Love is Complicated
In 2015, I stepped off the plane at Port au Prince for the first time. I heard the welcome drumbeats, paid my $10 tourist fee, and was helped to collect my baggage by a crowd of enthusiastic men speaking broken English.
As we drove through Port au Prince, I didn't even know where to look. Everywhere was strangeness. The little house with three twin beds, clothes stored in suitcases, and a toilet flushed with buckets of old laundry water (The Rule I Was Given: If it's brown, flush it down) was strange too. The kids who rushed at me and literally climbed me like a tree and pulled my limbs in various directions wanting many things (mainly candy, hugs, the best toys, and candy) shouted at me in a strange language. The mayi moulen and fried chicken legs were strange. Changing and folding cloth diapers was strange.
But for some reason, I loved it all from the very bottom of my pure little innocent white heart.
Later on, I learned that those "cute" kids put on the same show of innocent devotion for every new girl that came around. We were given a set of preemie twins which we talked about throwing over the balcony. (Never did it tho. They're alive and healthy.) We dealt with fevers and marriage proposals and two times we caught some creepy guy on our porch in the middle of the night fiddling with the padlock.
But I still loved it. I loved sleeping on the roof under the stars, climbing Mon Kalve with the big boys, or taking a huge group of them down to Lake Azuei, the saltwater lake. We walked down little dirt trails through forests of Dr. Suess looking cacti, and the kids carried towels and bars of soap. But when we got there, they were scared of the water. On the way back, we passed a huge aloe vera plant and some of the Haitian workers had the bright idea to cure our dear 4 year old who still sucked his thumb. They split open a huge leaf, tackled him, and coated his thumb with it. We had the biggest temper tantrum ever out in the middle of nowhere. The worst part was he couldn't even suck his thumb to calm down. Aloe vera truly does taste terrible!
Those were the good old days. We "tore up the zone" as the Haitian saying goes, wearing through the soles of our flip flops and safety pinning them together when they broke. We ate all the food. I fell in love with Malta - a sugarcane flavored drink that comes in almost the same can as the national beer. And every once in a while we sat by the Caribbean Sea and drank pina coladas.
And so I happily moved back to Port au Prince - to be in the center of it all. The action. And I've had good times since then - I'm a pro at navigating traffic jams and I know the perfect way to hit a pothole without bottoming out. I have not killed any baby goats. The market ladies sometimes tell me I drive a harder bargain than a Haitian (ok, whatever... do they really think flattery works...), my husband tells me sometimes he thinks he'd rather eat my food than his moms (again he's a whole lot better at black boy sweet-talking than I am at making beans and rice...), and our friends and family sometimes slip up and say jokes about whites in front of me. And we've been to the beach a couple times. Actually, I've hiked up to the Citadel, the most famous Haitian fort, and got my picture taking sitting on a pile of old cannonballs.
I've worn out some more sandals.
So how did I suddenly become just a frumpy, non-energetic human that is not really even succeeding at being a housewife? Forget "tearing up the zone." It's Quiara - lovingly supported by her couch. Forget being useful in society. I am just glad my cat came back - she was lost for 24 hours and we thought some neighbors may have stolen her to butcher (Yes, that's a thing here! Usually just people living in the mountains but you never can be sure).
I think ever since I got back from that crazy trip to USA, I've been waiting for the old feelings to come back. I want to only notice the blue sky and the palms, and just be grateful to be sitting outside in my beach chair in a little short dress looking up at the stars instead of huddled by a fire or wrapped in two blankets.
I want to feel the excitement. The adventure. The newness of it all. To want to go on the streets and make jokes with random strangers who yell, "Blan, blan."
Those feelings seemed so simple and nice. But losing someone - in fact, seeing the family that you always thought was safer than anyone else broken apart - losing the one that was here, not because he had to be, but for the sole purpose of helping others - changes things.
Knowing that you are bringing a child into this world changes things.
My feelings are infinitely more complicated now.
And every day, my husband goes to work in what has become one of the more dangerous parts of the city. The 400 Mawozo gang has taken over Croix des Bouquet. The road from Dominican border, through Ganthier and to Port au Prince is shut down to any cars. Apparently they've just blocked off the road and stand there guarding it with machine guns. (This is what I've pieced together from people talking...) Motos can usually get through, but my husband's co-worker from Fonds Parisien has just stopped coming to work because of the amount of people they rob. It's a decision whether to go to work on moto because you look more "low-key" or in a car where you could potentially be harder to get at. And then there's the carjacking problem. Zèzè's co-worker, a lady nurse, got her private vehicle stolen right before she got to work a few weeks ago.
My mom-in-law's job at Blue Ridge (the mission where I taught last school year) doesn't seem like it will open again any time soon. One of my sisters-in-law has a new job as a sonogram tech but we worry about her because it's close to Croix des Bouquet and all those areas can have blow-ups including shooting in the streets at any time. My oldest brother-in-law is finished with high school so in limbo this year, and there's nothing we can do for him since our tap-tap was stolen.
Literally a few days ago I asked my husband how we could just get everyone out of here. Obviously, that's not easy... basically impossible... But I never ever thought I would even say something like that.
I love the people here more than ever. I hope they can see that - even though I'm staying in my house most of the time right now. Going to church is literally the highlight of our weeks, and usually the one time I'm guaranteed to actually get off the yard! I have never craved church like I do right now. It's just a comfort to see everyone and know we all made it through the week. And there's something about hearing them all talk about faith and trust in such a concrete way - when I know some of what they've been facing - that makes me feel like it will all be ok.
