Off the Beaten Path

Today I was out doing some research for a project that we’re starting. It involved me going out into the village in an area not far from here.

I was in the process of taking some pictures and came to a house up on a hill. This older couple came out. By “older” I mean probably mid to late 50’s, but they had definitely had to work hard in their lives. As I approached the house the wife was trying to find a shirt to cover her toplessness. Believe it or not, this is not uncommon at all. Chris and I have seen more nakedness from the opposite sex than we ever expected to see in our lifetimes. You just sort of get used to it becuase there’s a different regard for it culturally here. So, the wife puts on a shirt while I’m meeting the husband, and then she came over to greet me too.

One of the things I love about Haiti is that when you get away from the main roads people are different. In our experience, people that live closer to the main roads have more access to aid and missions/NGO’s, so there tends to be a greater sense of entitlement. This is not true of everyone, but definitely something we notice in general. When you get away from the main roads there tends to be more of a sense of community. When you are further away from main roads and major centers you have less access to police etc so the community needs to work together more. Community leaders tend to take their responsibilities more seriously, and there really is more of a sense of people taking care of each other.

In the mountains and villages you tend to hear “Blan, ba’m…” (white, give me…) way less often, if at all. We find that these are often the places where we just get greeted because we are there, and we can have conversations that are much different than we would normally have in the major centers. The truth is, some areas have never seen white people because missions tend to set up where things are more accessible. Because of this you might meet kids that are scared because they have heard white people eat Haitian kids (no joke!), or they just haven’t seen anyone with a different color of skin. There is always one kid that will be brave and eventually reach out and touch the white person, and then coil back like they have been burned. Often it results in laughter. Then someone tries to pet the white persons arms because most Haitians don’t have arm hair. We whities are hairy beasts in comparison :)

The family that I met today were sweet. Not only did I meet the husband and wife, but also three of their kids. They have 9 all together! The youngest is 10 and the oldest was in his 30’s. One of their daughters is 7 months pregnant, and I met her husband as well. Their family has lived in that area for generations and has been responsible for farming a piece of land in the area. When I asked how old the big, big mango tree was on the land the man just said, “I don’t know, my grandfather planted it.” :)

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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 “Off the Beaten Path

  1. In my week with you a couple of years ago, I too was struck by the difference between the people in St Marc and along the roads on the one hand and the people in the villages in the Artibonite Valley, and in the mountains on the other. I hate to say it but I think some of our efforts to help, and the contact that entails, has worked to the detriment of the people we’re trying to help. I remember Chris refusing to take guff from some workers in a store in St. Marc. It concerned me at the time, but his response that morning, AND your on-going insistence on building indigenous capacity among your workers is definitely the better way to go. Respect (and self-respect) has to be maintained on both sides of the great divide that is race and nationality in Haiti, I think.

    • Thank you for this. We often feel criticized about how we work here, but we know the decisions we’ve had to make based on our experience over the years, and because we are aiming to do development work, not relief work. I think many times people come here to visit and the only context they have to put things in is their North American context, so they try really hard, but it doesn’t always work. In fact it rarely works. I appreciate that you’re willing to share how your thoughts have changed over the years.

  2. I had a crowd of kids, and one reached out to touch my hairy arm. But I wish you were there to tell me what they were saying when they saw the birthmark on my arm. White arm, black circle. They REALLY wanted to talk to me about that one.

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