Missionary Style – An Idiot’s Guide to Doing Good Works in Haiti (Part I)

These young boys stole my heart in Haiti.

These young boys stole my heart in Haiti.

The sun has set on my first mission trip to Haiti, but I hope and pray it won’t be my last.  It was a soul-satisfying adventure that came with good people, great experiences and a unique learning curve.  As I hope my experience will encourage others to take a chance and do good works there too, let me share with you what I’ve learned…. so far.

 I’m tackling this task in two parts.  Part I which follows focuses on the big picture items.  Part II will tackle the more practical aspects of missionary work in Haiti, such as how to pack, what to bring and which toilet to poop in as – trust me, on this – it makes a difference.

 My hope is that, as 2012 draws to a close, you too will be inspired to go out into the world and make an attempt – any attempt, no matter how big or how small – to leave it better than you found it. 

But before I begin, a huge shout of THANKS goes out to everyone who made this trip possible – David Duba (our fearless leader), the United Methodist Church of Fishers, Indiana (our sponsor), the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti (site of our work projects), and the United Methodist guest house and Paster Chrisnel (our host for the week in Jeremie).

Jeremie, Haiti as viewed from our Cessna commuter plane

Jeremie, Haiti as viewed from our Cessna commuter plane

Part I – the Big Picture

Be open to being led – Prior to my trip, my well-traveled sister and brother-in-law regaled me with tales of how the people of the Dominican Republic told them not to set foot in Haiti.  They warned me about the poor infrastructure, general lawlessness and disease.  Were they wrong to do so?  No.  Haiti is not a place to be tread lightly or, perhaps I should say more accurately – it is not a place to be tread stupidly. 

BUT, if you chose your leader wisely, it IS a place that can be experienced with a relative degree of safety.  I say relative because, like all places – including elementary schools in Connecticut – safety is an elusive thing and is often very relative to how you conduct yourself or what precautions you take.

Dave and Martin plan the work, then work the plan

Dave and Martin plan the work, then work the plan

In our case, our fearless leader, David Duba, has traveled to Haiti many, many times.  As he is tall, lean, with great posture and carries a very well-worn Army knapsack as his luggage of choice, he comes across like a modern day Rambo with more intelligence.  In short, it pays to travel with someone who just looks like he knows what he’s doing, especially when he does.

Additionally, David had arranged for us not one but three interpreters whom he knows well and has worked with in the past.  Moreover, he arranged drivers for us during our two Port-au-Prince stopovers – a necessity to avoid being swarmed by crowds of strange Haitian men lingering outside of the airport looking to give you a ride.  If you’re thinking New York City yellow cab, think again.  DO NOT get into a car with a strange man in Port-au-Prince, even if it is at the airport.  Trust me.  Arrange a driver and, if you need one, let me know.  I’ll get Nader’s number for you.  I think Dave has him on speed dial.

Commuting in Port-au-Prince, Hait

Commuting in Port-au-Prince, Hait

Be smart, but have faith in your fellow man – I’ll admit it, Port-au-Prince was outside of my comfort zone.  While I was looking forward to our end destination of Jeremie on the far southwestern coast, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the seething humanity of Haiti’s capital.  Plus, it didn’t help that as we left the international airport for our one kilometer drive to the municipal airport, I encountered my first ever experience with the realities of a developing nation.  Step outside the airport and you enter another world.

As Nader ushered us out the door, we headed straight for a white van while Nader and Dave waved off the initial crush of strange men looking for a pay day.  While putting my backpack in the back of the van, Nader said to me, rather urgently, I might add, “Get in.  Close the door.”

As he repeated those two phrases with more urgency each time, I hopped in the van and climbed in the back row.  Young David Duba – Rambo Dave’s son who joined us on the trip – climbed in too and left the door open.  As Nader proceeded to shout, “Close the door!  Close the door!” another white van pulled up close beside us.  With my heart in my throat, I watched as a large man dark as night climbed out beside us.  Isn’t this how Port-au-Prince kidnappings start, I wondered?  And as my heart rate increased I watched as this large man approached our van and… closed the door for us.

Haiti is full of good people, including these two lovely young ladies who enjoyed playing with a matching game app on my cellphone

Haiti is full of good people, including these two lovely young ladies who enjoyed playing with a matching game app on my cellphone

Silly me.  No, in Haiti, it’s not wrong to have your guard up.  Self preservation is a natural instinct.  But time and time again when I travel, I’m reminded that I should have more faith in my fellow man.  Yes, there are bad people in this world, but there are so many more good ones too, and we tend to forget about that fact.  In Haiti – when it came to my fellow man – I encountered way more good than bad.

