The Dot Team Talks Haiti
In dreaming up our Haiti trip, I (founder, Hallie Darphin) wanted to give college students and young professionals the opportunity to put their gifts and talents to use in Haiti, even if their gifts and talents aren't typically seen as being useful in the developing world. We believe in sharing stories in a way that compels students to action, and we enlisted student and adult educators and storytellers--photographers, videographers, writers, and dreamers--to help us do just that.
Our trip to Haiti was full of seeing. We experienced new culture, food, schools, interactions with artisans and gifted makers. Like almost any similar trip, it was hard and good and beautiful and overwhelming, and each girl's perspective and actions made Dot better. I think it made each of us better.
Of course, we can't explain every piece of what we did, but we can work to express the parts that were meaningful to each of us. Here's what Alana, Annie, and Grace thought.
Alana: What I Saw
Processing my trip from Haiti has been interesting for me. I can tell you all about what I saw, the information my eyes, and other senses gathered, but I cannot cohesively form conclusions about it. Haiti is such a complex place, there are a lot of moving parts in the machine that is Haiti, and I cannot pretend that a week of observation gives me the right to make any conclusions. I won’t try to analyze the information into a seven-point thesis that concludes in world peace. I can’t give you answers, but I can tell you what I saw.
I saw contrast.
I saw dark mahogany skin with gleaming white smiles.
I saw orange gingham uniforms well kept, but outgrown.
I saw a clean compound, kitchens kept clean and bathrooms swept and cleaned. I saw a Hope Center where cleanliness just as you and I would expect at our homes was kept and maintained by Haitian women.
I saw filthy streets where it appeared as if empty water bottles were the bricks and dirt was the mortar.
I saw pikles.
I saw spicy pikles. (Only some will appreciate this contrast.)
I saw women barely dressed, and I saw women who would feel immodest in anything but skirts.
I saw people fed up with a system that teaches in French, but doesn’t teach French.
I saw Haitian people who believed speaking French was a necessary divider; a skill used to separate one candidate from another, like a degree.
I saw children suffering from malnutrition.
I saw the biggest bowl of rice I have ever seen in my entire life.
I saw well-behaved three year olds sit still as food was passed out one by one.
I saw rowdy children who were almost never in class.
I saw teachers who were quick to discipline with a belt.
I saw translators who were quick to scoop a child into his lap.
I saw flirtatious men, who told me their unsavory thoughts with their eyes.
I saw sweet young boys, who told me the Creole names for plants and animals as we walked hand in hand back from their school.
I saw Haitian children afraid of white people.
I saw Haitian children who thought white people were like Santa Claus.
I saw joy.
I saw pain.
I saw people with questions.
I saw people trying to find answers.
I saw a lot to do.
I saw people doing a lot.
Annie: Final Thoughts
I went into this trip far more anxious than I'd like to admit. Two days before my flight, I cried in a Target parking lot, overwhelmed by the thought of tiny toothpastes and traveling with strangers.
Why had I even agreed to this entire enterprise?
Way back in October or November, Hallie Darphin -- a girl I knew as the owner of Dot Products, thanks to my gig in retail -- emailed me, asking if I'd like to join her business on its first trip to Haiti, a trip designed to spread the word about the work Dot is doing, to interact with children and artists and to tell their stories well.
This, I thought, I could do. This was a mission I believed I was actually semi-qualified for, no nursing or house-building required. (Because truly: No one wants me building their house, ever.)
Then weeks later, when I was having doubts about leaving the country without my husband, I went to email Hallie, to clarify some points, to maybe back out of the whole thing, when a quick Google mail search revealed: This girl I knew as the leader of Dot had actually been reading my now-defunct blog for years. I found comments she'd posted way back before I knew anyone was actually reading my words, and I thought: This girl is kindred. My words? They meant something to her. This Internet thing? Maybe it's not as terrible as we can sometimes make it. This trip? I can do it.
