It was the lights of Miami that told me our trip was over. The lights I didn’t take for granted, and that seemed so richly abundant—excessive and wasteful, even—after a week spent in Haiti’s Central Plateau.
The plane ride allowed for some time to take stock of the past three days. None had the emotional rawness of Wednesday, but they continued the work of understanding this place and its people—and made me aware of how much I have to learn and experience.
This is the third of three posts sharing this service trip to Haiti.
On Thursday, we returned to the school to clean up more rocks for a playground, and played soccer and took photos with the students at recess. After recess, we visited each classroom. In one classroom were four impossibly low tables and tiny chairs, each with a group of 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, respectively, sitting around it. We sang “Old MacDonald” for them, after they provided an animal for each verse.
Other classes sang for us and made room for us to sit with them. The school’s director shared that the school, which was expanded last year, would like to accommodate more older children and asked for our help.
That afternoon, we visited the Bassin Zim waterfall, where young people (mostly boys) scrapped to be our guides along the falls and secure a $1 tip. it was as uncomfortable as that sounds. In the evening, a local dance troupe visited the MPP compound to perform.
Friday, we visited Eco Village 1, the oldest of the villages constructed to offer refugees left homeless by the earthquake not just a home but a sustainable way of life. (This is the village that members of Main Line Unitarian Church helped construct on the first service trip to Haiti three years ago.) While there, we learned how to compost, MPP-style. As when we made natural insecticides with MPP instruction two days earlier, I was struck by how much work goes into sustainable agriculture in the Central Plateau.
That afternoon, we met with the leader of the Women’s Groupment, who shared the group’s work in combating domestic violence. MPP is progressive in its commitment to gender equality, and it backs its talk with actions: during our time in Haiti, I was struck by how many smart, capable women served in positions of leadership at MPP. That includes our handler, Marguerite, who deftly guided us through Wednesday’s craziness and the entire week.
We then met with MPP’s former head and charismatic founder, Jean-Baptiste Chabonnes. In a free-wheeling, laughter-filled two hours, Chabonnes shared many stories, including how he got his start as a social justice warrior (he went to police to complain that a local political leader had stolen his uncle’s cow and, against all odds, retrieved it and had the official arrested and imprisoned).
That night we had our final reflection of the trip, and each person shared an object or words. A dress, several quotes, a camera, stones from places we visited, a ukelele, a machete, the covenant that guided the group through the experience. I shared this little poem:
Haiti is not a country.
It is that setting in Google Photos
Called Vibrance or something
Equally strange, that when
You move it to the right
It makes your photo burst
With color; What looked
Ordinary takes on a strange,
Enhanced quality. The black
Is blacker, the details appear
In the white—surprise! they were
Always there. And I sit here
Looking at this moment we share,
The Haiti filter on, and I say,
“We will share this forever.
Let us gaze on this image
And feel the heat and the heart,
The connection and its breaking,
And know that this time, this place,
This image, these people, these feelings,
They are not an effect.
This is life, lived from a deep place
Of love, and fear, and hope.
And as we part, please,
Do not adjust the settings.”
Saturday was the long road from Central Plateau to Port-au-Prince, to a tchotchke shop, to the airport, to Miami, to Philly. It’s 15 minutes till touchdown. I am tired, but incredibly moved by the people we met, the beauty and joy and heartbreak and sheer unexpectedness of Haiti, and the deep ties formed within the group itself. If this was service work, the benefits began with me, with us. May they spread far and wide, in Haiti and beyond. It’s time to serve up some shuteye.