Case in point – and it’s an odd example, I’ll admit – was that of my cell phone charger which took a hike in Haiti.  The last time I saw it, it was in an outside pocket attached to my backpack strap with Velcro.  Someone at the airport in Haiti helped themselves to it, but, rather than keeping the detachable pocket it came in, they took it out and put that very same pocket back into my backpack.  In short, he or she only took what was needed.  As I have a spare charger at home and can also charge my phone from anyone of four computers and two laptops via a UBS port, I can hardly begrudge them a phone charger.  Do I blame them?  No.  BUT, take it from me, if you don’t want to “lose” something of value, put it inside your luggage.  It’s ok to trust your fellow man, but, at the same time, don’t tempt him.

Women carry heavy loads on their heads, including water and produce.  These birds are going to market.

Women carry heavy loads on their heads, including water and produce. These birds are going to market. Photo by David Duba

Be patient, you’re on Haitian time – In short, leave your American “time is money” mindset at home.  Life moves to a slower beat in Haiti, and slowness has value.  This is a country where few people have running water in their homes.  The mere act of getting water – walking up hill and down, balancing large buckets on your head, day in and day out – sets a pace that moves slower than most Americans are use to.  We turn on a faucet and it’s there.  For many Haitians, it’s a 30 or 40 minute uphill hike away from home.

Taking motocycles to the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti.  The roads can be a bit challenging.

Taking motocycles to the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti. The roads can be a bit challenging.  Photo by David Duba

Plus, the roads are pitted, gravel and just plain bad, and even short trips take time.  A five and a half mile trek up the mountain in a four-wheel drive diesel truck took us 45 minutes.  To some, that may sound like torture, but that ride remains one of the highlights of my trip.  I sat in the bed of that truck with young David and Martin, one of our interpreters, watching the mountains and Caribbean sea unfold as we made our bumpity-bump-bump way up into the hills. 

This slower pace is not a bad thing.  Haiti is an experience that needs to be savored.  It’s not a world of drive-thru windows and freezer meals.  So park the impatience at the airport, relax and enjoy.  Your blood pressure will thank you.

Remnants of Hurricane Sandy haunt the beautiful jungles of Haiti.

Remnants of Hurricane Sandy haunt the beautiful jungles of Haiti.  Photo by David Duba

Next time, I’ll tackle the more practical aspects of navigating a mission trip in Haiti.

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Christmas, South Beach Style

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, you're burning up my retinas....

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, you’re burning up my retinas….

As it was dark outside when we arrived at the Catalina Hotel and Beach Club, http://www.catalinahotel.com/ on Collins Avenue in South Beach, I did not have my sunglasses handy when we sauntered into the lobby dragging army duffels full of used shoes and soccer balls behind us.  Had I known about the giant glowing pink Christmas tree gleaming like a demon in a Steven King novel circa 1970s, I might have come prepared.  Regardless, it was a funky eye-numbing display of over the top holiday magic that told this farm girl, she wasn’t in Kansas any more.  And I couldn’t have been happier.  Bring on the coconut eggnog!

Happy hour in the Red Bar at the Catalina Hotel & Beach Club

Happy hour in the Red Bar at the Catalina Hotel & Beach Club

Christmas in South Beach, a.k.a. Miami, is a huge departure for someone who’s Midwestern version of the holidays more closely resembles Ralphie’s in the Christmas Story.  My standard memories of the holidays come laced with overcoats, mittens, evergreen trees and green bean casseroles.  The closest I’ve come to shooting my eye out was with an actual be-be gun as opposed to a flaming pink tree.  That Miami may be closer to the truth surrounding Jesus’ birth with its temperate weather, palm trees and succulent plants – glowing pink trees not withstanding – had always been just a notion to me until now.  It was high time I got in touch with a warm weather version of the Christmas story.

Abstract art decorates the Catalina lobby

Abstract art decorates the Catalina lobby

An end of the year mission trip to Jeremie, Haiti prompted this short overnight stay in South Beach and my traveling buddy, Dave Duba, wrangled a $55 a night per room rate at the Catalina just one block from the beach.  Surrounded by stylish art deco architecture and dripping with palms, it’s an eclectic little place with high walls of abstract art, yarn bombed balcony railings, a red bar and free drinks from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.  Tip the British bartender in advance like my buddy, Dave, and she pours heavy. *wink*wink*

Yarn bomb railings peek down upon the Catalina lobby

Yarn bomb railings peek down upon the Catalina lobby

After checking in we went to find our wacky little rooms – which wasn’t as easy as it sounds as 120 followed 115 and my room, number 119 was one corner and about ten rooms more away.  But it was worth the where’s Waldo fun as mine came decked out with all white furniture and bedding in a room with blood red accents and a subway tiled bathroom.  Fortunately, they were also generous with the toiletries as I managed at least one shower and packed the rest for Haiti – a smart move since I sweated like a camel the following week and went through soap and shampoo like a squirrel in a nut house.

