Monday, June 24, 2013

Grace Goin' On

A few weeks ago eighty-five children way up in the mountains of La Gonave completed their very first year of school. Ever. They started with nothing, essentially. To house it, we found a dilapidated and abandoned, tiny old church building that was pretty much unsafe to be in. The walls were crumbling and the roof, well, you didn’t want to stand under it. Most of the village's children were sickly and malnourished, which is what happens when you don't eat every day.

The village desperately wanted a school. We told them that if they could make the building safe, we would provide them with some supplies for the task. Inspired, they cut the walls down to half their original height and stripped the roof of everything but its wooden frames. We found the biggest, heaviest tarp we could find for a roof, the kind semi trucks use to haul loads. They partitioned it off the inside. They built benches. They built blackboards. We spent very few dollars to ready the structure. A thousand dollars at most. We would pour more into people.

We found capable and energetic teachers and a very good principal. We figured out how to provide the children with a meal every day. We registered the school with local island jurisdictions. We provided them with basic supplies for conducting this place of learning. We provided them with a flag and a school bell. Children wore uniforms made right there on the island. They chose blue as their color.

In form, they were unlike any other school. Their building, barely a building. Except for their benches and chalkboard, their classrooms were bare of things that would look like a place where learning happens.

In function, they were as much a school as any other school in the world. They met every day. The teachers wore dresses and ties. They took attendance. They administered tests. They issued report cards. Learning happened.

And not just the kids! We have learned, too, the village and us. We have learned how to listen and cooperate and be patient and forgive. Turns out, learning is not the only thing that has happened in one village in the mountains.

Quite a bit of grace is goin' on, too.

*Makochon’s school is growing this year, in both function and form. A fourth grade class is being added and the village is looking for a site where they can build a new school.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Of Water and Justice

Looking out my office window, I watched some workers open up a fire hydrant and walk away.  For the better part of the day I watched a 50-foot gusher of water land uselessly in the road. Must’ve had their their reasons. “Cleaning out the lines,” I figured. Someday I’ll ask them.

A month ago, Grand Rapids, Michigan experienced its worst flooding in recorded history. The evening news showed pictures of water half-way up office building windows. From inside their offices people watched carp and catfish swim swim by their windows, as if in an aquarium.

Not long ago, twenty-two inches of rain dumped in the mountains south of Port-au-Prince in the course of just a couple of days. The resulting flooding was awful and destroyed the majority of their crops in that region.

A few years ago, an entire village on Haiti’s mainland was wiped out from the torrents of a river, swollen from hurricane rains, that jumped its banks and took out everything in its path.

In the United States alone, we spend more than 20 billion dollars every year on bottled water. 20 billion, with a “b.”

I’ve been thinking about water lately.

The way I see it, the world has plenty of water: Lakes, rivers, and oceans. Underground aquifers and atmospheric moisture, I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of H2O.

Sure, most of it is salty, but we know how to desalinate.  Alot of it is dirty and impure, but we know how to clean it.  We talk all the time about how dry the island of La Gonave is, but, every year, tropical storms and hurricanes dump massive quantities of rain, causing torrential flooding down the slopes on all sides of the island. I’ve seen maps of the island’s underground aquifers and it looks to me like there’s plenty of water underground.  Surrounding the island are a gazillion trillion gallons of water.

I recently returned from the island of La Gonave, finally emerging from her dry season, where I saw people wearing old surgical masks because of all the dust, and witnessed people throwing bowls of water on the road in front of their homes in an attempt to keep the dust at bay. I returned from a land where people traipse for miles and for hours, every day of their lives, in pursuit of water to drink. Unsafe water at that.

I returned, as I always have, to my life of flush toilets and underground sprinklers and dog water dishes always filled with clean water from the kitchen tap fifteen feet away. It continues to affect me.

Here’s where I am...

First, I don’t feel guilt.  I do feel bad, and a bit mad that homes on La Gonave don’t all have clean, running water and mine does. But guilt? No. The water I bring up from my well to wash my dog does not somehow steal from La Gonave’s underground aquifers.

Second, I am thankful for the blessing of clean (and close!) water in my own life. I try not to take clean and close water for granted, knowing that, for most of the world, it’s not this way.

I guess what I wrestle with is injustice. Not injustice in the sense that some sinister water lord is somehow controlling who in the world gets water and who doesn’t. Injustice in the sense that I have ample and immediate access to all the water I want, and much of the world does not, for whatever reasons. Injustice that, while billions have no clean water to drink, the world has the technologies and resources and money to fix it.

