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A Trip to Haiti

Though I can’t say I’ve been anything close to EVERYWHERE, I am fairly well travelled.  Travel for me is almost like breathing – I need to do it.  Every issue of National Geographic, every vacation brochure in the mail, every song on the radio with an exotic beat compels me to think about my next trip.  I’ve lived in eight different states and four different countries; I have been fortunate to visit many more.  Still, for all of my presumed “worldliness” there is nothing quite like Haiti.

In fact, I just returned from a five-day foray less than 48 hours ago.  My mind still reels with sensory overload.  Haiti is a place you feel on your skin, dust and grit and grime and sweat, but also balmy mountain air, soft rains, and the caressing warmth of  morning sunshine.  It’s noisy and chaotic and damned uncomfortable one minute and beautiful in its simplicity the next.  It’s sexual violence in tent cities and open-air churches packed with the faithful, their voices raised in hymns of hope and praise.  It’s gorgeous wildflowers blooming on the side of the road and a frog coming out of the bathtub faucet.  To be honest, this is my third trip, and it’s still a pretty good challenge just to process it all.

Do I like going there?  Well, yes and no.  Reading about the poverty and desperation is one thing.   Seeing dirty, barefoot little kids with lice in their hair plinking rocks in the open sewer running in front of their house because they’ve got nothing else to play with is something else again. But then, you enter the shop doorway of one of our artists and you get a radiant smile and a great big hug and a whiff of Palmolive soap and find a tall cool bottle of Coca-Cola thrust in your hand before you can say, “Jack Robinson.” And then they bring out amazing pieces of art.  Their latest creations, wrought with such delicacy and brilliant craftsmanship and you can’t help wondering, “Where does this all come from?”

Where does it all come from?  The smile in the face of hardship, the cool soft drink in the house with no refrigerator and the fantastic art in the hard-scrabble village.  It’s a pretty good question – one that overrides aversion, inconvenience and discomfort.  I want to know where that goodness and joy and strength of human spirit comes from.  In Haiti, I feel like I’m close to the answer.  And that will keep me gladly coming back.

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