Preface: This entry was written on what I would like to call a bad day. It is intended to pull at your heart strings and help you get one step deeper into Haiti with me. While I usually write with humor, this is my attempt at trying a different approach.
I fall in and out of a mental funk here in Haiti.
I see so much suffering. The air is thick with it, and it gets in your lungs. At times this makes me want to turn and run. Run for the mountains, for the salty air of Seattle, or toward the embrace of my loved ones. There are days, however, that I want to breathe more in. I want to be a Haitian, to be part of the story of pain I see written on their faces. It stems from a need to completely relate to those people around me. Yet, I have an implicit knowledge, I’m Blan, and my suffering will always be at a deficit.
Even with this gap between us, I strive to understand. Fasting is one of the techniques I use to help me relate. My fasts in Haiti manifest in multiple ways, one of which being that I do not eat until I am full. Full; a memory of Thanksgiving, pants that seem to have shrunk during, and the famous American turkey coma. We suffer through digestion pain with our families. Its one of the few comfortable pains in life. It is a feeling that I miss and yet the memory of that feeling separates me from the people around me, because they will never know it.
It is in this memory that realize how different I am from the people here. I will never share their constant struggle for life. It is a conscious that is always with me. There are times that I try to escape my own thoughts by putting my headphones on, laying in bed, and shutting my eyes. Yet even, my mind has turned to Haiti. In my dreams people are tightly wrapped packages, made with skin, bone, and gas bloated bellies. Their tired eyes that have long since lost their luster. Hunger is a feeling they remember with fondness, and for some their bodies slowly stop responding.
While rare, these cases exist and I've seen them. I've seen the eyes of children who aren't lucky enough to get one meal a day.
Although it kills me to admit it, I've been protected from this side of the suffering every day or even every week. I'm not yet strong enough to see those glazed over eyes every day...
Time for a story:
I love to wander the compound here in Cap Haitian, usually searching for kids to play with. Sometimes I need something to do and Wood, my favorite kid, always cheers me up. Tuesday, I needed some cheering up so that's where I was, walking the compound. Yet my timing was off, it was noon, a time for people to eat what they can scrounge up.
Most of the people go home, but the compound always has a few stragglers. Some of the stragglers lazily take naps and others are just sit in the shade, to get out from under the heat. As I pass the nappers I tread quietly and politely greet those who aren't yet dozing. Yet this day, I saw an frail old woman taking respite under awning of the school. I didn't recognize her, and she looked as if she just walked in from the street. Her head was resting on the palms of her hands as she was bent over her knees.
The closer I came the more details I was able to make out. Her clothes was tattered, her body had the tell-tale signs of hunger; stick figure arms and a gaunt face. I give her my usual greeting and our eyes meet. She moves her hand to her bloated stomach, an indication that she wants food. Her eyes told me all I needed to know, she needs food, but I'm “not supposed to give anyone food.” Unable to bear the weight of her gaze I turned and walked away.
I don't know why this one woman affected me more than the others. It was the timing, it was my mood, it was the light, it was all of the above, or maybe it was just because at that moment I was hungry.
The hunger here is inescapable, it is a harsh reality that surrounds me. In these moments I turn to the serenity prayer and look to a future where I'm capable of doing more for these people, my friends.
If you don't know the serenity prayer here:
This photo was found at: http://michaelnajim.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/serenity-prayer-and-sea-sunset.jpg