So on a bright and early Sunday morning in May, I prayed with Jordan in the somewhat sketchy terminal of the Tallahassee airport. He read to me from the Book of Common Prayer, and as I crossed the threshold of security, I felt an immediate peace. I was still meeting strangers in Miami, but the fear? It was gone.
Once in Miami, I joined Hallie and the five other girls -- some from Dot, another, like me, from the weird world of the Internet -- and it clicked. Sure, all of the girls were several years my junior, but it didn't matter. Any anxiety I had disappeared then, too. We were just girls, ready to take pictures and tell stories and make a difference, even if it was as small as we are.
Much of my original anxiety, I know, came from my seeming lack of missional experience. I had never traveled out of the country with a church group, didn't grow up going on mission trips to Mexico or Honduras or Belize. But I quickly realized my lack of experience didn't matter, should never have been a legitimate concern. My adult life has been a mission field: in the workplace, at the bookstore, in my small town. And the truth is, of course, that relationships and loving people, serving them, caring for them? That's about far more than geography.
And so God used my age and my experience in ways I didn't anticipate. I was able to be calm, maybe wise. He used me in moments far beyond what I could have expected or imagined, and this "job" I took with The Bookshelf three years ago? It led me to Hallie, and to Haiti, and to a world so more vast than my eyes and my heart really ever knew.
We fed children and took their pictures, met the artisans Hallie and Dot employ, helped develop new product and prepare Dot for its new retail space in downtown Clinton, Mississippi. As a small group of women, we prayed together and talked about entrepreneurship and life after college; I offered book recommendations and learned to be quiet again.
The whole thing was, in some ways, easier than my day-to-day life as an entrepreneur. There was less worry, less maintenance, more accountability and more acceptance. There were no emails to check or social media accounts to manage. I was so far removed from the shop -- literally and electronically -- that I remembered just how small it is, just how insignificant some of my concerns can be. It was a lesson in pride, in my small-ness and the world's big-ness. It was a reminder of what I've been created to do, and why.
I am not a young college student, still grappling with my life's choices and decisions. But I am a sometimes-floundering grownup, and Haiti -- with its bright colors and island breezes, its delicious food and oppressive heat -- was a reminder of what really matters. I breathed deeper and easier there, and in the weeks since I've been home, I've tried to remember what's really important and why. I'll owe Haiti that, I think, and I owe Hallie my gratitude for reaching out to a girl she met on the Internet, for taking a chance on my gifts and abilities and putting me to work. I couldn't be more grateful for her, or for what Dot is doing all over this big, big world.
A Road Made of Rock
I didn’t know why God wanted me to go to Haiti until about three days into our trip. As our plane was landing in Port Au Prince, my eyes were continuously drawn to the rubble. I had been to a developing nation before, and I had seen slums, but something about rubble made this experience new for me. Our plane landed on a small piece of asphalt, and we loadedourselves off into the heat, the sweat, and the welcoming music of the Haitians. Hearing the live music in the airport reminded me of standing in Jackson Square in New Orleans; it was comforting, and I felt like I had landed somewhere that I could stay. After getting our bags, we made our way to a van that would transport us to The Hope Center. As we drove through the city, I couldn’t help but feel comfortable. I knew that I should feel a need to compare or a need to cry for these people, but that is not what I felt. In fact, that is not what I felt the entire trip, and that is not what I feel now. From the beautiful missionaries that we received the privilege of living with for a week to the children we got to measure for uniforms at the school to the amazing Haitians that translated for us, I was reminded that Haiti does not need my pity, and Haiti doesn’t even need me; Haiti doesn’t need any of us. Haiti taught me to act instead of speak. Haiti taught me that God doesn’t need me to impact the world, but he does need me to act. He just needs willingness, and he will change the world. The people of Haiti made me more willing than I have ever been in my life, and as we drove the 30 minute drive down the rock road that we had become all too familiar with, I couldn’t help but think, “I will be back.”