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I Would Like to Takee You to Haiti

There is so much beauty I could show you. You would love to sit on the roof and watch the sunset behind the mountains, while an old, mournful, French hymn wafted up from one of the churches in town. We could go to the beach, and you would be awestruck by the deep blue Caribbean waters. We would clamber into a big clumsy, wooden boat with a young Haitian guy grinning from ear to ear, and he would paddle us out to a reef. We would go snorkeling… coming eye to eye with fish and colorful coral. I could take you up an insanely hilly, curvy road to Jacmel, to see Basin Bleu. Again, grinning, overly helpful Haitian guys would take us back to see the sight. We could jump off a tall rock, wet from the waterfall above, into the “basin” of the most eerily blue water you will ever see. We could skim over the ocean in a little plane, close enough to see the many shades of blue made by the reefs, to Jeremie, the far west end of the island. If we walked on the conch beach, you would find many sweet Haitian children to help you find the perfect shell. And, if you had a few extra goudes to spend, tin streets. From blocks away, you begin to hear the tap-tap-tap of the hammers, cutting beautiful signs and pictures from ugly metal barrels…

But more than those amazing sights, I would want you to see everyday life. I would take you to see my children, and before we even got to the gate, we would hear, “blan yo, blan yo”… the whites, the whites…. A pack of adorably grubby toddlers, with or without diapers and clothes, would be reaching up, waiting for you to pick them up. The big boys would convince you to play soccer, and pretty soon, after a few minutes of fancy footwork… “GOAL”… you would be smoked. The girls would come and feel your soft hair, and if you let them, take it down and yank it into cornrows, and giggle while you sat there, eyes watering with pain. We would have rice and bean sauce and fresh squeezed juice, and just as the beans were settling in and you were so full you could barely think, you would have to deal with the hurt feelings of a cook who thought you must have not liked her food. Because a 6 year old Haitian and a full grown white man eat about the same amount of rice and beans. I would take you downtown at dusk. Children would run out from houses to hold our hands and talk to us. We would walk down a street lit with torches and tiny fires and talk to my friend, a large jolly woman who makes the best grilled chicken, and we “fe blag”… make jokes… with the crowd gathered around her while she leisurely dished out our plates. I would want you to ride the most crowded tap-tap around… I would laugh when you bumped a lady’s rice bag and got yelled at, or when yet another sweaty man clambered in and stood over you so you couldn’t see anything and could barely breathe. In town, you probably would turn your nose up at the smells… frying food… mud made from who knows what all… thousands of bodies… exhaust from cars that would have long hit the graveyard in America. But to me, even the Port au Prince smell is awesome. We could buy a slushy coke and some fried plantains and wade through the teeming throngs of people trying their best to sell their vegetables… or sandals… or their random assortment of second hand clothes from America. Maybe we would get a laugh from a funny T-shirt that some clueless Haitian was wearing… he had just thought the color was pretty but had no idea what it said! In the heat of the afternoon we would go and sit with one of my friends and talk about life… about being a Christian… about the strange dreams you had last night and what they meant… about funny things people do in your country… and you would be guaranteed to laugh! And one evening I would take you to a little concrete church with pigeons in the rafters, and a lace white tablecloth on the pulpit, flapping in the breeze. An old lady would shuffle her way to the front, and you would be transfixed as she poured her very soul into a solo, ending with a murmur of “Amens” from the congregation…

And you would need to see the ugliness too. I would need to take you up the path to Mon Kalve; past thirteen crosses to the top of the hill. And there, in the eerie stillness, we would say “Bonswa” to the homeless people sitting underneath the piece of cloth they call a tent, beside the burnt spot on the ground where they cooked their last meal. We would feel their eyes on our backs as we looked up at the statues of Jesus and Mary, and we would pray for these people who have mixed the Catholic faith with their voodoo beliefs until they don’t know what is right and wrong. Maybe you would have to stumble for words when someone turned on their whiny beggar voice and asked you for money. And even though he annoyed you, and you turned him down; still you would be thinking of your job and house and home, and wondering what you had ever done to deserve all that. There’s always a funeral going on somewhere. We could fall into the procession and peek in at the service. We could see the bewildered look on a child’s face as his mom throws herself around uncontrollably, wailing eerily… “Jeeeziiii!” I would take you to another friend’s house, a friend who became a mother before she knew how to be one. Her baby is thin and sickly, and she shrugs her shoulders as she says they have been to the doctor and they just tell her to buy expensive food. And her baby is “just naughty” for crying all the time. And then…. Clear down in the heart of Port au Prince… is a hospital. We would see amputees and cripples sitting in wheelchairs made from plastic lawn chairs and bicycle tires. People with all sorts of gruesome apparatuses to hold their broken bones in place… there are no such things as plaster casts here. And then we would walk into a room… the outside edge lined with grimy metal cribs of all shapes and sizes. Probably we would see a dirty needle or so on the floor… under the cribs we would see the ladies’ stashes of crackers, water bags and old wash rags to attempt sort of cleanliness, old half-eaten Styrofoam plates of food, maybe a chamber pot, a “kivet”… a big plastic washtub… with extra clothes… all proof that they are here for the long haul. There would be a few babies crying, the whole place would smell like sickness, and you would want to run away and take a Clorox bath. And then…. The wail…. “JEEEZZZIII”… another child has died in the next room, and you see the look of fear on each mother’s face as she wonders if her child will be next...

You will come home changed. Those of us who love this little island country call it “Ayiti Cheri”… dear Haiti… because there are so many people and places there that are dear to us. Places that have left us breathless with their beauty, and places so full of poverty and sickness that they will be forever tattooed on our eyelids. We have dear friends there who have taught us so much! They have taught us to live in the moment… to laugh at ourselves and to be just a little less proper and a little more uninhibited. We have learned that an air conditioner and washing machine are things we can survive without, and that spending time with your friends can be as simple as pulling up a white plastic lawn chair underneath a tree to “fe yon ti chita”… sit for a bit. And away from all those things that give us white people “tet chaje”… loaded minds… you will be surprised at how little they all matter, and how much better your day is when you slow down and let life happen. “Ayiti Cheri”… it’s a place that gets into your soul.

* I wrote this last year for our Ethnic Social at school, and today I am feeling so lonesome for that place... for everything I described and so much more!*

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