Guest blog by: Garrett R. Greiner
Flying into Haiti two weeks ago, my first glimpses of land brought back memories of another Italian explorer not unlike myself. Landing on the Island of Hispaniola, unsure of what he would find there, Christopher Columbus had sailed with three ships to what he thought was the West Indies. Though he ended up coming to shore on an Island in the Caribbean, it was a mistake that brought drastic and unforeseeable changes to the modern world. I don’t think of myself as an influential explorer like Columbus, but it was hard not to feel that my voyage would bring unforeseeable changes to me personally. Unlike Columbus, however, my arrival was no mistake.
I came to Haiti to see Kacie, whom I have missed dearly since her departure last July. Though we have been reunited twice in the United States, it was important that I come see her on home turf, so to speak. To see her in her element. To meet all the names and faces I had heard and read so much about. Upon landing, my heart could not help but beat a little faster knowing I was so close to seeing Kacie; however, a foolish error on my part would further delay our rendezvous. The customs form I had received on the plane requested the address to where I would be going in Haiti. Kacie had sent me a fantastically detailed email with all the pertinent information that I would need upon arrival, including my address, phone numbers I would need, and people I could call in case of an emergency. In my haste to see her *wink wink*, I did not print out Kacie’s email and, as a result, I did not write down any address on the customs form. Instead, I merely wrote ‘Chambrun’, the village I knew Kacie was working in. This proved to be a huge mistake.
When I got to the agent to have my passport stamped, he pointed me toward the customs office because I didn’t have a proper address. At this point I regretted not writing down Kacie’s information and especially not learning any important Creole phrases like: “forgive me, I’m a stupid American and my beautiful girlfriend is waiting outside.” After about 20 minutes of pleading with the customs agents I began to realize that the village of ‘Chambrun’ wasn’t exactly a common destination for white men wearing Express shirts and Ray Bans. Nor was it familiar to the customs agents, or their mothers, or their grandmothers, whom they called to inquire in that order. Needless to say, my high school French only got me so far… but after about 30 minutes of pleading, joking, and smiling, I convinced them to write a fake address on my form so I could get through customs and into Kacie’s waiting arms (so I hoped). I walked outside with my “corrected” forms and suddenly realized I could have just waited for 10 minutes and walked through undaunted. There were no longer any guards or customs agents in sight. I walked into the break room and found all of them sitting and talking while watching the Tottenham match on a fuzzy, rabbit-eared TV. One man nonchalantly stamped my papers without too much hesitation, and I finally walked outside into the Haitian sunlight.
Kacie was waiting for me at the end of a long catwalk and we finally embraced after what seemed like the longest 30 minutes of my life.
I have been to many places in the world, but none quite like Haiti. The adage I had often heard about how nice everyone is proved remarkably true, even for a kid from the Midwest. I never batted eye when saying bon swoir to everyone, because not a single person seemed bothered by my goofy smile or American accent (not that it gave me away before anything else) even when I said “good afternoon” at 9 AM.
The most impactful part of my trip was right after my arrival. Visiting the unknown village of Chambrun with Aubree and Kacie was something I was unprepared for, even after all of my worldly endeavors. There are a million infomercials that depict third world children living in squalid conditions with no clothes and no food, but those are contrived and commercial. This was something different. Something unworldly, yet oddly natural. I walked down the rocky path with my female guides until we crossed over a small man made bridge something akin to a beaver dam. A few more steps between some thorny tress, laden with plastic bottles and other trash, before we came into a clearing on a dirt road lined with a barbed wire fence. There was the village on the other side.
It consisted of a series of mud huts with aluminum siding roofs and wooden panel doors. Children instantly recognized Aubree and Kacie and came running to greet them. The women sat in the shade washing clothes or breast-feeding young ones. Most of the men were noticeably absent. The 10 to 12 year olds waited apprehensively for us to get closer before grabbing our hands or shying away. Before I knew it, I was ducking into one of the huts, which a woman named Natasha lived in with her husband and four children.
The kids brought over two chairs from across the yard, some of the only chairs in the village, for us to sit on. It felt strange to think how I have been sitting in chairs most of my life while the people of Chambrun sit on the ground or crouch in the dirt, yet here they were, naked and dusty, bringing me a chair to sit in. I watched as Kacie and Aubree took the tiny infants they had been caring for since last fall and began to converse with the mothers and children.
I was in awe at the amount of naked children that were scrambling around, playing with my things, or smiling at me. I remember being 6 or 7 and going through a phase where I would refuse to put on clothes after a shower and spend hours running around naked. This was like that, except it didn’t seem like there was an alternative. They didn’t act like they were breaking the rules. There was no shame. There was no concept of nudity that embarrassed them, even the older ones. It was hot and dusty and the few clothes that they owned needed to stay clean for church, school, and other occasions. I couldn’t help but think of Eden, where Adam and Eve knew of no other state but the natural one they had been created in. Created from the Earth, from the dust. I was witnessing that state, but it did not seem biblical. It seemed man made. Perhaps there was something to that.
So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way to the tree of life.
I’ll be the first to tell you, I’m no theologian. Kacie and I have argued ad nauseum about religion, faith, what have you, but it has never been about being right or wrong. It’s always been about searching for something. Something elusive, but ever present. Haiti is in many ways emblematic of that search. It is reminiscent of the fall of man (and woman) from Eden, especially in light of its recent pain and misery. Yet, there’s an energy there, among everyone you meet, so palpable and vibrant that it burns like the sun. At times it burned me.
It was like I had come to help a population that only wished to help me and, just maybe, despite all of my material comforts and abundant opportunities, I was the one in need. You could say I went to Haiti for love. To be with the one I loved. It wasn’t exactly Adam and Eve, but it was close. My eyes were opened to see humanity in a new way, even a forbidden way. And I am ashamed, for I was the one who was naked.