ALL ABOUT HAITIAN CULTURE Q & A

ALL ABOUT HAITIAN CULTURE Q & A

Language Learning Philosophy

I just visited a reservation in South Dakota and picked up some material on learning the Lakota language. In reading it I came across some comments I think perhaps could be applied to learning Creole as well: “when we teach a language to a student, we should develop in that student another heart and another mind” [meaning you can’t just learn words – you must learn the culture as well]. “The written form of the language is a tool. If used correctly it can aid you in remembering correct pronunciation, in recording new vocabulary, and to write in Lakota [or Kreyòl]. If you rely too heavily on the written form before learning the sounds… the written language can hinder learning oral skills.”

David Way

HISTORY

There are several well written pieces of literature on Haitian history. Why is Haitian History important? Two very important players in Haitian history is the language, Haitian Creole, and the history. Here are a list of books that I recommend: Haiti: The Aftershock of History by Laurent Dubois, Haiti by Philippe Girard, and Travesty in Haiti by Timothy T. Schwartz. Of course there are many others but these are the ones I’m most aware of. 

“What’s the significance of the flag and the coat of arms?”

The flag was sown by Catherine Flon on May 18th, 1803 in Archaie. This is why that particular town celebrates on flag day possibly the hardest. The white part of the French flag was ripped out and then the blue and red were sown together. This symbolizes the unity of mulatto (mixed Haitians) with blacks.  The coat of arms, introduced in 1807, symbolizes what is written on it in French, “Strength in Unity.” There were several versions but since 1964 we adopted the one with the flags, cannons, and palm trees. 

Dominican Republic Relations

“What’s the deal there?” First of all reading about the culture of the shared island, Hispaniola, will explain this thoroughly. Basically, the bad treatment one has had with the other throughout history has built up a lot of bad feelings. I’m sorry to be vague but we’d need to write a whole other book on that. 

And, yes, there are random acts of violence on Haitians in the Dominican Republic. 

“Have you heard the differences between how Christopher Columbus is seen in the USA vs. how he is seen by Haitians?”

In Haitian history we’re all taught the facts. It’s not some exciting childlike presentation of an explorer who struck land and named it. Basically nearly all the natives died. They were raped, murdered, infected with disease brought by the invaders, and they also died due to forced labor. Christopher Columbus is not a celebrated hero in Haitian history. 

“What’s the deal with Haitians and dogs? Why don’t they like them?”

The Spanish basically brought dogs to Haiti to terrify Haitians and make them submissive, so the dogs were allowed to attack Haitians. “But that’s a long time ago.” As I stipulated, to understand Haitian culture one has to study the history and learn the language. Haitians are rooted in our culture.  It affects the way we think, act, and our opinions. However, there is steady progress. Many Haitians know that dogs are clever and can be trained, which gives them an admiration for dogs, especially a trusted dog who protects his owner. But really, how many Haitians can afford to train dogs or even feed them properly? Poverty has a lot to do with the current state of the Haitian’s relationship with dogs; poverty and some lack of teaching. 

BUSINESSES

“Peanut Controversy: The U.S. government and the U.N. food agency put together an aid program which represents only 1.4 percent of Haiti’s average annual peanut production. So, what’s the problem?”

The problem is that Haiti already makes peanuts. They say that Haitian harvests are not being handled properly and that they badly want to help struggling children who need more nutrition. But if indeed the local supply of peanuts has a high incidence of aflatoxin (a carcinogenic fungus that grows on moldy peanuts) why not invest in farmers by providing them the proper equipment and training to cultivate their own peanuts, properly, rather than crippling the economy?  The average Haitian who gets it into his head to start a business needs the training, startup money, equipment, and encouragement to do so. When the business starts, their goal is to provide supply that people in the community will actually pay for but if foreigner’s are bringing their supplies in suitcases or if aid agencies are shipping them over for free, Haitians will take the handout instead of buying local. 

Harassed at Airport

I once spoke to a foreigner (a term I will use simply because I’m referring to a non-Haitian traveling regularly to or living in Haiti) who was telling me about what his team does when they come to Haiti. “My teams are usually 15 people….we each have two checked and one carry-on that we need to deal with. When I get to the baggage claim area, I get 8 carts ($16). We load our luggage on the carts and head for the door. Immediately someone wants to help us with our luggage and puts their hand on our stuff. I convince them we don’t need help. They follow us. We manage to get through the airport and out the door without help, but then are approached by others who want to help us. We don’t need help, but I’m unsure about what to do with the carts, etc. when we get to our transportation. So usually I end up with one man and tell him I will pay him and he must pay whoever helps him. Paying him one dollar a bag, plus the $16 I paid for the carts equals about $60.  We honestly don’t need any help. I feel like I’m throwing money away. I know it’s a job for the Haitians, but there’s got to be a better way.”

Two Options: 1- there is a better way, buy all the supplies from Haiti and ask donors to supply you with the funds to do so. Send them pictures. I know this doesn’t work with most folks because there are a lot of skeptics, and rightly so, wanting to make sure their money goes where they want it to. So that leads me to the second option 2- pay for the cart and tip the people who help you with the luggage. You are investing in a Haitian and therefore in Haiti by doing so. It’s truly that simple. Also, the person escorting you out of the airport will fight all the other guys off so you won’t feel harassed. 

Paying Airport Porters

“I’ve only led 4 teams….so I’m still a rookie. I know we all have had to deal with this. Has anyone got the answer on how much do you pay the porter at the airport who carries my luggage and then load it onto my vehicle? What about if there are two, four, or even five of them?” 

This is a tricky one. I tell people take a picture of themselves with the porter so you can make a relationship with them and recognize each other for future trips. Tell him not to let anyone else help. If you have a large team or more luggage than you can handle, get two or three but there is usually no need for three porters, especially if you’re buying your supplies locally. I have a dear friend who is a porter. Frank is deaf and communicates using sign language. He’s very tall and looks tough but is definitely a pussycat. Frank is the only one necessary to help myself or a group of people coming with me, as we only bring one suitcase each and don’t really need help but love to bless the Haitian economy so we use a porter. 

Frank keeps all the other guys back so they don’t attack anyone I have with me and he also waits for my transportation to arrive if they’re late. I’ve given him $5-$10 for just me. If I have more people I’ve given him as much as $20. This is because I know him. I have developed a relationship with him and also because I have a son who’s deaf and I know in Haiti it could not have been easy for him growing up and getting work and is possibly quite difficult for him. To me he’s a man fighting to live and therefore I will bless him. I know of others who say give $2 per porter. 

Business Startups in Rural Areas

“What are some ideas on small businesses that we could help Haitians start in semi-rural areas? The thought is to provide people with some capital and/or equipment (and training as appropriate) for them to start up their own business, with the end goal of self-sufficiency (i.e. sustainability).”

This all depends on the location and instinct. You can train someone to be a baker but if his heart’s not in it, forget it! Spend some time in the community you’re looking to work in. Connect with other small NGOs to find out what has and hasn’t worked for them. If you’re a Christian organization pray, wait, and then pray again. This is a good thing and God will be faithful to answer you. Ask local leaders!!! I can’t express how important this is. The local school director, pastor, and even mayor can give you an idea of the agricultural, vending, or other small business possibilities.  Here’s a big tip: what are people constantly shipping or bringing in their suitcases? That’s a need. 

It’s all about supply and demand. If you teach a Haitian woman to make a little woolen pair of mittens chances are she won’t be able to support herself and send her eight children to school. But a bakery for her to sell bread or make peanut butter for local Foreigner’s may be a better business for her community. Face it, peanut butter chè anpil (is very expensive) in Haiti! Help educated Haitians to write books filled with cultural Haitian stories to sell outside of Haiti, make light cotton or even tie dye silk bathing suit cover ups, or convert their home to a guest house to host your teams! Haitians are very hospitable and with some training this can be quite lucrative. One of the biggest market targets in Haiti should be the wonderful foreigners who have fallen in love with the country. What do they want? What do they like? What are they importing? Make a business out of that and rock a community! Haitians can do way more than making beads and necklaces! Also, instead of posting recipes maybe have a kitchen staff set up a YouTube or Vimeo prescription to get paid viewers to watch her cook certain dishes while earning funds for it. In fact it could be incredibly lucrative, so you’d need several people to do this. There are so many things foreigner’s would be interested in that could help Haitians profit in business. Supply and demand is key. 

“One guy in the area where we work used to work in a bakery and knows the business well so we had him take us to some bakeries…to explore the feasibility of helping him start his own bakery. But it soon became clear that with bread being sold so cheap you have to sell huge quantities to have anything like a sustainable business. So it looks like it would require way more of an initial investment than we want to tackle just yet (or else would be running in the red for a long time).” 

That’s so true!!! The initial investment is huge not to mention the amount of time and training you’re needing to put in. Also only work with someone who is teachable!!! Read that last sentence again because it’s crucial. In every culture you have teachable people and those who aren’t teachable. If you have someone who you know is not handling her money well, is constantly asking you for more money even when she should be making a huge profit, and is giving you attitude, you may want to rethink that relationship. Work with someone who wants to learn, uses the training and wisdom you provide, and who has initiative. I always say work with a Haitian who wants to actually be self sustainable but not just someone you picked out because you saw their living conditions. 

“When week-long mission teams come and a bring a bunch of stuff that we don’t need like candy, flip flops, match-box cars, sunglasses, etc…I don’t have the courage to say no to the donation, so how much obligation am I under to keep them?  Or, can I give stuff out to some street kids that I’m developing a relationship with?  Can I offer them to other groups that might need/want them?  I want to honor not only their intent with the gifts but also my word.”

What you have there is the opportunity for a small business folks. If you know a woman in the community who fè komès (sells things) go ahead and give them to her or sell them to her when she starts to make a decent profit. Again, it’s too late to regret them leaving you the supplies. You already have the supplies. Now equip someone in Haiti to put it in the supply category for Haitians to benefit financially. I know I said it’s better to buy local but sometimes I pack things in my suitcase because I either won’t have a reliable vehicle or just enough time to shop. If you have an overabundance, give it to someone who will sell it. Definitely not a hoarder or someone who wants to keep it all for himself. 

Buy Haitian- (simply because it deserved its own category!)

Did you know there are 7 different varieties of rice grown in Haiti?

If you support a group providing rice in Haiti, whether in schools, children’s homes or part of an NGO food distribution program, ask if they purchase that rice in Haiti.  If not, ask them to change their ways! Why? Haiti already has rice. It’s that simple. “How do I know if there will be enough for my need?” Buy from several vendors and not just one. Build a relationship with the vendors. Get to know these suppliers and then they can rely on your orders which will push them to make more. Talk about helping the economy, you’d actually be growing it. 

“Imports from the US, Vietnam, and India, and free food distribution are destroying the farmers’ business.”

Yes, this is true. I don’t want to go on a rant but this is so true. 

Gifts for Haitians

“What is a small, fairly inexpensive gift that would be practical for nannies? I used to work there and a friend is visiting soon and I wanted to send them something useful.”

First of all, it’s so good to do just that. If you don’t live in Haiti and you developed a relationship with someone and are able to send a gift, it’s a great idea. Keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be an iPhone or a flat screen tv. If you have a picture of you and that person, frame it and send it. A little envelope with $10-20 is a great expression however if you want to keep the relationship from becoming monetarily based, send a pretty scarf, a Bible cover, or sturdy pair of walking shoes.  I heard of someone giving an umbrella for a gift. That’s a sweet gesture but sometimes the rain season produces some winds and the umbrella becomes useless. I encourage ponchos and talk about an excellent small business idea. Haitians would always buy ponchos and mosquito nets if they were cheaper, which means larger quantities being produced in Haiti. Why? Haitians don’t like to get bit by mosquitoes and neither do children, and the diseases that can come with that lessens. Children going to school and adults going to work and church get their Bibles, books, and other items wet in the rain. This destroys property they can’t afford to repurchase. Side note: if you donate cloth knapsacks for children to take to school please rethink that. They rip within weeks and get destroyed from the weather and sheer weight of the supplies they carry. Bring canvas or train a group of people in Haiti to make canvas backpacks. 

“When I visit, I really love to bring something special to my pastor’s wife.  I would love to know of good ideas of things I could bring that would be special to her. It’s not about the money, but about our friendship.”

People in leadership always benefit from sturdy bags to carry supplies, Bibles, chant esperans (Haitian hymnal), and also silk scarves that can be worn or used to wrap hair. Keep it simple, practical, and durable. Men can always use white buttoned down shirts and let’s face it, underwear. 

Medical

“Something I’ve always wondered is why so many people don’t advocate for themselves or their children when they see a doctor / hospital / testing.  What is the reason for this? How can we help encourage people that it’s okay to ask questions?”

The simple truth, you’re probably in an area where they believe whatever they’re told by the medical profession. It’s that simple. Think about the time and multiplication it took for them to even go see a medical practitioner, that’s the first step. Also, education. Some people may not know what to ask, who to ask, or how to ask. In America you can confront your doctor with a series of questions and choose what you’re most comfortable with. You can choose your doctor! These are two completely different structures. In Haiti most people are waiting for that free or cheap clinic. They’ll even just go for a headache (aka dehydration).  They will listen and do what they’re told. The way to stop this is actually to train the medical practitioners to explain everything in detail, present choices, and to affirm that the patient understood what was communicated. You can train local Haitians what to ask but remember volunteers and actually Haitians may not have the time or energy for such dialogue. 

Homelife/Interests

“Do some Haitians travel in Haiti to see historic or tourist sites?” 

Again, it depends on the location, socio economic background, and how much financial help a family receives. Traveling is also not so very easy in Haiti, so while one school may make a field trip to the museum in Port au Prince (amazing place, by the way) one can hardly expect them to travel to see the citadel. The roads can be mountainous and treacherous. Not something ideal for children. Wealthier families do have vacations to places like Montrouis, Jacmel, Cap Haitien, and Jeremie. Anywhere that has a waterfall is a beautiful and special place to a Haitian. It’s not about luxury but natural beauty is what we look for. You’re not going to find a group of Haitians living in Haiti going to the Iron Market to spend their hard-earned gouds (Haitian money). Sometimes a Haitian may go to the Dominican Republic to visit family and some go there for education. In recent years Haitian men have traveled to Chile and even Brazil for work. 

“What are Haitians’ favorite thing to do in Haiti?”

