Haiti in your Face

I’m pleased to share——-(drum roll)—————

I will be heading back to Haiti Saturday, after 3 weeks in the US—21 days so far since my American Airlines flight landed in Miami and I had my first night in several months with an uninterrupted supply of electricity.  I guess Friday will be my last for the next 90 days or so.

Which raises the question—

What comforts from home will I miss most in Haiti?  Over the next several days, I’ll share them here, a way to gear up for this transition.

Clearly, however, electricity tops the list.

Now, I’ve been without power before in the US, without the luxury of electricity for 6 days straight during an ice storm in Kentucky some years ago.  But being without this utility here at home is entirely different from being without in Haiti. 

For example, no electricity for several days means near disaster in most of North America.  No one knows what to do or how to manage the tasks of daily living, so folks function on the adrenaline panic produces during times of crisis.  Citizens of Kentucky jump into fully fueled cars, drive to Lowes or Home Depot, grab all the batteries, flashlights, and candles money can buy this side of Port-au-Prince.  Normal life is temporarily interrupted. 

It takes several powerless days to shift into “picnic mode” and celebrate with neighbors round a fireplace, all hoping to stay warm on icy February nights.  

People play games.  They pop popcorn on the stove top (gas, of course).  They become families and neighborhoods once again–helping one another survive this bout of being without. 

The local utility company may take longer than they’d like to get things up and running, but folks maintain a basic faith in the system, a security that only a strong and stable infrastructure provides. 

They believe.  They know. 

The lights will come back on and all will be right with the world—a reality interpreted largely in terms of how well one sees at night. 

Eventually, neighbors go back to FaceBooking  in the evening, doing status updates out the ass—rather than playing Monopoly or Clue around the kitchen table—really seeing the shadows candles cast on the faces of their children—the shades of gray and flickering light—Sally’s chin that’s strong and Bobby’s dimples winking in the nearly dark. 

In Haiti it’s an entirely different affair. 

If we happen to have power when we wake up in the morning and even less likely happen to have it when we fall asleep at night, Sara and I marvel to one another:

“Do you think we REALLY had city power all night?” (What in Haiti we call electricity that comes from something other than a generator)

“Well, was it on when you fell asleep?”

“Yeah, it was.”

“And you’re sure you didn’t just forget to turn the generator off?”

“No, if you didn’t turn it on, I didn’t either.  Had to be city power!”


We marvel at the having rather than the not.

But Sara and I are spoiled.  Though we often face the threat of diesel running low—at least we HAVE a generator.

Most folks in Port-au-Prince, on the other hand, truly DEAL with darkness every night.  Without the ability to generate power, they struggle to help children with their homework—that is, if they can actually afford tuition, if they can actually afford to buy a candle for their kids to study by.

Eyes adjust to lesser light—the dim of half-light becomes a way of life.

But now—

As I prepare to return to friends on our Caribbean island—now that I once again have grown to expect bright light at night—20 good evenings in the US—it’s time to return again to the dimly lit faces of my Haitian neighbors.

To look them fully in the face at night—

And see the contours courage carves.