The last few months.

It began in June, when I left summer for winter, and my last flight for awhile descended into Sydney.

I walked out and breathed in the cold, crisp air, and finally felt I was home.

That night we drove to Lithgow. The town I was born. Back to the street where most of my childhood memories were made. The place I so longed to escape with all my impassioned teenage will, but now, having seen some of the world, drew me back with its peaceful streets and familiar faces.

It had been just more than a year since I lived in this country. A year characterised by a brand new marriage forging it’s way in a culture so foreign to me, full with brilliant victories and dismal failures, written over seven wild months of battling fear with growing love, and weaving myself into a community of individuals so unlike myself, yet so familiarly human.

A year that carried us from the island of Hispaniola to the island of Hawai’i – outwardly tropically stunning and alike, but inwardly a shift so striking and so desperately needed. We planted ourselves into a new community for some time, then flowed into a constant readjusting to new values and languages, as we trickled through Southeast Asia with a growing baby in my belly.

And finally we were here. The little country town where I was born. The world I first knew. The place we promised each other, before God, that through it all, we’d love each other.

Most of my life I’d craved adventure, and my feet felt insatiably wanderlust. ‘To live in Australia forever,’ was my greatest fear, and I envied those whose habitat was foreign and frequently changing.

Yet suddenly, this little country town was everything I needed.

The home-brewed coffee on icy mornings, the quotidian movements on the slow-paced streets, the simple conversations with familiar souls – I suddenly loved these routine moments, as they breathed calm over my restless mind.

Josiah came to us at 2.20am one winter morning, a little earlier than expected, yet so perfectly on time. As his little, beating body was planted on my chest and he stared up into my eyes, I wondered how such a miracle had been living and growing inside me.

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I recounted my birth experience a thousand times in my mind that week. I was desperate not to forget any details of how in a matter of moments my life was indelibly changed. Hours of unbearable pain overcome in mere seconds by uncontainable joy – in every sense it was a rollercoaster of spontaneous emotion.

Motherhood surprised me – I tend to be underprepared for most events, but had tried to be more ready for this one, spending my sleepless pregnant nights flicking down my phone screen and googling all possible scenarios I could think of. What most surprised me about motherhood wasn’t the fatigue, or the thousand ways my body has changed, or sudden kindness from all female passers-by… but rather the way this child has overwhelmed my heart with love beyond what I ever expected. He is imperfect yet the most perfection I have ever known. He is far more than all I wanted in life, like a dream hidden in my heart that I never knew was mine.

And every day I stare at him in complete wonder. Sometimes thinking, I can’t believe you were there.


You were there, the smallest you have ever been, in our last days in Haiti, riding on motorcycles and feasting on rice under the burning sun, surrounded by so many loving souls.

You were there as I walked the streets of New York City for the first time, strolling from Starbucks to Starbucks. I wouldn’t have drunk so much coffee if I’d known.

Back in Australia, as I stood in tears when my sister walked down the aisle to the love of her life, little did I know your tiny heart was just below, beating even faster than mine.

And the first time your papa saw snow in California, we built a little snow family- a mum, a dad and a baby snowman, unaware that we’d be that little new family too.

You were there during those Hawaiian months, the place we first discovered you, amongst that community of many from different places and different stories, all now intertwined with yours.

When I saw you swimming around my womb on the ultrasound in Thailand, I saw you had your papa’s feet, and thought for a second your face looked my brother. I thought I might be imagining things, but in actuality you do.

When we drove over the river into the quiet village in Burma, and when we flew into the chaotic capital of Cambodia, you were there, furiously growing as we constantly moved.

And at the end of it all, at the beginning of it all, when we landed here, you were there. Home. One of them. I think you might have breathed a sigh of relief with me too.

Then, I knew you in twists and turns. Now, I know you in so much more. I know you in your furrowed eyebrows, your excited breaths, your sharp looks, your calm persona, and your sweet, sweet cuddles. I know you so much more than yesterday, and tomorrow I’ll know you more.

Though we fuss over your tiny feet and chubby hands like we’ve only just met – you’ve been with us for quite some time. From the very first moment you started growing in my womb, you were you, and that amazes me.

 

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The journey ahead.

There’s a lot I’ve learned about this journey called life in the past year.

