Today I have found myself saying the word “conundrum” out loud and/or to myself at least 27 times. I had a hunch why this word came into my head but because it isn’t a word I use often I looked it up to see why it kept popping up today. Maybe I once read a book that used this word a lot and it stayed in the recesses of my brain until the day that I could relate to it on a whole new level.
*A riddle whose answer is or involves a pun or unexpected twist.
*A logical postulation that evades resolution, an intricate and difficult problem.
Yep. We have ourselves a “conundrum”…lots of conundrums actually and I’m certain we had them before today because Haiti = Conundrum.
Because of nonexistent vehicle conundrum we have conundrum of very limited housing options close enough to work/school/ministry. Because of very limited housing options close to work/school/ministry we have conundrum of the sensory disorder I am sure I now possess due to conundrum of enduring extremely loud obnoxious noise all day and almost all night not even including 4 loud and needy children, 1 loud and needy 5 month old baby, and 2 loud and needy dogs. I will not include Eric or Genise in that equation because they are typically the calm in the storm (which I am definitely not) and I am practically useless without them. They seem to understand that due to conundrum of loud obnoxious unavoidable noises giving me daily headaches and pushing any left over patience to its limit along with the health issues we are not used to having (which are most likely due to loss of sleep, dust and other pollutants that pour into this house), that my need to move from this house is at its peak. Alas another conundrum.
We were supposed to be near moving about now. However, due to all of the above conundrums we have been a bit hesitant to make a final decision to move on down the street. We know that moving to a bigger house with better windows may provide a little relief from the dust, noise and mosquitoes. But we also know it will do nothing for the conundrum of neighbors we are feeling the need to have some relief from as well. We love our neighbors. We are here to serve them. And they like to take every advantage of that. There are days when you would think we are the resident vet, nurse and phone charger station. If we are the nice neighbors we want to be and for example answer 5 separate knocks at the gate for phones to be charged (because most of our neighbors do not have as much electricity as we do) and 5 more separate knocks when charged phones are picked up, this means there will be 10 trips to the door between trying to get dinner on the table and trying to get kids to bed. This upsets dogs and kids and makes parents crazy.
It is hard to start over in a new place. It took 16 months to build real relationships with Haitian friends in Port au Prince. We are missing those relationships. We realize how much we miss them when we are willing to make a 5am family trip by motorcycle, tap-tap, and bus (the experience of the latter two makes you feel like you might as well have been born a cow) to see them over the weekend. We don’t have any Haitian friends here in St. Marc we have those kind of relationships with except Genise (who doesn’t have any friends here either)…yet. We know these things take time. But in the mean time while our neighbors are feeling us out to see how much they can get out of us and we are trying to love them in spite of feeling completely used half the time, we are rethinking moving down the street.
The Haitians we see every day, the ones we do the most for (as in charge their phones, give their sick family members medicine, let their kids play with ours and often feed them, and provide jobs to some) still either call us “money” or they might as well because they have complained that we should pay them for doing things we #1 never asked them to do but thought perhaps they were doing it because it was their job or #2 because they were trying to be friendly neighbors. I have tried to employ an artisan woodworker down the street to build some furniture we need. I know he is capable of beautiful work. I paid him at least twice as much as a Haitian would have to build a dresser for our daughter’s birthday present. Then, we gave him a ton of cut wood pieces that were sitting outside our house to work with to build us a few other things. I asked that he build a desk and we arranged a price. I went to pick up the desk on the day we had arranged (a week after paying him half the negotiated price so he could buy nails that I know do not cost that much) and the desk was nowhere in sight. He requested two more days. I gave him four. I showed up to find the ugliest desk I think I have ever seen while his workers were using the wood we had given him on his other projects. I told him I would not pay any more for the desk than I had already paid him. He could try to sell it to someone else (which he knew was unlikely) and give me both my money and my wood back (which I knew was unlikely), OR he could give it to me for half the negotiated price (which it wasn’t even worth that AND he used our materials to make it!!!) and MAYBE I would still ask him to build me more furniture because I really wanted to give him good business since we are neighbors and all. A verbal Creole fight ensued and he knew he was in the wrong (though he like most Haitians NEVER admit they are wrong) and told us to just take the unwanted ugly desk. Eric carried it home and I tried it out. I was hoping to pawn it off on the boys but it was way too tall for even me to use with a chair under it. It now has the mirror I swiped from the bathroom on top of it because the boys decided to climb my door too many times and break the one possession (a door mirror) I found useful in this house. Genise saw the desk and had a fit. I so love her. She always comes to our defense. She is a rarity I don’t take for granted. Typically Haitians ALWAYS MUST side with Haitians. It has probably cost her any friends she would have already made. She (without my asking) marched down to furniture dude and told him that ugly piece of junk was completely unacceptable. He gave her an utter “monti” (lie) and said that he made it as I ordered it and that the wood I gave him was a “kado” (gift). I said, “you think I would have given him supplies and then negotiated for two thousand gourde for a piece of utter crap???!!!” She said, in the Haitian way, “Ah, Oh! M’ pa panse ou fe sa! Sa pa ok!” Basically, she knows me well enough to know I would never have agreed with that. At least I have one Haitian on my side in this neighborhood.
