Several titles for this news have been forming in my head over the past two months. Perhaps it should have been, “A Kay for Kanna” which would have been a funny-ish post about my goat called Kanna needing a bigger space and us needing a smaller space. I seem to like to shift attention to my pet goat distraction whenever life gets tough and I don’t want to talk about the other more serious things. Serious things abound. So on that note I thought about the title, “Moving Mountains” which would be about the mountain we are moving to and how God has definitely moved mountains to take us there. So now you might have guessed that we are moving. I guess I’m not really good at suspense. But “Moving ____ (insert anything)” doesn’t seem to fit what I want to say either. Maybe because I am so very sick of moving already. Because while we are all very at peace with this move happening, moving isn’t ever peaceful. Is it? I have moved lots and lots of times and no, I don’t believe it is ever a process of peace. Because even if all goes wonderfully well and super smooth (throw a little Haiti in that equation and you pretty much have the opposite of that), there is still the missing. We are very much looking forward to the other side of moving. Lord willing that will be accomplished in the next week. Yet the pros and cons of this decision seem to have vanished in these jam packed days. I still remember the very clear reasons we are moving. I was clearly aware that there would be a lot of missing.I just didn’t factor in that the missing would start this soon and especially since we aren’t moving all that far! There. Now you know we are not leaving Haiti. See, I granted you a morsel of suspense for the whole first paragraph.
When we moved to the Macdonald community four years and five months ago we were asked almost daily, “What are you gonna do for us?”, meaning for the community. You see, white people don’t typically just move in to a Haitian neighborhood unless they have a profession, project, or person they are working with in that location. Those are the three P’s you are supposed to have. Everyone wanted to know why we had come and what they could expect to get from us. Confusion set in when it appeared we possessed none of the aforementioned P’s. People also wanted to know how long we planned to stay. I remember the president of Macdonald raising an eyebrow when we negotiated our first rental contract. He said, “The amount depends on how long you will stay. Do you think you might stay for three years?” We couldn’t answer that then.
When we moved to this little/big section on the far south side of Saint Marc called “Macdonald” we honestly just wanted to live here. So we told our new neighbors exactly as much, “We are just going to live here, next to you. That’s all.” to their utter dismay. By that time we had a tiny bit of experience living on two compounds and in another Haitian neighborhood that was also within walking distance of work. We needed a place of our own that our family could just live without living at work nearly every second of every day. We also wanted a place that would be allowable and safe for others to come for respite so that we could exercise our gifts of hospitality. There is not always freedom to do that when you live on a compound (because of compound rules) or close to where you work (because you end up always at work). We went on a giant episode of what I like to call our own Haiti House Hunters 2013 edition. At the end of a four month search we felt we had found the perfect place for us. That place was in a neighborhood called “Macdonald”. We called it, “The Haiti Hospitality House” and it has been that indeed. This house has held the visitors; the multiple adoptive families either coming back to Haiti or getting to know their new children, the random white guy who knocked on the gate desperate to find a safe place he could afford after the mission he came to work with was totally M.I.A., the friends who just came to hug us, bring us gifts from the homeland and encourage us, my parents and sister whose hugs and feeling of home made staying during those times a little more bearable, and the mission teams that simply joined our dinner table or stayed for a week or two learning and serving alongside us in a foreign land that just doesn’t make sense. It has been immensely (and intensely) rewarding to know you in a way that perhaps only doing life together in a Haiti house can reveal. These relationships run a bit deeper because of this place. Then there are the twelve people who have made this house their own home with us for periods ranging from a few months to three years. Genise, Evangeline, Roselie, Brandon, Miguel, Jason, Jennifer, Rogeline, Cole, Callie, Edyson, and Figaro, thank you for all the crazy memories and life lessons we share together here. You have all seen us at definitely our worst and sometimes our best. It is probably a miracle that we can still call each other friends.
