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DR Chronicles 2019: Lost in translation

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.

Mummy and her children 2017

Chicago, June 2, 2017- Patrick, Mylene, Me, Mummy, & Gina

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.

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LPC with MOH Haitian translator, Robert. LPC

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.

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LPC and beautiful MOH Haitian translator, Dan’a. LPC

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.

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Last day in Santiago with these two MOH Haitian translators. They did a wonderful job! LPC

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.

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Haiti

It was confirmed last night that my trip to Haiti with my son, in less than 2 weeks, has been canceled due to the recent protests and riots regarding gas price increases. I’m very disappointed, to say the least, and mostly feel bad my 17-year son won’t have this experience for now. Of course, our safety is of most concern. Although I was going to commemorate my mom, if she knew of these developments, she too, would discourage us from going. It would also likely bring up sad memories of what it was like for her to grow up in Haiti. I can hear, in her voice, recounts of her experiences with poverty and the corrupt Haitian government. I remember stories about the terrible reign of President Jean Claude Duvalier (aka Papa Doc) and his son, Baby Doc back in the 70’s and 80’s.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week of what it must be like to live in Haiti as I’ve read several articles and watched a few videos about the protests. In my opinion, there has not been enough media coverage on the events. I suspect the riots have slow downed because I saw through my social media feed, the government was cleaning up some of the damage in Port Au Prince. I suppose what I’m getting at is there was no problem covering the chaos, but will there be as much coverage about the recovery? I can’t deny the Secretary of State Travel Advisory has Haiti on a Level 4 travel ban, the highest, which indicates “no travel” to Haiti. I’ve gleaned from people I know and others how Haiti is viewed. I wonder do people or governments (ours, theirs, others) want Haiti to succeed or do they want to continue to just refer to Haiti as the “poorest country in the Western hemisphere”…who can’t get themselves together. Google Haiti and see what you get. I get the country needs to get themselves out of their situation too. Haiti also happens to be comprised of the only people whose ancestors successfully fought themselves out of slavery and were forced to pay a large sum of money to France for that “freedom”. There’s so much complexity to why it’s poor, how to help, and how to help them help themselves.

I know how I view Haiti- a place that has a resilient, prideful people, the place where my family was born, a place with a rich culture, a place that holds the key to who I am, and a place I must visit. For all the positive reasons I want to visit, it’s the negative reasons about Haiti that prevent us from going to serve them. I also believe that pride is a sickness for the people there. Haitians are a prideful people. I see it in my family (and extended family).

Prior to the most recent riots and protests. I asked my oldest sister if we should plan a trip together to Haiti- the siblings. She indicated I was doing it the best way…through my church. My church, LifeAustin, coordinated the trip through Mission of Hope Haiti (MOH). MOH coordinates trips to Haiti with churches all over. I think there are more protections working through agencies such as this one. MOH informed our church contact they were canceling the next few trips. We don’t know for how long yet. I hope to get more answers on Sunday.

It’s definitely a bummer my son and I aren’t going at this time, but things happened as they should have. In this process, I was reminded that my family and friends will support me no matter what as we received a significant amount in financial donations from them to get us to Haiti. I was reminded, if you ask, you will receive, but again, you have to ask. There was no shame or pride in my game. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to release pride and it’s not easy.

What I ask of you is to pray for Haiti. Educate yourself on the country if you haven’t already. I come from a long line of beautiful, resilient, and strong people. One day, I will see Haiti with my own eyes.

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Faith moves

Ok. Ok. I’ve been slacking on my blog. In all fairness, I’ve had an unusually busy May with two work travel trips, Mother’s day and my birthday. May was also very emotionally draining. May served as a painful reminder that my mom is gone. I felt as though I was grieving all over again during my birthday weekend. Eventually, it passed, but it took its toll. I’m still not getting enough sleep. I feel like I’m struggling to keep up at work. I’ve decreased the duration and intensity of my workouts mostly because of my long work days. However, I did kiss goodbye my love affair with pastries, cookies, and other sweets and stopped eating them cold turkey.

I also made a monumental decision in May that is exciting and daring – my son and I are going on a week long mission trip to Haiti. When I learned our church was planning this for July, I knew I had to go to commemorate my mom, especially since July is the one year anniversary of her passing. Knowing I’m finally going to visit the island where my parents and siblings were born has eased some of my sadness from missing her. The sadness has been replaced with excitement.

Initially, I thought I would go solo, but my son, Caleb, said he wanted to go too, which surprised me…even after he learned what we would be doing. I’m really impressed that he knows the purpose of the trip is to serve and he is still all in. I’ll write more about the trip in later posts. I wasn’t completely sure how we would produce funds for both of us, but I made a faith move. We sent letters to family and friends asking them to donate on our behalf. I knew there was no turning back once I emailed the letters. We’ve already gotten some donations. Caleb is looking for a summer job to help, plus he wants to save for a new laptop.

June came with a lovely visit from my sister early in the month. What’s so sweet is she’s promised to visit us in Austin every year like my mom used to do. My mom has come to Texas more than anyone on either side of our families, which magnifies how much she supported me.

As much as I’d like to maintain some balance in my life, something inevitably comes up that tips the scales, so I have to adjust. For example, after my kids dental appointment this week, we learned one needs braces and the other needs several fillings for all the cavities in his mouth. Really?