Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The other day, not more than 72 hours after I had arrived home from my second trip to Haiti in less than a year, someone at a party I was at, smiled, and asked, “So, how was your trip?” I took a breath, and willed away all the words, thoughts, and emotions that question brings forth in me, and said, what was the only appropriate thing I could say, given the festive setting of that moment, “It was intense”, I replied, and looked away.
How can I begin to adequately describe the heart wrenching poverty that is Haiti? How does one explain that children don’t have clothes or food, and that I watched families bathe themselves in the same water they threw garbage in, and drank from - because that’s the only thing they can do? One of the hardest things about coming back from Haiti is figuring out what you can say to whom. Because this type of poverty is inconceivable in this land of plenty, people can’t seem to wrap their minds around it – I know I couldn’t until I had seen it firsthand. Since returning, I have held my tongue after discovering that even those closest to me, couldn’t bear to hear the stories I had brought back from the Western Hemisphere’s poorest land – I can’t blame them, I generally tell tales that bring smiles, not looks of shock and horror.
So, what, besides, “It was intense,” will I tell people when they ask me about my travels? The English folktale “The Old Woman in the Vinegar Bottle” gives me a clue. It concerns a woman who lives unhappily inside of a vinegar bottle, until one day a fairy happens along. The fairy tells the woman all she must do is turn around three times, and she will get the house she deserves. The woman does so, and finds herself in a cottage by the sea. So busy is the woman with gazing at the water, that she forgets to say, “Thank you,” to the fairy. Not noticing this, the fairy flies off. After some time the fairy returns, and finds the woman is not happy with the cottage, and wants a bigger house. Again, the fairy helps her, and again, the woman forgets to give thanks. More time passes, and the fairy once again visits the woman, who now asks for a castle. Once again, the fairy gives her what she wants, and receives no gratitude. Months go by, and one day the fairy returns to find the woman angrily yelling at her, “I want my own planet!!!!” The fairy asks the woman to turn around three times as she did every other time, and this time, the woman lands right back inside of the vinegar bottle.
Just like that old woman, I forget to be grateful - for electricity, plumbing, a roof over my head, more food than I really need to eat. But being in Haiti is a powerful reminder of all I, and every other American, no matter how poor, has. It’s soooooooooooooooo easy to take things for granted, so easy to feel that the modern conveniences I enjoy are a right, and not a privilege that not everyone has access to. So what will I say when people ask, “So, how was Haiti?” I will say, “It makes me grateful for every single thing in my life.”

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