In May 2017 Wexler and I went to Haiti. Mom and son on an adventure to redefine our relationship.
There was no real choice for me once it became clear that I was meant to travel. To be a traveling nomad. A citizen of the world. There was no turning back. If I was going to be true to myself then this is what I had to do. And being true to myself, while it might seem selfish to others, is how I feel like I can be the very best friend, partner, educator and mother.
Although I had a wonderful, supportive husband, a beautiful son, a community of friends and peers, a successful business in a really unique and beautiful city, I felt so much loneliness and sadness and fear and shame. I could not be present for my son.
I had been traveling a lot in 2015. But in 2016 it became clear that I would leave Tucson and travel. Indefinitely. But what about my son, Wexler? He was only 9 years old at the time. What about him?
I did not know any other moms like me. And I felt a LOT of shame for not being the traditional mom. Luckily, Wexler’s father supported me. I was given permission to take Wexler traveling around the world three times a year.
The school authorized permission for me to take him for four weeks out of the school year. Plus I had a month during the summer.
So far we have been to bicycling in Denmark, hiking and going to school in Peru, working on a forest restoration project in Haiti, living on a boat and getting certified in scuba diving in the British Virgin Islands, walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, studying Spanish in Guatemala, and this summer we will spend living in Berlin, Germany.
One of the first trips we took was to Haiti. My budget was extremely tight so we had to be creative. I found a website called Workaway.com. Here we could view projects that we could work on all over the world in exchange for room and board. I told Wexler that he should pick the project and if we were accepted then we could go. He immediately found the project he wanted —which was totally amazing because there are literally thousands of projects.
It was in Haiti and it was called Sadhana Forest Haiti. We sent them a thoughtful note and requested acceptance. For two days we anxiously waited, knowing that it was not uncommon for a project to deny a 10 year old. When we found out we were accepted we were so excited.
It turned out that Haiti was on the US State Department warning list. The government was unstable. But after due diligence and assurance from the program, we received permission to go.
March 2017 we flew to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic because that is the easiest way to get to Anse Pitre—our home for the next three weeks.
We took the long 7 hour journey to Haiti on a pretty crowded bus. Thank goodness I have a child with the same travel spirit that I do because he accepted the journey completely. It was simply part of the process. And I must say it was a truly beautiful ride. The Caribbean waters on the Island (which includes both the Dominican Republic and Haiti) are some of the bluest I have ever seen.
At the border we planned to meet Aidan, the project director, so he could accompany us across the border to Anse Pitre. We took two motor bikes to the border—a 10 minute ride. The driver, Aidan, and Wexler on one bike. Another driver and me on the other bike. We are extremely minimal travelers so that made it much easier.
The town of Anse Pitre is one of four border crossings into Haiti from the Dominican Republic. We were led to an older man under a little palapa sitting in a chair with his brief case on his lap. We paid this random man a fee to enter the country. Because there were so few white people (the Haitians are a beautiful very dark black) traveling to this area, we never had to show our passport again when traveling across the border because they recognized us.
We then walked 30 minutes to the Sadhana Forest site. On the walk my mind was completely blown by what I was seeing. It was primitive in a way I had never seen before. The houses were made out of wood and banana leaves. Extremely temporary looking. Very small. People seemed to spend most of the time outside. 95% of the population is unemployed. The town has no obvious order in regard to building. It seems that shacks are just put up wherever people want. There is a lot of trash everywhere. Little pieces of plastic all over the earth and floating in the sea which is just down the street and insanely beautiful (minus the trash and clothes in the water).
Clothes you wonder? Turns out, Haitians are the poorest but probably the best dressed people I have ever seen. Why? Because Americans continue to send huge shipments of second hand clothes to Haiti to “help.” Huge trucks come into this remote area weekly (sometimes daily) filled with clothes. The people are poor but they are very healthy, very stylish, and very trim.
We felt at home at Sadhana Forest Haiti right away because Wexler and I are so happy outside. Essentially, there is no “inside.” There is a “kitchen” that includes a wood counter, a wood chest to keep all the food— no refrigeration. And two wood fire pits for cooking the food. It is entirely vegan so no meat. Pretty much fruit, beans, grains, vegetables, and a lot of coconut. Everything is fresh.
There are four composting “toilets.” If you can imagine a platform that you step onto with a hole that you squat over. Surrounded with some flimsy bamboo walls. If you are lucky you remembered to bring toilet paper. Traditionally, one’s hand a bucket of water is used to “clean off.”
There is an open structure for gathering and meals that also has some hammocks. That was Wexler’s spot. And our housing was an open air “room” 10 feet above the ground accessed by a ladder.
Our work was a combination of planting trees at different locations around the town. We also managed the land and watered the trees on the project, cleaned the toilets. And other miscellaneous projects.
We also took turns cooking. This was a many hour project because everything was made on the fire and hand cut all the large vegetables. Wexler immediately took the initiative to use the sun oven as a dehydrator to dehydrate fruit for the group.
Each afternoon Wexler and I walked and walked --exploring the town, the cliffs and caves, and going to the beach to swim. We spent hours talking about who liked who in Wexler’s class and I shared about my life with Wexler.
There is a Main Street where people gather at night with candles and flashlights. There is no electricity. There is no WiFi. There is one restaurant but a lot of people making and selling food on the street. Wexler and I had a tradition to go each night after dinner for fried dough balls and plantains.
It is in these moments that I feel blessed. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share these sweet moments with my son in such a unique environment.