Let’s Go Flaneuring in Haiti

Today we are flaneuring with Ruth Hersey in Haiti. Enjoy! I have to say I love one photo in particular, I think you’ll be able to guess which.

I step out of my gate and try to look at my street with fresh eyes.  I’ve lived in my house for 13 years, and the general area for longer than that, so each sight has layers of memories.

Sure, the rocky road is peaceful now, but remember that time protesters were burning tires right in front of the gate?They raise chickens at that house for cockfights.  The cockfighting ring used to be right there, but they knocked it down to make room for the house next door.  Come to think of it, there used to be a lot of colorful characters that hung out there; probably that move raised the general tone of the area.

That wall is a second attempt; the first one fell right down, into the ravine.  The neighbors pulled out chairs and watched while the owner worked on pulling his truck up the side of the hill!

I remember running down this road at 5 PM the afternoon of the earthquake, seeing fear in every face.  I remember seeing people sleeping in the streets because they didn’t trust that their houses wouldn’t collapse on them.

I remember when those houses down there were new; a friend used to call that area Miami because of the paved streets and because the houses were so big.  Also, because she hadn’t spent much time in Miami.

It’s a mostly quiet residential neighborhood.  Quiet except when someone’s having a party, or when dogs or roosters chorus at all hours.  Quiet except when there are gunshots, either rejoicing at someone’s soccer goal or scaring off intruders.  Quiet except for the calls of merchants, selling their wares from buckets or baskets on their heads, describing loudly what they have today.

Everyone in my neighborhood lives behind walls.  The walls have barbed wire or broken bottles across the top.  The houses have dogs.  Some have security guards with guns.

And yet, the people you meet are friendly.  They greet me, and though they call out “Blan,” it’s not usually insulting, but almost informationally, as a way of pointing out to me, as though I’d forgotten, that I’m a foreigner with white skin.  People are selling kitchen equipment, clothes, notebooks for school, soap, matches.  Some practice their English on me.  Others ask for money.

There’s a school, a government building, a church; there are chickens, goats, and stray dogs; there’s the chicken man, whose cooking we sometimes buy for dinner on the way home; there’s a lady selling candy and sodas.  Sometimes there’s a dead rat in the road; sometimes there’s a vehicle shaped like a rat belonging to the exterminators.  There are some abandoned cars and there’s a carwash.  There’s a spot where kids regularly play soccer in the middle of the road.  There are shoeshine men and people carrying brooms on their heads.  There’s a corner bar.  On New Year’s Day, the air is fragrant with pumpkin soup, the traditional celebratory meal.

rat car
I never feel unsafe walking in my neighborhood.  Even at the height of the kidnapping time, it felt fine.  After the earthquake my husband showed around a journalist from a major publication who was horrified to be out on foot because her editors had told her it was much too dangerous.  It wasn’t, he told her.

There’s a ravine full of trash.  When water pipes break in the streets (and they often do), people come from everywhere with buckets.  See that transformer?  We got together with our neighbors to buy it, because the city power company wasn’t going to replace or fix the one they had issued us, without which we couldn’t get their service.

From first light until well after dark, there’s always something going on in my neighborhood.  Maybe it’s a domestic squabble, maybe a teenager is going by way too fast on his ATV, maybe children in uniform are hurrying to or from school.  On Saturdays, the flower merchant brings a fresh bouquet to my door.  One morning last week, there was a fire burning in the center of the street, but it was just someone’s trash, not protesters.

Who am I kidding?  I can’t look with fresh eyes.  But I can look with amused eyes, curious eyes, loving eyes.  Lakay se lakay, home is home, they say in Kreyol.  This street, this neighborhood, this is home.

Ruth has spent 18 years in Haiti.  She is married with two children, both born in Haiti, and she teaches seventh and eighth graders at an international Christian school.  She blogs, mostly about books and poetry, at www.thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com.

Painting Pictures: Tribute to a Pioneer

painting pictures risingA few week’s ago a Painting Picture post came from an MK, a military kid. Today’s post comes from another MK, a missionary kid. I am raising DWKs (I guess?), development worker kids. And in the future we’ll hear from business kids and diplomat kids and more. I adore this about the series, the way it brings diverse people together and gets us talking, one of my major blogging goals. Ruth’s post today is a moving tribute to one of the pioneers in the TCK conversation. Through working together we discovered a common friend, on a third continent. And there also, is something I love about the series and TCKs and being an expat. Sometimes we feel alone and then between Haiti, Uzbekistan, and Djibouti there comes a link and we aren’t alone anymore.

