The Concrete Jungle

I have ridiculously generous parents. By “parents” I am, of course, referring both to my biological parents and my in-laws-I very rarely differentiate.

My sister-in-law, Kait, has lived in Brooklyn for close to a year now and since I love her so much, I’ve been wanting to check in on her. She also started interning for one of my favorite non-profits, The Adventure Project, and had been working tirelessly on their annual Gala.

Much to my surprise, my in-laws were paying attention and (after singing Happy Birthday 2 months early) announced they were sending me to New York to visit Kait and to go to TAP’s gala. Did I cry? Yes. Are they amazing? Yes.

Related note: My husband is also amazing. Even though camp season is gearing up and he’s getting busier and busier he encouraged this stay-at-home mama to jet off to the Big Apple while he held down the fort with our 5 children, 4 pets AND THE 2 GREAT DANES WE ARE DOG SITTING FOR MY PARENTS. Sainthood-he deserves nothing less.

My time in NYC was spent doing very non-touristy stuff-which I loved. (Though I did say hi to this beautiful lady as I was taxi-ing to Kait’s restaurant).

IMG_6178

Saturday we went to a new bar near her place that was really cool. I watched as she got hit on by multiple men wearing the same size jeans I do.

IMG_6186

 

And we celebrated my being in NYC (and out past 10!) with a glass of my favorite whiskey.

IMG_6190

Sunday was really crappy weather but we managed to walk around Brooklyn and visit flea markets, second hand shops, etc. We also caught a comedy show that night (Kait is seriously way cooler than virtually everyone I know. She hosts a comedy show out there and also co-runs this hip-hop blog with a friend of hers.) and I tried a few different Brooklyn lagers.

IMG_6195

 

Monday was the day of The Adventure Project Gala. I have this weird compulsion that I want to be helpful if there’s an opportunity for it. So Kait and I got to the TAP offices at about 9am. From then until 6:30pm when the event started we were helping set up and whatever else. I met some really great people during those hours-those who work for TAP and those who work for partnering organizations as well as other volunteers like myself. Then the gala started and I proceeded to enjoy the free cocktails and time socializing.

293756_640324842647633_1064544619_n

I also caught up with a few women who I traveled with to Haiti, which was so fun.

252313_640308135982637_1778638396_n

After the gala we helped pack everything up and take it back to the TAP offices. Then Kait and her friends decided they were hungry and one really wanted Korean food. All this resulted in me being up until 4am. Yikes. But Kait’s friends are as amazing as she is, so it was so enjoyable to be around them and share that part of her life with her.

581934_10100466461649111_1091877181_n

 

After not enough sleep, Tuesday was our day to finish stuff up at TAP and then explore the city. First we walked around the Highline, which was absolutely amazing.

IMG_6209

 

IMG_6225

 

IMG_6228

 

Walked through a Chelsea flea market where I found a coat that I’ve been dreaming about and lusting after since. I mean, seriously. SOMEONE MAKE THIS FOR ME!

IMG_6213

 

After a few days in the concrete jungle I had a serious hankering for earth. I get that I’m a bit of a hippie but I had no idea just how much until I hadn’t been able to touch the actual earth. You know, put my hands in some dirt, feet in grass, etc. So off we went to Central Park. We played frisbee with one of Kait’s friends and I did a bit of yoga. But mostly, just enjoyed the sights.

IMG_6222

 

IMG_6224

 

IMG_6226

 

We ended the night at a restaurant where we talked about things ranging from comedy to racism. One of my favorite things about Kait is she chooses friends who challenge her and encourage her to continue growing as a human. Love that.

Travel back home was complicated (seriously, I would love just 1 time of normal flights) but the end result was that I was home with my family.

The next day at home was spent teaching my classes and going to the kids’s school where they were all awarded various things. All day I was struck by the realization that I am so infinitely blessed to be able to experience NYC with one of my favorite people in the entire world and then to come home and experience life with my other favorite people-all in the span of a week.

What a lucky lady I am.

Haiti…Part 2-Eshet Chayil

Thursday I wrote a bit about what I initially saw in Haiti. Today my focus is on some of my thoughts since being home.

On the way home from Haiti I read Rachel Held Evans’s book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Though the book was slow to start for me it rebounded well and I really enjoyed it overall. Anyway, one of my favorite parts was when Evans was discussing the Proverbs 31 woman. I don’t want to go into the whole thing here but in the end Evans says the Proverb is actually a love poem (modern day Christians often interpret this passage prescriptively which, Evans claims, is not at all how it was originally written) if you will, to an Eshet Chayil which loosely translates as “Woman of Valor”.

That phrase “Eshet Chayil” stayed with me. A few weeks of introspection proves that phrase spoke to me because Eshet Chayil was all around me in Haiti.