Just these visitors and housemates living here alongside the ocean waves with us would have been enough. That is pretty much all we really wanted. Relationships are important to us and we wanted to reach our new neighbors too. But we had our “P’s” in other Haiti places and felt very limited in how much more we could do. However, God had other plans and I’ve learned to like his plans so much better, even if I don’t enjoy the moving parts. The very short version of the story goes like this. Our neighbors raised a bit of hell in the beginning about our lack of “P’s”. They thought perhaps a little (or a lot) of rudeness would get our dumb white butts to get our act together or go home with our tails between our legs. We tried to explain that we did in fact have our own “P’s” outside of this neighborhood which was not as easily understood and that we had no intention of leaving and no money to do so. That latter part was even less understood because we hail from the land where money grows on trees that don’t exist in Haiti. During this time our dog grew very mean and Eric slept with a metal baseball bat by his head at night, if he slept at all. That first year seemed like an eternity of “stagnant air” (as Brandon liked to call it) when it came to relationships with our neighbors. The second year was not much better but we started making friends—at least the kind you will talk to but still keep at arms length. We eventually acquired a generator which made life a bit easier but also added to the conclusion that we are indeed oh so very rich. However, because the daily hauling of buckets of water for washing bodies, clothes, and dishes could now be pumped into the house through the power provided by the generator, we all of a sudden had bit more time to start enjoying our beautiful neighborhood when we were not busy with our “P’s” in other places. Now, if you drive or walk through Macdonald, “enjoy” and “beautiful” are probably not going to be among the words entering your mind at first. “Dirty, dusty, trashy, smelly, loud and chaotic would still be among even my own choice words. And Macdonald is all of those things. But to me it is also the kind of enjoyable that fills up one’s soul when you least expect it and makes you look at even the yucky and smelly as beautiful–and not just when we walk to the beach. It’s also the kind of hard that can strip you to your core. When I walk through the ginormous trash pile flowing into the ocean I am reminded each and every time of the world God created and what a pitiful job we have done caring for it. The contrasts here are so strong and it makes you long for the wholeness that once was and the redemption that is to come. When you feel all of these feels mushed together on a daily basis, well, that defies explanation. That is what I am going to miss most.
Our first few years living in Macdonald were lived in survival mode for what I now know was not” far too long” but just the right amount of time. But during those years I didn’t really have a chance to breathe in the beauty. I tried not to breathe in at all! The smell of the neighbors butchering pigs was almost all I could take. I did see the beauty. I have the photos and posts to prove it. But even then, I was trying really, really hard to see it just in order to survive it. I don’t have to try like that anymore. Some things just happen with time and deciding to make the most of it. Our neighbors eventually decided we were okay. At least I think they did. At least Eric stopped sleeping with a baseball bat. Our friends at arms length actually started talking to us and not just talking about us (although I’m sure they still do that too). They started annoying us like little brothers who you wish would go away but can’t because they live with you. We may live in a separate houses but if you live in Macdonald you live with your neighbors. There is no getting away from that fact. You see what they do and they hear what you say and vice versa. There have been many times I have given thanks for language barriers! The annoying little brother phase was probably worse for me than the super rude phase. When I say “phase” that really means many months or years. During the annoying little brother phase a group of grown men neighbors would sit directly on our front door step chatting and laughing loudly all day long. Sometimes they would set up a card table right there and if we opened the gate we would hit them accidently. This of course was our fault and lots of drama ensued. Then there was the sitting bench that was installed on the street but right in front of our house. Our house was chosen as the public sitting space and party zone for all conversations and occasions even though they all have their own houses to sit in or in front of. When we complained about the trash they would leave at our doorstep, they proceeded to install a cardboard box on the wall of our house to collect the trash. The day someone acquired a boombox that didn’t need electricity to run it will go down as the never ending worst day that lasted a whole year! If I never had sensory issues before I certainly had them during that phase. The boombox was not my friend. It made me want to scream (and scream I did because you couldn’t hear one another otherwise) as well as crawl down a very quiet hole and hibernate for a very long time. It made me want to keep even the friendly neighbors at arms length. Actually, I wanted them much farther away. Go play that THING at your own house! The little brothers thought it the grandest thing in the world to annoy me. It made the boombox all that more enticing. But eventually they stopped being so thrilled with it. Coincidentally, that happened the very day I said out loud to a neighbor who understands English, “That does it! We are moving!” He looked at me and said, “Seriously? Why?” And I said, “I can’t live where I can’t ever hear myself think or my own children talk inside the house! And where my ears hurt all the time! And where the words of that music—if you can call it that–are often SO, SO, SO bad and my innocent kids ears hear them and then repeat them! And where I’ve asked nicely more than one hundred times for them to please turn it down, or please move on down the street but they refuse just because.” I don’t know if he said something to the little brothers about me actually being serious or not, but I do know that’s the day it stopped. And the next time they played music they kindly explained that it was for a birthday party but that they would try to keep it away from our house and not be too loud. I’m not sure how it happened after that but we all just decided to get along. Maybe we had earned our dues or maybe they decided that they actually did like us. We were definitely trying our hardest to like them and remember the reasons we are even here in the first place. We don’t have to love their music or trash in front of our house but we have to love them. And loving them means that we look for opportunities to build relationships and share the Good News. More than a few times I was gently reminded that God had orchestrated their sitting right in front of our house just so they could watch the Jesus followers response. We certainly didn’t always do that well, but somewhere in there we ended up deciding that our “P’s” were in this place too just by default of calling it ours. I have a hunch that when our neighbors felt that we had embraced Macdonald as ours too, they decided we were okay even though I am sure we annoyed them a great deal too. I only mentioned a fraction of all the truly annoying or just plain awful phases that we now remember with a smile. But none of that seems to matter now. They say, “When you can make a Haitian laugh, you become their friend.” We laugh a lot with our Macdonald friends these days. We hang out. We go places together sometimes. We have carpooled kids to school. We talk politics and religion and don’t have to agree. We get invited to family funerals, school programs and to be their children’s godparents. We learn from them. We cry with them. We feel safe with them. We are still the foreigners but I think it’s safe to say we are friends too.
