Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Familiar Faces and Places

Joe, the painter who forever mummified small lizards and spiders by coating them with a layer of paint in the doorjambs of our house, is not dead. This is in direct denial of the most recent report I'd received about him, in which I was notified that he could not be found after the earthquake and was assumed dead. Apparently everyone had been notified that he'd suddenly shown up healthy and alive. Except me... I was totally unaware of this. So when Joe popped his head into the library on the Nazarene campus where I'd grown up to briefly greet me, I pretty much sat there in shock with my eyes watering after he left and for a lack of better ideas of how to respond when dead people show up to shake your hand. Joe has always been one of the most cheerful people I know. I went back to working on the computers in the library.

I got to see lots of familiar faces on the Nazarene campus, including Mari who now called me "good man" instead of "good boy." The yard outside our house where I'd caught a tarantula hawk for a bug collection in science class was now speckled by a few tents that students were currently living in. Yvette, who used to help us around the house, was still around, and was very excited to see me. Thankfully, Edwidge gave me a ride back to Delmas 75. I had no way of getting myself around, so I'd been hitching rides, walking, and taking toptops all week. He took me out to lunch in our old Montero, which apparently he'd slept in every night for a month after the earthquake.

I got to stay with my good friends (and now coworkers) the Williams. I met new members of the MAF team working there in Haiti, including Todd and Jennifer Edgerton who had us over for a delicious meal one night. Everyone has their earthquake story... many of which include begin with... "man, if it had happened just a few minutes earlier...", or "if I hadn't picked the kids up early from school like I usually do..."

a few years ago

a few weeks ago

One of the major highlights for me was getting to ride along on an MAF flight up to Anse Rouge to visit my classmate Judy. Apparently MAF employees are regularly granted the opportunity to ride along on training flights in Nampa, but no one had notified me of this well-kept secret, so this was my first chance to fly MAF since I'd joined... well, for the first time in over a decade, really. Seeing the land of Haiti drift below me was a surreal experience. Such a beautiful country. I only got a few minutes to catch up with Judy and meet her beautiful little girl, Ani, but I was lucky to make it up there at all. The 11-hour trip was only 43 minutes by plane. Judy has a blog up about little Ani's adventures, and Jason Krul, the pilot who took me up to Anse Rouge, has some interesting stories on his blog as well.

on course for Anse Rouge

Jason doing all the piloting and me getting to wear the headset.


and Judy!

I got to see my old school, QCS, which is looking great. Some teachers and friends I remember were still around. The computer lab was awesome, well-equipped with 25 classroom computers and flat screen monitors, all running Edubuntu, which was of particular interest to me because I'm a nerd and into that sort of thing. I walked home with Kristie Mattenley to see Shane and the fam again (he was my youth pastor from back in the day).

QCS's outside wall covered with Wyclef Jean slogans.
I wonder which teacher is such an avid supporter

One of my main reasons for visiting was to check in on a project MAF has had with the STEP seminary in Bolosse for the past few years. STEP has extension courses in workbook format for a few pastoral students outside the city. We've been working with them to get their extension courses into a digital format so they'd be more easier to distribute, more accessible for those with computers and an internet connection, and cheaper to produce. I explained once in my blog why I feel committed to working in educational solutions in countries like Haiti. You can read the article I wrote here. I was wrestling with this sense of urgency I feel to meet the needs of country's afflicted by natural disasters, poverty, and political unrest. It is tempting to me to be drawn more the "disaster response" approach, but on further reflection I concluded that perhaps for me, education is the right field to be in. Situations like Haiti has are not brought on in one fell swoop, and they are not solved in one frenzied stinger operation either. Not at all am I trying to belittle the tragic reality of the earthquake in January, nor discredit groups that were able to make short-term relief trips. But 6 months after most of these groups have left, I see the schools, seminaries, churches, Haitian businesses, and orphanages that are in it for the long haul, working not just for a temporary balm but training Haitian leaders to direct the future of their country, I am encouraged. Even as you read this entry, be sure to keep Haiti's November elections in your prayers. It encourages me to see seminaries like STEP and STNH investing in people as long-term responses to the corrosive oppressiveness that weighs Haiti down. It is good to be a part of that solution, as well.

I went to Haiti quite uncertain as to whether I would come back encouraged or with a feeling of despair. Let me just share a few thoughts on that topic. Firstly, the resolute urgency with which Haitian Christians and foreign missionaries serving there plead for God's intercession and guidance is quite moving. People are committed and working for things to improve. It is unclear about how that will happen, however. The second thing I noted was that many foreigners in Haiti trying to help are on the verge of throwing in the towel. I think it is easy for a visitor to leave Haiti with a burden of despair and hopelessness, and I began to get a feel for that from many of the ex patriot workers in Haiti. However, despair is certainly not the sentiment I got from any of the Haitians I talked with. I finally concluded with a sweeping generalization, which I normally try to avoid. In this case, though, I concluded that despair and hopelessness is not a native Haitian trait. If anything it is imported from the outside; it is far more prevalent among foreigners working in Haiti. We ought to be careful not to spread this particular ideology in other countries we work in.

I left with a heavy heart for the tragedies Haiti faces and the challenges for its future. But I also left with the words of hope from many of my conversations and visits with Haitian friends. I realize how pathetic and superficial my faith is when I talk with people in Haiti, and the best I can manage is to listen and learn from what they say, as people who have lived it in a way I will probably never know. I think the video I posted in the previous week's reflection sort of expresses that.

