Hurting and Healing in Haiti: A Classic Coin Story

We cannot begin to heal-ourselves, our parts of the world, anything-if we do not understand, acknowledge, and own the hurt we had a hand in causing. It does not always feel good at the start (or heck, even in the middle), this glorious part of life called healing, but that’s okay. We are not always called to comfort or convenience when it comes to growth, when it comes to actively pursing a better, wiser, and/or stronger version of ourselves. We are also not called on to heal every hurt by ourselves, but we do have our distinct part within it.

For example, a few Sundays ago, when your favorite klutzy giant was playing soccer with some students and swiftly stumbled full force into the frame of an opened metal door, there was some hurt. I had picked up one of my kids to kick the ball away from him and another ran full force into my back. Falling down, I didn’t want the one in my arms to get hurt so I wrapped him up and braced as best I could. Fortunately, no serious injury occurred on my part and he was totally fine. We both started cracking up and didn’t think much of it until one of my friends from that neighborhood went “Abby, look at your knee!” I took a quick glance and just thought, shoot! Not realizing how bad it was, I cleaned it up with the first aid kit, slapped a band aid on it, and went about watching them play for a bit. It wasn’t until later, when I was playing card games at the local home for the elderly and my band aid fell off, and I was informed my knee needed a little more attention. The amazing nurse who works evenings and weekends told me I needed to head to the hospital, I was going to need a few stitches.

Their energy is endless, and their joy is priceless!

Well, five stitches later, this Humpty Dumpty was put together again. The stitches came out five days later, and my knee is recovering nicely! Within this last adventure to the hospital, I was again blessed with my awesome Maryknoll partner, Sami, who kept me laughing and helped the wonderful nurse (who shook her head seeing me back so soon for another visit, haha!), get me squared away. I wouldn’t have healed as well if not for the nurse’s attention to doing her job well, and I would not have gone to the hospital if the nurse at the home for the elderly had not told me to do so. I would not have gotten better if I’d not listened. These great women had a huge hand in helping me heal, and my part was to let them help me.

Where we’re at now in the country, we face entering the seventh week of conflicts, lockdowns, and closed schools throughout the country, most severely in Port-au-Prince. While Gros Morne, my home town, is normally calm and has managed to function, it has not gone without problems. The most disheartening and worrisome, in my opinion, is the fact that all of our 37 schools remain closed. For almost two months, our kids have gone without regular education. I was talking with Geri, a really good friend and mentor here, and we’re of the mind that there is no quantifiable loss for what these problems are costing the people here. How can we put a number on the lasting impact of losing this much school? How can we quantify the actual net loss of traffic and profit for small businesses, like the local restaurants, whose owners have invested all they have into their work? How do we quantify the strain and stress and time lost for families who go without because of the lack of order, economic progress, and general uncertainty about what the next hour will bring, let alone the next day? The gas crisis is not really calming down either. There’s gas in the country, but it is still a gamble on whether or not we could find some, and if we do from someplace that’s not a station, there’s a chance it’s been cut with suspicious materials. The list of hurts goes on, and sometimes it feels overwhelming when trying to figure out how to heal and my place within that healing.

Just one of countless protests in the capital. Image source – google.

And the absolutely frustrating thing about it is that I can walk away at any point. I can throw my hands up and say, “Not my problem, not my country. This is too much, I can’t hang. I am one person, and we’re drifting on a small island of hope in a sea of despair, destruction, and chaos.” Some people have left, especially those who work mostly in Port-au-Prince, where things seem to be becoming increasingly dire. And I cannot fault them for it. In fact, I’m glad they realized their limitations. Missioners, anyone really, cannot work effectively if they are coming from a place of constant stress and fear. If one’s inability to process things, to function effectively lingers more than a tough moment, it’s time to bow out gracefully. It’s also the realistic matter of not putting oneself in danger. Where I am at though, I’ve not felt the need to step away, and for that I am exceedingly grateful.

Have there been moments where I question everything that is going on and my at times seemingly insignificant place here? Yep, I’d be concerned if I hadn’t. It would also be easy. Using my privilege to toss in the towel even though things are far from rock bottom here, to go back to the extreme comfort and convenience of life in the States and the consistency of work there, even more so to return to my loved ones whom I miss every day. In doing so, though, it wouldn’t be me and I’d let myself down majorly, as well as others counting on me. I don’t need easy, I just need possible. So, focusing on my kids and fellow instructors at the school, I shift the paradigm of my thinking to recognize what is achievable in the midst of all these obstacles.