I have now lived in this Macdonald house longer than I have lived in any place anywhere during all the almost forty years of my life. I have grown with it like the trees in the backyard and the amount of pets we have acquired. I have spent most of my childhood here—my Haiti childhood that is. I have grown to love the people I live with all around me. I have grown to love every single phase, even the smelly and annoying parts. They will always be part of us and we have already started to miss them. If we had left before this time I might have told myself it is Macdonald’s fault. (Macdonald is a whole other Haitian culture in itself.) But now I know that moving is just the next phase of where we are supposed to be. It will be different not living with these neighbors we have grown to love. The new place doesn’t have neighbors like Macdonald. I’m not so sure anywhere does. But just because we are not living in Macdonald does not mean we are leaving our people here. They know that too but it will take awhile to prove it. That’s ok. I am excited about that part. But I am not excited about the things we will be missing when we aren’t here.
We only have a few days left. I tear up every time I think about how much I will miss…
The sound of Stanley’s laugh all throughout the day, Markenson’s ear to ear grin peering over the wall, fish on heads walking by along with avocados, mangos, plantain and kenep delivered to my door, the sound of school children reciting from the school above our backyard, the sound of cheers when the bell rings, the sound of the men working out at the gym to the right of me, watching them work out their giant biceps from my porch laundry room, watching them walk down the street with their proudly puffed up arms and chuckling to myself that they obviously forgot leg day–again, my upstairs laundry porch and the kids climbing tree that grew up over it from an accidental seeding we almost chopped down, the sound of cheers throughout all of Macdonald when the electricity suddenly comes on, the a cappella singing group that makes up for the boombox, the worship group to the left of me, being serenaded by hymns sung in Creole that I recognize from English, knowing Figaro is near when I hear his laugh coming down the alley, Aleando sneaking over after school to play with Evan before walking home, getting to babysit little “Lo-Zo” when their mom goes to the market, Miré and Elfina coming over to sweep around my house just because they want to bless us, sitting on the front porch and hearing the approaching sound of what I know is “the kids” trickling over to ask for water after school, seeing the kids in their uniforms, neighborhood movie nights with our projector, hearing Eric joking around with the guys on the street, calling S-T-A-N-L-E-Y when we need him to go fetch diesel or propane on the fly, calling Coach or Metson when there is a bigger problem, the way the neighbors smile when they see our goat named duck, taking our dogs on walks along the beach path, the awe inducing massive fossil bed we live on, and all the naked children running out to shower and play in the rain.
Oh how we will miss you! Thank you Macdonald for not only letting us become your friends but for treating us like part of your family in the end. Thank you for growing with us. Thank you for protecting us. Thank you for teaching us. Thank you for letting us teach you a few things too. This is not goodbye because we will still see you often. But we know it won’t be the same. Thank you for trying to understand. Thank you to our Macdonald friends who have been helping us move (especially Al, Stanley, Djo and Figaro). The reasons for our moving will have to wait for another post. Please pray for our family during this little transition. I’m thanking God for the past four years. How sweet it is to have had all this to miss!
Love to and from Macdonald,