On having fun

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Lately I've noticed that my activities with James comprise a new element - he's been playing and interacting, goofing around in such a way that it's just fun to watch him have fun.

I can say now, "James, we're going to the park!" and see something click in his head. Going for his shoes, he knows he's in for a good time. Once he sees the playground, another light goes on in his little head. It's play time!

He's playing much more with "big kid" equipment. Climbing the steps in the tots play area, and going down the tiny slide. But it's all still completely novel, and he approaches it all with some awe and reticence.

He's also just a goofball. He likes to stand and stomp his feet in place, doing a little dance. When he sees something he's really excited about - a truck, or another kid maybe - he babbles some gibberish in an authoritative squawk and points to the sky with his right arm thrust up in the air, and keeps it there while walking toward the object of interest. He also prances around the kitchen now with his hands clasped behind his back, or just one tucked behind there - our little Napoleon.

It's a whole new thing to watch him having fun like this, and our activities are much more geared toward getting him out and letting him explore. No longer content with the limited movement the indoors' provide, he's a boy on the move. And, I suspect, the adventuring will only continue, reaching heights for which I'm not ready!

James "chasing birds" at the school field.

Our sweet boy

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Well it's hard to believe; he's here! And he's changed our world completely. James Oswald was born May 1, 2017 at 12:59 a.m.

James Benedict Oswald, weighed 7 lbs 10 oz at birth, 21 inches long

Yesterday he turned 10 weeks old, and we commemorated this with an early photo shoot by Ted's brother P.J. who owns his own photography business.

Our sweet boy, who has gone by the epithet "Sweet Baby James" (from James Taylor's famous song) since birth, is smiling and changing a little all the time. It's amazing that the wild news we learned on a Friday night in Haiti 11 months ago has now been realized in the form of this beautiful guy.

Meet James!

(All photos by P.J. Oswald of Fits and Stops Photography)


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's. Whether you have a partner to smooch, good friends to party with, or chocolates to indulge in, I sense God encouraging me to take stock of this past year and to be thankful for all the incredible, sweet moments He has offered us.

With love,

the Oswalds

(photo: Wedding Day, Aug. 15. 2009)

Walking through

Monday, February 13, 2017

I have been in transition for some time now. It started last September, when Ted and I found out we were pregnant, and I left Haiti less than two weeks later - saying au revoir to friends and co-workers for an indeterminate amount of time.

Yet we did know that our timeline was changing. Fast. I arrived in San Diego a bit in shock, running on the adrenaline of the very quick, very "adult"  decisions we had made in less than a week's time - a record for us. Since seeing our little one's ultrasound and hearing his heartbeat the Wednesday prior, we had decided that I would leave the country, and we would both end our term with MCC on December 23rd. It seemed like the wise, prudent thing to do since we knew we desired to have our baby and set up shop in the U.S. for this next "chapter."

And now we had three months ahead with us mostly being apart. Ted "held down the fort" with our work in Haiti. He enjoyed Sundays with our church community, read a lot, dove into new exploits like bread baking and crepe making. And I was thrust into the throes of  'transition' - sort of getting a grip on this whole 'culture shock' and 'values shock' thing as we awaited our ultimate reunion in late December.

The interim period held a lot of gems. (I will share about one of them soon here.) But my stress about the uncertainty of the future was like the ringmaster calling the shots on my activities in my day-to-day life.

Fast forward to today - February 13 - nearly 6 months later. I am in a very different place, emotionally, and I am starting to come to a new, less frantic look on our reality. Ted and I are together. He is now 7 weeks back from Haiti, and I know he is going through transitions of his own.

So 6 months of transition, and counting. You might say, so what? People have surely been through much longer times of uncertainty and even unemployment. Yet all the while I have this baby growing in me, inching along to a due date in late April. We have a new reality coming, and he's coming, ready or not! While we are thrilled, this adds a layer of stress to my day-to-day that makes the waiting, the uncertainty, very hard to maneuver.

Yet my solace comes in knowing that things will work out somehow. We may not know yet where our next steps will be - the job, the home - but we haven't been cast aside or overlooked by our Father.

Seeking Him.

Haiti in August (I may have been pregnant then without
realizing it.)
San Diego County (Cardiff), near where we are currently based.

Poetry: from the journal

Saturday, December 3, 2016

I found this written in my journal about a year ago, after we had returned to Haiti for the start of the new year:

Bleach water in my hair,
sounds of roosters
hot, sticky.
That feeling of being on the frontier,
but in a cool, ceramic tile oasis

It is morning #1: back in Haiti.

And this, from my journal close to two years ago. Ted had encouraged me to be bold and to try to write down some poetry. I reflected on experiences with a neighborhood boy:

Instead of hope,
Instead of a smile, or kinship
a "solution" offered.
I can't talk; I can't give you more.

Who am I? And what are we?
I guess, we are actually the same.
Tied by a line.

You are my brother; that is all.
We are family.

Kinship, explored.
Brought forth
into it's actual meaning.

So this is who we are, who I am.

Live, therefore.
Offer the smile,
Be brave.
Live in the light - whole,
not afraid.

When I first met Tanis, he asked me for a bike. Then he asked me to buy him a ball, a new phone, pay his school fees. I couldn't meet all of his needs, nor did I feel it was my place to do so. But he came by ever so often - knocked on the gate. And we would chat in the driveway. I know he has it rough. And I often struggled with what to do - what could I offer him? Besides a peanut butter sandwich, and some time? The question didn't always have to be as complicated as I made it to be. I think that simply chatting with him at times was the answer.

