Haiti’s Greatest Gift: notes on the nature of giving

It amazes me how often Haiti is a study in extremes, not only between the most obvious of oppositions: rich/poor, white/black, have’s/have-not’s—but also between the more subtle and insidious of extremes—the ones I notice once I’ve returned to the US and realized all over again just how much we as Americans have and just how much the people of Haiti don’t.

I understood this even more clearly yesterday when I thought about how well “we-with-the-leisure-to-read-blogs” have it, that one of our biggest anxieties during the Holiday Season is the worry over whether we’ve gotten Uncle Joe or Cousin Rita just the right gift—from perfect stocking stuffer to the most ideal of electronics—iPhone, iPad, iPod.  It’s i-ronic just how much “I” is in our gift-giving, how many “me’s.”

I realized that the leisure and disposable income gift-giving presumes suggest profound things about these two countries I now call home.  Namely, if we have the time and energy, not to mention the funds, to spend on gifts, then we obviously aren’t worrying about keeping our children safe from cholera, aren’t worrying where our next meal might come from, aren’t worrying how we’ll keep our babies dry during the rain at night, the torrential downpours that turn the floors of our tents into pools of liquid, dripping mud.

However, sometimes I think that my graphic, black and white drawings, even my poems, express something about the extremes of Haiti that these well-chosen words of explanation fail to communicate.  So in closing, I offer some recent, some not-so-recent drawings that try to articulate in ways these words do not—the kinds of graphic contrasts that keep me awake at night—not only in Haiti—but in other places, as well.  Below the images are used to punctuate a poem I wrote some years ago, one written in the voice of someone displaced, alienated, alone—someone struggling to climb up out of endlessly hopeless circumstances, someone not unlike the poorest of the poor in Haiti.

On Rattlesnake Mountain

At dusk we lock

                the iron gate 

                                                collecting bones

                bleached in tufts of matted grass

                scaffolding the bluff

I insist on picking them

                a carcassed bouquet

                                                of cow bone

                picketting our path

                back up the crooked slope

Eye sockets shape

                a separate ascent

                                                dead leaves

                thicken the air

                like smoke

The moths are tongueless

                it’s simple to blame

                                                the mothers

                their beaks vacant as stairs

                I climb a thicket ofdry sticks

(For a more light-hearted and truly hysterical look at the holiday, I suggest you read today’s post on “The Ramblings.”  Tori’s comment  helped me gain some of the insights I share here.)

Mud-Wrestling with God: Holiday Thoughts from Haiti

I know I should be bringing you important updates about current events in Haiti—about the cholera epidemic that’s killing folks by the thousands and about the obvious fraud in Sunday’s presidential elections.  But I need a bit of a break from such serious matters today.  So it’s in this spirit of departure from the muck and mire of disease and politics, that I bring you a story about my recent up-close and personal encounter with, well, muck and mire.

(Now, I must confess that the idea for this post—the reminder that meditating on mud can make for marvelous writing, came yesterday from a blog I’m newly in love with called “Sunshine in London.”  I discovered this blog from another site I REALLY like called “Notes from Africa,” and I’m learning lots about being grateful, thankful for even these muddiest of matters, from a series of posts at “Grandeur Vision.”  These three blogs are all well worth reading!)

At any rate, I realized yesterday I had not shared my own adventure with what we might call, for lack of a better term, “mud-wrestling.”

This encounter with the muck and mire that can be Haiti toward the end of the rainy season happened several weeks ago—just days before Hurricane Tomas actually brought that season to an official, if no less muddy, end.  I was returning from a two week trip to the US for an honest-to-goodness American vacation.  Sara and I don’t get many of them.  Though we travel a lot, traveling for pleasure is not usually part of the package.

So I was returning to Haiti feeling somewhat rested—ready to get down and dirty, though not exactly knee deep, in the challenges ahead.

Or so I thought—

I should have known it didn’t bode well when our security folks didn’t meet my plane and I had to make it through the Port-au-Prince airport without the special assistance Samuel provides.

But, I wasn’t terribly worried.  I survived the fight for my baggage.  I fought the good fight, the get-out-of-my-way-or-I-may-have-to-kill-you challenge that is getting one’s bags and getting away with one’s life.

I had not only gotten my bags, I had survived my driver surviving the traffic, gotten my groceries, gotten my dog, gotten inside my gate, gotten beyond my front door and down a few steps—

Before falling flat on my ass in a river of mud.

Not just a little mud, I might add—much mud, deep mud, muddy mud.

Muddy facts:

1.  My neighbor on the mountain above had been digging a new drive.

2.  It had rained a lot on that newly dug drive.

3.  The newly dug drive in its now liquid form had flooded my floor with a good inch of mud.

4.  I was not entirely pleased with his development.

Until I thought of something Sara says when it rains here in Haiti—something she thinks about when it seems the torrents of wet will never stop falling—especially at night when damp dark soaks the soul of a person—

Especially a mother, holding her baby, in a make shift tent—barely a tarp over a mud slick floor—

I thought of that mother.

that baby.

that floor.

I thanked God for my mud.

I thanked God for my floor.

What are you thankful for this holiday season?