I will continue to flush and sprinkle and shower as usual, and within reason, convinced that the water I use in no way steals water from places like La Gonave. But I’ll also not quell the sense of obligation I feel to do whatever I can to make things right for people whose lives are hard.

Doing what we can to make things right. Is this not the stuff of justice?

I’m no water engineer but I do know that falling rain is clean and not salty and, to me, catching it and storing it and using it just makes sense. Call me simple-minded, but doesn’t building rain gutters and water cisterns sound like a good idea for a future La Gonavian business?

Can’t good people of the world come together in agreement to make right the wrongs that are in our power to make right?

This is the stuff of justice.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Seems to Me You'd Stop and See How Beautiful They Are

I sit in my green Adirondack, book in hand, but dozing off. Sensing something, I don’t know what, I crack one eye open to see an inchworm just inches from my face, having descended from one of the tall oaks in my backyard.

Ah, inchworm season.

Don’t know much about them. I suppose they eventually do what most larvae do and grow into moths or flies or something, but no one I ask seems to know or care about that. I suppose if they grew into luna moths or tiger swallowtails that would be one thing, but inchworms seem more famous for their larval lives. (does not having a song written about you qualify you as famous?).

Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds,
You and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far.
Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds,
Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are.

We, too, have important arithmetic: number of water filters placed, number of kids in school, the percentage of household latrines in a village. Essential metrics, these “marigolds.”

Every now and again, though, it is nice to step back and de-focus from latrines and filters long enough to see “how beautiful” a village, an island is becoming.

“However beautiful the strategy,
you should occasionally look at the results.”
                                                                                Winston Churchill

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


La Gonave.  37 miles long by 9 miles wide.
Home to more than 100,000 people.
There is, on La Gonave’s far western parts, a tiny village. They call it Pikamabe. Don’t know if it’s spelled right but that’s how it sounds. Peek-a-maybe. A man from Pikamabe showed up at the Starfysh house a few weeks ago to ask if we could give them some water filters, that they had had several cases of cholera in their village. It happened that Freddy, our teams coordinator had just arrived on the island to work on the island for a week, bringing with him four Michiganders.

It took four hours to get there from Anse-a-Galets where our house is located. It wouldn’t take that long on 4-wheeler ATV’s or on motorcycles, but in the truck we have to go so much slower because we can’t dodge the gigantic rocks and crevices like we can on the small vehicles. They journey was 32 miles each way, a lot of which was winding roads and turns. Nevertheless... 32 miles, 4 hours.

They told our group that no outsiders had ever come to their village. No doubt! Not on any map, Pikamabe is in the middle of nowhere. But there it was. And there they were, these precious people whom, I am sure, God has always known.

After the filters were installed and the village served our crew up a meal of goat, rice and beans, the village then presented us with a goat, in appreciation for our visit.  I’m not just sure what they appreciated more: the filters or the fact that we came.

I think it was mainly just because we came.

There’s just something about sheer presence. Showing up. Letting them know that someone knows who and where they are, and that they are not alone on this planet.

Gotta hunch we’ll be back.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why the "y"?

Since the beginning, folks have asked why we spell Starfysh the way we do. Their question, simply:  “Why the ‘y’?”

I think the answer depends on when they ask the question. In early 2010, for example, my answer was, simply, “The ‘i’ was taken!” Nuts! Someone got to before we could. Sounds silly.

Over time, however, as we have proceeded to define our vision of delivering transformation to an island of 100,000 people living in poverty, and then have set out to actually do it, we have heard the question less and less frequently.

“Why the ‘y’?”
  • “Well, you know, we are unique. We’re no ordinary starfish!”
  • “Well, you see, the ‘y’ stands for ‘you’ and you are what makes Starfysh special.”
Silliness. Truth is, the ‘i’ was taken.

I’m glad it was taken. Doesn’t oddness, after all (ahem, I prefer ‘distinctiveness’), bring a bit of its own value? And might not off-guardedness be a good thing if, in fact, it slows folks down long enough to consider new things?

Three years in, and our name is slowly becoming entrenched. (Google “starfish” and you’ll be inundated with over 14 million results. Google “Starfysh” and there we are, right at the top). It’s all good. Unplanned. No clever branding strategy. No high-priced advertising firm.

Just, the “i” was taken.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A New Hospital for La Gonave

Dear Friends,

Your time is precious so I’ll get right to it.  I have just learned of a significant, but brief opportunity to help put the fundraising over the top for the new hospital on the island of La Gonave. Lemon Aid, the Scottish charity behind the build, just informed us of a $90,000 matching grant which will match every gift, dollar-for-dollar.