So, he came by and we would 'shoot the breeze.' The one neighbor we actually chatted with regularly over our first several months in Haiti.

From Nairobi to Haiti and Back

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A reflection of mine from a few weeks back:

I feel very full at the moment, thinking how life has woven moments into memorable patterns over my adult life. About eight and a half years ago, I spent two formative months in Nairobi. (I know, “formative” is the label you put on something that you don’t know how to adequately describe; it communicates “it was complicated, but meant something beautiful.”) I spent a lot of this time on my own or in the company of a friend, Lisa's, dear daughter and her nanny. I traveled the city by matatu and walked for much of my daily commute. Lisa connected me with friends and ministries that I explored on my own over a two-month period. It was a time of introspection and processing for me.

View reflected in a mirror from our lodgings in Jacmel, Haiti (photo: Anna Vogt)

Ted and I have now lived in Haiti for two years, working with Mennonite Central Committee. In May, Ted and I spent two days in the beautiful seaside town of Jacmel, in Haiti’s south. We traveled there with two visiting MCC colleagues who wanted to explore more of Haitian geography after a full work week. We stayed at a charming bed and breakfast that we had heard about many times in the past 6 months from a friend in Port-au-Prince.

The bed and breakfast turned out to be more lovely than we could have imagined. Janet, the owner, put so much thought into the design and aesthetic of the space. She is also a wonderful chef, and presented us with a delicious breakfast spread both mornings.

Janet used to work with MCC in present day South Sudan. She also raised her kids in Haiti. Most recently, she worked with Save the Children in Sub-Saharan Africa. When I learned this, several things clicked at once. My good friend Lisa who hosted me in Nairobi also worked with Save the Children. I asked Janet, and it turns out she and Lisa are dear friends. I couldn’t believe it! Standing in Janet’s kitchen in a small town in southern Haiti, we make a connection that weaves together some very significant moments in my life.

With Janet at her beautiful Jacmel home and B&B

Back to today: I got an e-mail this morning from a colleague who heads an international organization here in Port-au-Prince; she is a friend who has collaborated with us on some significant projects since the start of our term with MCC. Apparently, she is in Nairobi at the moment, and she informed me via this e-mail that she “spent the morning walking through a forest in Nairobi” with Kristen and Wawa Chege.

Kristen and Wawa are the couple that held the advocacy position in Haiti before Ted and I started with MCC. They led our orientation in July 2014 when we were preparing to “take over” their roles. Wawa is Kenyan and they have lived in Nairobi with their two children since they left Haiti two years ago. I may be wrong, but if my hunch is right, our colleague would have been walking with them through the very arboretum that I frequented during my time in Nairobi, which is where Ted and I are pictured below:

My and Ted's reunion in Nairobi, after about 6 months apart
(December 2007)

So, through these few recent encounters we have traveled from Haiti to Nairobi and back again. Beautiful connections that wrap these parts of my life and the world together.



Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Goalie Emerson Pierre positions himself to block an attempt by Justimé Anderson while defender Bosquet Williams tries to assist. MCC/Ted Oswald

What’s the best way to teach peace and nonviolence? For youth in Cité Soleil, one of Haiti’s most underdeveloped areas, the answer is soccer.

SAKALA, a partner of MCC’s for six years, has scored a goal with this concept. Gangs have broken Cité Soleil into competing turf and plunged the community into cyclical fighting. To the rest of Haiti, people from Cité Soleil’s 34 neighborhoods are stigmatized, dogged by assumptions of banditry and violence. SAKALA is working to change that perception and teach peace.

Coach Karls Jodler Fils-Aimé
On this humid Monday afternoon, two teams – the 13 and 15 year olds – come together for practice just as the sun is beginning to set. They are coached by Karls Jodler Fils-Aimé, a 28-year-old born in Cité Soleil who is equally passionate about soccer and SAKALA’s peacebuilding mission. He fell in love with the sport when he was twelve and took the goalkeeper position, eventually playing at SAKALA when the program established itself in 2006. He loves giving back to the kids on his teams and seeing the progress they make on and off the field.

SAKALA’s name is actually three words – sa ka la – which in Haitian Creole translate loosely to “this can be here.” The program is meant as a reference point, offering a different vision for what Cité Soleil can be. After ten years of existence, the SAKALA center is a safe space that boasts Haiti’s largest urban gardens, a computer lab, art classes, and space for a diverse sports program – the centerpiece of which is its soccer teams.

Soccer is a proven winner with the youth. Over 150 boys and girls who range from 9 to 24 years old participate in the program annually. It attracts kids from sections all over Cité Soleil and mixes players to break down harmful stereotypes about rival neighborhoods while teaching conflict resolution and peacemaking principles during practice and play. Players circle up every practice and before every match, and coaches remind them to treat their teammates and opponents well and remember that peace is the ultimate goal. The SAKALA teams are part of a division that holds matches all over Port-au-Prince and even in the countryside, and SAKALA’s players are community ambassadors who compete with groups from other disadvantaged communities as well as some of Haiti’s most elite private schools.

“When teams from outside Cité Soleil encounter us, they assume we’ll play dirty because of where we come from,” Coach Fils-Aimé shares, “but they are shocked to find we’re the most respectful players. Whether we win or lose, our players play fairly.”

 “Though we’ve yet to win a championship, we’ve been awarded the fair play cup,” an award for best sportsmanship, Karls offers proudly. For youth from Cité Soleil, and SAKALA, this is an achievement worth celebrating.

Both teams pose at the end of practice with Coach Fils-Aimé and Felder Jean Paul (at center), one of the members of SAKALA's leadership

This post was originally published on the MCC Haiti blog.