Up on the roof of the guest house on a clear night you can hear the chirps of crickets and the bleating of goats beneath a sky almost overflowing with stars. The solar-powered lamp just south of the house, dimly illuminates the gateway to the boy’s village where 400 kids sleep with no electricity in the warm, mild Haitian winter.
You can lay down against the cool concrete, between the patches of rebar spaced across the roof. After a few minutes your eyes adjust and you can see more stars than you ever thought were up there. Suddenly, your eyes can’t keep up with all of the shooting lights in their periphery. On a clear night like this, your head darts right and left, up and down to steal a glance of these fleeting moments.
You could almost drift off to sleep up there if the concrete wasn’t so uncomfortable against your back. In the final days of 2014, I was up on the roof on a clear night like that. My family was visiting Haiti for the first time and our trip was coming to a close.
One week later: December 31. I am running with a crowd in the heart of New York City. It’s only 3 in the afternoon, but everyone’s already rushing to get a good spot to see the New Year’s festivities. Jackson and I hustle to match pace, keeping our ears out for the location of the access point where the police will let us through. 53rd we hear, and then 51st. Eventually the crowd slows to a stop and the people begin pushing in on each other. We can’t tell if anyone’s moving forward anymore, but those behind us shuffle in regardless. I’m almost certain I could pick my feet up beneath the crowd and my torso would be held up by all of the shoulders around me, pressing in from the sides. A far cry from the quiet rooftop in Haiti.
Eventually we are pushed to the front of the gate and inspected by the police who usher us into our “pen.” We’re right at the intersection of Broadway and 50th street. We have a perfect view of the ball ahead of us and a giant screen positioned beside us. For the next 9 hours we will wait here. We occupy our time talking, rationing the snacks in our pockets, and trying to stay warm. At 6 there is a countdown as they raise the ball. As the crowd chants 3…2…1… a screen appears with the words “6 hours to go!” and we can’t help but laugh.
The 28 degree weather isn’t so bad, but our toes become numb. We can see a few of the performances on the screen next to us before the crowd squeezes us forward into the next pen. Now we are slightly closer to the action, but screen-less. We can no longer hear what’s going on, just the muffled conversations of the people around us.
At some point we retreat beneath the crowd to give our feet a rest. We can’t leave the pen, but we can sit on the ground beneath it. It feels like being a child again sitting underneath the dinner table surrounded by adult shoes and legs. Because everyone is packed together so tightly it is dark beneath the fluffy winter coats and the crowd. It’s quiet too. We meet a friend down there on the ground. Her feet are tired too, she wore heels for the 9 hour wait.
Eventually we rejoin the crowd: the noises, the smells, the people. Looking back, I hardly remember the waiting. It doesn’t feel like it was 9 hours. When the final countdown begins, that’s all that fills my mind. We can see the ball dropping and fireworks shooting out from the glowing advertisements in Times Square. We can feel the energy of the whole crowd as they welcome the new year—many of them hoping they will find new happiness, become new people and lead a new life.
Instead of thinking about how things will change in 2015, I am reminded of how grateful I am for 2014. I have so much in this moment: to be able to share this time with Jackson knowing that I have a home in Boston and another underneath that quiet roof in Haiti that both belong to me. When many of the kids in Haiti, and around the world, don’t have one home to call their own, I have two. And in a broader sense, although I can’t see the stars in New York City, I know that both those homes are under the same sky.
Just three days into the New Year I return to that quiet rooftop ready for the next six months in Haiti. I don’t know where I’ll be this time next year, what new home I will find. I know friends and family will be my constant and my support as I figure it out.