(This was the third year for the “Around the Nations” dinner where students from all of the winter and spring break outreach trips spoke on their respective experiences. This talk is from 2017 Haiti Outreach Trip participant Cate Perry).
The decision to participate in the Haiti outreach trip was inherently backed by a desire for an experience. Whether out of yearning for challenge, reorientation, or refreshment, those of us who chose to spend our spring break in unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar people were driven for whatever reason by the voice saying “go” that could not be satiated until it was answered. You would think that because we followed this voice and “went”, we would return fulfilled with clarity and certainty of how to move forward.
But when our group returned and had our first post-trip meeting, the overwhelming status of the group was not that of satisfaction, but unease. Unease that our lives had returned so quickly to their original state, unease that our experiences could only be expressed to certain friends, and unease that the ten days we spent working, sweating, and connecting in sunny Haiti seemed already in the distant past with no concrete finality attached to any portion of our remembered experiences.
It was not as if we were unprepared. Though our weekly meetings pre-departure were shared as virtual strangers, Dixon and Deborah provided us the essentials for our time abroad. Between reading Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, doing homework on the various aspects of Haiti’s past and present, receiving a quick introduction to Creole, listening to Duncan, Peter, and Mary Margaret share their past experiences, and reviewing the equipment we would be using to collect data for farmers’ trees, our group was as prepared as a group of college students with widely varying experiences abroad could possibly be.
And it was not as if change did not take place. In our short ten days, our group gelled into homogeneity rapidly and advanced into our work with a profound understanding of our place as pieces of a puzzle much greater than our immediate understanding.
To the hospital employees, school administrators, farmers, and friends of Sewanee, those of us who had never come before were faceless—conduits to Sewanee’s ongoing relationship with the Partners in Health and Partners in Agriculture projects. It was through hikes, work, conversation, and night games of pécher poisson with CFFL interns; interactions with the farmers with whom we worked to measure and record the progress of their farms; conversations in various levels of language capabilities; and time spent talking, reflecting, and dancing together, that our faces and identities became clearer.
In this realization of our identities as group members, working pieces, and individuals, unease had to be present. Our experiences and actions in Haiti had prodded new depths in ourselves. Depths that existed before, but were left unexplored or inactive for too long.
It was from these depths that the voice crying “go” originated, and remained to sing after we settled back on the mountain.
Within these depths, unease and discomfort at the idea that we were at once individuals who had impacted, been impacted, and participated in work that was not finished is a good thing;
and to my group, I hope this unease stays
I hope it pushes you to continue to move forward in your journey to listen to that voice and to share as best you can your experience this break.
As I and some of you return to Haiti this summer, I hope it continues to propel us in our work and understanding of the place Haiti as well as our place in Haiti and beyond
Most of all, I hope that Haiti will forever remain a bright, uncomfortable piece in our hearts that we carry forward to whatever journeys lays ahead.