Marc and me

Pernier falls

Haiti has at least two wonderful well-kept secrets that remain mostly hidden from foreigners coming expecting a trauma tour. Marc Williams took me to visit a feeding program he helps at and introduced me to some of the kids he's gotten to know there. Children have always had a way of piercing through all the pretentious walls I can put up and making all my years of training and formal education seem quite trivial. The kids in Haiti, with their carefree playing, stark honesty about both the good and the bad, and determined earnestness, are one of Haiti's best kept secrets. Another secret carefully hidden from most visitors is the land. Flying up to Anse Rouge at a lower altitude and seeing the coast and mountains stretched out before me, speckled with small huts and a few trees, was an awesome experience. And the day before I left, I hiked with Marc and his friends up a chain of waterfalls less than 30 minutes from where I used to live. I lived in Haiti for 9 years before Edwidge showed me these waterfalls that were buried in the mountains so close to our home. Many people in Haiti have never even seen these waterfalls, and have no idea they are so close to where people live. By the time the water from these waterfalls crosses the road, it is a gully-wash spreading out rocks, trash, and soapy muck onto the highway (in beautiful multi-color example of a "delta formation" if you payed attention in geography class). But if you follow the stream up past where people are washing their clothes and bathing, up past where there is a congestion of trash and pollution, you come to parts of the valley that are clean, peaceful, and serene. It is in these places that you can get a glimpse of what Haitians know about their country that few of us ever get to see.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Stories from Haiti - Week 1

I got back from Haiti exactly one month ago. Curious at all as to how the trip went?

It was quite an eventful month, with two weeks in Nampa and two in Haiti. Lots of unexpected small pleasures; lots of huge blessings. Many unexpected tragedies, too; and many big challenges. It's hard not to speak in generalities, because there were so many things that impacted me on this trip. Haiti, and my relation to it, has always been one of the two biggest mysteries in my life - and certainly the most difficult to articulate. Finding words, images, and stories to try and communicate across the void that separates people's illusions about Haiti from the reality of living there has all but completely caused me to nearly give up on the whole matter. For many years I was able to tuck Haiti neatly away in my memory, like a problem I didn't want to deal with that I thought would go away. Much like we all tuck it away for long periods of time before the opportunity for sensationalist news coverage comes up, or the chance to use Haiti as supporting evidence for some absurd point we're trying to make. Haiti, though, keeps resurfacing, and as one friend mentioned to me... for some of us, things do not go back to normal, and Haiti is not forgotten.

(click here for more photos from the trip)


From the very beginning of the trip - gate E7 at Miami International Airport, I had one of the rarest feelings I've ever had: certainty. As I sat at gate E7 after a few short hours of rest on the floor at Gate E6, and heard the familiar flow of Haitian Creole rippling back and forth between passengers, punctuated by "oh oh"'s and "mezanmi!"'s, all the fear and tension that had been building up for months totally melted away. I had the rare conviction that everything was right. I was going home.

Upon landing and joining the medical team who'd arrived the day before from Costa Rica with 150 kgs of medicines in suitcases, I was promptly immersed in the feeling I am far more familiar with: chaos and sheer confusion. This continued for several hours until I gradually pieced together what was happening and what I was supposed to be doing. I arrived at 8 AM on Sunday morning, and was immediately whisked into a nearby church service in a Haitian congregation. Once I'd given up on figuring things out and submitted myself to going along with the worship, things seemed uncannily peaceful.


Over the course of the week with the medical team, we would see over 432 patients and the pastoral team shared the gospel in small groups of ten to about 150 people. We played soccer with a rough bunch from a nearby tent city as U.N. schnooks and American Airline flights screamed over our heads. They solidly beat us and won the soccer ball we promised them. The medical consultations and children's activities we did during the week went quite smoothly.

My first impression was that not much had changed. It still looked and felt like the Haiti I remembered, littered with a little more rubble and with the addition of the tent cities. The streets were still filled with familiar energy and shouts and smells and sounds, the bustle of marchans and the sing-song chorus of young guys selling papitas and bags of water. Life seemed to have returned to normalcy with surprising speed. The photo I took below is the image that sticks in my mind. As I talked with these three kids they casually hopped up to sit on the roof of a house that had been totally pancaked by the earthquake. The mangled buildings, the rubble, the ubiquitous tent cities... all this is now a part of the landscape. Life goes on. It's the "new normal."

But what about all that had been lost? I asked our translator this question, and with a flip of his hand he dismissed it all. "Vanity," he told me, "like the Bible says." None of this will stick around anyway. I heard a lot of things like that during the week that quite frankly, my faith is far too small to handle.

Thursday night, after I'd talked with the kids sitting on the rooftop now 3 feet off the ground, we returned from Leogane late in the day through Carrefour. On the way back we got into quite a fix. A torrential downpour opened up as we passed through Carrefour in the dark. The rain was coming in torrents; we couldn't see a thing, and the road had turned into a riverbed with a layer of floating trash swirling earily around our bus, lit by periodic blasts of lightning. Now, our bus had already broken down three times, and at this point the water level was nearly up to the floorboards. We were pretty much marooned in the center of a lake of reeking sewage, in one of the most dangerous parts of the city at night. The doctor was concerned about infections from all the pollution and sewage steadily rising, and the pastoral team decided we were under a spiritual attack, and started loudly claiming authority over the situation. I figured this was just a consequence of trying to drive through Carrefour too late at night in a downpour. Some people had the bright idea to sing, which had a much more calming effect on my nerves than the shouting. The driver turned back and found a higher road. Through the foggy windows I could barely make out the skeletal corpse of the national palace looming through the sheets of rain, lit ominously from below with a gaping hole in its center.

We made it back to the house safely, although much later because of the huge detour we'd taken. That was actually the only time all week that it rained. I have no doubt God was watching over us on that trip.