Our kids aren’t in school, that’s so not ideal. However, the guardian has the keys to the gates and the library. So, in exchange for time in the library, where I work with them on their reading skills, I give the students in our school’s neighborhood playtime with soccer. We’ve explored books over animals, the solar system, ecosystems, and of course, Dr. Suess. I used volunteers to make our own solar system of students (so cute!) as we discussed distance in relation to the sun and looked at a visual example of why it takes some planets longer than others to go around the sun. In these small moments, where the discovery, the fun, and the laughter is allowed to happen, we win. In these moments, these little victories include the all too fleeting time when kids get to be kids. They are asked simply to learn together, play together, and grow together. They, for a moment, are not asked to wait around for the next foot to fall. They are not asked to wonder at why they are not able to go to school, or understand far more of violence and unrest than any child should. In our little mornings, my kids stand against what is happening around them and refuse to let their childhoods be taken from them. And though they may not conscientiously recognize it yet, these brilliant young ones are claiming their important places in the healing of a hurting country.

Additionally, in the mornings, working with the teachers to instruct them on how to use their version of Office (Excel, Word, PowerPoint), the work goes on and their educational tool-belts get some upgrades. On the days we do formations, working together to present information, strategies, and discussing the aid of Maslow’s hierarchy and Gardner’s MLT, we’re refusing to just sit and do nothing. It is not ideal and it is not without its frustrations, but in these small moments of defiance, we continue to grow together, to prepare for the days when all of our amazing students can freely pass into our gates once more. As with their students, the teachers take their role in the healing of the hurt caused by others.

If we liken beautiful Haiti to a coin, one side contains the hurt, the other displays the healing, and it is her people that flip it. The selfishness and non-progression of politicians is big part of the hurt. They do not care what becomes of their countrymen and women. Those who march, while perhaps having started with noble ideas in mind, have also had a hand in the hurt. Blocking roads does not hurt the well fed, well guarded leaders the demonstrators want to, it hurts their fellow citizens, struggling just as much if not worse than themselves. With the stagnation of the government, at this point, the fires, the road blocks, the chaos is all for the sake of fires, road blocks, and chaos. It is keeping people from being able to sell their goods, children from school, the sick from the hospital, the doctors from the hospital, and people from living. Hospitals are severely under-stocked, with some medicines nowhere to be found in the country right now. Some nurses and doctors are extremely limited in the care they can provide their patience. Indeed, the weight of the coin seems to favor the hurt, for everywhere we look here, hurt is present and the end is hiding somewhere we cannot see.

Yet, flip the coin and there is healing to be found. There are schools that function in the face of the storm or situations like ours where the learning goes on, albeit in informal ways. I’ve walked through neighborhoods where grandmothers (elder women, not necessarily biological grandmas, but that’s what we call them nonetheless!), bring out old chalk boards and host informal sessions on math, French, and Kreyòl. Older siblings work with younger siblings to keep the education going. Some of our MBB leaders have utilized our library to check out textbooks and teach themselves, or review lessons so they stay sharp for school. On the healthcare side, we still see emergency and volunteer services pushing through the muck to reach and help as many as possible. And those under-stocked nurses and doctors I mentioned before, they still show up and do what they can to help their patients. The market still opens and people still go to work, because they refuse to be beat by this situation. We still see the wondrous parts of life, love, laughter, and learning happening because people, despite our ability to royally muck up a situation, maintain a counter ability to do life right. Ultimately, we possess the desire to be better, to live well, and to love freely. It is at times tricky and sometimes maddeningly frustrating, but we navigate life in this time of upheaval and uncertainty, and I am forever learning about the resilience of my Haitian family.

I would be remiss to say that the situation is not grim, for truly it is; in fact, it is the hardest course of events I’ve witnessed and in any way been involved. However, as I said, it is truly a two sided coin situation. Where there is hurt, there is also healing taking place. My place among that is in the simple action to show up every day for my kids, to learn and grow with them, to play soccer with them, and subsequently make them laugh because I am quite mediocre at it. My active stance toward healing is working with my fellow instructors, that we may all grow and learn together how to be better in the career we love for the students we love even more. We are working toward healing because we refuse to back down. We’re staying rooted in love and in so doing, the healing side of this coin has tremendous weight indeed.

Where hope and love remain, neither hate nor fear may linger.
One of our teachers’ little boy, he’s pretty darn cute!

I cannot honestly say when things will recover, or if they will/can ever return to the way they were. I am still in uncharted waters myself. I can tell you that I continue to be amazed by the strength of the people who ceaselessly open their hearts to receive mine and grant me far more blessings than I could ever hope to give. I can tell you that even on the hardest days or in my personal weakest moments, hope and love abound. I can tell you that we will yet rise together and not if, but when we push through, it will be because God gave us a sense of fortitude and purpose that refuses to be denied. Life, in all its chaotic wonder and occasional stress, continues to be blessed. God continues to call me further into mission and constantly shows me the glory of love all around me, never letting me forget the hope found within a single ember. May we all remember that power and may you all be well, finding the reasons for joy and hope and love, even when it is difficult. I hold you in my heart and remain rooted in the love that is around me. Agape!

