We're home from our time of R and R in Santo Domingo. I do feel rested. I also feel more stirred-up than ever. There are a few causes:
Before I begin, let me say: I've been resisting writing about this. I think I've identified the reason- I'm afraid to tell the truth, because you might not like it. For the entire history of this blog, my topics have been safe. Who's going to disagree with teaching Haitian kids, or post-earthquake relief work? Even when we share our inner reflections and feelings, we know we have a sympathetic audience. Well, if it's going to be real, then it's going to be real- the whole package, good, bad, and ugly. Here goes. Why I'm more stirred-up than ever:
1) Going to the DR was extremely painful as we watched (literally- we were on a bus) the transition from poorest-of-the-poor to comfort and wealth. I acclimate to things very quickly. Haiti isn't shocking to me now, it's normal. As we crossed the border into the DR, it was like a different planet. Immediate changes I noticed: paved roads, homes without barbed wire, painted houses (even paint and color are a luxury), printed billboards/posters for elections (Haiti's political ads are in graffiti), bridges, overpasses for pedestrians, sidewalks, ads for expensive items (computers), a car dealership, non-stinky air, ground not covered in trash, small dogs (pets, as opposed to stays/guard dogs), landscaping, fully-grown palm trees, stores with window displays (no stores have glass window displays here, all are covered up behind walls and barbed wire), a public park, street lights, stoplights, homes without clotheslines (indicates washer/dryer). All of these indicate order, beauty, structure, infrastructure, and wealth. Why? WHY is one side of the same island in misery while the other side gets ready to celebrate the grand opening of its new Ikea?
2) We stayed with one of the absolute loveliest couples on the planet. Lindsay and Elliott are missionaries in Santo Domingo with their 8-month-old, Avery. Lindsay and I met briefly at Baylor, where we had mutual friends, and she reached out to us via email following the quake (typical- I'm telling you, LOVELY). They picked us up at the bus station and took us to eat Mexican food. I found myself recoiling in shock at the beauty I saw. Their car was clean, had a beautiful baby in it, had not visibly been in any accidents, had an intact windshield, and had working air conditioning. This was so shocking to me at the time that I commented on it. Lindsay is beautiful, and Elliot is beautiful, and their baby is straight off the Gerber label. They took us to dinner at a restaurant with glass in its windows. And a tablecloth. And metal silverware in a roll. I was shocked, and kept babbling about things like the clean floor. We stayed in their home- again, shockingly beautiful to me. I walked around, mouth open, in awe, as if I were in the Oval Office, babbling about how they had framed photos hanging on the wall, and Real Simple magazine, and tile flooring. No rats in sight. They listened to B and I monologue for what must have been eight hours as we word-vomited everything we've been through in Haiti. I lay down to sleep and literally cried because it was so quiet- I have been aching for sleep not disrupted by car backfiring, dogs barking, gates rattling, and confused roosters. In the morning we had strawberries- STRAWBERRIES- with sugar out of the most adorable toile china sugar bowl you've ever seen. I had cheerios with milk. It was like caviar and Dom Perignon to me. Avery had on a precious baby outfit and played in her colorful bouncer. It hurt, it was so beautiful.
It made me realize, for once and for all, that God made us in his image. I am made to crave beauty and order. I often pervert this into materialism and control-freak-ness, but at its origin these desire are from my Maker- his kingdom is orderly and beautiful, and I am made to want them. And because I have lived in the land of chaos and crumbling, this sweet couple's candlelight was like a bonfire to me, and I couldn't stop squinting as I realized how much the darkness has hurt.
3) My feelings towards people at the hotel. I'm truly ashamed to admit this. I spent most of my time at the hotel secretly mentally criticizing everyone around me. This is something I do often, and it's my most self-despised trait. It comes out especially in public places where (gasp!) I meet poor, less educated individuals- Walmart, theme parks, and, apparently, Eurocentric hotels in Santo Domingo. See that 60 year old man with the 30 year old woman? Judge. See that large French lady in a bikini? Judge. See that family letting their kids act obnoxious in the restaurant? Judge. What is she drinking? What is he eating? What is she wearing? What is that tattoo? Judge, judge, judge. I HATE this part of myself. It's pure, unapologetic, ugly pride. It's straight from the devil. I beg God to sanctify me faster. Yet I keep letting my mind go there. What's worse? I'm supposed to be the type of person who loves others, MOST of all the poor. Why does my heart bleed for the orphan, but shrink to cold stone against the obnoxious pack of teenagers hogging the beach chairs? So, add "feeling wretched about convictions that I'm judgmental and hateful" to my confusion this week.
4) Reading about Haiti. Elliott gave me and Ben An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President while we were staying with them in Santo Domingo. This book, in short, works to answer the question "why is Haiti so much worse off than all the rest of the Caribbean, Latin America, etc"? The author's answer is that it all began when the slave revolt that resulted in kicking out the French colonialists in 1804 so horrified America, still sixty years before we were to free our slaves, that America tried to destroy Haiti's survival. One of the most damning pieces of evidence described how in 1915, 100+ years after Haitian independence from France, Haiti was still paying 80% of its annual budget to debt repayment to French and American banks (because, for the first time in history, the losing nation in a war- France- imposed reparations on the winner- Haiti- to repay the French for the loss of the slave labor). The reparations imposed on Haiti by France in 1804 was the equivalent of $21 billion today. To give you an idea of its exorbitance, this was over 70 times what the US paid for the Louisiana Purchase- an area of land over 80 times Haiti's size- just a few years later. Another source of blame: the Vatican. The Vatican refused to recognize Haiti's independence for many decades, denying Haiti the Catholic missionaries (and, essentially, the schools they always brought). In 1915 the US invaded Haiti and occupied it for many years, stealing every penny of its customs income for an entire generation. The US Marines crucified the leader of the Haitian army who resisted this occupation and nailed him to the front door of a house to discourage dissent. There were many other examples of technical details of treaties, trade agreements, and military maneuvers in which the US has done evil to Haiti.
Listen, I have no Ph.D. in Haitian history, or even a good ol' B.A. in any kind of history. And, this book was written by a personal friend of Aristide (who, for better or for worse, was in fact a democratically-elected president who was kidnapped and removed from Haiti by the US military in 2004).... clearly, he has an axe to grind. But I can't explain away this heavily-footnoted, detailed account just by that alone. I'm horrified. I'm ashamed. I don't want any of it to be true. I could only read small bits of it at a time because it was so upsetting. I came here to serve, to love, to heal, to bind up.... only to discover as I learn more that it was my people who are partly to blame for why Haiti is still so far behind, still playing catch-up, still suffering? I was, and continue to be, very, very upset by this news.
5) The slog. Lastly, we've reached the long, slow, grind in the middle. The sprint is over. The adrenaline is wearing off. Now we're in the middle, with the first few miles under our belts but many, many miles to go before the finish line. By finish line, I mean summer break- we'll be home in Dallas for our few weeks of summer break starting June 1. But there's March, and April, and May to go. It's like when Welcome Week is over, and Christmas break is so far away, and the midterms are looming.... We have to break it up into small chunks here as we begin our years in Haiti.
And I do mean years- I may be all stirred up, but we ain't skeered off yet.