Childhood Memories

Disclaimer:

The following is a memory from my childhood. A note on memories. They are not always accurate. Details might be wrong. Also, these are the memories of a child, my understanding of the world around me was that of a twelve year old. My main concern in posting this article is to not cast a bad light on the country of Haiti. I do not want that. I think the events that happened are universal to any society that is going through upheaval, not specific to Haiti. So, without further ado..

I was twelve years old. We were living in Cap Haitian, Haiti. We had just moved back to Haiti maybe six months before, after living in the States for five years. Haiti was the home of my father and mother, and I had memories of Haiti from when I had been younger, so it felt like home.

There had been a Coup d’etat, the government had been overthrown and the country was in an uproar. We had been hiding in our house for a week with little word of how things were going around the country. My father religiously listened to the radio throughout the day and he had a ham radio in his truck that he could reach a missionary compound that was maybe a thirty minute drive away in Vaudreille where my Grandparents lived. My father and Grandfather had a prearranged time that they would talk over the radio twice a day. 

The first day that everything fell apart we had heard explosions and gunshots. We had all hid in the stairwell of our house, the safest place we could find in our open, airy, tropical home. Not sure if any of the bullets were aimed our way. During the day we could hear the low roar of a mob, far off in the distance. And I wondered what that mob was doing. I had overheard stories of mobs attacking rich people’s houses, dragging the occupants out into the street and killing them in horrible ways and then ransacking their houses. The sound of the mob was the sound of death. I hated that sound. 

We stayed inside, rarely venturing into our concrete-block-walled yard. We had very little groceries in the house and had been subsisting on macaroni and a large bag of pancake mix. 

The first night of the trouble, my father had told us to lay out an outfit in dark colors and pack one small bag. He was afraid that our house might be attacked in the night and that it would be necessary for us to run on foot from the house. He had spoken to our night watchman and the watchman knew the trails over the mountain that could take us to the missionary compound, and he was willing to lead us if necessary. 

I had always wanted to hike over that mountain, it always looked so romantic, looming over the Northern Plain, often covered in clouds. The whole idea sounded exciting, but it also made my stomach churn. I remember laying out my black tshirt and my blue jean capri pants. I packed a small blue jean bag with leather straps that my mother had brought as a gift for me when she had gone to South Africa for the funeral of her missionary father. I always slept with my favorite stuffed animal, Potbelly, and I couldn’t decide if I should stuff him in the bag so he would be ready to go or should I sleep with him and then, if I was awakened in the night, I could stuff him in the bag at that time. I can’t remember what I decided. 

My mom had a large jewelry collection, none of it worth a great deal, but each piece representing an exotic location she had visited. My mom got out some dark green fabric and showed me how to sew a simple little drawstring bag. We sewed two bags and then put our jewelry in the bags and stowed them in our travel bags. 

When I woke up the next morning, I looked over, and all my travel stuff was still there. I was surprised and thankful that we hadn’t had to run in the night. But, we left our stuff layed out every night that week, just in case. 

After a week, my Dad came in after talking on the ham radio with my Grandpa. After talking with my mom, they announced that we were going to drive to the missionary compound and stay there until things had calmed down. 

What about the drive there? What about the mobs? What about the gunshots? What if we got stopped? 

My Dad said we would not get stopped. Everything was going to be ok.

We each packed a small bag of valuables and clothing and then loaded them into our truck. The watchman agreed to stay on and take care of our pets and take care of the property. 

Our truck had once been a Tap-Tap, a vehicle outfitted to act as public transportation. The back had a roof and sides. My dad had changed the benches in the back to make them more comfortable and he had installed a tail gate and wire mesh doors that could completely close up the back. 

Usually, my brother and I would sit on the benches and we would get a bungee-cord and fasten it to the two wire mesh doors to hold them closed from the inside. If my dad wasn’t carrying passengers he simply used a padlock to shut the doors from the outside.

This time my dad put a mattress down on the floor of the truck bed and instructed us to lay on the mattress. Then he shut the wire mesh doors and locked them from the outside with a padlock. He had canvas curtains that he could put down when it was raining. We hated those curtains as it shut out any breeze and made it very hot. He put down the curtains so that nobody could see into the back of the truck, and we couldn’t see out. 

