A Rooftop Crack in Haiti

Overlook of Port au Prince, Haiti, 2014. (c) Colleen Briggs

Overlook of Port au Prince, Haiti, 2014. (c) Colleen Briggs

On Monday, dawn crept over me on a rooftop in Haiti. Just below, massive trucks lumbered over narrow rocky streets, lugging water to and from a water purification facility. Roosters crowed and dogs barked. People walked, sang, laughed, and chattered in every nook and cranny in the streets, balconies and rooftops all around. Palm fronds swayed in a gentle breeze. All seemed peaceful in the pink tropical haze of encroaching sun.

But I knew all too well that most likely somewhere not far away a child wheezed her last breath, succumbing to kwashiorkor – death from starvation. Somewhere in nearby Pele, rooftops lay empty, residents fearful of gang members shooting over compound walls during the night. Somewhere a runaway “restavek,” a child slave, scraped himself up from the ground where he slept, driven by the beast of unyielding hunger. Somewhere a mother begged a voodoo priest for a fetish in hopes of sustaining the last threads of life that tugged her child into the morning from the night clutches of tuberculosis.

All around me, the clanking, grinding, heaving city groaned awake.

The very next morning, I tip-toed through my sleeping house in Colorado and settled into my favorite chair. I listened. The only sounds: furnace-hum-and-click, my dog’s exhale, and my own steady breathing.

It is all too much. The wonders of modern travel carried my body across the ocean; but my soul still trails somewhere off the coast of Haiti, desperately trying to find its way home.

Rooftop Crack. (c) Colleen Briggs 2014.

Rooftop Crack. (c) Colleen Briggs 2014.

The rooftop I sat on harbored a languidly lacing crack. I assume it is an earthquake scar. No trace of the building that stood next door remains. Its crumbled walls and floors claimed the lives of five people in the 2010 tragedy, and it has long since been cleared away. My rooftop survived the violent shake, but a crack divides its surface. Dirt settled into the patched crevice and cradled seeds and then roots. In this makeshift garden, grass lifts golden seed-heads to the morning.

The poverty of Haiti is well-documented. But I went there looking for something else, seeking scintilla of joy and courage. I found what I was looking for.

Now, like the rooftop, my heart cracks to make room for an awakening that no longer fits within who I used to be only a few short days ago. I ponder light blazing that much brighter because of the desolation where it is found.

I wonder in the pre-dawn shadows of a cold Colorado morning, who will I become as my body and soul re-integrate, as the seeds take root in these cracks I painfully and joyfully welcome?

Haiti Rooftop Crack. (c) Colleen Briggs, 2014.

Haiti Rooftop Crack. (c) Colleen Briggs, 2014.

12 thoughts on “A Rooftop Crack in Haiti

  1. This post is beautiful. I love your ending, “I wonder in the pre-dawn shadows of a cold Colorado morning, who will I become as my body and soul re-integrate, as the seeds take root in these cracks I painfully and joyfully welcome?” I think this is the traveler’s woe. Our hearts are continually broken by the pain in the world, and mended by the beauty of it. It’s a blessing and a curse. Keep writing!


  2. Lovely. It is always amazing to me to reflect upon the fact that some of the greatest tragedies of our world are interspersed with the mundane. Our routines are punctuated by tiny holes that fall all the way down. Tragedy, like the plants on the roof, inhabits the nooks and crannies of our experience, all around us, but hidden, segregated, held at bay. We think we are somewhere else, in a world of pristine surfaces and long-term opportunities, and that is true, but that is also just a mental state… Down the hall, someone is alone and beset with doubt, hanging off the ledge we think it would take ten years’ travel to find. We are infinitely removed from this interface with total surrender, continuing our contrivances just down the hall. We occupy a sensation of being distant. We desire the deepest forms of connection. We are dreamers.



  3. The best art won’t hold still. Your paintings surge and leap, clutch and pirouette. And your words move with a rhythm like the ocean. The world is, quite simply, better because you do what you do. I praise God for who He made you to be, Colleen


    • Bonnie, your words touch me deeply. Movement and flow are ideas that take over when I am painting. So many times I have a nice, neat little watercolor. And then I can’t resist picking up that black charcoal and swooping over it, almost violently searching for the flow. Sometimes I kill it and sometimes it survives. But you’ve put into words the soul movements I feel as I paint – how encouraging and validating to have another person put into words what I feel. Thank you friend!


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