While everyone screams: play soccer, it is not the favorite pastime. Haitians love to visit with friends and family in their home, lakou (front yard), or while on their way somewhere, if they bump into friends. Sitting down, laughing, gulping on a malta, telling stories, these are also a huge part of our culture. This is a storytelling culture. My daughter once told me that I’m like a walking commentary. I had never thought about it. She said when I’m in the car with her I’ll point out everything I see:

“Oh, look at that lady. That’s some hat! Mezanmi, did her daughter just roll her eyes at her?” 

You may ask an American and a Haitian the same question that should produce the same answer but it will come out quite differently. 

“How was your day?” “Fine, I just did the groceries.” 

“How was your day?” “Woy! Today I burned my finger and it’s been hurting me ever since. I was supposed to go to the market but it rained so I stayed home for a little bit. Then Magaly came to see me and we talked for a long time. I love to see her. She told me about something that happened at her church. I was so shocked. She visited with me for a long, long time. After she left I decided to get ready to go to the market. I wanted to take a bath first but I didn’t have any soap. So, I went to the market.” 

While this entertained my family it’s a perfect example of how important communication is to Haitians. 

Lotto

This goes by many names. You may see the signs on tiny wooden house-like structures with Bank or Lotto. Basically it’s just like American lotto. Growing up we called it jwe boulèt- playing lotto is a big thing for Haitians in and outside of Haiti. Haitian Christians don’t like this because of how the loss of the little money someone is gambling money affects their families. The hope is to someday be rich, again similar to other cultures. 

Halloween

This holiday is not observed, at all. When Haitians, especially Christians (the majority), hear this holiday described, they’re shocked that people dress their kids up to celebrate it. Again,  this is a culture that believes there is good and evil. If a holiday is about the day of the dead, it’s not good. 

Foreign Relations

What are the GOOD ways you have seen foreigners affect Haiti?

“…my husband (he’s Haitian) and all of the English speaking Haitians that I know always talk terrible about missionaries. They mostly say that they make money off the poor and don’t pay their staff well and treat pastors wrong. It has gotten to the point that I have lost motivation to want to share the Gospel or any knowledge or information I might have with anyone because I feel like they will not listen to me because I am a missionary. I only know of one or two missionary couples that are respected and I’ve never heard bad talk about them but all the rest I have heard so much. I haven’t even made friends since I have lived here because my husband and all our friends talk so negatively about other foreigners. Do you have any wisdom on this topic as well?”

There are so many things to touch on here but one of the biggest things is like the apostle, Paul, said: be all things to all people. Foreigner’s need to adapt and to some degree so do natives. If you notice that there are people/missionaries who are respected in the community, be humble enough to get to know them and learn how they established themselves and built relationships in the community. Again, the language is an integral part of all this. I can’t emphasize this more. The other point is that pastors are so respected in our culture so that when a foreigner comes and acts like they are teaching, training, and leading the pastor, the flock and community can see this as being disrespectful. 

As a Christian, I don’t believe in the term ‘missionary’. I only use the term when I know no other terms will help someone I’m communicating with to understand context. Basically, if someone is a Christian everything we do is ministry. Taking care of our bodies is a ministry to ourselves and God. Taking care of our family is a ministry to them and God. Sharing the Gospel is ministry to the lost but also a response to the call God has placed on every one of His children. But when we share the Gospel, there must be a dying of the self. This means that whether we are talked about negatively or positively we press on. Jesus was not welcomed everywhere He went. In fact, He was kicked out of certain towns. Why should it be any different? Building community with the leaders and the people around you is key. 

“I have noticed more changes in Haiti from Blan influence, in the past few years, than ever before with:

1- love of dogs

2- providing some jobs and training

3- healthcare

4- acceptance of disabilities”

This is true and I call this the positive effect of foreigners in Haiti. However I have also noticed the rap songs with profanity and sagging jeans. So, it can go both ways. 

“Tattoos?”

Tattoos? Haitians don’t like them. It is a religious thing passed down from the legalistic missionaries of old. Sorry, it’s true though. I’m thankful for the spreading of the Gospel but some of it came with negatives as well. Basically instead of reading an entire part of scripture in context, people tend to stop at, “Don’t mark your bodies…” But the rest of that verse says when not to mark yourself, that is, in memory of the dead. Another custom from missionaries of old is the men sitting on one side of church and women the other, as well as with women wearing doilies on their heads. Again, you won’t find this in every church but definitely most.  It’s important not to be critics but realize we inherited this from some of your ancestors. How to change it? Patience and love of Christ but not a spirit of judgment, like when dealing with any other differences of a culture different from your own. 

I grew up with negative views about tatoos also, but I now have so many strong Christian friends who have them so while I may never get one I have to watch my thought process on them. We gave our children permission to do them if they wanted because we knew that even though I was raised differently on that topic I needed to apply grace. Because many of my friends with tattoos have godly character this has helped change my view and simply put, the marking of the skin doesn’t mark the heart. I would never get a tattoo though, because I respect that in my culture it’s seen differently than in your culture. Like if I grew my pinky fingernail three inches and started digging my ears and nose in the subway in New York beside you that may not go too well. So when in Rome…

We have to respect the culture of those we’re serving and if we need to feel accepted we’re in the wrong ‘business’ as ‘missionaries’. Should Haitians accept foreigners with tattoos, well yes, that would be great. Must they? No, it’s their country and their choice. But I already see a lot of changes because of foreigners who are daily living a crucified laid down life. 

“Can you explain the term, BLAN?”

Blan- white, foreigner. The word is used because missionaries/foreigner’s of old all had white skin. That’s it. However, can this be used negatively? Absolutely, especially if a region or individual has seen negative interactions or heard terrible stories about how a Blan interacted with a Haitian in the past. You will hear the word used by kids shouting out for people in the community to know that a foreigner is walking around their community. However, the foreigner may be offended because of filtering the term based on their own culture. This is a culture clash. A foreigner cannot change the viewpoint of every Haitian or change Blan from being used however they have the opportunity to portray a positive image of a Blan. When I am around some Americans, I’m constantly called African American. I do not let myself become sensitive about this because I know who I am. I was not born in the USA, however they don’t know that and so the easiest way to classify me is based on their historic memory bank although, I’m a Haitian born in the Bahamas. 

What I find interesting is that Blans are a whole race unto themselves in Haiti. It’s incredibly cool! They’re not necessarily Americans, Canadians, or European except for when we have to classify as we do with the term diaspora. No, you’re a Blan. Once you understand they’re not calling you, “White” but “foreigner” this should help to some degree. I had an African American friend offended because he was called Blan in Haiti. Like I said it’s not always about skin color. I even know people who don’t like the English word foreigner. I don’t understand it because it simply means you’re not a native. Again, this is that whole thing about seeing things based on their own experience instead of taking it for what it is to the Haitian.  A foreigner is simply a non-Haitian. A foreigner’s goal should never be to be recognized as Haitian but to be happy about who they are and share their lives with the people of Haiti. Diversity should be embraced, not ignored. 

“In American culture, people will always say that they and someone else are “like family.”  So, in Haiti a lot of us will notice foreigners saying that they and a Haitian are “like family.”  

Is this really true?” 

No, a lot of the times, no. When is it true?

1- if you’re invited to a Haitian home to eat, relax, and not to talk about ministry/work but just to laugh and pass the time, you’re family. 

2- it takes more than one or two visits or even a few months for a Haitian to even consider anyone as family, let alone each other unless we’re really blood related. Family is taken very seriously. 

3- when a Haitian constantly messages and calls you, begging you to come back to visit them, even though you are of no material benefit to them, you’re family. 

4- when a Haitian feels comfortable, without feeling forced or being asked to, to give full opinions on any of your negative behaviors, you’re family. 

When you stay in a Haitian home without complaint, learn the language, shop at the mache (outdoor market), learn to enjoy the food, and walk freely among the people, you have potential to build such a relationship.  Haitians see family as freely sharing and giving without needing to feel appreciated, always open to a surprise visit, walking arm in arm, genuinely enthusiastic to see one another, can’t stop talking yet open to just silence when spending time together, showing mutual concern for each-other’s well being, and being able to move on quickly after a disagreement. 

Why is it this way? With all the people going in and out of Haiti, it’s very important to make sure that you’re investing your heart and your time in those who really have the qualities you’re looking for and the ability to love selflessly. A Haitian can’t be best friends and family with every foreigner they meet, who likes them very much and calls them ‘family’ especially since they may never see them again or if the relationship isn’t well grounded. 

Family

“Why do Haitians seem so physically abusive as parents?” 

Haitians parents can be very loud and seem rough to a foreigner but also in the eyes of another Haitian. 

-beatings can be rough but there are a lot of changes happening in this area. 

-going to school is extremely important for parents who can afford to send their children so if the children have bad grades they are sternly disciplined 

-modern parents always want to be your friend but they are still strict about who their children interact with, knowing where they are at all times, and assuring that they’re attending church and youth meetings 

-there’s no such thing as privacy in a Haitian household. Kisa!? 

-change is seen negatively at times because Haitians don’t want their children to lose their culture or their identity, so, sleepovers were even a big no-no, I wasn’t allowed. My closest friends were cousins, siblings, and friends from church…in other words, all Haitian.

“Haitians eat horses and cats.”

You will hear two things: “Haitians eat cats.” “Haitians do not eat cats.”

Some Haitians do eat cats. Some Haitians don’t eat cats. My sister’s godfather ate our cat while he was watching our house during hurricane season. We came home and Boubou was “gone”.  Andre ate the cat! My best answer to that is, “Americans eat snakes?”  Does that help? I just say ‘some’ while going into the question of who gets to decide which animals should be fit for a people to eat? However, just because a few people in a region eat something that the majority doesn’t eat does not make that the diet of the nation. Also, not only in some other nations but in the US there are known occurrences of people eating horses, cats, and dogs…on purpose. Haiti is smaller and the people have a different culture so that’s why this topic gets so much attention. 

Haitians know how foreigners may feel about it. A family member said that foreigners like to talk about all the things that may embarrass us so don’t tell them about Haitians eating cats! 

Godparents

“Explain the whole godparents thing, please.”

Marèn/Marenn: godmother

Parèn/Parenn: godfather 

Makomè: godmothered into a family, which means every family member other than the child calls you this if you’re a female. 

Konpè: godfathered into a family, which means every family member other than the child calls you this if you’re a male. 

So, my daughter would call her godmother, marèn and her godfather parèn. Everyone in my family would call them makomè or konpè because they are now part of the family.

Haitians have a culture built on intimacy. So if someone asks you to be a godparent check the ways to know if you’re really family checklist and this will help exceedingly. Why? Because becoming family means taking on a lot of financial and material burdens. There are also several ways to be godparented into a family.  One is by way of marriage. When someone asks you to be the godparent of their wedding it will visually look like being the matron of honor in an American wedding, however not behind the scenes.  The financial burden is to be shared with the family, in fact this is true in every form of godparenting.  You will also be called upon to give advice and it is expected that you will do so because you are a part of the bringing of these two individuals together before God. For example, if you’re asked to be the godparent of a child’s school graduation, the cost for the special clothing and the food to celebrate may be taken care of entirely or partially by the godparent  

You can also be godparent of a child, obviously.  This takes on an even greater role as not only would you become a financial participant but also responsible for the child’s well-being after one or both parents die.  This is a huge undertaking and commitment.  I always tell people, instead of questioning or wondering whether someone is trying to take advantage of you by asking you to be a godparent, ask yourself: “Am I like family to them?” The fact that you’re asking yourself this question is more than likely a ‘no’. Can I financially handle this? Do I want to be someone who is always called upon for financial help or will that make me feel like that’s all they want from me? Those answers will certainly help where hearing an answer from God will help most Christians. 

 “I have heard that no woman is ever good enough for a Haitian mother’s son.”

When I first saw this comment what was funny was that I once heard a friend say that about her son, that no woman was good for him. She was an Italian who said it. I can’t argue this. I can only say that this is seen in many cultures more on a family by family basis, not as a whole. So, not all Haitian moms feel this way, if that helps. 

“What’s with all the Haitian superstitions?”

The ones I grew up believing:

1- sweep someone’s feet and they’ll never marry

2- marry someone with a widow’s peak and end up a widow 

3- put a dab of moist cotton on a baby’s forehead and that’ll put an end to hiccups  

Basically, this is an old culture where beliefs are passed from parent to child.  However, most of these superstitions are passed down from old European and African beliefs.

“What’s with soccer?”

Football is actually what it’s called in Haiti.  Soccer is to Haiti what football is to the United States.  Haitians tend to root for Brazil and Argentina.  And, when I say root, I mean there’s a lot of excitement about these teams and people argue vehemently that one is undoubtedly better than the other! Not too many root for Haiti and some do root for Chile.

“How can I attempt to teach compassion to our house moms at our children’s home? All our children have recently lost their moms and now being put in a place with strangers and leaving everything they knew. They are struggling and crying a lot and our house moms just seem to laugh and make fun of them. Is this normal for some Haitian women? Is compassion difficult for them to understand or show?”

It is not always a lack of compassion. I hate to make a reference to animals but when someone takes in a wild animal, it begins to lose its survival skills.  If that animal is returned to the wild, the chances of it surviving has been greatly decreased. So, while in some cultures showing compassion is holding that child, for some Haitians it’s toughening the child up because life in Haiti is hard. They want them to be prepared for that. Remember these are not hateful women. These are women who know what it is for a child to grow up in a difficult country. I’m not saying I agree with it. I am saying now you can understand it better. I hope this helps. We don’t necessarily have to agree with a culture to respect it. My advice: Training! Training! Training!

Trash Problem

I receive countless questions on this topic that I just don’t have the time or space to cover.  Bottom line: there is no permanent, reliable, and manageable solution at the time so yes, people throw trash everywhere.  In some communities you will see Haitians making an effort to burn trash.  The problem is that thanks to importers who don’t realize this is a small island, with no means of recycling presently, that bringing in cans and plastic makes it even more difficult because these are especially hazardous to burn.  As much as I hate to admit it I would have hated to have to use cloth diapers but at the same time disposable diapers are definitely not helping with the situation.  There is more trash than bins, pits, or space to rid of them. This is an ongoing problem. There’s another small business idea!!! Start a small trash collection company!   

Wages

“I need some help with wages in Haiti. I was just told that a nurse I know has been getting $4US for a half day of work. I was so surprised! The housekeeper where I stay gets $3US for just an hour’s worth of work. I would like to hire this nurse but I want to pay her better. I’m thinking of hiring a secretary to help with my ministry. I understand that I need to be careful to not pay too much because it can cause problems for other missionaries. Any ideas of a fair wage for these positions?”

