Once I began writing down my memories, I could finally relive them in my mind. Yet there was always a distance that separated me from a deeper understanding of what had made me and where I belonged. Even as I wrote, I felt a nagging need to reconnect with my ancestral land.
After my medical residency training, I finally took a trip back to Haiti. I hoped to find a link to my past, but I never really felt that connection during my time there. The true connection came, of all times, when I was returning to the United States.
On my flight home, I sat next to another gentleman from Haiti who was participating in an ongoing family project: building an entire school system and hospital in the area where the matriarch of his family grew up. As he spoke I saw his connection to Haiti, to its people, and to his own family. He offered me the chance to volunteer for the inauguration of an elementary school that his family was building there, and I jumped at this opportunity to experience Haiti in a way that I never had—as an adult, no longer a boy whose sole interests were soccer and girls.
Going back to help with my new friend’s school project reawoke me to a deeper knowledge of where I came from. I returned to Haiti for the inauguration of the first phase of the project, a two-story elementary school in Léogâne, a city on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The school is perched on top of a very steep headland that dominates the lowland regions around it. Midday, under a hot sun, the air was festive; for a brief moment I could feel the breezy warmth of my own hometown.
My eyes were fixed on the farms of sugar canes and bananas in the lowlands, extending east and west as far as the eye could see. Visions came to mind: days when my cousin and I would lose ourselves for hours in sugar cane fields that seemed to swallow us up. Suddenly I clearly remembered my first four years in Haiti, a time when my dad was still alive. Looking back now, I consider those four years a childhood paradise, a time that ended with the death of my father.
The images left as quickly as they had come. Reality set in. There were things to do and interviews to give; I needed to participate in the activities of the day, the business of helping my friend with the inauguration of his new school. Reconnecting with my home would have to wait for another time.