Below is a poem I was inspired to write after a well done reflection by another friend, mentor, and director for MBB, Jonathan.

A Day in the Heat

Pause. Breathe. 

Stress. Sweat. Breathe. 

Think. Overthink. Breathe.

 Keep going. Question. Breathe. 

 Just. Keep. Going.

Could be… worse…

Breathe. Try to breathe.

Air, why is there no air?

.

It’s being consumed

By an insatiable heat,

prowling the island 

in slow, steady agitation,

each advance a move closer

to an eruption from which 

we do not return.

A fire, fueled

by anger and a hunger,

a hunger for that long desired

something more we all see 

in a taunting green, glowing light 

across the water.

In the heat’s rising,

many have lost themselves to 

it’s scathing flames and 

consequential promises, 

having looked too long into its siren core,

thus surrendering to brokenness.

Many have been lost in the 

wake of its course, the result of daring to be sick,

young, 

old,

different,

working,

objecting. 

.

Inhale. Burning. Eyes. Nose. Throat.

Exhale. Cough. Cough Again. 

Inhale, slowly. Shake head.

Sigh. Tears fall. Eyes burn. Breathe.

Look. Smoke. Dark plumes. Breathe.

Trash? Tires? Risk it?

Exhale. Trash. Just trash. Bless.

Inhale. Think. Choose. Act? Sit?

.

Here is not there,

where the plumes billow endlessly,

and the stench of burnt rubber drowns you,

where the bullets, hailing so often,

could trick you for rain,

where the cries for a leader to leave,

for help, for answers, for notice,

do not cease,

where fuel is ever adding to the fire.

Here is not there,

here the heat has not infected so many,

here the heat felt comes mostly from a sweltering October sun,

here life goes on and people still try,

here the market remains, though prices rise,

here the schools stand,

though silent and sad for want of their children to usher in again,

bringing laughter and learning once more, 

here is blessed in the broken,

for the work can continue.

Here is affected, not paralyzed, not trapped. 

When does it end though?

Hope,

but

don’t

hold

your

breath.

.

Sigh. Deeply. Okay.

Messy bun, check. Chacos, check.

Water. Money. Keys. Phone. Band Aids.

Bag ready, check.

Door locked, check.

Gate locked, check.

Breathe.

.

No uniforms blurring past. I miss it a lot.

Few motos buzzing around. Hmm, I miss them too.

More dominos and cards and children running around with plastic bottles repurposed to toy cars.

The radio crackles, like it has the last six weeks,

 about 

the heat spreading,

the people suffering,

the calls to march,

the calls to lock down,

the call for exile,

that is ignored only by the one it’s meant for.

At this point,

is he not selfish?

His silence as useful as a single bucket of water to pacify the growing flames.

His parting would not solve anything long term,

but oh the slight breath it would offer!

Many, who by a young 32 years,

have already seen two coups,

truly believe one would be better than now.

Can I justly say?

Frightening. 

That unknown.

What have I ever had to ponder about a coup?

About a nation on fire,

on the brink of imploding,

such things have only been in the pages of history books about the world…

Can’t

Fix

It

All. 

.

Smile. Growing. Laughter. Excitement.

Little hands, finding yours. W ap jwè?

Yes, little one, we’ll play. 

Ball, ready.

Players? READY! Timer started.

Stress. Dissipating. Peace. Increasing.

Contented sigh.

.

In this small hour of the morning,

they are asked only to be kids,

to play, without fighting, to work together,

to laugh, learn, joke, simply be as they are.

We still feel the heat creeping toward us,

but in our small defiance,

we decide not to let it win the day here.

Before we played,

we found our own adventures in the library and the many other worlds it hosts.

The heat may keep the uniforms off,

the classrooms shut,

and the route to progress strewn with rocks,

but by God, 

it will not keep them from learning, from their youth, from progress, from rising!

Do not tell my kids they don’t get to learn,

for they will simply smile and grab a book anyways.

Do not tell my kids their education is a danger,

for they know the power it hosts.

Do not tell my kids they don’t have a right to their childhoods,

for they are children who will not give it up.

Do not tell us that here is there,

because we make sure it is not.

Do not dare tell me there’s nothing to be done, 

when children are wanting to read together,

and there are games to play,

and love to root far deeper than any hate or hurt.

Do not try it.

Do not try to keep us down,

For 

We

Will 

Rise. 

-Abbagail M. Belt

Formation Photos!

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