The dust kicks up from the trucks traveling north and I veer to the side to shield my eyes. A snake of vehicles meanders down the mountain and loose stones roll precariously down the middle of the road. The trees lining the road offer little shade as the sun beats down from high above and scorches the land below. Every inch of shade is preciously guarded by those who sell goods along the street and they watch with keen interest as i walk on by. 

For as much of an effort that i make to avoid staring at the people and sites I walk by, the courtesy is not always returned and I can feel the eyes beating down on me from both sides of the street. I can't blame them, it's doubtful that they ever see a white person walking these streets by themselves, if at all. They most likely know I am lost, but i doubt they realize it is done on intention. During my time here, i have yet to see one other white person walking the streets of port-au-prince. They are always in some form of vehicle and most often in groups driving to the comfort of their next stop ahead. 

I continue walking and come across a vehicle full of what i assume to be missionaries from America. They try not to stare but it is clear that they are watching my steps and wondering what I'm doing outside on my own. I seem to be more fascinating to them than the crowds of people and crumbling buildings behind me.

Perhaps its my inability to speak the language - a skill I am forever envious of others who are able to pick up languages with such ease - and I find that my best way to get to know the culture is to simoly walk their streets and sit in their guarded patches of shade. It is my feeble attempt to show that I want to learn from them and simply be with them. I may not be able to communicate, but by placing myself where they are, I hope that i can bridge a path to friendship.

Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher, talks about how we have two choices in life; we can look around and see people as objects, as 'its', or we can choose to enter into their lives, into their humanity, and view them as a 'thou.' Sometimes it feels that the thin piece of glass wedged in a car window is enough to separate an 'it' from a 'thou.' for now, I'll place myself on the other side of the glass and out on the streets.

I don't want to judge those driving in the cars though, i understand the potential safety risks, the logistics of having a large group of travelers, and the difficulty in navigating the streets of a foreign country - not everyone can simply go wandering for hours and intentionally get lost.

But I do get concerned when our prescribed priorities in life place us in positions where we are forced to simply stare out from our comfort zones at the world around us. Whether it's the safety of our homes, cars, schools, or careers - we are masters at building up invisible walls around our lives. I am guilty of this. Even in Haiti, I find the desire to at times simply stay within the comfort of my cool apartment and read and write (kind of like I'm doing right now) rather than go out in the sun and let the sweat and dirt mix as they run down the back of my calves. 

I like to think that god sends me little hints and nudges to go out though. Small signs, like the fact that our stove ran out of propane and is taking awhile to refill so I have to go out to get food. Or how the internet will randomly go down and I have no excuse to stay inside and 'do research' on something that is rarely of top priority.

So as the cars continue to pass by, and as the sidewalk disappears and i find myself walking on the road, i am at peace knowing that the heat which beats down on me is the same as that which beats down on this country each day. I join in the walks of the school children as they file out of school in search for a tap-tap to take them back home. The stares don't stop, but as the crowd's age becomes younger, more smiles are shared alongside the stares. Kids have an ability to break down walls of separation and division, and I strangely find comfort in their stares. I smile back and they laugh as they turn to join the rest of their classmates. 

From a car, the streets of Haiti may appear to be nothing more than a series of potholes which separate one series of crumbled buildings from another. But from outside the car, these streets are alive with energy and beauty. I find myself at ease as I flow in the crowds around the trash piles and broken-down vehicles much like a school of fish swim in uniform around the intricacies of a coral reef. Such a beautiful mess.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love this post--walking among the Haitians is a way to honor them--to really see them and experience the courageous stories that are their everyday lives--we have a lot to learn from them about dignity and grace under pressure--what a lovely people...

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