My wacky little room at the Catalina in South Beach

My wacky little room at the Catalina in South Beach

After dropping our gear, we went in search of food and fun, leading us to the Lincoln Road Mall a few blocks south and west.  If I die tomorrow, I want to be cremated so little spoonfuls of my ashes can be scattered in various places I’ve come to know and love, for instance, my grandparents’ former place in Holland, Michigan, the river near our farm, the spot where the old goat shed stood on the farm I grew up on, any aisle at a Hobby Lobby, tool town at Lowes and – as of now – the outdoor seating at Pizza Rustica along the Lincoln Road Mall.  Yeah, I know that sounds lame, but seriously, this place is cool.  And I love Hobby Lobby.

Window shopping on Lincoln Road

Window shopping on Lincoln Road

We window shopped our way up Lincoln Road headed for dinner and enjoying the glittery bacchanalia of South Beach when the David Dubas – father and son – stopped in their tracks.  What could cause two men to grind to a halt and drool in an outside mall?  An overly aggressive Victoria’s Secret display?  Beyonce shopping for shoes?

If Santa had any sense, his red sleigh would be a Tesla Model S

If Santa had any sense, his red sleigh would be a Tesla Model S – photo courtesy of David Duba

Nope.  Just a pre-production version of Tesla’s Model S sports car sitting in show room, glistening like Santa’s sleigh if the fat jolly man were, in fact, Italian, computerized and totally electric.

A sports car that seats six?  Ok, maybe four plus two more tiny people, but still, sign me up!

A sports car that seats six? Ok, maybe four plus two more tiny people, but still, sign me up!

Naturally we went in.  Naturally we climbed into the car.  Naturally we pushed buttons, stroked gear shifts and drooled on the leather interior.  And naturally they had to pry us out with crowbars.  Perhaps it’s a good thing my Christmas list was firmed up a long time ago and that deliveries for the Model S don’t start until 2013. I might be more than a little poorer otherwise.  But, dang, what a stocking stuffer….

Sparkling palm trees light the way

Sparkling palm trees light the way to Pizza Rustica

A half hour later with red lacquered stars in our eyes and more than a little dehydrated from drooling, we waltzed back outside and headed to Pizza Rustica.  How do I love thee, Pizza Rustica?  Let me count the ways, including supreme, barbeque chicken and quarto fro mage.  Have I mentioned that food porn leaves me weak in the knees?

H'mmm.... food porn ....

H’mmm…. food porn ….

We grabbed seats outside, placed our order, sat back and took in the scene.  We people watched.  We chowed down on excellent food.  We stared at palm trees decked out in Christmas lights.  We chowed down some more.  I could get use to this.

One of Peter Lik's amazing photographys.  As amazing as it looks here, it's even MORE impressive in person.

One of Peter Lik’s amazing photographs. As amazing as it looks here, it’s even MORE impressive in person.

Afterwards we headed to the Peter Lik gallery, LIKMIAMI,  http://www.lik.com/  just a few doors down from our dinner destination.  If you’re ever in the area, go.  Sure, check him out online – no doubt his images have caught your eye before.  But there is no comparison.  Seeing his work as it’s meant to be seen – huge, well lit, in a darkened room and framed – will leave you breathless. 

 If my discretionary income ever skyrockets, I know where I’ll be shopping first.  Fortunately, Rey Borges was on hand to give us a tour of Peter’s work, and I grabbed his card for future reference.  Rey has a treasure of his own – a necklace made from sunken treasure in the form of old Spanish gold – and he’s a delight.  Take the time to seek him out and he’ll give you the behind the scenes story of what Peter went through to get some of his iconic shots.

This makes me want to take up sewing

This makes me want to take up sewing

We left the gallery and continued window shopping, coming to the western end of the mall.  Crossing the street south, we worked our way back towards Collins Avenue, pausing for glitter and glam along the way.  The weather was warm, the conversation fun and the surroundings exotic.  Granted South Beach, Florida is an odd send off for a mission trip to poverty stricken Haiti, and I do appreciate the contrast.  If anything, it gave me an interesting perspective on the week to come.

Next time I'm in South Beach, I'm going bar hopping....

Next time I’m in South Beach, I’m going bar hopping….

But one thing did occur to me as I tucked myself into my big sprawling bed in my funky little Catalina room.

I definitely want to go back.

Lincoln Road Mall - enjoy it.  It's delightful!

Lincoln Road Mall – enjoy it. It’s delightful!

I want to Go with Oh to Venice – The Remix Tour

The view of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

The view of the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

As Leah and Lola made their way across Europe courtsey of Go with Oh, I followed their adventures with amusement.  Who doesn’t love a good girls’ road trip, especially when it includes five European cities over four weeks, not to mention trains and planes, wine and pasta, feather boas and flamenco dancers?  It was a veritable arm-chair traveler’s dream!

 But even as I lived vicariously through their daily exploits and even as I daydreamed about a possible Go with Oh month-long trek of my own some day, I’m practical enough to know that – by necessity – my own such adventure would have a somewhat different theme.  For want of a better term, let’s call this fantasy trip the Fritz Family Foray into Europe.

