call to serve, Feed My Starving Children, Haiti, health care, hunger, mission work, sorghum making, Uncategorized

Why Haiti? Part III

Len Demert founder

Schools4Haiti Founder, Len Demert

Day 2 of the mission trip with Schools4Haiti:

One of the very first things that was apparent upon arriving in Port au Prince (my first exposure to Haitian people) is how boorish or verbally aggressive they are.  It is classic id run amok–no filter.  If they think it, they tend to say it. “Hey pretty lady!” they call out to some of the ladies in our group.  Wow, put a sock in it, Ace! I think to myself. Yet somehow, they are also polite and quick to smile.  Their default expression is one forged out of lifelong hardship, however.

Haitian elder

She’s younger than you think…

Unless you are from Haiti or used to driving in Haiti, it’s best to hire a driver who can double as an interpreter–especially if you are not fluent in Creole.  One truck was not enough for our team and our luggage.  The trip organizer, Penny Demert-Neal of Schools4Haiti left our company to get another truck rented from Avis.  The standing joke of how many people can you fit on a Haitian truck (one more) did not hold for our team. We needed two trucks. Driving in PAP streets is harrowing, crowded, choked with traffic, and very minimal traffic laws are observed.  Our host would later tell us stories of drivers who have hit others in the street who were then pulled from the vehicle and stoned by villagers–judge, jury, and executioners all rolled into one frenzied group.

haitian streets

driving in Haitian streets

We began our northward ascent toward Mirebalais and the New Life International compound and our hosts, Brian and Jamie Rauschenberger. Soon we were climbing Mt. Cabrit (goat) and were seeing what appeared to be wild goats, donkeys, and horses.  Our driver soon corrected me on this issue and said that although each animal appeared to be wild, every Haitian knew exactly who this horse belonged to or that goat, even that stray chicken scampering about. I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the countryside that followed the despair, crowds, and litter so rampant in PAP. Cacti of varying types speckled the mountainside, while animals scurried about. On the way up Mt. Cabrit, those of us in the back of the truck got caught in our first monsoon, taking care to hold the blue tarp over us and at least limit the impact of the big drops of rain that were pelting us.

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Our New Life Int’l hosts, the Rauschenburgers

After arriving at New Life International at meeting our hosts, we grabbed our bags and checked out our new dorm rooms.  Each of us men had a single bed, three in our room.  One of the docs roomed with his sister, a high school French teacher.  The rest of the ladies in our group shared a larger dorm room with two single beds and two bunk beds.  The dorms, recently completed, looked more like bunkers than dorms as the interior was unpainted cement that was not yet finished sweating–and would not be painted until time passed and the sweating had run its course.

inside NLI dorm

inside dorm room at New Life Int’l

Our host, Brian, explained that the air conditioning was freshly installed but the daylight hours had slipped away before the electrical connections could be completed.  Therefore, our first night we would have no AC but each subsequent night we would.  This was a huge bonus, as the nighttime air brought open windows, mosquitoes, and security risk.  Outside were two armed guards who kept patrol while we slept.  New Life International in Mirebalais sat on 40 acres of the prettiest jungle in Haiti.  Enormous cane stalks bordered the lane and the property and made me recall the memories of my grandfather Ever who grew cane and pressed sorghum for 47 years until he died in 1983.

Wanting to appease the curiosity of my foodie wife Sara (of thesisterslice.com), I took care to carefully catalog the different foods that we ate while in Haiti.  Brian’s wife Jamie served us spaghetti with fish, rice & beans, an iceberg salad, and ranch chicken drumsticks with lime-aid to wash it all down with.  Brian assured us that the lime-aid was made with purified water from his own system.

