I'm back after my second week long trip to Haiti. This trip was radically different than the first trip for a few major reasons, which created a very different outcome for me. Cathie commented that when I got home I was a whole different person than the first time, that I'd come back full instead of empty.
One of the biggest differences was that fact that I went down to Haiti with a large group of people (14 of us) this time. On my first trip, I'd gone with Bill, a 70 year old man that I'd just met from church. Bill had been to Haiti on and off for 10 years and Tom had been down in Haiti for 15 years. I stayed right with Tom and his family, but it was still a little overwhelming and lonely - though I wouldn't change it for the world. I think both Bill and Tom appreciated seeing Haiti through a fresh set of eyes, but it was tough not having anyone with whom I could process what I was seeing and feeling. Having a broader group of friends around this time me to think through what was going on, to see others going through what I had went through and even to have some levity at times about what we were seeing made it easier to process.
The fact that it was my second trip made all the difference in the world. My first trip, so much energy seemed to go into processing the huge paradigm shift I was going through in terms of what I saw with the poverty, the culture, the language and coming from being the majority to a minority. I almost felt guilty for not being shocked by what I was seeing this time, but it was interesting watch the others in my group process what they were seeing - what shocked them, what silenced them and what blew them away. I laughed so much this trip, which may sound trite, but it was wonderful. By not spending all of my energy on the paradigm shift, I was able to spend more time enjoying and learning from the people I came into contact with. I focused on learning the language prior to the trip, and even that little bit of extra creole was a big help in terms of conversations with people.
I went into this trip with a whole different mindset thanks to a book that our pastor had us read before we went: When Helping Hurts. The book flipped me 180 degrees on my purpose of going into Haiti. My first trip, I had gone down focused on the question "How can I help the people of Haiti?". I was all about taking in everything in order to fix it: absorbing the culture, talking to several missionaries and tried to understand where I could apply myself to help with the plight. I brought stuff to give out and analyzed inefficiencies and inadequacies that I saw in order to help. I left feeling very helpless, that what was broken with Haiti was too big to fix.
This time I went down with the question, "What can I learn from Haiti?" I can't begin to explain the freedom that came with my asking a different question. I begin to see the beneficial aspects of poverty, including the of lack possessions. I realized how much what I thought would be helping was actually hurting the Haitian people. I watched the joy that my friend Eko, a down syndrome man of 24 brought to a room. I saw the freedom in a lack of urgency and lack of focus on time as a finite quantity. I wondered what it would be like to not have the burden of my stuff, to build pieces of a house as I could afford it, and even to not know that people existed in the world with so much more than me as a measuring stick. I did a lot more reflecting, I walked away without any real solutions, but a couple of ideas, but a lot to think on and even more motivation to move forward.
I came away with a vision of how I want to retire, inspired by my friend Bill. Instead of playing golf and sitting on a beach in a retirement community, I'd like to live down in Haiti for a few months at a time with my wife and help out somewhere, doing something bigger than myself. My Dad has been a great model of this for me - pouring himself into helping others, making a gigantic dent in the world around him for good. I want to follow his example... Only 25 years until retirement, and the small task of getting my wife to love Haiti as much as I do.
So what am I going to do with what I learned? That's what I'm chewing on and praying over now. Something in my heart is connected to Tom, my friend in Haiti and helping him with his vision around Faith in Action. I'm trying to figure out how I can bring to bear what I do well to intersect with the needs of the organization. Another thing I'd like to do is bring back my family to Haiti to experience it. I think that Cathie, Maddie and Nathan would get a lot out of going to Haiti for a week with me. I'm not sure Em is ready. I really would love them to experience the people and the culture the way I have and fall in love with both.