If you had asked me prior to my first trip to Haiti what I expected of the week ahead, laughter likely wouldn’t have topped the list. However humor has a way of catching us off guard, and sometimes arising in unexpected places and situations. . .
The mood felt quiet and somber as we entered the clean and cheerfully painted main room of a care facility for disabled young adults. All of the children in the main room were bed-ridden, in approximately 40 beds arranged neatly along the walls. Despite clearly being loved and well cared for by the staff, many children looked very uncomfortable, their tiny limbs often contorted beyond their control.
Our team had the privilege of washing the children and clipping their fingernails and toenails alongside the loving Haitian staff. I awkwardly pulled the nail clipper out of my pocket that the director had given me upon arrival. My own children can’t stand when I trim their nails so I was on my best behavior – trimming gently and leaving “lots of white” (as my youngest son insists.) The room felt uncomfortably quiet, so I started quietly singing “Amazing Grace” to the first child I was with. That felt somehow too heavy, so upon noticing the beautiful sunny day outside and the laughter spilling in from the courtyard where some of the other residents were playing parachute games with the team, I switched to singing “On Top of Spaghetti” instead. This led to an eclectic medley of all-time favorite kid songs and after a particularly non-sensical verse, I burst out laughing. To my surprise, I looked down at the child whose nails I was clipping, certain she had been sound asleep, and saw her eyelids flutter open, a huge smile spread across her face, and she let out a great belly laugh herself. I couldn’t speak any Creole, but it didn’t matter. The silliness of the moment translated perfectly.
Later in the week we returned to Cite Soleil where we loved, held, and played with the children in the midst of the organized chaos of the daily water truck stop. I was surprised to hear English as a young girl rushed up to me and asked emphatically, “Hey you - you from U.S.? You on WhatsApp?” Her English was crystal clear, but I had no idea what she was referring to until our Haitian friend and interpreter graciously explained that “WhatsApp” is a free international calling and texting app, and she was asking whether I use this app. As a smartphone holdout and novice of all things tech-related, I had to laugh and explain that no, I had never heard of WhatsApp. She cocked her head to one side and gave me a strange look (this, incidentally I am used to!) and happily bounded back towards the other kids playing in the modified splash pad behind the water truck. I couldn’t help but think, “of all places . . . “ I said a little prayer that someday this bright, inquisitive girl will be writing code for the next generation of apps herself.
Even (or perhaps especially) when so much divides us (language, culture, life experiences), humor has a way of quickly generating true connection – a reminder of our shared human experience. We share so much more in common that we often think. Fortunately for all of us, laughter is the same in any language.