My phone lights up on my nightstand. I roll over, ignore it.
It buzzes, lights up again.
I ignore it.
The third time, I turn back over and grab it.
“Johnna. My sister’s been kidnapped.”
I rub my eyes, I must be reading the Creole wrong. I look again. Same thing. Frantic words, panic. I get out of bed, walk to the kitchen, pour myself coffee.
I take a deep breath. Look outside at the sun rising, the yellow glow, warm and welcoming.
I look down at my phone in my hand. ‘My sister has been kidnapped.’ I try calling Mika, but she doesn’t answer. Mika. She came to the orphanage when she was 15 years old. She became a little sister to me. She worked in the kitchen, helped with the kids. Her sister had been sick, and was staying at the orphanage for help, so Mika had come along too. We laughed so hard, back then.
Mika is 27 now, has a son, a life. She has 3 sisters, and I’m rummaging through my mind trying to figure out who it could be.
My phone lights up again.
“Johnna, they took Dalen, they’re asking ransom by tomorrow.”
Dalen. She’s older than Mika. Her daughter, Slayika, had stayed with us for a while those first few months of my time in Haiti. I can see her daughter’s face so clearly, the way her nose scrunched up when she told us how pretty she was. She was feisty, wild. Mika used to say she was the opposite of her mother. How Dalen was calm, composed, always knew what to say, do.
I watch a rabbit outside and think of Dalen. Her hands tied up, a dark room. I picture the men with guns all around her, yelling, threatening her. I picture Slayika, older now, scared for her mother.
And I’m sitting on a cozy blue couch, sipping coffee, while my son sleeps.
Haiti has fallen apart recently. It was like this years ago, when chaos reigned. The main road is closed, gangs have taken over the city, the police stations. Kidnapping is at an all time high.
I call a friend there, seek advice. He tells me often the gangs have been killing the victims even after the ransom has been paid. That it’s all a game to them. My friend sounds overwhelmed, defeated. He tells me I need to pay whatever I can in the ransom, in case they’ll let her go.
I spend all day in a trance. Driving, listening to music, happy, then I think of her, just a few hours across the sea, helpless, alone. At work, dancing with the babies, tickling and chasing them, then I see her face, and guilt washes over me. Here I am, free, and there they are, trapped.
Years ago, on a trip into the city, we had drinks one night with a gang member. He had been in prison, but when the earthquake happened he escaped, like so many prisoners did. He was known as a hero almost, on those streets. He protected the people in that zone from outside gangs, and because of him, peace had been in that area for years. He was fascinated by me, my Creole and my ease on a rooftop in that tiny city. He was massive, his muscles stretching out his shirt, his guns outlined through the material. I was so young, dancing around him, joking with him. I was scared of nothing, then.
He was captured and killed a few years ago.
The area I once called home is unlivable now. The villages are really the only safe place.
All day I think of Dalen, suffering, unsure whether she will live or die. I think of my life, easy, joyful, the biggest issue of the day is taking care of someone’s chickens.
How can we be living the same life? Oceans apart, so close yet so far away.
I pay a portion of the ransom.
The next morning, she is freed.
But they are still desperate there. There is no end in sight to the violence, the insecurity.
They are not free.
I think of my friends there and ache. I think of them and slow down, breathe deeper. I let myself feel the sun, hear my son laugh. I let gratitude wash over me, and then propel me forward. The only thing I can do is try to make a difference. In some small way, any small way, it’s the only answer to merging these two lives onto the same path. The only way to make sense out of these parallel universes.
It’s a good reminder to be uncomfortable in your comfort, sometimes. We have everything accessible here, opportunity at the touch of our phone screens. In so many places around the world, and in many in our own country, this is not the case.
It shut me up for a while.
I know that one day my life here and my life in Haiti will align again. But until that day, it’s just one foot in front of the other.