I am thankful to be alive today. I don’t mean that in the general, universal sense (while that would also be true). I mean that I am glad that I didn’t die yesterday. Let me explain.
When you live in Haiti and your car is broke down or being used by somebody else (if you’re one of the very fortunate few people that owns a car), then you have a variety of alternative options for transportation. There are the livestock options: Either a mule for mountain travel or one of the tiny horses used for provincial trail trotting. The latter look overburdened by Haitian riders, who are typically not too big. I think one of these micro-steeds would snap in half under the weight of my well-fed American booty, if it weren’t for the fact that my feet would probably still touch the ground if I were to mount one.
The more common transportation options in the city are the “tap tap” or the “moto taxi”. Tap taps are 80’s junker pickup trucks with bright custom paint jobs in primary colors, extended covered back ends with bench seats, and various other contraptions welded to the truck bed to maximize occupancy and profit. A ride in a tap tap reminds me of what it might be like if a county carnival ride broke and your “squirrel cage” went rolling down the road, stopping to let all the 4H people join the ride accompanied by their animals. Only, a liberated squirrel cage or Tilt-A-Whirl might actually get you to your destination more quickly. This is why when I needed to buy a Thanksgiving turkey in Petionville (Port Au Prince’s wealthy uncle on the hill) I opted for the moto taxi.
The “moto” is a motorcycle with extra foot pads for a passenger (or 3, depending on how desperate for money the driver is, or how desperate for transportation the passengers are). I tried to explain to the moto driver that I was going to the fancy new market to buy a “giant chicken”. He looked at me cross-eyed. From the rest of our interactions, I’m not sure if that had anything to do with what I was saying. Maybe that was just how he looked, which ought to have raised questions about his ability to drive a motorcycle through the crowded Haitian streets. However, my better judgment yielded to the simple fact that he said he knew how to get where I needed to go and he had a functioning set of wheels.
Just two weeks ago I watched as a mototaxi driver got caught on somebody else’s rearview mirror and landed in the street like one of the stormtroopers that were clotheslined off of their speeders by Ewoks in The Return of the Jedi. I only witnessed this whole event in my rearview mirror because I was so incredulous that the same mototaxi driver had passed my car at 20+ mph from 5 millimeters away without killing himself or somehow etching the side of my car.
The average Haitian street is an obstacle course when there aren’t any cars on the road. Man-holes and storm drains have long had their iron stolen by welders desperate to turn a profit, or by cooks looking for a grill. Pot holes are filled with large rocks rather than new pavement, making them larger in the long run as the filler grinds away in all directions. May roads are not paved at all, or, locals tell me, are paved under many layers of dust and sludge runoff from years of tropical storms and government neglect. My driver wove through traffic like a frustrated figure skater trying to complete a routine in a crowded locker room. He would nudge his way between two moving vehicles only to find a wall, a hole, or another vehicle on the other side of each obstacle. Twice he got stuck in the gutter of the road, a river of dirty rain water and litter attempting to push us back down the hill or tip us into the drink. When we arrived at the market I reminded myself to begin breathing again, not sure whether I had stopped because of the dust that was pelting my face, the black exhaust that gushed from decrepit Mack trucks, or just because my subconscious was experimenting with what it would be like when a motorcycle crash stole my last breath.
The supermarket is a radical contrast to the Haitian streets. It feels like you have walked through a portal, warping across space into an American grocery store. The only things that remind you that you are still in Haiti are the smattering of french products, the clear majority of black customers and employees, and the use of the threat of Cholera to market products like soap, hand sanitizer, and PediaLyte. Oh yeah, and the astronomical prices on all the imports. Thus the turkey, a big guy at 27 lbs, cost $3.40 per lb. I never thought I would know what it is like to get raped by a turkey. Nonetheless, I am thankful for this expensive, but well managed new grocery store. It is cheaper than some of the other supermarkets, and it feels most like a little bit of a taste of home, when I need it. The other grocery store that really served that purpose fell down in the earthquake, killing a bagger who had become a friend to our family. The loss of the store and of him, was a big hit to us emotionally. Can you imagine if the place you always go to get your groceries collapsed? These are things we will not take for granted again. In fact, I think that if I were to write a list of things I am thankful for, well run Haitian businesses would take up much of that list. They create order and peace, not just in their facade, but in the calm that comes over a family when a parent is employed. The money that good businesses create gets spent in Haiti, thus stabilizing other businesses. Often these are the secondary businesses, or the businesses of the poor merchant selling fruit or dry pasta from a basket on the side of the road. Now if we could just stop importing everything….