I’ve learnt that working and settling down can be a good and meaningful road, but sometimes God thinks learning from people who don’t have the opportunity to work, might teach me even more. I’ve learnt that pursuing a Masters Degree is not necessarily a bad idea, but sometimes God thinks being surrounded by extreme material poverty and seeming hopelessness might prepare me better for my future. I’ve learnt that wanting a home with a door that can lock and window with curtains is a great desire to have, but sometimes, God thinks being newly married and living in community might shape me more into who he wants me to be right now.

I’ve learnt well and deep that my thoughts and hopes and plans for my life are often good… but aren’t always the exact plans he wants for me.

And I’m so thankful for that.

As you might already know, the next step of the journey for Jacques and I is a two-month outreach we will be co-leading to Thailand and Cambodia.

There, our focus will be on ministering to women and children, especially those at risk of being trafficked into the sex trade, and those who already have been.

As we’ve been learning the stories of some of these girls, I’m horrified at the way their lives have unraveled in a way contrary to what they would have ever dreamed.

Some of these girls were sold by their families at age 6, to pimps or brothels, simply so their family could eat. Others at age 14 can’t bear the pain their single mothers carry alone, and choose themselves to join the sex trade, not knowing at all what kind of pain, emotional and physical, they will soon experience. Some girls at 17 are lied to and taken for ‘jobs’, but are later forced to strip, dance and have sex with men they’ve never met.

Whatever their age, and however they entered the world of selling their bodies for money they barely touch – they are living a life that none of them ever expected or hoped for, and certainly a life God never desired or planned for them.

It’s typical for a girl to sleep with 10 to 20 men nightly – each session costing the ‘john’ a few dollars, and the girl another piece of dignity from her heart. It’s common for girls to trapped by being told they are indebted to their pimp, a debt they are never likely able to pay off. It’s normal for a girl to be beaten violently on a regular basis by their pimp, for a ‘wrong’ as simple as speaking back to him.

As a team of 8, we will be journeying through the country of Thailand, and then crossing the border to Cambodia, to understand better the story of trafficking in these nations, and to do what we can in two months, to contribute to the story of justice.

We’ll begin in Chiang Rai, which as you can see is right up north. This is a key area where hill tribes and poorer communities live – the majority of these people are illiterate, live in poverty, have no identity records and have no access to healthcare, education and employment. Because of this, they are extremely vulnerable, making them a prime target for pimps and traffickers, who lure them into major cities such as Bangkok under the pretense of getting a good job, where instead they find themselves trapped in the sex trade or slave labour.

In Chiang Rai we will focus on ministering to children who are at risk of being trafficked, and also working with those who are trafficked over the borders of Laos and Burma.

We will then travel down to Bangkok (pray for a vomitless 10 hour bus ride, please!), where one of Thailand’s major red light districts exists. Here, prostitution is normalised and the stories of the women and how they got into the sex trade are often overlooked. We’ll be working within bars and night clubs to meet these women, and in a short time build relationships and show them the perfect, unconditional love of the Father. After crossing the border into Siem Reap, Cambodia, we will be again working with women and children in the red light district.

There are a lot of emotions that their stories make me feel. Sad, helpless, and furiously angry. But, I know that emotion-driven actions without the love of Christ are futile, and so we will go, armed with not much else than the powerfully transforming love and truth of God, believing that in two months, some change can be made.

We are so excited to be a part of this story. If you would like to partner with us either prayerfully, we would be so grateful. As always, we want to be partnering with you in prayer too – so let us know if you have any prayer requests.

With love and gratitude,

Emily & Jacques

If you have the time…

… I wanted to share a story with you.

A few years ago in Haiti, I met a guy who told me about his high school experience.

It was startlingly different to mine.

At the start of eighth grade, his parents could not longer afford to send him to school. And so he went to work.

He worked for a year in construction, then he went and did his eighth grade.

After that, he had no money for ninth grade.

So he worked for half a year, finding as much work as he could in construction, plumbing and cleaning and saved up. He worked extra hard and did ninth and tenth grade in one year, to make up for missed time.

He couldn’t pay to do his eleventh grade.

So his school director asked him to get 7 other students to register the school, and his school fees would be free. He did this. In the middle of the year, the school director asked him to pay. He couldn’t.

So, he was kicked out of the school.