I lay on the mattress on the floor and just stared at that padlock through the dim gloomy light. What if our truck DID get stopped by a mob? What if the mob set our truck on fire? I knew this was a possibility. I had seen burnt-out vehicles by the side of the road before. What if the mob pulled my parents from the truck and killed them and we were just stuck in the back of the truck, unable to do anything?

I looked over at my brother. He had his headphones in, music blasting. I scooched a little closer to him, layed on my back and stared at the sliver of light coming between the rubber curtains. I held on as the truck slowly made its way down a very rutted and washed out dirt road. I mentally kept track of where we were, each bump and turn giving me a clue. I didn’t move from the mattress. I had no desire to get up and peek through the cracks. Finally the truck pulled off the dirt road and onto a paved road that was also rutted and full of potholes, sections of pavement missing every once in a while. My body tensed. We could drive faster on this road, but we were still in town. Just a little bit farther and we would be out of Cap Haitian. The closer we got to Vaudreuille and the missionary compound, the safer we would be. 

Finally, finally, the truck took a sharp right turn and then stopped. I knew we must be at the gates to the compound now. The gate would be locked and guarded, but they would recognize our truck and let us in quickly. 

We finally pulled into a grassy driveway behind my grandparents house. My dad got out and I could hear him talking to my grandparents. I shook the back door, Hey, let me out. And he walked over and unlocked the gate. My brother and I jumped out, holding our bags. We all then acted like we were having a holiday visit with my grandparents. My grandmother showed us our rooms, my brother and I sharing the room we had always shared when staying with them. A cannonball from the Citadel, a large fortress in the North, acting as a door stop for our door. The whoosh of ceiling fans. The chimes of my grandmother’s clock. 

My grandmother explained when supper was, when breakfast was, what the shower schedule would be, what she and Grandpa’s work schedule would be, as they were still working full-time at the Christian Radio station. It was all so orderly. Just like my grandmother. 

I laid on my bed that was made up with seventies style flowered sheets. I pulled out my book and started reading.

You Don’t Belong Here

You don’t belong here. 

 

This has long been a theme in my life. As a white American child growing up in Haiti, I felt it, You don’t belong here. Even in Haiti among the different missionary groups, each group keeping to themselves, You don’t belong here. 

 

Living in Eastern Kentucky, attending a small country school with the name Esther Picazo. Every time my name was called to take roll, it was there, as the teacher stumbled over how to pronounce Picazo, You don’t belong here. 

 

Maybe the only time in my childhood that I didn’t feel that singling out was when we lived in Bush Alaska, in a town that was about half Y’upik Eskimo and half white Americans. Somehow, the culture of that little town made me feel welcome, even if it was only for a couple years. 

 

But then college, as I walked past a group of tall, tanned, blond girls, all talking about fashion and their latest dates, I felt it radiating out to me, You don’t belong here. 

 

My time in Chile was more of the same, as I struggled to communicate in my very poor Spanish, a look of surprise and then, Oh, You don’t belong here! 

 

Moving to our little city here in Eastern Tennessee, everywhere you go, there are pre-existing groups of friends. Polite, but still holding up the invisible sign, You don’t belong here. 

 

And over time, you learn how to make your own groups of friends, you carve out your own little niche. Create your own little cliques. A fortress where you can stand and say, This is where I belong! Though sometimes the walls of that fortress are a little shaky. Sometimes they don’t withstand time. Sometimes those friend groups dissolve. Sometimes the cliques reform and suddenly you are not on the inside, but are left out in the cold, You don’t belong here. 

 

And sometimes I forget. I think it’s just me. I’m the only one that feels this way. Everyone else belongs. I’m the only outsider. 

 

Except. If you listen to enough people. Really listen. You find out. Most people feel this way at some time or another. 

 

Many years ago, during a worship service at our church, God gave me a vision. I was standing in heaven, before the throne of God and my knees were shaking and I was overawed. And God spoke in this thundering voice and he said, What right do you have to be standing here? And I almost panicked. Sure this was the end. I had no right to be here. I was so sinful and imperfect. But then, I looked at myself, and I realized that I was entirely covered, head-to-toe in a white gown, all my imperfections were hidden underneath this gown. And I spoke boldly. I said, I can be here because I’m covered. I’m covered with Jesus’ righteousness. And I showed off the gown. And God smiled his approval. And my fear went away. I knew everything was ok. I could be there. I was welcomed. I belonged. 

 

The last verse to the hymn Solid Rock has been going through my head.

