Jillayna Adamson was doing a booksigning at the Book House, a charismatic 150-year-old Gothic Revival house in Rock Hill (St. Louis), Missouri, that is literally stuffed with new and used books. The book store was recently served an eviction notice by the land owner. I had fun wandering through the maze of books, admiring the cozy dormer filled with poetry books, carefully climbing down a winding, narrow staircase, all perhaps for the last time, and then meeting Jillayna (Jill-anna) and her husband, Rod. Letters from the Other Side of Haiti is the name of Jillayna’s new book.
The couple traveled twice to the impoverished village of Pignon on the northern side of Haiti. They worked with Haiti Home of Hope Orphanage and its feeding clinic and with Haiti Outreach. They visited Meds and Food for Kids and want to bring a Medika Mamba program to Pignon to save the starving children. Medika Mamba is the Creole name for the protein-vitamin- packed peanut butter paste created by a St. Louis doctor. Jillayna wrote about their trips and turned the writings into a book.
Letters from the Other Side reads like a series of travel-blog posts, which many are (some have been removed and put in the book instead). I found the short entries touching. Some are mini-profiles of the people Jill and Rod met, as in the heartbreaking chapter “Faces of Orphans.” Some are like journal entries of what happened that day, like a lesson in meticulously doing laundry by hand (“I have never seen my whites so white”), or the quest for coffee in a land that doesn’t seem to have any. Some are descriptions of how things are. All are cultural revelations—extreme, shocking revelations. All exude a love for the people and the land.
Letters From the Other Side is an easy, fast read with a lot of black and white photos. Although it could use a bit more work in editing and interior design, it is a sweet and fascinating (horrifying) look at a way of living that most of us can’t imagine. These are “stories you won’t hear on the national news.” I loved the last chapter, which is an insightful summary with takeaway message. Jillayna says, “I write from a side of Haiti that I have come to love, understand, and deeply respect. They suffer, but they smile, they are a beautiful, kind and passionate people. Haiti is not all about devastation or tragedy.”
Jillayna and Rod like working with smaller, more remote villages, places where other aid organizations don’t reach. Proceeds from book sales go toward helping these villages by providing food and supplies, particularly to orphanages. Donations can also be made through Jillaynas blog.
They crowded around us and sang God is Good in broken, accented English. We tried not to cry.