Posted by: John Adams | June 4, 2010

Update from Haiti #2

I haven’t been to Haiti during the summertime for about seven years. I had forgotten how incredibly, stiflingly hot it was. I did go to Santo Domingo (the other side of the island) on a missions trip last year, but the DR is more developed than Haiti and has air conditioning in a lot of places. The mugginess here just gets to you. After a while, you don’t want to do anything anymore. The will to produce and develop and make a difference just seeps right out of you and all you want to do is find a fan and listlessly listen to samba music on the radio and sip Coca-Cola. At least, that’s what usually happens to me.

We have had a couple of “do-nothing” days so far on this trip. I think the guys have gotten bored a few times. There isn’t that much to do in Haiti, and even the simplest things take twice the effort they do in the States. I was listening to an NPR report on Haiti the other day, and the host pointed out during her visit that it wasn’t the massive scale of the problems in Haiti that overwhelmed her, but the massive amount of small problems that could so easily be resolved. There are so many small things that slow things down here, and thus I always feel that I’ve gone backward in time about three centuries every time I visit here.

I’m not just visiting, though. I lived here once. Every time I come back, I feel like I see my childhood here as a slightly more developed photograph. Living cross-culturaly in any culture as a child is difficult, but in Haiti especially so. Haitian people can be very unkind (though many of them are very warm, wonderful people). I still cannot take a walk through my neighborhood without attracting some sort of antagonism — an ugly look, a cutting remark, or a command to “Go Home!” No matter how long you live here, you are still regarded as an outsider. Many Haitians are still living in the battle days of 1804 and think that you are really here to make money off of them or even take over the country. Many others know the truth, but want someone to hate anyway.

Sometimes, I am amazed that I made it through a childhood here without becoming severely bitter. I had a friend as a teenager who was angry at the people here. He would walk around the neighborhood, looking for fights to pick. His family had been taken in by a Haitian who stole their money and then convinced the townspeople that they were to blame. The people threw rocks at their house. I cannot blame him for being angry. I am often angry – the other night, walking home, a motorcycle cuts way too close, the driver yells “Get out of my way, blanc! (foreigner)” and I remember why living here was so hard.

I want to tell him how ridiculous it all is – how small a world he lives in, so close to other worlds like the Dominican Republic or Florida, where Haitians are the outsiders hoping for a bit of sympathy. However, I don’t think that it would do any good. You can’t empathize with an outsider until you’ve been one.

How to cross a cultural divide? Christians value the Incarnation as a model – God becoming flesh to show solidarity with fallen humanity. But I cannot grow black skin or make my blue eyes brown. I cannot lose the hint of an American accent that I still retain. No matter how long I live here, I will always be an outsider.

I am realizing that more the more I come back here.



  1. So true. You can’t understand being an outsider innately. It has to be experienced.

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