Reflecting on Three Summers

In only five days, I will be leaving Haiti, and I am uncertain when I might next return. After spending a portion of my last three summers here, two spring breaks, and a planning trip this past spring, I am ending my sixth visit to this place. While it is possible that I may come back and work for this program again, this was the last visit that I had any certainty about. Any possible futures in Haiti are mixed in with the uncertainty of my post-graduation future. I am full of both gratitude, joy, and sadness as I wrap up these final days.

As research interns, we have participated in “field work”. This is often meant to be an application of ideas and methods learned in a lab or classroom setting but used in an uncontrolled environment. Truly, Haiti has been a place for me to apply what I have learned in classes, but I would argue that it has been a second, more spiritual type of field work as well. Living and working in a developing country such as Haiti, far from the comforts and consistency of our lives at home, requires one to develop a means to understand and cope with inexplicable tragedy, devastating poverty, as well as inexhaustible hope.

One of my favorite views over the Artibonite valley. The lush forest and farms surrounding the Artibonite river is contrasted by the heavily eroded and barren mountains. Photo taken by Chris Hornsby.

 

In my comfortable bubble of home, I rarely come across these phenomena so frequently. I have felt that I am often faced with two options when confronted by those ideas and people who challenge my understanding of what the human soul and body are capable of bearing and producing. These choices are to narrow my vision, repress my confusion or despair, and press on or, to embrace, investigate, and bear witness to something beyond my understanding. Day by day I am asked to choose – how will I experience life? What am I capable of bearing witness to, and how far can I extend my love? On many days, the answer is: not far at all. But on those days which I can be present to suffering, to be present with people, and not dismiss something greater than myself because it challenges my sense of security, I am able to learn much more about our connections with others as humans.

These insights, when I am privy to them, have been invaluable, and formed the core of my appreciation and love for my time here. I was walking along a path outside of the compound one night, talking with Dr. McGrath and Dr. Malde about our experiences of Haiti. The night was peaceful, and a gentle breeze was blowing, but in the distant mountains orange flecks of flame were flickering across farmers fields. The peacefulness seemed to coexist with the unsustainable and biologically destructive practice of field burning. Later, reflecting on this moment, I wrote the following poem:

“Flaming fields are glowing/ where crops are no longer growing. / Yet noisy cha-cha trees/ rattle in the evening breeze. / The river is low and nearly dry/ and cattle glare at the empty sky. / Yet starry nights still twinkle/ causing crow’s feet to wrinkle. / Hungry children won’t sleep tonight/ fearing to dream of tomorrow’s fight. / Yet laughter peals across the air/ Amidst the crisis, peace is here. / So, elders sip their fiery rum/ and speak of horizons yet to come.”

The mountains behind our home compound in the Central Plateau. Photo taken by Chris Hornsby

Hopefulness in the face of despair, gratitude in the face of lack, patience in the wait for relief: these are the lessons I have been taught and struggled to learn. Throughout my visits here, I have been consistently challenged to adopt to new situations, be flexible in spirit and generous in patience. I have, many times, failed to fully rise to these challenges, and I have been fortunate to also be among a forgiving community of people. Amazingly and without fail, my Haitian friends and partners have fielded my anxiety, stress, and frustration (of which I supply plenty). I can say no more than that I am extremely grateful for them, and the many others who sacrificed and labored so that I myself could venture into a world unknown to me.

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