On the morning I leave Haiti, it is raining and warm. I get up at 3:00 am ot have a shower and pack a few things for the trip to Portland. When a woman comes to the center, I do the exam and paperwork so the midwives could sleep a few more hours. I think of how what was once so new to me had become so familiar. I could not be sure if I was going home or leaving my home. For surely that small parcel of earth and buildings and plants and people had become my home.
I do the familiar things associated with preparing for a trip; making sure the chickens will be fed and the gardens cared for; cleaning my room so others could use it while I was gone and then there was a quiet time to talk with the Gardener's Daughter. She is better now and I tried to help her think about the rest of her life. She wanted to make sure I was indeed coming back and I assured her and everyone I was. I told her that although going to school is not easy now, she can write in a journal everyday and I gave her a beautiful blank book and asked that she write everyday that I was gone. By the time I left, she had already filled many pages with her thoughts and feelings.
Beautiful warm kisses and hugs; the opening of the gate and then the now familiar drive the back way to the airport. Past the market and the river where they wash their clothes, past the market women and the donkeys carrying charcoal for the cook fires. Past the school children so perfectly dressed with bows in their hair, past tap- taps crowded with passengers and trucks filled with produce. Past mountains and fields; the road so full of holes now filled withe mud from the rain.
On the runway we stand under the wing of the plane to keep dry as the pilot checks our tickets. Someone turns on the propelar and with a great wind all the tickets are blown from our hands and the pilots and strewn across the runway. With shrugs and smiles, I am walked from the wing to the door with an umbrella where I find my seat and soon watch Haiti slip from view but not from my heart.
I have not slept al whole night in four months. I know I am exhausted but sleep does not come easy. So many images drifting through my waking and sleeping thoughts. When I step down into Florida and I am out on the street, I begin to cry and have the start of a panic attack. I can not understand where I am and why things look so different. I breathe and keep walking and in time begin to acclimate. The streets seem so empty and the sidewalks bare. I can not grasp that the roads are so flat and there is so much pavement. There are no cows or horses or goats or pigs everywhere. In my mind, I am wondering if everyone is okay without these things and worry a little bit. I have to work to pull myself into the present time.
I have made a cute Haiti Baby Slide Show. I show it to the people on the plane, in the hotel, to my grand daughter; to anyone who will watch it. Perhaps in a few days, I will put it aside as I join in the festivities of Portland with my family and friends but at night my prayers are also with the people I love in Haiti.
In the coming days I will be given opportunities to talk about what i have learned and what is needed. I will try to explain that the goals of maternal and infant health are global and include our own communities as well as those far way. I, of course hope, that my being in Haiti has made life a little better for some women and children and that I perhaps can plant a seed about the global possibilities for maternal care during birth.
It is hard to know these things but I do know that I have become a student of Haiti. I have read every book I could find and have sat very near her heart. When I read her history I know I am reading my own as well. The history is deeply intertwined with the history of the world and of the United States. There are terrible, terrible stories but I do believe that civilization, despite how it looks day to day, is on a great upward journey towards compassion and a shared humanity. People of European descent have a long journey ahead of themselves as they struggle, as I do, with what white privlege has meant in the Americas since Columbus first landed in Haiti. To struggle with what we will do with this inheritance and increased understanding. To not be brought down by our collective guilt and shame but somehow to become the student of life that Walt Whitman asked us to be when he wrote Song of Myself so many years ago. When I first heard that poem, I thought this is who I want to be. I want to step outside and let it all in and let it become me.
So in this interval I will rest and hold my family close and let the places that Haiti became me settle into the nooks and crannies of my soul and blend her song somehow with my own. Thank you Haiti for the chorus that still plays in my ears even when I am far away. Thank you for the hard and painful look in the mirror that knowing you has offered me.