legs dangled over the seat. Large sad brown eyes stared ahead as I did my best to soothe this overwhelmed child that seemed to have a sorrow within him so profound.  He fell asleep in my arms. What I didn’t know that first day was that only 8 days prior, unable to care for him, his mother had dropped her little boy off at the orphanage.

Even though some kids were shy and did not approach me right away, others did.  One teenage boy with a charming smile inquired, “Do you have parents or brothers and sisters?” I did and we started chatting.  The floodgates opened; he wanted to know the background about the other Americans in my group. Soon, there was a group of older kids gathered around me listening.  I felt like a storyteller weaving in our lives so they could understand us better.

Many children touched and tugged at my hair when I didn’t have it pulled back. “Do you cut your hair?” a teenage girl asked me urgently, seriously while widening her eyes and gazing at me. Confused, I answered, “My hair used to be much longer but now I keep it at shoulder length.”  The other girls around me nodded in seeming awe.  Then, I realized why they asked me. We shared the same hair color, the children and I, but the texture of their hair was different from mine.  I wondered if I was the first Asian person they had ever met in person. It did seem at times that I was one of few Asians in the whole country.

“We call them the United Nothing,” quipped Frenaud, one of our translators, when we both looked at a white UN vehicle with its protective bars that seemed out of place.  To say this is a complicated country whose relationships with other nations like the US are extremely complex is an understatement. Many American, myself included, are not taught in school/aware that Haiti was the first free black republic in the world and once more prosperous than the US.  The issues related to foreign aid are layered.  Reading Margaret Trost’s book On That Day, Everybody Ate, Paul Farmer’s The Uses of Haiti, and Philippe Girard’s Haiti provided glimpses and helped with my general ignorance.  As did watching the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations filmed in Haiti.

After the 2010 earthquake, Haiti was in the news and on the hearts of many people in the US and around the world, and I hope the focus continues to be there.  I believe that the Haitians can and should take the initiative, working together with self-sustaining charity models. In my opinion, charity-supported models will not break the learned helplessness cycle that is ultimately self-defeating.  Haiti is a country on the verge. It won’t take a day or a year to break free from the effects of generations of poverty, a high illiteracy rate, deforestation, and corruption, but there are Haitians who can take it in the right direction.

Why did I come? Something inside was compelling me and it felt both emotional and spiritual. Also, I didn’t want to be sitting around all the time focusing on myself, my own uncertainties about the future and the path I had chosen.  I knew that I needed perspective and if I did this now, it would be the start of giving back in ways that felt real and relevant.

I still think about the precious Haitian children in the orphanage and writing this now helps me process my thoughts. To the world, they have little prospects and only the guarantee of one hot meal of day until they leave the orphanage. I take comfort in knowing that the children have their hope for a better future along with a spirit of faith and joy.

Information on aid and relief organizations associated with Haiti.

Fonkoze – http://www.fonkoze.org/

Fonkoze, which means “let’s talk” in Haitian Creole, is an micro-lending organization.  They say that they are the largest micro-finance organization servicing Haitians in poor, rural based areas.

Zafen – It’s Our Business https://www.zafen.org/

Zafen, which loosely translated means “our business” in Haitian Creole, is another micro-lending site but it’s built on the KickStarter model.   It allows folks to post their projects (mostly education projects and medium – large enterprises) online and set fundraising goals.  Funders can then A) pick from an array of featured projects and B) Select how much they want to give.  100% of your loan or donation goes directly to the project.

Haitian Artisans For Peace International – http://www.haitianartisans.com/

Support Haitian Artisans and the expansion of the arts in Haiti

International Institute of New England – http://iine.us/

Many Haitians have relocated to the States after last year’s earthquake.  The IINE, located here in Boston, helps recent immigrants adjust to their new lives in New England through workforce development programs and money-saving workshops. The staff is experienced and incredibly passionate about what they do.

Haiti Habitat for Humanity – http://www.habitat.org/intl/lac/89.aspx

This branch of HFH provides both temporary housing and construction skills to the communities affected by natural disasters in Haiti

J/P HRO – http://jphro.org/

The mission of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization is about bringing sustainable programs to the Haitian people in a timely and efficient matter. Co-founded by Sean Penn.

GiveLove – http://www.givelove.org/

GiveLove is focused on teaching the Haitian people about thermophilic composting. Co-founded by Patricia Arquette and Rosetta Getty.

Project Medishare for Haiti – http://www.projectmedishare.org/

It is an organization dedicated to sharing its human and technical resources with its Haitian partners in the quest to achieve quality healthcare and development services for all.

Partners In Health – http://www.pih.org/

The mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone.

World Relief – http://worldrelief.org/Page.aspx?pid=2723

Christian organization that works with local churches to serve the most vulnerable.