Together we flourish.
At the beginning of the year I was caught up in the phrase I first saw on a school bus turned public transport: together we move forward. After all, Haiti cries for advancement and progress requires us to work together to move forward. It wasn’t until I visited a bakery/pizza place creating sustainable jobs a few weeks ago that I realized the overall insufficiency of that phrase for the work I would like to do in the coming years. The social enterprise goes by “Fleri” and at the bottom of the menu it states “Ansanm N’ap Fleri,” or together we flourish.
While eating my delightful bbq chicken pizza with local mango salsa and reading the tagline at the bottom of the menu, it hit me that I am so over mediocrity. I am tired of just trying to move forward. It is exhausting just fighting to get through today. Where is the hope in that? The people of Haiti deserve so much more than my average attempts to gingerly keep stepping in the right direction. It’s going to take bold and difficult destruction of broken systems to build back sustainable change in Haiti, and it is going to take decades of pushing to not merely move forward but to flourish. This process of relearning and creating must be done together, an extended coalition of disciplines from the local government to the foreign NGOs and everything in between.
Now don’t get me wrong, some days moving forward one step is all I can muster and it is a win compared to the days I feel like I have taken a few steps back. In quickly approaching the completion of my first year in Haiti, I see that it has taken that long to establish a new semi-normal and to even begin to ‘figure things out.’ Sometimes moving forward is a huge step towards progress in my work and understanding of Haiti, and there is an abundance of grace on the days that I find myself back where I started but with a new understanding of what will not work. When I get frustrated at the lack of moving forward or flourishing I see within and around me, it is good to be reminded that work and life is about the process and small victories that come along the way. Sometimes it is more about the people who I get to love and do life with each day than seeing the tangible results today.
What I like more about flourishing is the focus on cultivating an environment for people and businesses to succeed. It is about creating a culture of excellence and grace, where people are given all they need to triumph and a safe place to retreat to when things don’t quite go as planned. Flourishing encompasses moving forward but takes it that next step in moving from surviving to thriving. It’s the difference between zeroing in on my work for today and looking beyond to how the steps taken today will culminate in sustainable change for the coming generations.
It’s excited to think about a flourishing Haiti in the decades to come, and with great anticipation I patiently wait to see how today and tomorrow’s steps will continue to shape and write the future.
April was quite possibly the month of the greatest juxtaposing experiences and emotions in my life. Never before have I simultaneously felt so joyful and sorrowful, so hopeful and disheartened, so social yet so introverted, so full of love to give yet selfish. At the beginning of the month I met with an abundance of people working to create a flourishing environment in their job creation efforts through baking, wholesale bread sales, sewing, beekeeping, etc. I was even able to get my hands on a copy of business training curriculum geared towards preparing people to successfully run small businesses and repay micro loans—all in Haitian Creole and created for people who cannot read or write to be able to understand and utilize. These world changers shared their wins and losses, their failures that led to today’s success, and above all the hope that they have found and helped to create amid devastating loss.
While their stories of resilience were inspiring, I continued to dwell on the bad parts and couldn’t help but chase the trail of what ifs in my life. I let the voices of doubt and fear overcome their uplifting experiences. I let my many ‘pivots’ of the past year lead me to wonder if anything I try next will ever ‘work’ for Disciples’ Village and the people I so dearly long to see have their hope and dignity restored.
Returning to the US and Belmont for my midterm presentation also brought with it a slew of emotions that I was not expecting. It began with several tearful moments early in the morning before my departure for Miami. After being dropped off at the airport in Port au Prince, I cried with remorse for leaving the country and people I love for even a short time. When sitting and drinking my coffee in the terminal, I cried with a stranger over our inability to express and verbally communicate to our loved ones what we get to see, feel, and experience in Haiti. He has been here for 30 years to my one, but we share a deep love and hurt for the people who have become family to us. Once on the ground in Nashville, I was bursting at the seams with insight and experiences that I wanted to share with anyone willing to give the time to listen, but I soon found myself withdrawing and too weary to even formulate coherent sentences.
Being back home in Nashville/at Belmont and then Pinckneyville usually fills me up with the umph I need to keep going for the next few months in Haiti, but this time I found myself both elated to reconnect with loved ones and saddened that moving forward in life means leaving them behind for long periods of time. Before this stint home I would not have classified living and working in Haiti as a ‘sacrifice’. Sure there are conveniences and things that I sometimes miss like my car/transportation, non-work events to go to in my car (i.e. coffee shops with friends), easily accessible healthy foods, smooth roads, less heightened awareness of surroundings, and curling up in my cool bed on a Sunday afternoon. But often in Haiti the joys outweigh the things that rarely pop up on my radar as a ‘loss’.
This time at home, I began yearning for the relationships I miss out on in the US due to my detached presence long before I boarded the plane back to Haiti! It was so unusual. And I had to guard myself from thinking of the things I am having to ‘sacrifice’, because no matter where I end up in life, I want to be willing to lay it all down in obedience to the One who gave His very life for me.
Anyways, I ended up crying both leaving and returning to Haiti. But I am ever so thankful for loved ones and relationships and good memories that make leaving both places so difficult. I’m truly beginning to feel and understand when Miriam Adeney says, “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
April also came with its fair share of triumphs and moments that made me laugh at myself. I tried to begin doing things that I have been hesitant towards for a while, like driving farther in Haiti than my comfortable 10-15 minutes each way and running a half marathon in Nashville that has been unattainable until I decided to make it happen. Under my left eye was also bitten by a bug less than a week before my trip to the US, and I foolishly let the nasty swelling keep me in my room for half a day until I felt presentable enough to venture out after hours of icing and allergy medicine. Looking back, I laugh at the happenings that seem so monumental at the time yet insignificant now. With the right motivation and fuel, miles can be both driven and ran and the swelling will go down. It’s interesting to ponder what I have let keep me from flourishing.
As May begins I want to take time to breathe and take an inventory of what emotions are running through my body. I want to remember the victories and the losses, the sacrifices and the gains, the times I cowered in fear and the moments where I overcame. ‘May’ this be the month where I make the conscious decision to move from surviving to thriving and bring others with me along the way.