The old hospital, the one that I started coming down to work in twenty years ago, is condemn-able. Open wiring. Crumbling, leaky ceilings. It is sad. I have personally seen, on my hands and knees, the earthquake crack at the base of its walls, literally separating the structure from its foundation. Truth told, the current hospital is not safe. But it’s currently all we’ve got.

Just across the road from this difficult situation, a remarkable scene has been playing out... the rising up of a new and better hospital, one that will carry forward its 50-plus year legacy of being a place where the love of Christ is fleshed out in compassionate medical caregiving. With significant, (though not 100%) funds needed in hand, construction began in early 2012, on faith that the money would continue to come in. And it has.

Aerial view of hospital construction site
So here’s where we are. Tremendous progress has been made. Today, with the end in sight, construction had to be suspended until the final funds to be raised (just under $200,000) is received. The target date for completion (in September) will have to be moved back if we can’t quickly generate the funds and finish this off.

But here’s the deal, folks. Amazingly, a $90,000 matching grant has just been offered up, a grant which, if taken full advantage of, will put the project over the top.  And I’m asking... would you help me seize the day and this opportunity to help La Gonave get their hospital?

The new hospital build is not Starfysh’s project (most of our work is currently in the more rural regions of the island). But we are convinced that the hospital will provide tremendous lift to the entire island. We see it as a critical infrastructural step in our collective vision to see La Gonave rise up out of her desperate poverty.

Thank you. Every gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $90,000.  If it comes in quickly, construction can continue at a pace to have a grand opening dedication ceremony in late September.

If you are prompted to give, you can do so securely online at or by check. Simply write “New Hospital” in the comments section (online) or in the memo line of your check. Send your check to Starfysh  6757 Cascade Rd. SE  #207  Grand Rapids, MI  49546.

Thanks all!  May God bless you richly.

Hopital Wesleyen d' La Gonave : Old vs. New

Inpatient Capacity
Old hospital: 35 patients, including those laying on stretchers in the hallways.
New hospital:  44 patients, including an infectious diseases unit

Emergency Room
Old hospital: One tiny, cramped room with one stretcher.
New hospital: An entire ER department with 8 patient capacity

Old hospital: One major surgery suite. One minor surgery room.
New hospital: Two major surgery suites. One minor surgery room.

Old hospital: Two beds.
100% Haitian labor force for the hospital build
New hospital: Four beds.

Family Waiting
Old hospital: No area for family waiting.
New hospital: Large family waiting area.

Old hospital:  X-Ray off site. No room for surgery prep. No morgue.
New hospital:  X-Ray in hospital. Designated dressing rooms for surgery prep. Morgue.

Old hospital:  One sink with running water. No flush toilets. Unsafe in an earthquake.
New hospital:  Running water throughout entire hospital. Earthquake safe.

Old hospital: Diesel generator,  $50,000 yearly fuel cost
New hospital:  Solar energy, $0 yearly fuel cost

Monday, April 15, 2013

I Choose Good News

Truth told, I am rather sick of hearing bad news. NBC’s “special report” on the Boston bombings is on in the other room and I, frankly, am just not that interested in seeing more than the hour-and-a-half I’ve seen already. Not sure I should feel that way, but I do. Don’t misinterpret. I do care. It’s just that I choose to not obsess on bad news, thankful that I have the luxury to make that choice. I’m not the President.

Not that bad news is avoidable. It is not. But if you think about it, the evening news people could, if they wanted to, choose to weight its reporting on good news. There are plenty of good, redeeming stories out there that need to be told. And I, for one, would like to hear them. If, before my head hits the pillow tonight, I hear about another scandal or murder or contentious fight in congress I think I’ll scream.

I’ll not be screaming. My TV is off and I’m re-reading a good book called Fast Living, a book on poverty (which we’re all sick of hearing about too. Yes, there I’ve said it... I’m sick of poverty. What could possibly be good about it?).