I learned something else on that trip to Leogane. Leogane is where the earthquake epicenter was, and the drive out there was one long stretch of total carnage. Rubble, gangly re-bar, dust, and a proliferation of tarps, for miles on end. During the day we did rural consultations and some leadership training with a church in that area. On our way out there, I quickly grew weary of photo after photo of carnage and destruction. At one point we crossed a large bridge and the pastor in front of me grabbed my arm and pointed at the riverbed below. "Look at all that pollution," he shook his head. "Get a picture of that." He started snapping photos.

I found something much more interesting going on in the seat next to me. The Haitian translator beside me and a pastor on the team who'd made it her goal to pray for each of our translators was praying along with him as he set some things right in his life. Had I been so focused on the polluted river and rubble flashing past the window, I might not have gotten to see this rather significant moment in Junior's life.


There are so many more stories from that first week - what it was like being a "minority" on a team of Costa Ricans, what it was like hearing about Haiti from their perspective, what it was like visiting a well-organized tent city and finding God there, sweltering in the heat of one of the tents. 60 pages worth of stories, in fact, which I later condensed to 20, then 7 for a formal trip report, and finally... to what you're reading now. I'll leave it at that, though, and write me if you want to know more. And on to part two...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn't need to lug around a camera.

It has been a long time since I've written any updates here, but if you've been following the photos I post on facebook, there is no shortage of adventurous news. However, let me re-post some old news here so that if you haven't heard from me for a while, you'll know what's been going on these days.

July 8-11 - La Montaña Christian Camps
Two weeks ago I joined the La Carpio kids once again for summer camp. A weekend full of fun activities, exciting games, muddy relay games, wet-cold clothes, and vibrant worship. We had a full media team of apprentice photographers at work, which means this year we will see everything from the kids' own perspective through the photos and video they took.

July 2-4 - 4 hour walk to church
The weekend before that I was invited along to help with children's activities at a Cabécar church located four hours inside of an indigenous reserve. We forded four tributaries and crossed the Chirripó river in a little contraption suspended on a cable, carrying in most everything we needed for the weekend. Church services were held by candlelight at night, as no public electricity or water reaches this far in. I'd learned a little about the Cabécar people by reading and talking to other missionaries, but to spend a few days with them was really fascinating. They taught me a few words in Cabécar but I forgot most of them... except for "Basanyo"... which means - "Smile!"

May 21 - No Artificial Ingredients
My cousin Mindy came to visit. We got off to a rough start as the beach was rainy and cold, and Mindy broke her toe while skipping gleefully down the shoreline. The rest of the time went pretty well, though, and we got to see Arenal blow out ash and "pyroclasts" (I paid attention in Earth science class) at one of its most active times of late. I'm not sure if Costa Rica's claim to be the Central American Switzerland convinced Mindy since she's actually traveled through Switzerland, but we did see some very beautiful places, including the feeding of the Jaguar and Ocelot at La Paz Waterfall gardens. This was also the inauguration voyage of Finky, my new mode of transportation that I'm hoping will get me in (and out!) of the more remote destinations of Costa Rica.

May 1 - 40 teenagers. 2 bathrooms. No electricity or water.

Last year I titled an entry about our youth group mission trip to Abangaritos: 40 teenagers. 1 bathroom. Well this year we had twice as many bathrooms. But no electricity or water the first day. A tree fell on a branch and cut power to the entire town, leaving us to shower and fill the toilets with water from barrels. It made for an interesting church service as well, by flashlight and candlelight. Every time I am privileged to come along on one of these trips, I experience something new and unexpected... and this trip was full of firsts as well. One of these was the chance to give a hand-crank powered audio player with the Spanish New Testament to a woman who is unable to read.

And more...
Hikes to holy places, a visit to fellow missionaries in the Cabécar area, spotting a blue-crowned motmot, stalking the resplendent quetzal, trying to cross the country in one day to catch the sunrise on the Atlantic coast and the sunset on the Pacific side (only to be foiled by a downpour that washed out the road under a bridge and delayed us several hours), our play-by-play update of an indoor soccer tournament in La Carpio, and my surprise at finding a Bondi-blue Mac in La Carpio. All these great adventures and more are in my facebook photo albums. Or, you can check them out from the new photo tab link above.

Monday, April 26, 2010

La Carpio 2.0


Last Friday was a landmark day in La Cueva de La Carpio! A year and a half after the computer lab was donated, the learning lab is now networked, connected to the internet, and climate controlled! This was a big step, opening a whole digital landscape of opportunities for the community. Friday we did a soft launch, and the room was full of teenagers late into the night as people opened their first e-mail addresses and started up facebook accounts. Antonio started us off with the first facebook status update from our newly uplinked computers. Jose eagerly sent me his first e-mail and started adding language student friends on facebook. Manolo and Roberto found Lalo's photo albums on Picasa and relived recent memories of soccer games and camp.
It was exciting to watch. A day of many firsts. But we discovered we were already on-line celebrities. For GOOD things! We found pictures of ourselves at camp, pictures of soccer victories, videos we'd created, programs we'd designed that were now shared with the world. A simple Google search will bring up lots of information about La Carpio... not all of it positive. But we were too busy seeing and reliving a bunch of fun memories to sift through all the "suceso" news reports. It was cool to see what our digital self-image had become... what our online identity was before our little computer lab ever crossed the digital divide. Our history was written on blogs and in Facebook photo albums of people who'd visited us. Our photos, videos, and programs we'd created in computer class preceded us on-line, and it was like opening a time capsule to relive those memories and open those projects again.