 

When he shall come with trumpet sound,

O may I then in him be found,

dressed in his righteousness alone,

faultless to stand before the throne. 

 

And maybe that’s just another reason I love Jesus so much. He claimed me. He paid the price for my sin. He opened up a way for me to be with him and he stands with open arms and says, Come, this is where you belong. With me. 

Happy Birthday America

My relationship and feelings toward the United States of America has always been complicated. I grew up in Haiti among people of many different nationalities and America had the reputation of being the bully of the world. They also had the stereotype of being uncultured, crass, oblivious. As a child, I was not overly impressed with my American citizenship. 

 

Before I was born, my American Father and my British Mother had given birth to my brother in Haiti. The United States, Great Britain, and Haiti all refused to give my brother citizenship because my parents had spent very little time in their home countries. My parents made the decision that the entire family needed to have citizenship from the same country so they moved to the States and began the process of getting citizenship for my brother and my mother. I was born during that time in Kentucky. 

 

I remember as a child, asking my parents why they didn’t go to Great Britain and get everyone citizenship there? That would have been way more cool than being American. I can’t remember their exact answer. I think it had to do with the fact that they were working as missionaries in Haiti and the United States was closer and easier to travel to than Great Britain. I think there were more reasons than that, that’s just the one I remember. Maybe something to do with the fact that an American passport is easier to travel with? 

 

I was living in Haiti when the United States decided to put an embargo on this tiny little island country. I watched as food, fuel and medicine became very difficult to find. And I was ashamed. Ashamed of my citizenship. Angry at the US and the harm it was causing to this tiny country where I lived. That anger lingered a long time. Maybe some of it is still there. 

 

As an adult I think I’ve had a good reality check. I spent some time living in Chile, gave birth to my second child there. Loved Chile, but it wasn’t home. I’ve read articles and followed devastating stories of the lack of medical freedom in other Western countries. I’ve talked with friends from Russia, learned a little bit about growing up in the Soviet Union. Essentially, just learned a little bit more about the world than I knew as a child. 

 

My husband and I are wanderers at heart. It’s hard for us to be settled down in one place. It feels bizarre that we have actually lived in the same city for sixteen years now. It’s a common conversation for us to talk about where we would like to move. Especially when things get crazy here in the U.S. Let’s just leave, my husband says. And I take him seriously. Ok, where should we go? We start listing off countries. And as we say a name, I point out the problems that I am aware of for that country. And by the end of the conversation, we always reach the grim reality that there really isn’t any “better” place that we could go and still be able to raise our large family in the manner that we see fit with the minimum amount of dangers to our children. 

 

And now, I realize that I have a multi-national audience. I will just point out that while our country probably has just as many pitfalls as any other country, we are familiar with these pitfalls, we are citizens here, not foreigners, and we know all the ins and outs that we wouldn’t know in another country. No offense meant towards other countries. 

 

And so, here we are on the 4th of July. Firmly established as American Citizens. Not going anywhere. And it’s my country’s birthday. 

 

I got on Facebook this morning and was bombarded by heavy discussions about mask wearing. Pros, Cons. A lot of strong feelings. Our county’s health department has mandated mask wearing. Our Mayor has spoken out against it. Our Sheriff has spoken out against it. This has caused a very big stir in our county. The division is irritating to me. But, now I will tell you what I like about my country. We have the freedom to speak out and tell the world at large what we think. I think your law is stupid, and I’m not going to follow it. I think your “mandate” is unconstitutional and these are the reasons why…I think all of you all should stop fussing about masks and just wear them! I think we need to fight this! I think everyone should be more worried about this virus! I think the virus is a scam! I think we are all going to end up dying in the hospital if people don’t take action soon! 

 

We have the freedom to voice what we think without fear of retribution. 

 

We have freedom to speak up about anything and everything. Hey! Black Lives Matter! Hey! Blue Lives Matter! Hey! Medical Freedom is important! Hey! I hate that decision that our President made! Hey! I think your State is stupid for opening up their economy in the middle of a pandemic! Hey! I think your state is stupid for shutting everything down and ruining their economy! 

 

Though all of our viewpoints have become very polarized, we still have the freedom to voice them. 

 

I worry about this freedom being taken from us. I can see a political trend where this right is slowly being gutted. I pray that those who want to silence all these voices will not be successful. 

 

From my standpoint,  this is the strength of our country. The freedom to think what we want, hold whatever views we wish, and the freedom to voice those opinions. 

