My world is being driven through Port au Prince, at break neck speeds, in chaotic traffic, in the heat, and the dust, and the crush of humanity and wisdom and grace, and so yes, suppose it is just about right that my world is a bit shaken up tonight.
I keep trying to just write out what I think, but the truth is: I don’t know what I think.
Right now, my hands are opened, my eyes are opened, and even still, something in me wants to clench my fists, and just go to sleep.
So. Haiti: Beautiful. Chaotic. Overwhelming. Kind. Warm. Gentle. Joyful. Suffering. Perseverance. Guts. Horror. Graceful. And the fact that a place, and a people, exist in the midst of all of these things, at once, is something like a testimony, something like a prophetic call, and something so beautiful, it breathes.
When I first saw Haiti, deep emerald deforested mountains rising out of the blue water, I was peeking out of an airplane window in an unasked-for first class upgrade, three rows behind Presidente Martelly, and the irony of this was not lost on me. As the plane approached, there was no familiar patchwork quilt of roads and farmland, of suburbs and street lights, this was a raggle-taggle mish-mash of homes and dirt, nothing predictable which I took as a hint, and then we landed. There were white birds sitting on the tops of the palm trees, like candles, and I slammed into a wall of equatorial heat. The cacophony of new sounds and new sights and new smells, the strangeness, blared. (I wanted to turn around and go home.)
We spent part of today having hard discussions about relief, international development, aid work, orphan care and prevention, all of the gigantic snarl of issues and mess and problems. We were beside a cheerful church, in the home of a local artist who created his own business, based on a micro-finance loan. Now his work is shown in galleries, and he provides for his son, and builds homes for other families. I think that micro-finance is empowering, I saw Richard, and I think he matters.
Can I just say this, too? I need to say it: I’m so proud of the Church. So proud of the people of God, of the people of the Gospel. You know how I have gone, in the last few years, from being ashamed to call myself a Christian, eschewing even the title, to feeling like I am part of something beautiful, and holy, and communal. But The Bride of Christ has never looked lovelier to me than she did today, from my spot on the stones, sitting in Richard’s home, because the Gospel is at this intersection of it all this truth and reality and hope and grief, it’s social and it’s spiritual and it’s physical.
I went to a hillside covered with school children, all because of the work of local Haitian leaders and pastors (Help One Now supports their work, preferring to keep Westerners in the background, empowering Haitians to lead). A trio of little gap-toothed little girls gathered close to me, and they told me, through a translator, that they knew I was a mama. You know, I am most vulnerable about one part of my body: my baby-belly (three Bessey babies in 4 and a half years will do that to a girl), it’s the part of myself I want to hide and camouflage, but these girls, they rubbed my belly, and burrowed there, kissing it, they said, “you must be a mama” and the truth is yes, I’m marked as a mama, I know this, it shows, and it makes me soft, and I started to laugh because, well, what a joy.
Then we had more hard conversations about how vulnerable Haitian children, particularly orphans, are to being trafficked as slaves. They talked about how children are stolen, loaded up and driven over the borders, or to the ports, and then they are gone, and I could not bear to think of this evil, I had to stop listening.
This may mean I am a coward, but I still cannot think of it.
I felt angry at the main tent city. Angry with God, angry with the world, angry with my own self, how is this place even possible in our world, in 2012? I could not bear the smell, the sights, the truth of this place, and I saw babies the age of my tinies there, naked, hollering HEY YOU snapping sass, and all of my carefully reasoned understandings about how everyone has a different calling and some of us are just called to different things than poverty relief and caring for orphans stank rank like heresy.
I walked the rubble, and nodded my gentle Bonsoir as dusk gathered, and suddenly I thought, Oh, my God, I would be terrified here. I would be so scared here, in the darkness, how do these women bear it? And one of our guides said, before the spotlights were installed a few months ago, the night fell and it was “a rape camp.” Grim words.
And then we stood in the tent city, behind our Haitian brothers and sisters, and they sang the roof off that place, glory, glory, glory to God, he’s been good to us! Amen! Amen! Me? I want to throw things when I am disappointed in my nice life, I pout, and I do not sing praise because, apparently, I expect my life to be perfect and clean and ideal and pretty as Pinterest all of the time.
I did not want to cry in this place, out of respect, and so I snuck my tears down my face, and a boy about seven years old asked me to marry him someday. There was a little girl in a blue dress covered with berries, trimmed in red gingham, her hair ribbons saucy and alert, and I wanted to remember her sweet and clean little dress there in the tent city always. I think I got born again, all over again, tonight, and now God smells like sweat, like shit, like charcoal, like pineapples, in addition to my northern lakes and pine trees and clean air and water.
I have no frame of reference for Haiti. I have no simile, no metaphor, but I see God here in Haiti, I do. He just doesn’t look quite the same to me anymore.
Photos courtesy of the talented Austin-based Molly Donovan Burpo.
Instagram photo courtesy of Jen Allred with HelpOne Now. You can follow our Instagram feeds at #Help1Haiti.