Deep breath. Our first full day in Haiti is winding down. Yesterday was the travel day. 3:30am roll call at the church parking lot. Layover in Miami. Arrived in Haiti and crammed into three vans. It took a very long time to get to the house.
I really did not know what to expect when I got here. I’ve heard the Grace2Haiti team talk about it for five years. I’ve seen all the pictures. But, I also know that nothing is ever quite what you imagine.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced compact humanity like I have here. Yes, I’ve been sandwiched in the tunnels of Coors Field after a fireworks show. I’ve ridden the subways in New York City. I’ve been pressed against strangers in strange places. But all of those scenarios seem somehow spacious compared to the streets of Porta Prince.
There are people everywhere…and goats. And garbage. Everywhere.
Millions of people weave through the tangled tapestry of cars, motorcycles, Tap-Taps, goats, trucks, piles of rubble, piles of trash, razor wire crested cement walls. Most of them live inside a tiny box of concrete or tin. They cook their meals over charcoal fires, they have no running water, and the electric grid might run two or three hours a day.
Yet, in the midst of what we would consider to be filth, there is something amazing. I observed two distinct things about the people I observed in the streets. First, every single person is incredibly clean. The bright cleanliness of the people stands in stark contrast to the dusty, dirty, trash-riddled streets. Second, none of them look angry. When I drive down certain streets in our cities, I sense anger. Here I sense something different. I will not pretend to understand what it is, but it does not seem to be anger.
That was yesterday.
We stay at the World Wide Village’s guest house. It sits nestled in a gated community. The house is very nice, so, to be honest, we are not roughing it. The cooking staff prepares amazing food and the WWV team treats us like honored guests. Yes the wi-fi is sketchy, there is no hot water, and no air conditioning, but, compared to the homes of 99% of the Haitian people, this is a palace.
We went to Williamson today. That is the main location for the work that WWV does. It takes over an hour to drive there from the house.
Williamson is very different from Port a Prince. It is a village nestled in the slopes of the first range of mountains. It is essentially a bare expanse of rock and scrub brush exposed to the harsh tropical sun. The island was deforested long ago and the naked hills seem almost scalped as they rise up from the seashore.
I was torn as I stood on the site of the City on a Hill location and looked out over the ocean. It was, in the same moment, breathtaking and heartbreaking. The Caribbean Sea spans across the horizon and makes you feel tiny as you stand between it and the towering mountains behind you. Then, the bleating of the goats draws your attention to the smattering of tiny cement and tin huts that pepper the slope and shimmer in the heat, difficult to distinguish from the sun-bleached rocks that texture the ground.
But then it happened. We walked along the foot path toward the school. A young girl found us and led us along the correct path. We walked into the school yard and the children were there. Their bright eyes greeted us and instantly transcended the language barrier. They were so happy to see us. Many of our team members have been here before. The children recognized them and ran into their arms. Each team member instantly had two or three children hanging from them, like so many pale-faced jungle gyms.
I began the wall-painting process. The wall was only dusty, so a crew took the rags and wiped it down. I set out the roller pans and brushes, gave a couple instructions, and before I knew what was happening, a team of young boys jumped in and applied the first coat of paint.
Earlier I had handed a pad of paper and a box of markers to Leah and encouraged our kids to draw with the children. After the painting crew was underway, I sat down to have a granola bar and show one of the older boys my charcoal set. He seemed interested in drawing, so I thought he would like it. The next thing I know a little girl comes up to me and shoves a marker in my hand and motions that she wants me to draw her. Apparently Leah had sent her over to me.
Cue the swarm.
There I was, the little caricature artist from the amusement park surrounded by Haitian children who have never seen a caricature before today. That was a strange experience. In one sense it was like every other caricature gig I’ve ever done. A group of children gather around and everyone wants to get one done. They laugh at each other. They are shocked at the strange image I create, yet they are intrigued by it at the same time.
It’s like the first time you eat a lemon head candy. It smacks you in the face and you wonder why you tried it, but by the time you are finished you want another and you want someone else to try it. They lined up and I drew for hours.
Then we said goodbye for the day. We piled back into our bus and made the long trip back to the house. We had a grand meal of goat stew, green beans, and a very spicy mushy raisiny desert. I ate well and most of the children I drew today ate nothing.
Drawing caricatures in Haiti. What happened there? What good did that do for them? I honestly don’t know. Yet, as I sat there with all those children, it felt normal. These kids are just kids, like every other child I’ve drawn over the past 30 years. I got to look into each one of their eyes deeply for the 6 or 7 minutes that it took to draw them. In those few minutes they knew that someone was looking at them, truly. And I knew that I was looking into the face of Christ.
It will be interesting to see how this week unfolds. My plan is to paint a mural. The wall is much different than I had anticipated, so I will redesign it tomorrow. I look forward to the adventure that lies ahead.