When I first came to Haiti, I would look up at the mountains and ask, "but how do I get there?" and "what is up there in the mountains?' But people would shrug and say that there were only farms there.
The mountains frame our lives here in Haiti. They surround us like a protective circle of soft, strong arms stretching out in every direction. They start our days with soft sunrises and are there when the world grows dark and the moon hangs low in the sky.
For all their beauty, comfort and encouragement I had not found my way up into the mountains. Our walks have, over time, taken us further and further down the soft, dusty roads that connect one village to the next. But always dusk would come or the need to be on call at the birth center and I would turn back.
But Joclyn, a volunteer who has been here for many months now, kept walking. She would return after many hours and tell us of the places she went and the things she discovered and so before she left to go home, I wanted to join her on her mountain trail.
We walked, as we always do, down the road past the new house of Madame Clauden's, past the quarry where people bathe, past the place where people wash their laundry along with an occasional truck to another small road to the left.
The road is lined with the neat yards and the houses of the people we greet. Children stop their play, to follow along and off we go. The road becomes more of a path and the houses become further apart. We pass a church preparing for a wedding and a small school house. We pass women braiding each others's hair and children in wash bowls. It is late afternoon and people are sitting by the road resting after many hours of work.
The yards are watered to keep down the dust and swept very clean. Most people have large fruit trees and a piece of lace or cloth hanging in the door way. Like all places, the countryside is very different than the city and reflects a nature sometimes lost in a crowded place. There are small cook houses and hedges made of cactus to hang the wash on. There is beauty in the soft order of yard and home and the passing of the day.
Slowly the road turns into a path and we begin to climb up into the mountains. Along the way. there are cows tied to a tree with a calf close by. There are small garden plots and fruit trees. many of the tress have been removed for charcoal making or farming. I am surrounded by pasture and I think that it looks more like my own childhood pastures than I could have ever imagined from my window back at the clinic.
We continue to follow the path as it wanders pass more cows and more gardens until we reach a clean, clear mountain stream that cascades into waterfalls. The small boys playing in the stream join us on our walk and we become a small band making our way up the mountain to the place where we can rest in a field of wildflowers and butterflies and look out at the sea.
From there, we can see so many paths crisscrossing their way across the mountains; the paths of the many farmers who stake out a cow or plant a small crop of food for family or to sell. These are small plots of lands lovingly cared for with hoes and shovels and machetes by farmers who watch the rhythm of the day high from these mountains before returning down the path as we do to their families and friend who wait for them down in the village.
The children, who followed us, slowly join their families again. A mother who had her baby at the center calls to Joclyn and we stop to admire her baby who has grown so much.
The road grows wider and more familiar. Someone offers a piece of casaba bread with peanut butter to the last remaining child. Dusk settles around us as we make our way home.
The mountains. like Haiti, are nothing like I imagined. From my window I could only see a sillouette and it was in my imagination something altogether different than what I had expected.
I could not have imagined the beautifully laid out plots of crops or the many kinds of cows with their baby calves; the clear streams or children with the freedom to grow up in and explore these hills and secret places.
Islar, a girl, who comes with us, knows all the names of the plants and can tell me of their many uses. She picks off branch after branch and tries to teach me their names and asks me to smell and touch and know this plant that is so dear and familiar to her.
I think of all the beauty I saw on my mountain walk and how difficult it is to know a place from the view outside ones window. I hope if you read this, I have painted a new picture of Haiti for you and I hope that wherever you are there is a friend that will lead you up into the mountains to follow a trail that will change your view forever.
Thank you Joclyn for helping me find my way into the mountains and for all you gave to the mothers and babies of Haiti while volunteering here in Haiti.