Happy Holidays from Haiti: a Christmas letter

Dear Friends and Family,

Sara and I, along with our dogs Ralph and Lucy, would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays both from our home-away-from-home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and from our home in Lexington where Sara will join me on Christmas Eve. 

2010 has been a challenging year for us, as we have tried to settle in yet another international location, tried to create a home for ourselves away from the family and friends we hold so dear and miss so often.

Though last year we didn’t make it home for the holidays, Sara and I spent Christmas itself on a stunningly secluded beach in central Vietnam, playing in the sun and sea, eating food so delicious we salivate now even thinking about it. 

However, just two weeks after that lovely holiday in paradise, the January 12th earthquake in Haiti brought our life in Hanoi to a premature end.  By the first week of February Sara was on the ground in Port-au-Prince, having had a mere 18 hours at our home in Lexington to transition.   Since that time she has still not had more than 5 consecutive days in Kentucky, not more than a week in close to 2 years.  And though, of course, Sara loves her work and is passionate about providing homes for those displaced by the earthquake, she’s saddened that time away from her own home distances her from those she loves, forcing her to think about  from far away.

I, on the other hand, was fortunate to spend most of February, March, and April in Lexington, with only 1 week during March in Port-au-Prince and 2 weeks during May in the slums of New Delhi with 12 University of Kentucky students (completing in a service-learning project with Habitat for Humanity India).  It was not until June that I, along with our two dogs Ralph and Lucy, transitioned to Haiti more “full time” or at least as close to full time as risk management allow.  Security challenges abound in Port-au-Prince, where there is at least one kidnapping a day and we have two armed guards at our house around the clock.

However, we DO have a lovely, mountain-side home in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petion-Ville—a home Sara’s left for only brief visits to the US and one longer trip to the Pacific Northwest, where we enjoyed 2 days in Seattle and a week with 12 other friends on Whidbey Island—a fabulous time of fun, feasting, and fellowship with a group of women we dearly love.

And though we feel fairly well-settled in Port-au-Prince by now, settled enough to have hosted a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner for 24, Haiti itself is far from peaceful this Holiday Season.  Not only did the earthquake last January kill close to a quarter of a million, but it has left, still 11 months later, more than 1.3 million people homeless in the city of Port-au-Prince alone.  Not only did the Haitian people suffer destruction again in the wake of Hurricane Tomas, but they are continuing to fight a cholera epidemic that has killed and sickened thousands more.  Not only did they face fraudulent presidential elections last month—they have dealt with the resulting social unrest, especially in the form of rioting by people who have suffered unimaginable losses in the last year, people who feel disenfranchised not only by the international community, but also by their own political leaders who would steal their right to a free and fair election.  It’s sad for us to see so much loss and suffering in such close proximity to our own lives of comfort, surplus, and blessing.

Despite all of this, however, the Haitian people are strong.  They are resilient.  They persevere.  Sara and I are proud to call the beautiful people of this tiny island our neighbors, our friends, our family, and we would ask you to not only pray for us this Christmas, but more importantly to keep our new Haitian brothers and sisters in your hearts and prayers, as well.

As the mountains that circle Port-au-Prince brighten on Christmas morning, the Haitian people will be left with little to do but pray—

But we ask that you too pray for peace in Port-au-Prince streets—for peace in those mountains beyond—those mountains beyond mountains—

Please pray those hills would be alive with the sound of peaceful music–

A peace that passes understanding–

May God bring peace to you and your family this Holiday Season!

May God bring peace to Haiti!

With blessings from Port-au-Prince,

Sara and Kathy

A Holiday Match Made in Doggy Heaven

With Christmas only a few days away, I thought it might be a fitting time to reminisce romantically about how Sara and I met—not only because this is a part of our history I don’t think I’ve shared even in the Vietnam part of this blog—but also because I’m missing Sara, who has not yet returned from Haiti for the holiday, and writing about our shared past helps her feel closer—or at least helps Port-au-Prince feel a little less far away.

Sara and Kathy, October 2006

(If you’ve only just begun reading “reinventing the event horizon”—Sara is my partner.  We live together in Haiti, where Sara works in disaster response and I’m a writer/artist.  We also own a home in Kentucky—a house that’s more than 100 years old in downtown Lexington.  I have come back to the US a week ahead of Sara, who won’t arrive here herself until Christmas Eve.)

In 2006, however, Sara was still directing her NGO’s response to the 2004 tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in Southeast Asia, while I was working in Lexington as an artist-in-residence, facilitating creative learning opportunities for disabled adults.  These employment realities brought us together, my needing to supplement my measly artist’s income by pet sitting and Sara’s needing to travel internationally while at the same time caring for her dog. 

One afternoon that summer my writer friend Kristy called to say her new neighbor Sara was looking for a dog-sittter and wondering if I could take on another client—something I was willing to do, since I was preparing to purchase my first home— was a starving, soon-to-be-home-owning-artist fighting for every dollar she could get.

So when Sara called several days later and we met a few days after that, I eagerly agreed to care for Ralph.  And ours was ultimately a match made, for all intents and purposes, in doggy heaven.

Sara, Kathy, and Ralph in October 2006

However, I didn’t fall for Sara immediately.  Though I found her voice intriguing, the first time I heard it on my voice mail, and though I recognized when she brought Ralph to me the morning she returned to Asia, how terribly attractive she actually was, I wasn’t looking for a relationship at the time and simply filed these sensual details away for later romantic retrieval.

Retrieval that came by way of a dream.

When Sara returned from Asia a month later, I was already in love with her dog, so much so that it pained me to give him up for the few weeks she would be home—that is, until a week or so later I dreamed I was in love with Sara and woke up the next morning with a passion for her that has yet to wane.

The realization was as profound as it was simple—that I not only loved this woman but also that I would spend the rest of my life with her.  Period.  End of Story.

Kathy and Sara in Thailand, March 2007

Sometimes things are meant to be, and though I’ll save the particulars of our romantic story to share in future posts, I will pass along now one surprising and seemingly important detail neither of us was aware of when we first met.

That our mothers had been dear friends for a number of years before either of us knew anything about  the other—had been friends until Sara’s mother died more than 10 years ago.  Both were elementary school teachers at Lexington Christian Academy.  My mother taught third grade; Sara’s mother taught fourth in a classroom across the hall.

In fact, I remember Sara’s mother being ill and my mother’s grief surrounding her eventual death.  My mother even spoke at Sara’s mother’s memorial service.  During the years our mothers were friends, Sara and I were adult women living outside the state, so we never met in the context of that friendship.

However, sometimes lives are linked in profound ways.  Sometimes lives are linked and love is forged against all odds, even with matches made in doggy heaven.  Sometimes there’s a cosmic rightness about a relationship in which lovers are not only star-crossed but mother-blessed, something precious to remember, especially during this sacred time of year.

Silent night.

Holy night.

All is calm.

All is bright.

May the brightness Sara and I share be yours, as well, this Holiday Season.

Kathy and Sara in Vietnam, Christmas 2009