Unfortunately, this kind of story doesn’t surprise me. He’s only one of the many people I’ve met here in Haiti who have told me that since they were young, their parents either abandoned them or couldn’t afford to help them, so they had to work to pay for their own schooling.

This particular story is stuck in my memory though, because it’s my husband’s.

I sometimes look at my friends here in Haiti, and wonder how different their lives would be if they were placed in a developed country, and had all the same advantages and opportunities that I had growing up. Most of them would have finished university. He’d be a doctor. She’d be an engineer. He’d probably have his own recording studio by now.

But they aren’t in any of those positions because somewhere along the way, something broke down for them.

And for the vast majority of them, it was the lack of finances for their education.

At New Light Institute, children come to our school for free, because we believe that children should not miss years of education simply because their parents can’t afford to pay for school. We have a blue and white uniform, but if they can’t afford a uniform, they can come in white shirt and jeans. And if they don’t have that, they can come in whatever clothing they do have.

This is because our vision is to see a school where children come, regardless of what they can afford, and receive a quality education for free. We want them to be taught by loving, Christian teachers who believe in them and encourage them to become all that they are called to be.

And today, we want to share with you a special opportunity to impact not only one child, but a whole class of children.

Sponsor a teacher today, and help provide quality education to a class of children.

Your sponsorship will help cover a teacher’s salary to teach a class – educating, discipling and preparing Haiti’s youngest citizens, to lead tomorrow’s Haiti. It will mean this school can continue to operate for free, and the neediest children in the community can still receive a quality education.

A teacher’s monthly salary is $150 US, so a full sponsorship of $150 per month will ensure that teacher is paid month in and month out to teach up to thirty children. If you’d like to sponsor a teacher but are unable to give that much, please consider giving partial sponsorship of $25, $30, $50 or $75 a month. Any gift is a blessing and your prayerful and financial partnership is greatly valued.

Meet our teachers, a group of wonderful, loving individuals who are passionate about teaching and helping the children become all they’re called to.

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If you’d like to sponsor a teacher today and help provide quality education to a class of children, simply leave a comment here or shoot me an email at emilydiana at gmail dot com.
With so much gratitude and love,
Emily, the team at BelVil, and some of the cutest kids in the world.

Tales of the last few weeks.

Much has happened over the past couple of weeks, but little sunshine means little power, and so here I am to narrate the tales of the last few weeks.

I’ll start with a visit from our fearless leader from Hawaii, Sean, the very man under whose leadership Jacques and I met and fell in like. Sean came to Haiti for a visit, and we travelled to the island of La Gonave with him, his son Brendan and a couple others on a speedboat, to our friends’ Katie and Bernard’s place.

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Most of our mornings looked like this – hours spent talking and sharing and inhaling his wisdom.  All of his words seem to carry a piercing kind of truth, and conversations with him left me feeling challenged, empowered and excited. It has always fascinated me that some peoples’ words can be many and deep, that bring some kind of real change into the atmosphere that they are spoken, and others’ words can be many and meaningless. I hope and pray I become one whose words are deep.

While in La Gonave we rode motorcycles up a mountain one day to a town called ‘Nan Café’ (‘In Coffee’ in Haitian Creole), where coffee trees grow wildly. The land on which they grow is community property, and people pick as they want to drink, or the community gifts them at special events, such as weddings or funerals. We picked lots of coffee cherries.

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At the end of that week, we hosted an intensive teachers’ workshop here in Montrouis, with a goal of providing training for teachers to more effectively teach and mentor the children under their care.

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It was so inspiring to see how in just a few days, teachers were challenged and inspired to do their work with so much greater skill and passion. The teachers wanted more training like this, and I saw what a great need there is for free or inexpensive but quality training for teachers, and probably many other professions here in Haiti. I wrote an extended email about this seminar – if you’re interested in hearing more, let me know.

It’s kind of always been a dream of mine to have goats. Goats roam the streets of Haiti in all colours and sizes and I find myself watching them in fascination on most days. When we heard one of our cousins was selling two goats and a goat foetus for 3000 gourdes (a BARGAIN), I knew it was a closing door of opportunity that I had to leap through.

And so we did.

It’s such a beautiful thing to trade pieces of paper for living, breathing goats.


