Reflections on Haiti

It’s the first clinic day in Haiti. What in the world am I doing here? Though I slept last night, I still feel tired after having no sleep for 36 hours before that. I’m rattling along in a sort of metal cage in the back of a truck, through hot and very dusty streets amongst a people that I don’t know (some on our medical and translation team, as well as all of those on the streets). Most of the drive is not through beautiful countryside; it’s through bumpy streets that contain rubble and trash. (Or at least this is what catches my eye on this first day, and for some reason that I’m still trying to unpack it just hurts to see it.) I don’t fully know what to expect at the clinic or how to run my reading glasses station. But I don’t want to listen to the panicky voice in my head, so I talk to God and maintain a calm demeanor (Oh, great, now I’m part of the “Keep calm and…” crowd).  God gently reminds me that Jesus left the absolute perfection of heaven to come to us. Oh, okay, deep breath…I can follow my Savior’s example by venturing into new territory to serve, and I’m certainly not experiencing the contrast that He experienced. God also reminds me to see each individual, not one big mass of humanity. I thank Him for bringing me and ask Him to help me look into the face of each person who comes to my station…to look into their eyes and see a fellow human being. To see a fellow image-bearer of God. The first clinic day does turn into a rather intense work day, and I do begin to feel overwhelmed. So many people come for glasses. Our little area fills to overflowing, and it takes me a while to realize that I can take a break. As long as there’s a person (or 8) waiting, I think I need to carry on. Because they keep coming and my mind plays tricks with me, saying “the line will never come to an end.” Arrgghhh! I’m in danger of becoming task- rather than people-oriented! My experience last November with Samaritan’s Purse comes to mind; our trainer told us to not feel bad about taking needed breaks. We need them to be refreshed and effective. Fouad comes to the rescue and provides coverage, so I can take some of those breaks. (He’s a good man.) Later, the team leader tells me that it’s okay to leave people waiting for a little bit, if I need to step away. We’re not in the U.S.; people in Haiti are accustomed to waiting. She reminds me a few times to not feel rushed. We do have some time constraints, but we’re doing okay.
On this first day and all of the following, I found that, even in the midst of some stress, I enjoyed engaging with each person. I delighted in seeing each face light up when I greeted each patient with a smile and a “Bonjour!” and when I shook each hand at the end. I especially loved the smile that said, “Wow, I can actually see up close now!” And, oh, the smiles on a few that pulled out their tiny New Testaments and saw that they could actually read the words! I was blessed by those smiles, and I enjoyed the interactions…the connections. Some (especially some of the ladies) seemed to experience joy in the opportunity to try on various strengths and styles of readers. They liked the shopping aspect, and I think they felt a little pampered. But the reading glasses station wasn’t just an individual experience; at times, community was also in action. I felt joy bubble up in my heart when I saw the smiles and heard the laughter of the Haitians, crowded together on the bench, as they offered opinions and advice to each other. Fouad and I learned “better” and “the best” in Creole, as well as “not good.” We also learned, “You’re welcome”, and then, “God bless you!” so that we could leave them with that benediction. We’re so indebted to our translators, and I loved to see their smiles, too, as we tried to learn some of their language (these were smiles of hilarity!) and a little about their lives.

I’m so glad I went, and I’m glad Fouad shared this with me. The team had very full days, but we always had time to worship the God Who brought us together and to debrief at the end of the day. Each person (Haitian translator as well as U.S.-based clinic worker) on our team was a unique personality, yet all were alike in being hard workers and delighting to serve. I’m still processing this trip, so you may see more writings about it….stay tuned…

Leave a Reply