Our little computer lab can still be a place where we learn and create and explore new worlds. Some of us are at the point where we can probably administer the lab and repair the computers if they break. The rest of the community can use the computers now, too. In fact, we will probably be able to cover our operating costs and even put some money toward soccer camps.

Who knows where it will go from here! Things have changed a lot since these machines first got here a year and a half ago. We are thanking God for each new miracle along the way. Let's see where he takes us next.

The Setup

In August 2008, 12 computers were donated to help kids learn in a "different" way, with more interaction and visual stimulation. The computers were maintained as time and extra help was available, but as time went on many became infested with viruses which were causing obnoxious distractions and inhibiting the computers' performance. Just to give you a picture of the situation, I accumulated 598 infections of 2 strains of virus on one flash drive, from one computer. This would occur every time I used a flash drive to open a file for teaching a class.

598 Virii on one flash drive
Personal record: 598 virii on one flash drive

But hey, it's not a hopeless cause. Just gotta work with it. By July 2009, we had all 10 computers in the lab up and running, reinstalled from the ground up with fresh AV protection. The desktop was redesigned to give priority access to educational games and office utilities, but we left the old games intact. The educational games were mixed in with the others, so kids would start into them before they knew they were not supposed to like them. That was the end of "Phase 1". Each computer had to be redesigned from the bottom up each time, and if there were any problems or I needed to install or update something, it had to wait a week so I could return to the office and download what I needed from the internet.

Dissecting a program in Scratch

Che lalo
Photoshop class project

In August we completed the second phase in the process by installing a 16 port switch and connecting each computer to it. With the computers networked it was FAR easier to teach classes by sharing a folder from the server computer. Not only that, I came across a cool open-source application called iTalc, which allowed the server computer to control the rest of the computers, lock the screens and keyboards for lecture parts of the lesson, and even share the teacher screen to the rest of the classroom to guide them through the assignment. This was great for our classes, and even helped make it possible for fellow missionary friends Brian and Amanda Blalock to come teach Photoshop and art classes. For more information on computer classes, you can read the blog entry I posted back in August.

Brian and Amanda
Brian and Amanda help out in a Photoshop class

There was no router, so each computer had manually assigned IP addresses. The manual IP addressing might seem like an unnecessary technical complication, but it was kind of cool because in December we helped out a fellow ministry at la quinta parada (5th bus stop) down by the landfill. Christ for City's Nuevos Horizontes has a similar setup with about 10 computers. They even had a/c and cabling... just lacked a router. Another fellow missionary (Henry Happ with reachGlobal) donated a router and the two of us went with about four guys from la cuarta parada (the 4th bus stop) to take part in hooking up their new network. My boss Mauricio came along as well so we could survey possibilities I mention this to point out several cool things... firstly, from the very beginning we've had a lot of groups working together to move things forward. I'm a big fan of this, as I think working together glorifies God. And most groups working in La Carpio are aware that each organization seems to do their own thing. So it was cool to have some cross-pollination going on. For the kids as well... I realized this was the first time some of them had been over in this part of their barrio. The second reason this is cool is because these kids are getting technical insight into technical aspects of computers that will give them a head start if that's a career they will chose to pursue.

Lalo and Mauricio by the River
Lalo and Mauricio discuss ideas for ways to get Internet into the valley. Turns out it was simpler than we thought.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

When the computers came back from their "hiatus" over the Christmas season, only about 5 of the 12 booted up. It had been six months since we'd freshly installed each one, and clutter was beginning to build up. But this time I was ready - I'd created a custom image on one of the machines that I hoped would transfer to all the others. Basically I created a cookie cutter to imprint the same settings on each machine, instead of rebuilding each one from the ground up. Thank you NNU technical response center training. Thankfully, it loaded correctly on 9 of the machines, which helped streamline the installation process. And yet, it still took me about a month to get all the machines up and running! Why?
Working on Computers
With the time I saved on tedious installation settings, I now had more time to help the kids get the computer up and running. First we cracked open the cases and started diagnosing POST errors by swapping around memory chips and broken hard drives. Next, we walked through the re-imaging process by booting up onto a rescue disk and reimaging the computer with a fresh installation from a flash drive. Again, something that wouldn't take me much time, but this time I showed a few kids how to do it and then made them do the next one. By the end of those few weeks, some of them had replaced broken hard drives and completely reloaded an operating system. "There are other people here who have their own computers, aren't there?" I asked them. "You can fix them now, can't you?" "Yeah, but I can charge them," Jose told me. "Sure, if you want." He and Walter and Cesar helped me apply custom network settings on each computer after we'd re-imaged them.
As I write this I realize it sounds like every step of the process fit into a bigger picture. That's the benefit of looking back on everything, to see how things fit into place. But the reality is that a ton of time was spent on things that fizzled and never went anywhere. The custom network settings were one of those things, along with lots of documentation and budget proposals I wrote up that never turned up anything. I could rewrite this article and recount every failure and dead-end rabbit-trail we pursued, and it wouldn't sound the same. At several points along the way, however, reminders of how little had been accomplished became very discouraging. Walking back into the lab with only 5 of 12 machines working after Christmas break was one of those times.

Cadorsil and the ladies making wooden jewelry

At this point I we had a lot of exciting ideas for the computer lab, but everything was in limbo. I started to close off to new ideas and started thinking... I'll believe it when I see it. For the past few months, fellow language student Cadorsil had been doing a jewelry/discipleship class with some of the ladies in the area. She mentioned the possibility of our class creating a webpage to sell some of the jewelry on-line. It was a great idea, but I couldn't see how that would happen without internet connectivity. A few weeks later we visited ICE, the telecommunications company, about the possibility of getting DSL or cable. There was a huge waiting list and both agents we talked to politely explained the danger of sending technicians into the area. Cable internet was a no-go. And WiMax was unlikely because our building was kind of in a valley/hole, and even cell phones have problems at that level.

