Written on July 1, 2018
The roosters crowing at 4:30 this morning don’t bother me nearly as much as I’d expected. They wake me up, of course, but a pillow over my head does the trick to drown them out.
The reasons for my interrupted sleep
“It’s five ‘til seven. I’m going to the showers.” Martha wakes me by whispering in my ear. I take this as her showing remorse for sneaking away during my sleep yesterday. I feel like a new person having slept for a few hours, even if I was overheated.
Breakfast is laid out on the counter in the common area. The options are oatmeal, corn flakes, and bread. Bread it is.
The team and I walk to church at 8:45am. It’s already sweltering outside. We sit in the back couple rows on the left side of the church. I’m thankful I brought my journal; there’s so much to observe.
NMV campus church
Being among the Haitians brings an array of thoughts and feelings. It’s a little hard to describe the clothes they’re wearing; it’s like what Americans would wear on Easter Sunday, but they aren’t especially clean or a perfect fit on anyone. I feel guilty remembering that I’ve been complaining about having to wear a long skirt and a shoulder covering shirt while we’re down here. Yet, the people of Haiti look so grateful and proud to be sweating to their deaths in full suits.
The kids from the village are walked in the building and seated in the front rows. Each one of them is breathtakingly adorable. They’re wearing tiny ruffled dresses and petite shiny church shoes. I don’t know anything about their lives, I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel towards them, besides loving. Martha leans over with tears in her eyes and says, “I’m going back to the dorm. I forgot my tissues. You want some?”
I wonder what the parents of these kids are feeling as we cry at the sight of their children. I’m sure not all of these little ones have parents here, but those I have identified don’t seem to want to look at us. It’s not like we’re a novelty. There’s a different group of uncomfortable, weepy, privileged, white people in the back pew of their church every Sunday. The thing is, I don’t think any of these kids are lacking love. They’re laughing and smiling and being goofy just like the kids back in Seymour.
View from the back of the church
The founder of Nehemiah Vision Ministries, Pastor Pierre, gets on the stage and starts speaking in Creole. He gets the congregation worked up about something and everyone breaks into song. Some people sit, some stand. All have their hands up. They sing with the full capacities of their lungs. Their love for God and thirst for Him is palpable in the air. It’s overwhelming to witness. For years, I’ve heard people’s stories when they return from places similar to Haiti in talking about how much the people of countries like this express the way they feel so openly. I’ve listened to those accounts and thought I didn’t need to experience that for myself. I’m not much for theatrical scenes, and often times I doubt sincerity, anyways. I figured seeing a person wail around in a stiflingly hot church would only make me roll my eyes and put a sour taste in my mouth.
I’ve never been more wrong.
I wouldn’t trade any moment from my life thus far for the experience of watching the Haitians worship God. They feel deeply, and I appreciate that on a sincere level.
At some point during the three hour long service, I see Martha passing her notebook and pen back and forth with the kids sitting in front of us. She has a way of connecting with stinkerish little boys, likely because she raised four of her own. These two are probably eleven and seven, and just as precious as they can be. They’re a little timid with their drawlings at first, but over the course of the sermon, they’ve passed the notebook several times and are holding in giggles. They write their names for her to see: Mackenson and Stanley.
After service, most of our team is gathered outside the church. A woman on a hand-pedal powered wheel-chair comes up to us. It’s basically a cart with a seat on it, and it’s literally bike pedals adjusted for her hands to operate. The chain is incredibly greasy. It rests between her arms. I’m the first to notice her. She puckers her lips towards me, and holds out an arm. I approach her and accept a kiss on each cheek and a hug. Of course, we can’t necessarily speak to each other, but we share some smiles just the same. She pulls out her Bible to reveal several pictures of herself tucked between the pages. She grabs one of the photos and points to a handwritten word: “Nadej”. Then she points to herself. “Nah-dehge? Is that your name?” I ask. She laughs and nods her head with excitement. The rest of my team notices the interaction at this point, and her introduction is repeated with each one of them.
We’re having a meeting with the five summer interns who will be here all four weeks of English camp. They give us information furthering our understanding of what the next week will entail. The interns are exactly what you picture when you think of a college aged American girl spending her summer volunteering in Haiti. They’re naturally tan, gorgeous, rocking their palazzo pants and t-shirts. They speak with a gentle professionalism. Three are studying to become nurses, two are studying to become teachers. I’m sure none of them have ever done anything wrong in their lives.
