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The Birthday of the Stranger


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This last week started with an ill-fated mission trip. Group D'homme was asked to help sing at a funeral clear in the north part of Haiti, in an isolated congregation called Walamette. They could tell the congregation really needed the support of the church, so on Tuesday, Eliezer set out with our little car packed to capacity.


I was left with a house full of "bodyguards" aka little brothers and cousins and a sister-in-law to help make me a little less lonely. And a car. Ben and Shelda's car that they left here. A bad news Toyota Land Cruiser Prado - stick shift - no parking break or air conditioner - custom loud manly horn - and that thing is LARGE. Not something I wanted to drive up the narrow street and through the market to my English class. But I did it. And by the grace of God I did not roll back and hit the 3 wheeled motorcycle right behind me when I was obliged to stop fully and then get That Beast into motion again while going up a steep hill.


Wednesday I decided I was not going to let my fear of The Beast Prado stop me from an adventure. I drove clear to Ganthier to see Gario and Magdalena. It was a beautiful day, and worth the shaky hands that I had when I arrived. Reggie and Deborah were there too and we had yummy enchiladas and went to see Gario's land. And for one precious hour, we sat on the bench outside the orphanage.


The remaining "tots" from five years ago are now beautiful eight year old girls. They are very curious how much I really do love my husband, and if I'm pregnant. Or maybe I have a baby at home and I'm just not telling them the news. And why didn't I bring Eliezer with me. (Yes, this is one more place I cannot compete with his charm.) They cuddle close, and play with my hair, and little children that don't know who I am anymore climb on my lap and just silently sit there. And I wish that I could go and sit with them every day.


Back to my husband and his fellow "mission trippers"...


Tuesday night about when it got dark, I got a call. It was raining there. The car's muffler had broken on a little wooden bridge. But the worst news, a group of bandits had blocked the road from Cap Haitien to Walamette and no cars were allowed through. He sent me a picture of how he had parked the car behind a bigger bus at a gas station. "If the shooting gets any closer, they'll hit the bus and not us."


Reassuring for me of course.


I had a lot of cautionary things to say. But there was nothing for them to do but try to sleep, either outside or cramped into the little car. In the morning, they road was still blocked. They decided to fix the muffler and turn around and come back home. Even though the road was unblocked later, they were very tired and also didn't want to be stuck on the other side if the road got blocked again. So the funeral choir was missing their voices that afternoon. And eight hours later, I welcomed my tired husband who had gone two days and driven 16 hours with no sleep.


The only thing we could do was slap the backs of our hands together and say, "Bondye konnen tout bagay." God knows everything.


Thursday was my birthday and my husband was still very tired. He got home just in time to go and teach and we ate rice and legume and Jell-O cake that I had made. The guys had made appearance again for some reason, and I gave them cake and they gave me birthday wishes.


Zèzè kept making vague references to going out after class, so I thought he would probably take me to a restaurant or maybe a pool. He kept going out during class, and then on the way home someone that was seemingly at our house kept calling him. He wanted to take a new road down, so I was preoccupied with following the GPS and telling him where to turn in the dark and rain. New roads unsettle me and I was busy looking for men with guns. We finally got down to Route Frere, and I thought, "Oh, we're going to La Fouchet Restaurant," but he turned toward home.

"The rain has ruined my plans," he said. "I'm sorry. We'll have to just go home."


When he parked outside our gate, took off his undershirt and blindfolded me with it, things got a little crazy. His plan was actually not ruined at all. No. His plan had been going on for a month, and was unfolding just as he wanted.


I shuffled up the stairs onto the porch, clutching his hand, and immediately felt so. many. eyes. on me. And then he ripped off the blindfold and about 50 people were laughing and singing "Happy Birthday" in English. Mom-in-law rushed me into the kitchen to show me the table loaded with every kind of Haitian party food.


Eliezer's aunt had killed a goat for the occasion. People handed me gifts. Our minister's wife was in the kitchen with an apron, and the neighbor lady was frying plantains. It was dark already, and people clear from Blanchard were there, even though they had to leave their wives and children at home. I was so shocked.


We gathered on the porch filled with balloons and sang: "And now my soul, sing before God... Oh you are great! Oh you are great!" And I actually knew a lot of it by memory.


There was the usual scramble to eat, and people from farther away started leaving with plates covered with napkins. Soon everything was gone except the dirty dishes. And the happiness. The happiness and the unworthiness I felt will stay for a long time.


So this is what I have to say this week:


If you want to be a beautiful person, find a stranger in your group. Someone that doesn't know the inside jokes and has trouble talking your language in Sunday school. Maybe she cooks strange food and you wonder what her mama must have been like because she seems to be missing some things knew when you were half her age. Sometimes she just doesn't seem to know exactly what is normal, proper behavior.


You could even choose that person that walked out crying one time in the middle of the church service. No one ever found out what was wrong with her.


Find a stranger.


Then kill a goat, put on your apron, and cook it. Fry about a million plantains. Buy a cake. Turn her empty house into a sleepover when her husband leaves for a few days; even though you know she won't have time to cook for you and you'll have to exist on your own teenage male cooking. Clean her yard. Then buy pitchers and cups and crackers and Bongu cheese and wrap them in bright shiny paper for her birthday.


Find a stranger. Fill her big, empty, foreign house with laughter and love. Give her a place in your family, your church, and your heart. Believe me, to her, and to God, you will be so beautiful.

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