Cultural Anthropology 101

So it’s been almost a week since the last post. Sorry about that. I know how annoying it is. I stalk several blogs every day and I get frustrated when I see the same stuff up there day after day. Trust me, it wasn’t intentional. I’ve made a couple of attempts at posting this week, but I keep getting interrupted.

In all actuality this week has been full of interesting and, well, infuriating, experiences.

—The first was my second trip to the hospital for vaccinations. Last week there was one that we couldn’t get because enough people hadn’t shown up for it and whatever wasn’t used got thrown away. On Tuesday Olivia and I went down and showed up on time. There were two other young women with babies there. I don’t know if they were the actual mothers or if they were just bringing the babies in on behalf of the mothers. One was 7 days old, the other was 4. I decided that since I was already the elephant in the room (figuratively speaking of course) I would just make conversation and get the “we’ve adopted her” thing out of the way. We made friends quickly and ended up chatting quite a bit. I learned some things about mothering that I didn’t know. I had to laugh when I read Tara’s post yesterday about Peter and the clogged nose issue. Oh man. According to most Haitians here I’m probably breaking many rules as far as parenting goes.

For example…I was told not to let Olivia sit up, but to lay her down because she wasn’t old enough yet. I told them she liked to be sitting up and looking around. I was told while feeding her that I needed to pull her bottle down so she could breathe. I assured them that she fed the same way every time and she did just fine. At one point another young couple came along and the guy marveled at Olivia not having anything on her feet. This is a big faux pas here. Children should always have their feet covered! He was so amazed about it that he proceeded to show everyone that stopped to see what was up with the white woman and the black baby. When I say “showed” I mean he physically came over, un-tucked Liv’s feet and wiggled them around for everyone to see. It gets better though.

The woman with the baby next to me was having problems because he was hungry and acting up. There was much baby shaking and shooshing. So much that I kept cringing and just wanted to tell her to cuddle him, not shake him around like he was at an amusement park. Though, cuddling would break the lying down only rule I guess. Anyway, she finally whipped out her breast and he was happy. I sat there realizing that the whole idea that we have in North America about body privacy or not just letting everything hang out does not exist here. I know it’s breast feeding so it’s a bit different, but she just whipped it out. Eventually the conversation started up because the baby kept fussing every time she took him off. The foot shaker guy started asking about her and why the baby was still fussing if he was feeding. *If* I understood the conversation properly she actually wasn’t the mother, but a relative that had brought the baby in and was letting him suck on her because that was the only thing that would work. Her chin wasn’t a good stand in, though she tried. Well, this prompted some big, wide eyes from Foot Shaker and his wife because apparently this is just not done here. Mr. Foot Shaker offered his own breast region, in play of course. The thing that almost made me fall of the bench though was when he just nonchalantly poked at her breast. I would like to point out that these two are not friends, they are not related, they were strangers – and he was poking her breast! See what I mean about personal boundaries. What did she do? I know you’re all wondering. Absolutely NOTHING. Strange man poking my breast would not amount to nothing, I don’t care how long I had been living in this culture. Oiye!

The whole waiting area was a cultural experience. To say the least. I learned a lot. I taught some. I was angered at the lack of education that women here have about babies and what they need. A 4 day old baby should not be getting water because it’s fussing. I was angry that so many people can’t afford to feed their children. Foot Shaker and his wife were talking and they said, about Olivia, “She’s got 6 months.” I shook my head “no” and said she only had 6 weeks. Again the jaws were dropped open and they sat there looking at her in disbelief. It made me sad because I realized she will be the exception to the rule and probably double the size of kids her own age, simply because we can afford to feed her. She will be more developmentally advanced simply because we have the knowledge of how to help our kids develop physically and mentally. I left the hospital feeling sad and angry and fortunate all at the same time. I also realized that we have a great opportunity and responsibility to be an example to our friends and neighbors. I know people here will talk about us and disagree with how we raise our child, especially since she won’t be wearing socks unless she actually needs them, but at the same time I hope they are challenged in how they think about child rearing.

