A woman passed me on the sidewalk with an entire table on her head. It looked like she had put everything she wanted for her journey onto a table, crawled underneath it, and then stood up. She moved down the street with her neck straight, her eyes forward, because carrying the burden takes focus. Nobody seemed to think she was remarkable.
Little girls balance bags of rice, women twice my age carry full washtubs, men carry bananas in baskets. The movement of goods happens on the streets, resting just a head above us.
Everywhere we go, I have found the women of Haiti to have incredibly straight posture. They move with dignity and steadiness. Perhaps it’s because they have spent their lives achieving the balance required to transport their lives on their brow, and this is no metaphor. Blessed is the woman who carries the burden.
The women of Haiti are straightening my spine.
A young woman stood at the pulpit at church. Beautiful in her white suit, she lead us in worship, singing strong like Exodus’ Miriam. No whispering, no false shyness, her back was straight, her face was forward, the microphone was on, and she sang the roof off that church. We followed behind her, straight into the throne room of God.
The front two rows were taken up with the women’s choir, all in black business suits. When they got up to sing, they moved easily through their steps, singing Hosanna for Palm Sunday. I sat in the wooden pew and tears filled my eyes. Erika leaned over to me and said, “I bet the angels wish they were here for this.” But I’m not convinced they weren’t there. Blessed are the women who sing.
The rows of the school are filled with boys and girls. Together. Same classroom, same opportunity. The blue satin hair ribbons, one after another, crowded onto benches, just about laid me out on the dirt with their beauty and determination.
These girls are getting an education. These girls will be able to read a deed to make sure they aren’t getting swindled. Their backs are straight on those tiny benches. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask. Nurses. Teachers, Singers. One dream after another. These girls will lift Haiti, I think.
These two women cook for 150 children every single day. Think about that for a hot second. For many of the kids in Drouin, it’s their only meal of the day. The conditions are primitive to my eyes – water must be fetched and carried and then boiled before use. The tin cooking pots are four times the size of my kitchen sink. There is no light and no fan, just a cook stove and the women.
But those fresh beans and rice, straight off the stove and ladled into a tin plate were the best meal of the week. She grinned at me, her sinewy arms stirring, her headscarf a gleaming white. I thought of Proverbs 31 – she rises while it’s still dark to provide for her children, this virtuous woman. Blessed is the woman who provides for another woman’s child.
Rosna grew up in a girls’ orphanage herself and then she went on to become a nurse. She got married and her husband planted a church in the same town where she grew up. And now she is the director of Ferrier Village. The first “family style” orphanage in the area, there are five homes filled with 26 children, all of them rescued from trafficking, under her care. Each home has a mother and four or five children. Their mother makes sure they are clean, they are fed, they sleep well, they are seen, known, loved here. Rosna is three years younger than me. Her back was straight, her floors were swept, her work is done well, and her children are healthy.
When the children first arrive from their rescue, they are often malnourished, their black hair the colour of dried orange straw. But give Rosna a bit of time, because look – this rescued baby’s roots are coming in dark. She’s going to be well because Rosna is a high-capacity leader with hustle and peace for days. Blessed is the woman who leads.
Wherever I go, children burrow into my mama-belly. It’s a bit soft, never recovered after those three babies in four years, but when I’m around children, I’m thankful for my softness. We mamas from the north, we stood around with their children in our arms, toddlers balanced on our hips. The sway of a mother’s axis crosses cultures, it seems. We met eyes over whiny toddlers who won’t cooperate and shrugged with a grin – we’ve all been there, we’re mothers.
When we gathered around the women to express our thanks for the meal. “Thank you for cooking for us,” Amber said with a smile. “We have a lot of children and we’re mothers and nobody ever cooks for us!” They laughed and said they understood that.
One woman after another, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the pulpit, sometimes in a home, sometimes singing a song, sometimes on the street with her stand of mangoes to sell, sometimes at the blackboard wearing a blue uniform, sometimes sitting in the classroom.
What a privilege to witness these women work.
What a privilege to talk in their kitchens, hold their babies, hear their stories.
What an honour to learn from their leadership.
Blessed are the women who remain unbowed.
from the archives
It’s been a year since I was last in Haiti. I had plans of returning again this year but then along came little Maggie Love and so travel is at a stop right now. But in the meantime, the work continues – my presence certainly isn’t required by anyone – in Haiti.
Want to help?
And as always, pray for our sisters worldwide who are quietly doing the work.
All these photos were taken by Scott Wade and are used with permission.