 My dream plan is simple enough – a week in Dublin and London with my Anglophile loving daughter Jackie for some mother-daughter bonding time, followed by a week in Rome and Venice with my 15-year-old son Jordan, where I hope to introduce him to some real Italian culture – with the emphasis being on REAL.  As I’ve already covered why Dublin with my daughter is on the list, it’s high time to explain why oh why I want to take my baby boy to Venice. 

My son, Jordan, and my daughter, Jackie, on their first day of school, August 2012

My son, Jordan, and my daughter, Jackie, on their first day of school, August 2012

For starters, that boy needs some perspective.  While looking over pictures of my friends-only trip to Venice, he actually said in all seriousness, “Oh, I’ve been there,” all the while pointing to the bell tower in the Piazza San Marco.  “I climbed up that dome,” he said matter-of-factly as if he had actually “climbed” the basillica.  “See that bridge?” he declared, “I jumped off of that,” pointing to the Rialto.

A weary world traveler, is he?  Not exactly.

The Piazza San Marco as "reimagined" by the video game, Assassin's Creed

The Piazza San Marco as “reimagined” by the video game, Assassin’s Creed

Of course, my xBox-bleeding teenage boy was referring to his video game, Assassin’s Creed, one version of which takes part in Venice and allows players to crawl over every dome, bell tower and bridge re-imagined by the game’s designers in all their gorgeous glory.  He knows of the Piazza and the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, but, unfortunately, we’re talking in CG graphics detail only. 

 As a mother, I desperately feel the need to point out to him the difference.  While the graphics in Assassin’s Creed are good – very good, in fact – nothing takes the place of actually BEING in Venice.  Good graphics or not, the experience isn’t even close.  Actually being IN Venice is a tactile experience which should include, in no short order, the following:

–  hearing the bells toll throughout the city upon the hour, any hour;

Being covered with pigeons is a right of passage in the real Piazza San Marco.

Being covered with pigeons is a right of passage in the real Piazza San Marco.

–  reaching out your hand in the Piazza San Marco toward a cloud of forward pigeons who promptly swarm you for food and get a bit familiar in the process;

–  getting oh so deliciously lost on a daily basis and not caring if you ever find your way back;

– smelling that ever present hint of salt water every where;

– discovering the uniqueness of Venice’s highly socialized dog population:

– discovering hidden treasures like a Knights Templar cross cut into street pavers, tiny doors, building bolts and Flavia’s costume shop, and;

One of Venice's hidden treasures - a hooked X, the sign of the Knights Templar in a paving stone near the Fondamenta Nove

One of Venice’s hidden treasures – a hooked X, the sign of the Knights Templar in a paving stone near the Fondamenta Nove

–  making wonderful new friends.

Making new friends while traveling with old friends makes life grand.

Making new friends while traveling with old friends makes life grand.

Additionally, as a picky, picky child, Jordan practically lives on butter, pasta and cheese.  We often joke that he’ll some day own a store called ‘Carbs, Carbs, Carbs!” so naturally, his place is in Italy.  He once asked me to bring home a gigantic wheel of parmesan, but since I couldn’t fit it in my carry-on luggage, it seems like a shopping trip in Venice is in order too.  It’s time he try lugging home his own 30-pound wheel of cheese.

Lastly, having been to Venice recently with friends, I find that I desperately need to go back, especially given the city’s recent flood.  I want to make sure that things are still as magical and as different as we experienced before.  Plus, there’s still so much to see.  As we crawled through the city at a snail’s pace – seriously, there is SO much to see – we only scratched the surface.  Naively, before we left, we actually thought we could see every square inch of this modest sized city in the course of a week.  Little did we realize that our average daily pace would turn out to be two blocks an hour.  It’s THAT different.

A beautiful costume in front of Flavia's shop

A beautiful costume in front of Flavia’s shop

So now, I want to go back, bringing my 15-year-old son along with me in what can best be described as the “remix tour.”  I can only imagine at this point what it would be like for him to actually stand in the Piazza San Marco without his computer and online friends.  As he is a curious, smart and personable young man, I know he’s going to love it. 

Or else he’s grounded.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  

http://www.gowithoh.com/

 And enter the competition.  Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out Go with Oh badgein it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

 http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

 By Robin Fritz

The bell towers sound magical... even the leaning ones.

The bell towers sound magical… even the leaning ones.

 

Mayberry Isn’t Gone – It Just Moved to Indiana…

Now that's a big root...

Now that’s a big root…

My husband is feverishly pouring through seed catalogs looking for turnips.  He has grand plans to grow a monster because he wants to challenge family friend Phil in the annual largest turnip contest held every Friday after Thanksgiving at the St. Paul Tavern.  Phil is the reigning turnip king and fears no competition, even the cheaters.  Buckshot filled turnips, grafted turnips, he’s seen it all.  He wears his porcelain turnip pin proudly and says, “Bring it!” to all pretenders to the throne. 

