As an American-born daughter of Haitian parents, I often find myself in between cultures. Growing up, I was more likely at Thanksgiving dinners to eat diri ak djon djon – rice cooked in mushroom broth – than mashed potatoes. Indeed, I never ate a traditional Thanksgiving meal until I studied abroad in Sweden years later and shared the holiday with other students from America. Even then the context still wasn’t quite right.
On the other side of my cultural divide, even with my Haitian background it can be difficult sometimes to fully grasp my heritage without living in the country.
In some ways, this in-between quality is typical of those of us from immigrant families. However, while I might not fit entirely into either culture, I nevertheless feel ties to both. So it was a particular pleasure when the IAF grantee conference in March gave me the opportunity to return to Haiti for the first time in 13 years. The IAF has for the past several years sponsored such meetings known as “grantee exchanges” where grantee partners get together to meet, share experiences, and learn from one another.
When I arrived in Haiti, the people around me gave me a warm homecoming without even realizing it. I heard all around me the beautiful Creole language that gave life to stories, jokes, and proverbs I’d heard all my life. On the way to visit potential grantees, the song “Lakay” (“Home”) by the Tabou Combo was playing on the radio. “Ala kontan m kontan aswe a m nan peyi m,” they sang (“How happy I am to be in my country tonight!”). Somehow, they knew exactly how I was feeling. After telling a grantee how much I enjoyed being back, he summed it up by saying “Lakay se lakay (“Home sweet home”).
The highlight of my trip was interacting with the IAF’s grantee partners in and out of the conference. I felt proud watching my fellow Haitians present on a variety of topics ranging from health to agriculture, women’s rights, and peacekeeping, all with a high level of mastery. I was distressed to hear how much climate change had made life difficult for so many. People had to walk miles to get to the nearest water source, and crops didn’t take because the seasons for farmers to plant and harvest were no longer predictable. There is concern that entire communities might not exist within the next 10 years.
Yet, I was encouraged to see grantees coming together on their own to share stories, analyze situations, clarify information, and come up with strategies to address some of these issues. The exchange was a testament to the knowledge and power present within grassroots organizations to create positive change within their communities. Indeed, that is exactly the reason why the IAF sponsors the grantee exchanges: to create safe spaces in which partners can build a sense of trust and community.
For me, reconnecting with my roots was an extra benefit. I am grateful to our grantee partners and IAF team in Haiti for our time together, for all the lessons they shared, and for reminding me that even after so much time away, Haiti is still my home. Lakay se lakay!