Developing countries are often quickly tagged with labels—corrupt, poor, dirty, inefficient, lack of processes and systems or if such things do exist they are deemed too slow. Haiti is part of this grouping of countries that are unfairly generalized and it arguably gets a worse beating from the media than other countries in the hemisphere that is also ‘poor.’ As one who follows current events and news closely (especially about Haiti), it seems as though the same story about Haiti is stuck on a never ending replay. This is unfortunate. Although Martha and I are newcomers to Haiti, I think I have seen enough to say that there is more to Haiti than poverty, corruption, mismanaged aid dollars, pollution, and…you can fill in the blank.
I will admit that I have been totally frustrated and absolutely confused at times during the past few months. Why things are done this way or not done at all or only half done, I cannot always explain or understand. I’ve particularly felt this way the last month as we have worked hard to submit our residence permit application before our tourist visa expired (which we successfully did last week). These feelings also can arise just during daily life.
BUT let me tell you that in the midst of those frustrating moments, there is also an incredible amount of wonder, joy and fascination. I cannot hide from the difficulties and complexities that exist in Haiti; however I can choose not to dwell on them. If anything but for my own longevity and sanity, I recognize the need to dwell on the beauty I see.
So in light of these convictions, I wanted to share with you some things I like about Haiti. Because this country and its’ people have so much offer and give.
I like how people greet each other, even complete strangers. I am not sure why this is so common. However I appreciate it because it lets you know that you are seen and noticed. I get the feeling that even a short greeting in passing says, “I see you and acknowledge your presence.”
I like that Coke can be found everywhere. I also like how, at least in Port-au-Prince, a Coke in a glass bottle is cheaper than in a plastic bottle. Nothing better than dark sugary goodness on a scorching day.
I like how soccer, or foutbòl as it is called in Haiti, is loved. Especially when a Spanish club like Real Madrid or Barcelona plays, you may hear a deep roar echo off all the concrete buildings following a goal. It is also not uncommon to see dozens of people tightly gathered around a 22 inch television watching an important match. Kids also are often seen playing the game on whatever open and somewhat flat surface they can find with anything that can be kicked. I have totally embraced this soccer culture and absolutely love the energy!
I like how people ask you if you slept well. Usually when we reach our office in the morning and knock on the big iron door, we’re greeted by one of World Concern’s three guards who are often smiling. Along with a handshake, we’re almost guaranteed to be asked “Byen dòmi?” I think it is just a way of checking in and seeing if you are okay. At first it was almost comical to me because in the States you don’t really ask people that question. But here it is normal and for some reason I’ve come to enjoy it.
I like that Haitians sing well and loud. Each morning, the World Concern staff gathers for a brief prayer. Before we pray, there is always a song sung. The majority of songs are in French and I don’t know them well, so I’ve become fond of just sitting back and listening to the voices singing praise and thanksgiving. Haitians have some serious vocal chords. The booming voices fill the room and are just amazing to listen to even if I don’t understand all the words. Also, there is a church near our apartment where you can hear singing at different times throughout the week (even at 5am!).
I like that mangos are plentiful because they are sweet and so delicious. Enough said.
I like the pace of life. Despite living in a very dense city of 2.5 millionish, it is amazing how life is slower here when compared to life in the States. In fact, today at lunch Martha and I were asked by a couple colleagues if we like Haiti and during our discussion we said that we like how people are not in a hurry to get to the next thing. One of our colleagues responded that in Haiti people like to be together and share things with each other. I totally agree and really enjoy how Haitians make relationships a priority instead of time. There is something to learn here. We can all likely relate to the feeling of being busy and overwhelmed. Although unavoidable at times, this lifestyle in the long run certainly can affect our relationships as well as our ability to respond to the needs around us. I’m trying to be better about slowing myself down, enjoying the pace instead of fighting against it, and being present so I can be more intentional.
I’m sure there are more but I will end here for now. Haiti is a place of contrasts; which is one reason why it is so interesting I think. Even among the things listed above, there are days when I don’t particularly like the pace or hearing singing outside our apartment before dawn but overall I am learning to appreciate things more and more. Basically, despite the challenges of living in Haiti and the slow and difficult process of assimilating here, there is plenty to like about this country and the Haitian people. If you ever come to visit, I think you will know what I mean.