Our first day in Haiti, we traveled from Port-au-Prince to Caneille, located in the rural Central Plateau. During the long car trip, I looked out the window in wonder. Each new visual told a story. The landscape changed from urban scenes to mountain views to rolling-hill farmland. The sights were abundant and interesting: tap-taps carrying large numbers of people, kids hauling water uphill on makeshift wheel barrows, roadside markets, women balancing big loads upon their heads, motorcycle gatherings, kids playing cards, laundry drying on bushes, and trucks packed to the brim (beyond the brim) in creative if unsafe ways.
Though there was much to see and process during our initial car trip, one thing stood out to me: people holding hands. Everywhere I looked, kids—both boys and girls—were holding hands. Adult women crossed the street holding hands. I witnessed more hand holding during that car trip than months (years?) of watching people in the States. Kids arrived at school hand in hand. During recess, they walked (or skipped) hand in hand. They traveled along the road holding hands.
On our third day, we took a long walk to explore countryside we’d visit during our homestead surveys. The dogs that sleep at the school-church-community compound accompanied us everywhere. They’re friendly but rascally dogs that like to bark and chase chickens. Along the path, we passed a young girl, perhaps 5 years old, carrying a heavy water jug. The dogs scared her. I walked next to her, spoke some basic Haitian Creole, and tried to connect.
She stopped often to switch the load from one hand to another, then she’d hustle, in her flip flops, to catch up with us. (Interestingly, if she stayed back, the dogs would be gone. Yet she felt safer being with the group.) Eventually, Leslie—one of our kind team members—carried the water jug. I stayed beside the young girl and reached out my hand. She grabbed it immediately. There we walked, hand in hand, up and down the path. When the dogs barked, she squeezed my hand more tightly. We walked together as strangers yet deeply connected.
This was one many Haitian children with whom I held hands while walking. It was an honor to be part of the hand-holding community. Though I was an oddity (white skin, blonde hair, English speaking), I never felt unwelcome. And during those walks along the country path, I felt embraced.
In America, we have safe drinking water, quality education, and medical advances, yet there’s a dearth of hand holding. The Haitian people demonstrated, again and again, this simple yet powerful connection. Holding hands reminds us that we belong.