Let me cite, from the book, some good news about the state of poverty that I’ll bet you’ve not heard on the nightly news...
  • “In the past eight years, the number of kids dying from measles has declined by 78% (from 733,000 deaths per year to 164,000) because we are completing the work of immunizing every child. 
  • “Twenty-two countries have cut their malaria rate in half in only six years. They did it with insecticide-treated bed nets, access to better medicines, and spraying to kill mosquitoes. Globally, malaria infections have decreased by nineteen million per year and malaria deaths have dropped by 140,000 per year between 2005 and 2009. 
  • “We used to say that 40,000 children die each day from preventable causes. In the 1990’s, that number dropped to 33,000 per day. By 2008, it dropped further to 24,000. And now it is down to 21,000. The number of children dying before their fifth birthday has been cut in half and we did it in a generation using a wide range of practical strategies, from creating access to clean water to training skilled birth attendants. 
  • “Every day day there are 19,000 fewer children dying of preventable causes--every day!--despite the fact that the total number of births is increasing. That’s remarkable progress. If we keep our current pace of progress, we will soon live in a world where massive numbers of children no longer die of preventable causes. 
  • “Today there are about 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty (2005 data--latest available). And that’s good news. In 1981, 52 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Today that number is 26 percent. If we were still at 52 percent, then an additional two billion people would still be suffering in extreme poverty. We have already cut the percentage of people living in extreme poverty in half! And we did it in one generation.” 
Don’t tell me there’s not good news to be told. I personally could tell forever the great stories in the making on an out-of-the-way little island in Haiti. Feel-good stories. Stories that’ll warm your heart. Stories of transformation. Definitely stories worth telling... and hearing. And, while they’ll not likely make your 6 o’clock news, the stories being lived and told on La Gonave would stand up against any terrorist bombing or murder trial story you got. I guarantee it.

I have found that pictures tell great stories. Like these two pics: Madame Maude in her new bakery, and this beautiful field of vegetables.

Plus, I like to think we have some pretty good news of our own to share. Isaiah said it well...

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'"  Isaiah 52:7

Monday, April 08, 2013


For as many years as the butterfly exhibit has made its Spring appearance here, not until this year had I taken it in. Not that I didn’t think I would enjoy it. I am rather in to bugs. Ask my parents and sisters. I’m sure they could provide the world with great blog content for some time.

I loved the butterflies, of course, with all their color and flitting and all. But, as in all things, I enjoyed  viewing the greater scene, as if a play on stage. The tall and spacious greenhouse-made-rain forest was misty and warm, well-suited for bamboos and butterflies. Meandering. There was a lot of meandering. Folks going no where in particular. Neck craned and extended. Eyes up and out, never down. Hands stretched outward, hoping Mr. Emperor Swallowtail would mutually consent in ignoring the “no touching” signs.

I caught myself hanging out by the pupae for a long time, just watching them hang there. A few were actively emerging, though it was a long ordeal. Most were just hanging there; their own emergence into adulthood held off for a better day, perhaps tomorrow.

There was no rushing this day. Visitors weren’t checking their smart-phones. The butterflies, no agenda except to please.  And those butterflies-to-be seemed in no hurry to get on with it. No hurry to impress.  Are there lessons here for me?
I think yes. I must chill out and allow maturation and emergence its due time. This is not without its angst, mind you.  I would love to help chicks hatch and seeds push up the earth that covers them. But I must continually remind myself that the journey... the painful, struggling journey is what makes emergence all that much more glorious.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Of Justice and Shalom

Haiti's National Cathedral in foreground,
the Presidential Palace in the distance, both in ruins.
Three years ago I stood on the roof one of the few remaining upright buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince, doing a 360, trying to take it in, if that were even possible. In all directions and as far as I could see, crumbled buildings. I could see almost too much from this vantage point, my brain unable to process all that lay in front of me. My heart wept along with my eyes as I processed before me the broken icons of a broken land.  The Presidential Palace, crumbled in place. The National Cathedral, in ruins. Schools, churches, supermarkets, all reduced to piles of cinder-made-tomb.

Three years later, I find my self not crying so much and I have to admit that bothers me a little. I don’t want to not be able to cry. Does that make sense? 

I stand by my double negative.  For aren’t tears a measure of  impact? And might not a dry face betray at least a slight measure of callous disregard?

I still cry, just not as much. My tear glands are tired, I guess. Upsetting things that used to make my eyes well up now provoke other responses in me. (Rationalizing? Perhaps. But this is how I let myself off the hook).

These days, my reactions to pain and injustice are subtler, though no less real. Wet eyes have given way to clenched-jawed determination and grit... to right the wrongs that caused the anguish in the first place.  Planting trees and gardens. Helping families start businesses. Teaching sick villages how they can not get sick. Equipping peasant families to catch and to clean rainwater and use it to irrigate their gardens.  Assuring them that there is a God Who knows and loves them and desires more than anything that they know Him. Are not these the things of justice, of shalom? Of mending the broken and making wrong things right?

