Joy by Maya Reagan
Over four months ago, Maya Reagan, a Fayetteville, NC college student, on leave from college, left to serve as a volunteer at St. Gabriel's School in Haiti. Recently returned, Maya shares thoughts on her experience and its affect on her life. She has aptly entitled the piece "Joy"
I could have never imagined how difficult it would be, to sum up 4 months of my life in a few short paragraphs. Over the course of my education, I have been called upon to write numerous literary pieces ranging from plays and essays to research papers and lab analysis, but none have been as difficult as this. How can I say so little about a country and its people that take up such a large part in my heart? And even if I say more than a few sentences or paragraphs how can I make sure that my recollection does my experience justice?
I've started this reflection seven times in the past month and a half, always getting half way and then trashing it because it seems that no matter what I write, the words on the paper don't accurately depict what I want to say. Though as I look back through all of my half-written reflections the recurrent theme seems to be very simple- joy.
When I lived in Haiti I had the opportunity to travel within the country, and no matter where I went I experienced inexplicable and in many ways incomprehensible poverty. Just when I thought I'd seen it all I'd turn down another street, crowded with men, women, and children sizzling under the scorching sun, shooing flies from their sweaty bodies while attempting to sell their USAID rice, donations, and produce from their gardens. It would be at that point, that I'd be forced to think again. Yet through the stench and grime, I continued to witness this contagious joy. It was hidden behind the hunger in the eyes of the children, it ricocheted off the walls of the churches and schoolhouses, and it could be heard in the animated conversations between friends and neighbors.
One of my favorite memories from my time in Haiti was my 4th or 5th soccer practice with the local girl's team. I had set practice at 3:00 pm so that we might be finished by the time the afternoon thunderstorm set in but the girls had a different plan. They moseyed onto the field at 3:45 pm (you know how teenage girls are) and by the time we'd finished stretching it had begun to pour, turning the dirt field into a massive mud puddle. Quickly analyzing the situation (and my pastel colored clothing) I turned to tell the girls to go home but I instead turned to find a scrimmage game quickly forming. We played a very rudimentary scrimmage game for an hour and a half and I remember pausing in the middle of the game, tilting my head toward the sky, closing my eyes and listening. I smiled as I heard the girls yell to each other, bare feet slapping the mud as they ran, and giggling with sheer joy and happiness when they fell down. As I type this it brings tears to my eyes because it is that kind of joy I wish I could bottle up and have the average American experience.
Unfortunately, what most developed countries are exposed to regarding the country of Haiti is not the joy but rather the pain and suffering. It is the political unrest and the never-ending cry for financial support that we hear about in the media. Do we hear about the happiness? Do we hear about how at six o'clock the air starts to cool down and everything comes alive? You can smell the bouillon cubes sizzling in their oversized metal pots- a preparation for dinner, and the sound of upbeat konpa music can be heard for miles. The joy is unmistakable at this hour, but for some reason, that isn't what makes the news. There is absolutely pain, malnutrition, unjust living conditions, corruption, and poverty, BUT the joy shines that much brighter in the midst of chaos.
Once I recognized this underlying theme in my memories and reflections I had to answer this question of why. Why are they so joyous in the messiest, marginalized, and desperate conditions? The answer is predictable. God.
If you flip through the Book of Psalms you will find numerous joyful statements that are more often than not found amidst pain, hardship, and difficult circumstances. Joy is something that comes directly from God himself and can be present even when times are tough, the Haitian people are a living example of this. They have such strong faith in the joy of the Lord that even if everything else fails the one thing they will always have their faith. "Mèsi Bondye" means "Thanks to God" in Creole and is often worked into almost every conversation and is a constant reminder to both the speaker and the listener that no matter what- God is good.
Let's be joyous.
Let's have unwavering faith in Him and His plan.
And let's have in shine through our messy, chaotic, fast lives for all to see.
Mèsi Bondye. Ou se bon, toujou. (Thank you, God. You are good, always)
Epi si se pa...Li toujou bon.
And if not...He is still good.