Abby Belt, a Maryknoll lay missioner serving in Gros Morne, Haiti, wrote this reflection and poem as unrest, violence and protests in Haiti continued and schools and many public services remained suspended. Since September Haitians have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, who is accused of corruption and ruining the economy. She has a blog called The Hope and Heart in Haiti.
Here in Haiti we are entering Week 7 of unrest, protests, and nationwide lockdowns, with a majority of violence and insecurity taking place in Port-au-Prince. But even Gros Morne, my normally calm hometown, has not gone unscathed, with all 37 of our schools remaining closed. There is no quantifiable loss in this chaos. Time, economy, education, health—these and more have been stolen from the people of Haiti.
In the midst of it all, I am left likening beautiful Haiti to a coin, with one side representing the hurt, and the other the healing. It is her people that flip it.
The selfishness and stagnation of politicians is causing a majority of the pain. They are unbothered by what becomes of their fellow Haitians. Those who have taken to demonstrating, although perhaps beginning with noble ideas, are also responsible for the hurt. Blocking roads and preventing markets and schools from opening does not hurt the targeted well-fed, well-guarded “leaders.” Instead, such actions cause significant harm to people who are just like—if not worse off than—them.
With the government’s current standstill, the fires, blockades and chaos are all done without real purpose. Children cannot enter classrooms, people cannot easily sell at market, the sick and some doctors are left unable to get to hospitals. Those hospitals are severely understocked, and some medicines are nowhere to be found in Haiti. People are dying from this, from hunger.
The list of hurts runs deep. Sometimes it feels overwhelming trying to figure out how to heal and where in that healing I have a place. Indeed, the weight of the coin seems tipped to the hurt, for everywhere we look, hurt is present and the end of this unrest is hidden some place we cannot yet see.
Yet, we have found ways to flip the coin toward healing. Some schools function in the face of the storm. For my school, which remains unopened, I have a deal with the local kids to give me time in the library in exchange for soccer. In exploration of animals, the solar system, ecosystems and the thousand other worlds hosted in our library, the students continue to practice their reading and languages. I had some volunteers become planets so we could explore their positions in relationship to the sun.
In these moments, when discovery, fun and laughter are allowed to happen, we win. In these moments, these little victories include the all too fleeting time when kids get to be kids; simply being asked to learn, play and grow together. For a moment, they’re not asked to wait for the next foot to fall or wonder why they cannot have school or understand far more violence and unrest than they should. In these moments, they refuse to have their childhoods taken from them.
Their teachers protest the situation too, working together in “formations.” We have covered their version of Office, strategies, Maslow’s hierarchy, and Gardner’s Multiple Learning Theory. Each day, we work together to upgrade their educational tool belts. I’ve also seen local elders use old chalkboards and host informal sessions on math, French, and Kreyòl. Some of our Mercy Beyond Borders student leaders have utilized our library to take school books and teach themselves and explore various subjects, staying ready for school.
Emergency and volunteer services still find ways to aid as many people as possible. Markets still open, and people still try to work. We still see the wondrous parts of life, love, laughter, and learning happening, because despite our ability to muck things up, we also have a counter-ability to get life right.
Although tricky and sometimes maddeningly frustrating, we navigate life through upheaval and uncertainty. I am continually in awe of the resilience of our Haitian family. My place in healing remains in showing up every day for my kids and working with instructors to better ourselves in the career we love for the students we love even more. Our staying rooted in love and deepening those roots thus gives far greater weight to the healing side of our coin.
I cannot say when this chaos ends. I can say, however, love and hope abound, and we will rise together because, though the hurt is great, the healing is greater.
Abby said she was inspired to write the following poem after a reflection by a friend and mentor, the Haiti director for Mercy Beyond Borders, Jonathan LaMare.
A Day in the Heat
By Abbagail M. Belt
Stress. Sweat. Breathe.
Think. Overthink. Breathe.
Keep going. Question. Breathe.
Just. Keep. Going.