We plan to keep these two, Sarah Mami and Pi, and sell the baby goats as they grow. Jacques and I always said we’d build a house on a mountain with a lush garden and animals of every kind. It’s fun seeing this dream slowly become a reality.

Next on my list are pigs!

We moved our life (two fat suitcases and lots of borrowed furniture, cutlery and crockery) into a perfect little house on the other side of the town of Montrouis, which is completely a gift of God. When we first inspected it, I was somewhat discouraged, as I thought it was perfect in too many ways, but knew we wouldn’t be able to afford it. We proposed a crazily low price to rent it, 98% sure it wouldn’t be accepted, and it was!

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We have always wanted a home where anyone can come at any time and feel at home. It’s definitely been the case, and at any given time you’ll find a random assortment of humans at our place. Although part of the goal of moving here was to have more private time, it makes me happy to know this home is never lonely but instead is full of laughter, singing, debate and love.

Jacques and some friends have begun working on our garden, which was ugly and bare, but now full of baby papaya trees.

On the 2nd of September, 23 years ago, one of the cutest black babies in the world was born on the ground in a humble home in Montrouis. His name should have been ‘Jacques Smith Celiscar’, but due to human error on his birth certificate, he turned out to be ‘Jacques Ismith Seliscar’. Years later I married this special soul, and I am endlessly grateful that I did.

On the 23rd anniversary of his birth, I had diarrhea about 20 times that day, but family and friends came over and helped host a dinner party to celebrate this wonderful man.

After 5 months of marriage, some which make up some of the more difficult months of my life that provided the time and environment to expose many of each others’ flaws, I can honestly say that I am thankful that God chose him for me.

Here are 10 things I love about him.

  1. He is wise.
  2. The way he embodies the meaning of generosity throws out any idea of generosity I previously had. He’d give away everything to bless others and live on nothing but faith in a heartbeat.
  3. His heart for others always amazes me, and it’s not tainted with a speck of personal agenda. He genuinely loves others, and does all he can to serve them and bless them.
  4. He is a natural leader, and people listen to him and follow him. He effortlessly rallies groups of people to work together towards something.
  5. He makes everyone laugh, wherever we go.
  6. He looks at everything and sees a new business opportunity. The World Cup, goats, Insanity work out, our new home – you name it, there’s a way to make money out of it.
  7. As soon as he decides he wants to do something, he gets on it. He wasn’t born with an ounce of procrastination in him. He just makes things happen.
  8. He forgives quickly and easily. More quickly and easily than anyone I know.
  9. He has so much integrity before God.
  10. When I get mad about a person or a situation, am hurt or offended, defending my rights, and thinking that as my husband he will side with me and agree with me, instead, he always points me back to Jesus. Reminds me that He is above all. Reminds me of what I’ve been forgiven for. Reminds me that I’m not in control. And reminds me that sulking about it will produce nothing, but prayer will produce something.

All that to say, there are many, many more things I love about him. And some things I don’t like about him, too. But, marriage is fun. And it is a good way to learn about how wretched you are in all the secret places of your heart, and how much you really need Jesus to change.

My husband and brother-in-law came home with three little puppies a few nights ago. That night was like a piece of heaven descending on earth and exploding in my heart, which has deeply longed to snuggle puppies for years as my days spanned over small Sydney apartments, homesick for a countryside yard. They are the cutest balls of fur, and they sometimes resemble fat rats. These three soon became friends with my ex-stray puppy, who now looks big and ugly in comparison.

When we head back to Australia our family here will lovingly care for our goats and dogs (and maybe pigs by then), until we return to expand our animal empire.

As part of our work in BelVil, we screen tastefully chosen movies in local communities mainly for youth as a source of healthy entertainment.

We screened a film on a soccer field one night, and on another night against the wall of a shop.

On this particular night, there was a tragic accident on the main road (about 20 metres from where we were screening the film) where a huge tractor sliced the side of a huge truck carrying sacks of grenadia fruit and some passengers. Four passengers were killed, and one lady’s body was literally ripped in half – the bottom half near the grenadia truck, and her arm and head hundreds of metres up the road. For almost an hour hundreds of people flocked to the site to see what had happened, gathering around the dead bodies and taking photos of them.

It was a surreal experience. Please pray for the families of those who died that night. I can’t imagine how painful it would have been to lose someone in such a tragic and unexpected way.

