Written on July 6, 2018
I feel physically broken when I wake up. I’m more tired now than when I went to bed last night. Martha woke me up by whispering the time in my ear. 7:30am. We’ve been up by 6:30am every morning we’ve been here. It doesn’t feel like I got an extra hour of rest. My body seems to weigh twice what it usually does. I don’t eat breakfast; I’d throw up if I drank coffee.
We pile on the bus and start towards the beach. We pass a mass of simple two story, square-shaped complexes that were built as government housing after the earthquake. They stretch on for close to a mile. They look abandoned. We learn that they’ve been boycotted because the government hired Dominican Republic workers to build them instead of Haitians.
We see motos and tap taps and similar scenes to what we saw riding into the campus from the airport on Saturday. Skinny, sick looking animals tied to flimsy poles by the streets. Women carrying baskets of what looks like trash on their heads. Garbage upon garbage upon rubble upon dust and more trash. My camera is in my hands, but I can’t seem to flip the on switch. I can’t take in everything I’m seeing.
The camp director Adam is talking to the other people on my team; they ask about rules of the road and details of the earthquake and the voodoo of the island and I’m sickened listening to all of them talking. Are they not looking out the windows? Are they not seeing anything that I’m seeing? Do they not feel the guilt I feel about returning to America?
It’s a devastating realization to accept that you are a privileged person. The guilt I feel seeing the markets that we drive through takes over my being. Food booths made out of driftwood and banana leaves line the streets. Trash and goats fill the space between them. People are selling anything that could possibly bring them income: handfuls of peanuts, plastic ziplocks of water, paper bags.
I can’t look at the underfed people anymore. I can’t look at the tiny naked babies. I can’t look at the rotting fruit being sold. I can’t look at the dusty road. I have to stop seeing what I’m seeing or I’m going to launch myself off of this planet.
I put my head down on the seat in front of me and close my eyes. But the windows in the bus are all down, as that is our only source of AC, and dust flies through the air thus reminding me of the images outside. Adam continues loudly answering everyone’s questions about the food here and the water here and the differences between our two cultures and I can’t take it.
I plug my ears with my fingers like a child and try to nullify my senses. My face starts to burn. I try to breath but the air is too thick to go through my lungs. Tears start flowing and I grasp for any amount of oxygen. I wipe my eyes and sit up, thinking that I need to get over myself. But as I look back at the dusty road and the sad market stands, my vision goes blurry. I don’t want to be dramatic, but I just can’t pull it together.
I have to let this out. I lay my head on Martha’s shoulder and let out small whimpers. Half my face is covered by her arm and the other half is covered by one of my hands. I’m dizzy; my head is pounding. Martha lays her head on top of mine and puts her hand on my leg. “What’sa matter?” she asks in maybe the most gentle voice I’ve ever heard her use. I don’t even know what the matter is. I just know my brain doesn’t like what it’s processing. I inhale slowly and whisper, “There’s just a lot to see.” She pats me and keeps her head firmly on top of mine. The crying feels like a needed release.
Allowing myself to feel whatever this even was seems to have been the right move. I gather myself and wipe my tears. I try to articulate what caused this reaction: As Christians, we know that everyone was created equal in God’s image, and He loves us all the same. So, how does He just decide that certain people are going to live in big, beautiful houses in Seymour, Indiana and some are going to live on the streets in no-man’s-land Haiti? Grasping that we are all created equal yet not given equality is a big deal. This concept broke me, and now I don’t know what to feel.
Once we arrive at the beach, I wonder how many members of our team saw my episode in the bus. I try to act normal, but I feel a couple marks removed from my own self. Martha orders us a snack and some smoothies from the resort restaurant, and we head down to the water. The scenery is unbelievable. Seriously, I can’t believe what I’m seeing. This can’t be real.
Most of our team gathers to go on a small snorkeling venture. A man in a janky wooden boat with two cracked oars is our captain and vessel. Twice on our trek to the snorkeling location, he stops the boat to empty out some of the gathering water with buckets.
Our captain brings our boat to a halt, and we all take turns jumping into the water. Everyone does their own thing. I put my head under the water and am looking at a coral reef. It’s not an amazing coral reef, and my equipment is minimally functioning. I’m not even wearing matching flippers. But I’m in the ocean and I’m looking at an astounding life system. Several long fish that resemble eels, but definitely have fins, float vertically a few inches from my feet. Two “Dory” fish with reflective blue spots on their bodies swim by my face. I can feel the silence of the water. I go to the surface and take my snorkel out of my mouth. Deep breath. I dive down and swim as hard as I can. It’s as if I’m being thrown into a culture as new to me as Haiti is. I swim away from our boat, away from land, and towards the vast mystery in the other direction. I came to Haiti searching for a depth like the one that only seems to exist under the weight of this water. The coral reefs come to an abrupt halt. I stare out into the nothingness, if the ocean could ever be considered nothingness, and ponder what would happen if I just took off. That’d be a great ending to this story, ya know? I had an amazing week in Haiti, I hit my breaking point, and I swam off into the distance underwater and never came back up. The end.
Why did I come here? I mean, listening to God’s calling was part of it, but why did I want to come? What were my expectations? And why does it feel as though they haven’t been met through all of the awe-inspiring moments I’ve had this week? I’m almost disappointed we’re leaving tomorrow. I wish I could stay longer. I wish I could’ve done more with my time here.
I come up for air. I swim back to our boat and climb up the side with the rest of the team. The mountains surrounding us are painfully glorious. God outdid himself
We get back to campus in time for dinner. Afterwards, most of the team goes to the soccer fields because there is a game going on between several of the village kids, and a lot of adults have come to be onlookers. I think I’m the only one who stays behind in the bunkhouse. I need time to brood.
During devotions tonight, Coach asks everyone, “How’s it gonna be when we get home? What have you learned during our week here?” I’m vexed to hear this question because I’m not anywhere near through processing a single thing I’ve seen or done in this country. It’s all a very big deal. Even if I had all of my observations filed away properly in my brain, I won’t be ready to share for weeks.
Others are talking about the culture differences between Haiti and America, about how loving the children have been towards us, and about how kind the people from the village seem to be despite their circumstances. But I’m just on a different page in my thinking altogether. Of course the cultures are different. Of course kids here enjoy hugs. Of course the Haitian staff on campus are nice, this is their livelihood.
I’m questioning why I was born where I was born, what my purpose on this earth is, my validity as an equally created child of God. Surely He didn’t bring us all down here just to acknowledge that Haitians eat more rice than we do and that brown children love hugs as much as white children.
This can’t possibly be our last night here. There’s got to be more.
Liv – Authentically