Could be… worse…
Breathe. Try to breathe.
Air, why is there no air?
It’s being consumed
By an insatiable heat,
prowling the island
in slow, steady agitation,
each advance a move closer
to an eruption from which
we do not return.
A fire, fueled
by anger and a hunger,
a hunger for that long desired
something more we all see
in a taunting green, glowing light
across the water.
In the heat’s rising,
many have lost themselves to
its scathing flames and
having looked too long into its siren core,
thus surrendering to brokenness.
Many have been lost in the
wake of its course, the result of daring to be sick,
Inhale. Burning. Eyes. Nose. Throat.
Exhale. Cough. Cough Again.
Inhale, slowly. Shake head.
Sigh. Tears fall. Eyes burn. Breathe.
Look. Smoke. Dark plumes. Breathe.
Trash? Tires? Risk it?
Exhale. Trash. Just trash. Bless.
Inhale. Think. Choose. Act? Sit?
Here is not there,
where the plumes billow endlessly,
and the stench of burnt rubber drowns you,
where the bullets, hailing so often,
could trick you for rain,
where the cries for a leader to leave,
for help, for answers, for notice,
do not cease,
where fuel is ever adding to the fire.
Here is not there,
here the heat has not infected so many,
here the heat felt comes mostly from a sweltering October sun,
here life goes on and people still try,
here the market remains, though prices rise,
here the schools stand,
though silent and sad for want of their children to usher in again,
bringing laughter and learning once more,
here is blessed in the broken,
for the work can continue.
Here is affected, not paralyzed, not trapped.
When does it end though?
Sigh. Deeply. Okay.
Messy bun, check. Chacos, check.
Water. Money. Keys. Phone. Band Aids.
Bag ready, check.
Door locked, check.
Gate locked, check.
No uniforms blurring past. I miss it a lot.
Few motos buzzing around. Hmm, I miss them too.
More dominos and cards and children running around with plastic bottles repurposed to toy cars.
The radio crackles, like it has the last six weeks,
the heat spreading,
the people suffering,
the calls to march,the calls to lock down,
the call for exile,
that is ignored only by the one it’s meant for.
At this point,
is he not selfish?
His silence as useful as a single bucket of water to pacify the growing flames.
His parting would not solve anything long term,
but oh the slight breath it would offer!
Many, who by a young 32 years,
have already seen two coups,
truly believe one would be better than now.
Can I justly say?
What have I ever had to ponder about a coup?
About a nation on fire,
on the brink of imploding,
such things have only been in the pages of history books about the world…
Smile. Growing. Laughter. Excitement.
Little hands, finding yours. W ap jwè?
Yes, little one, we’ll play.
Players? READY! Timer started.
Stress. Dissipating. Peace. Increasing.
In this small hour of the morning,
they are asked only to be kids,
to play, without fighting, to work together,
to laugh, learn, joke, simply be as they are.
We still feel the heat creeping toward us,
but in our small defiance,
we decide not to let it win the day here.
Before we played,
we found our own adventures in the library and the many other worlds it hosts.
The heat may keep the uniforms off,
the classrooms shut,
and the route to progress strewn with rocks,
but by God,
it will not keep them from learning, from their youth, from progress, from rising!
Do not tell my kids they don’t get to learn,
for they will simply smile and grab a book anyways.
Do not tell my kids their education is a danger,
for they know the power it hosts.
Do not tell my kids they don’t have a right to their childhoods,
for they are children who will not give it up.
Do not tell us that here is there,
because we make sure it is not.
Do not dare tell me there’s nothing to be done,
when children are wanting to read together,
and there are games to play,
and love to root far deeper than any hate or hurt.
Do not try it.
Do not try to keep us down,
For more on the current crisis in Haiti, see these post from the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and from Maryknoll Affiliate Renate Schneider:
What a beautiful poem, Abby. Thank you for all you are doing to help the children learn, play, love, and be kids. God bless you and your ministry.