My First official Post! Enjoy reading, and feel free to leave comments/feedback! 🙂
As the plane dipped down lower and created that euphoric falling sensation in stomach pits, the entire plane erupted into loud, hearty laughter and then subsequent, jubilant conversations. And this is where the old man next to me, who had no teeth, and couldn’t read or write, smiled at me and handed me his passport and customs documents so that I could fill them out for him. From just these few moments, I knew that Haitians were young at heart, and while they possessed a quiet poise, they were never too proud to ask for help.
Haitians are the most genuinely friendly people I have ever met, and I love that the bonds immediately transcended language abilities. In fact, language itself broke the language barrier. Waiting at the airport in Port Au Prince, I discovered this in less than ten minutes. With my trusty Haitian Creole phrasebook and our new Haitian friend Jameson, I tested out my broken creole, and he would respond back in broken English. We lightheartedly laughed at each other’s silly sentence bits, but praised each other’s efforts and abilities (or lack thereof).
Late that night, we arrived at CODEHA’s home base, the site from which over the next month we would span out into 5 schools across the region of ‘La Vallee.’ It served as the site to which all volunteers return on the weekends to reflect, build fences, create gardens, and work on other projects.
CODEHA is a grassroots organization of Haiti, which grounds volunteer and community efforts in educating the children of Haiti. CODEHA stands for Corde Enfants Haitian, which literally means ‘a rope of Haitian children’. In a larger sense, when we all work together to educate our children, we climb the rope that pulls communities, and the country, to higher places.
The home base of CODEHA completely reflected this vision. It was a miniature, thriving community with energy of electrifying proportions, complete with guitars and slack-lines. This oasis hosted a rainbow of international volunteers and Haitian leaders, children and families who came together to play, work, love, teach, learn, and to share.
Gody, a middle-aged Haitian man and the passionate leader of CODEHA, immediately and vehemently shared with us that we are not here to ‘help,’ but share in the experience. CODEHA was well known and highly respected because of Gody’s relationships with the community. Although his candor and childlike attitude pushed my buttons so many times, his ever-radiant energy and poignant enthusiasm proved him to be the epitome of young at heart.
He shared with us CODEHA’s motto: Konstwi ak sa nou ye kote. In Haitian Creole, this means build who you are, where you are, and I made this my mission while in Haiti: to build solid connections with those around me, and to relish every experience. Gody, in part, inspired me to do this. He was (is) a role model for being fully dedicated and present to those around him, and he lives for the relationships he so easily creates with people.
He always said, “You are not my friend.” I was taken aback the first time he said this to me, but he continued, “you are not my sister, either, or my brother…
…you are my existence.”
And he said this with such extraordinary authenticity that it took my breath away every time. This is a true testimony to his character, and it completely embodies the spirit of the Haitians.
They let you in, swiftly.
This held true when we helped the older Haitian women cook. It’s amazing how the little things here can be a great bonding experience. We sorted through bags of grains and corn and picked out bad pieces for hours on end. Very quickly, I learned that this was a delightful afternoon bonding experience rather than a mundane chore.
Haitians can joyously engage in seemingly tedious tasking while completely enjoying life.
While doing this, we became fast best friends with the young Haitian girls by singing Bieber’s hits together. Eager to break the cultural bonds and transcend language barriers, we came up with cool handshakes, braided each others hair, painted nails, and they taught us ‘peche,’ a game similar to jacks, except it’s played with rocks- the Haitian twist. And when we ran out of international pop hits to sing together, it was never awkward to just be silent and bask in each other’s peaceful presence.
It was about being who you are, where you are. It was about sharing in the experience with each other.
Church further exemplified these cross-cultural capabilities. As the Haitians sang, their voices carried a mellow sadness but an even more powerful undertone of hope and optimism, which seemed to cleanse the air of the surrounding rubble and turmoil. Their dark eyes penetrated our souls as the priest openly thanked us for our help and support. His attitude was neither a plea for more help nor an insincere thank-you-but-we-can take-it-from-here. There was no underlying power struggles, no arguments of authority, no ‘us versus them’ mentality. It was an honest moment of the community appreciating that we were willing to share in the experience with them.
I am so grateful that they were willing to let us share in their frustrations, efforts and struggles. Although I may not have carried a burden as heavy as they do, not a day goes by that I don’t think about these vivaciously happy, enduring people with indestructible spirits.
I miss walking in town and continually uttering a friendly “bonswa” to everyone I see. It was always said in return with a genuine, large smile and an excited wave. In Haiti, greetings were always reciprocated with an unparalleled openness, optimism and excitement. (I fear that here in the states, the process of saying ‘hi’ to everyone you saw would be a very daunting and discouraging task.)
At one point, us volunteers and fellow Haitians even shared a bumpy 3 hour ride packed in the back of a cattle truck. The young American volunteers mixed with the older Haitian generation made for a youthful combination of never-ending sing-alongs consisting of nonsense creole phrases. I laughed as the oldest mama sang her heart out to these “joy” songs. Her voice, though wildly off key and hoarse, radiated her lively, youthful spirit. My heart felt so full as I belted out call and repeat songs in Creole, and to think that this is an everyday occurrence in Haiti…
Many people have an erroneous notion that you would have to pay money and attend a fancy spiritual yoga retreat in order to have these insta-connections, but there are some places in the world where duets of fast connections and ever-friendly exchanges are an everyday, ordinary dance.
Haiti is one of these few places.
As Gody would preach, it’s not about “bringing” anything; it’s about the gift-less exchange, sharing in the experience a junto, together.
Always while traveling, we must embrace and cherish the raw, heart to heart, cross-cultural connections; we all have something to share with each other.