Sleepy haze, disoriented, unsure of my whereabouts are all descriptions in regards to my mental state of being this morning. It was a fantastic night’s sleep as I remember nothing from the moment my head hit the pillow. Staring at the bunk above me this uncomfortable, possibly 30 year old mattress perched upon springs tied into a prison style metal bed is now the luxury treatment of a lifetime. No longer will I sleep atop a two by four flat adorned with foam two inches thick covered with bed sheets. Gone from my senses the smell of urine and garbage. Absent from my subconscious, a fear of awaking to a tarantula feasting on my big toe. No moths the size of bats hovering overhead looking for a face to land upon or a wall to bounce off. Instead in this room are three of my colleagues, a fan spinning overhead, and clean tropical air left over from last night’s rain. It should leave me blissful, pleased to be here in the guesthouse after a job well done, but it did not, for now that I’m awake, thrust back into reality, my brain focuses solely on processing this entire week! It’s like mental TiVo running in your head and someone is continually pressing fast forward. It’s all there for me to see, lying on my back, reliving emotions I was hoping to put away. Feeling broken, worried, and tired, I eventually roll off the bunk head into the bathroom and brush my teeth. Time to wake up, put on a fake smile and go downstairs, it’s our anniversary today (Jacy and I) and I want to look somewhat coherent while telling my wife how much I love her. My heart aches to see her, but as I wander off I find my heart also aching for something else; our children.
Time seems to be running short this morning as we hustle through breakfast, gather our belongings, make one last round through the guest house and move into the loading area out front. I am finding it hard to keep a straight thought, blaming it on fatigue I wallow through most of our chores for the morning. Taking a moment before its time to go I see a small child wander through the patio area. I start thinking about the harmless unassuming children of Source a Philippe and how their little souls steal a piece of you. Bright, funny and carefree, unaware of any struggle that lay before them. These children run naked through the village, swim unassuming in the ocean and are left to their own devices on many occasions. Their parents love them as any parent loves a child. The village church considers them the future, holding them in high regards, or so it seems. But as a parent myself from what I have personally witnessed they deserve so much more. Maybe it’s my “American” way of thinking, maybe it’s the way I was raised, or maybe it’s possibly an assumption built upon years of education and experimentation in the parenting department. But the way I see it a child should have a chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated.
You can argue the same could be said about our growing population of forgotten children back home, the very products of poverty, drugs, physical and mental abuse, divorce, death and hate. Children trapped with baby daddys and mothers who never claim them as their own until cashing the monthly welfare or federal assistance checks provided by a local government. You can argue assistance is needed or not, that’s not my point. The difference as I see it? These children here in Haiti are loved by their parents, these children were wanted and are not the product of someone else’s inability to be responsible. These children are considered part of a “bigger” picture and considered a gift from God. Children who are trapped in an ideological system that punishes them for simply not being born into the right family. Haitian children right now in this century of rapid knowledge, ground breaking technology, advancements in medicine can’t even receive simple health care. If a child here gets a cold, parents pray, if a child is bitten by one of the many creatures of La Gonave the family prays, if they fall and break a bone and that particular family has a few extra dollars they may travel by foot to a local hospital to have it set. But in most cases the family will set it themselves and then everyone prays. It is unacceptable. These children, their smiles, sunny dispositions and fantastic senses of humor steal your heart. When you leave, your heart breaks looking into their eyes, because you know there is better out there for them in this giant world. I am sad because I know many of the children I met and played with this week at some point will become seriously ill and a few may even perish as a result of this lack of basic health care. Is that Gods will? Or is the reason I am here because God called for me, asking me to use what few talents I hold to help these children, these adults and their families? I am not sure. The answers I am looking for are not readily available to me right now, my mind filled with more questions, undoubtedly clogging my receptors, leaving me incapable of receiving any information that may benefit my dilemmas.
We have eaten a fast breakfast and relayed our goodbyes. Shaking Toms hand for what will be the last time here in Haiti as Toms three year commitment comes to an end next month. He has done some very good work and I am sure its nerve racking turning over a project you have headed up for so long without fear. But none the less the work stands on its own and I think this operation will not be the same without him, it was truly an honor to meet this man. As I walk away, I pray it is not goodbye but instead, “until we meet again.” Sarah is also transferring out next month and anxiously awaits the opportunity to reconnect with her husband. They have been apart for 6 months and she longs to see him once again. Hugs were had by all and as with all heartfelt goodbyes love was felt in the simple human connection we all share. Loading into a Tap Tap for the ride to the airport, our driver brings his behemoth machine to life only to kill it just as quickly. We all stare at each other in disbelief as he tells Tom there is no fuel in the tank. After a moment of silence a small giggle turns into chuckles, for running out of gas while trying to make it to the airport is the least of our troubles after what we have been through over the last 10 days! Surviving dysentery, heat issues, emotional turmoil, almost capsizing our boat on the return ride home, lots of vomiting, and an accident in the compound van, being out of fuel is just funny. I think we will be just fine.