The bottom line is if the goal is for a Haitian to be independent then they certainly need to make enough money to be able to buy food, toiletries, have a place to stay, and send their children to school. Otherwise someone needs to put them on a feeding program, put their children in an orphanage or pay for the children’s school, and still employ the individual while paying them money to make them remain entirely co-dependent.  Our ministry, Haitians Helping Haitians, focused on working with one family for years.  This family now has a staff and the tools to do well on their own without being co-dependent if they use the skills they have. We invested in their business (a guesthouse) and provided them with the opportunity to participate in a joint business venture.  These things don’t always work out perfectly.  Why? Because the person must be teachable, humble, and able and willing to teach others.  The idea is to work yourself out of a job so that one day that family and their children can be self-sufficient.  For everyone it will look different.  

The minimum wage has been approximately $4US per day for years. Right now foreigners are beginning to see the necessity of making sure the Haitian has enough money for transportation to come to work, as well as eat if it’s a lengthy drive, also enough money as to not to need to ask for money.  Another important tool is the ability to humbly take advice on how to handle their finances for them to be stable and they can pass this on to their children. When we had staff, we gave $250 per month as a starting salary even though we did not receive ongoing donations.  This was something we knew needed to be done.  We could have started off with less and then get them all excited about annual raises but in fairness we knew that although we hadn’t more to give, this amount was necessary.

Orphanages

“I read here and there where Americans condemn those who run or support orphanages here. I would like to hear thoughts on this subject.”

Although I have lived in the United States most of my life, I can’t speak like the authority on how Americans may view orphanages but I can discuss the pros and cons, so to speak.  

A few years ago I met a Haitian young man named “Michael.” Michael lived in an orphanage throughout his years of education.  His English was as perfect as mine and without a creole accent.  I honestly had never experienced anything of the like.  He processed things in English first, then to Creole, which is something I don’t do and couldn’t understand.  So many things went wrong with his situation at the orphanage and whether he was at fault or those who raised him, I may never know. I choose to believe that a child is never at fault, given my own background.  When running a foreign orphanage it’s important to remember that this child needs to be able to fit into their own culture, know their own music, master creole far better than English, and have a strong amount of love and respect for their Haitian elders. Otherwise they will have an identity crisis that most Haitians won’t try to remedy and foreigners simply won’t know how to fix. I truly could go on about this but I have seen some amazing foreign-ran orphanages where the staff is mostly Haitian and I am talking about trained staff who understand how to care for each child’s well-being according to proper guidelines. This will always be the best way.  The “mamas” should look like the child or at least have several people on the facility who look like them. 

Being an orphan is difficult enough.  The thought process of any orphanage director should be to ask, “What will this child’s look like when they leave?” If there is nothing set in place to make sure the answer is good, don’t begin an orphanage to begin with.  Haitian-ran orphanages get a bad rap.  In fact, I came to Haiti seven years ago to serve as an interpreter for a woman doing a documentary on the effects the earthquake had on Haitians and also to check out a few orphanages their organization had been giving to for over ten years.  None of the organizations existed.  None.  Money was going somewhere but no one knew where. A building with orphans was supposed to be somewhere but it wasn’t there.  Yes, this happens.  Corruption is very real. 

I have visited Haitian-ran orphanages with people keen on wanting to help them, only to turn away embarrassed by what my own people are doing.  I did meet a man in Montrouis, Haiti, named David.  David’s orphanage is clean, the children are clean, and he actually lives at the orphanage.  He is the best model I have seen thus far.  Others that I have seen with Haitian staff doing an excellent job are still overseen by foreign entities. 

What to look out for with a Haitian-ran orphanage:

1- if there are a lot of toddlers and younger, there should be enough staff to care for the children, otherwise they stay in their cribs all day and the only time the small staff has to nurture is used to bathe, feed, and put the children to sleep.

2- the director living on the premises is an excellent thing because you know that the staff is on their toes but also that he’s not just getting rich and living on his mansion on a hill.

3- the children are being held and played with.  When I don’t see this it grieves my heart.  It makes me sick in the stomach to see a bunch of children who are dirty, running around a dirty place, and receiving no sweet words, and are not being help enough.  It’s unbearable to watch.  There truly is no excuse for not taking time to hold a child, tell them you love them, and look them in the eyes to make them know they’re not alone…every day.

Driving

Moto is the word use for a motorcycle.  Ride with caution.  There are many motorcycle accidents in Haiti and they tend to be the most gruesome.  Ask the driver to go slowly.  I always say, “Pa pran anpil chans ak vi m, tande” – Don’t take a lot of chances with my life, ok!? A  taptap is another form of transportation that’s closest to your local bus.  It can actually be a bus or a pickup truck with seats added to the back.  They are usually painted with bright colors, mostly the primary colors: red, blue, and yellow.  Many of them will have a Christian name or phrase on it to bring a blessing to their venture.  Haitians are very social.  If you get in a taptap and there’s not enough room, don’t be surprised if a Haitian manman takes your arm and sits you on her lap.  The vehicles can get pretty cramped.  The smell has been a complaint by some missionaries because some Haitians don’t have the means to purchase deodorant so they may have an odor after working hard all day or going to the mache and then cramming into a vehicle.

Body Care

“What is that strange body odor?”

The reason I began the All About Haitian Culture group on Facebook was because I saw questions and answers that were so offensive that I had to keep away from many of the groups discussing Haitians.  But, I felt that it was good that people had questions and that they needed answers that weren’t based on someone’s 1-50 years of experience living in Haiti.  Being Haitian is incredibly different from living in Haiti.  Being Haitian and living in the United States helps me to be able to explain things while respecting all cultures, I hope. But some questions I get in my message box can make me twitch.  Other than not having deodorant, I honestly don’t know what smell someone is smelling. That’s my best answer, truly. Some people groups who cook from scratch and marinate their meats may smell like the food they’re cooking that day but I’ve never noticed that.  I suppose when my husband comes home I smell like garlic…I don’t know. Again, yes, I was raised in a Haitian family but I went to American and Bahamian schools and I was bullied for many things but as for smell…only for my body odor because I didn’t have deodorant, but never for anything else unless it was the smell of my home.  I should state this: Haitians love taking baths.  It makes them feel fresh and cool before bed.  Most Haitians bathe when they wake up in the morning and then before bed.  Some Haitians put baby powder on to stay cool outside when it’s especially hot.  You’ll see little children going to school with white stuff on their neck, it’s baby powder.  I was addicted to the stuff.  I try to teach that it’s terrible for the lungs but that’ll take some time to catch on. So, you’re not smelling something because someone is not bathing.

There is so much a Haitian can’t afford so the number one cleaning agent for skin and hair is a bar of soap.  The best thing would be to be able to afford toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and conditioner, not shampoo as it dries out the hair and conditioner has the cleaning agents in it and also leaves the hair more manageable. Modern Haitian women shave their legs and underarms but most do not shave, anything. Again, it’s not seen as a priority or even a second thought. I was fifteen years old when I heard a girl in my Italian class say how disgusting she thought that many European women don’t shave.  She went on to talk about the negative implications of their hygiene due to not shaving.  I was sitting in the front row with my Haitian Pentecostal length skirt dangling over my knees, pulling it down to cover my extremely hairy legs.  That moment changed my life.  I bought a razor and never went out with hairy legs until I started wearing pants. I had never realized or even been taught that women shaved! I was fifteen years old living in New York City, people!  That summer I returned to the Bahamas and did not shave there either. I hate shaving and if in Heaven I meet the man, because it will be a man, who started the whole business of women needing to shave and wear bras, I’ll slug him…then repent.

Changing Money

“Will I need to convert my money? And how much does the exchange rate fluctuate?”

You can use American money in Haiti but it’s so much easier to use Haitian especially since you get more for your buck! The exchange rate changes on a sneeze.  One few weeks it may teeter totter at $8 Haitian for $1 American but in 2016 the value Haitian dollar dropped exceedingly. It was about $10 US to $1 Haitian. So, the US dollar determines the value of the Haitian dollar.  I always tell people who feel they don’t need to learn English, since they have an interpreter, how important it is to know your numbers in creole.  All I hear about is how they were shortened money but most of the time it seems to be a great amount of miscommunication.  For example, you may have heard the exchange rate quoted in one place but it may be either higher or lower at another.  So, you always want to ask wherever you’re considering changing your money, what their exchange rate is.  You may also hear it in gouds (goud). Just remember that five gouds is the equivalent of $1 Haitian.  Then, you calculate with the American dollar and you’ll be fine.  Oh, and there’s no actual Haitian dollar…it’s purely psychological. There is only goud.

Haitian Staff

“We hired someone to work at our house with us. She mainly cleans and cooks. My question is…How do I handle her rude ways? At least they seem rude to me. She is always telling me how to take care of my babies. My daughter cried for someone to pick her up and I was on my way and I hear her yell at me to pick up my baby. It’s so strange to me and it’s not nice. I can understand her but I feel like she can not understand me when I speak but I want to explain to her that it is not nice to tell me how to take care of my kids. Should I just somehow ignore it? My husband (Haitian) says she is not rude but to an American it is rude. I feel like it is effecting my happiness because I just want her to go home because of things she says to me. I plan on living in Haiti long term so advice on how to handle this issue would be so good.”

To me, the answer is simple: fire her. If someone works for me and their performance affects my well-being and is causing more strife than help even after being corrected…out they go! No matter what culture they’re in. Everyone (including my American friends) had advice for me on how to raise my child who is deaf, where to live because of it, and how their advice was the right way, and I really had to find my balance in those relationships while exercising my authority as a godly mother. But, I believe that if someone is going to have responsibilities in my home, they should not affect the peace in my home. There should be humility and respect. I believe in the “three warnings” system because you get to see if someone can change and grow or not. 

Strike 1- remind them of the rules and how they broke them and that the next time there will be consequences.

Strike 2- remind them of the rules and how they broke them, and that the next time the behavior happens they’re fired.  Give a stiff consequence like unpaid time off or a task they really dread performing.

Strike 3- remind them that you had laid down the law when you hired them, you showed them grace by giving them multiple opportunities to correct the problem, but that now you no longer need their services.  

I would even give them a document for them to sign with the rules and with a place for grievances with the 3 strike section for them to sign after reviewing their behavior each time and reminding them of their consequences.  We are not talking about children here, but adults.  Also, it’s important to note that you’re the boss.  I believe in grace so the 3 strike rule really only works for the same negative behavior being repeated.

Adopted Children

“What are the challenges of raising Haitian kids in America What have you learned through the ongoing process? What would you have done differently?”

This was a question I had asked several adopting families.  After a lot of interaction with moms who adopted from Haiti and finding myself being asked the same questions, here are some points that I hope are helpful:

-if they are transitioning to cold weather make sure they always feel warm. You can not be their thermometer. Let them judge how they’re feeling.

-make the first few days stay at home days so the child can get acclimated. As exciting as everything is for your family may be as equally how overwhelming it is for your Haitian child.

-make sure to have a few recognizable food choices until you notice there’s no real need.  Depending on what country and region you live in: oatmeal, french fries, avocados, juice, mangos, bananas, white bread, peanut butter, and fried chicken are always good.

-slowly introduce friends and family members to the child, one to three at a time depending on your child’s temperament.  Less people if they seem a bit quiet and shy.

-understand that your child’s personality isn’t what you see the first few days, weeks, or months.  The change will affect them.  Their school will affect them.  You and your family will affect them, but as long as you give them that balance of keeping their identity and helping them find their place with you the transition will be smoother.

-keep creole in their lives.  Creole is not recognized as a legal language anywhere but Haiti.  This is so important to understand because creole is more than a language to Haitians.  It is a part of our culture, who we are.  We use phrases and expressions different from each other at times. Some people say, “Oh, he’s just three.  He’ll forget creole.” This should not comfort but possibly alarm you to some degree because what you’re automatically saying is, “He’ll lose and forget that part of himself anyway, so let’s focus on English.” 

I have met so many adults who were adopted out of Haiti and had an amazing childhood thanks to their adopting parents.  They say their biggest struggle is that when they return to Haiti they don’t feel accepted.  They always identified with being an American citizen but obviously as Haitian also.  They’re so and so’s Haitian kid or kid adopted from Haiti.  Haitians won’t recognize them if they don’t speak some creole or make an effort to visit Haiti sometimes.  This is just a fact.  Now, if this child grows up and never cares to go to Haiti at all, this may not be a problem.   

Missionaries Judging other Missionaries

These are scriptures I stand on when I’m tempted to judge:

Philippians 1

15 It is true that some preach about Christ because they are jealous and ambitious, but others preach about Christ because they want to help. 16 They preach because they have love, and they know that God gave me the work of defending the Good News. 17 But the others preach about Christ for selfish and wrong reasons, wanting to make trouble for me in prison.

18 But it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that in every way, whether for right or wrong reasons, they are preaching about Christ. So I am happy, and I will continue to be happy. 

James 4

11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[a] or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

While not all foreigners are Christians I believe these portions of scripture are so helpful.  Because our ministry has mostly worked directly with Haitians I have to say that I have noticed mostly Haitians talking about how one foreigner is talking about the other.  I’ve even heard them say they don’t trust someone because after hugging and smiling with a “friend” they went on to slander them within minutes. I suppose the best thing to say is that the behavior is being watched.  While a foreigner may not care, the behavior is being watched so if someone feels like a staff member is being deceitful, while this is terrible they may be thinking, “You lie all the time.” Also, how can a Haitian call someone family and mean it if they see them treating “family” and “friends” poorly either to their faces or behind their backs.  

I’ve heard that some people who have been in Haiti longer than others think they know how to “do it”. And those who are long term look down on the short term and have books to quote proving their points while forgetting the Bible shows Jesus doing absolute short term ministry…walking from town to town and not staying anywhere long term.  Paul travelled back and forth quite often.  I believe every method, every tool, every cool idea can work when the Holy Spirit is the center.  But the only way people will listen is if they believe you’re Jesus’ disciples and the only way they’ll believe that is if they can see that you truly love one another, not only in word.

Being Mocked

“How about a good response when small children or young people [mostly the guys] mock one’s language?. I’m told my accent is good but it annoys me when the kids and young people talk goofy and laugh at me. Any good advice?”