Family friend Phil standing in the middle with his world class turnip

Family friend Phil standing in the middle with his world class turnip

Me?  I’m just in it for the pageantry, the walleye sandwich and any chance to wear a t-shirt that says, “I love a big root.”  Thus while all of America shops for discounted electronics, we get there early to grab a good seat – trust me, it fills up quick – and sit in a wonderful local tavern eating, drinking and feeling up big winter vegetables.

The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

If the world were a counter full of Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors of ice cream, to the uninitiated, Indiana can seem very vanilla indeed.  We have no mountains to speak of, no flaming desert vistas, only one major city and our sole beach front property consists of about a hundred miles of Lake Michigan coastline with nary a palm tree, conch shell or shark fin to be seen ever.  Much like pickled herring, Indiana – and large turnip contests – is an acquired taste.

A glorious sunrise over my little slice of Hoosier heaven

A glorious sunrise over my little slice of Hoosier heaven

And I get that, I really do.  I’ve traveled the world and I know how good it gets.  I once worked with a woman who grew up in San Diego.  Her childhood consisted of ocean, mountains and desert all within an hour’s drive so to her Indiana was somewhat of a disappointment.  She lasted about four months.

So, again, I get it.

In truth, a good part of me is thankful that a majority of the world doesn’t appreciate our flat little slice of the globe.  It keeps life somewhat simple, sane and sweet and, for that, I give thanks.  

 For example, in my adopted hometown of Rushville, my children’s farm-kid-oriented high school cheer block was recently praised by a visiting ref at a local football game because –  rather than loudly shouting the old stand-by, “Nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts, we got screwed!” over a bad call – they politely cheered, “We beg to differ!  We beg to differ!” *Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!*

 His comment? “Are they really dissenting respectfully?” 

Yep.

Rushville High School students dance on stage while waiting the judges' results in the lip sync contest

Rushville High School students dance on stage while waiting the judges’ results in the lip sync contest

During a recent lip-sync contest held in the school auditorium, I watched as these same kids – teenagers, mind you – stood up, cheered and encouraged three young ladies who entered the contest and then succumbed to self-consciousness and stage fright.  Rather than laugh and boo them off the stage, these wonderful kids cheered, clapped, STOOD UP and encouraged them.  The girls found their mojo and continued.  When they walked back to their seats, their classmates continued to cheer.  It was heartwarming and affirming and was even better than the movie, Hoosiers, because it was real.  Take that, Los Angeles.

So I hesitate to sing our Hoosier praises because – shhh!!! – I don’t want to give the secret away, but – when you get right down to it – Indiana rocks, and no more so than during the holidays when nostalgia is as common and everyday as a Walmart commercial.

I love a parade!

I love a parade!

Case in point – the annual Christmas parade held just prior to Thanksgiving in my actual hometown of Shelbyville just 13 miles away.  The local town square which we call a circle – don’t ask – is blocked off to traffic, local stores stay open late, Christmas music wafts over the crowd, everyone comes out, children run amok and there’s a parade to boot. 

Horses march through the street pooping in front of the high school marching band.  Betweener-aged snowflake princesses file by in various convertibles – with the queen crowned later based on how much money she raised for her sponsoring charity as the determining factor.  My sister, Renee, walks shotgun beside her high school life skills class float, watching nervously for signs of falling decorations.  A motorcycle gang clad in leather cruises by slowly riding hogs.  Candy is thrown to the crowd and Santa brings up the rear.

My sister stands guard, watching for falling decorations

My sister, Renee, stands guard, watching for falling decorations

As the last float crawls by, everyone turns toward Santa’s little house, the light switch is flipped and transformers kick in.  Decorations blaze to life.  The fountain becomes a Christmas tree.  The statute of local author Charles Major and his bear cubs sport Santa hats and spot lights.  Take that, Las Vegas.

Let there be light....

Let there be light….

I love the Christmas parade because it’s a chance to stroll into Three Sisters’ bookstore, say hi to Carolyn and her sisters, shop for actual books with actual covers, and then grab a hot chocolate at their sandwich counter next door.  Beside them is my beloved art gallery where my friends Al and Diane and Candy and Kathy work on crafts, swap stories and offer up cookies and punch.

Three Sisters' Bookstore - an honest to goodness independent bookstore

Three Sisters’ Bookstore – an honest to goodness independent bookstore

As we stroll the circle waiting for the parade to start we run in to friends from church, friends from school, friends from work, friends from the gym, friends, friends, friends.   Take that, Times Square.

If parades and turnips and polite teenagers aren’t enough, there’s always the free showing of the movie, “Elf” held that same Friday after Thanksgiving at our little non-profit theater, the Strand.  Picture any movie cinema from the 1950s – located downtown right on the sidewalk, big marquee, flashing lights, small front windows covered in movie placards – and you can picture the Strand.  Nostalgia comes free with every bucket of popcorn and it’s even better when eaten in the balcony. 

