There were moments that putting my camera in front of my face was the only thing keeping me from weeping.
Who am I to weep? I was only there as a witness, a messenger. I got to come home to a warm home, an abundance of food, water, shelter, safety. My children have access to medical care, education, and all that American society offers. My family was born into the lottery of life. So...how could I weep?
I had braced for the poverty. I had braced to see great sorrow. You know what I was not prepared for?
Joy was the surprise.
I was stunned by the great joy and love that these people shared with us. We received so much more from them than we could ever return. Armed with our token gifts, our paint brushes, our tools and our soccer balls, we were greeted with overwhelming love.
It was the land of opposites.
While on a beautiful beach with palm trees, the beach was filled with children begging and selling goods.
While the mountains were breathtaking, we would watch a child run barefoot through a field littered with garbage.
While serving too little food to hungry children who ate with their hands on the floor of a crowded room, the children sang and laughed and asked to have their photo taken.
We met this little boy in an orphanage. He had us all wrapped around his little finger.
One of the greatest joys of this trip was watching Emma interact with the children. I was Emma's teacher 15 years ago. (You might recognize her as "Intern Emma.") Even though I made her hold my hand through the marketplace, it occurred to me that she is a grown woman. She has grown up to be a loving and compassionate and giving woman.
I had dutifully researched Haiti orphanages online. The photos I found did not reflect this orphanage. There were no bright walls, no paintings displayed on the walls, no jungle gyms. A pastor and his wife, with five children of their own, are dedicating their lives to these children with the only space they have. While I battled anger in my belly and the need to weep, these children sang for us. This boy was a hambone and snagged all of our hearts.
While walking through the city, we stumbled upon this man. In the middle of such poverty, he found music. I was awestruck. He was beautiful. The music was beautiful.
The friendships between the women were so intense. They laughed, they teased and they sang. They held each other's babies. They were just like me. Just like my friends. They found joy and comfort and support in one another. The universal sisterhood.
When we arrived for the second time to see these children and bring a tarp for their home, they jumped up and down and cheered. Joy.
Their mother had one leg. She is raising her family in a tent. She was gracious and proud and welcoming.
Joy.When we arrived at this home, the family greeted our guides, Pastor and Mrs. Kessa with open arms and kisses. Their friendship was clear and deep and true. The children were so excited over the gift of a soccer ball. Images of my own children's 87 balls strewn throughout my house ran through my mind.
These men were our constant escorts. They were our security, in every sense of the word.
We played games together. We sang together. We learned new languages together. (Ok, others learned and I butchered their beautiful Creole!)
The constant singing was overwhelming and I could feel it in my chest.
Books are magical. Reading with a child is magical. Sharing that magic is...
This series of photos makes me laugh so hard. This little boy was romping through the church during a VBS story.
He and his counterpart stopped to listen. "And Jesus reached down and took his hand..."
Did someone say "hold hands?" The little girl took matters into her own hands.
And...the race is on!
On our final day, we went to the beach. The ocean has always brought me peace. I was grateful for the sound of the waves.
I collected shells for my children who were worlds away, playing soccer or making smoothies or bickering over whose turn it was to take out the garbage.
I bought gifts from children selling on the beach for my dear friends, who were worlds away, at their jobs or snuggling with their children or yukking it up with each other.
When my pockets were empty and the children continued to ask "3 dola? 2 dola? Please, I am hungry," I, again, battled the urge to weep. I distracted them with games and cartwheel competitions. I offered the only thing that I could.
Now that I am home and struggling with all that I saw and heard in Haiti, I will hold fast to their images. I will remember them. I will pray for them.
But mostly, I will remember their joy.