One of the advantages to having been a French and English double major in college is that I was actually introduced to Haitian literature in both disciplines before I ever imagined I may be living in Haiti one day. In an online summer English course, I read Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, and in my French Senior Seminar I read Haitian-Canadian authors Marie-Célie Agnant and Dany Lafferière, the first Haitian author to be admitted into the prestigious Academie Française in 2015. All of the works I read by these authors were about Haiti in some way or another.
I have recently begun to reread Laferrière’s half-poetry, half-prose novel we read in French class together, L’Enigme du Retour. In it, Laferrière recounts his return to his childhood home in Port-au-Prince after his father’s death. I’ll admit, I’m only about a quarter of the way through the book, but I do vividly remember from reading it the first time that Laferrière finds hope and a sense of personal belonging in his rediscovered Haiti, despite the societal problems he observes.
In a 1978 collection of Haitian folktales entitled The Magic Orange Tree and other Haitian Folktales (kindly loaned to me from Janet O’Flynn, a missionary currently serving at the nursing school affiliated with the Université Episcopale d’Haïti in the town of Léogâne), collector Diane Wolkstein remarks: “Yet, despite the inconsistencies, irrationalities, and intense problems of survival (in Haiti) there is an order, a sense of life, and a richness of understanding among (Haitians) that goes beyond the daily poverty and difficulties and emerges in certain of their songs, proverbs, and stories.”
Wolkstein, Danticat, Agnant and Lafferière have used the power of the written word to overcome the seemingly insurmountable heartache in Haiti. To me, however, the cultural “order” described by Wolkstein, which is made up in part of the very works mentioned above, includes not just stories and music, but an incredible love of God.
Over the past month, I have been touched by the faithfulness of the people who care about Haiti in the Episcopal Church, whether they be Haitians or of another nationality. I was touched by the genuine desire of Haitians and American and Canadian partners alike at Haiti Connection meeting in March (an annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti and its partners) to share in fellowship with one another, to worship together and to try and help build for God’s kingdom that will one day be on this earth. I have been touched by the administration of St Barnabas College, where I work, to help me plan the establishment of a library on campus. I have been touched by the sudden feeling I have that if I were to leave Haiti without telling anyone, I would truly be missed.
The underlying cultural “order” in Haiti that Wolkstein refers to in her introduction is important because it gives everyone who cares for Haiti hope. Stories and literature certainly are apart of that—but more so is the incredible Godly love that surrounds and enlivens the people and the church here. The unshakable faithfulness of all involved, the willingness to support one another, and the relationships formed in God’s image are what will create and are creating magnificent transformation in Haiti.
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16:20).