What does the world look like to man who has never traveled more than forty miles from home? He lived in a quiet place among his own kind. There were missionaries, of course, earnest white people who dispensed clothing and medicine along with their god; benevolent rarities who eased their way into Haitian life. But then the earth rattled and blan sprinkled out of the sky like salt from a shaker, bearing tents with flags of Italy, protein crackers with flags of Great Britain, rice with flags of Brazil, backhoes with flags of China and pop-up shelters with flags of the United States.
I am part of that blan invasion, the people who pack the planes into Port au Prince, which have more than doubled since before the quake. We are not rare anymore, though we are certainly odd. We tell Haitians we come from the United States or Germany or Canada, or we tell them we are from Massachusetts or Ohio or Boston or Akron and their heads nod with the same comprehension as a bobble-head on a dashboard. We might be better off saying we are from the moon; at least they can see that.
One of our MoHI volunteers, Daniel, is from Alaska. He left in February, while I come and go regularly. Whenever I return to Haiti the crew asks after Daniel, and wants to know if I see him back home. They have no idea that Alaska is further from Cambridge than Haiti, that the United States is huge and encompasses so much more than the place names Haitians hear so often – Miami, New York, and Boston. So, on this trip I packed a map of the world with photographs of their favorite stateside volunteers and arrows to their hometowns.
I hang it on a wall at the MoHI job site and at lunch I tell the crew that this is a drawing of the entire world. I circle Haiti in red. I show them the United States, and where we all live when we are not building their school. I don’t even touch on the two-thirds of the earth that is Africa and Eurasia. They pay rapt attention, which says less about my speaking ability than it does about their thirst for new experience. Some may have never seen a map; some may have never seen a colored print hanging on a wall. A few get up close and point to their red circle, incredulous that it is so tiny. They like the photos of the people they know.
I don’t imagine the map dispels the notion that Daniel and I have lunch together when I am home. But the next time someone asks, we can walk over to our map of the world and talk about geography and scale and distance and the people they know who are scattered across the globe. And each time we do that, the world will get a little bit smaller and a little bit more familiar, and these guys will be a little bit bigger part of it.
Huguener and MoHI’s map of the World