Family and friends convene early, candy canes are given out, seats are taken, switched, changed and rearranged as we see more family and friends.  The theater darkens, the movie starts, the laughter is loud and life is good.  Call me crazy, but simple things can and do add value to life.

Yes, I get it that the majority of the world may be bored with turnips and small town parades and re-runs of free movies on the big screen.  It’s a coarser, harder world out there.

My little slice of Indiana isn’t perfect, for heaven’s sake, but we do get a great deal right.  I may have grown up in a flat little land whose charms are lost on many, but I’m still grateful nonetheless. 

Even the bears are decked out for Christmas

Even the bears are decked out for Christmas

It’s made me who I am.  I can go out into the world, love what I see and still come home and be happy in the Hoosier heartland.  And for that, I give thanks.

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

Just a Hoosier girl at heart

Just a Hoosier girl at heart

Prepping, Packing and Pre-Poop Planning

Palm trees - not Christmas trees - are hogging my imagination these days

Palm trees – not Christmas trees – are hogging my imagination these days

My typhoid shot is on backorder.  Now, Christmas and backorders go together like red hair and freckles, but one doesn’t normally expect it in third-world pharmaceuticals, partly because one doesn’t normally ORDER third-world pharmaceuticals.  But my doctor has to pre-order my upcoming typhoid shot as there isn’t much call for regular typhoid boosters in Milroy, Indiana, thus the resulting backorder.  Who knew?

I’m hoping this backorder of typhoid is a result of low demand, but the pessimist in me likes to whisper in my ear at night and say, ha, ha, ha, you fool, it’s just the contrary!  Demand is high and Typhoid Marys are a dime a dozen in Haiti!  But as I am my father’s daughter, I chase down the pessimist in me and beat her into submission with grandiose plans to buy duty-free alcohol in massive quantities.  Rum balls anyone?

I'm making a list and checking it twice... because now it's includes rum

I’m making a list and checking it twice… because now it includes rum

On the heels of my recent foray into Europe, I find packing and planning for a trip to a third-world country to be a great study in contrasts.  Venice and London required no inoculations.  As for Haiti, I’m already up by four shots and have two boosters to go, plus – hopefully – my typhoid vaccine, and I get to take malaria medicine in the process.  I’m also starting my low-dose introduction to Imodium too as my sister regaled me over Thanksgiving with tales of my brother-in-law’s diarrhea (hey, thanks Renee!) brought on by HIS malaria medicine taken prior to his dive trip to Honduras.  So I’m working on building a tolerance now because who wants to be stuck on a plane with Montezuma’s Revenge?  Or, since I’m Haiti bound, let’s call it the Papa Doc Trots.

... don't cry... don't cry... *sniff* ... don't cry... who am I kidding?  WAAAAA!!!

… don’t cry… don’t cry… *sniff* … don’t cry… who am I kidding? WAAAAA!!!

When the good Doctor Lake told me I needed Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, tetanus and recommended typhoid, I listened, because the good Doctor Lake has been to Haiti before and knows where of she speaks.  As a doctor, she’s been exposed to patients with typhoid and, given the risk factor, why not get the shot, she advised.  She also prepped a flu shot for me at which point I said, “Oh, I rarely get the flu.”  Her response?

“Robin,” she said, “it’s not for you.  It’s for them.”

Now there’s a thought.  Inoculations, she went on to explain, aren’t just for me, but for the many native people I will come in contact with while in Haiti.  While I may have the immune system of an elephant (and the thighs too), I can still be a carrier, and the last thing I want to do while on a mission trip is expose people with depressed tolerances and lack of ready access to medical care to something I fight off like skinny jeans.  It’s an interesting point I hadn’t considered.  So, naturally, I got the flu shot.

Fearless leaders says pack light.....

Fearless leader says pack light…..

The other great study in contrasts between planning for Haiti as opposed to western Europe is the packing itself.  I’m going down there to do construction work which isn’t as funny as it sounds because my father was a plumber who had two girls years before he had two boys.  The end result was that he treated us like boys for years, thus Renee and I can both swing a hammer, drive a tractor and – if the need calls for it – pee standing up.  I didn’t say it was pretty.

I'm dreaming of a sandy Christmas

I’m dreaming of a sandy Christmas

Back to my point.  Whereas my packing plan for Italy was to look polished, cosmopolitan and well-traveled (aka – not necessarily like someone whose closet resembles the clearance bin at Walmart which is closer to reality), my packing plan for Haiti fits in nicely with my telecommuting wardrobe.  I’m packing my oldest clothes.  I’m taking only one dress and it’s for church.  Out goes the jewelry and in go the work gloves and safety glasses.  And I’m trying to find bug spray and I’m praying my sunscreen hasn’t expired.  That can be hard to find in the winter, I’ve discovered.

