I’m not, any time soon. The title of this post doesn’t refer to a recent or imminent return to Haiti for me. Would that it did. In fact, I just made the decision not to return during a trip scheduled for next month.
The title refers to one’s impressions on returning to the place. It’s hard for some people to understand why anyone would go there in the first place, never mind return time and again. But over the past ten years I have done just that on a number of occasions. And just as it is hard for others to understand the “why”, it’s hard for me to explain. I’m not sure I understand it myself.
This week I found someone who at least did a good job of describing what goes through my heart and mind when I do return. I fancy myself a writer, but it took a real writer to put that experience into the perfect words.
For years, I’d heard about a book called “The Comedians” by Graham Greene. It takes place in Haiti, so it piqued my interest. I’m only about a hundred pages into it, but I was stopped in my tracks when I read the opening of the second chapter. Mr. Greene has captured perfectly the feeling of a return to Haiti:
I was returning without much hope to a country of fear and frustration, and yet every familiar feature as [I] drew in gave me a kind of happiness.
Somehow, fear, frustration, hopelessness, and happiness all coexist as uneasily (and as unlikely) as the wealth of mountain mansions and the poverty of Cité Soleil hovels or the idyllic beaches and the deforested mountains.
It’s crazy. It’s life out of whack. Koyaanisqatsi. Yet for many, myself included, its call is irresistible. Maybe it’s some pathetic need to try to save the world. Without going to such psychological explanations, I’ll just say that I have friends there. As you might visit a sick relative out of love rather than duty, so I long to return to a sick nation. Some missionaries refer to what they call “inverted homesickness”, a passion for a nation in great spiritual or physical need. I’d say that applies in my case.
My way to help may only be to be there for them. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Sometimes, that’s all that’s needed.