Searching for home in Haiti

cindy first sunday
Pretty much how I spent my first year in Haiti, clutching a Creole Bible, camera bag, water bottle — and my heart. Here with Russell Cook and Tracey Herrera, who along with their group from Florida, invited me to church with them my first Sunday in Port-au-Prince. (Photo by Connie Cook)

This recovering journalist turned mission co-worker moved to Haiti to live and serve on May 25, 2013. To mark this extraordinary five year anniversary, here are some stories of the highlights and lowlights. To be sure, I am grateful beyond measure to all those who have made this journey possible. I only hope that Haiti, the people of Haiti and the rich joining of hands of sisters and brothers from both my lands make your lives a bit richer as well.

(This is an occasional series)

Home is a charged word to me since I came to live in Haiti. That was almost five years ago. Still hard to believe. So much has changed. I have changed so much. As the anniversary approaches, I find myself examining this journey, understanding the commonality of all our lives and lifestyles. We are sent as mission co-workers into poor lands, but it is not the poverty that connects us, but the spirit of generosity. 

I owe the joy and lessons of my life to tremendous generosity of many people in my life, both Haitian and North American.

My story in Haiti begins the afternoon of May 25, 2013.

So before making the trip here, loaded down with two bulging suitcases, a backpack and a carry-on, I listened to every word of “Home” by Phillip Phillips:

 Settle down, it’ll all be clear

Don’t pay no mind to the demons

They fill you with fear

The trouble — it might drag you down

If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone 

‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.

 With due apologies to the songwriter Phillips, to me, it was if God himself was talking me through what would be this huge change in my life. And whether to the credit of Phillips or God or both, it worked.

Five years ago on May 25, I arrived in Port-au-Prince, found my taxi driver and settled into Trinity Lodge, a guesthouse that, too, has become one of my homes here.

By next morning, I was stepping up into a huge truck to go to church with a group also staying at Trinity Lodge.

And by early Monday morning, I was making the first of many (many!) mistakes. Like many foreigners I was unclear on the difference between the U.S. do dollar and the “Haitian dollar.” The “Haitian dollar” doesn’t exist. It’s a term used to mean 5 times five gourdes. Or 25 gourdes. Which at that time was about .50 cents, U.S. So when I approached the woman selling ice cold water by the bottle, I asked her how much. She said in Creole, “senk dola.” Five dollars. (I blame this next part on being tired and hot and obnoxiously overconfident) “Five dollars?” I exclaimed, outraged but thirsty. She nodded. “U.S.?” Again, she nodded. (I mean, what would you do, with a red-faced, obnoxiously overconfident foreigner standing in front of you?) I pulled out a five-dollar bill, took the water, shook my head in disgust and walked up the dusty street slurping cold water.

(This story still embarrasses me, but it is a good reminder of what I would quickly realize would be my new life: I am often wrong.)

 (Next up: Cindy goes to Cherident!)

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A week of flying children and soft landings

Eli, 3, lands in his Dad's hands after a flying high.
Eli, 3, lands in his Dad’s hands after a flying high.

Later, as the photos showed, Eli was not comfortable with getting his wish.

“Me next!” he’d shouted after watching his father throw his little sister high into the air. She’d landed each time in her father’s strong hands with glee on her face and giggles that said: Again! Again!

Of course I’d taken photos. That’s what I do. In my life I seem to fear losing the sweet memories of family because they’re rare these days. So if it happens in my presence, my Nikon and I go to work. And being home in the Shenandoah Valley for 10 days meant grabbing hold of every moment of family that I could get. It wouldn’t be long before I would be back in Port-au-Prince in my role as a mission co-worker with the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Justin was grinning along with the rest of us as he tossed Violet, 18 months old, into the air, I don’t know, 50 gazillion times. He’s tall and strong, so he wasn’t showing any wear. But when 3-year-old (a big 3) Eli and Ella, 6, wanted in on the action, he smartly took a breather.

“OK,” he said. “First one into pajamas and back out here goes first.” The bigger kids scampered into the house while Violet sat calmly in Justin’s arms. He put her on the ground and stretched his arms. In about that much time, Ella had raced back onto the deck screaming that she was first.

You’ve got to love kids. Within seconds, Eli was out in his jammies and watching his sister get ready to take the highflying leap.

I took my place behind Justin, who looked over his shoulder at me. “Get the picture,” he said. “I’m only going to be able to do this once.”

To Ella, he said: “OK, you need to jump, too, OK?”

In the quick procession of pics I took, I saw that, while he waited, Eli stepped uneasily from one side to the other. While he shifted his weight to each foot, his arms went up like a bird’s wings, then slowly back his side.

The seemingly fearless little guy was nervous!

With her Dad’s coaching words still in her ears, Ella squatted a bit, then jumped and Justin lifted and ….

Up she went! High into the air! And down she came, landing softly into Dad’s waiting hands.

Waiting anxiously was little brother.

Just like his Dad requested, while Justin’s hands were under Eli’s arms, Eli jumped, Justin lifted and there he went – up, up, up!

And down. And just as he was safely lowered to the ground — in tears.

“It scared me!” he cried. And he ran up the stairs to the deck and onto his Grandma’s lap.

I knew I’d gotten the pics, and as I passed my sister, Peggy, and Eli, I heard her softly saying: “I know that scared you, Eli. You went up so high!

“But your Daddy caught you. Your Daddy will always catch you. Your Daddy will ALWAYS catch you.”

It’s been almost two weeks now. I have the photos and so many more. I’m back in Haiti, and I look through them often, remembering those large moments of family and small moments of love.

Here in Haiti my colleagues and I serve God in trying to help the people here better their lives. We couldn’t do it without our faith. We couldn’t do without the care and love and support of so many.

And we couldn’t do it without knowing — and sharing — the steadfast knowledge that as high as we are tossed, whether it’s what we want, we will land safely.

Our Father has caught us.

Our Father will always catch us.