I have yet to meet a fake Haitian in all my life. I have met fake people but not a Haitian being fake to another Haitian.  I’m not talking about deceit but I’m talking about someone who mixes politeness with niceness.  So, the children pick up on this.  Many of them won’t smile and nod if someone’s creole accent is off or their semantics need help.  They may correct you.  They may giggle.  They may make fun.  Again, this goes back to building relationships with the leaders in the community and the locals.  There’s so much opportunity to speak to them about educating the children on how to act at such moments.  A Canadian kid might hear someone say something grammatically incorrect and completely ignore it as to not embarrass the person but yes, more than likely a Haitian kid will correct, laugh, or look at someone like, “What!?” 

Every time someone is treated poorly, I always say, “What’s your relationship with the leaders of the community?” It’s not about them knowing you or calling your name in the streets.  It’s about relationships. Do you sit with them? Do you talk about things other than how you can help them or about your work in Haiti but deep conversations about one another’s lives? You will see change in the community when this happens. It won’t be perfect but absolutely much better. Furthermore bake some cookies and get to know the kids in your community. Do not make a snide remark as this will affect your work or ministry.  Ignore it when it happens in a different community from yours and remember they’re just kids. As hard as it is to grasp, ministry isn’t about us. I have lost it a few times when kids I don’t know chase after people I’m with, laughing at them attempting to speak creole or just yelling after them calling them Blan.  Sometimes it works to correct them sternly and sometimes, if you don’t have a nice relationship with them and their families, it hurts your work.  This means it doesn’t allow them to trust you and therefore they’re hesitant to care about what you have to say and only care about what you have to give.

The Fingernail

“One of my Haitian friends says that the long pinky fingernail is to clean his ears and another friend said for most Haitian men it’s to show that they’re successful.”

This is by far one of the funniest questions and I get asked this all the time.  First of all, think of how many Haitians own Q-tips or after a donation go to buy more…and more…and more? Few! What would you do if your ear was filled with wax and you owned nothing to clean it out? Someone once said, “Oh my gosh, Haitians are nasty! They blow their noses by pressing down on one side and just blowing out of the other onto the pavement!” Again, what would you do if you’re wearing your one nice dress, the only dress you have to go to church or anywhere special?   You’re on your way to work in that dress and your nose is running horribly.  You don’t have a pocket tissue and you don’t have the money to buy tissues, period. 

So, back to the fingernail, it can be used to clean out ears and also it is a style for some young men.

Someone once told me:

(People) who visit other cultures often think they have so much to teach, when in reality they have so much to learn. It is only by being a good student that they stand a chance of becoming a good teacher. It is hard to give the answers if you don’t know what the questions are. That’s so true.  Is it the culture or is it the only choice the individual has?…the only thing available?

Voudou/Voodoo

“I am in the process of transitioning to Haiti.  I am trying to read all I can to better know and understand the country and its people.  I want to understand more about voodoo, as in healthy respect but not fear.  I’d like to know differences between what is normal custom to what is voodoo practice or belief. A team that I was on a few years back had our eyes open to the practice/power of it during our trip.  Praise God for His discernment, and the power of prayer.”

Myself:

My mom did voudou. It made her literally lose her mind and do terrible things. If you don’t believe in voudou you’re allowed to have that opinion but worse thing to do: argue with Haitians that it’s not real and try to convince people they haven’t seen what they have. I saw things, heard things, and had a protective praying brother and sister. Think of Saul and Samuel (back from dead incident). It’s very real. You will hear two strong opinions on voudou:

-a person who does voudou will tell a foreigner that it’s not a bad thing and they’re just singing and expressing their roots

-a person who doesn’t do voudou or an pen voudou practitioner will say they do put curses on people, or at least try to. 

Some, are quick to believe all the fuzzy good spiritual stuff and think that evil spiritual stuff is a bunch of hooey. Personally, I’m irritated when this is a topic that foreigners love to talk about and if you know anything about me I always say if you’re a Christian you should be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil, as scripture states. The power of God in Haiti is so much more stronger, beautiful, and worthy of attention. If you get a sense of the activity or that you’re under attack, pray, listen to worship, and go to sleep.  It is God’s job to keep you in perfect peace but not if you’re up all night posting about your experience on facebook, or documenting it to tell people when you get back how this stuff happens in Haiti, in stead spend that time sleeping.  You’ll need it.  It is literally done to distract you, make you restless and tired so you’re ineffective the next day, and to cause you to stumble. 

“I heard that like in India, there is some sort of a Haitian Caste (Social) System and that it differs in various regions.”

Yes, to simplify some people may feel better or less than others based on: 

1- skin pigment

2- political social status

3- financial standing

4- education 

I tried but couldn’t find anything written on this in books and online. Basically, we don’t talk about this outside our race but there are “understood” social statuses. The lighter skinned the more opportunities for jobs, education, and a decent marriage, and some tend to think they’re more beautiful or better than other Haitians who are darker. Political power and wealth can also give someone a lot of control in Haiti and education provides a wealth of opportunity all around. It’s very much like India and most of South America’s caste/social system basically brought on because of the results of slavery and colonialism. I have heard of the pigment stigma associated with African Americans as well.  I find that in my city, St. Louis, communities are literally broken down into good schools (education), expensive neighborhoods (socioeconomic), and race.

Sensitive topic for me because I have to fight this all the time when I’m in Haiti  because of the way I look.  My grandfather was from France and he married a Haitian.  Both of my parents are from Haiti but because of the color of my skin and my hair type I can tell I’m treated better than some.  I don’t like it.  So, it’s best not to assume based on this reading that Haitians who are fairer think they’re better than other Haitians.

“What does Haiti smell or feel like to you?  What does Haiti sound like to you?”

I’m asked different variations of this question all the time by adopting families who have yet to visit Haiti. All of Haiti is not the same. For me southern Haiti sounds like the roaring ocean and smells like the local vegetation. The answer could be the same as with southern Haiti for any region near the ocean, excluding Port au Prince which I would have to say smells mainly like engine exhaust to me. In other regions, like Northern Haiti, sometimes I smelled vegetation (Cap Haitien especially) but some areas can smell badly because of standing water like some areas of Port-de-Paix. Again, the regions vary because you can be near the fresh open air by the beach, on a farm which smells delightful of produce, or near the shopping areas which tend to be dirtier and have vehicles zipping by. The sounds are consistent though:  roosters crowing, goats bleating, children laughing and playing, working women singing, semi-trucks or cars/taptaps honking in the distance, church worship blazing, and soccer enthusiasts shouting.

“What is Haitian music?”

Lately, rap, in French.  The older stuff would consist of calypso, meringue, kompa, and what some may call Caribbean music, to name a few.  Haiti became very influenced by jazz music around the same time it reached Cuba and other neighboring islands.  My father is a musician and recording artist of that era.  In recent years the style has changed greatly. We have the old and the new. 

Intermarriages

“What are the challenges of being married to a Haitian husband and living in outside or in Haiti?”

I’ve been asked this question several times by someone considering or planning on marrying a Haitian and it’s an incredibly difficult question because of the varied answers. The best way I can answer this question is by giving true to life examples:

1- I know a couple who are happily married.  They are equal partners in the marriage and share both the joys and difficulties of marriage and child-rearing because the husband was raised to be loving, warm, and an honest godly man.

2- I know another couple who are desperately trying to be happy.  They were married for years before they could finally leave Haiti to live elsewhere legally.  The courtship was a whirlwind.  They were married before they even truly got to know one another.  He proposed immediately after they confessed their feelings for one another.  The engagement ring was provided by the young lady as he had neither means or access to such a trinket.  However since leaving Haiti the young man changed instantly.  Sometimes he remained at home and other times he travelled to other states to visit Haitian family.  The wife was riddled with doubt as to whether this man married her for love or to have the ability to leave Haiti and live more comfortably.  A question she may never have answered.  “He was one person before we got married and is a totally different person now.  God was in every sentence and now he doesn’t even go to church.  Working out is a huge focus and sometimes I feel like he resents me and I don’t even know why. He denies it of course.  No more terms of endearment and definitely no romantic gestures at all. It’s like being roommates.” 

Several couples that I know separated because the husband was said to be arrogant and wouldn’t listen to his wife.  He wanted her to work, cook, and clean while taking care of the kids without his participation. Now, I’m not making excuses but it must be said that in Haiti a wife typically does exactly that! She may be a local vendor, spend a whole day by the stream doing laundry, spend all later afternoon and early evening cooking, while being responsible for the children’s needs.  But notice the first husband.  This is someone who was raised well. Not every Haitian, especially men in this case, has this opportunity.  Some are raised without fathers or any other proper role models.  Some are raised to do whatever you can to get what you want: lie, steal, yell, manipulate, and criticize. With proper mentors in any man’s life this can turn around to a huge degree.  

I believe when a foreigner is marrying a Haitian it should never be rushed.  Two years is fast! Both a foreign leader and their local Haitian leader (pastor or program director) should be involved in both preparing the couple for marriage, culture differences, false and realistic expectations, and in making sure that they know each other based on actions more than words and what friends and family have to say.  There should be a weekly follow-up going on for quite some time, even and if not especially after children are born.

Some Haitians love to see the intermarriage because it makes them feel like the foreigner really loves Haiti, the culture, and the people while some Haitians may feel like the Haitian is just doing it to migrate. Not everyone holds the same opinion on foreign-Haitian marriages. I have seen some highly successful ones when the foreigner is fluent in creole and can keep up with her spouse’s family and not feel left out or like they’re talking about her.  By now you’ve figured out that I’m a list person and I have one for red flags on intermarriages:

1- if you’re engaged before the fourth visit or within six months.

2- if there is pressure to marry instead of taking your time to get to know each other.

3- if he’s engaged to you but closer to his friends and family, thus having conversations that you’re completely left out of and suspect that it may be about you sometimes.

Weather

“Why are Haitians always complaining that it’s cold when it’s like 70 degrees outside and why do they wrap up their babies when it’s so hot outside!?”

Because being hot or cold is relative at varying temperatures. It’s like someone in Florida freaking out when the temperature is in the 50’s and someone from Canada wearing shorts at the same temperature.  When I’m in Haiti in January I feel chilly in the morning and during the night but then I return to Missouri weather and I’m freezing at the 30’s and below.  We are so accustomed to the heat so that a shift of 20-30 degrees is immediately felt. Babies are also prone to colds in Haiti so parents like to keep their feet, head, and chest warm.

My chiropractor once said that this is normal for people from warm climates.

“What do you call a Haitian who is born in another country; because I know they still call themselves Haitian but is there a special word that I think I heard before?”

Diaspora

-this is an actual term used to refer to any child of an immigrant (of any race) who is born and or dwells outside of the country of their race. 

-I always say Haitian culture is very similar to that of the Jews. We don’t want our language to perish but we feel the same about our identity.  If your mom is Haitian or your dad is Haitian, you’re Haitian no matter where you’re born. Although it happens often, it is very disrespectful for a diaspora to deny being Haitian because of embarrassment.   This is why some Haitians use the word Diaspora negatively, rather than just saying someone is Haitian living in a foreign country.

-Most Haitians do not call another Haitian (one or both parents or grandparents are born in Haiti), to his face, born outside of Haiti “diaspora” unless they’re making fun of him or insulting him. 

-Haitians, however, do use this term for political reasons or when trying to explain that a Haitian or group of Haitians were born elsewhere. 

-Foreigner’s use this term also but a Haitian will use the word “diaspora” when talking in the presence of a foreigner for context when talking about someone of Haitian descent who doesn’t live in Haiti. But this label is used especially if a Haitian born outside of Haiti acts in a way that’s just against our values and morals, they are Diaspora. 

In more modern times Haitians who live outside of Haiti are proudly using the term, Diaspora, to raise awareness to help the people of Haiti and to pass their culture down to their children.

“Are there Haitian restaurants?”

Of course, yes.  Some are quite elegant with cloth tablecloths and others are what I like to call “fast food” restaurants where you go in and there are just a few pre-prepared dishes to choose from.  One day you may go and there’s rice and beans and griyo (deep fried pork) and if you don’t like that you can go somewhere else or choose street food. When choosing where to eat in Haiti, ask a Haitian you trust.  It’s okay to ask foreigners who have lived in Haiti for some time but there may be a new discovery to be made if you ask a Haitian.  This has happened on many trips in Haiti where a hole in the wall provided me with the most moist and tender griyo…ever. 

“What do people experience in the Haitian Church culture that are made up man rules that are not truth in scripture? For instance, one cannot go to church without nice clothes or one can only be saved on Sunday mornings. I am not attacking but just trying to learn subtle challenges that make it difficult to share.”

Honestly, Haitian churches can be incredibly legalistic based on what we inherited from well-meaning North American and European missionaries of old. It is very painful to watch a child turned away from Sunday School because they don’t have nice clothes.  I don’t like this but I do see it changing but not so much in rural areas.  However, churches do believe you can be saved on other days.  Pastors lead people to the Lord on home visits and missions trips are planned annually to rural areas within the country, so that may have been a misunderstanding.  It was always encouraged for women to wear only skirts and dresses but this has changed so much but not for actual church service.  In the church women still wear skirts and dresses.  Long pants is even encouraged, to women outside of church service. so that legs aren’t too ashy looking during dry season.

Safety in Haiti

“I’m staying at a guesthouse near the airport before flying out tomorrow (always comes too soon…). I approached the guard at the gate and asked in Creole for him to open the gate so I could take a walk. He wanted to know where I was going and I shrugged and said, “M pa konnen” (I don’t know). He replies, “Tann mwen” (wait here for me)  then disappears to consult someone. Upon my return he quizzed me some more and then says he’ll come along – he couldn’t seem to fathom the idea of a Blan walking the streets of PaP (Port au Prince). After saying, “Mwen toujou fè sa, pa gen pwoblèm”, he reluctantly let me go. After trekking out a mile or two I backtracked and strolled by the guesthouse with a cold Kola Kouwòn in my hand. There were 2 guys at the gate now who called out, assuming I must be lost. I looked over my shoulder and  waved and went another mile or so the other direction before coming back. I guess the guards assume that Blans always stay locked inside the walls. “Pa vre” (not so!) – where’s the fun in that?”

First of all, kudos to being comfortable in the Haitian environment. Second, walking around the airport as a foreigner is not a wise choice.  I know who asked this question and absolutely love him.  He knows Haiti really well but the airport area is a war zone sometimes.  That’s why it’s always important to have reliable people coming to pick you up and drop you off so that you’re never on your own.  Also, in certain parts of Haiti people may be use to foreigners staying within their gated communities.  When they see a foreigner walking around they may assume something is wrong or that they are lost or something.  In most areas Haitians love to see a foreigner who is not just comfortable in their environment but who knows it well and can manage with some creole.