I love the Haitian culture more too, the more I see of it. Every time my husband talks about his childhood or some other random light bulb goes on for me - "Oh, that's why they do that!" So many things that used to seem weird or that I was judgmental about make sense to me. And the ones that still don't... I just wait. Because maybe another light bulb will come and then I will understand. And maybe it won't. But it's ok if these people are different than me.
That's actually a big change for me. When I first got married, I thought I needed to understand and embrace everything. Yes, I was very sentimental and woo-woo. And I had some reality checks! And over time, I've made peace with being different.
So - yes. The old feelings were simpler. I liked them better. I'm glad for every tap-tap ride - laughing and joking with strangers and getting proposed to dozens of times. I'm glad for our Haitian cookbook and I have much hope that all the food will taste good to me again once this baby stops giving me problems. (My husband says it's racist and will only eat American food.) I'm glad for front step chats with the boutik owner by the orphanage that we later found was likely a devil worshiper. I'm glad for every innocent-stupid-white-girl-adventure we had, and for each of those 25 kids who taught me Kreyol and welcomed me even when they knew I wouldn't stay forever. I'm glad for all the evenings we invited the Ganthier youth girls to sing at our house, and I still think about them. I'm so very glad for all the innocent happy memories this country has given me.
Writing this is almost like admitting that the "good old days" are over. The mature enlightened person clucking her tongue at the innocent youth. But it's kind of freeing too. To look back and see that times really have changed. The road that's being blocked by gangsters with machine guns now is the very road I traveled by tap-tap every week for a year without a care in the world. Back then it took 50 goudes to make a US dollar, now it takes 150. And for some reason, while prices continue to rise, people can't seem to make much more money than they did back then.
We aren't actually facing a normal situation that everyone just needs to learn to be content with. It's ok if we are sometimes outraged at how Haiti is treating it's people right now. It's ok to worry that everyone will stay safe. It's because I love them that I want to "get them all out of here." I don't want to take them away from their blue skies and palms, and stuff them into some strange, cold white-people country. But I do want them to feel safe and not have to worry about how they'll get their next meal.
One night last week, the gangsters in our area threw a party. Wait! I thought gangsters were supposed to hide???!!! Not publish the news around the area, haul in generators, huge speakers, and a lot of alcohol, then proceed to play loud hit tunes (think: why did we ever get married, if we're only going to fight), shoot machine guns and fireworks from midnight till 2 A.M. And who paid for the party? For one, probably our neighbor's wife. She was watching her husband's auto parts store with her small toddler and when she went to lock up for the day (think 3 P.M. full sunlight)and suddenly a guy was pointing a gun at her and asking for money.
While I was gone, they shot a guy in our neighborhood - supposedly an informer for another gang - and then half burned him and left the body in the street. I'm thinking my husband may have been a bit startled to see him in the street on the way to work. But not startled enough. Why has this become NORMAL to us?
God puts you where he wants you, with the people that are perfect for you. I believe that. And since I have a Haitian husband and so many of these people have become family and close friends, I will love Haiti through thick and thin.
But it's ok if my feelings are sometimes complicated.
A while ago after reading the Sunday school lesson about heaven, we were talking about God and the world. I asked Zèzè why God continued to just let things go on, why he didn't end it all because of how things seem to just be getting worse.
He said he didn't know but that we needed to believe that God loved every person in the world and wanted them to be saved.
Unconditional love is complicated. You fall in love with a man and two years later you know exactly what he sounds like when he washes his face in the morning and that if you ask him to wash dishes it will take two hours because he's such a perfectionist. You know all that and much more. And maybe your rose-colored glasses hit the trash a long time ago, but most of the time, you can smile at the quirky habits. And you've heard the story behind some of the deeper issues and you can have empathy because you know why. And so you can truthfully say you love the person more each passing year.
I'm assuming it's like that with a child too. The innocent baby becomes a cute, naughty toddler, and finally a moody, easily embarrassed teenager with a mind of their own. But you have been there through the whole process and your feelings may get very complicated but the love only gets deeper.
Life has so many relationships like that. When we make the commitment to love a person or a place, sometimes things get really complicated. And the more we invest time and energy and parts of ourselves into the relationship - whether it's a person, a country, or a job, the more complicated it gets.
I think God likes it that way. Because he created this world, and look how complicated everything got for him! It's only fair for us to get willing to give ourselves to relationships too.
So, dear country of Haiti - In 2015 I landed in Port au Prince for the first time. I don't know how many Haiti stamps my passport has by now. But I know that last time I cried when I heard the welcome drumbeats. I knew exactly where to go to pay my $10 tourist fee. But trick. I'm not a tourist, or even one of those short-term missionaries wearing a T-shirt with a non-profit logo, a camera around my neck, and Keen sandals.
Because when I got to baggage claim there was a super handsome guy there waiting to help me get my luggage. And guess what? I threw my arms around him and then (whoa) actually proceeded to go home with him. You can't get rid of me now, Haiti.
Maybe someday I'll have the energy to get off the couch again, put on my worn-out sandals, and "break up the zone." I hope it's a safe zone. Cuz I really, really don't like machine guns.
Love is complicated.