 

I do not hold with the view that the United States is the most amazing country in the world. I don’t hold with the view that Being Christian and Being American are one and the same thing. I do not hold with the myth that America has been a paradise, a bastion of freedom, for all peoples since day one. 

 

I will tell you what I am proud of though. My husband was able to quit his job and start his own business with very little hassle. I can send my children to a free public school, or I can keep them home and homeschool them. I can go to the church of my choice and worship in the way I choose without fear. My city is clean. The trash is picked up weekly. I have reliable clean running water and electricity. My city is full of parks and playgrounds that I can enjoy without charge. I am an hour away from a beautiful National Park that is also clean and well-kept and free of charge. If I have any complaints, I have places where I can seek justice. 

I still have mixed feelings about my birth country. These past months have been a time when minorities have been voicing their reality that this country is not as Free for them as it is for others. Here’s the thing. While our country may not be the Home of the Free…yet…we have the potential. We have the framework to make it happen. We still have the freedom to pursue change and reform.  Our country is not static. All the things we don’t like, we can change. And that is probably about as free as we can get. 

 

Happy Birthday America. 

The Traveling Clothes

It’s funny how an outfit can get associated with an entire time period of your life. When I was six and half years old we moved from Haiti back to the States. My mom was planning on going back to school so she could become a PAC and come back to Haiti to do medical missions. 

 

I remember shortly before we left, I was looking in my closet, and in the back of the closet found an outfit hanging up. It was a white sleeveless tshirt with blue anchors all over it. There was also a pair of navy blue culottes. Culottes? I didn’t own any culottes. Now, my next-door best friend Helen had lots of culottes. Maybe these were her clothes hanging in my closet? Maybe she had left them here and Mom was just waiting till she could give them back? I went and asked my Mom and she said that actually this was my traveling outfit, I was going to wear these clothes when we got on the plane to leave Haiti. They were my traveling clothes.

 

Oh. Ok. 

 

I remember the confusion of emotions. Excitement that I had a new outfit with CULOTTES! (I’d always wanted culottes!) Anticipation of getting on a plane. But also a bit of dread since I had no idea what all this meant. 

 

I remember when we got to the airport. My clothes were new and a bit stiff. The airport in Cap Haitien was still small and simple at that time, an open air tin roofed structure with a small area of seats. Lots of gates and chain link fences. For some reason or other me and my best friend quarreled at the very last minute and we either did not say goodbye or it was a very stilted farewell as the group of missionaries that had accompanied us hugged and kissed us on our way. But, I didn’t have too much time to dwell on that, we were getting on the plane. 

 

My mom handed me some Chiclet gum that she had bought from a vendor outside the airport. We rarely got candy or gum so this was a special treat. She instructed my brother and I to chew our gum while the plane was taking off so our ears wouldn’t pop. We obediently and industriously chewed our gum as the plane creeped down the runway, turned, and then suddenly started moving very fast. Everything rattled, we gripped the armrests, and then abruptly, all the shaking was gone. We were up in the air. My face was glued to the window as I watched Cap Haitien and the Mountain and the Bay slowly become smaller and smaller, and then all I could see was the ocean underneath us. 

 

We stayed in Florida for a little while. My only memory of that was going into a grocery store with my parents. Being a lot closer to the floor, I happened to see a small bag of Reeses Pieces in the trademark orange bag. The bag was open and only had a couple pieces of candy left in it. I quietly picked it up and tried out this little treasure I had found. Wow. This stuff tasted good! I quickly finished off the bag and then hid the evidence. Maybe a year later, I learned in school that you were not supposed to eat candy you had found because it might be poisoned. I was still too young to understand how poison worked, and I went through an anxious period of time while I wondered if that candy from a year before was still inside of me and might poison me yet.  

The next time my memory kicks in was when we arrived in Nashville, TN. My mom was looking at two different schools, one in Nashville and one in Morehead, KY where we had lived before on the family farm. 

 

While in Nashville, we stayed in a little guest house of sorts. An upstairs tiny apartment. I remember it was rather dark inside. I’m not sure how we got hooked up with this guesthouse. Some kind of church or mission connection I imagine. I remember that outside the house were long grassy lawns that my brother and I ran around on. And downstairs was a grizzly older woman who I somehow made a connection with. When we left that place she gave me a stuffed toy cowboy as a parting gift. I named him Cowboy Bill and kept him for the rest of my childhood. 