Manolo and Luis Carlos help Kevin and Marvin build the new entrance

A team came down from Texas seal off the room and make a new entrance more accessible to the public. All this was in hopes that somehow internet connectivity would be possible, which we really had no idea about. The team sealed off the room, built a new entrance, and installed an air conditioning unit in the lab. Sounds like a good idea, because climate controlled cool air and less dust would help prevent the type of problems we'd been having with hard drive failures. Smart guys who write huge books about globalism and the digital revolution often praise the ability of technology to be a leveling factor that gives anyone a chance. Maybe so, but the fact still remains that computers are not manufactured or designed to work in urban slums of the tropics, with heat, dust, intermittent electricity, and rough usage. You have to build up an entirely foreign, contrived environment around the computer just for it to work. Needless to say, the week after the team left the room was now sealed off like a greenhouse, and the a/c was not working. Lalo called the store where he bought the a/c unit and they refused to send technicians down into "that area" to look at it.
By Friday, March 6, everything changed. With the help of a friend of a friend of a friend, Lalo found a guy in La Carpio who worked on air conditioners. He immediately identified the problem and juiced up the a/c. Oh blessed arctic air, pushing the tendrils of heat out the ceiling of our computer greenhouse classroom. Friday morning the WiMax technicians went down with Lalo to see about the possibility of installing internet. They took one look up at the mountains surrounding San Jose and flicked their hand... no problem. The WiMax towers had perfect line of sight.
By Friday night, we had air conditioning, a sealed-off room with a special entrance, and internet connectivity. Let the fun begin.

Lalo's March 6 update letter Speaking of miracles, today was a great day in La Carpio. It has been a dream/stretch goal for a long time to have internet in our computer lab. I wanted cable, but my experience with Amnet was more like Amnot. WiMax was our Hail Mary. We scored and everyone wins! Early this morning, we had our test/installation. I was worried, as WiMAX is wireless RF and we are in a hole. When the techs showed up they saw direct line of sight with the antennas on the mountain. I wish I had thought of that. In La Carpio, you can look down and see desolation or you can look up and see a thousand shades of mountain green cutting through a big blue sky. Psalm 19 “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of his hands.” Today was our first day ever of air conditioned internet. Expect new friends on the facebook. If you plan to come see us and have your own device, try WiFi in our kitchen and I’ll treat you to a cup of coffee.
Praise the Lord and Install the Internet Filter

I still wouldn't believe it until I saw it. We swung by an electronics store and bought a router to simplify the networking process, rendering all our tedious IP addressing exercises pointless.
I walked through our new entrance into a burst of cool air and a new small box that was now our portal to the world wide web. In about 15 minutes we had the first computer hooked up from our learning bunker, and Antonio announced La Carpio connectivity to the world by updating his facebook status. In about an hour we had the connection split between the five computers we had working. Our familiar faces wanted to give the new internet a test drive. There were a lot of firsts that Friday night that carried over into the next week. Here are some of the things that made an impression on me:
The first thing everyone ran into was that there was no homepage. No one knew what to do. So people opened up their internet browser, and then sat there. So, what do we do? How do I find friends? Music? Pictures? Games? How do I make a webpage? How do I get an e-mail address?
To our horror, some people went back to playing the old video games that were on the computer. "Do you realize that we have the INTERNET?" "So... what's it for?" I am reminded of my favorite explanation of the world wide web. A place where basically nothing happens.

Aula de computacion
First night with A/C and internet connectivity

We are valued

"How does any of this digital landscape relate to me?" One of the first things the kids did was start checking out Lalo's blogs and photo albums. They found photos dating back several years of soccer games, camps, mission trips, fun in the neighborhood. They found tons of photos of themselves doing fun things. You wouldn't think those photos came from a slum by the garbage dump from reading Lalo's blogs or looking at the photos some of the language students have posted.

Photos other people take of your neighboorhood

Most media reports coming out of La Carpio are all bad news. Academic articles do a better job trying to expose the inequity, but often end up repeating the same mantra as the media and objectifying and "issuizing" the community. The kids discovered their on-line identity was exciting and fun. The pictures and videos and fun memories were an awesome alternative to the news reports and statistics "describing" La Carpio.

Beloved Nelson, 1992-2009

"What's this say?" Cesar asks me. "Amado Nelson, 1992-2009", I translate. Beloved Nelson, 1992-2009 commemorates the life of Nelson under a picture of his smiling face. Nelson was a friend and relative of many of the guys first checking out Lalo's blog that night. He was gunned down the week before last Christmas. The local newspaper dedicated him a short paragraph in the "suceso" section. But Nelson's smiling face had a long history on Lalo's blog before he was killed. There were a lot of people that knew his name and were praying for him. And I think maybe Cesar understood that. His picture is up there too.

We are published

Not only did they see pictures of themselves posted on-line. They also saw their handiwork. Videos they'd created in computer class from camp in July. Photos they took at camp.

Jorgito asks Scratch to solve a riddle

Jocelin taking photos at camp

The programs we made in computer class in the "Scratch" program were posted on the MIT Scratch community website 6 months ago. Queso listens to his voice he recorded into one of the projects and cracks up at how high-pitched it was before it changed. These kids' projects had already become part of a worldwide programming forum for kids and students using the "Scratch" software. Scratch has an option to upload programs directly to the web, but I had deleted it months ago. That next Monday we went through and re-enabled the "Share" option, and a few kids uploaded their projects straight to the web.

