So we’ve been back from Haiti for about a week now. Back to where a cool place can be found, back to running water and warm showers. It is nice to be home.
It’s curious to me that, at least in the short term, mosquitoes, broken cars and dusty roads leave the deepest impressions of Haiti. These are the subjects of stories we tell upon arriving back in the States.
Eight hour waits while someone tracks down transportation from Port-au-Prince to Pignon, hours on dusty roads where minimal air conditioning feels like the greatest of blessings and legs dotted by mosquito bites that with every scratch remind us we didn’t take malaria pills.
These are the memories that occupy the first days of being home. They have left their mark and it is good to be home. It is good to be comfortable, to be wrapped in all the things to which we have become accustomed.
Our Haiti trips are a chance to step outside what our lives have become. A chance to reflect on why it is that we have so much and others have so little. A time to realize that stuff doesn’t equate to happiness or a fulfilled life. A chance to see old friends, spend some time together and share how we have touched each other’s lives. A chance to experience making a difference in a child’s life, in a community’s well-being and in a student’s future.
Like each previous trip, our mornings and early afternoons were filled with energetic kids, singing songs and doing craft projects at school. This year we made fans out of paper plates and tongue depressors. About 50 kids got supplies to make their own jump rope, we did a lot of coloring, we made edible bracelets with licorice whips and fruit loops and had a giant bubble making session that the kids just loved.
During our “recess” the kids got to burn off some energy while we adults sat in the shade and caught our breath. We did get plenty of opportunities to throw Frisbees, kick a soccer ball and play catch. Many of the young students like to hang around, and on us during recess. We are still novel visitors to this small town and we hesitantly enjoy the attention.
Susan seems to be every baby’s adopted grandmother, and it is not uncommon for a baby to fall asleep in her arms. This is a role that Susan seems to cherish. Tim keeps busy teaching proper Frisbee techniques and intervening in the occasional scuffle.
Anytime the camera or video are taken out a chorus of, “mester, mester, photo” rings out as dozens of kids rush to get in front of the lens. They are not shy. After the photo, everyone grabs to see the picture while they laugh and point at the image.
Throughout the week one of the most popular points of interest is the 20″ X 30″ photo college we post from last year’s pictures. Students and parents love to look at the images from previous years.
Again, like last year, we had six to seven young Haitian adults helping in the classroom. Without Jean-Ronel, Benjamin, Fenel, Lenna, Marjorie, Sully and Chedlin we would not survive the first two days. (It is being generous to assume we’d survive the first day.)
It is at school that the inability to speak Kreyol or French is the largest detriment. We sometimes carry on conversations with kids speaking Kreyol and us speaking English. The content of these conversations is incomprehensible and unimportant. The connection is invaluable.
With many kids there is some basic communication that happens with a few words and lots of gesturing. With others the communication is simply holding hands, placing your hand on a shoulder or opening your lap as a comfortable resting spot.
It is the moments at school – those hot, dusty, tiring moments – that are the memories that last beyond the first week’s return. It’s 250 Haitian kids screaming “QUI…QUI…QUI” when asked if they want to sing the Hokey-Pokey again. It’s the smile of a young boy who just figured out how to throw the Frisbee. It’s a small baby surrendering itself into your arms. It’s seeing families drink fresh clean water from the new well. It’s young girls posing for a photo with their best friends, and it is hearing from our Haitian friends how our time together has changed their lives.
I’m not sure we can successfully convey to them how much they have changed our lives. Our trips to Haiti have been profound. In a country where there is so much need, we have found friends that will give up what little they have so we can be comfortable. They are gracious, generous, engaging and trusting. I often wonder if they would enjoy the same reception visiting our country.
Two days after we returned, and after telling the car, road and mosquito stories to a close friend he asked, “Why do you put yourself through this?” It was a simple question that stopped me cold. It is a question that we regularly ask ourselves throughout the week in Haiti. I’m sure it is a question we will ask ourselves again.
The answer is simple, we do this because it makes a difference. It makes a difference in our lives and more importantly, it makes a positive difference in others’ lives. It is our way of creating a ripple that will touch more people than we can ever imagine. Thank you all for supporting us and giving us this amazing opportunity.