It's like a Haitian version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" only with burros instead of tiny dogs

It’s like a Haitian version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” only with burros instead of tiny dogs

I’m also trying to figure out which Bible to take as it’s on the packing list sent to us by our fearless leader, David Duba.  David has supplied us with helpful packing lists, insurance forms and itineraries which come to my email inbox like early Christmas presents.  His online enthusiasm is infectious – but not in a typhoid kind of way – and rather than dreaming about putting up Christmas lights while the snow falls, I find myself daydreaming about swaying palm trees, dirt roads, and colorful local people leading burros around tiny towns.  It’s hard not to, you know?

I don't think this will fit in my carry on

I don’t think this will fit in my carry on

On that list is the Bible and now I have a decision to make.  Bibles aren’t small and David said pack light.  Of course the huge old family standard that my dad bought when we were kids is out.  It’s the size of a small VW Beetle, though the pictures are really pretty.  On the flip side, I still have my itty, bitty little vinyl-clad green version given to every elementary school child in Indiana during the 1970s, but it’s the New Testament only and, if I take it, I’ll also have to take a pair of reading glasses fit for Mr. Magoo.  Decisions, decisions.

God bless us, every one

God bless us, every one

But don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.  December 12th will be here before I know it and my backpack will be ready.  My camera batteries will be fresh and my spirits will be high.  Christmas isn’t about buying, wrapping and eating so much as it is about celebrating Jesus’ birth and ultimate sacrifice.  It seems most fitting to honor that gift by giving to others, and I don’t mean with cheese logs.  I’m ready to tote that barge, lift that bale and swing that hammer – though, trust me.  I wasn’t kidding about the rum.

Cheers to all.  And God bless.

Haiti for the Holidays

Taking a stroll down a street in Jeremie, Haiti

It’s Cyber Monday and it’s following closely on the heels of a record breaking Black Friday.  In Indiana alone, it has been estimated that the average household spent nearly $450 over the weekend.  After several years of economic doubt, it seems as if the country is exploding with pent-up consumerism that can no longer be denied.

But as Monday rapidly draws to a close, I have yet to spend a dime.  Call me a bad American, but I didn’t stimulate the economy.

I am, however, thinking about shoes – old shoes, worn shoes, used shoes, small shoes, shoes for children who have none to call their own.  If all goes according to plan, this time next month I will be back from a mission trip to Jeremie, Haiti where I will have helped several kind-hearted souls share gently used shoes with children who give the term “less fortunate” a new meaning.

The runway in Jeremie, Haiti awaiting the arrival of our commuter plane

It will be my first trip to Haiti and I fully anticipate having my expectations for what constitutes an acceptable lifestyle reset by what I will see – which, by the way, is one of many reasons why I travel. 

Case in point – my recent week in Venice taught me that my definition of “old” needed to be rethought.  In a country where a large well maintained building like the RCA Dome can come and go in less than 35 years says something about our expectations and priorities.  Venice makes do with 300, 500, even 1,000 year-old buildings held together by giant bolts and screws, and where snaps, crackles and pops are a way of life.  We freak out when doors won’t latch and ceilings crack.

When I left for Venice, I was actively looking for a new car to replace my 11-year-old Jeep.  The air conditioning doesn’t work, the ceiling fabric is starting to give, the radio light only comes on when it rains, it’s pushing 190K miles and, by most American standards, it’s old and I’m overdue.

But after Venice, I came back with a new appreciation for keeping what works and making the best of the situation.  At the hospital in Venice we watched orderlies moving an elderly woman in an old wooden wheelchair that looked like it predated the Titanic.  But guess what?  It worked!  It looked to be well maintained.  And I bet it was paid for.

When I returned home, I stopped looking.  My pretty red Jeep may be well seasoned like me, but it gets me where I need to go, so why give up on it now?  In this country, we give up on things too early and often for the wrong reasons.  I know of someone who once got rid of a perfectly good washing machine because it wouldn’t match her new dryer which she bought when the old one stopped working.  Am I the only one who finds that odd? 

Map of the Gebeau compound in Jeremie, Haiti. We’ll be working on the auto shop using our carpentry skills.

So I’m packing for Haiti, but I’m planning to have my expectations reset again.  I don’t know how yet – that still remains to be seen.  But I know that this trip will be an adventure and an experience and an eye opener.  That it comes on the heels of Christmas isn’t lost on me either for it is this time of the year when our desire for new toys grows to its most fevered pitch.

The local school has invited us to attend the children’s Christmas program.  I am excited beyond words.  I know that in the streets of Haiti I will see poverty, especially near Port au Prince.  I’m hoping it’s not as bleak as my imagination believes it to be.  But I’m also praying that in that little school in Jeremie I will also see hope and joy and happiness too – in short, things that come from family and friends and not from catalogs and websites and big-box retail stores.  That too remains to be seen.  More details on my trip and my fellow explorers to come soon, but for now, it’s enough to ponder the adventure.

