Blog written by Taylor Schuelke, photographer and first time visitor to Haiti. 

It’s been a little over a day since I dug my toes into the dirt of Pignon.  It was a bumpy ride to get here in every sense of the word, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I am here, I am changed, I hope to change others with my new eyes, and I promise to continue to change over the course of this trip.  I have embraced my role as a “blanc” outsider and am not trying to “fit in” but rather display my desire to observe and express genuine interest in the Haitians’ lives and wellbeing.

We landed in Port-au-Prince at 8:45 am after layovers in Dallas and Fort Lauderdale, 3 hours sleep at a hotel, and lots of bonding time!  If the 4:15am wake-up call didn’t cause fatigue, the 3-hour truck ride to Pignon following our landing definitely took care of it.  Despite the lack of energy, , we took turns sitting in the truck bed atop the suitcases and instruments with smiles on our faces and curiosity in our pacing eyes.  Although the sun was scorching and the road was winding, it was incredibly freeing to ride through the forest and over the mountains revealing the jungle green landscape.  All of the locals stare when they see our skin.  We are foreigners from cultural background and clothing, to our blue eyes and painted toenails.  The young children yell “blanc” when they see us and smile in surprise.  The parents seem to guard themselves in privacy when they see us walking.  They are not zoo animals, but the camera hanging by my hip may say otherwise.  I always ask before I take a photograph or capture video footage, but this does not erase my guilt in making them feel like objects.  I want to tell their story.  I yearn to understand their life stories.  I do not want to offend them.  I do not want to make them feel like animals.  Here is my sticky situation.  All stare at my dangling white arms.  Perhaps the zoo animal is me.

Our group put on a concert last night at one of the local churches and the crowd swelled as the music flowed out of the open windows and filled the streets with joyful sounds.  The pastor spoke with a deep passion and despite the language barrier, I was overwhelmed with joy and the presence of Jesus.  The Haitian spirits were so joyous and their voices so filled with purpose.  Women in red skirts and white blouses stepped on the stage and performed songs with choreography, smiles and the prettiest harmonies.  Each woman wore a white lace cloth on her head that transformed her into royalty.  Following the women’s choir was a choir of young men who took the narrow stage while harmonies of deep voices filled the ears of the church’s neighbors.  Every person in the room was dressed in their Monday best covered with ruffles, bows, perfectly pressed shirts, and matching ties.  It was evident they dressed for the Lord.

When Martha, Bob, and Charlie took the stage, Zeke translated Charlie’s words and the group began their performance.  Each audience member nodded their heads in approval and smirked at the familiar song choices of which included “Sanctuary”, “Open the Eyes of my Heart”, and “Lord I Lift Your Name on High”.  A few Haitian boys joined the band on stage and sang along in a communal multicultural choir.  With eyes closed and arms wide open, we gave praise to the same all-powerful God.  A four-year-old girl in a baby pink dress and alphabet beads in her hair hugged my leg, held my hand, and sang with me as we worshiped together.  Her smile along with the warmth of the community softened my heart as we became one with them.  The service lasted over two hours and after many “Halleluiahs” and “Merci Seigneurs,” the crowd began to disperse and walk home hand in hand.

Arriving back at the house around 9:45pm, I showered immediately and even more immediately fell asleep with a soaking wet head.  Needless to say, it was an emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting first day…in a God way.