One thing that I did that was a BIG hit with the mothers there was that I showed up with Olivia in the sling. They both commented on it with big grins and said that they really liked it. I got to explain that it was great because she liked it and I could have use of my hands. Smiles and nods. Yesterday I had to go to Port for the day to go to the dentist, so Chris was on Daddy duty. He had Olivia in the sling quite a bit and Yonese, the lady that works for us, was really impressed with it and asked if I would be willing to make one for her daughter that’s expecting. It would be fun to see something like that catch on because it would make life for women here so much easier.

—The second “experience” that we’ve had here in the last week is the hardest one to stomach. Last Thursday we got word that a guy that works for a friend of ours lost his wife. When Dennis came out for the weekend bits and pieces started coming out. Madame Wilford was sick for a while, but everyone said that she died because someone had a problem with her and that there was “majik” involved. That would be Voodoo. See, when people don’t understand why something happens here they attribute it to Voodoo. I blame part of the problem with explaining people dying to the medical industry here. See, people can go to the doctor, but the doctor doesn’t actually explain what a person has and why they have the symptoms they have. They just give them medicine, and tell them what they need to do. If they have an illness that’s beyond treatment they just say there’s nothing they can do which gets interpreted as they don’t know. People then decide that if the doctor doesn’t know it must be a curse or something like that. So, even though Madame Wilford had been sick for a long time, she died because someone had a problem with her, not because she was sick.

On Sunday morning while we were still in bed we heard a lot of commotion down the beach from us. Later we asked Dennis what had been going on because he was already up at the time. He said that he didn’t understand but saw Boss Wilford in a boat and someone was going after him in another one while people yelled from the beach.

On Tuesday we found out what had happened. Alexi, one of Madame Wilfords family members (not sure where the connection was) was accused of killing her with white powder. There had been bad blood in the family for some time over a property dispute. Alexi admitted to having left the white powder in front of the house, which from what I understand is a sign of a curse, and the family decided he should be killed because he had killed one of the other family members. We knew Alexi a little bit because he was the yard man for our friends that own the house two doors down.

As the week progressed and Chris talked to more people we got more of the story. On Sunday morning Alexi was taken out in the boat and told that if he confessed to everything he had done they would spare his life. He told the men in the boat that he had killed 21 people with white powder. They hit him in the head with a rock, tied a block to his foot and dumped him in the ocean. The commotion we heard on Sunday morning was this very thing taking place.

We are sickened by this whole event. It’s maddening because there is no justice system here. Chris and Dennis talked several times to try and decide what to do. Dennis talked to some people that he knows in the UN to ask if there was anything they could do to investigate things. He was told that unless the family asks for it to be investigated they can’t get involved. The family was the one that decided to take action so they won’t be coming forward. Go to the police? The police here don’t do anything unless it’s stopping people in road checks and trying to get bribes. That’s why people take what they interpret as justice into their own hands – because they know that the police will do nothing for them. Be glad you can call 911 and know someone will answer and be active. We found out yesterday that the police do know about everything, but they told the family that they would investigate unless they were paid not to. So now the family is gathering money to pay off the police. This is what corruption looks like.

I’ve been angry and sickened all week. I HATE that there is so little value for human life here. And, what value there is, often gets skewed and abused. You killed my mother/wife/sister/aunt/cousin so I’m going to kill you. Because white powder has a hold on people here. It is so immature and senseless. And people believe this is just the way it is and should be. They believe there is power in white powder. They believe that has more ability to harm a person than the fact that they might actually be sick. I get angry with the lack of education here and the often unwillingness to hear another way, being convinced that the folklore that you have grown up with is hard truth. It is maddening to say the least. I am angry that there is no justice system here and I feel grateful that I come from a country where I know the freedom of having others come to bat for you, of having a way that things work, a system that all are familiar with and people that are responsible for seeing that action is taken on behalf of the defenseless. I feel angry that I don’t quite know how to feel about this. If I was in Canada I would be outraged that something like this happened, and I would know that things would be investigated. Here, I find myself stuck between my anger at the lack of justice and systems and the devaluing of human life and the fact that this is just the way Haiti is and it’s going to take a long time to change. Everyone here is familiar with death, they expected, and some are the bringers of it. Living here over time will expose you to it whether you want to be or not – it is inevitable. I feel angry that life is not more precious here. Many people say that Alexi was a bad person and that he did some really bad things in his life. I don’t know if that justifies anything. Does it? Does it give people the right to take things into their own hands? I have no answers.