 

I remember while we were staying at this apartment, my Mom bought us a box of Lucky Charms cereal. This was amazing. We did not eat cereal in Haiti. In Haiti we had cooked breakfasts. Oatmeal, pancakes, toast, etc. What was this heavenly ambrosia? It had marshmallows in it! Marshmallows! For breakfast! And they were all pretty colors! And this began the long debate in my mind…Do I eat all the marshmallows first and then have to eat all the plain oat cereal afterwards? Or do I eat all the plain oat cereal first and then end the meal with the bliss of mouthfuls of marshmallows? (It took years of gaining maturity before I could learn to enjoy eating it mixed together, the perfect blend.) 

 

Though I’m sure I had other clothes, all of my memories of that time are of me wearing my white sleeveless tshirt with the blue anchors, and the navy blue culottes. A dark haired little six year old girl. Silently taking in the world in her traveling clothes. 

 

Masterpieces in Progress

I take my daughter to Nashville tomorrow morning to send her off to Alaska for a year. I have been thinking about what to write today, but have drawn a blank. As I was driving in the car, I realized why I can’t think of anything to write. All weekend and this week I have been systematically shutting myself down emotionally. My oldest kids are leaving the nest and this is a good thing for them. It’s the natural next step in our parenting journey. And it’s painful and I hate pain and I hate goodbyes, so I seal myself off. I’m a missionary kid. I’ve been saying goodbye to people on a regular basis since I was two years old. After a while, you just naturally learn how to distance yourself so that it won’t be as painful. 

 

We’ve been living in the same city for almost 16 years now. I haven’t had to say nearly as many goodbyes. Mostly it’s just saying goodbye to friends of mine who have moved on to other places. You would think that I would have softened my approach over the years. Allowed myself to feel some of the emotions. Let myself cry. You would think. 

 

But, even though I have not reached the place of emotional honesty, where I allow myself to feel the emotion, experience it, and then move on, healthier because of the experience…even though I haven’t reached that place yet, I am at least at a place where I can recognize what I’m doing. Oh look, I am shutting down because I’m about to say goodbye to my daughter. It’s progress. 

 

In the meantime, I will drive my daughter to the airport three hours away while it’s still dark outside. I’ll walk her to the security gate. I’ll hug her as long as I can, pray over her, bless her, and send her on her way. And I’ll shed a couple tears which I’ll quickly sniff away, go get back in my car and make the long drive back home. 

 

Then a couple months from now, I’ll suddenly think about her and burst into uncontrollable sobbing and then have a day-long depression while I finally start processing all the emotions. And then I’ll feel better. 

 

This is the way I deal with emotions. I’m going to make a guess that I’m really not the only one who does this. So, for all you other emotionally awkward people, it’s ok. Fortunately there is no set mold on how to to do life. We all have our stories that have shaped who we are and how we interact with the world around us. It’s been my experience that as I have explored these stories and spent some concentrated time analyzing my behavior, it’s helped me to change some of my negative patterns, some right away, others very slowly. 

 

We are all masterpieces in progress. 

 

 

Tears in Honor of You

It’s Tuesday evening. Time to write my blog for Wednesday. All afternoon I’ve been wondering what to write about. My mind circles around the thought and then instantly turns to something else. I think I’m going to read a bit more of my book. I think I’m going to practice piano a bit. I think I’m going to wash the dishes. And of course, the children are a constant presence of distraction, look at this mom, watch me mom, Mom he hit me, Mom I’m hungry. I allow myself to be distracted all day. And then, this evening I think, I need to go write my blog. And the thought comes to me, in order to write a blog, you have to think about something. Ah yes. There is the problem. I don’t want to think. Thinking is painful right now. A very good friend of mine’s grandbaby died this weekend. She was just a baby. A sweet wonderful baby. I didn’t know her, but I had heard all about her from her proud grandparents. I’d seen the occasional pictures scattered across Facebook. And I still feel paralyzed by the thought that such a loss has touched people that I know and love.