"My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm."  Isaiah 51:5

Monday, March 18, 2013


Early in the morning last Monday, up in the mountains of an island off mainland Haiti, a couple of dentists and their staff journeyed along the remote and dangerous roads to get to a village hidden from the world. A village that has never ever had a doctor or dentist to come and show any interest in them.  They were waiting for us, these precious people of Makochon, bringing with them the awful caries and abscesses they had been living with for so long.

Last Monday, before even the first patient was invited into that little church-turned-dental clinic, we gathered in a circle. With our nervous and sweating hands clasped, we dedicated this day, this week to the Lord, for had it not been God Who had called us here in the first place?

Why else would one leave the comforts and familiarities of home: running and hot water, spiderless bedrooms, and Applebees?  Why risk bumpy-road-back-spasms? Why put up with daily PB&J sandwiches when back home we could run down the road for a five..... five dollar..... five dollar foot long? Why put up with rats and roaches and ankle sprains (we experienced them all) if it weren't that something much bigger were at stake?

Is pulling a few hundred teeth really worth all the time and expense and inconvenience?

I suppose the answer depends on whom you ask. Some might argue that traveling a couple thousand miles to pull teeth isn't that wise a use of resources, that other investments would yield higher return. But if you asked the 50-some year old man who, in howling pain, walked nine miles to get to us, the answer would be probably be yes, it's worth it.

I'm not a dentist, so I could not be much help chair-side. This allowed me the perspective of standing back and taking things in. What a view! Standing back, I was able to witness a miracle: modern dentistry being delivered high in the mountains to a village that has experienced neither electricity nor running water. A remarkable sight.  You ask me if a mountain really can be moved and I would have to tell you yes. Yes! And I saw it with my own eyes last week.

I suppose being on the receiving end of a miracle carries its own bit of risk, too, and might not exactly be for the faint-of-heart. You could see it in those wide-eyed, next-in-line kids watching the dentists dive in after putrid molars like pelicans diving for sea bass. Plenty frightened over their upcoming miracle, many of them needed a healthy dose of comforting to go along with their Novacaine.

Starfysh's new remote mobile dental unit was inaugurated with little fanfare, uncaptured by Google Earth satellites searching for landmarks, not heavenmarks. But I saw it, and a few others. And I'm sure that God, from His much grander vantage point, saw it too.

"Heavenmarks." Not GPS so much as HPS. Coordinates where God comes down and does His thing.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

On These Things

“There’s a small hemorrhage in your left eye,” she said. “We need you to come back.” Wait, huh? Really? I was just there for a routine exam, to get some new glasses. I didn’t expect to be told something was wrong. But there I was, shoe squarely on the other foot. After all, am I not the one who should be making these kinds of calls? Nonsense. Am I not both doctor and patient? And could not bad things happen to any of us?

(My recheck eye appointment revealed a normal eye... no hemorrage. For this I am so thankful!)

Such tiny, exquisite organs, these retinas of ours. Just several cells in thickness, they are elaborately configured for providing crisp resolution in the center of our vision as well as the detection of minor movements in the peripheral parts. So critical to our lives, yet we pay them such little regard.

Meet my left retina. The darker spot on the right is
the macula, where millions of cones gather light and
color to provide the center of my eyesight with
crispness and clarity. The vast majority of the
retina provides for our peripheral vision.
God has seen fit to give me good eyesight and, the way I see it, I need to repay this kindness by using my eyesight for things that please Him. Like seeing and serving the poor and seeing and battling injustice. Like seeing deep human need so I might do something about it.

On these things I have set my sight. On these things I have chosen to focus.

"Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you."  Proverbs 4:25

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Falling Forward

I’m always up to try new things, so when I saw a street vender selling this banana-flavored cola I though I’d give it a go. I like banana-flavored other things. Why not banana pop?

CoIa Larco, they call it. I was optimistic and I was thirsty and so I purchased a 12-pack. I had no idea what “larco” meant (still don’t), but there it was, strapped to the back of my 4-wheeler, along with some Coke and other essentials.

My first clue that banana cola just might not be the next great invention was later that afternoon when not even one of our Haitian staff took one when I offered it to them straight out of the icy fridge.

Their judgement was wise. The stuff was awful and I could not choke down even one bottle.

I came. I saw. But on that one particularly hot, disappointing day in Haiti, I did not conquer, I could not conquer banana cola.

Now, Banana Cola may be a failure, but I am not dissuaded. It’s one more thing I know won’t work and knowing that, I suppose, is its own success. I certainly won’t waste my time trying it again.