We collaberate with them on some of the ideas we brought, they answer a few of our questions, and we’re left to ourselves again. I’m making a list in my head of the things that need to happen to make tomorrow run more smoothly. Most of the items on my mental list involve making other lists on paper. Nothing would satisfy me greater this afternoon than to make a spreadsheet. I steal Martha’s yellow notepad and start tracing lines to form rectangles. I dig my brain into working out how many people need to be in which group on what days, I do a quick poll on who cares where they are or with whom they’re working.
I like to tease Martha on her inability to not lead a meeting
The tension in the pavilion gets thicker as a few people realize how much there is left to do before the morning. I hear the sentence, “I’m not asking anymore; I’m telling!” I leave with another girl to hide in the common area and make lists in peace. Minutes later, we’re joined by Martha and the other four girls on the team.
After our planning brainstorm ends, someone brings up how busy and stressful their past few weeks have been leading up to this trip. That comment sparks a two hour discussion between all of us girls, sharing about what we’ve gone through in the last month. It’s interesting to hear about what everyone else has dealt with, it’s comforting actually, to know it wasn’t just our family going through an intense rough patch.
I’d mainly been listening and adding a few words in here or there to what others were saying. I’m not one to discuss my own issues in a group setting, like, ever.
But Martha eventually states, “Olivia has also had her own struggle to deal with recently.” I physically flinch when she says that sentence. I lower myself and look at her like a child that’s just been reprimanded. “Oh, no, I’m sorry precious girl.” she comforts, then tightly wraps her arms around me and talks to everyone over my shoulder. She keeps an arm around me while I squeeze out one statement on the topic. I know she didn’t mean anything wrong by bringing my infertility into conversation, but I guess I didn’t want that to follow me here. While I still can’t handle being in the same room as a pregnant person, I’ve otherwise felt fine about it most of the summer. It’s just that I can’t seem to get anyone to accurately comprehend how I’m feeling, and that’s frustrating. I’m tired of everyone assuming I want a hug or empathy or to hear stories of their “friends” who also struggled with infertility and made it through to the other side.
Another young girl on our team responds quickly by saying, “Oh, well I was 100% diagnosed with PCOS, but I got pregnant the first month I tried! You can’t trust everything doctors tell you.”
My blood boils at the layers of insensitivity in that remark. She is exactly why I choose not to talk about this. People don’t get it. I take a deep breath and reply, “Well, it’s been two years for me. Obviously, you never actually struggled with infertility, so please don’t try to relate.”
Our pastor’s wife is another one of the ladies on our team. She looks at me through sad eyes, and says, “That’s simply devastating.” I appreciate the minimalism of her response, but again, the mark is missed on understanding what I’m feeling. I’m not devastated. Sitting in my first doctor appointment, I might have been a little bit, but today I’m on a peaceful search for my next step. I know God didn’t give me infertility to devastate me, that’s not how He works. There’s a bigger plan in place that I’m not totally aware of yet, but I’m content in my quest to let God make me aware of it, in His time.
We have another meeting in the evening with Kristen. More rules. She talks about the importance of “cleaning your plate” here. Food is not a given in Haiti like it is in America. It is truly offensive to the Haitian staff when they see us trash the food we don’t finish. She also lays out some boundaries with taking pictures. She asks that we not take pictures of random kids or with random kids. We should ask to take pictures with/of them once a relationship is formed, or better yet, just be in the moment and forget about holding a phone or camera altogether. We shouldn’t use the child as accessories to our Facebook and Instagram posts. Of course, I want to embrace being in the present this week, but oh, how I love hiding behind my camera lense. I have a small sadness in thinking that I won’t have any photos to document my week here.
I’m not in the mood to be a participant of devotionals, again. I’m trying to subtly peck away notes on my phone to write about later, when one of the high school boys on our team says, “I have a question for Olivia. I’ve noticed you’re an avid journaler. Does that help you process things or what?” I’m shocked to have been found out only a couple of days into the trip. I answer, “Uh…yeah. It’s just a therapeutic practice for me. It helps me understand things better to go back and read about them after they’ve happened.”
Most nights, we were able to meet on the roof of this building for devotionals
We pray, then head back to our bunks for the night. I wonder if there will be any nights here when I lay down and am not utterly drained.
Liv – Authentically