Four of my five Haitian born children are siblings, born in the mountains above Cabaret. I’ve been twice before. It is fascinating to be allowed to participate in the life of a rural Haitian family for the day, and I am considered one of the family. We were counting on Garlise to remember the way, because I surely cannot after just two visits. Garlise hasn’t had a visit for three years, but he did live here until he was twelve and he has an excellent sense of direction.
We drove for two hours on National Route 1, North along the coast on what is probably Haiti’s best road. Dennis managed to reach speeds that made me mildly uncomfortable as we whipped past children and livestock right by the side of the highway. The land becomes a desert North of Port-au-Prince. Some of the land is not in use at all, which is unusual for Haiti. Denis tried to drive his van along the dirt road up into the mountains, but I begged him to stop before he caused any damage to his vehicle and main source of income. It is quite incomprehensible to my colleagues in Haiti that I like to walk in the country.
Before we even reached our stopping point, Garlise and neighbors had already recognized each other. And just a little while further on, we came across a woman sitting on a donkey. We had almost passed her before Garlise and I recognized her at the same instant – Miracia! The birth mother of my children!! We had learned of her survival a week earlier, but I was still weak with relief to see her with my own eyes.
We abandoned the van, sending Denis back to Cabaret to wait more comfortably and started up the mountain in a train – one loudly complaining burro, two neighbors carrying various tools and supplies, Miracia, Garlise, and I. We received joyful greetings from everyone who knew Garlise and puzzled looks from those who did not. It was great fun to see how surprised everyone was to see Garlise as he is now. He has grown eight inches and gained forty pounds. He is not the little boy who left Haiti four years ago.
After a half hour walk, slowed somewhat by the reluctance of the donkey, we arrived at the farm where Miracia lives. It’s about five acres, mostly surrounded by a fence constructed of living shrubs. It seems everything here in Cabaret has thorns – even the trees. Pitimi (a grain similar to millet) is grown here, and Garlise’s stepfather owns quite a bit of livestock. The small concrete house is about 8’ x 10’. It was damaged in the earthquake, but is repairable. The other buildings are ‘kay pay’ – woven stick and thatch structures. They are somewhat temporary and one of the most common forms of housing in Haiti.
Miracia wanted to cook us a feast, and was upset that she didn’t have any meat. Garlise and I stopped her from running to the neighbors to borrow some. We explained that we came to visit, not to eat. I added that we all already knew that Miracia was an excellent cook, which made everyone laugh and Miracia smile with great pleasure.
We lugged my laptop all the way up the mountain so that we could show everyone a slide show of our four children at home in the US. Such a contrast – my 21st century laptop in an environment that is unchanged from how it would have been when the island was first colonized.
My Haitian born children have had a very different lot in life from the kids here in Cabaret. We met a half-brother who is eleven years old and the size of an American seven or eight year old. He and his older brother (my kids’ stepbrother) came over dressed in their Sunday best. They were not clothes that we would have thought of as special here. They both wore their shoes over, although children and even many adults save their shoes for special occasions. The Haitian expression for being poor is “I am feet on the ground” (barefoot) is not just a figure of speech. Shoes are a luxury item in Cabaret. This village is very different from that I visited above Bainet a year ago. Perhaps it is the harsh desert environment that makes life so hard. On this particular trip, I did not see any children who were obviously malnourished. Previously I have seen many with the dry, yellow-red hair and bloated bellies of Kwashiorkor, protein deprivations malnutrition. I did see many who were quite small.
As people filtered in to visit throughout the day and Garlise made a running round of friends’ and relatives’ houses, I was once again amazed at the generosity of the Haitian people. If anyone felt anything but pride and joy at Garlise’s good luck, they did not show it. I heard and saw nothing to indicate envy at his nice clothes, his education, his future plans to go to University.
It’s almost impossible for me, as an American born into an assurance of comfort and security, to imagine what it is like to be Haitian. When I first met Miracia face to face, during our adoption of Garlise’s three younger siblings, I asked her through an interpreter if she really wanted to do this. Miracia said simply that she wanted all of her grandchildren to live. She wanted all of her children to have an opportunity for a better life. She remains grateful to me for raising her children. I cannot really comprehend how, because I am so grateful to her for allowing me to do exactly the same thing. International adoption is certainly not the solution to the problems of a struggling nation, but it certainly has brought great joy to our two families and the children we have in common.
Garlise came back to the farm where he’d left me at a gallop just as the day was ending, grinning, dirty, covered with sweat, and surrounded by relatives. We took a few big group photos and had to leave to get home before dark. Next time he’ll stay for a few days to have more time to see everyone. So glad that after all, he is still Haitian.