Thursday, September 25, 2014

Death and Life in Haiti

Invite an American high school freshman to write an essay on something memorable she has experienced, and you’re likely to hear about the first rock concert she attended or her recent vacation to Yellowstone.

Invite a Haitian girl to do the same and steel yourself to read about the early deaths of her parents, the disappearance of her brother during the 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake (body never found); the motorcycle accident in the mountains that permanently scarred her arm. But these memories are balanced by joyful moments, too: astonishment at seeing the ocean for the first time while attending the MBB Leadership Training, or the excitement she could not contain on the day she was awarded an MBB Scholarship—so much so that she burst into tears, starting jumping around the house, and could not find words to explain to her neighbors her good fortune.

Death is never far away in Haiti, but that makes life each day all the more precious.  

MBB Scholars rejoice at the 2014 Leadership Training.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pesky Little Thing

All it takes is one.  One tiny, whiny, dive-bombing mosquito aiming for my ear in the dead of night.  An insect so miniscule that its mass barely registers as there at all can reduce my 120 lbs to a sleepless, irritable mockery of my usual self. 

I thrash about in the dark (as if that’s going to scare it away). I try wrapping myself in the sheet (good for approximately 10 seconds, until death by malaria, dengue fever or chikungunya seems preferable to death by stifling heat). 

I extricate myself from the mosquito net, grab my flashlight, and search for holes. Aha! a tiny rip! It might as well sport a neon sign: ENTER HERE, All Ye Who Come to Suck Blood!  I scrunch the netting around the hole, pull it into a cord and tie off the hole with a satisfied flourish. Done.  

I tuck the netting back under the mattress with great care and collapse back onto the bed, only to hear that same maddening buzz. I realize that I have sealed the mosquito inside with me. Aaargh. We begin again, Goliath v. David.  It promises to be a long night here in Haiti.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Anniversary at the Beach

48 yrs ago I entered the convent. (OK. Do the math. I entered before I was born. Ha!)  On that day back in 1966, I felt that I was giving up everything in order to surrender my life to God. What a surprise to discover, over and over, that I had it entirely backwards: abundant blessings are coming my way every day. Proof enough: here I am, nearly five decades later, on a Caribbean beach, smelling the fresh salty air, enjoying the warm breeze, watching small fishing boats ply the waters.  It’s as if God pulled this scene from the magician’s hat: “Voila! A little something for your anniversary, Marilyn.” 

You may be wondering what I am doing on a Caribbean beach… Actually I am in Haiti, participating in the annual MBB Leadership Training with 30 of our best Scholars.  We’re working, but playing, too. Above all, we are busy giving thanks simply for being here….

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Don't look if you're squeamish!"

These are the moments that age me.

The night started out as any other Haiti night: humid and pleasantly warm. Heavy rain drummed on the roof and porch of the lovely old house where I stay in Gros Morne. I had just emerged from the toilet cubicle and, without bothering to turn on the light, walked through the dark corridor to my bedroom. Another volunteer then walked into the same corridor, flipped on the light switch, and lurched backwards, yelling, “Tarantula!”  Screams echoed off the walls.

There it was: a hunched, angular mass with impossibly hairy legs scuttling along the tile floor – exactly where I’d been walking a few seconds earlier. The monster was larger than my hand and considerably scarier. Our panicky shouts brought cavalry to the rescue. Hardier residents thwacked the dense black intruder with brooms and doused it with chemical spray.  I cowered at a safe distance, afraid to look directly at the battle, but more afraid of not knowing which way the besieged tarantula might run.
Suddenly there was silence. Dust hung in the heavy air. The bravest among us scooped the corpse into a dustpan and tossed it into the garden but my drama wasn't over quite yet. Somewhere I’d read that tarantulas travel in pairs. Who knows if it’s true? Perhaps it’s an urban legend but just to be sure I spent several tense hours perched on the side of my bed, eyes scanning the floor til long past midnight... 

Yes, such are the moments that age me. (I warned you not to look.)