We are still learning

"How do I find girls?" is one of the first questions I'm asked. I don't know if he means to chat with or to look at, but either way the question makes me uneasy. Most teaching about the internet and on-line safety should take place in the home. For several reasons, this is not going to happen. Lots of these kids are educated in things far beyond what their parents ever got a chance to learn about. We've gotta help with some of those first steps on-line. And we are still learning as well.
On Monday I installed one of the newest and most interesting filtering techniques I've seen - opendns. Everything on our network is filtered at the router by the DNS server, by peer-reviewed domain-name filtering. I like it because it's complicated... if you don't understand how that works, don't worry about it. If one of them figures out a way around it, I won't be frustrated; I'll be impressed. Also, sites are reviewed and blocked by real people and not keywords. And finally, the filtering process happens on computers that aren't ours, so are thinly-stretched processors don't take more of a hit. I already caught someone run into it. On accident, I'm sure.
Like I said, we're still learning as well. Next week the lab will convert into a small business model and try to cover its own costs, with some left over for soccer camps. Some of the teenagers can have a pretty cush job administering the lab - free internet, pay, and A/C? What more could you want? If the kids pay 300 colones ($.60) to rent a video game console down the road for an hour, maybe we can offer a better alternative here.

We're all doing something new

That first night a handful of guys set up their first e-mail addresses and facebook accounts. They found people they knew on-line - language students, missionaries, and added them as friends. They got tagged in photos. They learned how to chat. They wrote messages on people's walls. Manolo and Randall wrote thank-you notes on the walls of Stateside people who'd given to help them go to soccer camp. Jose and Cesar begged me to show them how to make a webpage, so we started a La Carpio blog and made our first webpages.
In very little ways, we took a few measures to try and give this Internet Café a positive twist. The internet filter is one way. Virus scanners and working computers is another way. But beyond that, each computer has a really cool screensaver with Bible verses in Spanish on a subtly animated background. A Spanish Bible verse pops up every 10 minutes (OK, I like the idea of that but I realize it might get annoying pretty quick). Each computer has e-Sword Bible software installed with a less cryptic name and a few versions of Spanish Bibles. There are typing lessons, educational games, art games, and office tools.

Looking at Camp Photos
Looking at camp photos on their own computer

And whatsmore, I'm experimenting with different ways to use customized local art and input. After seeing the difficulty people had not knowing where to go from a blank homepage, I created a custom homepage, with links to suggested websites, tutorials, Costa Rican immigration information, where to open a new e-mail account, and a bunch of the photos, videos, and projects people have uploaded from the community. This is all housed locally on a WAMP server on the administrator's computer. The webpage also has an integrated forum so people logging on can post comments and anything they find important (basically like a facebook wall for the Internet café). Hopefully this will tap into some of the creativity the community has and give them a way to voice that and share it.
This is the first time I've watched a computer lab make the shift from being a black hole that money is thrown into to earning back some money to cover its costs. That, plus tight integration and service for the community seems like a pretty good idea. I'm excited to see how it goes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

10 Weeks since the Haiti Earthquake

Hi Everyone,

I have continued getting regular updates from friends and coworkers still in Haiti. The struggle in Haiti is far from over... it doesn't end when the news cameras leave, just as it certainly didn't start when they got there. The challenges facing us were there before the earthquake as well.

I'd like to share this update verbatim as a general review of some of the work MAF has been doing there. If I had enough emotional energy or clarity of thought to include personal thoughts I would, but those are lacking at the moment. Please keep the Haitian people, the relief workers, and all those outside the country missing their home in your prayers. And please pray for me as well.

[--- Beginning of MAF update -----

On January 12th of this year, Haiti’s 7.0 earthquake devastated the capital city with the epicenter was just 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The quake’s devastation was the magnitude of the 2004 tsunami, but with very localized damage. Therefore, as you know, most of the deaths and destruction took place there in the capital.

Yet, as time has passed, we see now how many of the remote communities around Haiti are also affected. Not only were these villages dependent on Port-au-Prince for their food supplies, an estimated 1.5 million Haitian people were left homeless following the earthquake. Camps of the homeless have sprung up everywhere. Many Port-au-Prince victims who lost their homes went to stay with equally poor relatives living in remote towns. Where there once was a family of five in a home, there are now 20 people. Towns that had 5,000 people now have 20,000, but these towns don't have more provisions than they had for the 5,000.

Most Haitians eat only one meal a day. Food boxes that MAF is transporting to these outlying areas contain humanitarian ration MREs (meals ready to eat). These high-calorie meals typically consist of rice and beans, peanut butter and crackers, and fruit slices, all providing a person with a day's worth of nutrition and energy.

Challenges abound. Haiti is no longer daily front-page news, which means the public won't read about the ongoing misery that still needs millions of donor dollars toward rebuilding efforts. And everyday tragedies still hit. On March 1, a volunteer nurse from a U.S. Christian humanitarian ministry died of a heart attack. MAF helped arrange for his body to be flown back to the United States. Then, this was one report this month from our MAF worker there:

As I tried to recall so much of what has transpired this past week…I could think of flagging down some doctors from Miami hospital and then somewhat commandeering an airport security truck to transport them to the tarmac. Upon arrival of the Samaritan Air R44 helicopter I could see that the situation was terrible. There were three small babies and one of them had already gone to be with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As they tried to resuscitate this little one the other two struggled to hang onto life. Before the week was out yet another one of the triplets had joined its sibling in Heaven.

We are still flying our 5 small airplanes and the families of our pilots are still under temporary relocation for at least another couple of months. In the meantime, let’s not cease praying for Haiti and for God’s will to be done and His name to be praised.

