As I spent the week in Haiti, the consistent narrative in my head was the theme of just passing through. I was coming as a tag-along (with a family foundation on whose board I serve) to a country I have never been, nor spent much time learning about. My interactions would be brief and superficial. Passing.
So in moments when I could go one step further to truly get to know someone or stay out later with the team, I declined. I'm passing through, I thought. Save for the dramatic impact of the 2010 earthquake, I am clueless about the cultural cues, political realities, historical wounds or triumphs that inform Haiti today.
But in the experience of visiting a country that is unfamiliar to me, and in this arms-distance attitude, I am surprised by one overwhelming distinction of this trip compared to my recent visits across Africa:
I felt so much.
I saw poverty with fresh eyes. And injustice. And babies and their mamas. And mountains and a bay of water. Cinder block homes and scrambled roads. Sunsets, colors, vibrant urban life. Spicy food and rainstorms. I could feel Haiti in a way that I haven't been able to in Africa due to a familiarity that numbs the sensations of place.
And as a new mother, I could feel the protection and love I wanted to extend to the twin babies in the safe house on the border of the Dominican Republic, and to the teenage girls who are growing up together in the safety and care of the transitional home and for the baby girl the same age as my Jude who was in physical therapy to build muscle in her atrophied legs.
My greatest tour guide of the week was Haitian author, Edwidge Danticat, as I read her memoir, Brother I'm Dying. I felt her every word, sentiment and description of her home country, even with as passing a visit as I had. There's a whole layer of human and familial suffering that I don't know from personal experience, and I am soft, not exposed enough to know if I could be as resilient as so much of humankind has had to be.
But I fly home with the sense that maybe my visit to Haiti has and will impact me more than I'd like to let on. I can't seem to shake it like I thought I would. I sit with emotions I can't identify.
Maybe there was a room that needed expanding or reorganizing. I'm moved and vulnerable in it. I want to go home and hold my baby fiercely to my chest and never let him go. I want to look James in the eye and remind ourselves that the three of us are the most precious gifts we have for each other in this passing life. And nothing should cause us to forget that.
In a world as wild and unpredictable as the one we occupy, the only way to navigate it and make meaning in what we encounter is by holding closely to each other, and then being willing to continue to give ourselves away so that other families can do the same.