Indeed, UNICEF reports that the ripple effects of empowering women can change the future of society. It raises economic productivity, reduces infant mortality, contributes to overall improved health and nutrition, and increases the chances of education for the next generation.A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Marie was the first stove vendor we met at the large market in the heart of Port au Prince. She was the top seller for The Adventure Project (TAP). Marie pushes out somewhere close to 80 stoves a week! Marie learned about TAP because one of her friends was a vendor but “didn’t take advantage of the opportunity”. So Marie asked if she could try, and try she did! Marie is a mom to four. She now makes enough money to provide transportation to a job for her older two children. Marie’s younger two children can now go to school. Marie is the very essence of an entrepenuer. When asked if there was anything she wanted to tell us she went on for minutes. Ideas about ways in which to grow her business, to provide for the citizens of rural Haiti as well. We never had to ask Marie to smile, the woman was on fire. All of the intelligence, dignity and strength she possessed before was only enhanced by her opportunity with TAP. Marie is a Woman of Valor! Eshet Chayil!

Mylande was another vendor we visited just outside the city. When those of us from TAP first arrived at the meeting place there was a group of men meeting inside the building. There was much talking between them. When Mylande arrived it was quiet. She approached us with shoulders back and a soft smile. Mylande is a young woman who lives with five people in her home (mom, dad, aunts, uncles, etc). She is now able to provide for all of them with the income she receives as a stove vendor. Also? She is able to buy a few nice things for herself. Because she is not unlike so many of us, she was very proud of that. I can’t blame her. Mylande, Eshet Chayil!

Nicole is the second best seller of stoves. When we arrived at her house there was somewhere around 10-15 family members there. I’m not sure if they all lived there but it was clear they were all enjoying lunch at her house. While talking with Nicole a group of 5 children came home from school. Their uniforms were clean and bright. I was struck by the realization that all of this came from one opportunity. But of course that one opportunity didn’t make all of this happen, Nicole made all of that happen. Because she works her butt off. That potential was just sitting in wait, she took the opportunity and ran with it. Providing food for her family and schooling for her child and the children of her community. Nicole, Eshet Chayil! (Note: Nicole didn’t want her picture taken so you get a picture of me asking the Director of TAP’s partner, ILF, a question. I asked lots of questions. This is actually what I looked like most of the trip: sweaty and annoyingly inquisitive).

There were more stove vendors, of course. All with similar stories, all women of valor. There was even a man! Another group visited him and came back with his incredible story. But it wasn’t just the stove vendors that were women of valor on that trip.

There was Erica who was a fund developer for another charity I support πŸ˜‰ Erica who goes to India on yoga/spiritual retreats. Erica who quit that really amazing job to lend her support to TAP for free. Erica who was the only other vegetarian on the trip and often had to “share” a meal with me (I ate most of it). Erica-Eshet Chayil!

Sarah who also volunteers as TAP’s numbers genius. Sarah who started one of Texas’s biggest and most successful real estate companies. Sarah who clearly takes on life with an amazing smile-all the beautiful and terrible. She is Eshet Chayil!

Megan who is a busy mama to five. This craft maven of an uber popular blog took her passion (crafting) and turned it into a thriving business. She hosts craft weekends that have a long waiting list just to attend. I got to room with Megan and I can tell you her heart is good and it’s pure. Her love for all things God loves is true. Megan-Eshet Chayil! (There are no pictures of beautiful Megan because she happens to be an amazing photographer and took beautiful pictures. This is all I have, from the last day when we dressed in the same colors.)

Rebecca is a big shot marketing director in New York. But meeting Rebecca you get a sense that marketing is just her day job. Rebecca travels the world learning about new cultures and new communities. She falls in love with them all. Rebecca so obviously understands so little separates us all. Rebecca owns all that she is and it is a sight to behold. Rebecca, so clearly is an Eshet Chayil!

Rebekah is the southern belle I always pictured myself being. She is sweet and smart, funny and strong. Rebekah had all the women and men we met in Haiti eating out of the palm of her hand. Her charm came from a place of strength and a complete awareness of self. Though Rebekah is a successful businesswoman, when I left her the only way I could think to define her was Eshet Chayil!

Christine and Raphaella were the Directors of the partner that TAP works with in Haiti. Christine is half haitian, half french canadian. Hearing her extensive knowledge of Haitian history and her passion for renewing Haiti to it’s former glory was absolutely inspiring. Christine-Eshet Chayil! Raphaella, a beautiful Italian woman who had just completed her PhD in International Aid. A woman in her 40s, when she told me her life’s story it was a story about constant re-creation of self. When Raphaella realized what she was doing with her life wasn’t what fulfilled her anymore, she tried something new. Raphaella was an ever evolving woman who, throughout her life, was clearly the essence of Eshet Chayil!

