As I sit here writing, I look at my bookshelf which houses a piece of sculpture that my mother bought me in Haiti in 1972. It brought back some precious memories. The summer I turned 15 my parents decided on a ridiculously long family vacation. Destination — Boise Idaho, then we drove cross-country to Miami and spent a month in the Caribbean.
My dad was an educator, so every summer we had what I like to classify as “extreme vacations.” Extreme in my mind because I was an only child and my whole summer was usually spent in the back seat of a car with a couple dozen books, lots of comic books, empty notebooks and crayons and coloring books. I saw the entire United States, Canada and Mexico from the backseat of a car. We lived in Mexico City two summers as he studied there. I can still remember walking to the corner and buying fresh hot tortillas. In retrospect however, those “extreme” vacations taught me invaluable lessons in life.
My dad was a lifetime learner. We often landed in what I thought were weird places because he was either taking or teaching a class. So the summer I turned 15 he decided he needed to take a class at whatever university that’s located in Boise Idaho. Yup, Idaho. So we took off in our car to travel to Boise. Mind you, this was before the advent of the iPod, so I was stuck with my parents’ eight track system playing the same 4 tapes for 2 1/2 months. I still have those songs indelibly printed in my mind.
Back to Boise. I think that this is when I discovered I was a carb freak. I had potatoes a hundred different ways during those couple weeks and loved every minute of it. I didn’t care so much for the stares though; I think my parents and I were the only black folks in town!
From Boise we embarked on a cross -country trek to Miami. That trip was full of unforgettable experiences — including getting run out of a backwoods cafe in Mississippi because we accidentally stepped in a business that didn’t serve n******. I loved it, because I also happened to be getting in touch with my “blackness” this particular summer. (I went to all white schools for my elementary and junior high school years, and was terrified of not being black enough. So I was boning up on my Black Panther aunt’s library of Stokley Carmichael, Eldredge Cleaver, Nikki Giovanni and various African History books.)
After arriving in Miami, we hit the blue skies with a rough beginning. (Weird guy on plane sweating and clutching his briefcase was escorted off after an hour delay on the tarmac.) Our first stop was Haiti. When we landed I looked out the window and wondered where the heck I was. We landed on unpaved ground that seemed to be home for various chickens and other animals.
As we made our way into Port-au-Prince, I wondered why men with guns were staples on every corner. Then I had my history lesson about Poppa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier from my dad. Children ran after our taxi with greetings and made attempts to sell flowers for a dollar. My sheltered life smacked of privilege that I took for granted. Arrival at our hotel removed the disturbing images of the outside, yet our vacation was not meant to be spent in the hotel exclusively.
Day one in Haiti my adventurous father hired a driver to give us a tour of the island. The island was beautiful. But the neighborhoods told a different story. My mother didn’t like it for a minute — I think she was thinking of beaches and fruity drinks garnished with umbrellas. She forbade me from eating until we got back to the hotel. I complained the whole time and I was hungry. But my dad jumped right into the sausages dripping with blood. Ewwwwww. He was a great adventurer. He spoke to everyone and made friends at every stop.
Day two we went to the market and I was allowed to pick out some things that caught my eye. I chose a wooden wall sculpture, and of a woman balancing a basket on her head — the piece I’m staring at. My dad bought sandals that smelled to high heaven. My mom bought some woven pieces. I wanted fruit, but again, my mom wouldn’t let me eat anything that had a fly near it. Upon arrival back at the hotel, my mother announced that we were leaving a day early. But that did not happen, no flights out the next day.
The poverty we witnessed was clearly too much for her. It was disturbing see people living in such poor conditions. However, seeing the toll the earthquake took on this nation took my breath away. I watch the news then change the station. Watch and change. These days of instant access to information have blessings as we are not in the dark about our brothers and sisters in Haiti. And technology gives us the ability to give with a simple text message, and that’s a beautiful thing.
I don’t know if my children will visit Haiti in their life time, but they have seen the tragedy. And they are proficient at text messaging. I know, I pay the bill. If you haven’t sent at text yet for relief to Haiti, please see the ad in the upper left corner of my blog.