So far in its young history Starfysh has had some very good project successes. For these we are thankful. But we’ve have also had a few flops, and have come up on a few dead ends. 

We value them all. Every mistake. Every blind alley. Every success. Every flopped effort.  All serve to move us forward. Ever exploring. Ever experimenting. Taking notes at every turn we learn what works and what doesn’t. When a project succeeds, we move forward, humbly asking ourselves how we might do it better. When we fall, we fall in the same direction, forward. We move ahead, having learned how not to do it.

Banana Cola... definitely how not to do it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Speaking of places, I picked up a Garmin GPS the other day, the kind you need to have if you’re planning to do wilderness hiking. The guy at Gander Mountain seemed to know a lot about them and helped me pick out a good one.

It's called an eTrex 20. The box says it’s “ready for any adventure.” I read down through the list of what it can do. This is amazing technology!  It is even submersible... I guess just in case I ever want to remember exactly where it was that I snorkeled past that sunken pirate ship.

I bought it because the maps we have of La Gonave are old and inexact. There are dozens of tiny villages on the island that don’t show up on the maps we have.  And, more often than not, the homes aren’t clustered tightly enough that their village stands out on Google Earth. The homes are so tiny, spread out, and so hidden under the trees that we just can’t locate them on a map.  But just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they are not there. Hundreds... no, thousands of people living out lives of quiet desperation. Out of sight, out of mind. Sadly.

“Waypoints” they call them in the GPS lexicon, those latitude and longitude coordinates that precisely, within a few feet, pinpoint where you are on this Planet Earth. Within a few feet!  Which means that every home on the planet has its own unique latitude/longitude waypoint.  Amazing, isn't it, that we live in a day when we can help to create the maps. No longer dependent on the etchings of dead cartographers, we chart our own course, finding and marking the points-of-interest as we go

Seems to me everyone should be able to be found on a map, don't you think?  I mean, doesn’t dignity, for all that entails, start with being found? Doesn’t significance begin with someone at least knowing I'm here?

"O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways." Psalm 139:1-3

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Loitering in High Places

My work takes me to Washington, D.C. every now and again and, whenever I can, I like to squeeze in a little sightseeing.  Over the years I have managed to visit most of the major monuments and museums. One of my favorite spots is Arlington Cemetery. I go there every time.  Haven’t been to the Ford Theatre yet. I definitely want to see that sometime.

I think the reason I love to visit Washington so much is that I love to not just see but to actually occupy historic places, to stand in the very spot where something significant has happened.  Standing at the lectern in Arlington’s empty amphitheater and looking out at the empty seats, I cannot help but think of the important people who have delivered speeches from this very spot. The Capitol building is another favorite place. I stop at the Rotunda’s center, as if on cue, thinking about the presidents who had laid in state in the same square footage as my body is now occupying. From the balcony I look over the chambers of the House of Representatives, thinking about the significance of this room: debates, votes, State of the Union addresses. On one occasion I remember the tour guide told me I was standing in the very spot where John Quincy Adams suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died. Wow. On another occasion my family was given a private, unrushed tour of the West Wing of the White House. The Oval Office and the Cabinet Room, standing outside the Situation Room (OK, so I couldn’t convince them to let me in that room), even the West Wing lunch room... my brain buzzed that day, thinking about all the history that had taken place in this very place. Countless secret service agents have talked into their sleeves because of my love of loitering in high places.

I do it in Haiti too.  I cannot cross the sea from mainland to La Gonave without thinking about the swashbuckling buccaneers that also sailed across these very waters. I stand in a tiny missionary home wondering what missionary heroes have called this place home. I take it in: touching their walls, breathing their air.

One has to wonder what ordinary places of today will someday be considered extraordinary and historic. I pray one of them is an island called La Gonave.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

How Things Might Be

The seed and plant catalogs are starting to show up in my snow-covered mailbox. Love it. They are a crucial part of pulling me through the last half of Winter which, right now, I’d just as soon be done with, thank you.  Seed and plant catalogs help me dream about the future of my garden. My wife laughs at me when they come because she knows how excited I get. OK, so I admit it. I’m an addict. I am Steve Edmondson and I am addicted to gardening.

Hi Steve.

Last Fall, I went around and inventoried all of the hostas we had in our garden and was surprised that we had 46.  Not 46 hostas. 46 hosta species. I would bet we have a thousand or more hostas.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

There’s nothing better than planting and cultivating and watching things grow. But I love the wintertime planning and brainstorming, too. Snowcover is no match for imagining how things might be.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

One Hundred Days From Today

Well, the initial response has been fantastic. It looks like we are going to have a great turnout for the 5/3 River Bank Run on Saturday, May 12th.  Seems everyone I talk to wants to do it.

