Monday, July 27, 2009

It gets under your skin

We're by no means experts on Haiti, we've been there once. We do think about it a lot and since our kids are Haitian, it is a deep part of our lives. But we're not anywhere near experts. We do try to keep abreast of news and goings-ons (our courageous and dedicated blogging friends in Haiti - we're looking at you!) and have a sense of the place. A sense of history, a sense of the now, a sense of the challenges, the passion, the terribleness.


We do not glamorize it, we do not romanticize it, we try to remember that every day, less than an hour flight from Florida, there are millions of people in desperate poverty. We also recognize the incredible resiliency of the people of Haiti. It's a tough balance to strike, but one that's important for us to keep in mind for our children. There is both horror and wonder.

When we were waiting at the U.S. Consulate, our adoption facilitator told us our drive to get our kids home was something that Haitians respect - passion. and, I remember standing outside the Department of Homeland security and forcing a swath of space around us as we made our way through the throngs of people and I also had the sense that there was respect for strength. is that the way it should be? I don't know, but it is certainly the way it is - respect for a show of strength. Is there respect for actual strength beyond passion? I don't know.

People tend to think that we are experts on Haiti. And while we don't think we are, truthfully, people in the U.S. are woefully ignorant and unaware of anything about Haiti. Is it institutional racism that we turn a blind eye? Or is it just to painful to admit? Or something else? Are we experts? No, but we've become ambassadors.

There is, however, one thing that I feel completely confident saying about Haiti. Until you have been there, you have no way of understanding it. We in the U.S. have no frame of reference in our world that allows us to build a mental image of what Haiti is. Whatever you think it is, before you have visited, you just can't know.

To me, there is no better way to describe it than this: The first thing you notice when you get off the plane is the heat and smell. By the time you leave, your skin has been imbued, with grit, determination, sweat and the scent of burning garbage in the streets.

Once you have visited Haiti, it is forever under your skin.

4 comments:

Rose Anne said...

Heather,
That is excatly what I tell everyone that ask me about Haiti.
You can't understand even what someone says until you are there and see ,hear ,smell and taste Haiti..You can look at picture but never truly understand...

Melanie M. Smith said...

I'm a pretty big lurker, I think I may have written a comment once but this post really hit home for me. I spent two weeks in Haiti on a humanitarian medical trip and it was the most amazing and heartbreaking trip I've ever taken. You are absolutely right on that Haiti is now under my skin. I miss the noise and chaos, but mostly I miss that resiliency. My time there was brief but I do consider myself an ambassador. Sad to think that most people will never visit Haiti and I feel that they really have no idea what they are missing.

Leslie said...

You're very, very on the mark with that. Whenever I go "home" I notice that the air smells like, well, nothing.

I think it's also safe to say that the longer a person is in Haiti, the less they know. Haiti is just too complex with too many layers to "make sense".

Malia'sMama said...

You hit it- right on the head. The first thing that hits you is the heat and the smell and it's weird to think someone can miss that, but I do b/c with it, comes an amazing people. Oh sure, like any culture/nation their are many a-holes in Haiti, but the majority of the people are warm, and funny and oh so strong.
I look at your boys, strong, healthy, beautiful, and someone who has never been may say only two little African -Americans, but I see Haiti, too, in their features, in their long, lean bodies, in their spirits (as far as I can see on this blog, anyway :) I am so glad that you are raising them to know that part of themselves, too.
You;re right about the lack of understanding for the Haitian experience, too- I used to take groups of volunteers to work with me in the hospitals, to build schools through our NGO- we prepared them with pics, stories, video, but most still went into silent shock. It took at least 2 days for anyone to start telling us what they felt...
Haiti is just over an hour from the Florida coast, by plane, yet it is a world away, too. People can go to Haitian restaurants, buy Haitian art, wave Haitian flags, but until they've done those things, side by side with the Haitian people IN Haiti, they won't get it- they can't. I have worked, in my time off, in Haiti, for 12 years- I cry each time I leave. I bring so much of it home with me (sometimes embedded in my skin!!) and it is never far from my heart.
Ayiti cherie, se tris ki moun pa kompran ou!