Missionary Relationships with Haitians

“How do Haitians view missionaries who serve Christ in Haiti?” “What is the relationship between Haitians and missionaries like?”

While I’m aware that some believe we don’t need to be like “family” to minister, throughout the Bible I see Jesus’ love for those He ministers to and how He always gave an opportunity for intimacy; or Paul in his letters and how he often wrote about thinking and praying for the Church daily and missing them entirely. If they are our models, should we not go another route and pursue deeper relationships? Should we not abandon our critical and competitive nature with one another as proof that we are His disciples or at the very least to set an example? Haitians notice when foreigners do not get along yet call themselves Christians.  They will even joke about a spiritual post someone makes on Facebook after watching them display countless un-Christlike moments.

Keeping a Distance

If the distance foreigners keep from Haitians is fear driven, is it no longer true that a man who holds on to his life will lose it but a man who gives it up for the Cause, keeps it? Are the paths of a righteous man no longer ordered by the Lord? Of course we must be wise…but not do things out of fear. That’s how I had to think in Kenya when we were being rushed out, by a group of people from an opposing religious group. I understand keeping our family safe but not at the cost of the Gospel. There is a balance. When a believer is murdered for the Cause, they are a martyr, not a careless being. We have to remember that. Stephen boldly and to some “unsafely” (in our modern day, some may even call him unwise!) proclaimed the Gospel moments leading up to his death. There’s something powerful about immersing ourselves in a culture that we may not feel completely safe in because we hold the Gospel more dear than our own lives. Is God no longer for us? The example to follow is not Western Missions but that of those whose lives are at risk each day, the Persecuted Church.

Manners

“Haitians have terrible manners! Why don’t they seem grateful or why don’t they at least say “you’re welcome” as we do?”

In our culture we are constantly giving, lending, borrowing, and sharing. It is a way of life and survival. We don’t have this huge need to feel appreciated when Marie-Claire gives us eggs because tomorrow we’re probably going to give her a loaf of bread to help her out. It’s our way of life. So it’s not so much that Haitians don’t show appreciation as much as it is that we don’t need to feel appreciated or noticed for things that we feel should be natural: giving, sharing, lending…

Does that help? Also, in Haiti people in the community are constantly communicating and in relationship.  In other parts of the world this may not be a norm as much.  When you are constantly interacting with people and sharing and caring the stream of “thank yous” can feel like a formality because out of the flow of the heart there is this effortless sharing and keeping knowledge that you are loved, valued, and appreciated.

“What are Haitians like?”

If you want to know anything about Haitian culture, what Haitians need or are capable of, what Haitians are like in every area, ask God and or a Haitian. Remember, not every Haitian is alike. So Haitians with different backgrounds, living in different regions, or raised with different morals, will have different ways of seeing things. Haitians are humans. I can’t say Americans are greedy because that means most Americans are.  In the same way we must be careful with needing a one phrase answer or when listening to someone describe Haitians based on their experience and the region they feel they know well. While I don’t find such curious questions offensive, the responses, even when sweet, are, because lumping a people group to categorize them is like classifying species.

“How do Haitians see us (missionaries or not)?”

You can see this is a recurring theme, the need to know how a foreigner is perceived by the natives. On a few trips in Haiti, in various regions, I asked questions about how the people there viewed missionaries because this is a question I am always asked. Here are some of the answers below but what I found to be true was that their views were based on examples of what they had experienced.

-Humanitarian: they may feel that an individual or group are only interested in feeding and clothing them, providing education opportunities, or job training but not interested in building relationships.

-Hypocrites: they smile to each other’s faces and the next minute bad mouth a fellow foreigner.

-Competitive: they criticize, report, blacklist fellow foreigners based on how they run their organization.

-Territorial: if a Haitian starts a ministry it’s always seen negatively and must be shut down or unsupported because foreigners can do it better.

-Pè Ayisyen: are afraid of Haitians so stay walled in.

-Cheap: try to pay Haitian staff as little as possible with the excuse that as long as they can eat, sleep, have a place to stay, they should be fine. Or use excuses about how important it is to keep Haitians at a minimum wage because it will hurt other foteigner’s staff relations if they have competitive wages.

-Kretyen: Christian. They are relational, say less but do much more, don’t talk bad about their brothers and sisters. They are hard to find. They don’t pay wages based on the terrible existing system but based on helping a Haitian go further in their life. 

-Pa Kretyen: if a foreigner is not a Christian, Haitians don’t criticize their morals to some degree because of the awareness that the expectations can’t be the same.  They tend to be more honest and direct because they’re not trying to impress anyone and feel they have nothing to lose. 

These were actual opinions shared by dear Haitian friends and acquaintances living in various regions of Haiti. A missionary is to bring God’s justice to health, finances, family, etc. The greatest thing is if they (missionaries) don’t love each other how will the world (Haitians) know they’re God’s disciples?

French and or Creole

“Creole vs. French teaching: A fascinating insight came up on the sidelines of a pastors’ conference today. I showed them a copy of the updated edition of the New Testament that Bibles International has made and explained how I’ve seen it match closer the original Greek than Bib La. But when I asked if this would be a valuable resource for them for preaching/teaching the first response was that if you get invited to speak at a church and you speak or even pray in Creole that they will never invite you back again. After much discussion they all agreed this was a problem but said it was a huge cultural challenge to break the mindset of only teaching in a language which is only partly understood by a significant portion of the country.”

I have to start off by saying creole is not only a language but a huge part of our culture, however learning to read, write, and speak in French along with creole will benefit the individual. Growing up, everything in church was in French but there are Haitian churches implementing the creole Bible by doing the reading in French then following up in Creole simply because scripture has already been memorized in French and the creole truly does help others in the congregation better comprehend what has been read.  I feel that there needs to be a balance. Reading the Bible in both languages is great but I have always felt that the message should be preached in the language of all the people to ensure that they understand.  The problem with this is, as you encountered, while a pastor does not need to hold a degree from seminary, it is understood that he needs to be educated well enough to be able to converse in French.  Again, not every church or community thinks this way, but a majority for sure.

Conflicting Haiti

“Haiti evokes such a wide range of emotions – there’s the sheer thrill and novelty of being squished on a moto with 3 Haitians, only one of whom you know, as it bounces over obscure mountain roads never yet introduced to pavement. Then there are those awkward and painful moments when a stranger says, “Mwen grangou” (I’m hungry) and you know both that it’s true and that you can’t really do anything about it in the short-term. But then there’s this peculiar tension where Americanized Haitians sometimes seem almost ashamed of the masses out in the countryside who share the same heritage but live such different lifestyles. Yes, I know Haiti has some great beauty, rich culture, and modern technology and such in places but never have I seen a video showing all the complexity and contrast that is Haiti. I’ve been in some of the ritzy resorts, as well as the slums and have been spending time now roaming the countryside to a greater extent than ever before. Although I’m just an etranje (foreigner), I’m kind of wondering how many Haitians even fully know Haiti. Certainly the ones I’ve been hanging out with lately have never set foot in the luxury hotels on the beach and I’m pretty sure many of the translators I’ve worked with have never known what it is to bathe in a stream or use a cement canal as a water slide. Far from seeing the “moun andeyo” (Haitians from remote areas)  as a source of shame, I’m amazed at the ingenuity I see in the midst of such limited resources. I guess in some ways we have this same diversity and tension in the US but somehow it seems more pronounced in Haiti. I’m curious what others think about what exactly the real heart of Haiti is? How do you acknowledge its beauty without trying to cover up its scars?”

This is an extensive and complex question while very well put. To a Haitian Haiti is the mountains, the ocean, the land both fertile and dry, and as far as resorts go that’s just for foreigners and wealthy Haitians.  Most Haitians don’t even get to travel around in Haiti and see its natural wonders and may never be able to afford a night at a resort.  I believe that people doing programs with children should invest in monthly trips around Haiti to places like the citadel, several waterfalls, the museum in Port au Prince, and definitely regions that don’t remotely resemble where they live.  For example if a child lives in Port au Prince, definitely take them to the countryside or the beach and vice-versa. 

Cringlish

So I coined a term “cringlish” because Haitians who speak both creole and English like to mix them up together to make jokes.  For example “move it” can be “move vit” (move quickly). They sound similar but we’re mixing both languages for the sake of humor. People have said that when they hear Haitians speaking this way they don’t know if they’re making fun of English and I can assert that no, it’s just meshing the languages for a bit of witty fun. Here’s one from one of my favorite people in the world! At times we hear a phrase  in English that sounds similar to creole or a creole phrase and think it sounds similar to something in English:

“The most famous missionary that ever came to Haiti was Ben Johnson. At age 73 Bennie passed away as a result of complications after swallowing a number ten nail while putting up a church roof. To this day Bennie is remembered by many church people around Haiti. You too will remember Bennie every time you see a church member or a pastor raise their hand and recite “Bennie swallowed a nail.” This is what “Bless the Lord” in creole may sound like to an English speaking foreigner.

-Joel Trimble

Easter Tradition 

“Anyone know why there is a tradition of flying kites on or around Easter in Haiti?  I love seeing all the beautiful kites for sale along the roads and the new ones flying in the sky.  I didn’t know if there was some significance to the kites or if it was just fun that started somewhere/sometime and caught on.  Here in Pennsylvania March is known as “the windy month” so it is GREAT weather for flying kites.  Thanks in advance for any insight.”

The Easter tradition of flying kites is found in many parts of the caribbean. It was used as an illustration by a British teacher while trying to teach about Christ’s ascension but the children didn’t understand. He made a kite out of a cross and let it fly up. Most Haitians go to church on Sunday, of course, but the celebration has always been from Good Friday to Monday.  Most Haitians eat fish or just the biggest most celebratory meal the family can put together.  Red meat is considered a no-no because of the red blood.  The only blood focused on for that day is to remember Jesus’ blood. There is a lot of free time on Friday and Monday for the children to play.  This is also a day when people who practice voudou take to the streets dancing in lively colors.

Haitians at the Airport

“What are Haitians out of Haiti constantly bringing in? They always have more bags than are allowed for carry-ons?” 

This is always so humorous.  Most of the time you may see someone with what looks like a sack of rice but usually it’s filled with gifts such as clothes or things that they are taking back from home, but don’t count on it always being just plain old white rice.  Small TVs and other electrical devices are brought in and just about anything that catches the eye.  I had a friend take a barbeque grill back to Haiti.  Haitians always dress up for the airport.  It’s just a very old-fashioned culture.  Everyone in other countries use to dress up for the airport and hospital visits until the 60’s but most Haitians maintain that in the culture. 

Groceries

“When traveling with groups, where do you buy your food/groceries?”

I always say buy local.  Definitely go to local stores, period.  If you can’t handle viewing the heads of goats and pigs at the mache, definitely send someone to shop there.  It’s much cheaper.  There are more modern shops now in Port au Prince where you can find things that you would find in a Wal-Mart but the rural areas definitely need a lot of local business.  You may pay a little more but that’s what helps local business to thrive.

Haitian Weddings

“My husband and I have been invited to a wedding in Haiti in March. My husband served as co-leader of a sports camp with the guy getting married, so they’re good friends. We are wondering what to expect in terms of cultural similarities and differences between American and Haitian weddings. We know the wedding is at 2pm and my husband expects that we should dress very nice (suit and dress). Other than that what should we expect? How long will it last? What type of gift is appropriate? Is there a reception?”

Dress 80’s prom style.  I don’t mean that humorously.  It’s just that the dresses are more elaborate and puffy and the hair is decked up.  The best gift is money.  I’m serious.  This would be given before the wedding.  If the people getting married are middle class Haitians then a few electrical things may be good but really the weddings are such a big deal and expensive to the average Haitian, so money is a great gift. There is always a reception because the food is thoroughly planned out.  If a Haitian complains about a wedding, more than likely it’s about the food.  

I remember watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding thinking I need to make a movie called My Expensive Delicious Haitian Wedding because there were so many similarities, especially with the families getting together constantly to plan, enjoy time together, and shopping for everything. I don’t like to stereotype but more than likely the 2pm wedding won’t start at 2pm.  In fact, that bad boy may not even get started until 4pm!  This is one of the biggest celebrations for a Haitian to have, other than school graduation.  So, to be invited means they care for you.  To come, means being very patient about the time and the length of the ceremony…think Haitian church service long.

I was once asked how much money is appropriate to give and my answer is always: nothing is too small.  It depends on what you can afford and the size of the wedding and financial situation of the couple. I’ve known people to give $25 and others who gave $500 because they chose to be that generous.  For me I give according to my intimacy level with the couple and their need, on average $50.  

Haitians and Tardiness

“Haitians are always late. Haitians have no concept of time.”

I once saw that posted somewhere and could not argue it. Nope. There is a very funny meme of the Haitian astronaut in space calling someone waiting for him in Haiti, “I’m almost there.”  Let’s examine the culture because while it’s easy to criticize, we need to also make it easy to understand. 

Most things start late because this is a third world country: 

– cars break down

– equipments fail

– lack of electricity so projects are not completed on time 

– lack of modern devices so things take longer to produce 

– and the sheer exhaustion of working in the heat! 

Despite all of this Haitians could have chosen to be a very frustrated and irritable people but instead most choose to take things slow and let life happen, enjoy every moment, and to not go nuts when things go wrong. This is incredibly difficult for some of us Haitians who don’t live in Haiti and who value punctuality (me) and a lot of foreigners who see it as incompetence or laziness. I can’t change people’s opinions but can only explain the situation as best I can.  

Ministering to Haitians who are Poor

Posting all the questions on this topic would literally take an entire book but this is something I always share about on how I see doing ministry to the poor anywhere: 

1- operate out of God’s love because our compassion can’t compare to His

2- always be firm in love (act) and not influenced (react) by anyone’s actions or inaction

3- don’t let your heart get hardened by saying or thinking, “Haitians are so…”, “…that’s just how Haitians are!” By the time you get to that place it’s time to seek God, get refreshed, or just leave, because it’s not good for you or those you are sent to love through service for God. 

We have all walked away from a “work” because of operating out of our own compassion, when God’s compassion will not only always surpass ours but it will always act correctly. As soon as most of the focus is on what we view as bad, frustrating, or impossible, we need to pause and make sure we’re on the right track, listening to the Holy Spirit, and getting enough time with God to be useful to even ourselves. 

