Five Things Haiti Taught Me
Hi! So I've been to Haiti and back and while that place and my memories are still fresh (well now I’m about a month and a half behind writing this, so we’ll see how “fresh” it is), I wanted to capture the moments that changed me, the stories I hope to always carry with me, and the feelings I've wrestled with since I've been home. Of course after a 10 day trip to a part of the world I haven't even been remotely close to, I could fill pages and pages with all of the thoughts and experiences I had while I was there. It feels reductive to distill the trip into a “5 Things Haiti Taught Me” list, but my mind actually processes things better that way, and I assume it’s easier and more organized to digest from a reader’s perspective than a long memoir. So with that caveat, here are the 5 things Haiti taught me:
1. I am privileged and blessed beyond measure living in America.
I didn’t have to travel to a developing country to realize this. But it sure did provide tangible validity to the reality of how people live in different parts of the world. Coming home, the daily comforts I typically take for granted were wildly highlighted: the comfort and privacy of my own room, air conditioning in my car and every business I visit, trash and sanitation systems in place (though where our trash actually “goes” is another issue altogether; I’m still extremely grateful to not have waste and plastic surrounding the streets and gutters by my house), health insurance and health care when I need it, the convenience of stores and restaurants and food and water whenever and wherever I need it, the ability to have a job that pays well and offers benefits, reliable electricity, and more. Part of my reason for going on this trip was to be reminded of the incredibly privileged bubble I live in, and to hopefully live with greater perspective and gratitude than I currently had. And experiencing firsthand how millions of people live daily while simultaneously knowing the contrast of my life in Orange County was incredibly eye-opening, sobering, and humbling all at once.
2. Privilege, excess, convenience and “living in America” doesn’t mean “better.”
The tension I constantly found myself wavering back and forth between while I was there was the reality that more doesn’t necessarily mean better. While I may know logically that living in poverty and lacking basic resources and the access to affordable healthcare makes for a more difficult journey in life, I still found myself marveling at the simplicity and joy with which Haitians approach life, and even longed to bring their ways of living back with me to America.
For starters, Haitians are an incredibly communal people. Since resources and space and childcare are sparse, you share what you have and you take care of one another. My favorite was watching the ease with which mothers passed along their babies to other mothers, siblings, and even strangers. There’s a shared raising of each other’s children, and because of it, babies and children appear more secure and trusting with others, and there’s a beauty to the fact that everyone’s in it together.
People were more present and patient in a culture largely devoid of smart phones and computers and TVs constantly in front of their faces. Nothing new here with this concept, and it’s likely impossible to reverse these kind of advances where we live, but I found myself longing for the simplicity of a time when technology wasn’t such an integral part of our lives and was reminded of the importance of limiting my time spent plugged in, and increasing time spent in stillness and in the undistracted presence of others.
3. Women’s bodies are badass and birth doesn’t need to be feared.
One of the highlights of the trip for me hands down was getting to be in the room with women while they were giving birth, actively helping to bring their precious baby into the world. I mentioned this in my pre-Haiti post, but I have always been so fascinated and amazed by childbirth, and so to be able to witness it firsthand was mind-blowing for me. I watched women walk to the clinic while in labor, sweat, push, scream, bleed and sing in the most raw form: naked and without any drugs in their body, deliver their baby, and then get themselves up to shower off and eventually rest for the day with their little one. I am a firm believer that each woman gets to decide how she wants to give birth, but I personally felt so encouraged and empowered to watch nature run its course and witness baby after baby being born in a small, dimly lit room without access to high-end technology or pain-numbing medicine and realize our bodies can do hard, miraculous things all by themselves.
4. Big life moments don’t have to be life-changing experiences.
I realize this sounds like an oxymoron so let me explain. I think sometimes we can approach a big moment, a trip, an experience, a job change, etc. with the notion that it’s going to drastically alter the way we live our lives after the fact. Can these things have the ability to do that? Absolutely. Do they have to? Not necessarily. I don’t say this to diminish my time in Haiti because it was truly an incredible and eye-opening experience in many ways. I only say this after coming home and spending time processing and feeling a mild amount of guilt for how easily and quickly I slipped back into my life here on Balboa and the day-to-day routines and passions I was previously following. I think because I had felt called to this trip for several years and had never been to a country like Haiti before and would be experiencing something so near and dear to my heart, I thought maybe I would come back with a new mission for my life, or with the desire to make a drastic change to my lifestyle. But I didn’t. And after time spent sitting in that feeling and asking questions around it, I realized that’s ok. Did I learn and grow and take away many things from that trip? One hundred percent. But I also learned that it’s ok to feel secure in the life you have and the path you’re on and be further confirmed that you’re right where you’re supposed to be.
5. There are good people doing good work in the world and this should be both comforting and motivating at the same time.
The weight of the world can feel overwhelming at times, can’t it? I had a moment the day after I got back from Haiti where I was refilling our filtered water jugs at Whole Foods and picking out my favorite olives from the olive bar and sitting in my own car in the parking lot of Fashion Island, when just 24 hours before we were driving through the streets of Haiti after providing funds for a mom in the hospital who lost her baby and needed a blood transfusion and couldn’t pay for it until her husband rounded up the money from multiple family members, where I just stopped and thought, “how is it even possible to live in the tension of these two realities?” My mind started mentally scanning the globe thinking of all the heartache and war and hunger that was happening in that very moment and I had to literally say “STOP” and allow my brain the ability to disconnect and be right where I was. We can’t carry the burdens of everyone and everywhere at all times, obviously. We would be useless puddles of tears and despair. But when we know what it’s like to have plenty, and we have access to excess and freedoms that others don’t, we realize we have a precious responsibility to do the most good with what we have and to be diligent in working to bring the same freedoms and privileges we have to others.
The people I met in Haiti – the beautiful staff at MamaBaby Haiti, the team I traveled with, and the people from the U.S. who are supporting that birth center – these people reminded me that there are good people doing good and important work in the world. They are offering hope and life for people who might otherwise not have access to it. And I felt so honored to witness that beauty firsthand, and to contribute just a tiny bit to it (along with the people who supported me on my trip there). I know MamaBaby is a place I will continue to support, and hopefully be able to encourage others to do the same. When you have those moments where life feels heavy and overwhelming, remember and be encouraged by the fact that there people committed to making this world a more beautiful place at this very moment. And think of one small step you can do to do the same.
(If you're interested in finding out more about MamaBaby Haiti and supporting them - I can assure you they're incredibly worthy of all the support and resources in the world - visit their site here.)
I'm so grateful for the chance to witness and learn from another culture’s way of life so different from my own, for each and every beautiful person I met while I was there, and for the needed reminder that love and hope are stronger than any heartache we will face.