I don’t want to think because every time I let my mind focus on something, it comes back to this pain. Feeling pain and mourning are not things that I am good at. I am a missionary kid. I spent my entire childhood moving from one extreme place to another. Studies have been done on missionary kids and it seems to be a universal experience that we all struggle with mourning. We uproot so many times, have so many goodbyes to say to all that is familiar, and we rarely take the time to properly mourn all that we have lost. Mourning is painful. I think we naturally try to avoid pain. I know that for myself, my coping mechanism is to suppress it. Ignore it, push the thoughts down until they stop resurfacing. Drown it. Except that the pain doesn’t go away, it just lingers below the surface, waiting for a chance to reappear. And then it shows up in strange, unexpected places. Like the time I had my first miscarriage.

It happened while we were out of town, camping in another state. I was staying at a campsite in our camper with our children while my husband was working nearby, 14-16 hour days, working on a construction project. It was a couple weeks long project and the kids and I had gone with my husband so we wouldn’t be separated for so long. I was in a campground trying to take care of six children on my own and I miscarried. It was early on in the pregnancy. There wasn’t anything I could do. And I didn’t have time to mourn. I cried a little, but I was in shock and overwhelmed and trying to put a brave face on for my kids and my husband. And then, a month later, we were back home in Tennessee and I was sitting in church, the service had just ended and something snapped and I started sobbing. For a long time. And I am so relieved that this particular grief rose to the surface so I could properly mourn.

My friend who lost her grandbaby, she is special to me because many years ago she started me on a long journey of healing. I don’t know how to describe her relationship to me except as a co-therapist. We listen to each other. We provide a safe place for each other and other women as we dig down and resurface these stories that haven’t been properly mourned. And it seems that the only way I can honor my friend and her grief is to not let myself run away from the pain, as peripheral to my life as it is. To let myself feel it, mourn alongside her. Not suppress, let myself be sad. Give myself permission to grieve.

So, My dear friend, this is how I honor you and your ministry, your family, your devastating loss. I will allow myself to grieve with you.

A Little Trot Down Memory Lane

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I was a missionary kid who grew up in Kentucky, Haiti, and Alaska. I was born in Kentucky and then moved to Haiti when I was 2, back to the Kentucky when I was 6, stayed for 5 years, then back to Haiti when I was 11. I lived in Haiti from the age 11 to 15 with a 9 month break when I was 13. And then when I was 15 we moved to Alaska. It’s confusing. I know. I don’t expect you to remember all that.

I’ve been remembering the 11-15 yrs old stage when I was in Haiti. We lived for a year in Cap Haitien and then moved to a mountaintop home that had a view of the entire Northern Plain of Haiti, including a view of the Bay of Acul, a place where Columbus was reported to have landed. The house and its surrounding property was a child’s paradise. The house was a concrete block, 2 story, flat-roofed home with a balcony and a narrow ledge that went around the entire house on the 2nd story. There was an abundance of fruit trees. The driveway had been cut out of the mountainside and so there was a high cliff on either side of the driveway, and the peak of the mountain above that which was covered in tall grass and scattered with large boulders. There was a patch of jungle/woods/forest that had a wonderful old cashew nut tree in it, it’s branches all twisted and curlicued, making it an awesome climbing tree. There was a separate building a little farther up the hill from the house that housed a generator and there was a bench next to the that little building where you could sit and stare at the ocean off in the distance. It was an amazing home. The windows were all covered in metal grates and so we could easily climb up the windows, and get up on the ledge that surrounded the 2nd story. From there you scooted carefully along the narrow ledge till you got to the railing around the balcony, you could then climb onto the balcony. On the balcony was a ladder that took you up to the flat roof.

Occasionally my brother and I would get home from school before our parents and occasionally we wouldn’t have the keys we needed to get onto the property or into the house. We would first climb over the tall, locked,  wrought iron gate that went across our driveway, go down the driveway and then we would climb up on the balcony or roof to wait for our parents.

During that time period in Haiti there was a lot of political upheaval and the infrastructure of the country was not good. There was an electric company, but the power was rarely turned on. We had a generator but later, when Haiti was put under an embargo by the US, there was little fuel to run the generator. We had a well that gave us good clean water, but the well required an electric pump. By the end of our time in Haiti, we were turning on our generator every 3 days for about an hour during which time we would fill an entire room full of buckets and containers of water to hold us over for the next 3 days.  We would quickly run some laundry through our agitator/wringer washing machine, and then quickly turn the generator off to conserve the fuel. I took a cold bucket bath every morning before I headed out to school, mastering the skill of making a 5 gallon bucket last for a complete bath, including washing and conditioning my long hair.

