Where did the time go? My trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) occurred over 3 months ago. Upon our return to Texas, it didn’t take my son, Caleb, and I long to get back to our busy lives. However, the experience is implanted in my heart forever. This may be my most compelling blog post yet in my DR Chronicles series. You can read 4 other posts here, here, here , and here.
This DR trip was very personal for me. After my mom, mummy, passed away two years ago, I felt even more compelled to visit the country where she was born. My parents, grandparents, great grandparents, extended family, and siblings were all born in Haiti. As the youngest of four, I’m the only one in my immediate family who was born in the United States. I’ve always wanted to visit Haiti. I’ve asked mummy many times if we could go together, but she would say every time that she never wanted to return. She said there was nothing left. Mummy took her final trip when I was about 12 years old.
You may be wondering how we ended up in the DR when Haiti has been (and still is) the destination. Well, as it was approaching a year of mummy’s passing, I learned that my church, LifeAustin, was leading a mission trip to Haiti. I HAD to go. Caleb said he wanted to go. We had just a couple of months to gather the funds. Then, BOOM! Riots ensued in Haiti after a hike in gas prices. The U.S. Secretary of State eventually put Haiti on a Level 4 travel ban. My son and I had just gotten our malaria vaccinations. Shortly after, the trip was canceled. No trip to Haiti in 2018 although the travel ban was lifted later in the year.
Another Level 4 travel ban occurred in the beginning of 2019. At this point, the nonprofit organization, Mission of Hope, had expanded their reach to Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic, as Haitian populations in these areas continue to grow. LifeAustin decided on the DR. I was excited to go although with all of the rioting, I was beginning to see why mummy never wanted to return.
“Lost in Translation” is a fitting title for this post because most people don’t know I have 3 half-learned languages swirling around in my head. I grew up with Kreyol (I’ve also seen it spelled Creole…maybe that’s the Louisiana version-I’ll research later) and French, took 3 years of high school Spanish (I preferred French, but couldn’t take it…long story), and took 2 years of college French. Mummy told me I only spoke Kreyol until I was about 3 years old. Here lies the complication of attending a mission trip in a Spanish speaking country with Kreyol, French, and Spanish speaking Haitians.
I attempted to use some of the language I knew while in the DR, and at times, I was so tongue tied. For example, at one of the women’s meetings, most of the women spoke Spanish and a few spoke Kreyol. As more women joined, I found myself not responding in the appropriate language or not knowing what to say altogether. The language barrier was definitely frustrating. I think it’s even more frustrating to comprehend what is being said, but not be able to respond. This is me.
Despite the language barrier, what I do think was translated was respect and love.
The experience of being in the DR and not knowing the language reminded me of the judgement I’d felt growing up in Chicago, which has a relatively large Haitian population. I didn’t feel judgement from anyone in the DR (except from probably my own self-judgment), but the memories resurfaced. Was it my fault I couldn’t speak Kreyol or French? Was it mummy’s fault? How do I hold onto the Haitian customs and language, and not be too American, although I’m American. These are not pleasant memories. Growing up, I had a constant feeling of inadequacy.
I lived in multiple worlds: the American world, the Haitian world, the African-American world, the white world, the Catholic world, and the Jehovah’s Witness world. Each world had its own rules and norms. I never felt like I was fully accepted into any of them. Yet, I was expected to navigate in and out of each world seamlessly. I know now it was an impossible feat.
It wasn’t until I met a Haitian nurse in my early twenties at my doctor’s office that I started feeling less inadequate about not speaking Kreyol or French. She knew I was Haitian by my name and encouraged me not to feel bad about myself because I didn’t speak the language. She said there are many Haitians like me. When I looked in her eyes, I saw acceptance.
My absolute favorite part of the DR trip was getting to know the Haitian translators hired by Mission of Hope. They were the closest I got to speak, for an extended period of time, to Haitians. I wanted to hear their thoughts on Haiti – the people, country, politics, and poverty. I was so impressed that they each moved to the DR, learned Spanish and a new culture while maintaining their native languages. In a way, I was envious.
I’m proud of each of them and admire their resilience. I come from a resilient people. I’ve witnessed this resilience in my family. I’m resilient. I particularly bonded with Pierreson (cover photo). If I had a little brother, it would be Pierreson. Both Pierreson and Robert have a protective presence. They’re strong and confident. They have families of their own to support. They’re admirable men.
The whole experience of the DR had me vowing to make steps to learn Kreyol and French more fluently. I don’t know where to begin. When do I find the time? I welcome suggestions from my readers. I haven’t given myself a timeline, but this is definitely a goal. I’ve done a little bit of exploring, but haven’t committed yet. Writing this blog post has served as a reminder.
I’m eternally grateful mummy made a way for her children to experience a better life in the United States…not without a lot of help. I knew of her experiences of hunger and trauma in Haiti. Yet, she made a way for us. How do you translate that feeling? Even though I’m here in the United States and have never been to Haiti, my heart is with my people in Haiti. I may not speak the language, but Haiti is in my blood. I will always be a proud Haitian.