Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti and the Bricks We Hold

I am struggling today. As I go off to work out at the health club and enjoy a healthy snack, as I drink freely from a bottle of clean, cold water, as I write out the ingredients needed for our weekend menu, I am acutely aware that none of this is happening in Haiti. When I was in college, I did a short-term mission trip to the Dominican Republic. We had contact with Dominicans and with Haitians. I saw the poverty for my own eyes and came to love the people living on the island of Hispaniola. Those faces are in my mind today. I cannot set it aside. I probably shouldn't try.

Years ago, Steven Spielberg directed the movie Schindler's List. The whole movie was shot in black and white... the whole movie except one small detail. A red coat. A little girl was seen a handful of times in a tiny, red coat. Why? Why would Spielberg splash a bit of color onto a child's jacket? To make us see. To make us focus. When faced with extreme chaos and despair, we can easily compartmentalize the pain associated with big loss. What breaks our heart? Knowing that it happened to an individual. We may be able to think through the loss of so many Jewish lives... reason it... separate ourselves from it to make it possible to understand it from a distance. This is very difficult when we try to understand the loss of just one child. Just one girl. A girl in a small red coat. Our minds and hearts draw near to one in a way that is different from the pain of millions.

My friends, what happened this week in Haiti happened to individuals. It happened to men and women and children. It happened to people with names... like Grace and Daphne and Cleo. And these people, these children, are sitting there right now while you sit reading this. Except they are likely hungry... and tired... and afraid... and sad.... and feeling terribly hopeless. They are real people, like you and me, and they are awash in extreme need.

What are we to do? What am I to do? What can I teach my children about all of this? I have been thinking about these questions all day long and even spent some time wondering if I am supposed to go. One of the things I have wrestled with today is that my children go about their lives, we all go about our lives, while a whole country cries out in despair. We can easily insulate ourselves from the pain that others are experiencing. But, just because we CAN do so does not make it BEST. How can I help my children to connect to this country, these people, so far from here?

I have hatched a plan to help my children think about Haiti, pray for Haiti and do what they can--in some small way-- for Haiti. Tomorrow will be our day... and this is what we will do:

1. We will get get up and gather for breakfast. Before we eat, each child will share a bit of information about Haiti. I will print these up for them tonight and things to be included will be a map, information about the language they speak, details about the foods they eat, etc...

2. For breakfast, we will eat Haitian food. This is the recipe I am planning on making:


3 ripe bananas
1 T. flour
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. vanilla
1 T. sugar
1/8 t. baking soda

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Drop teaspoon-full in very hot oil until golden brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

I don't think this recipe will make very much and maybe that is okay. I am hoping to raise some awareness for my family about what other people live on every, single day.

3. One of my facebook friends has posted some pictures of life in Haiti (before the earthquake) that we will look at together. We also have several friends and acquaintances who are adopting from Haiti right now. We will pray, by name, for these sweet little ones.

4. At lunch time, we will eat Haitian food again. Here is my plan:

Beans and Rice

2 cups of long grain rice
1 cup of red kidney beans
1 finely chopped onion
1 chopped hot green pepper
1/4 cup salt pork or bacon cut into small cubes
1 tbsp of butter
2 chopped cloves of garlic
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the beans in 4 cups of water for 2 hours or until tender in a medium pot
2. Drain the beans but keep the water which will be used to cook the rice
3. Fry the salt pork or bacon until crisp (use oil if needed)
4. Add the onion, garlic, and green pepper
5. Add the beans along with salt and pepper to taste
6. Add the water used to cook the beans and bring to a boil
7. Add the rice and cook for 20-25 minutes.

This is a meal that is an absolute staple for many, many people around the world. To be honest, this is a much fancier version of a very basic meal that provides sustenance to those who live on far less than we do, each and every day.

