It’s been just a bit over two weeks since arriving in Haiti, and I have been through a whirlwind of information, greetings, meetings, and lessons. These beautiful people have so many proverbs that fit so well with this transition and like the parables in the bible, are so rich and deep with lessons. Perhaps the most prevalent as I sit here writing this is also the one that currently resides in my heart as my favorite: “Dèyè mòn gen mòn.” You could look at this literally to be “Beyond mountains, there are more mountains.” A beautiful expression of the resilience and the every day existence of the people here. You begin to summit one mountain, work through overcoming certain obstacles, experience a range of emotions on the journey, and savor the moment you reach the peak. This comes just before you see the next mountain you will journey in life.
If then, I liken my beginning chapter in beautiful Ayiti to the first mountain in my mission journey, I’ve already found sections where I could walk confidently by dear friends and some sections where they had to lift me up off the ground after losing my footing and in classic Abby fashion, falling over. My first few days were AMAZING! Sami, my fellow MKLM, and Brittany, an NP that works sometimes with the sisters, came to pick me up from the airport. My first Haitian food was bread fruit chips Sami offered me in the car. They were great, especially after not getting lunch before leaving Atlanta. We then took the 4.5 hour drive up to Gros Morne. After a good night of sleep at the sisters’ home, Sami and I went on a walk through town so she could show me some of the places and spaces of the town I’ll call home for the next few years. There is a lot of dust (dirt roads) and a lot of people that looked in curiosity at the new “blan” in town. Over the next couple of days I got to tour the school, the hospital, the nature center/nursery, and the home for the elderly the sisters either own or work with. We played cards or rummy cube every night and ate wonderful meals together, sharing laughs and stories. We went to Mass, and I was entranced with the beautiful music a children’s choir sang. Though I could not yet understand any of the words, I understood the passion and the love with which they sang and it was stunning! After this brief stay in Gros Morne, I headed back to Port-au-Prince for language school for six weeks.
After settling into my room at N A Sonje, my language school, I got to meet my instructors and learn about who they are while sharing a bit about who I am. It began with a beautiful prayer about opening our hearts to receive one another and the knowledge that accompanies this study. I was overwhelmed with the loving openness and welcoming nature of my instructors. They are wonderful, patient, and understanding. There’s Yaya (who is now back in the states finishing up university!), his sister Myriam, Mackencia, Mono, Diline, and Dieny. Over the next few days, I jumped into language study and soaked it up. We covered common expressions and greetings. Here, every conversation begins with a greeting: “Bonjou” or “Bonswa,” and I find myself smiling more because of it. There is genuine interest in how one is doing and in making sure you wish him/her well.
We’ve discussed verbs, nouns, sentence structure, and other grammar facets. We also discuss Haitian proverbs and how they’ve irrevocably been intertwined with the rich tapestry of Haiti’s colorful history. Every one we’ve covered is beautiful and full of layered meanings and lessons. These proverbs are rapidly becoming a part of my own tapestry and I’m better for it.
The proverbs are uplifting and instill a sense of hope and perpetual learning in those who open their ears to truly hear them. For example, last Wednesday, I had a hard start to my lessons. I’d had a rough night before (see below), there was a great deal going on around me, I was feeling my anxiety creep up, and then my wonderful director, whom I call TantCa (the Creole combination of Aunt and Carla), told me one of the words I had committed to memory meant something else. Y’all, I do not know why that one little word set off such strong emotions, but it nonetheless did. In the middle of trying to talk to one of my instructors about what I normally do on my birthday, I started crying tears of frustration. I was frustrated because I wasn’t getting more of the language. I was frustrated because I couldn’t communicate effectively with the people I encountered, which is hell when considering a huge part of my degree/passion centers on my ability to communicate and know people. I was frustrated because I wanted so much to just “get it,” even though, as Dieny told me in response to my minor melt down, learning a language involves your brain rewiring itself a little bit. He was amazing, and shared a story about how he first responded to talking with people, and encouraged me to keep trying. In similar fashion to his story, I would get there, step by step.
