Living 101

Denise Gideon of California shares time with her friend, Sondya, 9.
Denise Gideon of California shares time with her friend, Sondya, 9. Denise is a frequent visitor to Haiti, and it is easy to see that she finds much joy along the way.

I just heard a story about a woman in Haiti who had lost her hearing. She was able to study in Switzerland. While she was there, she learned to speech read — she could tell what you were saying simply by watching you closely.

My friend who told me this story said this woman, who was his landlady, knew all the news in town.

She sat on her balcony and watched the people on the streets and yards below.

She carefully watched. It was how she listened. And learned.

Aha. Yet another lesson in life — be careful what you say (even to yourself!) Someone might be watching!

This story reminds me to watch and listen to others, and as I seek to make a better life, I try to pay attention to how others live.

I once heard that if you want to improve your tennis game, play with people who are better than you.
This is true in life as well. I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who live well. Some of them, yes, are better educated, have high ranking professional jobs and many serve in ministry. Formally serve in ministry.

And just as many would find themselves surprised to be on my “Life Anyone?” list of companions.

Some work in hourly jobs, making the best of a high school education.

Some haven’t finished high school.

Some work hard at home raising their children.

Some were born in the United States. Others were born in Haiti or Canada or elsewhere.

Some suffer from eye strain from too many hours in front of a computer.

Some bear callouses from working with tools or machinery.

Some are missing limbs or bear other scars from disaster.

Some bear scars because they’ve lost a child to disease or accident.

Some still mourn a loss from decades past.

Some tell stories like a master.

Some are somber, quiet and drifting in and out of depression.

Some have lots of money, but are generous with it.

Some have little of anything.

Most of them, though, celebrate with joy.

They all are spiritual, though we do not all worship the same God.

What surprises me most in sharing time on Life’s Court with these friends, though, is that the way they play is how I played as a child:

They wake up eager to find new friends, new adventures.

They laugh. A lot.

They enjoy eating. Really enjoy eating. Without counting calories or worrying about the latest what’s-not-good-for-you blog posts they’ve read.

They don’t read what’s-not-good-for-you blog posts, in fact.

They cry when they feel like crying. Without shame.

They take naps.

They breathe. Often. And deeply.

They stop to look at sweeping vistas, sunsets, blooming flowers.

They feel. Whatever it is. They really feel what they’re feeling without fighting the emotions.

They are grateful.

They share their gratitude.

They pray — even in public — if that’s what the moment calls for.

They care about strangers, too.

They always have something for the offering plate, even if it isn’t much.

They dress as well as they can, but seek comfort.

They visit with others, even when it doesn’t seem they have the time.

They call people just to say hello.

They enjoy working.

They understand that work is not life, but a means to financing life.

They acknowledge failure.

They know how to apologize, then move on.

They acknowledge the years they’ve invested in learning to live well.

They are kind to animals.

They seek out children in a crowd, because they recognize kindred spirits.

They rarely worry about what will come.

They just put one foot in front of another.

They live simple.

And, they simply live.

 

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.