Foreign Relations

“I had a worker come over and he needed a handheld saw to cut wood. I didn’t have one so I went and bought one but then he said he gets to keep it and take it home. Another occasion a worker needed a screwdriver which I didn’t have but he needed it for the job and he got to keep it as well. He said that’s how it works here. Is this culturally correct? Am I allowed to put on their contracts that all supplies and tools that are bought for the job will remain in the ministry’s possession even after the job is finished?”

This is why understanding the language is so important.  My advice is to communicate (use interpreter if needed) before lending out the tool, what it is to be used for, how long it is to be used for, and that all tools are always to be returned.  If you eventually decide to make someone the gift of a tool, do not give it immediately after the work is completed.  Go visit them the next day in their home (if they have a relationship with you, of course) and have a lengthy discussion explaining that you don’t just let people keep things they borrow but that you felt, for whatever reason, to gift the tool.

“Nearly every time I talk to a friend in Haiti, I am asked if I have eaten. Is this typical? What’s that about?”

Haitians are hospitable.  They may want to make you something to eat or simply want to make sure you’re not hungry, out of natural concern. Also, being skinny is not seen as a positive in Haitian culture.  A woman having a full figure and a man having a bit of a belly is the picture of health.  So, if you’re of a slim build a Haitian might ask you if you’re hungry because they’re concerned you’re not eating enough.

Haitian food

A picture section would best illustrate the various dishes in Haiti but thank God for modern technology, you can look these up on the internet.  Mind you there are different variations to everything below.

Breakfast: baked oatmeal with raisin, boiled eggs, leftover dinner, peanut butter sandwiches

Lunch/Dinner: rice and beans stuck together, rice and beans sauce, griyo (deep fried pork), plantains (green twice fried and sweet yellow), pikliz (a mixture of onions, carrots and or slice cabbages, with a citrus juice, and habanero pepper), diri ak djondjon (rice with black mushrooms), legim (eggplant stewed vegetables with beef or crab legs), soups, pate (vegetable, ground beef, or shredded chicken in a pastry), conch (in sauce or from the side of the road in a pikliz style sauce), spaghetti (with hot dogs, hot sauce, and ketchup), fried fish, fish in sauce, soup joumou (squash or pumpkin soup), baked macaroni, beets salad, and if I’ve missed any of them we can always count on Joel Trimble’s Facebook page to find them. We also delight in produce: passion fruit, kenep, mango, kachiman (sweet and grainy, green on outside and white on inside with a lot of seeds), soursop, bananas, tropical almond, okra, guava, avocado, pineapple, breadfruit, melon, papaya, star fruit, cherries, and much more.

Missionary Dress Code

“Hi, I have a question about wearing certain clothing.  I see there are 2 camps on what to wear in Haiti.  I see some missionaries who always wear skirts or dresses, and others who say  – no way, I am wearing what I wear in the US.  I see the women of Haiti in everything from short shorts to long skirts out in public.  I also notice almost all women have pierced ears, but almost never see earrings in them.  What is the rule of thumb?”

This falls under the “ever evolving” category for Haiti.  It depends on the region based on outside influence.  Some communities are not comfortable with a missionary wearing shorts or pants, period. I’m only seeing this in rural areas nowadays or legalistic churches.  However, short shorts are also evolving more slowly, so if they’re extremely short I wouldn’t risk it.  Skirts lets people assume that you’re a Christian but your character makes it or break it.  Again, connect with the local missionaries in the community you’re considering going to.  They should know. 

Feminine Napkins and Diapers

“Dumb question. I’m leaving for Port au Prince in two weeks, and trying to figure out what, if anything, we should bring in for the orphanage we support(I know it’s better to buy locally if possible). Are feminine hygiene products readily available there and reasonably priced?” “What about diapers? Disposable or cloth?”

Once upon a time I heavily discouraged plastics. Truth is, it’s a lot of work for an orphanage to keep cloth diapers clean.  The problem is trash collection issues in Haiti.  Those plastics pile up and they’re terribly soiled.  I would encourage cloth until the recyclables situation can be solved in Haiti but I know most orphanages will only be okay with cloth if they have a washer and dryer otherwise they will hope for disposable sanitary napkins and disposable diapers.

Voodoo/Voudou

“Just curious, found this area today with chicken carcasses stuck in trees. Does this look like anything voodoo related? I’ve never seen it before, and can’t really think of another reason for it. Any ideas? I was a little curious about people being afraid of the lugaroo? Having a little trouble making sense of this and trying to explain to my kids not to be afraid. Thank you in advance!”

Voudou is not my favorite topic because some people who go to Haiti believe that it’s real and others think that Haitians are just afraid of something that isn’t real.  I will say that my mother practiced voudou and while I didn’t know her well, there were many who did.  I have memories of things that kept me wetting the bed until I was much too old to admit that I did so.  I will say the most important thing: if someone says that they saw a werewolf looking creature, or a small beast flying through the air, I think it’s best not to focus on telling them that they haven’t seen something that they’re convinced they have seen.  

It’s a great opportunity for a Christian to share the Gospel or for someone to sooth and calm the dear soul.  Some people who do voudou will say they’re doing spiritism or experiencing their culture while others will outright tell you that they’re putting a curse on someone, bottom line, because it’s a different culture it’s certainly no one’s right to come and say hogwash or we need to teach these people that they’re crazy or uneducated. That’s actually conquer mentality.  I have known many foreigners who went to Haiti and said although they’re not Haitian they absolutely sense and saw things that could only spiritually be explained.  While living in the U.S. I tend to experience it more so.  I sense it on the TV screen, on social media, and when out and about, that sense that the power of darkness is let loose.  I believe it’s everywhere but Haitians have the sensibilities to  notice these things as being very real and should be commended for it. 

Adoption

“Do you think a Haitian child should be encouraged to keep up with creole or drop it to survive in an English speaking country?”

My answer is yes and no.  If the child looks different from members of their adoptive family, yes.  At least a very little amount of creole since there should definitely be some degree of focus on the child celebrating her identity so that she doesn’t grow up feeling insecure and confused. Yes, because creole is not just a language but a culture (I may say this a thousand times).  The child will always be able to learn English when living in an English speaking country.  

If there are delays or learning disabilities the focus should be on the language of residence but at some point creole should be reintroduced, only if possible. My son does not speak any creole. Our focus was sign language and then learning to speak, and focusing on English.  I’ve met too many young adults who said that when they went to Haiti, they were so excited to be where they were born and people looked like them.  Paired with that was the embarrassment and awkwardness of being called a Blan or people being disappointed that they didn’t know the language.  It mattered to these young people.  They wish they knew the language and since the child is the focus, yes, it would be good for them at some point in their preteen through teen years to learn some creole, if only on their own.

Santa Clause

“Haitians and Santa, St Nich, Mr Claus…”

As stated before some parts of the culture is changing because of foreign influence.  So, in Port au Prince you may find a shop or restaurant decorated for Christmas, with a little Christmas tree even, and posters of Santa Claus everywhere. In rural areas you may mention Santa Claus and the children and adults have no idea who or what you’re talking about.  Christmas is known and is highly celebrated with family and close friends as the birth of Jesus.  Gifts are not the traditional focus points but some people are learning from their neighbors to give gifts.  

Loud Haitians

“My neighbors are so loud in the morning. On the weekdays it doesn’t bother me as much, but on my only day to get some rest it’s very annoying. My Haitian roommate says there’s nothing I can say or do because they’re at their own house. Opinions on what I could say? Or do I just have to deal with the yelling and loud music and car alarm right outside my window every morning?”

For a Haitian, private property is just that, private property.  You can sit on your porch, roof, front or back yard, and do what you will.  A friend of mine came to visit us in St. Louis, Missouri, and laughed.  He said he thought America was supposed to be the land of the free but that there were all of these laws about where people could or could not put up a fence, how high the grass could grow, whether someone could  walk around without a shirt, how loud someone can play music in their home, and even how many people could live in some homes.  He was stunned.  It’s true.  It’s a great difference, however, if you have a good reputation in the community and are friends with your neighbors you can speak to them or send someone to speak to them letting them know you can’t sleep.  They do however, have every right to be as loud as they want also they may be quiet that night but loud the next. 

Domestic Violence

“Hi Gloria , I have seen you previously post about domestic violence between your neighbors, and I wanted to seek some wisdom from you.  Early this morning I, too, awoke to the sounds of domestic violence from our neighbors. The first time I have ever noticed it.  In these moments, what is best to do? Do we tap on their gate and simply start up a friendly conversation, as if we are unaware, and love on them to hopefully diffuse the situation? Or does my husband need to step in and confront them?  The other issue is that they have a larger compound with multiple families and it is not certain where the trouble lies.  Just really would like some advice on what everyone thinks is the best way to handle the situation if it arises again.”

Domestic violence has become a very sensitive issue and with women’s rights growing in Haiti at a rapid pace, believe it or not, you can go to the authorities on the woman’s behalf, however, she may not want you to.  Domestic violence is the same wherever you go.  The woman may very well want the man to be with her.  You can’t force her to leave because she has to be willing to want to leave. If you actually have a relationship with your neighbors, which I keep encouraging everyone to do, you can go up to them and be open and honest.  Haitians sometimes feel that foreigners are fake.  They don’t like when someone doesn’t come right out and say what they have to say.  So, if you’re wanting to intrude, intrude fully but be quite aware of the potential consequences, however if you are nervous, scared, or uncomfortable, find out if they go to church or have parents or family members whose advice they absolutely respect and may possibly adhere to.  Go to those people and ask they to intervene. I had a relationship with that neighbor because the husband charged our phones for us, but once he saw me a few times, he stopped hitting his wife.  I don’t know why.  It may have been as simple as answer to prayer or the fact that when I was around her he saw that I valued her and treated her like a strong beautiful woman.  That’s something else you can do.  Spend time with her socially.  Do a Bible study or give her a trade for her to help her family earn bread and thus learn to value herself.  

Stateside

“I live in the Midwest and am looking for a phone carrier that I can get international minutes to call Haiti while in the US? Are calling cards best or are there actual phone plans?”

All cell phone companies have long distance plans, so do the research.  I use AT&T and have learned to call them every three months to find out about new or changed programs. Also, many friends use their Haitian SIM card to call Haiti by continuing to put minutes on it online.  I have heard it’s the cheapest route. I have two cell phones, so my Iphone 7 can be used in the U.S. and my Samsung has the Haitian SIM.

The Language

“Question:  I’m sometimes greeted by Haitians who say something like:  I see you’ve forgotten me – or – You’ve let go of me – in both English & Kreyol – this is uncomfortable for me – it sounds like there is some blaming or expectation behind it.  It happens most often with people I don’t know well, and who have some hope of gaining something from me.  But not always.  Can anyone help me unpack it?  Is it just a common & casual greeting without any underlying message?”

This expression comes from the Old English of England. It’s like saying, “I haven’t seen you for a while. You forgot all about me.” Now, can it be used as you didn’t give me anything or do you have something for me? Of course! Depending on your relationship with the person is how to take the meaning.  If you’re always giving things to someone and they say that, it may be used for the expectation of something, however, if the person hasn’t seen you for sometime and just says that randomly, take it for, “Didn’t you miss me at all!?”

Intro to Missionaries going to Haiti

“Okay, here’s my question of the day: How do you graciously respond to people here in the US who tell you, “I don’t know why you have to go to Haiti.  There are plenty of people here in the US who need help.”(Let it be noted that said people are natural critics who aren’t doing anything themselves.)”

I love this question.  Frankly, I think they’re right! I’m not a US citizen but I love doing homeless ministry.  However for some people their work in Haiti is time consuming even when they’re back in the US so just be honest and tell them since it is a burden to them, they should serve in the US.  That’s all, and don’t be sarcastic.  Sometimes people say something that is truly a conviction for them.  Respect that but graciously help them to look within themselves and find out what’s going on there.  For you, maybe you should get more involved in your local community or just focus on Haiti.  I don’t know. If it’s the latter, maybe just smile and say, “You know what, if the opportunity arises and I feel led, I will do something here in the US.” I think that’s much better than being defensive.  You have nothing to defend.  It’s a person’s heart that makes them speak that way, so speak to the heart and not to the actual words.

Haitians and Eating Out

“Me to two of my Haitian staff members: “Bring some nice clothes, I want to treat you to a nice restaurant in Petionville tonight!”….silence…The result……they’d rather have 200 HTG to get rice and beans….Is it a fear that the food will make them sick…or is it fear of trying something new?”

I want to say it depends on the restaurant but that mostly holds true in other countries! Haitian restaurants have amazing food.  My answer, which I hope doesn’t upset anyone, is that those restaurants are expensive.  They’d rather have the money.  They may not even buy rice and beans with it! It’s seen as a waste of money.  Haitians can buy food for a few days for what they could pay for a meal at an expensive restaurant.  Also, Haitian food is delicious at home too! They may not want to go to a restaurant when they could just sit home with their family or visit a friend and just talk for hours.  The ambiance of home is more appreciated than the ambiance of a bouji (snobby and expensive) restaurant.  A friend once told me that if anyone knew they ate at a particular expensive restaurant they might think they make more money than they really do and start asking them for money.  It may also make for a lot of teasing with people in their community thinking they’re kissing up to a Blan so they could take them out to eat.

Haitian Staff Relations

“I am totally not bashing, literally just want to learn – Our director and his assistant can sometimes seem to not do much work. I know this isn’t true because I can appear that way when I am up to my ears in work….but hours in, things getting done, stuff followed up on that is important, ownership of things the first time they are said….those aren’t happening. This is totally expected as we are young and in the toddler stages, as an organization, of handing it all to our Haitian leaders, so they could be learning with us that it’s not us anymore, it’s them. But any perspective or advice on how to best work on a Haitian multi-cultural team? I want to be a learner, help and not burden; and also make sure work is being owned and put in as expected.”

In any relationship people should know what the expectations are from the beginning.  These expectations are forever changing so it’s best to have regular meetings discussing expectations for the day, week, month, and or year.  Basically, even have a daily “to do” sheet with a place to check so you can see if the work has been done or at least how much work has been done.  Obviously this all depends on the work.  Kitchen staff may have cooked all the meals and it appears the work is done but there’s that one pot sitting in the sink that you want washed before everyone leaves.  It’s good to have a checklist and of course “all dishes washed and put away” would go on there. 

