Coming home to a place I’ve never known

Posing with Felix, Papa Luc, Herns and Withney.
Posing with Felix, Papa Luc, Herns and Withney.
Welcomed by Esther and Herns — this photo was taken within minutes of my arrival.
Welcomed by Esther and Herns — this photo was taken within minutes of my arrival.
We were just a little bit glad to see each other again!
We were just a little bit glad to see each other again!

June 10, 2013 – I left Port-au-Prince in the morning and headed toward Grand Colline. Grand Colline is a region in the mountains of southern Haiti. But before I got there, I wanted to buy a NatCom SIM card in Port-au-Prince. That took a while. About two hours, in fact. By the time we got going, it was close to noon.

Rodrick was our driver. He is a neighbor of my PC(USA) colleague and friend Suzette Goss-Geffrard’s.We came in Suzette’s truck. I took a small suitcase, a backpack and a computer bag with a camera bag inside. With that in the backseat and me, it was a bit crowded.

I had only spent two nights in my new apartment, but I was glad to get out of the city. I realized this as we were driving out of town. I was moving! I was going to the countryside. It felt good.

We stopped at the main headquarters of NatCom in PAP, but they didn’t sell micro SIM cards. So we were directed to a neighborhood to another shop. Nope. Then we stopped at about four other NatCom dealers on the street. Finally someone directed us to another office. That’s where it took two hours.

Everything in Haiti takes longer than you would expect. Patience and tolerance are not luxuries here. They are essential for your peace of mind. I wasn’t really minding the delays, though. The closer we got to Cherident, the more I could feel my anxiety rising.

When we got to Leogane, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant that served outside under a canopy. We had a great Haitian meal. Then we went to a small market to pick up a few things, and finally we started up the southern mountains. A little ways out of Leogane toward Grand Goave, we turned and headed up a good road. Not far up, we turned to a rocky, dusty road and toward Grand Colline.

Grand Colline is a region of Haiti. It covers the mountains in southeastern Haiti and includes Cherident, Trouin, Bainet, Meye, Bodin, Blocos and Grand Goave. Cherident is the place where Tinkling Spring Church has partnered since 1990. I have been here twice before, and I love the community. So when I learned that I needed to find a family where I could stay for a month to study language, I asked my friend Ancy Fils-Aime if he knew anyone who would take me in. He in turn asked Papa Luc Celestin, and the entire Celestin family has taken me into the family. I didn’t know any of them except for one of Papa Luc’s sons, Felix. He and his wife have an adorable little girl named Withney and I had visited them once on a recent trip.

So – what to expect, showing up on the doorstep of strangers? Something like this? “Hi there, yeah, I’m the one who is going to stay IN your home for a WHOLE month, and I hope we all get along. I hope you like me, but mostly, I’m selfishly hoping I feel comfortable.”

But I’d been in Haiti long enough to give up on the idea of expectations — expectations mean greater surprises, because trust me, I know very little of what is to happen.

And showing up in Cherident was about to give me a greeting I could never have imagined.

When we drove along the mountain road — up and down and around steep curves, some of them on the edge of the hillside — it finally began to feel familiar. Then just at the edge of town, Suzette saw a sign on a post that said “Welcome!” Roderick stopped the truck, and when he did, Herns Celestin came to the truck and greeted me. I thought he was Felix, and he didn’t correct me.

He jumped in the truck and directed Roderick to drive along the path between a cornfield and a wooded area toward the house. Finally we arrived at the house, and I knew exactly where we were. I’d visited here with Page so she could bring gifts to Withney, Felix’s little girl.

So sweet! And it got better. A sign greeting me — made with glue and glitter — was above the door. Byen vini – Ou lakay ou! Welcome to your home.

A bit later, Papa Luc walked up the path to the house. He embraced me as if he had always known me, and I felt the same way. More visiting and introductions and sweet kisses from Withney, and I knew that I was home.

I was there to learn Creole, they knew, so the lessons began right away. I mean right after Suzette and Rodrick drove away. Herns and I settled into the kitchen chairs in the lakou (yard) and we went over what I already knew. The first “lesson” was about what foods I like. This was tricky – they wanted to know what I would like to eat, so I told them. Diri ak pwa (rice and beans), banann (plantains), pikliz (a spicy cole slaw), kabwit (goat) and dlo (water.) Not long afterward, I was treated to the the seat at the head of the table in the dining room of the small house. Herns brought a small basin of water for me to wash my hands, and a towel. And the table was set with dinner – diri ak pwa, banann ak pikliz, kabwit and, of course, dlo.

The meal was extraordinary. The smile never left my face, and though I was growing weary from the busy day, I was glad with Herns told me that we would finish the day with about 15 minutes of prayer. When Papa Luc called for the rest of the family to come in, we began with a hymn, and I was able to sing along with the words in Chants D’Esperance, a complilation of gospel songs in Creole and French. Following the hymn, each one prays their own prayer aloud and at the same time. Then another prayers recited, and it was time for the chosen Psalm. Esther opened my Creole Bible to the right page and pointed to Psalm 7.

And right there, in front of a family I’d just met, me, with my tentative Creole, read Scripture aided in part by Papa Luc who knows the words by heart.

This would be the beginning of an intoxicating chapter in my life — and I do not just mean in Haiti.

What would happen in the next weeks would change me forever.

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Author: Cindy Corell

My journey began some time ago, through growing up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, through a 28-year-career as a newspaper reporter and editor and through my faith experiences. Now my journey takes me to Haiti where I work as a companionship facilitator with Joining Hands, a program through Presbyterian Church (USA). I work with Haitian farmer groups who strive to empower, strengthen and accompany farmers on their way to feeding their nation again. I am blessed beyond measure with a wonderfully supportive family, a host of close friends and an opportunity to work in Haiti.

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