Driving through many side streets it’s very obvious we are taking the scenic route and before my suspicion is confirmed we round a corner into one of the last tent cities still operating. It smells awful, looks just as bad and all I can think about are the reports of gangs, crime and rape that comes from inside these places. Thankfully fabric tent like clusters are becoming fewer as infrastructure is rebuilt, allowing for even the poorest to find a roof over their heads. But none the less tent cities still exist, many are looking a little more like permanent structures, I pray the last of them are demolished soon, they are after all ground zero for a majority of the health issues still plaguing this city. Turning down one more street surrounding this lost compound we run across a group of Haitians exiting a main tent city thorough fare. They seem to have a “look” about them and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it resembles the 30 mile stare I have referenced before. It speaks of hunger and exhaustion held together by pride. As we drive away I remind a few not to take pictures as we wouldn’t want to upset anyone.
Arriving at the airport once again red coats descend upon us like locust, grabbing our bags, being told no, then lunging again hoping we let them cart our stuff away. I wouldn’t mind the assault so much but it becomes tiresome after refuting their advancements more than half a dozen times. Either way we press up like a herd of cows using numbers for safety and make it into the airport with money and belongings in tow. The airport flow is faster than last time, people checking in without any issues, it is a very welcome sight indeed. In the blink of an eye we are processed, ticketed then pushed through one security checkpoint only to do the same shoeless dance again once we reach our gate. Its ok with me, I would rather have too many security measures in place than not enough when it comes to flying. Sitting together near gate 2, my chest begins to hurt and so does my brain! Looking around our terminal everyone else looks beat up as well so I won’t complain. We make idle small talk, jokes about talking pimples, smelly body odor, giant tarantulas, and goat! Eating goat, seeing goats, smelling goats, wanting to cut the vocal cords out of goats! (Kidding, no goats were harmed in the writing of this piece) Everything and anything but what is really on our minds. It’s painful to watch these people trying to process an entire 10 day journey in the few minutes we have before boarding our plane, but you can see that is exactly what many of them are trying to do. Why now? Because the gravity of this trip has taken hold, the anticipation of making this journey is gone, the excitement about performing such a huge task is over, it’s complete and all that is left are memories. Many appear lost in disbelief, almost 10 months of planning, hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars raised! Now all that’s left are memories. It just can’t be true.
Boarding our plane other missionaries are wandering the cabin, we exchange pleasantries along with the nod. I call it the “nod of completion”. It is an almost arrogant nod, and it should be as we’ve earned the right to look into our fellow missionaries eyes and have a fair sense about what others have been through. Seated near the window, several more jokes are bantered about seamlessly. Melissa is cracking me up as usual and Heather is the Abbot to her Costello. The plane taxis down the runway, slowly turns and sits. Four jet engines begin to strain against locked wheels held in place by our captain. Its time. Time to go home, time to put this trip in the books, time to see our family and share our joy of missionary work with all who will listen. This trip may be a little harder sell when it comes to promoting missionary work, but then no one said our journey was to be easy. There are no promises on each trip, it is not a vacation though many of us use our yearly vacation time to participate in these missions. No; part of doing God’s work is knowing it may be a challenge or it may be a breeze, but either way if you have faith there is nothing that can’t be handled.
Somewhere in the terminal while passively eavesdropping a statement was overheard that really struck a cord with me. “Finally we are leaving this mess and going back to a normal way of living” This got me thinking; What is normal, and what does normal look like? 3 years ago if you asked me what normal was I am pretty sure a trite response would have drifted from my callous mouth. But today, here in this terminal I’m not sure I would have an answer. For normal is what we make of it, waking up every morning to a cup of hot coffee, a wonderful family of 2.5 kids (it’s statistics, no I don’t have half a kid somewhere) nice car and a great job may seem normal to some, but normal for others may include living in squalor, being beat by an abusive parent/spouse and wondering if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So who are we to say what normal is for the Haitian people? To often I believe we as Americans barge into situations from our little worlds of wealth and privilege (ok, if you own a Ford Pinto you are still poor in Haiti) then unknowingly look down our noses while entrenched within the social dynamics of a society. What that person said wasn’t wrong in its context as they are heading home to their rendition of normal, but for some strange reason it struck a nerve.
