Lakay Se Lakay
Judel’s smile lights up his eyes and is as wide as his whole face. He is quiet and shy, but always full of insight when you sit down to talk to him. Judel is incredibly kind, meek and full of hopeful thoughts. I have never known him to be demanding or ungrateful about anything in his life, although he had many good reasons to do so. I have spent countless hours working with him throughout our years of Hero Holidays in Dominican Republic, and he quickly became one of my favourite people after our first day of working together. He loves learning new languages, and as one our translators, he is able to speak Creole, French, Spanish, English and even a little bit of German.This past summer when we worked together, Judel was on a quest to learn new English idioms. Like most people that have learned English as a second language, Judel found some things about it really confusing. Our language has close to 250,000 words and it can seem pretty overwhelming to try to understand how to use them all properly. Judel’s first language is Creole, and Creole has only a few thousands words. Rather than use single words to define everything, many things are captured in phrases in Creole, describing and evoking a mutual understanding based on cultural context. We were walking through one of the Haitian neighbourhoods where we work in Dominican Republic, and we were discussing idioms. It was a quiet, hot afternoon and everyone was trying to find shade anywhere that they could. Judel had pulled out his tiny notebook he always carried in his pocket and asked me to teach him some idioms he could incorporate into his language arsenal. After a moment of trying to think of one, I began laughing as I tried to explain to him how the idiom, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” had no real meaning in our modern world, but was based on a truth from many centuries ago. We began to joke about what a bizarre mental image some English idioms paint for their listeners.As we were walking by one of the homes in the village, a man was sitting on the caked mud out in front of his tiny, ramshackle house, sharpening a knife. He waved at us and smiled and Judel and I waved back. Judel called out, “Lakay se lakay” as he waved at the man. The man called it back to him, “Oui, lakay se lakay”. As we walked away, I asked Judel what that meant. He smiled and said, “It is a very old Creole saying and it means ‘The house is the home’. No matter where we go as Haitians, we always say that wherever we are will be our home and we comfort ourselves with that.”I have never forgotten that phrase. In fact, this past fall, as Judel and I would email each other after his return to Haiti, we would use that phrase in our emails. He would tell me about how life was in Port au Prince, about his family, and about the amazing woman that he had fallen in love with there and how they were hoping to be able to find enough money to be able to get married and start a life together. He wanted a house and family of his own, he wanted to start an English school this spring in his neighbourhood, and he wanted to someday be able to better support the family that he has in Port au Prince.When everything changed on January 12, 2010, Judel was one of the first people on my mind. His house was on Delmas, the area that was hardest hit in the capital city. I feared the worst. Frantically, about 4 hours after the news, I sent him an email, begging him to let me know he was ok, not yet knowing what to expect. I knew the only way he had ever been able to email in the past was through internet cafes, and I realized that most of them probably no longer existed, but still there was hope that he would be able to get back to us. For 12 days I waited for news of his safety with many other hundreds of Hero Holiday participants who were now friends with Judel. Nothing. My hope was beginning to fade, and on the morning of January 24, I finally posted a response to all of the questions regarding his safety. “None of us have heard from Judel and after 12 days, I now fear the worst.” I remember pressing the send button on my laptop, getting up and walking away with tears streaming down my cheeks as I tried to face the fact that my friend was most likely now a casualty of something beyond my understanding.A few hours later, my blackberry buzzed, signaling an email in my inbox. As I opened the email, the news literally made me shout out loud. In my inbox was an email from Judel:“God listened to your prayers guys! We can’t return to our house and are sleeping outside. To tell the truth, many people where I live passed away during the earthquake.However, me and my family were protected and my girlfriend is okay too! Many people we know have died and some friends in my church died and that makes me sad.”He had sent it to me from a different address than he normally did, and he didn’t sign his name; but I knew there was only one person who it could be from. How did I know? Because only someone like Judel could escape a crumbling building, be left to sleep outside, be forced to say a sudden goodbye to so many loved ones and still, after all of that, put this as the subject line on his email: Lakay se lakay!This year, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) is joining with many other organizations and doing our best to help Haiti in their time of need. We have Hero Holidays going there this year, we have buidling projects being prepared to help out the children’s home we work with as they prepare to reach many more kids in the new orphan crisis in Port au Prince, and we are also sending emergency aid through our contacts on the ground. To help us help Haiti, go to www.livedifferent.com/donate.