Today is another six month anniversary; six months ago today, my children and I were evacuated from Haiti with one small bag each. This morning I worked on unpacking the (several more than one) bags we brought back with us yesterday.
When we checked in those bags at the airport in Florida, our porter was Haitian. Several of the porters were talking together in Kreyol, and when one of them saw where we were lining up, he said in Kreyol to the other, "They aren't going to Haiti." Ours turned to me and asked in English if we were going to Haiti, and I answered him in Kreyol saying yes, we were, and that I guessed the other man didn't believe it. He suddenly was very friendly and we spoke Kreyol for the rest of our brief interaction. I was happy to be speaking Kreyol again; it felt wonderful.
It was strange disembarking into an airport that I could hardly recognize. The main building of the airport is badly damaged, with huge cracks in it. We were put in a bus and moved to the old cargo area, now used for passport control, baggage claim, and customs. Everything was calm and orderly, except the little girl who came in blowing on a vuvuzela. Was it my imagination, or were the greetings a bit more heartfelt than before? Certainly there were tears and joyful hugs, but perhaps I was reading into what I saw.
The pickup procedures at the airport are not exactly streamlined; the driver who had come to get us drove past slowly while our redcaps flung our bags into the van and then my husband jumped in, hitting his head on the ceiling. "Did you count the bags?" I gasped.
"Yes," he said, just as one of our redcaps ran up to the van, with another whole cart of our luggage which hadn't made it into the van. We grabbed that too, and were on our way.
In some ways, I feel as though I just briefly walked out of my life and then back in. The streets look much the same as the day I left. The differences: there are many more tents now, tents everywhere. I could see them from the air as our plane came in, the blue and white of tarps and bleached out pup tents, designed for families to use for the weekend, not for a whole city of people to live in for six months. And on the main roads, some rubble has been cleaned up. On back roads, not so much. The day we left, people on the streets still looked a bit shell-shocked, though they were moving about purposefully, doing what needed to be done. Now, people seem calm and relaxed, as though this is how life is now; might as well make the best of it. I took pictures, even though they were really bad, blurred by the movement of the van I was in, because I know that soon I, too, will stop seeing the tents the way I did at first. They will start to seem part of the scenery. (Talie, who is Haitian, has a great post on the downside of this remarkable Haitian ability to adapt to the worst situations.)
In my house, some things haven't changed at all. My verse-a-day calendar is still on January 15th, the day before we left. There was clean laundry that I hadn't put away yet when I left in January (but not any more; I put it away this morning). The books I got for Christmas and hadn't had time to read yet are still by my bed. The Christmas tree isn't put away yet. (Thankfully, we had taken it down, or it would have fallen down, like everything else in that room did when the earthquake hit. But the box is still in the stairwell, ready to be put back in the closet.)
In other ways, though, many things have changed. My house is full of the evidence of people coming and going for six months, bringing all sorts of things with them and leaving them as they moved on. Things like XL size t-shirts in large quantities; apparently they had trouble finding XL size Haitians in the tent camps to give them to, so my husband ended up with many. Things like insect repellent by the hundredweight. Apparently my husband ate mostly trail mix and sardines while I was gone (and it's not because he's helpless in the kitchen - he is a great cook and does most of our cooking; it's just that there wasn't time for such frivolities). There are bags of trail mix all over the place. Did he just grab a handful whenever he felt hungry, I asked? Apparently so.
Last night we ate a celebratory welcome-home dinner of chicken and diri djonjon. I have been congratulating myself on living six months in the Land o' Plenty without gaining any weight, but I think that dinner, complete with two glasses of grenadia juice, probably put on five pounds. How blessed we are to have food to eat in our house, which is still standing. How blessed we are to be alive, and together. I started to cry (yeah, I know you didn't see that coming, because I never cry).
This morning I had a reunion with "my" electrician (long-time readers of this blog will recognize him as a frequent presence in my life; we have quite a bond based on years of his constant visits to our house to fix our constant electrical problems, and his children recognize my voice on the telephone). He is fine, and everyone is alive in his family. I wonder how many of these emotional meetings are ahead; many, I know. I talked with another Haitian friend, too, and we discussed how nobody will ever know how many people really died in those moments on January 12th. She said that whole families disappeared at once, maman, papa, ak pitit yo, mother, father, and children. Her life is complicated now (more than before); she has to move from where she has been living in a tent, to somewhere much further away from her work and less convenient. How many tap-taps to get to work, I asked? Two, or three, or sometimes four. But then we talked about how happy we are to be alive, and how God gave us our lives. Béni soit l'Eternel. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Six months ago today, I left this country in grief and pain. Now I am back, and mostly what I feel is joy. Yes, there is still grief, but I am so happy to be home. I didn't even realize how much I missed the sounds, and the smells, and the beautiful smiles. Whatever problems there are - and they are many and huge; I don't wish to downplay them - seem surmountable because we are still alive.
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