Most of the people you may work with may not have ever had a job, may have worked selling things at the market, or in doing random repairs for people. So, there were no deadlines.  The expectation was for the job to get done, sometime.  The money certainly didn’t make it worthwhile to rush through the job in expectation of the next paycheck.  I always say, “Job training! Job training!” You should always consider honest, loyal, and reliable staff as still in training.  If someone is lying, trying to be manipulative, or not respecting the rules, you truly don’t have a good employee. A good employee is someone who is honest, reliable, respectful, and teachable.  Make it worth their while.  Have regular evaluations with raises or incentives. This is helpful with jobs in other countries.  In Haiti it should be no different. 

Garbage

“What do most people do with their garbage?  Is there garbage collection in Haiti if you live outside of a major city?  Are people ok with leaving it in their yards because there is no other way to get rid of it?”

When you see most Haitians piling up trash in their yard, it’s because they’re going to burn it eventually. There are usually dump sites that most Haitians go to but no matter what region, trash is a problem!

Circumcision

“Awkward question here: the two boys I am adopting are uncircumcised, which is, erm, a condition unfamiliar to me.  I will be doing my best to explain/translate at US doctor visits (and no, we’re not planning on having an 8 year old and 5 year old circumcised – welcome to the US, let me cut you!  They can decide that later, for themselves.)  But I am thinking I may struggle with trying to explain appropriate hygiene, given the vocabulary I don’t know (and the boys may not know either).  I also am a bit leery about myself (or doctors or my husband) touching the boys, since I truly have no idea if they’ve been abused in the past or what Haitian cultural norms are in terms of touching private areas for medical/hygienic reasons.  Any advice to offer?”

Most Haitian boys aren’t circumcised because it’s an expense that families can’t deal with and so the thought doesn’t cross their minds.  On the other hand proper hygiene must be taught.  I one picked up a friend’s baby, as I had a good relationship with the teen mom, and took the baby to the local clinic where he was circumcised.  It’s my pet peeve to see them uncircumcised because it helps them to keep the area clean.  In the US general anesthesia is given to older boys because of the pain but it’s fairly expensive when you take that route. Again, this is why learning creole is so important whether explaining the procedure of circumcision or hygiene without it.  It would also be great for every adopting family if they could connect with someone else who has adopted for such advice but not to mention developing relationships with actual Haitians in their community.  This would be an amazing support.  

Community Signs

“Paint on trees and poles…We drive through this community with several voodoo temples and there are black and white silk flags all in the community. Draped on crosses, electrical lines, trees, etc. what is this for? Another area has black and red flags?.”

Most of the time those are reflecting the different political party colors. Sometimes people do this during festive occasions, especially around carnival or flag day. People who practice voudou also decorate in that way. There is such a thing as voudou flags  These sometimes have figures on them, snakes, or other characters.

Land Ownership

“In a negotiation for a rental house, we asked the owner to prove that the land was his and not in both his and his wife’s name. He got very insulted at the implication that his wife owned his land. It was explained to me that, culturally, men don’t share land with their wives because if they divorce the wife can kick the man out. Refusing to show the deed to land because of the implication that you might not fully own it seems a bit dramatic to me.”

This one was difficult for me to answer.  A Haitian is not just going to pull out the deed to his land to show to anyone, especially a foreigner asking to verify whether or not the Haitian owns the land, in Haiti.  You can see where this may be taken as an insult.  Obviously you need to see it to know if he owns it but it helps to do this with a third party, someone you know and trust and someone he knows and trusts.  The ownership of land is very important to a Haitian.  Haitians defend their property.  It’s not often that you find ownership of land in more than one member of the family’s name in Haiti.  This is very true. It’s not every Haitian husband who doesn’t trust his wife but definitely a Haitian is going to want to make sure that he can keep his land and pass it on to his children or whoever he wants.

Mountains

“There are specific mountains in various communities where Haitians go to pray.”  

Haitians go to mountains to worship and pray when there is a problem in their lives that can possibly overwhelm them. We took our interns to Mount Bethel once, at dawn, for individual devotions. We could hear worship and prayers mounting up. It’s an awesome experience. So, not all Haitians go to high places for voudou.

Hardworking Old Men

“These 60-70 year old men are buff!”

That comment always cracks me up! Some older men continue to do heavy lifting work whether it’s on their land or construction sites. So, they stay pretty “buff”.

Haitians View of Foreigners – Quotes by Haitians from various regions.

A taxi driver (motorist) said that foreigners coming to help Haiti is good because they help with medical, general care of people, orphan care…. He says he feels like if Americans don’t get involved in Haiti nothing will get accomplished. I asked him how he felt about that and he said it’s not that he likes or doesn’t like it but it’s just the way it is. 

If they help Haitians, said an interpreter from La Gonave, it’s good. But some live rich, in big houses, and pay Haitians little. It’s like slavery. The master in the big house and the slaves/servants never able to get to the point of self sufficiency. 

Why do they build their own orphanage instead of helping Haitian ones, asked a guest house cook from Port au Prince. Even if there are problems (with Haitian orphanages), isn’t that why they’re here? To help? Why do they pay so little when they get so much financial support? 

It feels like they always want us to keep working for them instead of helping us become self sufficient, said a guest house owner from Artibonite. How is a man supposed to help his family? I want to go to college. I want to do better. I want to send my children to school by myself. 

They seem competitive said a Haitian businessman from Montrouis. They all feel their work is better than each other’s work. There is no unity. They talk bad about each other. We all see that. If it’s one God why isn’t it one work? Why is there a missions church instead of all the missionaries joining and supporting Haitian churches like the New Testament church? We understand they need to meet and encourage each other but making a church just for them is now another organization needing their support. 

Kinda interesting…this one is from an American missionary:

“So, we have a guest house director. He gets paid very little. He is Haitian, lives in the guest house, and runs everything. His supervisors live in the U.S.  He answers to them. They make the final decisions although they don’t live in Haiti or see how the guest house is run. They get paid a lot more than he does. Everyone has to stay in the walls. No Haitians allowed in the guest house after a certain time. Visiting teams must be very comfortable and get a lot of air conditioning. I’m sick of it!”

When I asked these exact same questions in front of some of their bosses the answers were completely different! There should be such unity between foreigners, I think, at the very least between those who are called missionaries.

Why compete? We have one God. One work. Who’s doing the best work? Jesus!!! If people aren’t doing things right, pray for them and give advice. If they won’t listen to advice, turn away. The focus should be on building relationships.  The people who are being ministered to are watching. 

Child Abuse

“Just stopped someone from beating their child to a pulp. Now here’s the issue: the mom beats her 4 year old because he went into his father’s things after she warned him several times not to. If the father sees what happened he will beat the wife (something I have to listen to almost every morning). But, after several turns of disobedience she let’s loose the spanking which quickly led to what I told her was killing (a term that can be used without upsetting her too much). After a brief discussion we went into how spanking (while some foreigners don’t condone right now I’m not even getting into) doesn’t have to turn into beatings, especially one so young. She agreed and stopped. The neighbors saw my intent was not to shame her. She’s definitely a broken woman needing ministry and her child was needing protection. She could barely talk without her voice trembling, there was so much fear. Balance is not judging and condemning but teaching, helping, loving. Fine line.”

True, true, and well done.  Next time I would suggest not correcting the mom in front of the neighbors.  Meet with her regularly, in private, to discuss parenting skills.  The fact that she listened means that she is teachable, this is an important trait. Read what I wrote on domestic violence, for that part, but I want to add that if you know a leader in the community who not only doesn’t beat his wife but is vocally against it, meet with him.  See if he is willing to speak on this topic with someone who has inherited this terrible habit.

Money Pinching

Two things that will never make sense to me:

1. Not filling the vehicle with a lot of gas…people, putting 200 gouds of gas is like $4!!! Yet this is done because gas is not as important as food and since most Haitians don’t know when they’ll run out of money, they’d prefer to buy little gas to ensure money is left over for the more important things later on.

2. Never buying a lot of phone minutes…so, I’m on a call and then it drops in mid sentence. This is for the same reason as pinching on gas.

Bugs

“What kind of bugs are in Haiti?”

There are cockroaches that are huge and can fly. Some tarantulas only get bigger in rural areas, about the size of the palm of my hand. I got bit twice by a scorpion…that was in the seat of my biker shorts!!! Numb mouth and tingling fingers lasted as long as the painful sting pain. The next day no symptoms remained except for a big bump on site. So far two scorpions down. There are tons of mosquitoes, depending on the season.

Celebrations

“With all the poverty, Haitians certainly know how to celebrate!”

Haitians are indeed known for lavish weddings, funerals and graduations because they mark important epochs in a person’s life. Some Haitians will go into debt for such events. The clothing will be fancy, the food will be the best and certainly not lacking in quantity, and more than those invited tend to show up.

Spankings

“Parents don’t beat children unless they’ve done something wrong. It looks like beating a dog (harsh) sometimes, but it’s not being done for them to die (abuse) but because they’ve done something wrong (discipline).” 

-Malinda, Bó Lycée

Haitians Raised as Americans in Haiti- 

How a young boy who grew up in an orphanage adjusted when he was of age to be on his own:

“It’s so hard for me. I grew up around Americans and am more comfortable speaking English than creole. I want to go back to the orphanage because I love it there. I don’t like my Haitian home. I can’t go to the refrigerator and take whatever I want. Sometimes there’s no food for me to eat for the whole day and it makes me so angry. I get so angry sometimes but now I try not to. I’m not comfortable with my Haitian family. They ask me to do things for them and sometimes I don’t want to. Everyone is so different, rough, and yell so much. 

I grew up wanting to move to America and now I know it will not happen. I have to learn and I am learning how to live, to work, and to get along with people. It’s hard for me.”

-Haitian Teenager in Artibonite

Baptism

“I notice that children getting baptised is discouraged.”

The age a child can be considered saved and choose to be baptized depends on their character, their family’s perception of where they’re at spiritually, as well as their actual maturity. Some Haitians say 18 years old but that’s not necessarily so. They could even be 15 years old and able to make such a decision.” 

-Dene of Miragoane

Rites of Passage

I have had many questions about the significance of turning 21 or 18 and if obtaining a driver’s license held the same significance as many other cultures. No, not such things. A 21 year old may still be in school. Most Haitians are considered adults when they are married, complete their education, or for some men when they grow adequate amount of facial hair. In our culture graduation from school, communion, getting baptised, and getting married are significant landmarks of life.

Pictures

“I’d like to do a “photo booth” activity with silly props as part of a VBS we’re doing this summer at the orphanage our church sponsors. On past trips, photos seem to be very serious occasions. Would it seem disrespectful to try to encourage the kids to have fun with their pictures?”

Most Haitians don’t own pictures, so when someone holds a camera to their face, they don’t want the only picture taken of them to be where they are laughing. They want to be serious so that people can see that picture and know they have some sense. Think of back in the day when photos were scarce. Look back at pictures of your ancestors. They were more like paintings or portraits in that they appeared to be reserved. To preserve a memory of how they looked they wanted people to know that they were intelligent and thoughtful instead of being without proper scruples. 

Christian Culture

“Being saved. So much about getting cleaned up first as opposed to come as you are/Jesus meeting you where you’re at at grace. What have you learned/observed AND how have you reached people/had conversations about this? Talking to close friends and they responded – word for word – to stuff not being biblical with a resigned “well that’s how it is in Haiti”.  Also, Where have you seen Haitians successful in reacting to deep religious/”clean up first” tradition?

This was passed down by the more legalistic missionaries of old. Haitians hold hard to traditions, especially religious ones. So, letting in a drunk, which my husband has done, or someone that everyone knows is walking in sin, is frowned upon. This is where Biblical teachings are needed. It is encouraged to witness to people outside of the church and invite them to church after they have the right clothes and are showing improvements in their walk. Some churches provide clothes and even Bibles to new converts. Children, who are dirty or don’t have nice clothes are many times turned away. These definitely were some negative things passed down, but times are changing.

Mother’s Day

“In Haiti, is there a day set aside for Mother’s and/or Father’s Day? Just curious :)”

Actually there is. The last Sunday of May is Mother’s Day. The last Sunday of June is Father’s Day. Most churches celebrate Mother’s Day and fathers just get a nod, if any recognition for Father’s Day, simply because of all a mother does for her child in Haiti. Mothers are usually highly respected and loved.

Calling a Blan “Mom”

“I have a question that I am interested to hear some of your thoughts on. I have a good idea the reasoning behind this, but I am curious to hear from you all, to help me understand better. About a year & a half ago, my husband & I got to meet a young man from the church we serve with in Haiti. Over this last year, we have become very close with him & I personally get daily texts from him. He has shared some personal things with us that I don’t think many others may know. Within the last month or so, he has been calling me “mom.” Most conversations start out as, “hi mom”, “how are you mom”, “have a good day mom”, “mom, I need to tell you something”, etc. Can you share with me the cultural reasoning behind him calling me “mom?” He barely uses my name anymore. (I will say, that his own mother passed away in 2012 and I am almost 12 years older than him.) Thanks for any input!”

Apparently he is using it as a term of respect. This is common, especially since he has no other mom. Keep the relationship respectful. Don’t let things become the focus but a healthy relationship of advising and of showing mutual care. If it is genuine, embrace it, but if the attitude towards you changes because you don’t just give him what he wants, then it is not healthy.

Laundry Rates

“When I have been in Haiti for short term trips, I don’t have access to wash my own clothes so one of the Haitians working there has done it for me. What is a good amount to pay for washing and folding a load of laundry? (I think there is sometimes a washer available, but it may be done by hand, too.) Also, how can I appropriately show an act of friendship by giving a little extra gift as a thank you that isn’t money? I am really uncomfortable with the implication that she is just there to work for me and I want to show her how much I appreciate what she does and that she is valuable for who she is not just because she is doing work for me. (She has also sometimes fixed breakfast for me and handed it to me when I haven’t asked..I don’t know if she has been told to do this by the director or not.) I expect the next time we are there she will do this again so I want to have a little more insight to the culture regarding this.”

If you are staying with another organization, ask them. If you want to leave a gift, ask the organization if they are okay with that and for suggestions before leaving to come to Haiti. It is always best not to be caught off-guard about such things. A Haitian can do more with money, for their family, than a gift to be added as a possession in a tiny home.  I know that’s a hard pill to swallow but even think for a moment about the fact that most Haitians live in a one to two room home with all the children. 