Hurtling down the runway a feeling of weightlessness then sinking gravity let us know our plane is finally off the ground. We slowly bank left then right and over the Dominican Republic climbing higher as we go. Turning one last time I can see straight into the Gulf of Gonave and out in the distance an island, a giant piece of rock, the home to so many precious souls, La Gonave. Gaining altitude we slowly disappear into the fluffy white cumulus clouds of the Caribbean. With my face pressed against a window seeking an outline of Haiti, I realize she is gone, so I stare blankly into the distance. My wife has ahold of my arm and is squeezing it tightly, looking into her eyes the gravity of all we have accomplished, our journey, surviving possible corruption and the children we left behind strikes me hard. Feeling sick to my stomach I am doing everything to not crumble in front her and all these wonderful people on our team. Unfortunately Jacy can no longer fight against her emotions as tears begin streaming down her face. Drawing in a long deep breath refortifies my emotional stability as she rains tears upon my shoulder. Jacy says I am her strength, her rock, her best friend. She tells me there is no her without me, and together we can accomplish anything. Leaning into my shoulder unobserved she can shed any stress associated with being team leader, she can let her emotions loose no matter how raw. She no longer needs to be political, compassionate, caring, scared, strong, or brave, all she needs is too let out all the emotions she’s held back for an entire week and cry; as her husband I will be dammed if anyone is going to take that moment away from her.
Looking over my shoulder ensuring some form of privacy, it appears she is not the only one traveling down a river of tears. Sniffles and sobs are coming from many various positions around me, wishing I could give everyone a hug I simply smile; letting them know all will be ok. One thing I haven’t taken into account is some of the sniveling could be from learning our inflight snack is the dreaded Haitian corn muffin! And to that, a small tear is finally shed from my eyes.
Pulling out my laptop I feel driven to write. It is after all my form of therapy and since a little decompression is in order, there is no better time than the present! It’s going to take a while for me to fully understand the big picture in this whole trip. Much more needs to be done in Source a Philippe. This little village by the sea needs help, lots of help! I am pretty sure going back for another medical mission is in my plans, but there are some very big questions needing to be asked and some even bigger answers that must be forth coming. Wondering what part I carry in this real life play derived from travesty and injustice, I know changes must be made. Am I one of the few that will make a difference? Will this mission change the lives of our team for the better or will they go home feeling tainted and unsure? Only God knows the answer at this point.
Leveling off at 35,000 feet, our plane is pushing further towards American soil, I feel the pull of Haiti growing stronger in my heart. She grabs you in the most disturbing of ways. Haiti is clean yet filthy, angry with life’s injustice, yet joyous about life’s rewards, rich in history yet poor in political support. Haiti stands still broken not just physically but mentally as well; yet repairs to the physical, mental and emotional are everywhere for you to see feel and experience, she (Haiti) is a living contradiction in human survival. I don’t believe she has the ability to have it any other way.
“Piti piti zwazo fè nich.”
Little by little the bird makes his nest.
Meaning: Many incremental changes will eventually make a significant difference
May we live to witness change, not just within our sight but in our hearts.
Haiti, I will see you again someday….
3 thoughts on “Returning to normal?”
note to readers…
The man writing this…his ability to write these emotions…amazing. “Sleepy haze, disoriented, unsure”…and these are only the first 4 words…I promise I will buy every book you ever write. It all comes back. All the emotions. Is it the same for readers who were not there? Can you “feel” this story? I’m really curious.
I must add I have huge respect for all our team members. Not unlike sports teams, we have been through blood, sweat, and tears together.
I didn’t really “know” these guys before this trip. During pre-trip planning I knew I was joining a group of high achieving individuals. Would the group perform? Here’s what happened in my opinion.
According to the experts, extraordinary groups have…Compelling Purpose, Shared Leadership, Just-Enough-Structure, Full Engagement, Embracing of Differences, Unexpected Learning.
This was an extraordinary group. 550+ teeth in 4 and a half days. But meeting and working with this group…priceless! B
Thank you so much for the kind words my friend. I enjoyed every minute with this group of wonderful human beings as well. 🙂
I have been reading your writings via facebook. The readers that were not there truly can feel your story. My daughter-in-law was in your group on this mission and listening to her tell her story with such emotion and reading your writings……I can’t put it into words. Thank you for sharing this story.