Friday, October 19, 2012

What does a Haitian want?

This is the field (behind the five bushes)

Every day we walk by a field where several Haitian guys have been working to break up the ground with hoes. They have a patch cleared which I would estimate to be a half acre of ground, and they're still going little by little. Every day, they make a tiny bit of progress.

Of all the possible ways to till your ground, hoeing it by hand has got to be the hardest. Okay, so maybe you can't afford a tractor...but there are 3 or 4 horses grazing in the same field. What about an Amish-quality plow, at the very least? Has it ever occurred to these guys to want an easier way to do this work?

Houses don't have numbers, roads don't have names, and Haiti doesn't have a post-office system.  Has it ever occurred to anyone in Haiti to want to send a letter to a friend?

"String is like gold in Haiti," one of my coworkers remarked the other day. "Where did you find that?" I was tying string to some balloons. "I brought it with me," I replied. "Oh, that explains it," he said. Yet string has been so abundant in our country that kids in one-room schoolhouses used to make string balls by winding little bits of string around a rock. Their mothers spun it all the time. It was and always has been a staple that you practically can't live without. So has it ever occurred to Haitian people in general to want string?

Then the most confusing thing: Any random Haitian that you see probably has a high-tech phone. Obviously they wanted that, and they found a way to make the money to get it. A guy will be living in a shack with a leaky roof, but he'll have his Blackberry in his pocket. He may eat once every three days, but he can text. That, to me, is the most confusing set of priorities. Why in the world would you do that? (Of course, this is coming from someone who waited until 2010 to get her first cell phone, and it's the cheapest freebie phone they make.)

Want --> Get?
In American culture, it seems like the normal flow of operations is as follows:
•  I want something
•  I find a way to get it, make it, or organize a way for it to happen
•  I get it

Perhaps it is invalid to follow the logic track backwards, but the way I see Haitian culture is this:
•  No one has anything
•  They're not finding a way to get it, make it, or organize a way for it to happen
•  So do they not even want it?

What does a Haitian want?

When he wants something, what does he do to get it?

(The pessimist in me is suggesting that he wants what you have and he steals it to get it--but I know there is a deeper level of understanding than that.)

But really--what does a Haitian want?

Does he want a house whose roof doesn't leak?
Does he want a steady supply of electricity?
Does he want clean drinking water?
Does he want time-saving and labor-saving devices, like plows for fields and washing machines for clothes?
Does he want trustworthy systems like mail delivery?
Does he want safe neighborhoods?

The foreigners certainly want these things, and they find a way to get them. The missionaries have secure compounds, generators for electricity, clean drinking water, and an elaborate network built up to get mail. It is always the outsiders who implement systems like sustainable production, efficiency, and productivity. Where is the proactive, ambitious Haitian?

Of course, there is the other side of the coin.

There is the possibility that you want something, and you do what you can to get it, but it fails and you don't get what you want. For instance, my dad wants a job, and he has done a lot of stuff for 3 years to try to make money, but he doesn't seem to be able to.

Is it possible that this massive poverty is a result of equally massive failure to get what you want?

Is there a something going on that thwarts people's ability to achieve what they want?

Are people thwarted so consistently at every level that they just get frustrated and give up on wanting things?

Right now, I can't answer these questions. Perhaps someone who has been in Haiti for years could give me some insight. Perhaps one day I will have been in Haiti for years and will look back with amusement at my initial impressions. In any case, I don't think it's wrong to wonder why. I'm sure the answer is complex and multi-faceted. I am in pursuit of understanding, not judgment.

Wait a minute...
A sudden thought just struck me after I restated the question in plain and clear terms.

People in Haiti don't have anything. This is because...
a) They don't want it
b) They want it but can't get it
c) Some other reason

But wait---maybe I am partly the answer to my own question.

A millionaire could look at my (pre-Haiti) life and be just as mystified at me as I am with Haiti. In Haiti, I am rich, but in America, I'm rather poor.

So what if a millionaire, who is used to having certain amenities that I never could afford, looked at my life and wondered why I would live without those things? "Does she just not want them, or does she want them but can't have them?" the millionaire would ask. I'll just throw a few things out there that might be on this list.

•  A spacious, nicely decorated house vs. a bedroom in my parents' house
•  A new car to drive around vs. no car or a 15-year-old junker
•  Stylish new clothes in my wardrobe vs. stuff from Goodwill
•  Dining out at fine establishments vs. eating frozen burritos that we heated up
•  Long, hot baths in a jaccuzzi tub vs. military showers
•  A manicure or pedicure vs. clipping/painting my own nails
•  An ipod/ipad vs. doing without one

Hey, I'm not going to lie, I wouldn't complain if I had all those things. I could get used to that lifestyle and wonder how anyone could live with anything less.

But the truth is, I don't want it. I'm adequately fed, clothed, and housed, I have transportation when I need it, and I really don't care a hoot about having an ipod.

There will always be people who have more than others.

So is that how the average Haitian feels? He or she has food, clothing, and shelter--just less of it and of inferior quality. Is there just a contentment there that doesn't moan over what it doesn't have, because life has always been like this and one has gotten along just fine up to this point? I look at a millionaire, and I know I have less, but I don't feel deprived (even though I can feel somewhat dazzled at times), because I know I have enough.

And if I took a drastic step down and lived the Haitian way, I would still have enough, because I have Jesus, and HE is enough.

• • •

"And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content." 1 Tim 6:8

"Be content with your wages." Luke 3:14

"Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." Php 4;11

"But godliness with contentment is great gain." 1 Tim 6:6

"Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Heb. 13:5


  1. Rebekah,
    I so enjoy reading your blog. Let us know how better we can be praying for you. I think and pray about you every day...

    My sister has been overseas for several months this year. She sent me this quote by Robert Murray M'Cheyne, and I thought I would share it with you:

    "A foreign land draws us nearer to God. He is the only one whom we know here. We go to Him as to one we know; all else is strange. Every step I take, and every new country I see, makes me feel more that there is nothing real, nothing true, but what is everlasting.”


    1. Ah! I LOVE that quote! YES! Let Haiti press me nearer in to Jesus. How wise and true that is. Thank you for sharing that, and thank you for reading my blog! :-)


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