What three Haitian brothers gave me

It’s a tradition here that the newsletter before Christmas takes a step back from PR and looks at broader themes of a fulfilling life.

The picture above is me with Jean, Ludovic and Claude, three brothers from Haiti. Their story and what I’ve learned from them are worth sharing.

Through a series of amazing connections between strangers, they ended up in a tiny house on the property of a generous man in our neighborhood. An awesome couple in our church congregation runs a small manufacturing business and offered jobs to the three of them, who spoke zero English.

The manufacturing facility is five miles away in an industrial park where there’s no public transit, and the busy route is not safe for biking.

That’s how I’ve ended up, every Tuesday morning for the past few months, pulling up to their home at 6:45, watching the brothers hop in, and carrying on the most stilted, awkward, fun and endearing conversation you can imagine.

Me: “Have you ever gone in the mountains?”

Claude: “What is ‘mountain’?”

Me: “Mountain,” pointing to the mountains to our east and north, making a hand motion like something high.

Claude: following my gesture, looking out the window, suddenly breaks a huge smile, “Ahhhh, mountain!” Then he translates it into Haitian Creole to his brothers.

How cool to see the realization wash over his face – “THAT’S what that’s called in English!”

We had the family over for dinner and learned more of their story:

Jean and his wife left Haiti first, making their way to Chile. While there they had a baby daughter. Eventually they took buses from Chile north through Peru and Colombia. There is no road into Panama, so they hiked through the lawless jungle of the Darién Gap for over 60 miles.

Can you imagine the desperation that would motivate young parents to take that risk? I still can’t.

They made their way to Mexico, where they waited for two years. This summer they received permission to legally enter the United States. Soon after, Claude and Ludovic showed up.

At our dinner together, they told us about New Year’s Eve traditions in Haiti, and asked why we have to eat turkey for Thanksgiving.

It’s so fun, enlightening – and sobering – to see the world through their eyes.

At the risk of sounding like a real jerk, I will share my takeaway:

In coldly economic terms, I could earn significantly more money during my weekly half-hour drive with them than it would cost me to pay for an Uber to drop them off.

But I can’t put a price on what I get out of the experience.

It’s great to give money to good causes. But it’s also great – maybe even more important – to give YOURSELF to good causes. Not for the recipients of your charity, but for you!

I dropped the guys off a couple of hours before sitting down to write this. Instead of knowing zero words of English, my friends now know maybe 100 :). Once Jean figured out I was asking about Christmas carolers who had dropped by, he held his hand on his heart, closed his eyes, and said, “Ah yes, it was very, very, very, very, very, very nice.”

It was the highlight of my week.

I hope you can find your own version of Jean, Ludovic and Claude in 2024. Not just for them, but for you :).

P.S. We’ve used bilingual friends and Google translate to communicate, including getting their permission to use their photo and tell their story. Other people in our neighborhood are doing WAY more for this family than I am. One awesome woman has waded through all the requirements, found a Spanish-speaking driving instructor, and is helping Jean progress toward getting his driver license. Somehow, the family has a car (I’m guessing someone gave it to them). Someday soon, they won’t need a ride on Tuesday mornings. Best believe they won’t be able to get rid of me that easily :).

This article was originally published on December 21, 2023

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