Back from Grand Rapids, via Haiti

After returning from QuiltWeek in Grand Rapids, Michigan recently, a discussion I had on my last day there has stayed with me. It isn’t textile related, but please bear with me.

Grand Rapids isn’t a big city. At the airport you have the option of a taxi or limo sedan to get where you’re going, and to the hotel I usually stay at it’s almost the same price so I like to go with the limo. The drivers are friendly and often interesting to talk to, and almost always from someplace other than Michigan, or even the US. My grandfathers were immigrants and I was one myself 20 years ago when I moved to the UK, so I know how difficult it can be. I start the conversation with “Where are you from?” and go from there.

The driver I had that day was from Haiti. He told me about his journey, 23 years ago, when at the age of 16 his parents put him in a leaky boat with many other children and sent him away to an uncertain future that apparently was better than the one he would have had if he had stayed, despite the risk of drowning en route. Fortunately the US Coast Guard rescued him and the other children before their boat sank, and he was taken in by a Christian charitable organization that helped him get into a foster home and start the process of becoming a legal resident of the US.

From the back seat of the limo I watched this man, very close to my own age, who had risked his life at an age when I was learning to drive a car and trying to keep my grades up in high school. He was neatly dressed in a clean white shirt and black pants; the interior of his limo was immaculate.

We talked about immigration, and why people leave the countries they are from. We reflected on the violence going on in so many parts of the world today and asked ourselves how people could commit such atrocities. I think we in the US don’t understand it because so many of us have never wanted for anything. I mentioned my previous driver had been from Sudan and the man from Haiti said “Oh, Sudan, it’s really bad over there.”

Looking into the history of Haiti in the 1990s today I am reminded of what happened back then, how I had heard a bit about it on the TV news my parents watched. It didn’t mean much to me. I’d never been to Haiti, had no plans to ever go there. It was yet another armed conflict in a foreign country far away, and there were plenty of those to go around.

He told me that he knew how fortunate he was to be here, to have had the opportunities that were given to him, even with the enormous cost involved. He said a person’s success depended on his own decisions, and that some of the other children in that boat had made different decisions and their outcomes had not been so rosy. These days he can afford to travel back to Haiti and visit his mother every year. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her to put him in that boat and say goodbye, but I’m sure she feels now it was the right decision.

When I checked out of the hotel that morning he was waiting for a fare to go to the airport, and I was it. He’d been waiting for four hours. He’s his own boss so it was his decision to wait. Being self-employed myself I understand how it feels to sacrifice hours of your day without the guarantee of payment. It sucks, but I love the freedom. I suspect he does, too.

As I exited the cab I asked if he would be going home to sleep, but he smiled said no, he’d be heading back to the hotel for another fare. Just another day in paradise.

If you’re ever in the Grand Rapids area and need a safe, clean, and timely limo driver, I highly recommend him. I’ll be calling him up next year when I’m back in town.

V’s Anytime Chauffeur Service

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