So on with the conundrums. Despite frustrations with the neighbors we are here to love (and really try to do so), we handed over translated contract for the house down the street (the one we have been raising money for) over a week ago. We took a 5th walk through the house at that time and were pretty discouraged. There has very obviously been zero effort to clean or fix A. Single. Thing. over the past two months. The contract amount is for twice as much as they were receiving the last time they rented the house (which was over a year ago). Since they are charging us double and we are supposed to hand over money for them to fix certain aspects of the house before we move in, yet person has not even picked up the trash or swept the floor once since we have looked at it, how are we supposed to have an ounce of trust that they will do the work once we give them the money??? Hence another conundrum. Trust is a very hard thing in Haiti.
*For example. There is one neighbor I actually sort of thought might be a decent good guy because he drove an American neighbor to the hospital (where he died for lack of oxygen machine and now we are the only American neighbors for miles as far as we know) and because he once offered me a ride to the grocery store and didn’t ask for money. I have now been listening to this same neighbor fight with a woman both outside and inside his gate for the past 2 hours. Large rocks were thrown at metal gates and I have just witnessed awful physical assaults from both parties as I type this. Wow. That was loud. They just woke up every dog in the neighborhood. I shall think twice before letting him pick me up and take me to the grocery store in the future. But I don’t see how that is much different from trusting the stranger on the motorcycle taxi to take me. We have to trust and yet we never really do.
Conundrum #500 (it feels)…I decided to show Eric another house I had looked at before. It is not in this noisy neighborhood but it is not very far away and I was pretty sure we could catch a ride to school from there. Conundrum #501…Eric liked house and was actually willing to want to pay more for it (since it is worth more) than house on our street. I had previously put this house out of my mind and am still trying to talk myself out of it.
The house is pretty and there isn’t much wrong with it. It actually has a real kitchen. It has cabinets, good windows, 3 complete bathrooms (with a 4th completely unfinished), it’s own EDH transformer/meter (hence a power source), a real garage, and a hot water heater (not that we need any more heat around here right now). It would be SO nice if it wasn’t for the fact that it is on the corner of a very busy street which does not dramatically eliminate the noise factor. However it does eliminate much dust because both streets it resides on are paved and because they are main streets in town there are not so many dogs, pigs, goats and roosters that dwell there which would improve the noise factor quite a bit.
I really DON’T want this very nice house and this is why. I think I really care what people think too much. It bothers me when Haitian’s call me “money”. If we live in a nice house on a public street it will be harder for neighbors to believe we actually might not have unending amounts of money stashed in our pockets. It also makes me wonder what our supporters would think if we lived in a pretty nice house. It sort of defies what I grew up thinking missionaries were supposed to live like. I didn’t want to be a missionary as a child because I didn’t want to live in a hut and sweep a dirt floor. I didn’t want to live in a palace either.