Actually, if I'm reading people right, one reason they want to be there is to witness my lightning speed they've heard so much about.

Ask anyone who was there at last year's mud run.  I saw them there, standing along the sidelines, laughing with me at how I was able to take on those mud pits with such energy and prowess.  That's me on the left side of the picture.  You can see that the photographer had a pretty hard time capturing a good photo of me running. (He should have adjusted to a fast-action shutter speed).

Join me 100 days from today.  Bare pavement will be a snap.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Gathering Up Team

In 103 days, on Saturday, May 12th, more than 20,000 people will gather for the 35th running of the Fifth Third River Bank Run, the largest run of its kind in the nation.
I will be there.
And, you know, I was thinking that it might be really cool if a whole bunch of my friends would meet up with me that morning in downtown Grand Rapids.  Not so much to cheer me on but to join me in raising awareness for Starfysh’s vision of transforming an island.
The event has multiple categories for folks to participate in:  25K, 10K, and 5K runs, as well as a 5K walk, and Junior events. Some people are serious runners.  Some, not so.  Lots of groups do it together as teams (school classes, businesses, clubs, teams, church groups, families) with their own unique team names.
I’m going to promote it hard and am hoping you, my friends will help me promote it in your circles.  In the very near future we’ll have a special page on our Starfysh website, as well as a Facebook event page. We'll provide all the information and tools you'll need to plug in.
For now, just mark the calendar... Saturday, May 12th and start gathering up your own team.  It has the makings of a very fun... and significant day.
Thanks all. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to start getting in shape.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Suffering I See

I stop in at International Aid every so often, to see if they can help me with equipment or supplies or whatever.  Every time I go in there the first thing I see is this beautiful wall decor (I guess that's what you call it) on the wall behind the reception desk.  It's a simple yet beautiful depiction of sick and hurting people on their way to get help.  It reminds me so much of Haiti.  I can't tell you how many times this simple wall silhouette has taken on the dimensions of color and movement and smell.  Not to mention the awful sounds of suffering.

I am frustrated when I try to describe the suffering I see. I try hard, but when I'm done with my description, I walk away feeling like I've left people with a silhouette, some wall-decor-ish, stick-figure rendition of what it's really like. It's hard to depict mourning and tears on a stick figure drawing.

Part of me wants to be discrete and unoffensive to those who read this stuff.  I don't want to appear exploitive or voyeuristic even. I don't want to be Geraldo, some first-on-the-scene, report-it-and-boogie-to-the-next-story journalist.

On the other hand, I must journal-it.  Haiti's story needs to be told, and if, in hearing and seeing Haiti's story of mourning and suffering, people are squeamish, oh well.

A little mourning sickness might just get our attention.


PS  I would love to find out where we could find this wall decor to put up in our guesthouse.  If anyone knows how to go about finding it, let me know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Superheroes Incognito

I ran across Spider-Man the other day (I didn't know superheroes lived on La Gonave!).

Over time I have trained my eye to spot them.  They don't exactly wear capes nor do they scale tall buildings.  Superheroes incognito.

Take Joseph Yves. On any given day he can be found working with village leaders in villages all over the island, teaching and encouraging them that better days could be ahead.  And, while he's a pretty humble superhero, he's a superhero, nonetheless. Because he is probably responsible for saving more lives than most anyone else around.  Consider this past year... under Met Yves' watch, some 500 family households now have a family latrine.  Significant, when you figure that fewer than 10% of households on the island have a latrine, and that cholera has already snuffed out some 7,000 lives.

Joseph Yves (on the right)... a true action hero.
Met Yves doesn't need to wear a cape or drive a batmobile to prove anything.  Real heroes don't need that stuff.  He's just plain getting it done.

If anyone runs across Joseph Yves' rookie card please let me know.  I'd love to take it off your hands.


