In Creole, the word for rain is "lapli."
Since I have been here in Haiti, we have had a rain shower almost every day. I had come to know the rhythms of the island's landscape and her people through the rain. "Lapli" I would say as the rains began each afternoon. "Lapli." The word seemed so perfect for the warm, nurturing rains that gave water to people and animals and crops.
I had known warm afternoon rains where children took off all their clothes and bathed in the yards; their young bodies covered with soap and their laughter echoing off the sides of the mountains. I had known house shaking thunder and lightning storms that lit up the room as a mother was giving birth. I had known floods and puddles and swollen rivers. I had known village pumps and bottles of water carried on a young girls head. I had known springs where women gathered to wash their laundry and wait for it to dry in the sweet morning sun; visiting with friends and neighbors while children played. I had known the fears of water not boiled and the fear of water too close to open latrines.
I had learned to bring in the birth laundry from the clothes line quickly so that it would be ready for the next birth. I had learned to grab things from the porch and to put things up high that might be damaged by a flood. I learned that if it was raining women were more likely to give birth at home. I had learned to live by her comings and goings; to manuever the car around large ruts and puddles in the road to avoid being stuck in the mud. I had accepted mud splattered legs and to look for places where mosquitoes could hatch. I had learned something of the rain.
But it has not rained in three weeks and I am thinking about when it will rain again. When the breezes come up at sunset, I am sure they will bring with them the rain but they have not.
The dirt roads, particularly the main ones, become dusty. The pale brown dust covers the trees and houses and the people. The open air, "tap- taps" are filled with dust. The babies who come to see me have noses and lungs filled with dust that turns into coughs and wheezing. Respiratory infections become a parents greatest fear and worry.
The farmers can not possibly carry water up to their mountainside crops and even the gardens in the villages have no irrigation. I watch to see if the beans are okay and understand why they do not/ can not grow water intensive crops.
On the mountain side and in the land next door, farmers make charcoal that also clogs the lungs and noses of everyone. But this is how everyone, including myself eats. It seems that everywhere there are the slow smoldering fires of the charcoal makers and the men burning field before planting crops. I see it when I am out for a walk and high up in the mountains. It must be a good season for charcoal making as the rains will not put the fires out.
I use to teach children that there were four seasons; winter, spring, summer and fall but now I see that there are two seasons; a rainy season and a dry season. In the United States, much has been done to minimize the effects of seasons on agriculture, food production and human comfort. We have big machinery and paved roads. We have irrigation and city water systems. We have heaters and air conditioners; refridgerators and food preserving factories. Not always, but mostly,inventors and engineers have planned for dry times, cold times, hot times and the rains.
I watch to see the many day to day ways that my neighbors adapt to and use this dry season.
I watch the children sweep the dirt yards neat and clean each morning and toss water on it to keep the dust down. I see that parents do not take their young children out too much on the tap- taps. I see that the farmers plant crops that need little water. I see that the small mountain paths that wind by the streams and connect villages are not dusty. I see that the warm dry, days make the corn ripen and are good for drying beans.
If I am quiet and watch I will learn about this season here in Haiti and come to know her through these times just as I came to know her through her rain.
I like many people, struggle to live in the present moment; leaping backwards and forwards with such speed that I fail to recognize the small movements, gifts and intricate beauty of the season I am in. Here in Haiti, where the day to day movements of people and animals are filled with grace and beauty and sometimes great heartbreak, I am anxious to change things and propel the mothers into a tomorrow I can not even begin to effect or change.
I meet a woman here who laments her inability to affect change in Haiti and I think quietly to myself that I was hoping Haiti would change me. I was hoping to live through her seasons and in that learn to live better within my own. I was hoping to quiet the internal fight against the seasons of my own life and to walk slowly with grace down whatever trail I am on and not look back quite so much.