Haitian water purifying system at Pastor Paul’s orphanage

** Watch for Why Haiti, part IV soon! Please remember to like and follow the blog.

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call to serve, Feed My Starving Children, Haiti, health care, higher education, hunger, mission work, Uncategorized

Why Haiti? Part II

I decided I would keep a journal before heading to Haiti.  I wanted to look back on my experiences, Haitian cuisine, the orphans, and my team. Haiti would be the 19th country in my passport, except mine had expired and was in need of renewal.  The postmaster in the Mount Horeb, WI post office discouraged me from expediting the renewal, certain that the new one would return within 5 weeks.  She was right.  I paid my $116.50 in total passport costs and merely waited.  A scrub top for the photo–perfect.  I looked the part of a medical missionary.

Eriks passport photo001

my passport pic, wearing a scrub top

Our flight was leaving O’Hare about 0730 with a connection in Fort Lauterdale, FL, so nearly all of the team wanted to meet at a Quality Inn there, dine, and organize the materials we were taking along. Day 1 of this excursion happened to be July 2nd, my 8th wedding anniversary with Sara.  I came home after a 12-hour night shift in the emergency department, napped 3 hours, and headed to the farm.  My wife is an excellent planner and had most of my clothes and accessories gathered already. I made a point of not taking anything that I could live without, worried about the risk of it getting stolen or ruined in some fashion.  By 3 pm we were leaving my brother’s farm and we arrived at the Quality Inn O’Hare by 1730.

Soon we were having dinner at Bella Sera in the Hotel.  I ordered the seafood ravioli and remember that I wanted to lick the plate–it was so incredibly good!  Those who know me well know that I am a foodie, married to a foodie: Sara, 1/3rd of thesisterslice.com Topping off my dinner was tiramisu and a Castle Rock pinot noir.

tiramisu

tiramisu!

I knew it was not likely I would eat this well in a third world nation for the next 10 days. I don’t believe we had any teetotalers among the group, which made organizing and re-packing all the medical supplies that much more fun. By 2230 we were in bed, brother Adam and I in our room, and I awoke at 0200–mind a flurry of activity, so I decided to go use the hotel’s business computer to log some work on my doctorate.

airport security

airport security

I was asleep maybe another hour when the alarm went off and we were up. We were on the shuttle headed for the airport by 0430–strong work on the part of the QI staff and drivers.  It was no easy task to get all of the team and our 12 bags into the shuttle. It was an easy traverse through security and then to an Americanized breakfast of McDonald’s hot cakes and a venti Mocha latte.  I couldn’t imagine there would be a McDonald’s on every street like in the U.S.; but then again, I was surprised to find one in Zermatt, Switzerland and Foix, France too. A couple of hours later we were dining in the Ft. Lauterdale airport before catching our 90 minute flight to Port au Prince.  A nice, hot plate of spaghetti and meatballs in my belly helped get me psyched up for culinary conditions unknown once we landed in Haiti.  How do you get psyched up for intractable diarrhea in a 3rd world nation?

mcdonalds zermatt

McDonalds, in the shadow of the Matterhorn!

We knew when we were flying over the Bahamas, a series of islands surrounded by some of the brightest aqua-blue colored water I have ever seen.  Minutes later we were touching down in PAP and I thought “We’re not in Wisconsin any more, Toto.”  We were greeted by throngs, oceans of Haitians everywhere.

crowds of haitians

Haitian crowds like the one at the PAP airport

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Do-It-Yourself, health care, higher education, hunger, Uncategorized, Weight Loss

No Weigh! 6 Simple Ways to Trim Bad Habits & Your Waistline!

Hansons are big people.  Not so much in height as in girth.  Grandma was always heavy, grandpa was built like a utility truck.  Dad was morbidly obese and mom was plump.  What a nice word, plump.  “Fat” sounds so judgmental.  Plump sounds cozy, like when I was a small boy and just wanted to snuggle into grandma’s soft, round, plump belly and fall asleep. Growing into men, grandma was concerned that we would go out in the world and settle for skinny Minnies who we “couldn’t find under the sheets.”  Instead, she suggested we find good eaters for our mates. God forbid, I once brought a girlfriend around who had the nerve to pick around at the dinner in front of her.  After grandma saw this, that woman had to go!