Here’s the thing/fact that I so wish wasn’t so. A middle class is pretty almost impossible to find in Haiti. It is really difficult to find a place to live that falls somewhere between a complete dump and a palace unless you build it yourself or fix up the dump yourself. We really don’t want to live in a complete dump. And we really don’t need nor want to live in a palace. To me the house on the paved street corner resembles a palace (if compared to our neighbors in Haiti). What I want is a little peace (meaning some form of quiet for more than 2 sleeping hours) and a somewhat reasonable functionable space for our family to call home. It would be really nice if that space included the ocean breeze (which makes it not so unbearably hot) that is the one and only thing we really like about where we live now and a place for the kids to play and maybe even ride bikes (their wish). I am pretty sure none of those things actually exist with availability within walking or catching a ride distance from work/school/ministry.
We have now looked at the “palace” house twice and have talked the landlord down to the U.S. equivalent of $700 per month (not exactly a palace price in Haiti). We think this is nice and fair since we do not forsee having to put hardly any work into the house. The house down the street would have ended up being this much (or possibly way more) once we fixed it up to functioning. Eric has zero interest in spending his time fixing up a house. He is not a handy man naturally and would rather exert his positive energy spending time with people. Today he told me he is definitely leaning toward the “nicer house”. Meanwhile I was learning away from it because of said wonderings of how to respond to people along with my previous prejudices of other missionaries who live in palace like houses. I remember my friend Shelley Clay (founder of the Apparent Project once telling me that she was so happy that the house their family had acquired behind the artisan house was “small and normal”. I remember her saying, “I don’t like it that many missionary families here live in huge and better houses than they ever would have lived in stateside”! I had observed this too and agreed. It is a huge disconnect. But I also know that all too often there really aren’t other options. One thing I love about the Clay family is that they live among their non-elite Haitian neighbors. I have also seen them struggle like we have with those they are here to love and serve with being robbed and being taking advantage of in return. But they continue to love. I hope we turn out like them.
Still, we are wondering if we should take a step back from being in this neighborhood 100% of the time. The kids also would like a break from the consistent rude and unfounded remarks they get from neighbors outside our gate. Lord willing as we continue to build relationships at the school, trust and maybe even friendship will eventually come. Eric is concerned about leaving our family here without him when he needs to travel for speaking engagements/ministry reports/support raising this summer. He feels like our family would be safer in the house on the paved corner street. We also want to be good stewards of our supporters donations and don’t want to choose a money pit nor an excessive palace. We also want to offer our home for hospitality and are trying to find the best place suited to that.
My main conundrum and the main reason I really wanted to get the house down the street is as our girls put it, “What will we do with Genise then”? My answer to that is usually, “Genise can make her own choices”. The conundrum is that Genise and my relationship somewhat resembles Ruth and Naomi. I know that Genise will want to choose to come with us wherever we go. This is not because she is dependent on us but because she is loyal and loves us. She is an irreplaceable gift to us. But for several reasons I won’t go into, I don’t think we can move Genise and baby Evangeline with us unless the house has separate living quarters. I’m having a hard time with that. Because the nice house is nice it will eliminate many of the things Genise currently fills her time doing for us. We really didn’t need Genise to move in with us but this was a temporary mutual agreement for the time being. But now I am in a conundrum over it. All these conundrums need prayer but especially this one. Genise is the one that I am stressing over the most. We love her and we know God loves her too and has a plan for us all.
We have to talk things through with Genise soon. We need to talk to landlord down the street and ask why the heck he hasn’t called us and that we are assuming from the lack of work and lack of recent communication that he doesn’t want to rent the house for the offered amount? We need to give an answer to the landlord of the palace as well. We have to be out of this house by the end of April when the lease is up. Things in Haiti take time and we are running out. Conundrum. We have had a few unexpected twist in this search for a house riddle. It is an intricate and difficult maze of problems that are evading resolution. We would really like resolution soon. We would really like to unpack the dusty suitcases and settle into something that feels a bit like a home. Please pray for resolution, relationships with our Haitian neighbors and renewed strength to face all these conundrums.
We are really really thankful for the support we have received and that we are able to pay the first 6 months of rent for whichever house works out. We are really really thankful that work/school/ministry is going really well and we really want to stay and serve and stick it out here in St. Marc. We love that we have had all these opportunities/conundrums to learn and grow even though they are not all fun. We love having a place to share our conundrums even if only two people get to the end of this long rant. We love Haiti even though she is one GIANT conundrum. I suppose that is how God feels about us. Yet He loves us anyways. Even when people He came to serve treated Him terribly, He still loved them. I hope we turn out like Him.