I've been practicing my writing in my Kreyol classes. My most recent writing assignment was to write about what I think about the Haitian people and their culture. One rule: honesty.. no sugarcoating the truth. I've lived in Haiti for 6 months now and in these 6 months I have learned a lot about the Haitian culture. There are many things about the culture that I never tire of seeing, things so beautiful that I think they are the best people group on this planet. There are other things in their culture that frustrate me and test my patience. And, well this will be my attempt to tell you all about it. This is part 1 and part 2 will come after I have completed my next 6 months.
Haiti is a poor country. (duh.) The interesting part to me though is how much a part of the Haiti experience, the simplicity of life, the beauty in the small things is simply here because of the poverty and not despite it. I honestly think that some of the most wonderful parts of the Haitian culture might die away if there wasn't a problem of poverty. The community in Haiti is so alive. The neighbors know each other, look after one another's children, and spend endless hours outside together talking about and observing the life around them. Sometimes, I think to myself, "What are all these people doing just sitting around outside?" The answer is simple. They literally are just sitting. We don't really know how to do that in the USA. We need to have a purpose, a goal, an objective for each precious chunk of our time that we spend. I love being able to walk to visit my friends in the community and to know that they have the time for me, that they are happy to see me, that we can walk around town for hours or play Frisbee in the road and I am not competing with something or someone else for their time. I guess considering my biggest love language is "quality time" I get my love tank filled pretty easily in a place like Haiti.
I may never be able to understand the priorities for Haitian. I guess I am specifically talking about money and how money is spent. It blows my mind when someone prioritizes credit on their cell phone over buying food for themselves or their children. When the teenage girl down the road sends me a text and calls several times to tell me she is crying at school because she is so hungry but doesn't have food.. I can't help but note that she had money on her cellphone to make all those calls and texts. Maybe in that case I'm just being tricked... but by her skinny 80 pound frame, I guess I believe that she doesn't have much to eat. I don't understand how I am more frugal than most Haitians are for paying for things like a motorcycle ride instead of just walking or when they buy things like juice or a coke when they finally have a dollar to spare. I can't help but see these things as unnecessary and a luxury. I try to put myself in their place. Their reality is that they live day-to-day. They typically aren't saving up for the future, because they might not even be able to ensure food that day or the next week. I guess it's a mindset that I really can't understand no matter how hard I try because up until this point, I've always had the luxury of being able to plan and save for a future. It's hard not to judge their choices at times... On the other hand I am constantly surprised by the generosity of Haitians and their willingness to share. When Michelet's dad (who doesn't have enough money to ensure food for his family each day) insists on paying for me to have a taxi ride home I feel I could never give a gift as big as he gives. I'm surprised when my Haitian friends or neighbors give me a pineapple for free when they know I would easily pay them for one. I'm challenged to be just little more generous.. a lot less selfish.
The Haitians are a very proud people. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's annoying to me and sometimes I think it hurts them. In the United States I feel like we've had a fad of being "honest" and "real" and finding humor in our faults and shortcomings. It's like it's cool to not be perfect, maybe even cool to really suck at some things (although that's probably only fun to do if you are really good at other things!) I don't see that same mentality here. I remember on my first trips to Haiti being so surprised at how the Haitians seemed to love to complement themselves or tell me how good or beautiful they were. This is where I get to the "annoying me" part. It annoyed me at first because I didn't love myself the way they loved themselves, didn't think I was as good, as intelligent, as beautiful as they saw themselves. I would never have talked about myself the same way they talked about themselves. It made me feel uncomfortable to hear them sing their own praises. I even made fun of them for it sometimes. I started to realize that my friends really did have a lot to be proud of. They were educated and intelligent, they had a bright future and they had beat all odds to make a bright future for themselves. They couldn't have overcome all of their barriers without knowing that they had something special, something intelligent and strong within them. I realized it's okay to think you are beautiful. That everyone is beautiful and there's no point to go through all of life saying you aren't beautiful because the truth is that everyone wants to feel beautiful. So, embrace it :) These are all things my Haitian friends taught me. Thanks guys :) But I almost forgot one point.. remember I said that sometimes their pride hurts them? I think that more than other people I know, Haitians hide a lot about themselves. They have a deep fear of rejection and betrayal if their faults are known. They are guarded and slow to trust. They will rarely share their fears, troubles, and mistakes. I have only one Haitian friend that I feel this barrier has been completely crossed, the rest (even after years of knowing them) continue to act like they have this thing called life, all figured out. It makes me sad for them. I want them to know the freedom in sharing the rough times, to lessen their own burdens by sharing them with others and allowing others to help carry the weight.
This is what I have learned so far. Maybe after more time here I'll take some of these observations back or I'll realize that I wasn't seeing things correctly. I want to absorb as much of the culture as I can. I want to take my sunglasses off and see the real colors of their culture; to see with clarity and understanding who the Haitians are. I want to stop comparing what they are with how I think they should be. I want to be teachable and a good listener because I don't think anyone or anything can teach me about their culture as well as they can.