—Yesterday I went to Port with Jean to go to the dentist while Chris stayed home with Olivia. I had a good day being out. The dentist was just down the street from our favorite bakery in all of Haiti, so when I was done and waiting for Jean I walked down there and grabbed something to eat. For the record, when half of your face is frozen, eating and drinking is hard. Doing it publicly would be entertaining for others. Despite my drooling and biting the inside of my face several times and not being able to feel it, I enjoyed my time alone, in a “normal” place where I could just sit, eat, drink and look out the window and watch people. At one point I ran out and bought sunglasses from a guy on the street. I thought I was getting taken for a ride until I figured out that I had gotten two pairs for about $13. One for me, one for Chris. The cheesecake was delish, even though I basically had to lick it off the spoon. It took most of the day for the freezing to wear off.

Jean, didn’t have such a special time in Port. After I called to let him know I was done, he started making his way up to get me. For those of you that haven’t been to Port au Prince, or aren’t familiar with it, there’s only two roads that lead up to Petionville, where the dentist was, from down by the airport where Jean was. One is Route Frere, and the other, more commonly used, is Delmas. Jean took Delmas up, and even when it’s not busy, it can take about 45 minutes to get from bottom to top and into Petionville. I knew I was in for a wait, but I was content and drooling, so no worries. Then Jean phoned and all I got was that there were problems with the truck. By the time he got up to where I was the truck had overheated 5 times.

We decided to forgo the rest of our errands and just head home. The truck overheated one more time in Cabaret. It was so hot I could have fried breakfast on the engine. Jean used an entire 5 gallon bucket of water to cool it off. We did make it home, even though it was a slow and frustrating trip. I realized though that what would have worried me before worries me less now. I knew that if the truck wouldn’t move we would just phone Chris and he’d come tow us home. I marveled at the kindness of people here. Jean just walked into a womans yard and asked if she had a bucket of water. She gave him an entire bucket and I felt guilty for using it because I know how precious and hard to get that much water can be. Getting it meant that someone probably walked a ways and then brought it home on their head, and we dumped it on a motor. Things have been going really well around here, so it was time for something to give. I’m just so thankful that the mission is in the place it’s in now, where we have several vehicles and they’re all usually running. Two years ago we went through several months where we didn’t have a working vehicle. Talk about having to be creative!

Chris is sick today. Pray for him because he’s not doing so well. I’m juggling baby, house stuff and trying to keep everyone straight which is hard because I don’t have much of an idea about what everyone has been up to in the last week. I know the dorm is basically down, and I know that the first mold is finished. They poured the very first filter in it yesterday and un-molded it today. We’re so excited because the mold popped off without any cracking! This is the first time this has happened in several years. the new welding equipment has helped make a better mold without a lot of imperfections that they had to deal with with the old ones. The advancement that we’ve been able to make with this redesign is HUGE. Chris took 28 pounds off the filter. And it’s short enough now that anyone can reach down in it to take the tape off the tube, something that our long armed staff got to do before. It’ll mean easier delivery and installations. Very exciting indeed.

This entry was posted in this is haiti, this is life by Leslie. Bookmark the permalink.

About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

3 thoughts on “Cultural Anthropology 101

  1. I am sending up prayers for both you and Chris. Leslie, the injustice and lack of options at this man’s death had to be very difficult for you and Chris to deal with. I am sorry you had to experience this. Here I am far away and I too am grasping for solutions to the awful events at your neighbors. Your example will help and cause people to question why you do things differently. That is good. I will keep you in prayer. Blessings Barb

  2. Leslie,oh my my my. Wow. What a week.I don’t even know what to say other than I’m really sorry.I hope Chris feels better soon.Peace and blessings…..

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