From the orphanage, go up the hill…
before you get to the blue shack, take a left at the
big tree on the left
Go straight until you see arches of Aqueduct.
… You will run parallel to arched aqueduct.
Tall trees on your right on this road.
When there are no more tall trees, make a right.
And so I ran.
In a Jan. 11 column (“Running the race”), I pledged to run in Haiti in honor of a special friend, courage, and community. And actually on Jan. 11, under a brilliant, intense morning sun, I and about 65 others started from the orphanage. Some made it 25 kilometers, and two amazing women ran 50 kilometers. I and many others finished the 10-kilometer run.
The directions handed to us the night before (a portion reprinted above) looked like a sonnet: “Wherein poor runner faints by aqueduct.”
More than the heat index of 115°, the loose gravel, the children coming to snatch my water bottle, or my aging legs, the unexpected challenge of a run in Haiti was this: I didn’t know the way.
Directions to a friend’s house are one thing, directions through unmarked territory in a foreign country are another. Initially the race directors carefully marked the trail using pink construction ribbon tied to shrubs and telephone poles. The next day they had disappeared. Funny, the young girls in the villages turned out wearing pink ribbons in their hair. So the race directors gave us directions on paper as a safeguard.
Seeing landmarks in the distance added to what otherwise might’ve been a grueling slog to the finish line. The aqueduct! The canal! The orange-colored Bien Venue store! The mango grove! The cemetery that meant we were almost done! In between lay surprises and beauty—red sorghum fields, green banks by streams of water, irrigated crops, men and women hard at work—scenes not enough of us have in mind when someone says “Haiti.”
Is there a way to live life this way, a life of trust in the unseen, confidence in the known landmarks that appear along the way, and gratitude for the surprises that lie between?
Everywhere in Haiti I began to see the pattern lived out, investments of a lifetime comprised of blind steps and trust in the unseen. Moise Vaval is a pastor who works with The Global Orphan Project, running orphanages, schools, and his own church in Port-au-Prince. At 6 a.m. on a morning several days after the 2010 earthquake, he climbed atop the ruins of his son Jean-Mark’s school, where Jean-Mark and many other children had died. Over the rubble he recited Psalm 34: “I will praise the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth. …”
Having lost his church, friends, and family in one of the poorest parts of Port-au-Prince, Vaval later told 60 Minutes, “I never worry about tomorrow. Never. Tomorrow will be good. Because it’s in God’s hands.”
I went to Haiti as an aid embed, trying to pretend not to be the outside observer my occupation normally requires, but as a participant in a mission trip similar to those taken by about 1.5 million Americans each year. A lot gets said about those kinds of trips, the good and ill they can do on both sides, but the run taught me something the analysts and mission decoders miss. Deep down everyone can receive a shocking dose of freedom and discovery when they realize they don’t know the way. Someone else has to guide. I have to be dependent, like a child. There are surprises all along the way. And at the finish line, a bag of water and a banana, provisions that are just what’s needed at just the right time.