Family Story: Our Haiti Bonding Trip
The following is a reflection on the bonding trip two America World couples made to Haiti to meet their children, written by Jack Hawkins, AWAA dad:
When was the last time your life was truly an adventure? It’s easy to say “During my last vacation” but my guess is that vacation went pretty much according to plan including the mint on your pillow. Not exactly an adventure. A true adventure includes highs and lows, ups and downs, detours and dead ends. 15 days in a Caribbean country may sound like a vacation, but it’s more adventure than you ever imagined, especially when that country is Haiti. Here’s what that adventure looked like for the our family.
We got on a red eye just after Russell Wilson threw an interception to end the Super Bowl and landed in Miami at 4:30 AM. Our three-hour layover quickly became a 5-hour layover, the last two hours of which were spent on the plane as American Airlines tried to fix a mechanical issue. I used that time to scour the plane in search of another America World couple from Nebraska who just happened to be flying out for a bonding trip and were on our flight. Finding them turned out to be one of the easiest parts of the trip as they showed up in Nebraska red with the words “Cornhuskers” proudly displayed across their chests. We had never met Scott and Christina before, but in 15 short days they would become family.
A bad movie and a bag of peanuts later, our plane set down in the Port-au-Prince airport. My wife and I are Haiti veterans so we knew what to expect. The Cornhuskers, not so much. This was their first trip. After getting through customs and grabbing our luggage we found Margaret from America World. My first thought when I saw Margaret was, “She looks like she could be asked to prom next week.” Over the next 15 days, I would see why Margaret was chosen to do this job. Her love for God, her fierce determination in working on behalf of adoptive families with the IBESR and her wisdom during our parent interview made me proud that she’s in our corner. After a couple short introductions, Margaret led us to our car. That’s when the fun began. Imagine walking out and meeting the most over aggressive bell hop you’ve ever met and he wants to carry your bags. Now times that by 20. The airport is surrounded by men who, if they don’t carry any bags that day, they don’t eat. And they are all over us like ugly on a gorilla. Everyone makes it through, unscathed, except me. I’m left behind, off roading with 5 bags on a luggage cart. The minute one falls, they all fall and I’ve got 10 happy Haitians ready to take my bags and my money.
That moment gets Scott and Chris’s attention. But the culture shock is just beginning. The 40 minute ride from the airport to the guesthouse (A trip of less then 10 miles but it takes us 45 because of traffic and potholes) reveals all the sights, sounds and smells of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Crude cinder block buildings line the street. We pass a tent village that still houses people a full five years after the earthquake. Cattle and goats wander the streets. Yet the people are well dressed. One thing we’ve learned in our journeys to Haiti is that the people are proud and despite their challenges, have a remarkable joy. Our friends from Nebraska are stunned by the images and it is at least 24 hours before the shock wears off.
Every low we faced on day one becomes worth it on day two. We meet our daughter. She’s 12 years old. She’s smart, funny, beautiful. My wife gets the first hug. It’s one that seems like it will never stop. Then it’s my turn. My heart is full as I hug this little girl we have been praying for that last two years. We have decorated her room, pink and zebra stripped. We have knelt and prayed on her bed. And now it’s real. It’s unbelievable.
Quickly I have to change duties from proud parent to videographer. A five year old little boy is led to our friends Scott and Chris. I’m filming as these two meet their forever child for the first time. I still have a hard time fighting back tears as I write this three weeks after that moment. They engulf this child in a massive hug. He’s a little stunned. There is no way he can know that this couple has been praying and hoping for this moment for so long. Day one he is unsure and confused. But by day two, he ran to mommy and daddy. Mostly because of love. But also because everyday they brought Pringles.
The next two weeks were filled with moments, each memorable for better or worse.
- We decorated cookies that my wife brought for Valentines day
- We played Candyland and Connect Four and learned that somehow despite growing up in Haiti our daughter has learned the family trait of playful cheating (giggling all the way)
- I read Dr. Seuss to our daughter. She read Henry and Mudge to me
- We made bead bracelets and pipe cleaner glasses
- We held her as she cried when she realized she wasn’t coming home with us
- We sang worship tunes on the balcony. She loved the song Oceans so much that we had to write down the lyrics so she could sing it after we left
- We felt trapped either behind the four walls of the orphanage or the four walls of the guest house
- We celebrated when we found cheese to make tuna melts (If that doesn’t sound exciting to you, it may after two weeks of guest house chicken legs and rice and beans)
- We laughed when my daughter taught me the Cha Cha
- We watched Hannah Montana (You can decide if that was a better or worse moment)
- We made Valentines for each other. Mine said Papa Fou (That means Papa is crazy)
Two days we stayed home in the guest house because of rioting in the streets over the price of gas. (Note: We never felt in danger. The rioters gave notice that they would be rioting those days so we just stayed home. Nice of them to give us notice like that!)
We were disappointed when our parent interview was cancelled for Friday.
We were elated when we had our interview and the IBESR social worker told us what a beautiful daughter we had and that she would do what she could to help us get her home.
Finally, after 15 days of joy and laughter and tears and disappointment and games and crafts and the Cha Cha, it was time to go home. 30 minutes before we left the tears started. It broke my heart. But after two weeks with this little girl, one thought was very clear. We are doing the right thing. No matter how long it takes, we are doing what God has called us to do. We are bringing hope to this girl. We are fighting for her future. We are bringing her to America and not just for an education and job opportunities. We are giving her something she does not have. A family. A mommy and and daddy who love her no matter what. I don’t know what roadblocks and delays we will face in the future, but this is right. This is our mission. Get this girl home. And it’s worth it. Some day this journey will end with a family reunion as we take this girl home and that celebration will make all the bumps and bruises along the way seem very small.
Heading for a bonding trip? Don’t expect a mint on your pillow, or a diverse menu, or life to go as you planned. But do prepare for an adventure of a lifetime. - Jack Hawkins, AW Haiti Dad
There are so many children waiting for their families who are posted on our Waiting Children pages. If God is leading in the direction of adoption we would be honored to partner with you to make that happen. Contact our staff at 800-429-3369 or WaitingChildren@awaa.org to learn more about a child on the Waiting Children pages.
#BeAStoryteller & Be Part of a Child's Story!