Ben and I arrived safely back from Haiti this past Wednesday. All and all it was a good trip, I think much was accomplished and the Lord brought together lots of little bits in spite of being delayed by weather one day on our way to Pestel. For me personally, it was a great trip, great to be there and experience what I experienced, great to share it with my good friend Ben and enjoy the comradery, something I don’t always get out in Tanzania. Here are some initial thoughts, and the first of likely a multi-part journal of reflections about the trip.
Thoughts and ramblings on the Haiti trip… and a bit more
As we landed on the single paved runway of the Port au Prince airport in Haiti, a flood of remembrances and similarities to Tanzania struck me all at once. The tropical heat and humidity, the green palm trees and lush surroundings, the mix of modern airplanes and terminals with dilapidated buildings, the organized chaos on the main street next to the airport. A dusty and sometimes muddy street filled with cars of all kinds and age, UN armored vehicles with flack jacketed soldiers and poised M-16’s locked and loaded , people riding on the top of dump trucks, all blowing their horns as they travel along bumper to bumper dodging bicycles and pedestrians. A street with numerous pushy airport porters all vying for a spot behind your luggage cart to push it a couple hundred feet in hopes of earning some money. They seemed desperate to get the chance, in a place where if you don’t push your way to the front/look out for number one/scrap and scrape for the last morsel…… you’ll go without. A place where if you don’t stick your nose out into traffic, you could spend the day going three blocks. A place where there is so much need, so much potential, and such a gap between those who have and those who don’t. So many porters, and not really enough work for all of them, like the vegetable ladies in Tanzania on the side of the road, who sell mountains of one particular thing, right next to five or six others selling exactly the same thing. I wonder how they ever get enough vehicles to stop and buy their produce to help all of them?
I saw a CNN article about a farming co-op idea that uses cell phones to communicate market trends to rural farmers to make them aware of what the prices are in town, so they are not taken advantage of by middle men who rip them off by buying the goods for very low prices in the village and selling them at high prices in town markets. Many years there is a good harvest, plenty of vegetables, plenty of produce, but is the system really set up to help the rural farmer? Or are there multiple layers of economic challenge, corruption, and injustice that contribute to keeping these people in the grips of poverty?
In the streets of Port au Prince, hope seems to be gradually returning for some. The streets are passable, vehicles and people are everywhere, going about their business, selling things in wooden booths with plastic bags for roofs on the side of the road. There are plenty of reminders of the massive earthquake though that hit four months ago, like the piles of rubble pushed and dumped together, completely collapsed buildings sitting in their plots, between ones that were seemingly unaffected. The massive tent camps, dotting the city like a patchwork quilt, with tents of different colors and insignias of various relief organizations. I can’t imagine what life must be like for those in the camps, people who have lost so much, their homes, family members, children, spouses, parents. They may have lost hope as well.
Riding through the streets something strikes me again about people in the Majority World, as I look at these Haitians. I am struck by their amazing resilience in the face of such disaster and discouraging circumstances. A song plays on the radio saying ‘we will rise again’, written about the people of Haiti following the earthquake. The earthquake was devastating, but think about what Haiti has already been through… things like hurricanes, colonial oppression, slavery, foreign invasion, corrupt dictators, political mass murder, and the list goes on. Resilience and perseverance are choices however, because the same struggles seem to also produce a fatalistic apathy that is present as well in the Majority World.
So I guess Majority world is the politically correct term now used to define poorer countries. It makes sense though. What did we used to call them? I’ve heard all kinds of names… the Third World, Underdeveloped countries, Developing countries, Low resource or under resourced countries. Who named them the Third World? Wasn’t it us in the First World, in richer industrialized countries? So we are first and they are last. It gives away our underlying worldview and sometimes subconscious and not so subconscious attitude towards the poor. The rich are first and the poor are last. And the Second World is somewhere in between. Shame on us. Thank God for His Kingdom and the declaration by our Lord Jesus who said “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” That declaration should make most of us here in the States a wee bit uncomfortable. The ‘Majority World’ name at least is more accurate, describing most of the world’s people as living in poorer countries. I don’t like the “under resourced or low resource” name either. Haiti and Tanzania are rich in resources, resources such as land, minerals, water, work force, produce, talent. The problem is the resources are sometimes untapped, mismanaged, or stolen by richer countries or corrupt leaders.
Ben and I have been reading “When Helping Hurts”. The book defines poverty more broadly than just material poverty. It rightly describes all of us as fallen and having poverty of relationship. We need healing in our relationships with God, each other, the earth, and ourselves. This healing comes through Christ, who is ‘reconciling all things to himself’. How can I help the poor without first realizing that I am poor also?
We stayed with friends of Ben’s in Port au Prince. He and Jen hosted their daughter, Nakisha, for a number of months here in the States so she could get life saving heart surgery. Nakisha is doing great, as is evidenced by her infectious smile and gregarious manner. She loved seeing Dr. Ben again, giving him a kiss on each cheek and pulling him away to show him the latest drawing, sing her latest song to him, or play a children’s game she learned at school with him.
Nakisha’s father, Ezai, was such a gracious host. His wife was in NY at the time, but we received the royal treatment, sleeping in the parents’ king size bed in the only air conditioned room in the house. The smells of fresh bread from Ezai’s next door bakery wafted through the house as we ate tender goat and rice and sucked on fresh juicy mangos from the back yard. Ezai was our self-appointed taxi driver all over Port au Prince, delivering us safely to two meetings with the help of Anderson, Ben’s techy & rap-loving 20 year old– city slicker interpreter, who probably looks up to Ben in some ways like a father, and not just a friend or ‘sponsor’. Anderson is another Haitian who Ben and Jen took in for a few months so that he could have heart surgery at the Hershey Med Center. Ben and he have been together every Haiti trip since then, and Anderson has been invaluable in the work Ben does in Pestel, hovering at his elbow and interpreting every Creole, French, and English word exchanged between American and Haitian. I was impressed though that Ben picks out quite a bit of Creole in conversations and spouts a few words back without Anderson’s help. It’s good fodder for the playful sarcastic banter the two share regarding language. – Jon