 Tribute to a Pioneer

We almost didn’t go to the session. I don’t remember what the alternative was, but I know we hesitated, my newlywed husband and I, dazed by all the options at Urbana 90.  We had come to find the world and hadn’t been disappointed.  There were speakers from several continents and every international Christian organization you could name was there, recruiting.  Ever since we’d started dating after getting to know each other at an MK Fellowship event at Asbury College, we’d known that we wouldn’t spend our lives in the United States.  We wanted to go somewhere else.  There was a whole world out there.  We knew that from experience; he’d grown up in Japan and I in Kenya.

We couldn’t resist this particular session, billed as an MK Meetup, and turned aside from whatever enticing international smorgasbord offering was taking place at the same time, and entered a lecture hall full of people.  A white-bearded man introduced himself as Dave Pollock and asked people to come to write the name of their school on a white board.  Before long the board filled with names of schools from every country you’ve ever heard of and some you probably haven’t.

I don’t remember what Dave said that day, mostly because it was so exciting to be in a room with so many TCKs, some of whom, it turned out, we knew.  (That tends to happen when TCKs get together – you always have a person or place in common, even if you don’t know each other.)  I do know that I learned that term that day: TCK.  That’s what we were, Dave told us, Third Culture Kids.  I have Dave’s book in front of me as I write, and I’m sure what he said was something similar to what he wrote in the introduction: “It is my conviction that being a TCK is not a disease, something from which to recover.  It is also not simply okay – it is more than okay.  It is a life healthily enriched by this very TCK experience and blessed with significant opportunities for further enrichment.”  He always presented himself as a “wannabe TCK,” and even though he recognized the challenges we faced, it was obvious he loved being around TCKs.

Four years later we met Dave again.  We had finished graduate school and moved overseas; spent a year teaching at an international school in Haiti and returned to the States for the summer. We did temp jobs and waited to see what would happen with Haiti’s political situation and whether we’d be able to return.  A friend of ours worked with international students at a nearby college.  She called one day to tell us she thought we’d enjoy a Re-entry Seminar the college was hosting, led by a guy called Dave Pollock.  We were working during the day, but drove over that evening.

Our friend was right – the session was life-changing for both of us.  Dave quite simply told us who we were.  He explained the challenges and the benefits of being TCKs, and in his trademark way, illustrated every point with wonderful stories, collected over the years from hundreds of TCKs.  (In time we got into his presentation, too, as he told people about Steve taking me out for sushi to vet me while we were dating.)

When we got back to Haiti, we told our administrators about Dave and his seminar, and eventually he visited Haiti three times and had dinner with us in three different houses.  It’s hard to believe I spent as little time with Dave as I did because he became such an important part of our lives.  Some examples of his effect on us:

A Haitian-American kid living with us said, “That guy is the first person in my life that ever understood me.” 

I was listening to Dave speak in our school chapel when a friend called and said, “Go home and turn on the TV.”  I did, in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center.  Dave was there for our students, helping them process the news.

Dave prayed with us as we grieved a miscarriage.  I remember he told God about “the heaviness” we feel, we human beings.

Dave often preached from 2 Peter, saying it was the epistle to TCKs, because it’s written to exiles.  I can’t read those five chapters, ever, without thinking of him.

Dave and his wife Betty-Lou sat in our living room as I nursed our second child and they talked about the loss of their own son.

And then on Easter Sunday, 2004, we lost Dave too.  He’d been doing a seminar in Vienna, Austria.  It was somehow fitting that he was a long way from home.

Even though Dave has been gone a long time now, I still find myself thinking of him in moments of crisis, and wondering what wise words he would have had.  After the earthquake in Haiti, when I was evacuated with our two TCKs to the US, while my husband stayed behind, I thought of Dave again and again.

It’s hard to narrow down what Dave did for those of us TCKs who grew up before all the variety of help there is now, the understanding, the seminars.  Dave was the pioneer.  For so many of us, he was the first one who helped us find our name. We could accept being TCKs as a rich gift, while at the same time acknowledging the losses it had brought us.  Dave used to say the Great Commission went hand in hand with the Great Commandment.  God wanted us to go into all the world, but He also wanted us to love one another, to care for one another.  Dave cared for us TCKs.  I loved him and I won’t ever forget him.


Third Culture Kids, the book, by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken

Educated in four countries (Kenya, England, the United States, and France), Ruth Bowen Hersey is a TCK married to a TCK (from Japan) and raising two TCKs.  She teaches 7th and 8th graders at Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she has lived for 17 years.  She blogs, mostly about books and poetry, at thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

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