I’ll leave you with a touching “thank you” note we received:


I am not sure if this e-mail will get to the people that I am intending it to but I am going to give it a try. I am an anethesiologists that practices in Southern California. I was asked to go on a missions trip to Haiti after the earthquake because they were very desparate [sic} for anethesiologists [sic]. When we went to Haiti the MAF was not flying and we had to drive from the Cap Haitian airport to Hinge. At the time I was happy that the MAF was not flying because I was deathly afraid of small airplanes. We did several surgeries and saw a lot of sad things. We left Hinge on Jan 27th and at that time the MAF was flying again. When the pilots landed to pick us up in Hinge and fly us to Cap Haitian I was overwhelmed with feelings. The first thing the pilots did was shake our hands and say to us," God bless you guys". I am a grown man but the spirit of God welled up so high in me that I felt like crying. Your pilots were so kind, professional, and filled with the holy spirit that I literally had no fears to fly in their plane.

I had a great time in Haiti helping the injured people and doing my best to spread the word of God. But, when people ask me what impacted my heart the most I tell them about how awesome the MAF team was. You have a great ministry and my God bless you.


Paul Phelps MD

---- End of MAF update -----]

Links to other groups I know still on the ground, doing what they do in Haiti:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

La Carpio 2.0

Last Friday was a landmark day in La Cueva de La Carpio! A year and a half after the computer lab was donated, the learning lab is now networked, connected to the internet, and climate controlled! This was a big step, opening a whole digital landscape of opportunities for the community. Friday we did a soft launch, and the room was full of teenagers late into the night as people opened their first e-mail addresses and started up facebook accounts. Antonio started us off with the first facebook status update from our newly uplinked computers. Jose eagerly sent me his first e-mail and started adding language student friends on facebook. Manolo and Roberto found Lalo's photo albums on Picasa and relived recent memories of soccer games and camp.

It was exciting to watch. A day of many firsts. But we discovered we were already on-line celebrities. For GOOD things! We found pictures of ourselves at camp, pictures of soccer victories, videos we'd created, programs we'd designed that were now shared with the world. A simple Google search will bring up lots of information about La Carpio... not all of it positive. But we were too busy seeing and reliving a bunch of fun memories to sift through all the "suceso" news reports. It was cool to see what our digital self-image had become... what our online identity was before our little computer lab ever crossed the digital divide. Our history was written on blogs and in Facebook photo albums of people who'd visited us. Our photos, videos, and programs we'd created in computer class preceded us on-line, and it was like opening a time capsule to relive those memories and open those projects again.

Our little computer lab can still be a place where we learn and create and explore new worlds. Some of us are at the point where we can probably administer the lab and repair the computers if they break. The rest of the community can use the computers now, too. In fact, we will probably be able to cover our operating costs and even put some money toward soccer camps.

Who knows where it will go from here! Things have changed a lot since these machines first got here a year and a half ago. We are thanking God for each new miracle along the way. Let's see where he takes us next.

Posted from el aula de La Carpio

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

1 month after

Hi Everyone,

Well as one month has passed since the earthquake in Haiti, news reports are going to begin tapering off, but the restoration work carries on. Not only that, the recent news I've gotten from people still working in the country has been quite positive. Last weekend, at the one-month mark, the president called for prayer and fasting, and a considerable amount of worship rose up to heaven during those days. The attached photo is of people worshiping in the streets.

I hope you've been able to keep following the news coming out of Haiti. I have not had time to post everything I come across, but I've been pouring over reports nearly every day. MAF is still very actively involved, as well as the QCS school and a number of friends and coworkers there. To anyone who was able to give, and pray, THANK you so much! Below I've attached a summary of the supplies that were sent by the Nampa/Treasure Valley area through MAF and Hands of Hope:

Thank you for your partnership in collecting relief supplies to send to Haiti!

One week after the earthquake in Haiti the idea was proposed to invite the people of the Treasure Valley in Idaho to collect and deliver relief supplies to the people of Haiti. In 15 days the Treasure Valley collected over 45,000 pounds of medical, food, tents/blankets, personal and infant care items. MAF has partnered with Hands of Hope in Nampa to sort, box and palletize the donations.

On Friday February 19th a C-130 will fly the cargo into Port au Prince, Haiti from Fort Pierce, Florida where it will be off loaded and given to World Concern to distribute to the people of Haiti. World Concern works directly with local hospitals and three medical relief teams: MAP International, Northwest Medical Teams and World Medical Mission (Samaritan’s Purse). I will be leaving for Haiti on Wednesday February 17th. I have the privilege to welcome the plane with all of the donations on Friday morning and to follow through with the distribution of the supplies.

The individuals, churches, schools and businesses of the Treasure Valley in Idaho have given generously and given in abundance to meet and exceed our goals for supporting the people of Haiti. We are grateful for the part that each person has played in this project.

73 pallets (average size 40x48x45)
  • 45,107 pounds (22.5 tons)
  • $470,180 estimated value of the supplies
  • 950 estimated hours of volunteer time

Of the 73 pallets:
  • 36 – Medical Supplies
  • 16 – Food
  • 13 – Tents/Blankets
  • 8 – Personal/Infant Care

grace and peace,
Becky Lee
Mission Aviation Fellowship
Manager of Volunteer Ministries

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Lots of Parties to choose from

It's been quite a noisy day today. You'd think there was some huge, important sports game going on. Well, somewhere in the world there may be, but here in Costa Rica, it's election day.