Well, friends, sorry to end on such a note.

It’s been a full few weeks and we are grateful for everyone who is on this journey with us, whether you’re reading this, praying for us, or just smiling at us in support from where you are. We appreciate and love you so much.

 

Little moments

It’s all in the little moments.

Swimming in the bright blue ocean with naked little ones following you.

Riding on the backs of motorcycles in the pouring rain.

Setting up a temporary office.

Exploring new cities in new countries with husband.

Finding a new favourite nail colour for 30 pesos.

Grateful for the past couple of weeks and all the little, special moments that have made it beautiful.

 

This is my friend, Nicole.

This is my friend, Nicole.

We flew the same plane into Port-au-Prince on June 14th, 2011, and moved into the same house that day. It was a big, pink and white house in a neighbourhood called BelVil.

We clicked from the day we met, and over the days we laughed at our endless uncanny similarities. Our passion for Haiti. The wounds on our hearts. The fact that we both made our high school graduation speeches.

And then we talked about our dreams. And we saw that the God of the universe had written dreams on our hearts that were sentences starting on hers that finished on mine. It was complete.

Uncanny, we thought.

Then there was that night when we realised two brothers liked us. We laughed so hard that night, lying on mats on a balcony, shaking in silent laughter while forty others around us were falling asleep.

But then only months later, we laughed again, realising that we too, had feelings for them.

Two years later, we met on that island of Hispaniola, on a mission: to explore more of Haiti. To see more, to learn more. And so we did. And only three days apart, we started dating those brothers. It actually kind of surprised us.

One year on, and here we are. Married.

So now, meet the Seliscars and the Celiscars. We spell our surnames differently. It was an accident on Jacques’ birth certificate.

Over the past three years the vision we first talked about in that pink and white house has been growing steadily.

We’re calling it ‘BelVil’.

Why BelVil?

BelVil means beautiful city, which is exactly what we want to see. Beautiful cities reflecting that heavenly city.

We all met in a neighbourhood called BelVil. We came as broken people, rich and poor, needy and vulnerable, but left knowing who we were as children of God. And the vision of the organisation is what happened in BelVil. Broken people came and lived in a community where their lives were transformed, and they left as people empowered and discipled, to go out and fulfill the call God had given them, and to transform their own communities.

And so our mission is this: to empower and disciple individuals to live out their God-given destinies and transform their communities. 

And how will we do this?

To be honest, we are still figuring it all out. We’ve got plenty of ideas, but we are just getting started.

We believe that a transformed community depends on what’s often called the ‘7 spheres of influence’: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion.

So we are focusing on the town of Montrouis, Haiti (the our husbands’ hometown), and here is some of what we are working on right now.

Vision School 

Many children in Haiti don’t go to school simply because they can’t afford to. Instead of learning each day, they stay at home and play, and it’s not uncommon for students to finish school in their mid-twenties.

It’s also common that children only have 1 snack and 1 meal a day, which makes it harder for them to focus at school because they are so hungry.

We are partnering with a local school to:

– generate funds so parent’s can pay what they can afford, so even if they are poor, their children can still go to school.

– provide a snack mid-morning and a lunch for the students, so they don’t spend the school day hungry. 

– increase the quality of education at the school so students have a quality education that builds their capacity.

– increase the effectiveness of discipling children in the school, so students are nurtured and encouraged to have authentic relationships with God. 

Belvil Cafe and Internet Cafe 

The unemployment rate is outrageously high in Haiti, leaving many struggling to pay for necessities such as food, healthcare and education. Also, plenty of literate young people don’t have a basic understanding of computer/internet use.

We are starting a cafe and internet cafe with the hope of:

– creating 16 part time jobs, so people can learn new skills and have a regular income. 

– providing an affordable 1 on 1 training with computers and Internet, so people can use these skills to leverage their often minimal resources.

– forming a loving, encouraging community, where people find they are valued, loved and built up.

Community Outreach:

Children’s Ministry

Twice a month, we are cooking a Haitian feast for 50 children, teaching them the gospel, singing songs and playing games. Through this we hope to teach children about Jesus that will help give them a good foundation for their lives. 