My teen years in Haiti were spent going to school, attending a Haitian church on Sunday mornings, and then an English church on Sunday evenings. The occasional Saturday was filled with going to the beach or getting together with friends. During the summer I would accompany my mom into Cap Haitian for a day of shopping the market places, getting in a supply of basic groceries. We regularly visited friends. A big chunk of my time though, was spent simply at home, left to my own devices.

My brother was trying to graduate early and so he spent much of his time holed up in his room, working on his high school correspondence courses. My father was out doing his work and my mother was busy doing all the work that is required when you don’t have electricity, or convenience stores, or even well-stocked grocery stores. She also worked in medical clinics a couple times a week, and held medical clinics at our home for people in our neighborhood. I helped my mom with her medical clinics sometimes, wrapping pills in paper packets we made from cutting up magazines, handing her the right pill packets as she needed them.

I need to make something clear. I was not a missionary. I was simply a missionary kid. I did not feel any special calling or burden for the Haitian people. Haiti just happened to be where I lived. My parents did their work and I was caught up with school work and friends and daily life. My grandparents had been missionaries in Haiti for 40 years. My father grew up in Haiti. My mother came from England as a young single missionary, met my father, and they married and had my brother there in Haiti. For me, Haiti was not a mission field, it was simply where my family lived.

While my family was busy with their various pursuits, I focused on reading books, practicing music, journaling, and simply sitting outside, taking in nature, daydreaming, trying to sketch pictures of the view, trying my hand at writing poetry (unsuccessfully). I loved to get to a high perch, stare out at the ocean and just exist. I loved to sing and I would often sing loudly, giving it all I had, confident in the knowledge that no one was listening. I would sing hymns and praise songs, not really understanding the concept of worship, just knowing that the earth around me was so beautiful, I had to acknowledge the beauty and the creator of the beauty somehow. And so I sang songs.

I liked to write in my journal, just putting down the every-day occurrences of a young girl. Which friend had a crush on who, what my current crush had said to me the last time I saw him, stories of my life. Looking back through my journals it’s interesting to see how I gradually became aware that I wasn’t speaking into an empty void. Someone was listening to me. As I grew older my journals started becoming a conversation with God. A prayer. A place to vent and rant when I was upset, knowing that someone safe was listening to me. Through journaling I slowly learned the art of expressing my emotions and then learning how to be thankful anyway. I learned how to turn a complaint into a prayer request, a difficult trial into something that made me think and ponder and grow in my understanding of God and life.

Music took up a large chunk of my time. I was blessed to live close by to Laurie Casseus, who, in a fun turn of events, ended up becoming my aunt-in-law. Laurie was a singer and pianist, a missionary kid who had grown up knowing my father. She had married a Haitian, Jules Casseus: pastor, academic extraordinaire, author, among other things. The two of them assisted in the running of a Bible Seminary/University that was only two kilometers away from us. Laurie loved to share her talents with her community. She took the missionary kids under her wing and taught us piano lessons, voice lessons, had a children’s choir, and had us highschoolers working on duets and quartets and other ensembles. We sang popular songs, spoofs, hymns and classical music. I also had a full-length, weighted-keys keyboard my parents had bought me. My father had it hooked up to a car battery so that I could always play whether we had electricity or not. He also had a little lamp hooked up to the car battery so that I could see my music at night. I played that piano constantly, it was one of my only ways of expressing myself, the emotions I was feeling. I honestly don’t think I would have survived my tumultuous childhood without music. I am forever thankful to God for giving me a musical talent and to my parents for fostering that talent as much as they could and to Aunt Laurie for giving me so many opportunities to learn and grow in my music.  

One of my favorite memories of music was one night when there was no electricity, the entire valley was dark except for the small flickers of lamps and candles. There was a full moon and it was shining brightly on the ocean bay. I remember, in the silence, playing Debussy’s Clare de Lune and the music spoke to my soul. I knew what Debussy meant when he wrote the music. He meant this, this dark, moon lit night, silence, calm, peacefulness. It was a glorious experience to become one with the music and moon and the night. I remember it vividly to this day.

This past week I had been contemplating some of the more difficult aspects of life in Haiti, and I wondered if really any good had come out of me growing up there. God’s response was to flood me with memories. Memories of a childhood that was full of quiet moments and contemplation. No distractions of tv and internet and plugged-in entertainment. A childhood of music and book reading and journal writing. A childhood of nature and beauty. In the midst of the chaos God nourished my soul. I am thankful.