Dieny, along with my other instructors present for that lesson, gently worked with me and slowed the pace down so I could catch my breath. There was no mention of my tears shed, which I was grateful for because I hate that my response is to cry. They reaffirmed me as a person and a student doing something challenging. They took a very human shortcoming – too easily becoming frustrated with oneself – and turned it into a very beautiful human connection. I will always remember their kindness, love, and wisdom in that moment. That, in and of itself, is a wondrous lesson I am learning from my Haitian family.
That afternoon, as every afternoon, I got to eat lunch with one of my instructors at their home. For that day, it was at Myriam’s home. In slow, and somewhat broken Creole, I thanked her for her patience and understanding in my lesson. She told me, “Pa gen pwoblèm!” “It’s no problem!” In English, she told me “We’re all family here. You are doing okay!” Again, I tell you I continue to be blown away by their hearts. Her aunt then softly told me another beautiful proverb, “piti, piti, wazo fe nich li.” “Little by little, the bird builds it’s nest.” Each word and rule and proverb I learn, gives me tools to build my nest of connections and life here. I will stumble over some of it, which-as with walking-is invariable. That is also okay. I have to be willing to make mistakes and have frustrating moments as I work to ascend this first mountain in Haiti. I am blessed to have these guides on the journey.
I consider this next little story both a triumph and a stumble. The night before I had that mini meltdown, I had quite the experience with some pesky creepy crawlers. Let me preface this next part by saying Haiti has these wonderful-CREEPY-bugs that look like a spider and a crab got busy. They have the body shape of a crab with front pincher-looking-things (so grammatically correct!), and legs like a spider. Think about that thing Mad Eye Moody tortures in Harry Potter…So there’s that. Anyway, we don’t get electricity at night very often. Not a big deal, it’s simply a part of life here. My nightly routine is to go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, etc. You want to know what’s not part of my routine?! Seeing one of those creepy crab spider things in the toilet, which is over a big pit. (think fancy outhouse, inside the house). Me being me, I quickly shut the lid and returned to my room. I said to myself, “It’s fine. I’ll just pee in the morning…” So to calm down after that encounter, I go to read in bed under my mosquito net. Again, no electricity, so I am using a flashlight to read (sorry mom!). There I am, reading to keep my mind off of what’s crawling around in my toilet, and guess what I see out of the corner of my eye! A big brown spider INSIDE my mosquito net. I jumped out of bed, never letting the light leave this thing. I said, “NOT TODAY SATAN!” and grabbed two books. I said a prayer I wouldn’t miss and promptly rendered the spider a quick death. I told God if I got tested again that night, I wasn’t going to make it. I slept with my flashlight on, like a five year old. Proud, not proud…
My most recent adventure in Haiti was getting to go down to Jacmel for the weekend with TantCa and Rocky (an amazing handy man, driver, tutor, builder, farmer, all-around human). We went to visit one of TantCa’s long time friends, Nadine. She is one of the funniest people I’ve had the privilege of meeting here! As we drove through the mountains on the way there, Rocky asked me if I was okay. (He, like most of my instructors, speaks way better English than I speak Creole). He knows how much of a chatterbox I can be, and is also patient as I try to communicate with my improving Creole. I had been silent for some time, just taking in the view of this beautiful island and taking several deep breathes. I told him, “Wi, m ap fenk gade.” “Yes… I am just watching.” As I told my beloved best friend Viv later on the phone, the freedom I felt as we drove through those mountains, the wind blowing back my hair, and my eyes greedily drinking in the beauty all around me, was such as I have only felt on mountains. This majesty of God’s handiwork deserves more than the meager words I have to try to capture it, but alas it must suffice for now. I told Viv that this freedom was a looking glass to the freedom the founders of Haiti, Dessalines and Christophe and the other slaves who successfully revolted against Napoleon’s military, fought for in the years leading up to their success in 1804. They fought for what they believed in, they fought for what was right, and they fought for the freedom every human deserves in this world. I, having never known anything but freedom, constantly find new ways to be in awe of the courage and perseverance that courses through the veins of Haitians. I don’t know what I will learn next, but I assure you all, it is a blessed and full experience and Haiti and her people are nourishing my mind, my spirit, my soul! I am among all people, most richly blessed!
Until next time “bel fanmi m” “my beautiful family,” I pray the Glorious Creator of us all continue to watch over, guide, and bless you! Agape my loves!