Monday, March 5, 2012

A 10 Year Anniversary Ode to My Daughter

10 years. Has it really been that long? 10 years today since I fell off my bicycle, on the road from Natitingou to Bakoumbe. 10 years since I remember being in Benin as a Peace Corps Volunteer. 10 years of healing, of letting go, of starting again. 10 years of creating this new life…both my own and the little one growing inside me now.

It seems so fitting somehow, that I’m in Haiti on this 10 year anniversary…sitting outside in the warm cool night after a hot day, listening to the sounds of children playing, dogs barking, old men laughing, radios blaring. I could almost be in Benin. Life seems so simple in this moment…beautifully uncomplicated in a country with so many complications. Just a simple Sunday evening of Haitian families spending time together in a Port-au-Prince neighborhood, looking up at the same stars, telling the same old stories, laughing at the same jokes.
I had two moments of true joy today that seemed tailor made for both Benin and Haiti. I didn’t even realize that it had been 10 years until I started writing this blog. And so, maybe these 2 moments were an anniversary present of sorts.

The first gift was a classical music concert by the Haiti Philharmonic Orchestra and the Petit Chanteurs (little singers) Haitian Boys Choir. My friend Alexis came and picked me up at my hotel, Le Jardin, and we went with another friend of hers from Mercy Corps to the St. Louis Garangue School Chapel. It was there that Haiti surprised me yet again. Of course they have a Philharmonic Orchestra and can deliver an amazing rendition of Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons. Why not?! It was a wonderful reminder that each country I encounter in the world has strengths and weaknesses, is over ‘developed’ and under ‘developed,’ is both national and global, has ugly spots and embarrassments and yet deep, overflowing beauty and promise. This is true about both Haiti and Benin. This is something that I didn’t fully know and understand 10 years ago.

The second gift today was a soak in the hotel pool as I watched the sun set behind the mountains, juxtaposed against a great big Haitian tree reflecting over the pool. The sky turned deep orange and the tree’s reflection over the water glowed in the ethereal light. It was a perfect moment. Just me and God and the sunset-filled tree…and our daughter, who was enthusiastically kicking away. It was a moment that doesn’t happen in normal, everyday life…a moment where the world melts into itself and Haiti and America and Heaven all merge into one. And my daughter, not even born yet, was in the middle of all of it. I kept whispering to her…things like ‘this is Haiti…isn’t it beautiful? Never be afraid of places and people, just because you don’t know them yet.’

I believe I had a moment like that on the road to Bakoumbe 10 years ago, when I stopped to take a picture of the countryside. A moment where nationality no longer mattered and I realized what a beautiful, timeless world it is that God has created and encouraged us to explore. Somehow, this is true. And yet, it’s also true that I am an outsider in both countries who will never truly understand. I will never fully comprehend Haiti’s pain, Haiti’s strength, Haiti’s hope. I love it, though. I love it as much as I loved Benin 10 years ago. Haiti, just like Benin, is not under developed, is not 3rd world. It has deep rivers of wisdom in it, of solidarity, of integrity and beauty. These strengths could help teach and empower the world, if people would let it. And yet, it has great poverty and injustice too. Why is it, though, that more often than not, the world only chooses to see the latter?

My prayer of thankfulness and gratitude on this 10 year anniversary is that I have been able to heal and grow and see more parts of this world for what it really is: the making of our choosing. We can choose to see the beauty…choose to search for the goodness and kindness in people who are different from us…choose to work for justice and celebrate the steps along the way. We can choose life…again and again, in small and big ways, in different countries and with different cultures and at times when it feels oh so difficult. This is my prayer for my daughter: that she may grow up to seek and find beauty, and hope and God in the people and places that she encounters. That she might continue to ride bicycles even after the great falls in her life. That she will stay open minded and believe that even Haiti can have a great Philharmonic Orchestra. And that she will take time to sit in the middle of the water, watch the sun set over a foreign mountainside and know that she is safe to be and love in this world.