The night was moonless and the oceans were violent—that last stretch of ocean fighting our arrival not wanting to give up the shores of this place that holds so much of my love and fears. I slept a restless, perturbed sleep. This was day 35 for us, for my heart to wait, for the boat to traverse and I wasn’t sure if dawn would really come, and I would see the sun rise once again over the shores of this tree stripped island. Yet as light infiltrated the darkness, there she was…. Haiti. A word that has aroused such emotions in me since we pulled away 11 months ago- joy, sadness, longing, fear, and wonder- was suddenly a tangible solid landmass in front of me.
No more dreaming, no more voices from across the sea jolting me awake, like a lover whose spell you will never break. Haiti has haunted me. I had dreamt of this moment so many times, wondering if it would ever happen even while on our way. And yet, there I was—alone on the bow with the sun and an island knocked down by the earth and by man. The flat blue seas lying ahead of me were bringing me closer and closer to those that I have missed, dreamt of, and longed for. With a gleaming sun overhead and a glass sea beyond, we made our way down Haiti’s Southern Tip.
Eight o’clock brought us creeping into the darkened bay of Petit Goave- poking our bow into waters as familiar as the streets of my childhood. As we laid our anchor down, Ben, Noah, and I strained to identify which lights were what on shore—the UN Dock, the bright lights of the welding shop across from our corner store, the neighborhood of bigger houses where all of the big NGO groups live, our mental landscapes melding with the physical. We had to wait until day light to break to make our way to shore and clear in, but I couldn’t sleep. I found myself once again perched in the captains chair watching the lights over the bay, smelling the slightly sweaty odors and smoky food smells wafting to the boat, listening to the fisherman sing their way through the darkness to the deep water fish traps. I was enveloped in the warmth of knowing that only 200 yards from me were Bichara, Evenson, Meyomen, and my little man Cheeks.
The morning was a fury of Ben and me readying our paper work and records, getting the skiff back into the water after the transit, and preparing our new crew for what they should expect. The first group going in though was Ben, Noah, and I. It felt like the skiff couldn’t move fast enough. Immigration was a breeze, and then we were through the gates of the UN dock and back on the streets, our streets, of Petit Goave. We were shocked at how much work had been done- the streets were cleared of rubble, no tents were left, and a lot of building had happened. What had been blocks that were nothing but tents were now hundreds of one bedroom plywood homes. It was amazing. The town square had been cleared of tents and shanty homes and was clean and full of students and people sitting under the shading trees. We worked our way past the market (not a Ralphs but wonderfully familiar) and up towards Madame Feave and her bakery. 11 months after I was last there everyone recognized us—the workers in the back greeted me with a “hi, Sky’, like I had seen them the day before. Not overly emotional by any means but brought a lump to my throat.
Next we jumped onto motor Taxi’s and whipped across town to the clinic—I was so nervous. I prayed Cheeks would still be there—I had heard from almost everyone in Petit Goave since we left and knew that all of them were ok, but nothing about him. The pink pants orphan that stole my heart on my first day. Above all, it is him that wanders around my dreams. We pulled up to the clinic gates and to the huge smile from the woman who runs the small food stand in the front. We were bombarded with hugs from her and the clinic staff. Ben whisked right into the clinic checking on the supply rooms to take an inventory of what they needed and to say hello to the rest of the staff. I on the other hand made my way to the school. Cheeks’ sister spotted me first—the girl in the ripped turquoise dress—this time in a school uniform. She yelled my name and made a break for me—followed then by all 30 or so kids that I had spent so many hours with. I was surrounded, waist high, with little hands and Como Yas (how are you in Creole) but no Cheeks. After a lot of hugs I asked here Golobo was—Cheek’s nickname at the clinic—everyone pointed down the path and to the tree that he and I had played peek-a-boo around so many times. With 10 kids in tow I made my way down the dirt path. And then, just like that, there he was—he turned and saw me, stopped, and then ran into my arms. If he only knew what this moment meant to me, if only I could explain to this 4 year old little boy that for 11 months and from hundreds of miles of open ocean I had longed for this exact second, that my mind would be quieted, that it was like hugging a piece of my own heart that I left here willingly. He scrunched his nose at me and I scrunched mine back. He put his head on my shoulder and all of those fears quieted. Here he was – still orphaned, still dirty, but here alive.