So, my moto-man and I made the great descent down the bumpy road from Petionville to my house. I held the 27 lb frozen turkey in his lap while straddling him, making for what I’m sure the Guinness Book would agree was the most awkward trans-racial, cross-cultural, inter-gendered, strictly hetero hug in the history of the universe. We weaved through spaces between cars that I’m pretty sure I’m too big to have walked between. In fact, I’m pretty sure the turkey, God rest his soul, would have been too big to have walked between the spaces we drove that motorcycle through. My well fed American booty bounced off the seat a few times when we hit unmarked “sleeping policemen” (what the Haitians call their speedbumps). Motoman’s leg kept slipping off his foot peg under the weight of the turkey, making it difficult for him to properly shift, and as a result, causing the engine to rev at high rpms. The resulting noise made sure to include all those who had been previously left out from the staring party we had created. A bird that big, a “blan” that big, a motorcyle that loud…. I’m sure motoman was really glad his helmet hid his face.
My trip reminded me, like every time that I drive in Haiti, of the many, many things I have to be thankful for. Owning a car that sometimes works is sheer wealth in comparison to the majority of the people who live on this planet. Buying a really expensive and humongous turkey because that’s what EVERYBODY does where I come from, is total extravagance here: a month’s wages for somebody fortunate enough to have found employment. As we drove, I saw the usual sights… the fallen buildings, the rubble, the people washing hands and feet in dirty puddles. I saw people who likely had no family to go home to, and I felt such immense gratitude that none of my family was lost in the earthquake, or to the storms, or to cholera. I think of how much I love and enjoy and thank God for my kids just for who they are and for Shelley as the best friend I could have ever asked for. I saw a woman, presumably mentally ill, walking in the middle of the road wearing nothing but a dirty shirt, the rest of her naked body covered by mud. I could picture Jesus in my mind, wrapping a beautiful robe around her, as I thought to myself, “when his kingdom is finally completely here, I will never see these kinds of things again.”
The words, “I am making all things new” have been echoing through my mind these days. Sometimes they are booming through my skull as if in a haunted empty cave, taunting me with the many things I see that are not being made new. There is so much broken. There are such terrible disasters. Zebedee asked me the other day, “What would we do if there was an earthquake and a hurricane at the same time?” The fact that his question is a reasonable one, and one that I have no answer for, makes “I am making all things new” a painful declaration. There is so much wealth in this world that is ignoring so much poverty. There are so many old hurts that do not yield to forgiveness. There are so many fears that do not bow to Love. There are so many governments and powers manipulating human “capital”… where is the Kingdom of God? Where are all things being made new? Sometimes Jesus’ words are bitter to me. A painful sting of unrealized hope. Sometimes Jesus’ hope is revolting.
There is a place near my house where kidnappers used to execute the rich who resisted payment, or couldn’t find friends to pay for their freedom. The street kids talk about the dead bodies they saw there. That place has also become the trash dump in our neighborhood. Everything unwanted, broken, and dead goes there to be burnt or consumed by birds and worms. When our dog died I took him there and laid him under some dirt and trash. Gehenna.
But right now, Gehenna is covered in corn and flowering squash plants. The green is so thick in some places that you can’t see through the foliage to the underlying filth. New corn shoots sometimes grow what seems like 6 ft overnight. The abundant spread of life seems unstoppable. Sometimes, that is what those words, “I am making all things new” do inside of me. There are bursts of faith sprouting up through all of this muck of broken history, telling me, “NO! Seriously, Corrigan, I AM making all things new!” I feel it when I see all the home construction that Shelley has coordinated. I feel it when I walk into the artisan center and there is no place to sit because so many smiling Haitian friends are making beautiful jewelry out of garbage to sell to people with money to spare. I feel it when I look at my black and white children playing together with no clue that they are radical signs of a reversal in the history of hatred. I feel it as I see babies live that might have died were it not for the love of Shelley and the community of people here supporting Makensia, and a community of our friends and supporters around the globe helping to keep us going. But the thing about these feelings is that I feel within them the stronger river of God’s slow and steady move towards ultimate victory, like a flood that will cover all the earth. Love endures like nothing else, and where love increases, so does life. This hope is radical, standing up against the order of things… from life to death, and demanding that it reverse. “Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’” There is a revolution going on… an overthrow of power, as the kingdom of God is coming to earth. Jesus’ hope is ALWAYS revolting.
This Thanksgiving, as I still fight fear of another earthquake, as finances are tight, as I feel emotionally broken, as we struggle to know what to do about theft and dishonesty in our community, as the sands under our feet just feel altogether shifty, this verse spoke to me:
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” Hebrews 12:28
A kingdom that will not fall. Crimes whose penalties are paid for by the judge. Death that springs into life. Untouchable disease and uncleanness being made clean by touch. The poor and weak and ashamed being honored by the wealthy and powerful and famous. The afraid overcoming through love. That is not the order of things.
God must be revolting… and I am thankful.