In the Summer of 2010 I was one of many lucky people who had the opportunity to take a short trip to Haiti. I fell almost instantly in love and just can't keep myself away. I've spent about 11 months in Haiti since the first time I went two and a half years ago and my time there isn't over. I'm exploring my options on where to take my life from here but it WILL include Haiti in one form or another. This is where I record stories and thoughts about my experiences.

Monday, January 30, 2012

blan missionaries, guilt, and cheesecake

I'm still in Bon Reops but I wanted to recap some things that happened while I was in Leogane with the girls a few weeks ago.

During our trip, Amy and I decided to catalog all the girls that were there. We took pictures, wrote down names, and measured their waste sizes. We had some underwear to pass out to all the girls so we ordered the girls names from biggest waste size to smallest. It was amazing to see the order of girls. When Amy and I were looking at it we realized that it matched up completely with their social status. The girls with the biggest waste size were definitely the girls who have the most power in the orphanage. That's how it is throughout all of Haiti too. People with more money (power) typically have bigger waste sizes. Our list of sizes of the girls was an interesting (and unintentional) test of the social ladder within the orphanage.

Unrelated, except for the fact that it took place in Leogane: One night, all of the girls were "playing" church. It was hilarious! All the kids were involved which was fun. Some of the older girls dressed up in ridiculous church outfits which made us all laugh. The girls who dressed up ended up pretending to be"blan" missionaries. Yveline (the nursing student) was among the blans. They did the normal church routine of going up in front of the congregation to introduce themselves like any other church service I've been too. Their portrayal of white missionaries had me laughing as well as thinking. She introduced herself and said "Silence! I am happy to see you. I speak piti piti Creole. We are Americans and we are here to help you. You love us. (a girl behind her touches her) OH! Haiti has a problem because you touch me. Don't touch me. Thank you." After her speech, she opened up her purse and started throwing candy out to the congregation (where she got candy, I have no idea. but apparently they wouldn't be white missionaries without it.) Their impression of white missionaries is very hilarious but also disheartening. I have had my own opinion of the behavior of people (like myself) who come into this country ready to help and a lot of is isn't positive. It was interesting to see the girls impression of how white missionaries act and what they're here to do. The girls who played missionaries didn't stand at the front of the church asking how they could help, they stood at the front and stated what they were there to do and then threw candy at people. Is that really all we accomplished my first week-long trip here? I sure did bring candy. I sure did come with a VBS planned without knowing if that was truly the need. I sure did think those kids loved me. Is that the impression I left on all the people I interacted with while I was here? I want to be making a bigger change than that.

I have been thinking a lot about this recently and I'm slowly losing hope in the human race. Even (especially) myself. Sometimes all I can think about is when my time will be up in Haiti so I can go home buy a $5 coffee without thinking about the kids who don't eat and can't even play because their little bodies can't muster up enough energy from lack of food. I want to get a pedicure and go see a movie then buy a new outfit. I want to spend $25 on a meal at the Cheescake factory and buy a $7 margarita. But then I look around and I see Tchaly (malnurished), the mother of the twins (can't keep her own children because of lack of support, money, everything), Migluise (dead from high blood pressure), and many, many others. None of them  have a date to look forward to where they get to do all those things on my list.

I feel guilty for wanting those things. But it doesn't make me not want them. Amy and I have talked about guilt and she was talking about how guilt is good for us because it propels us to change. I made a change to come live in Haiti. But it doesn't seem to be enough. What is enough? What am I supposed to be doing? Do I need to keep changing until there is no guilt left? Is it ever possible to have an absence of guilt? I think part of the reason I came to Haiti was to try and escape guilt, but it's not working. I'm still the same selfish person I was before I left.

I'm reading the book "After Shock" by Kent Annan and it often parallels with so much of what I am thinking and feeling. Here is a section that I read just today:

Circling Like Angels (Like Vultures)

On the plane with thirty-four people,
Circling in toward destruction.
Like angels (like vultures).

The city collapsed six days ago. The easy-to-reach cadavers: burned already.
The drive up Rue Delmas this time - the thousandth time - will apparently stink of rotting flesh instead of gas fumes.

Why do we go?
Flee in horror; run to watch.
Run to help; flee to get away.

Many want to go help. More than can make in on the limited flights. Waiting lines. Finding a way via the Dominican Republic. Clamoring for access like it's a Disney ride in high season. It's a small world, after all.

This time it makes sense for me. It didn't after the tsunami. This time I have to go. I didn't after New Orleans. I do not. (Celebrities always do. Good for them. They have the means to do what makes them feel alive.)
My goddaughter is sleeping now in a bean field;
her family's home destroyed.

 Death slammed shut for so many.
Peek-a-boo. Peek-a-boo. Open and shut. I just kissed my son goodbye.
We circle in closer, like cultures, like angels.

I grew up on the edge of fundamentalism: Purity and Holiness, words deeply important.
    Other words, to me, have taken higher priority now: Justice and Humility.
But the words change easier than the shape of your soul.

This drive for purity is in me and I recognize it now and am disappointed that purity once again stays elusive, a shadow dancing with blurry edges on the cave's wall as the real world operates elsewhere.

And in this tragedy of historic proportions - not even purity here, among the impure mix of shattered concrete blocks and blood?

No. Personally and in those I'm circling down with, one recognizes the opportunity to help but also to be: courageous, heroic, compassionate, and just a little better than everyone else who isn't going. To feel more alive.

Some clamoring to get down are so transparent in their messages, and on Face book and on Twitter, doing it for their own sake. Can't you invite admiration more subtly, I think in disgust? You'll blow the cover for the rest of us.

Occasionally givers are mostly concerned about themselves, about the integrity of their money, making sure it doesn't go to any waste, making sure it goes to what they need to feel. Their attraction to help goes so quickly through the filter of their self-importance that it's hard to take seriously.

Except that those in need seriously need them.

We each make meaning in our lives with our decisions.

This is what attracts us to suffering. The plot of our own stories makes more sense if we make a difference for other people.
   We circle like vultures (like angels) seeking meaning, to reinforce the better parts of ourselves.

We're repelled but attracted to:
a. the genuine possibility of helping
b. wanting the same help for ourselves if the roles were reversed, and
c. the possibility of finding meaning and feeling better about ourselves.
We want to help but are repelled when it:
a. brings us closer to meaninglessness, to questions rather than answers, and
b. reveals us as more selfish - even as we give- than generous.

We want to find proof of God, one way or the other.
We shouldn't turn away, one way or the other.

Like angels, we help. Like vultures, we scavenge on the suffering of others to feed our hunger for meaning. {Purity cannot be checked in or carried on for these flights. The baggage is ourselves. Always ourselves.

The U.S. military radios approval to the pilot. Time to land. My heart isn't pure, but it is broken. I need to be near.

1 comment:

  1. that's so interesting about the kids playing missionary...