Sunday, February 28, 2010

When cultures collide

The first time I came to Haiti was with the Peace Corps. For 6 months I lived with Haitian families. My days were mostly spent interacting with Haitian people. But this time I’m staying in a nice guest house with all Americans. Most of my days are spent interacting with other Americans. It’s quite a different perspective.

The first time I was here it seemed that every day was a competition among my body parts as to which one was in more pain. My head ached from trying to understand Creole. My guts were always in a tangle trying to digest the food and I never stopped sweating. In contrast here at the guest house, the cooks have been trained to cook food for Americans and my Creole has barely been tested for any length of time. I came to Haiti this time prepared to battle many expected illnesses and have had little more than a skirmish.

You could say the perspective I got during my first trip to Haiti was from the inside looking out. But now the perspective is more like from the outside looking in.

The guest house has a few other volunteers working with Haiti Outreach staying here. But it also has others working in Haiti. The “others” so far have been a group of 4 from Minnesota funding the construction of a large youth home. Our latest visitor is another Minnesotan looking to start a pre-school. They usually don’t stay for more than a week or two. In contrast, the Haiti Outreach volunteers are one a Haitian-American, another who has lived among the Haitian community in Florida and married a Haitian woman and another who has been coming here for 15 years for months at a time.

Haitian culture is extremely complex. To me it seems to completely defy logic on a regular basis. Early on I figured the best way to get something done was to find a friend I could trust. I went through quite a few before I found one I was pretty sure was legit. His name was Lizer and he was an engineering student. I tried to take him with me whenever I could. We would survey a situation together, discuss solutions and he would interact with the community. Some Haitians can be masters of deception and Lizer could see through them when I didn’t have a clue.

Granted I’ve only been here a week but my first perception is that the 2 week visitors are like lambs being led off a cliff. Most Haitians are good hard-working people. But those who hang around the airports, dressed in nice clothes and often driving new Toyota pickups I would say are not of the hard-working variety. But these are the ones who often befriend the short-termers and lead them to their own ulterior motives.

Haiti holds a very special place in many of our hearts. We have all been touched in different ways. One moment that I will never forget was a visit to a malnutrition clinic. It had 30 beds and 40 children, most of whom would not see their 5th birthday. I hesitated to hold a baby who had scabies but I did it.

I recounted this story because I want you to know that I really do care when I make the next statement. I don’t think Haiti is poor. I think it lacks opportunity. Poor means the lack of money. We can give them money and then what do they have? But if we give them opportunity then they have a future.


  1. You're doing a great job Dave. Let me know if I can help in any way from here.

    Brian Malm

  2. Similar to the adage... you can give a man a meal and in a few hours or the next day - he will be hungry. Teach him to work and grow food, fish, raise food... and he will be fed for a life time. And yes, it needs people committed to walking along side. But the short term-missions fills in the blanks when they are working along side of those established!

    I'm sure, that child needed to be held... and you, well a precious moment also. Sue Loose