Yesterday the President of the United States made a comment that has taken the world by storm. If you haven’t already heard about it just Google it. The jist of it was was that he said that America didn’t need any more immigrants from “shithole” countries like Haiti, Africa and El Salvador.
We’re just going to slide past the fact that Africa isn’t actually a country…
Over the past year I’ve had a lot of long discussions with Chris and we’ve literally watched from a distance as the political situation in the US unfolds. I don’t make a lot of comments on social media about the details of things, but know that I’m sitting here disgusted by much of it, and I’m Canadian. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian?
Let’s get back to the comment. I don’t feel the need to dissect it and share all my feelings about Trump. There are enough people doing a really good job of that already. What I do want to talk about is Haiti.
In 2003 I took my first trip here, and it changed me. I wasn’t one of those people that had this huge emotional response where I went home and couldn’t stop talking about it. Where I told you how much I loved the people and all the experiences I had and, and… It changed me in a more quiet, long term, deep kind of way. In fact, over the period of two years it felt like God was peeling away layers for me, often leaving something exposed and raw as he did it. I would adjust and feel like I was okay, and then it would happen again. It would be an article in the news about Haiti that made me remember something or realize that I couldn’t shove it down anymore. It was hearing something random that was a connection to this place. It was getting involved in an organization that I loved in more deep ways. Two years after that first trip I went back, and this time I went waiting to see if something was going to do a final shift in me. It did, and I arrived back in Canada knowing that my stay would be short because I was coming back to Haiti with no end date in sight.
I moved to Haiti full time in October of 2005. At the time “long term” for me meant 3-4 years. Throw a handsome man into the mix, who happens to be the Director of the organization you work with that comes with a lifetime calling, and 3-4 years turns into the rest of our working days. Chris and I got married in the summer of 2006 and that first year I lost track of how many times I was crying and saying things like “are you sure it’s 15-20 years?!?” like it was some kind of prison sentence, simply because I was adjusting to all the things that come with being newly weds in a foreign country. You know, like you do.
Fast forward a couple of years and we are in the midst of our adoption. Olivia is part of our family and we’re riding the roller coaster that only other families with adopted kids from Haiti will ever truly understand. We experience community issues that escalate in crazy ways and our friends and family back home start asking when we’re moving back. We can’t, we tell them. Because Olivia’s paperwork isn’t done. But, deep in our hearts we know that even if it were, we still wouldn’t go.
And that, friends, is what I want you to know.
When you get to know Haiti, with all her good and bad and crazy and amazing, she digs herself deep inside your soul, and no matter how illogical it might seem from the outside, you can’t let go. For us, it was this deep knowing that this was now our home, and we couldn’t leave without it being something so major we couldn’t deal with it in country. In all honesty, I feel like it was a process of peeling back more layers until I really got it.
I still remember the day when it was there before me so clearly that I couldn’t turn away. We were in the midst of some of those community issues I mentioned. They had climaxed. They were ugly and scary and as Chris paced while on the phone with a friend trying to work out details of the legal side of things and how best to proceed, I stood in our kitchen feeling completely overwhelmed and empty. I stood there and the tears started to roll down my face, and then it all just poured out. I was ugly crying, from the depth of my soul. Weeping, really. I was leaning against the counter and the strength left my legs and I had no choice but to slide down and sit on the floor. I sat there bawling and praying and asking God if it was time for us to go home, over and over. Asking if we were stupid for staying, if we were missing something. We’re we ignoring his leading? Crying and praying.
And then this voice spoke into my heart and simply said, “It’s not time. I’m not done with you yet.” I felt this peace wash over me and my body calmed. The tears stopped and I exhaled. And I knew. We were in it for the long haul, and this was really just the beginning.
That was 2009.
And now it’s 2017. And we’re still here. I would love to say that was the last of the hard things, but it wasn’t. It really was just the beginning. What it also was, was the defining moment for me. The moment when I knew what Chris had already figured out – that this was it. This is where we were supposed to be. From that point on Haiti was home for me. Yes, I miss Canada, but Haiti is rooted in my heart and part of me.
I share this because I want you to know that this place is so many things. It is rich in more ways than it is poor. It is vibrant and alive in ways that I only wish my home culture could understand. I have experienced more joy and pain here than I have words to explain. I have seen resilience defined. I have seen people work harder than I thought possible, often under a blazing hot sun that would make you or I drop from exhaustion. I have seen passion. So much passion. Animated, in your face passion. Not always for reasons I would consider good, but passion none the less. And I have become more passionate and expressive because of it. I have seen hospitality offered from people that you would consider to have very little, and I have been reminded that hospitality is a heart gift, not a material gift. I have learned what it means to truly take time to be with people, and I think about how I order my days because of it. I have seen how deep people truly are, in all their beauty and ugliness. And I know that I am that as well. We all have the capability to be all of these things, good and bad.
Haiti has given me one of the best gifts I could ever ask for – my daughter. As we navigate adoption and raising her in her home culture while trying to teach her to be both Haitian and Canadian I’m constantly challenged by all that comes with that. And I’m so very thankful for it.
Haiti has taught me about my own deep-seeded white privilege and thoughts on race. I’ve been so challenged by these things. I have had to change a lot, too.
Haiti has taught me that people are capable of more than we often think we are. It has taught me that we can carry more burdens than we often think we can. I have learned that I am more resilient that I ever thought possible. I have seen that I am not as easily broken as I thought. I know now that I can heal and become stronger. And after all that I can still love people and give and be more.
Is Haiti poor? Yes. Is there a lot of corruption here? Yes. Can life be really hard? Heck, yes. But that is only part of the picture.
Haiti is alive and raw and real and in your face. She is joy and laughter and song and beauty indescribable. She is proud and strong and resilient. She has been knocked down time and time again, and keeps rising back up, brushing her knees off, and continuing down the path.
If only we could all have the opportunity to live in a shithole like this. I think the world would be better for it.
P.S. – You may have noticed that the gloves are off, and the real me is back from a very long writing hiatus. I have more thoughts on that coming soon, but at the very least know that my Dad is probably saying “it’s about time!” :)