Which means major media coverage for the past few days of the 4 main candidates running for presidency. But most interestingly, it means the streets around my house have been swarming with activity from all over the place. Cars fill the streets, slowing down to honk on every corner, where people are sitting with the colors of their party (or whichever party gave them free flags), screaming and waving back at that cars. There are colors everywhere - flags, banners, bumper stickers. And a crazy amount of noise. The voting location for this precinct or district is a school 2 blocks away. Which is why I've been serenaded since yesterday afternoon with honking and yelling and an inordinate amount of cars parked on my street. And now the fireworks start.

Everyone seems pretty psyched about these elections. Even the kids get to give it a practice run. I have yet to understand why a single car sports the colors of all four political parties. Perhaps you can vote for whoever you want, but the more flags you have the cooler and more politically active you are. I personally have a yellow and red flag that proudly trailed behind me on my bicycle. I'm not sure who it is for, but it fell off of someone's car and I decided it matched the colors of my bicycle nicely.

I was pleased that one of the candidates had a rather honest campaign slogan - "the lesser evil." Besides being truthful, it's pretty catchy. I would suggest more presidential candidates adopt similar slogans, but unfortunately that guy didn't do too well. Judging from the word on the street and the quantity of green and white flags, I think by tomorrow Costa Rica will have its first woman president, Laura Chinchilla.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The GATR ball

A few updates:
  • 1/19/10 - MAF has set up a communication center at the Port-au-Prince airport, utilizing a GATR inflatable satellite system. Some 16 relief agencies are using the system. (The photo is of David Hoffman and the inflatable GATR satellite on a practice run in Ecuador).
  • 1/19/10 - MAF resumed flying, carrying a flight of medical relief supplies and a trauma team to Jacmel. However, fuel is running low.
  • 1/20/10 - At noon a Kodiak plane was dedicated and subsequently began the journey to Haiti.
  • Track its progress here
  • Watch/read the news report here
Please pray for:
  • The health and safety of the Haitian people struck by this tragedy. Also for them to unify in overcoming it
  • The safety of the relief workers, including the MAF team there

How to Help Haiti

One way for local nampites (all you in the Nampa/Boise Idaho area) to help get supplies to Haiti. Click the image to see it larger.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ayiti Cheri (Haiti my love)

Part 1

You have probably seen much of the news coverage the Haiti catastrophe has received the past week. It has been difficult to watch for anyone, and difficult for me as I scour through facebook pages looking for comments from friends to see if they are OK, looking through images of where I grew up in shambles. Imagining the families searching for loved ones, sleeping on the streets, desperately trying to attend to the wounded with such meager resources, and the feeling of helplessness they must experience is crushing. The toll this takes on the Haitian people is hard to take in.

I am very relieved to hear that my closer friends and teammates are safe. The MAF pilots and their families are safe. I've heard from my classmates and close friends that were down there during the quake. I am praising God for their safety. My school (QCS) is still standing and has been transformed into a refuge for people with destroyed houses, and a base for medical teams to attend to the wounded. The same is true for the Nazarene campus, where my family lived. This is not the situation for so much of the city, though. A number of Haitian workers and staff are unaccounted for; some are presumed dead.

The only glimmer of hope which brings me to my knees in fear and awe is the accounts I hear of bursts of praise, singing, and dancing which rise to the heavens late into the night, and sometimes in the streets at dawn. In all honesty, to me this is as baffling and unimaginable as the catastrophe. However, I cling to these stories as I believe the Haitian people have something to teach me through these songs in the midst of tragedy. I'm not sure if the catastrophic earthquake is supposed to "teach" something or has some "purpose." But I'm pretty sure the clinging of the Haitian people to God and their faithfulness to Him IS supposed to teach me something. I am humbled by it.

Part 2 - Help Haiti

It is hard to watch the strife play before our eyes and feel helpless to do anything. Responding to the immediate needs and the continued reconstruction/restoration will take money and resources that Haiti simply can't provide all on its own. I've included some links to organizations and individuals that I know are solid, long-term presences in Haiti - these groups were on the ground before, and they will continue to be there after short-term assistance leaves. (Even short-term relief aid is important at this time, and there are other links below where you can give to those).

  • The QCS campus (Quisqueya Christian School) where I spent most all of my pre-college schooling is now a shelter for national workers and the community, and is being used by medical teams to attend the wounded. They have set up a paypal account to donate specifically for the earthquake relief effort.
  • Click here to visit the information page and donate
  • CNN has a list of charities. Of these, I'd recommend Partners in Health, Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, Yele Haiti, Hopital Albert Shweitzer Haiti, and Heart to Heart International
  • List of charities to help Haiti
  • (If you're going down to help and have a link, feel free to post it as a comment)
Part 3 - what went down

Besides the normal media coverage you'll see in the news, here are some links to blogs and photos from some of my friends and coworkers
    • (Post any you find by commenting on the post)
    CNN has a dedicated section covering a variety of dimensions of the earthquake:

    Friday, January 01, 2010

    Once in a blue moon

    Since this new year's eve would be marked by the relatively rare alignment of celestial bodies in order to create the second full moon this month, I decided to do something I never imagined I'd be doing to welcome in 2010.

    Jonathan (my host brother) and I made it to the tail end of the Christmas festivities in Zapote, about 15 minutes walking distance from our house. One of the highlights of this event is a rodeo, followed by the release of a furious bull into a crowd of about a hundred radically dressed thrill seekers. Jonathan explained to me how simple it was to outrun the bull and suggests we join the crazies in the arena next time.

    If you're having trouble picturing it, watch the "highlights" video from the local news channel below:

    Any fellow Mass Communication majors want this guy's helmet cam op position? (That's a camera with live feed strapped to his head).