Sidenote:  just today we transfered funds to Met Yves for another 100 family latrines.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Starfysh Publishes Haitian Creole Early Reader

After nearly a year of preparation, translating, and illustrating, Starfysh is excited to announce the release of our first book, An Nou Li (Let’s Read!), an early childhood reader.  Written by Stacy and Kristin Oldenburg, the book is really a compilation of four smaller books:  Kò Nou (Our Bodies), Santiman (Feelings), Kontrè (Opposites), and Bondye fè Koulè (God Made Colors). Each page is professionally illustrated with vivid pictures young Haitian children will love.  “Our vision,” says Stacy, “is not only to provide tools to Haitian teachers to help them teach reading, but to instill in Haitian children a passion for learning that will follow them for their entire lives.”  A second book, a 2nd/3rd grade level reader, is currently in the translation phase and should be out in the Fall.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

From Supermarket to Tomb

And We All Cried

"The Caribbean," a large, very nice supermarket in Port-au-Prince crumbled into small pieces under the sheer power of the earthquake. I suspect many lives were lost right here.  The rubble was so massive and deep that those bodies were likely never recovered.

I climbed through the rubble pile, even up on top of it.  As I explored a bit, I ran across this ironic scene: a couple of Caribbean Supermarket job applications.  Hope met despair that January day.

And we all cried.

Two Years Ago Today

I woke up this morning thinking about Haiti.

I suppose, now, that every January 12th will be the same for me.  I'll get out my pictures and re-live the events of those days, when a quarter million people perished.

Every script I write today... when I put down the date, January 12... I think about the events of two years ago.

I conclude that this will be my annual, January 12th pilgrimmage, one day a year when I'll get out my pictures and reminisce about the great earthquake.

It has started already this morning, the reminiscing.  I've thumbed through hundreds of photos and videos taken with my teeny-weeny Canon digital camera while there in the days that followed, the vast majority which I have never shared with anyone.

I think I'll take the next few days to pass some of them along for those of you who might be interested. They're not as great as those AP photographer shots you'll see in the magazines, but they're impactful and meaningful, nonetheless.

Pictures (and a few videos) to follow...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Solar Hospital: This is the Vision. This is the Goal.

The final architectural drawings have been completed for a sorely-needed hospital for La Gonave. It will have 44 inpatient beds, a 4-bed emergency room, and two surgery suites.  The Scottish charity, Lemon Aid, founded by my good friend and partner-in-charity, Justin Dowds, has come up with the the money for the hospital, enough to say it's a go.  We'll be breaking ground this Spring!

But let me take this one step farther.  I've been gathering some information...

I have learned that the costs of running the beastly diesel generators to provide power for the hospital is over $50,000 PER YEAR.  (The fuel alone cost $39,498 last year!).

Knowing that the cost of solar energy systems have improved over the past years, we have consulted with an electrical engineer who has vast experience with remote, third world hospitals.  And we have learned that, in fact, a SOLAR-POWERED hospital is feasible.

Friends, I have spent much time crunching the numbers and can tell you that not only is going solar feasible, it's the right thing to do.  It will move our hospital toward full sustainability, which is an important feature Starfysh looks for in considering project worthiness.  Our goal is to develop La Gonave in ways that do not require them to be indefinitely propped up from the outside.

Long story short... the up front capital investment needed for a solar energy system that will provide all the electrical needs of the hospital and take it totally "off grid":  $140,000.

May sound like alot, but consider this:  current energy needs are currently costing $50,000 per year.  So solar will pay for itself in just 3 years.  The total yearly cost of running on sun-power is $5,800 ($3,600 maintenace labor + $2,200 depreciation expense).

The pictures you see here are the behemoth diesel-guzzling, smoke-coughing, generators currently powering our hospital.  I say it's time to euthanize them.

We are developing fact-sheets for the solar project.  If anyone wants a copy let me know.  I could use help raising money for this.

A hospital powered by sunshine. This is the vision. This is the goal.

We can do this.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Who Last Held It

I was hanging out with my friend, Dede, not too long ago, just talking about different things. The conversation was all over the place, and for some reason we started talking about the very early history of the island of La Gonave.

Most folks probably don't know that Haiti was one of Christopher Columbus's stops in the New World.  The Spanish explorers of the 1500's caused all kinds of problems for Haiti's indigenous "Indians" who, if they didn't die from the smallpox that the Spanish unwittingly imported, they were captured and sent back to Europe as slaves.  Many of these Arawak Indians escaped from Hispaniola's mainland out to the island of La Gonave.  La Gonave was the last refuge for many as the native population of Hispaniola was rapidly wiped out.

I asked Dede if he knew if there existed any relics of the Arawak civilization. He said they did exist and that, in fact, he had found a few.  He showed me this one (pictured). I don't know exactly what it was but I think it must have been part of large cup or something like that. (Though for the life of me I can't think of why you would want this strange fellow creeping you out when you sip on your hot cocoa).

Just holding this shard (of whatever it was) is intensely interesting to me.  I cannot help but wonder what the person was like who made it, and who last held it.