Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Haitian Adoptee: Still Worlds Apart

In less than a week, I will be flying to Haiti to reunite with my birth family. As one can imagine, this is both exciting and terrifying. For the past few months, I have been talking to adoptees, specifically Haitian adoptees, who have already gone through the process and have offered me invaluable advice. Several reunited adoptees have told me to get rid of any expectations because our fantasies may be much different from reality. For international adoptees, this is especially true. Growing up in a developed country and returning to our families whose lives are so much different from ours is sometimes hard to process. In her own words, Chrysha describes her return to Haiti and how an encounter with her birth sister helped her realize that although they are family, there will always be a cultural gap between them.

It was around four o'clock in the afternoon, and the sun was still very hot. The idea of having to take another shower was tiring, but appealing at the same time. But before having a shower, I wanted to check my e-mail. I had not been able to check my e-mail or Facebook for days since I arrived back from La Vallée in Port-au-Prince.

Since my arrival in Haiti, a lot of things had happened. I met my birth mother and my younger sister in La Vallee, a small village close to the city Jacmel. Also, I had uncles, aunts and cousins come to the hotel to see me. The past few days were very intense, exciting, and exhausting.

After spending a few days in my mother's village, my best friend Miranda and I had to go back to Port-au-Prince. We asked my sister to join us, so we got to spend some more time together. She was very happy to come with us, and we spoiled her with clothes, hair products, and outings.   

My sister and I on the minister's motorbike to get a ride to our hotel.

One afternoon, I was on the roof of the guesthouse, trying to get a Wifi connection when I saw my sister approaching me. She looked a little angry, and her face reminded me of myself when I was younger. I wanted to laugh about this, but I sensed that this was not the right moment. She approached me and said, "Where were you before? I didn't see you around the hotel room and I have been looking for you for the past hour. I want to know where you go when you are not in the room.”

My whereabouts were not a secret. I had told Miranda where I was, but for some reason I kept this information from my sister. I had left the room to be by myself for a moment. I was tired of being 'a big sister', 'the returned daughter' and ‘the rich girl from Europe’. I wanted to forget why I was in Haiti in the first place and enjoy some moments of checking my e-mail and flirting with a boy who was staying at the same hotel. Telling my sister this felt shallow and strange, and I felt that she might not understand

And at that moment I had a realization.

In the past few days I had felt a strong love and affection for my sister. She was funny, smart, and we had a similar way of reasoning about things. Her favorite subject in school was English (that was mine too) and she was not very good at math (I failed my high school math exam).  

But she and I were from different worlds. I grew up in Europe where I never had to worry about food, clothes, or being able to pay for school. I grew up in a cold country where five days of sun was called a heat weave. In my country, people would constantly ask questions about my skin or hair. Growing up, I learned to feel sorry people in poor countries.

My sister was raised by our mother and had always been around her for the past 18 years. My sister walked one hour to school everyday and ate two meals a day. She helped our mother in the house and on the land and learned the English dictionary by heart because she was out of books to read.

Realizing our differences broke my heart. Don't get me wrong...I don't feel sorry for her or my mother. I feel sad because although we were brought into this world by the same woman, and we share the same blood, we’re still so far apart.  We didn't grow up together and have no childhood memories of playing together. We don’t have memories of us going to the market to get fresh vegetables for dinner or me helping her with homework. Because of our different upbringing, there will always be a cultural gap between us. We will always look at the world differently and want different things in life.

My sister and I getting ready for a fun night out in Port-au-Prince

I looked into my sister's eyes while she stood before me still waiting for my answer. I took her hand and walked to a corner of the roof, and we sat down. Although it was very hot, I wanted to sit close to her. I didn’t answer her initial question, but asked her about her life, her dreams for the future, our mother, and what kind of books she liked to read. While we talked, I felt proud to be her sister and checking my e-mail and Facebook suddenly seemed very unimportant.

Chrysha is 28 years old and was adopted from Haiti at the age of three. She  studies musicology and anthropology at a Dutch University and grew up in the Netherlands. She was reunited with her birth family in 2014.

Mariette Williams (@mariettewrites) is a transracial adoptee born in Jeremie, Haiti. She was adopted at the age of three and grew up near Vancouver, B.C., Canada. She founded Haitian Adoptees, a Facebook group that serves to connect and offer support to other Haitian adoptees. In July of 2015, she reunited with her birth mother and several members of her birth family. She lives in South Florida with her husband and two children. In addition to being a Journalism and literature teacher, she writes essays, short stories, and poems that usually focus on adoption.