We are an energetic bunch: 15 kids from the The Bridge Christian Children’s Home orphanage, the orphanage director’s two daughters, our two Meilani and Giada, Ericlee and myself. I’m not sure who is leading the group but I know I am the caboose as we snake through trees and small hut-homes over rocks. The sun blazes overhead and I am grateful I remembered sun hats for myself and my girls.
We are headed for the river.
The Haitian kids walk with pride. Like trained tour guides they point out this and that along the way. Rose Katia insists on carrying Meilani on her back. Guetchine hoists Giada on piggy-back. As is typical in Haitian culture the older kids always take the younger ones under their wings. It’s not uncommon to see kids with babies only a few years younger perched on their hips or drying the tears of a younger sibling. My girls have been adopted into this family as well.
When we arrive at the edge of the river, there is a tide of activity. Women washing, hanging, beating, drying clothes. Children bathe. This river is the source of life. It is at once a place to wash, a place to drink, a place to bathe, a place where animals find respite, a place to wash vehicles and motorcycles. The river cuts its own path through the land and the people follow.
Before I know it all the Haitian kids are stripping down. Gary jumps off the highest rock straight into the water. Makenson and Wilken are splashing right behind him. Even the girls are joining in the “pool party.”
My girls look at me with earnest eyes but I have to explain that they can only put their feet in. I know I could never prevent them from drinking this water and I’m sure their American tummies cannot stomach the water. I feel like a cruel mama to make them sit out on the fun but I also know how dangerous the water can be for us.
Years ago, Ericlee was baptized in this river. He would come for summer “vacations” with his mom to this river and dive right in with the kids. The river was different then – less garbage on the banks, less pollution.
Earlier this year, Haiti’s rivers may have been called a source of death as a cholera epidemic spread through the water supply. Signs hanging in small towns dotting the Haitian countryside remind residents to drink purified water or boil water before drinking it to avoid cholera. Some small numbers still suffer from cholera but the epidemic is declared officially over.
It’s been 10 years since I started coming to Haiti. I am surprised this summer by how easy it is to get purified water. A company has moved into town and we can buy 5-gallon drums for less than an American dollar. Pure relief.
This river and water in general represents a source of life in a sun-scorched land like Haiti. In the countryside even a small bucket of water is precious – used to bathe and cook. Women and children walk long distances from the wells to their homes carrying water.
It’s no accident that Jesus called himself the Living Water. He said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (John 7:38)
This was a word picture people of the day could understand. They knew water was vital to life. They were thirsty in a spiritual sense for a Savior.
Today we delight in watching the kids play. Here I am reminded that kids are kids anywhere – no matter what country or skin tone or what kind of resources they may have available to them. Water delights. And for a second I think we might be back in California with a group of our friends sitting out by the swimming pool with the kids splashing away. The same wonder and delight permeates the air.
My girls wade in to their ankles. I chat with the ladies washing clothes on the shore. Community ebbs and flows right out here in the sparkling sun. We partake of a Living Water in Haiti.
*This blog is part of an occasional series on everyday life in the rural mountains of Haiti.