Prelude to Haiti

I have been meaning to write a Prelude to my trip to Haiti before now, but I simply haven’t found the words. In fact, I’ve started more than once without being able to complete anything meaningful. I wanted to write something profound…or informative…or motivational…or, well, meaningful. But here I am the night before I depart, and I’m tired. Today is my birthday–the first since my mother passed away–and I’ve spent most of the day taking care of last-minute details.

I can’t say that today has been difficult because of Mom’s absence. In a number of ways, it’s been easier. Contrary to what many people probably assume, I’m not one who likes a lot of attention. It’s the introvert in me. And for the past few years, I’ve been forced to share my birthday with the people who worked in my home, and if one of them didn’t realize it was my birthday (I never announce its arrival, although Facebook has made things a bit, um, different), then I’d have to deal with the “Why didn’t you tell me?” questions after the fact.

Today the only people I encountered in-person who were aware of my birthday were my sister and my pharmacist, the latter who injected a tetanus shot into my aging arm while jokingly wishing me a happy birthday. Other than that, I saw mostly strangers at the thrift stores and other places I stopped by in my flurry to ensure that I have everything I need for Haiti.

I moved rather slowly throughout the day, trying not to be frantic the way I’ve felt before previous international trips. In fact, that’s how I’ve been all week. I think it’s my body, mind, and spirit’s way of storing up energy for the coming week. I’ve been meditative, pensive, and not as chatty as usual. Withdrawn and detached. And it’s felt right.

So, a few details about the Haiti trip. I’m traveling with a group from the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder. My good friend Roger Wolsey is the director of this Methodist campus ministry, and he suggested that I join the students on the Spring Break work trip because of my longstanding passion for Haiti, not to mention my eagerness to start traveling again now that I’m no longer serving as a caregiver for my mother. The trip is being coordinated by Alicia Fall who leads a non-profit called Her Many Voices, and she has had the admirable responsibility of making arrangements for us with her contacts in Haiti.

Up until about a week ago, we had planned to work in a remote village called Trou ChouChou, where most people still don’t have easy access to clean drinking water. But…Haiti is a place in transition and turmoil, and that means plans can (and do) change at the last minute. Alicia had warned us to have minimal expectations about what exactly we’d be doing upon arrival in Haiti, and volatile conditions in the past couple of weeks have forced us to reevaluate where we would stay down there.

[Note: I started to provide details about where we are going to work, but I just deleted it all. I don’t want to scare anyone, but for security reasons, I think that it’s best not to disclose too much information on the internet until we return. I’ll just say this: we are staying in a place that will be safe, secure, and protected. More info in a later post when I get back. I’m hoping to do some fun, innovative stuff with the followup posts.]

Perhaps the biggest challenge in visiting Haiti is that the country is still recovering from the devastating hurricane that destroyed so many buildings and took countless lives two years ago. I’ve seen some pretty impoverished places, including Cambodia, Ghana, Mexico, and Belize, but nothing like this. I’ve made a daily practice of picturing myself surrounded by people–including children–who aren’t sure if they’ll be alive in six months. I see the desperation in their eyes, hear it in their voices, and can smell stenches that would turn your stomach if you encountered them in your own neighborhood. If you’re interested in learning more about current conditions, here is a good resource. Be prepared. It’s not pleasant reading, and the photographs will shock you.

Obviously there are special considerations when traveling with college-aged students. Fortunately, Roger’s ministry–due to his personality and approach–is one that attracts mature students who care deeply about the world. I’ve been blown away by the organizational planning of Chayla, a senior who has assumed a leadership role in fundraising, scheduling meetings, and distributing information to the entire group. If anyone is concerned about the abilities of younger generations, a five-minute conversation with Chayla would make you feel much better about the future of our world.

And really, that’s true about every single college student in the group. When I was up in Colorado meeting with everyone last month, I watched another trip member, Jason, develop a design for a storage building that will house a power generator. Alas, the change of plans means we won’t be constructing that building on this particular trip, but it was so cool to see a twenty-something-er come up with such intricate, detailed plans. I’m looking forward to spending more time with the other students. Each one has unique gifts that will contribute to our adventure.

As for me, well, I feel pretty calm right now. Just tired. I feel a slight amount of physical vulnerability because of where I am in my ankle recovery, but not too apprehensive. I think that I could run if needed. And with that, I’m signing off. More when I return. As they say in Haitian Creole, Orevwa!

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