5. After lunch, we will spend some more time in prayer.

6. In the afternoon, we will find a way to help financially. This will be done either through a donation or through a shopping trip to buy supplies. We know several people who are heading to Haiti soon. If they need supplies, that is the way we will go. Otherwise, we will have the kids participate in giving some of their own money to this important cause.

7. Dinner. You guessed it. I have another Haitian recipe.

Chicken in Sauce


1 (3.5-4 lb) fryer, cut into 1/8 's

1 large onion, sliced thin
1 scotch bonnet pepper, chopped fine
6 garlic cloves, smashed or minced garlic
3/4 cup tomato sauce (have more on hand, if needed)
chicken broth as needed
3 tablespoons sugar
salt, to taste
2-3 limes or lemons
vegetable oil

1. Wash chicken well & pat dry.
2. each piece with limes/lemons and sprinkle with salt.
3. Heat oil in heavy ovenproof pan.
4. Preheat oven to 375°F.
5. Fry chicken pieces in hot oil.
6. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine garlic, sugar, tomato sauce and salt; mix well.
7. After 5 minutes of frying the chicken, add sliced onions and chopped pepper, for 5-7 minutes.
8. Remove pan from heat and drain excess oil and add the tomato mixture, stirring well.
9. Place the pan in oven & bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked completely.
10. Transfer chicken to serving platter
11. Served with diri blanc (plain white rice) - pour sauce over rice.

It is probably important to tell you now that several of my children are pretty picky. I wish this wasn't so and I know that it will make these three meals especially difficult for them. But there is value in that struggle and value in that awareness and value in thinking about life for someone else.

The thing that just breaks my heart is that when I looked for Haitian recipes online today, I had to go by many, many articles on what the poor in Haiti actually eat. Reading these titles broke my heart and caused a deep sense of conviction in me. Our family is deeply blessed... and the truth is, we take that for granted. Even with the financial struggles that have plagued us since the recession began, we STILL have more than people all over the world. And yet, we complain. We worry. We sit in our warm, nice home with food in our bellies and supplies in the cabinets and back-up supplies in the basement. We have socks on our feet and can literally throw away socks with holes! How dare we take that for granted? How dare we not look around ourselves and see this beautiful world full of people and ask ourselves, "What can I do? How can I help?"

So, what did those articles about Haitian food say?

"PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums and Charlene Dumas was eating mud.

With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies.

Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the ocean-side slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Dumas said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the 6 pounds, 3 ounces he weighed at birth.

Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too," she said.

States of emergency
Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for bio-fuels is pressuring food markets as well.

The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places.

The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries.

Caribbean leaders held an emergency summit in December to discuss cutting food taxes and creating large regional farms to reduce dependence on imports.

Dirt cookies become bargains
At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.

Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.

Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.

The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.

An unpleasant taste
A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.

Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but it can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.

Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition.

"Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it," said Dr. Gabriel Thimothee, executive director of Haiti's health ministry.

Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.

"I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," she said. "I know it's not good for me."

I want to share this information with my family. I think beans and rice might taste okay after we read this together. Eating Haitian food will not help Haiti but raising children who understand what is happening in the world around them just might. It just might make it real enough to make them wonder what part they play. It just might make them focus on the "red coat" in Haiti and not turn their backs on the hurt of so many.

Friends, we have to find out what we can do. We have to educate our families and help our children to see that they have a part to play in the lives of people all over the world. We can do that in a way that is positive or negative... but what I want for my family is to help them find a way to be a force for good in the world. I want them to look around and understand that there is a Kingdom being built, God's beautiful Kingdom, and that in each of their little hands they hold one important brick. It is their job as Children of the King to find the right place to carefully, lovingly place their brick. It is a big and important job.

What about you? What brick do you hold? What will you do with it to make a difference today?

Blessings on your day...


Julie said...

Thank you Nadia. Your ideas have challenged me and inspired me!


Laurie said...


As always, your posts are beautiful. "There by the grace of God, go I"