The city lights pushed through the haze in the distance and the mountains’ shadows loomed just beyond.
I’d forgotten how far away the stars could appear. And just how small they could make me feel.
I found myself on the roof of the guest house where I'd been staying for the past two weeks.
My head was racked with more than I could really process, so I tucked headphones into my ears and just lay there, taking in all that surrounded.
Everything’s so much bigger than me—the sky, the world, the problems of this country and the problem of not knowing my place in it all. In the grand scope of things, in the entirety of my smallness against the world’s immensity, how can I really expect to have a place, a small hole designed for me to fill?
The wind that blew through the mango trees beside me and cooled my body as I lay there seemed to be the only thing that could bring me down and out of my own head. The breeze felt the way I imagine God's hand might feel if he was easing me back to the present.
In that moment, I found a sliver of understanding in my sea of unresolve as I noticed a line that played in my ears—a line I’ve heard a million times, resting inside one of my favorite songs.
“I was raised up believing I was somehow unique,like a snowflake, distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see. And now after some thinking, I think I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.”
The song reminded me of something I've known to be true:I want to serve a greater purpose. I’ll never be bigger than the problems I come into contact with, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a small part in something bigger than myself.
There’s no blinking sign, telling me just what to do to fill that role, but I have a strong feeling I’ll find it.
Here in Haiti, I’ve felt entirely alive. I’m alive when I take a picture that I hope brings both me and maybe another closer to understanding a culture outside our own. I’m alive when I write the stories of these people and the lessons they’re teaching me. I’m alive when I play with kids who speak a different language, yet we're still able to connect. I’m alive when I interact with people in this country pushing towards hope, compassion, peace and change—people who inspire me to do the same.
There's no therapy quite like being under a sky full of stars. In the moments when I feel entirely small, I'm reminded I want to be a part of something bigger.
“But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be. I’ll get back to you someday soon, you will see.”
The people and culture here are difficult to understand. A city of contradictions. Both people and place are wrecked yet withstanding.
I look into the streets and see a people willing to do anything it takes to make ends meet: their resiliency captivating and inspiring me. Yet, talk to some of the people here and there's a different story. One man speaks of all the men he's seen who've all but given up, playing cards and begging to pass time, letting the rest of the family fend for themselves.
Another, Peter, seems to say the same. Then he tells me there's quite a lot people of Haiti can learn from the woman before us, Jocelyn.
A red couch cushion supports her back. Her legs are tucked underneath her, wrapped within the black material of her dress. Sweat sits on her brow, but she never slows from her work to wipe it. White dust from bags powder her bare feet. Feet that can no longer carry her. She's been paralyzed now for well over ten years.
She dismantles strands from empty rice sacks to weave into rope. She has her own little process. A large fistful of individual strands tied together at the top, making a tail of sorts. Three tails then braided together to make the rope. She clenches the end of the rope between her teeth for better leverage as she wraps the cords tightly. She moves deliberately, meticulously.
I've spent the last hour watching her work, diligently weaving her rope as Peter translates my questions and her answers to each of us, back and forth. She tells me that for her, this passes time. Making rope that will sell for less than a dollar each helps her forget.
There's no sense of resentment with Jocelyn, no broken spirit or bitterness pervading her being. She chooses to be joyful.
"There are people worse than me," she tells me. "If I can do this, it is a grace from God and I am happy."
After I finish speaking with her, Peter talks with me further, speaking of the garden she keeps, the life that she's made for herself: the resourcefulness, persistence and joy of this woman. To him, she is in stark contrast to others in this city.
Though Peter seems quick to, I could never call the people of Haiti lazy.
I see the circumstances: the brutal cycles of poverty, corruption and brokenness. Slivers of hope they cling to would likely slip through my fingers. Who's to say I wouldn't give up?
If there's one thing I've learned here, it's that no situation can be judged.
I could quickly condemn the orphanage mother who lets children starve to death for the sake of a few who can now go to school. I could quickly retort that I would never let a child starve and become a living sacrifice for the chosen few I want to get an education.
But Haitians use their resources in ways that may seem foolish, removed from their situation. Reality in Haiti is often full of contradictions- death to a few in order to bring hope and life to a handful.
It's hard to say if Port-au-Prince is beautiful or desolate, lazy or resilient, hopeless or hopeful. The good and bad here seem caught in some grand dance.
But, when I see a woman like Jocelyn, hope gleaming in her eyes, I can't help but feel the potential that lives within this city.
Your strength becomes mine
I forgot I had it in me
Yet I feel myself fill up
I feel myself reminded
You are strong
You are beautiful
The world will never get you down
Yet I so easily fumble
I was handed life so easily
While you were given nothing
No life is void of suffering
You know that all too well
I have my pains
You have yours
But the world will never get you down
Why do I so easily fumble?
Maybe your air is a facade
Maybe your strength is only feigned
Maybe I shouldn’t thank you for your front
But I do
It reminds me of the strength we each hope we might possess
And I thank you for that, I simply have to
For the world will never get you down
I hope that I won't be so quick to fumble
The Haitian airport was just as chaotic as I expected. Men impatiently crowed around the baggage claim, hoping their fingers might land on someone’s bag who was willing to accept help—someone who could spare a few dollars in exchange for helping the bag out to the car. When so many Haitians only make $300 a year, you can understand why every dollar counts.
In the city, trash is everywhere. No space is safe from its presence. Plastic bottles push through the overgrown grass. Gutters are a river of garbage, with brown stained water snaking its way through the crevices between aluminum and plastic. People tip toe around the mounds of shredded garments and the waste that sprinkle the pathway. Men balance baskets on their heads with even more bottles resting inside—bottles that are likely to join the litter on the streets.
Walls too are everywhere. A walled city with walled neighborhoods and walled homes beyond that. Guards and dogs and barbed wire all meant for protection. Safety has left its ideal form, but to the people, it’s protection none the less.
Walls and trash. I realize that I haven’t painted an alluring picture of the city at all. But the highlights are only as valuable when the lowlights stand beside them: a beautiful contrast that shows the city for both all that it is and isn’t.
As I passed yet another mound of litter from the back of the rickety bus that carried me to the compound, the image before me was not one of desolation. A single, black flip flop poked through the trash. Behind it, a girl was walking just beyond the garbage. She looked strong, beautiful and perfectly at peace with the place around her.
There’s an embrace of simplicity and an acceptance of life in its beauties and shortcomings that exists. Beauty created in its juxtaposition with the mess. Bright, vibrant walls standing out against the barbed wire that decorates them. Bright, vibrant people standing out in the environment of pollution and litter that surrounds.
The city is fiercely alive with its people—a people of strength. They don’t seem broken or worn down. In fact, it’s rather the opposite. There’s a sense of pride and a soft resilience hidden in the crease of a smile. They are the people of Port-au-Prince: a beautiful mess of a city.
Enjoying and learning from this chapter as the pages turn