reubenesque

For many years I was a runner.  I ran because I liked it…and maybe because I knew where my genes would take me if I let them.  I ran my last marathon on my 38th birthday in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Just prior to the Med City Marathon I had met Sara, a 6′ 2″ German gal who I had decided would be a great partner to raise three boys with.  Although grandma would be pleased that I knew how to locate my mate, the trouble was that Sara is a mighty fine cook.  I stopped running and starting eating.  Before I knew what happened, I was packing 282 lbs. onto a 5’9″ frame and feeling pretty lousy about it.  As it turns out, I made a miserable fat guy.  I got winded walking up two flights of stairs.  I would feel sciatica shoot down my leg from my back.  I sweated on relatively cool days. I had to wear BIPAP when I slept so I did not stop breathing for long periods of time.

Erik Med City Marathon 38th BD001

Hamming it up at the Med City Marathon, my 38th birthday

To make matters worse, in July of 2013 I saw a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with osteoarthritis in both hips.  I began to pay attention to the hip x-rays put on the PACS screen at work in the emergency department.  There were 91 year old women with healthier hip joints than I had.  I was referred to an orthopedic surgeon who popped up the AP film of my hips and said “Your hips are shot!  At 46–what in the hell did you do to your hips?”  I ran for many years, I have been in health care all my adult life, and I love to ski–all had taken a toll on my hip joints.  “Big guys like you aren’t suppose to run!” the ortho guy exclaimed.  “Save that for those wispy-chested Nigerians who are built for distance running.”

marathoner

marathoner

Now that I was grinding bone on bone in each hip, my choices to lose weight were suddenly quite limited.  Cutting out my tongue seemed too extreme so I took a long look at the habits I had formed to get me to 282 pounds.  I hate the word ‘diet’–implicit in that word is an ebb and flow I am not comfortable with.  Or maybe, that’s what the word has come to include in our society.  Inevitably the wane of dieting is followed by the wax of gaining all the weight back the moment behavior resorts back to what is was before. Options limited, I had to achieve weight loss in the most basic way possible:  fewer calories in, compared to calories burned throughout the day.  No longer could I just go out and increase my running to burn off weight gain.

debility

debility

1.  I stopped eating out of boredom.  If I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t eat.  I’m not sure when I started eating due to boredom, but I had somewhere along the line.

eating when bored

1) don’t eat when bored

2. I started cutting down on my portion size and asking my wife to do the same when she served my plate.  Although I grew up with a scarcity of food and leftovers were something we never had, it became okay to push my plate away when I had enough.  I had to reassure my wife there was nothing wrong with supper, it was just that I had enough.

push food away

2) No need to belong to the Clean Plate Club!

3. I stopped using social gatherings like birthdays, holidays, big games, deer hunting season, and other celebrations as an excuse to pig out.  Instead, I would try a single bite-size of something I really liked just for a taste, then quit.  This takes tremendous will power.

buffet line

3) No pigging out at social functions!

4.  I stopped eating a big meal right before bed.  I have been a night shift worker for 28 years so my bed time is variable, depending upon my work schedule.  No matter when I was going to bed, 10 p.m. or 10 a.m., I would have a simple sandwich or apple–just so my stomach didn’t growl while trying to fall asleep.

healthy snacks

4) Healthy snacks only before bed, if you must

5. I began to curb my intake of red wine.  I love a nice chianti or sangiovese on my night off, but at 7 kcals per gram, the weight gain from alcohol adds up fast.  Drinking my calories was no different than eating a big meal right before laying down.

chianti

5) In moderation only!

6. I started drinking a lot more water–the recommended eight 8 oz. glasses per day. In doing so, I replaced my usual diet Coke with water–the caffeine being an appetite stimulant and in its absence, I was not as hungry any more.

water bottles

6) Drink more water, less soda!

I had also moved from the float pool as an RN to the emergency room.  ER nurses run their butts off, as a rule.  By contrast, when I was in the float pool I often enjoyed a banker’s lunch.  In the ER, I was lucky to have two minutes to wolf down a PB & J.  This is a very unhealthy eating practice, but at least I was burning calories in my new role.  Say what you will, but a year and a half after moving to the ER, I am down from 282 lbs. to 232 lbs–A fifty pounds weight loss by using ONLY these 6 easy steps!

skinny in fat jeans

Happy losing!