(Photo credits – David Duba)

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

Blimey, I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

The first thing I saw were fists, tiny little fists raised to the air shaking with anger, confusion, fear, who knows.  She doesn’t recall why she raised her fists, partly because it didn’t appear on her favorite TV show, Merlin, or on her Kindle, and partly because she was only seconds old.  But I remember it like yesterday as it was the very first time I ever laid eyes on my daughter – ultra sound not withstanding- and she came out with a bang.  Her dark red hair was askew, her lungs were in good working order (and haven’t failed since) and those tiny fists were raised to the sky, making one thing abundantly clear – tiny or not, Jackie Marie was ready to take on the world.

My baby girl at her first communion, no doubt dreaming of a boy with an Irish brogue…. or wondering how far she can spit from there.

And now, she’s just one month shy of 18 years old, a high school senior planning her future.  For her, that future includes prom, graduation, fighting with her brother, heading off to college and – if we plan right and save accordingly – her dream trip to Ireland.

The Irish coast is a calling

That’s where Go with Oh’s dream contest comes into play.  I want to make my daughter’s Irish dream trip come true.  And if I get to tag along for the ride, so be it!

Despite our last name of Fritz, Jackie and I are Irish on my mother’s side (Kelley) and have the strawberry blonde hair, green eyes and freckles to prove it.  We don’t tan so much as pink up and Jackie has more Celtic music on her iPod than pop. She’s in love with all things Anglo Saxon, but not in a creepy Nazi sort of way, and she swoons at even a hint of an Irish brogue in any member of the opposite sex.  As for me, when I get mad, I try to cuss like an Irish sailor, but it clashes with my Catholic school upbringing, though somehow I manage.  If you prick our fingers, we bleed shamrocks and when I pee, it foams like Guinness. Don’t worry – I’m having that checked out.

The Bingley Bridge

Jackie’s dream is to live in Ireland, teach history, marry an Irish man and raise their adopted Chinese children, Ling and Ping O’Riley or whatever his last name may be, in the rolling green hills of the mother country.  Yes, you read that right.  Someday I may be the only Hoosier with Chinese grandchildren living in Ireland. Jackie’s learning Gaelic, has plastered her school binders with pictures of the Irish countryside, and works at Burger King partly to save for her graduation trip and partly because she’s too young and her mother won’t let her work at the Titled Kilt. Yeah, she’s that committed.  And yeah, I know that’s Scottish, but it’s close.

Hence our mother and daughter dream trip to Ireland.  Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to Dublin we Go with Oh – we hope!

We don’t see many castles in Indiana

As a mother, I relish the thought of joining her on that trip for many reasons.  From what I’ve seen from pictures, Ireland is stunning.  Imagine how amazing it would be to stand on the ramparts of a castle ruin trying to count how many different shades of green one can see.  Whether we’re strolling the gardens of Trinity College or ambling down a cobbled stone street in some tiny Irish village or hanging upside down to kiss the Blarney stone, one can bet the surroundings will be stunning.

It’s just waiting to be explored

Plus, it’s dripping with history, a love my bookworm daughter and I both share.  I can easily imagine us enoying a gray afternoon in the National Museum of Ireland steeping in Celtic history and Irish lore.  After all, there’s Viking Irish history and medieval Irish history and let’s not forget about iron-aged Irish history – so much to discover and so little time.  And when the museums are few and far between, we most certainly will stumble into every church that strays near our path.  Bring on the incense and candles!

And, there’s that family connection too. How many Kelleys will we find?  And will any of them claim us?  After all, who doesn’t want to visit their ancestral roots, even if they include more than a wee bit of drunken debauchery?

Which brings me to my next set of reasons for joining her on her trip – parental supervision required.  Much like her mother, Jackie has tasted a glass of wine or two and liked it, plus she’ll be 18, of legal age, in a foreign country, smitten by boys with Irish accents and able to go to the bars.  Not that I don’t trust her, mind you, but a mother’s got to do what a mother’s got to do, and if that includes Irish bar hopping, sign me up.  After all, it sure beats sending her to her room.

Lovely, lovely Dublin

 So a good part of our mother-daughter dream trip will be an indoctrination into responsible adulthood before I send her off to college.  Yes, we will be on vacation and yes, we will be exploring the wonders of Ireland in all their radiant green glory, and yes, we WILL go to the Dublin bars, but it will also be our time to talk, to share, to plan and to practice for that next stage of her life.  August will be here before we know it and with it will be college and moving her into the dorm.  She’ll be tasting that first sweet taste of real independence.  Sure, she’ll still be my baby girl, but she’ll be off on her own. It’s enough to make a mother cry with both joy AND dread.

How do I love thee? Let me count the greens.

But to have a dream week with my daughter in Ireland will make that transition so much more bearable from a maternal point of view.  It will still be delightfully painful to part with her this fall, but that looming pain of sending my little Peaches off into the real world will be tempered by those sweet green Irish memories of our time together.  It will still sting and I will still cry, but that’s life and we’ll always have Ireland.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  http://www.gowithoh.com/

And enter the competition at: http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out in it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

Hanging with my baby girl in New York

By Robin Fritz

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