The day finally arrived. After months of planning, it was here. I was not nervous or scared, just filled with anticipation and a little anxious about how I would handle it all. I won’t deny it; there was a moment as I sat on the plane in Miami, looking out the tiny window just before we began to taxi to the runway, when I thought to myself, “This is it. I’m about to say goodbye to American soil. In a minute, there’s no turning back.” And then I just breathed. My country, my comforts, my security….they will be right here waiting for me when I return. No fear. Just breathe…….just breathe. I looked over at Brennon sitting next to me, who had the same expression on his face that I felt in the pit in my stomach. And I realized that there was nowhere on earth that I’d rather be – sitting next to the love of my life as we together headed into the grandest adventure of our lives. The cabin door closed, the plane began to move, and I continued to breathe.
Our God is sovereign over all things. If He is for us, who can be against us? And He was right there with us.
Riding on a flight to Haiti is like none other. On any flight, I suppose it’s typical to look around you and wonder where your fellow passengers are heading to and try to guess why they might be traveling. Or maybe I’m just a weirdo. But nonetheless, that’s what I do on a plane. So on this plane ride, I realized that it was much easier to figure out the details of the travelers’ intentions around me. Two distinctive groups of people were on the plane: the native Haitians, and the white people going to Haiti to “help.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize that sounds shallow. There indeed may have been dark-skinned folks on our plane that were not Haitian and were going to help with relief efforts. If there were, well, they did a much better job of not looking like tourists. Kudos to them. It seemed like Brennon and I were the only non-Haitians without matching t-shirts on. Our attire did not declare that we loved Haiti. I understand the value of matching t-shirts with the organization name and a cute little phrase or logo on the back that are commonly worn by short term mission teams. I’m cool with that. I understand the necessity of trying to keep up with your team, and the benefit of just being able to search for same-colored shirts in a sea of people in order to stay together. What gets on my nerves is the logos that indicate the pride of organizations that screams, “Hey, Haiti! We’re awesome and here to rescue you in your pathetic neediness!” Ok, I didn’t see any shirts that said exactly that, but the emotion conveyed was very similar on some. It’s prideful, degrading to the Haitian people, and makes folks look like a total goober. Please stop acting like a hero, Americans. Just humble yourself and go serve. Let your works shout your love and compassion…not your t-shirts.
Ok, I’ll step down from my soapbox. But I don’t promise that I won’t return to it later.
Focus back on me heading to Haiti, the “land of unlimited impossibility,” as John McHoul, a veteran missionary in Haiti, has stated. Having done plenty of research, I knew what to expect to see on the ground upon our arrival. However, I realized that I would never be able to totally prepare myself for the experience of actually being in Haiti. I was fully aware that the airport experience would be nerve-wracking, that traffic is horrible, and I would see poverty to the degree of which I have never witnessed – tent cities, naked kids, severely malnourished bodies, restaveks (child slaves), rubble at every turn and garbage everywhere. The people living in these conditions were just like me, created in God’s image. They didn’t ask to be here, and there is no escape. Non-existent are quick or simple solutions to the hard issues that plague this land.
Oh, how I wished I could have take hundreds of photos of the things my eyes witnessed. I will never be able to describe these things with my limited vocabulary. But I purposefully left my camera patiently waiting on the seat next to me as we drove through Port-au-Prince. I did not want to be a tourist, a gawker. I did not want to further degrade this people who have been through so much, countless times photographed in the midst of their daily struggles by so many do-gooders and media personnel. I was there to give and to serve, not to take away even an ounce of dignity….especially considering that an ounce is all some Haitians have left. Haiti is not a zoo, and Haitians are certainly not animals there for our viewing fascination. So instead of snapping photos, I just sat and watched this strange world pass by my door window, soaking it in.
Lesson one learned about the Haitian people: eye contact is the norm. This is not the good ol’ U.S.A. where everyone goes about their business with the hope to not have to acknowledge that another person exists in their world. I’m guilty of it. I am conditioned to look away as I pass someone on the sidewalk. I don’t know why. It’s somewhat uncomfortable to make eye contact with strangers. It makes me feel vulnerable…or something… I don’t really know what the whole eye contact thing invokes in me. But there’s something to it. Well, I had to get over it in Haiti. Or more like, Haiti helped me get over it. As you pass a stranger on the street in Haiti, eye contact is made. Don’t fret. It doesn’t hurt a bit. Then the stage is set for a fascinating thing to happen: a shared smile. Who’d have thought?! When you make eye contact with another human, you may not share the same language, but a smile is understood by all. So that’s what I did. I shared smiles with so many people on that drive through Port-au-Prince. Men, woman, children of all ages – I was a “blanc” (white) who wasn’t shoving a camera in their face, but instead offered to connect with them through the language of a silent smile.
A memorable moment during our drive will stay with me forever. Brennon and I were riding in the back seat of our SUV, driving at a maximum speed of about 15 mph through the city streets. “Streets” being a collection of potholes of varying sizes (big and bigger) lined on both sides by buildings and rubble, the definition of driving is redefined in Haiti. On one particular street ascending to the top of a somewhat steep hill, the crowds of pedestrians had thinned. The homes were butted right up next to each other, entry doors just a few feet from the street. That’s when something special happened. A little girl, probably seven or eight years old, was fetching water to take inside. She was obviously attentive to her chore, not caught up in being carefree as a child her age would be in our home country. Carrying her bucket of water, facing our direction before turning to go inside, she looked up to see the SUV that was passing her by. And then the eye contact happened, except it was not with me. Brennon made eye contact with that precious little girl, and he smiled gently at her. Her face lit up, and a wide smile emerged. That was the moment that I witnessed the heart of my strong husband melt like butter. Tears made my vision foggy as I savored the exchange, though it lasted for a mere few seconds. We suspect her to be a restavek, judging by her shabby clothes and the fact that she was alone doing a difficult household chore (it wasn’t a small pitcher she carried, but more like a jug holding a few gallons of water). This is Haiti. Amidst all of Haiti’s harshness are people. People that will make your heart swell with compassion and love. People created in our Lord’s image. People living in a land filled with lies and deception, where the thief (satan) has come to kill and destroy. People that need to hear the Truth.
A little girl smiled. It doesn’t sound like much of a special moment….but it was….and it was just the first of many.
Next: Home away from home