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Feed My Starving Children, higher education, hunger

18 Years of Hunger

     oxygen tent

     My earliest memory was of waking up in an oxygen tent in a La Crosse, WI hospital recovering from pneumonia at age 4. A buxom blonde nurse lifted me from my crib and held me up to the 2nd floor window just as my parents were walking in, my dad holding up a football that was meant as a gift for me. What did I know about a football, except that it obviously meant something to him? We seemed to do okay then, financially, but those times were brief. Dad moved our family to Omaha in 1972 and was to take the place of a Blue Cross and Blue Shield executive who was taking an early retirement. However, when we arrived in Omaha with all of our earthly possessions, that executive opted to not leave the company after all. Dad, being dad, told the BC & BS folks were to put his promotion and so they did.

willie lowman

Dad preferred to bounce from sales job to sales job for the next 7 years, in spite of the growing family. Before long there were nine children, 9 mouths to feed, and seemingly…not much in way of thought as to how these mouths would be fed. Welfare and food stamps helped round off the rough corners of the “Doug H” world, along with an occasional USDA box of gubment cheese, powdered eggs and milk, and canned green beans. Mom could be cunning like a fox, and soon devised a plan to send her sullen, failure-to-thrive oldest children out to apartment buildings and bars to collect change for charities like the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation and Easter Seals. Those charities would never see a dime of that money. The first portion came off the top to buy dad’s cherry-flavored Borkum-Riff pipe tobacco and then mom’s candles and incense to do her black magic witchcraft rituals with. Then, we could buy food for the family with the remainder of the change. How we managed to never be molested or taken is beyond me. Hans was 11, I was 9, Thurston was 7. We made the rounds, the two or three of us, sans parent.

begging child

Mom and dad didn’t like to pay their rent very much, so we had the opportunity to move a lot.  I hated moving because it would mean a new school, often in the middle of the school year.  Neither parent seemed to mind subjecting us children to that.  Dad had an out-of-hospital arrest in February, 1978, at age 39.  Dad weighed 315 lbs then, on a 5′ 11″ frame and was a 2-pack per day smoker, plus the pipe.  Omaha had a big snowfall that day and dad managed to get the car stuck in a snow bank and had to shovel himself out of it.  He later ran out of gas and had to walk 8 blocks (something he was not accustomed to doing) to get more gas.  He was selling Rainbow vacuum cleaners at the time, considered the Ferrari of vacuums then, due to their price tag and ability to clean carpets.

Rainbow vacuum

As mom and dad would later tell, dad left a meeting at the office about 6 p.m. but announced to his parting co-workers that he had forgotten his briefcase and returned to the office.  Dad no sooner reached the back of the office when he collapsed.  God was watching over this man with nine children at home and a wife with no means of providing for them because another salesman, a recent Vietnam Vet and medic, also returned to the office mere moments after Dad, found him down, and began CPR!  What are the odds, circa 1978, that this impossible scenario of events would play out this way?  Dad’s office happened to be 2 blocks from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The movie “Beyond and Back” was in the theater in the months after dad’s near-death experience and dad told me in detail about how he watched CPR being done on him by his co-worker while looking down from above.

out of body experience

If it weren’t for the kindness of church elders, our Wisconsin family, and complete strangers, we likely would have starved to death. I remember going to bed hungry for 18 years, except this improved once we moved closer to our WI family in 1979.  Funny term–“failure to thrive”–we were thriving just fine.  The alternative was dying, and as long as we weren’t dying of starvation we were thriving.

Today I am a masters-educated RN, working on my doctorate in health care leadership and organizational behavior, and my wife and 3 sons spent yesterday and today making 5 baked goods & treats to raise money for Feed My Starving Children at our church.  My sons will never know the lean times I did growing up, and for that I am most grateful and blessed.

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