When God created Kari Noel Egge, God was having a really good day.
Our dear friend Kari passed away this Saturday surrounded by her family in Minnesota. But this blog post is not about her death, but her life.
I met Kari 12 years ago. She was my first boss at CRS-Haiti. I was the “intern”. Fresh out of grad school, I was so excited to live and work overseas for the first time. I was also really scared. Kari changed all that. She began emailing me a month before I arrived in Haiti. She never introduced herself as my “boss” – only said we would be “working together”. She told me about my soon to be colleagues, about her life, about CRS-Haiti, and of great interest to me – the social life in Port-au-Prince.
When I finally arrived in Haiti in late July of 1999, Kari and Graham picked me up at the airport with their dog, Ally. I loved them all immediately. My luggage did not arrive – so Kari gave me her own clothes and a bathing suit for our trip to the beach the next day. You see, Kari had many wonderful qualities – she was brilliant, funny, compassionate, generous, witty, and a great storyteller. She was also the best social organizer I have ever met. Inclusive to the core, Kari made everyone feel welcome. She loved bringing different groups of people together.
Kari began an important tradition: P and P at Resto Bar St. Pierre on Monday nights. You see, Mondays at CRS-Haiti were the worst. It was the day when all of the field staff were in – so 1 Delmas 81 was overflowing with chaos. Not only was the office bursting with staff trying to collect their per diems and have multiple meetings anywhere they could find a space, it was also the day where you heard about everything that went wrong in the field the week before. Yes – the Toyota Landcruiser ambulance that went through a four foot deep river and was making a coughing sound – the backpacks for the community health workers that went missing – and the principal from the school in Cabaret that was selling Title II commodities (wheat soy blend, oil and lentils) at the local market. We learned of all these stories and more on Mondays. Mondays were stressful days.
So Kari began P and P. Poutsine (a Quebecois dish of french fries and gravy) and Prestige / Presidente (Hispaniola’s two beer choices) at Resto Bar St. Pierre, a Petionville restaurant with a big porch out front. Everyone was invited – the regulars were the CRS crowd – MP, Todd, Graham, Kari, myself; the Care folks – Michelle, Frederique and Christian; World Vision – Ian and Rein; UMCOR – Geoff and Jen; Garth and Maureen from AID sometimes showed up too. Conor and Eileen, Godlove and CH, and the Les Cayes folks – Chris, Michelle and Amy –made the occasional cameo.
The evening always began the same way –
- Move all the chairs and tables together on the porch. Sometimes we were six, sometimes 14.
- Order Prestiges / Presidentes and Poutsine.
- Decide on and order pizza.
- Eat, laugh and tell stories.
It was a ritual we looked forward to every Monday night. Thanks to Kari. The stories changed from week to week. The laughter was always loud and real. Kari had a gift for building community wherever she went.
When, in January of 2000, my dad suddenly fell ill, Kari cried with me when I received the news. She took me to the American Airlines office so I could buy a ticket home that very same day. She then talked to me while I packed my clothes and took me to the airport. She told me she would pray for my Dad and my family. Because of her, I felt so much less alone at a very scary time.
Kari left Haiti in the spring of 2000 to finish her PhD. I would see her years later in Kenya in 2004, where she introduced me to the wild beauty of East Africa. She organized a weekend getaway with other dear friends – Amy and Andrew – to some former President’s safari game lodge. It was the first time I met Dylan, then maybe a year old. We told old Haiti stories. And laughed. And laughed some more. We took a boat to see the gorillas who promptly threw mud at us. We visited the rhino that was so lethargic we could pet him (see photo).
I last saw Kari in the summer of 2009. She came to my apartment on Capitol Hill in DC. We sat on my couch for hours, drinking red wine and talking. At the time, she was undergoing cancer treatment in Thailand while working with the Red Cross tsunami countries. Kari did not complain about the cancer treatment. She told me she was not afraid to die. What she was afraid of, however, was the thought of her children growing up without their mother. She loved them so much. She wept at this. I wept. We drank more wine together.
I honestly do not know what to write next. There are no words.
What I do know is that Kari was an amazing woman. She did much good on many continents in her far too short of a lifetime. Having known her, I am a better person.
Bob and Chris, Isabelle and Dylan, you have a global community of friends who are holding you in their hearts and souls today and always. This community, stretching all the way from Thailand to Haiti to Kenya to the United States and far beyond, is celebrating the life of Kari Noel Egge.
We love you. You are not alone.
-Amy Corinne Knorr
January 30, 2012