Movie Ministry

Twice a month, we are screening a movie for free to the public. Because there’s a lack of entertainment in Haiti, people often turn to unhealthy forms of pleasure or fun. After the movie is screened, we’ll discuss with the audience what can be learned from the movie. Through this, we want to have fun, build community, and help people think more about their character and actions, about what is right or wrong, and eventually point them to Jesus. 

We have lots more brewing, but these are the projects currently in action. Stay tuned, my friends. If you made it to the end of this blog post, I’m very grateful and I’d love to know. We are so excited to journey this with you – and would love for you to be a part of it. Let us know what you think, if you have any ideas or think you could contribute in any way.

Love and sunshine,

E + the BelVil team.

under papa’s wings

The last three months have been a whirlwind.

Being newly married, leaving my job, moving to Haiti (into a home of eleven), piecing back together fragments of forgotten Creole and trying to start a few projects all at once was more challenging than I ever expected.
Fear, hurt and confusion crept their way through the doubting holes in my heart, and frankly, I was overwhelmed.

Thankfully, the graceful gift of change arrived when we most needed it.

For the past couple of weeks we have lived like nomads, drifting from place to place, sometimes leaving without knowing exactly where we are going, or how we will get there.
‘But how will we get to the bus station with all of our bags?’ I ask.
‘I’m not sure. But if we just start moving, God will make a way.’
And He always does.

Surprisingly, in this place of constant transition, it’s been peaceful. It’s been restful. In movement, and change of environment, my soul has stood still, and breathed.

Peace.

I am thankful my Papa in heaven knows all my needs, and loves me so that He gives generously to me when He knows best to.
And it’s under His wings that I find security in danger, comfort in trial, and strength in weakness.

Please do keep us in your prayers when you can, and let us know however we can be praying for you.

Here are a just a few of the beautiful people that have graced our lives these past few weeks.

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twenty chairs.

this old friend has been making us twenty chairs over the past few weeks. he’s been struck down with chikungunya so the deadline has been extended a few times, but his soul is so beautiful that i don’t even mind.

he carves the chairs out of tree trunks and weaves the seats out of dried leaves from coconut trees in his backyard in the summer breeze.

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days of…

dreaming.
building.
working.
employing.
planning.
sweating.
thinking.
thanking.
praying.
hoping.
believing.

that this space below will be a space where people find hope in part-time jobs. find joy in working. find pleasure in sharing chocolate pizza with friends, and sipping iced coffees with boyfriends. find meaningful information and purposeful pathways on the internet. find new friendships across wooden tables.

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sunshine and chikungunya.

I’ve been here in Haiti for a month today, in this little mountainous nation that captured my heart four years ago. Back then, I recall realising how it was here that every cell in my soul seemed to light up with life, and here that everything that had been within me from birth suddenly made sense.  It’s the place I found myself and the place I’ve seemed to ‘find myself’ again and again, each time I come.

However this time it’s different, as I am now part of a forever-union called marriage to the ridiculously good looking Jacques Smith Seliscar, and I’m learning to ‘find myself’ in a new way, as a part of two. It requires a lot more effort, patience, grace, humility and time to figure out what’s inside two heads and hearts and learn how to make them work as one. It kind of reminds me of two super uncoordinated but in-love people doing a three-legged race, and falling flat on our faces every few steps.

So here beginneth the Seliscar story. The life of two young and passionate newlyweds, hoping to make a life of much more meaning than a life for ourselves could ever be.

So far in Haiti: 

We visited the island of La Gonave for a week to spend some days with our beloved friends, Katie and Bernard, who we met back in 2011 in our Discipleship Training School in Port-au-Prince. Back then, our impending relationships were a scandalous concept. Now, we are all married and they have a cute milatto baby.

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One by one, chikungunya has taken down a fam or friend for a few days with a burning fever, intense joint pain, a rash, or all of the above simultaneously. Having a chikungunya-infected husband is like sleeping in an oven and hugging a hot potato all day, sans foil.

On a positive note, chikungunya is a great way to form a connection with a random human. When driving to Port-au-Prince, each time we were stopped by a police officer, we asked, ‘You don’t have chikungunya, yet?’. Immediately, a connection was formed, laughter was shared, and good times were had. Thank you chikungunya, for the good times. Now leave.

Here are some other moments and babes that have graced our days in Ayiti so far.

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