Jody and Becky, the co-founders of The Adventure Project. They are what started it all. For me, for the stove vendors, for the women on the trip with me- it’s all because of them. One meeting many years ago in the back of a van in Uganda led these women to start a non profit that is quickly becoming the model for other non profits. Becky, a woman who is educated in International Aid but whose heart has been there long before. Becky who has a sense for the need and exactly how to provide it so that it doesn’t look like she was involved at all. Becky who knows exactly what she wants for TAP and has poured years of blood, sweat and tears into making it happen. Becky who will stop at nothing to add venture to the countries who need it most. Becky-Eshet Chayil! And Jody, a friend of mine for whom I’ve been thankful as long as I can remember. Jody, who knows instinctively how to rally those of us at our homes, taking care of our kids or in offices working away at cubicles. Jody who relates so well to the women in America who want to change the lives of the women around the world. Jody, who really knows how to bring heaven down to earth in so. many. ways. Jody-Eshet Chayil!

This blog was wordy, I know that. But I think it had to be. Because I want so badly for you to get a glimpse of what I saw in Haiti. I want you to see that it was a story I could’ve told about women here in the States as well. So little separates us. I love knowing that my money is providing opportunities for women there to change the face of their families, their communities and their nation. I. love. that.

I knew somewhere deep in my bones that a revolution was afoot, that the women of this earth were rising up, and that, in some way, great or small, I was going to be a part of it.A year of Biblical Womanhood

Haiti…part 1

Two weeks ago I went to Haiti. I posted that I was going but have been wanting to really process what I saw and be purposeful about what I wrote. So I took my time and waited until I felt like I could tell you.

Haiti is in pretty good shape y’all.

I’m sure you’ve read the same things I had read before I left. That it’s the cholera capital of the world, that it’s still in shambles since the earthquake 3 years ago. All of that. I’d read that and let it affect the way I felt when I thought of Haiti.

But by and large, it’s just untrue. In many ways I think that narrative is out there to serve the agencies that want you to donate to make it better. I’m not saying it’s good or bad (you can judge that however you’d like) I’m just saying that it is.

Haiti looks like virtually every other developing country I’ve been too. Many times we’d be driving/bouncing through the streets of Port au Prince and I became mentally transported to Ethiopia. When I’d see a building that looked leveled due to the earthquake I’d ask the driver, “Did that collapse during the earthquake?”

“No. It’s always been like that.”

“How about that building?”

“No.”

A source there said Haiti now is exactly where it was before the earthquake. Is it great? No. Is it still a developing country figuring it out? Yes. But it’s not what you’ve been thinking.

I say all of this because I think it’s important. For those of you who gave to various charities right after the earthquake and for those of you who didn’t. Because you should know there is always hope and there is always something beautiful after something terrible. I learned that from my friend, Jody. πŸ™‚

So Haiti is beautiful. It really is. And do you know where I saw the most beauty?

In the men making the stoves and the women overseeing the process.

I saw it in the stove vendors and their families.

Let me first say I am not in any way being paid by The Adventure Project. I went to Haiti with them because I wanted to see how they work with their local partners. I ask all of my family and friends (and people I’ve met only once or even ones I’ve never met) to give a lot of money to The Adventure Project (TAP). That’s a big deal to me. I wanted to make sure that TAP was THE non-profit in which I wanted to put my energy.

And they are. They are doing it. Charcoal efficient stoves don’t solve all of the problems that afflict Haiti but it solves so. many.

They keep children who would normally be very sick or even die healthier by burning about 40% less charcoal, thus making the air healthier to breathe.

They burn the charcoal slower, thus making it cheaper.

It takes about 1 1/2 hours LESS TIME to cook a family dinner on the TAP stoves. This frees up time to do other essential stuff like cleaning, taking care of children or working.

The charcoal efficient stoves provide jobs. Because when you donate to TAP you are helping subsidize the building of a stove (done exclusively by Haitians) which are then sold (exclusively by Haitians). It employs locals at every. single. level.

Which is HUGE for a country trying to pick themselves up from such a horrible tragedy.

When I asked a local how they really felt about international aid they said simply. “We know we have to have it right now. But we want to get to a point where we don’t need it. We want to pick ourselves up. We want to rely on ourselves. We aren’t there yet, but we want to be there some day.”

I was told of another agency that bought 10,000 stoves and then gave them out. A local said that ends up taking the country 2 steps back.

Because “charity” has to stop being a hand out and needs to start being a hand up.

That is why I love The Adventure Project. Because their goal is to become completely obsolete in the whole picture. For the stove venture to become a completely Haitian venture. Come on, that’s amazing!!!!

Ok, off to take eldest to the doc. I will finish my series on my Haitian adventure. There’s still important stuff I want to tell you. This post was heavy on what The Adventure Project is doing. The next posts will be more about the way I see my role in this thing called “life” and “caring for each other” and all of that. And there will be more pictures. Hopefully there will be post with a little bit more of my wit and sarcasm. Get excited for that. πŸ˜‰