The rates for a laundress depends on the location, amount of clothes, and whether it is hand or machine washed. Throw out everything I say if a local NGO gives you a different quote.  They will know what works in their community without you making it difficult for them when you leave and the laundress refuses to do her job because she feels underpaid after receiving a generous amount of money from you. However, make very clear that your extra financial blessing is just that, a gift. It is not a part of the pay. That will help others. Give her money for the detergent and then $500 gourdes (approximately $13US) for a substantial load of laundry. I give financial blessings based on my relationship with the person, the job done well, and what I am okay with his or her expectation being on my next visit. Some people tell me they’ve given as much as $100 for a member of staff. I have never given above $1000 gourdes ($20US) because I don’t want to cause problems for the director or have the individual think that I have $100’s in my pocket all the time. This builds up false expectations and tempts people. We don’t want to be guilty of causing anyone to stumble. 

There are other options that would make her grateful, for example, some school tuitions are as little as $90US. You can tell the director you would like to go to the local school and pay next year’s tuition so this lady doesn’t have to worry about one of her children’s tuition, however, make it clear that it’s all you’re able to do. You don’t want to visit and hear questions about money for textbooks, and other supplies unless you choose to shift your way of blessing her. You can choose to bless in this way on a regular basis, cover one child’s education for the year. She will see it as a big thank you as opposed to a huge handout causing her to think her boss is not paying her as much as you would! 

Sharing?

“Sharing and pecking order: I saw 2 fascinating examples of culture on my last trip: one very good, the other I’m not so sure what I think of. The inspiring one of sharing was when I bought a bottle of pop from the village store, drank about 3/4 of it and gave the rest to an older kid to finish. But the older kid would first give a sip to all the younger kids standing around before finishing the bottle himself. I’ve seen this on more than one occasion and from different kids. The one I’m not so sure about it is what I’m deeming, for lack of a better term, pecking order. Someone went into town one day and came back with the typical styrofoam to-go boxes of rice & beans with a little chicken for us and the people working on the construction site. A lady on my team ate a little of hers and then gave the rest to a young girl. The girl slowly walked away with the box closed. A couple moments later the styrofoam box reappeared in the hands of an older boy. The older boy then approached an elderly woman and handed her the box. She opened it, looked uninterested by the contents, and handed it back to the boy who then sat down and ate the leftovers. I’m not sure if the young girl ever got any of it or not and I never got the chance to inquire into the whole affair but the impression I got was that this was less an issue of sharing and more of some sort of ‘pecking order’ amongst the people in regards to who gets first dibs on anything. Has anyone else encountered this?”

What’s missing in questions like these is the relationship between the boy and the girl. Younger children are well cared for, usually, by older kids. Older brothers, however, are highly respected, usually, so they would get first dibs. She may have either not liked the food, eaten already, or wanted her big brother to have it. Sometimes a younger brother may do the same for an elder sister.  Age matters in Haiti. There is a huge respect for the eldest sibling.  This may or may not have been the case, but like I always say, you can see the beauty of such a community of sharing! Beautiful!

Receipts

“Receipts! I send money for school, but not the exact amount. So when they go shopping for school supplies and get the uniform – it won’t be the exact amount they said it would be. How do others do this? I think I’m all over the map on this one. Do I get receipts where it’s possible, and ask for work done to compensate for unaccounted $? And then make a receipt for the work?”

I always say bring a receipt book and have them carry it all the time.  They can write a receipt when they pay for the material, the taylor, or for textbooks. It’s not everywhere that gives receipts, but if this is someone you trust, which is the only person to send money to by the way, definitely give them a receipt book. That way you can look things over.  When someone tells you the cost for the uniform, they don’t include everything all the time.  It’s like when a Haitian tells you they need money for school.  They may tell you the tuition but there is also: material and the taylor for the uniform, then there’s shoes and socks, money for transportation, a state exam later in the school year, textbooks, and so much more! When we did sponsorships, which we no longer do for various reasons, we made a list of every possible expense and had parents fill out the form.  That way we knew we wouldn’t be asked for additional money some time later in the school year. Definitely speak to other organizations about the true costs of the local schools, how they handle payments and expenses, and maybe if a partnership is available through them to help the students you want to support.  

Blan

“What does Blan stand for culturally in Haiti?”

Blan is the color white but is also the word used for “foreigner” as opposed to “etranje” which also means stranger/person from a foreign place.

Concept of Time

“Why are Haitians always late!?”

It is okay to arrive within an hour of an official meeting. The reason for the understanding is because of life in Haiti with transportation, perhaps rain, or just about anything that can’t be helped. Do people take advantage of this? Yes, absolutely! But there truly is no telling unless it becomes a habit. Not all Haitians are this way, however. Some of us crave order. We have a pastor in Port au Prince who believed everyone should be punctual.  He was a rigid character.  Service began at 6:30am Sunday whether you arrived on time or not and ended by 8pm in the evenings whether you chose to arrive at that time or not. 

You will find that Haitians tend to be more relaxed, happy-go-lucky about time.  In Africa they believe in seasonal time as opposed to the time on the clock.  To some degree you can consider Haitian time as meal time.  If someone says they’re coming to see you at 8am, you can expect them earlier or later, depending on breakfast times. Since some people eat breakfast when they wake up, they may show up as early as 7am but if someone eats breakfast at mid-morning, you can expect them around 10am. Someone who says they’re coming to see you in the afternoon means just that, anytime between noon and 4pm. Most Haitians don’t want to meet you late afternoon because they don’t want to travel and return home in the dark. Bear in mind someone can show up to a meeting as much as three  hours late.

Titles

“Why do Haitians call females in the medical profession, “Miss?” Does the title “boss” have negative implications? I’m asking because sometimes I’ve heard the word used and I get the sense that it means more than what it does in Canada.”

Miss is what people in the United Kingdom began using for their nurses. That’s where we get it from. “Sister” is also of that time and used for female nurses.  Boss and Patron is quite normal not only for someone in authority but for someone who is respected and gives advice.

Gimme Gimme

“Tough issue for me, one I know has been talked about many times in many places, but I still wrestle:  How to say no to requests for money/things.  Not the simple lighthearted no you say to people on the street or people you don’t know – but the repeated, daily requests that wear you down; where you don’t know how to say no kindly but clearly and with an explanation that they understand. I can feel when my friendship is being cultivated for that purpose.  I can feel myself getting set up for the ask. And my stomach balls up into a knot. Any great responses people have come up with? I consider myself a generous, giving, caring person.  I also have lots of friends that never ask for anything. “Lè w’ vini, kisa w’ pote pou mwen?”  – When you come what do you bring me? One of the most stressful things about being a blan in Haitian culture is continually being asked by strangers if you can give them something.  Of course we have to immediately determine if it’s someone trying to take advantage, to just see how you’ll respond, or a person with legitimate need, and respond accordingly,  Always difficult and an easy place to start becoming cynical and guarded if we aren’t careful.  

    I also wonder about the expectation of gifts after relationships are being made, “Lè w vini, kisa w pote pou mwen?”  What is the culture behind this?  It seems to usually be a light-hearted question, and I wouldn’t want to overthink it, but how serious is it?  What is truly expected?  I probably wouldn’t think a thing of an American asking me what I am bringing them from my trip, because I understand that culture and context better, but when Haitian neighbors ask, I don’t always know how to take it.  Are gifts always expected, or is this just making light-hearted conversation with friends/neighbors?”

This is a compilation of questions on this topic. The response to give depends on three things: your personality, your relationship with the person, and how God is leading you. So, let’s try to picture different scenarios that I believe may help:

1- You have never been to Haiti or you come once in a while in support of another organization. People are asking you to leave a beautiful skirt, money, or a cellphone.  Your heart beats quickly with excitement because you finally have an opportunity to give something.  However, what will this do to the organization you leave behind and their relationship with the people they are serving, their friends? Will they then be expected to give their iphone when they upgrade to a newer one? Will they feel the need to give old clothing when new clothing arrive? They should not be.  It is best to say, “I can’t give you anything.  I have come to help this organization to do the job of blessing the people of Haiti. I am here to be a blessing to these who work day in, day out, while I come here only for a few days.” Then, leave everything that you even considered donating to the organization, trusting God to use your gifts according to His will.  It’s not about trusting the organization, which you trusted enough to come and serve with, but trusting God. 

2- You have your own organization in Haiti but you travel back and forth regularly. You have not yet, or are just beginning to grow relationships and get to know the people in the community. Give nothing! Instead, get to know the leaders in the community and here also be wise. Find a trusted leader. Relationships with other small NGOs is so important because you can learn who is to be trusted or who they’re trying to figure out. Do this without adopting an us (foreigners) versus them (Haitians) mentality.  God is capable of balancing this out for you. It would be best to give to the local leaders, pastors, school directors, community elders, instead of directly handing things out yourself. Then you can honestly say, “I don’t have anything to give.” If you would like to give yourself, then, have some Haitian leaders in your organization give the supplies for you. If you don’t trust them, well to state the obvious, change your staff. If you’re not sure whether to trust them yet, distribute nothing yet. Until you know people in the community well, are able to assess the needs, and feel confident about your giving and who to give to, and how much to give, give nothing.  Besides an organization with the focus of giving is setting up a hand outs mentality, which is a detriment to all society. 

3- You’re use to giving. You know people in the community. You just don’t like the continual asking. Have a sit down with the individual and tell them that you don’t feel their excitement to see you as much as you notice their desire to receive something from you.  This can come out awkwardly and embarrass them. So, don’t beat around the bush. This is a quality Haitians dislike about foreigners.  They want people to be honest and direct. They’re not looking for a pat on the back before you drop the bomb. Make it clear that you want to be in relationship, that you absolutely want to sow into their life, and that there will be times when you give them gifts but they are never to ask. Period. 

Culture Clash with Term Servant

“Bonswa Gloria…A new young male employee asked me if my servant was coming to work today and then asked her name because he forgot it. ?! He meant the woman who has worked with us at our home for a long time. I have never heard anyone else use the word servant and I don’t like it. I could tell he was just being matter of fact. Is this a common term? I’m comfortable talking with him about why I don’t like it but I wanted to ask you for some cultural wisdom first…”

Very comfortable term. Servant doesn’t mean slave. It means someone who performs a service for you but in modern English it does come across the wrong way especially because of the cultural differences. It’s perfectly fine for a Haitian to use that. In fact, waiters are called servers also, because they are serving something. People who work in homes are also called domestics. 

Haitian Orphanages

“How do we know which ones to trust and help?”

The Good:  

Culturally Haitian families help each other by taking in kids who are struggling. This can become what foreigners would call a children’s home and in America, a foster home.  These children are not all true orphans in that their parents died but cultural orphans in that their parents can’t or don’t want to support them. If these children blend in with the family and don’t become servants, it works.

The Bad and The Ugly: 

Some do this hoping to make a living and neglect the kids and  take advantage of sponsors. They are under no one’s authority and there is absolutely no accountability and everything is built on lies. Orphans aren’t really orphans sometimes.  So, while we are called to care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, integrity is crucial. If you are trying to decide whether to help an orphanage, evaluate it: 

-how many children are  being taken care of compared to the amount of staff there to meet their needs. People get greedy and take a lot of kids to say they need a lot of sponsors.

-are the kids happy, afraid, or indifferent to see the director?

-does the owner play with the children and if so does it seem natural and what is the child’s response when she is not just trying to make the child laugh?

-if the caretakers have fancy cars and live off-premise that’s a red flag. If they can afford all of that with no other job, your donation is a part of their income. While some Haitians believe that’s right, maybe you don’t. I don’t. I think they should live on the premises and share the life with the children they say they love and want to devote themselves to.  

-if the children are still suffering even after some time of you supporting them.

-if a staff member lies just once about the number of children, cost of supplies and education, caretaker’s duties or whereabouts, just about anything!

-if the home, yard, and children are always dirty when you make unannounced visits, which are the only visits I would ever make when assessing an orphanage, frankly. I have been disappointed every time I tried to help an orphanage but I know some people who do it well.

Handouts

“What do you have to say about giving handouts in Haiti?

1-  what  do you consider as handouts? 

2-  what  are  exceptions? 

3-  what is the solution?”

Personally, I believe you have to teach a man to fish but he shouldn’t be left starving while learning to fish. In other words, a starving person has no strength to sit and learn to work. So, help with the immediate need while narrowing focus on how to get yourself out of the picture eventually.

Cultural Disconnect

“Has anyone else felt a cultural disconnect while staying in Haiti? This is a term I used several trips ago, originally to describe Wahoo Bay. The place just somehow felt so ‘Americanized’ that there seemed to be too much of a cultural disconnect with the people in the village I’ve been serving in for several years now – almost as if stepping between two worlds at the end of each day. Whereas here at Obama Beach Hotel, the quieter, simpler setting somehow feels more ‘connected’ to the people, if that makes any sense (but obviously not as much as when I’ve actually stayed in the village). Of course impressions are probably different for those working in PaP but I’m curious if others have felt this same cultural disconnect before and, if so, is this something you try to avoid or something you turn to as a haven?”

I’ve heard this many times or the foreigner who felt guilty to go back to their ‘seemingly mansion’ of a home.  If you’re not comfortable somewhere, don’t go.  That’s my theory. I love going to the resorts at some point when I’m in Haiti to enjoy a mango smoothie especially knowing that there are Haitians working there so I’m helping the economy but I put most of my money on local businesses. So, just weigh how you’re feeling, that’s all.  It’s like that in most caribbean nations. You drive a few yards and see extreme poverty, then look over your right shoulder and there’s a golf course. Take it all in stride. 

Haitian Wages

“What is an actual livable wage for most Haitians? I hear all the time how little they make and how that’s not good. But I have yet to hear what a good wage is- so that as an organization working to bring people and families out of poverty- what is a goal to aim for?”

I like that, livable wage versus minimum wage.  I know that my answer is different from what most people hear.  The reason being I’ve seen and tasted this.  Some organizations believe that it is important to stick to the minimum wage so that they don’t lose staff to others paying more or don’t start a problem of having staff who are never satisfied with their salaries.  I personally believe that if the goal of any organization is to help a Haitian become self-sufficient, it is then also important to examine needs. 

-not just groceries, but transportation to purchase it if necessary

-not just school tuition but state exams, textbooks, uniforms, lunch, and transportation for school

-not just car fare to come to work but a meal to fill the hunger for a full day’s work

Every region will be different.  Connect with another organization who believes that a Haitian should earn a livable wage to find out what they feel that is or to at least help you make an informed decision.

Social Media and Haitians

“The new factors it adds to teams (when teams meet ppl and return home to friend them on FB) or our friends who have not been to Haiti? Let me be clear that I see local friends and community members as equals. I don’t want to start an us/them conversation but better understand if there are different perspectives. I also am not talking about rules/policing how people interact over social media or giving for the last topic. I am just pondering thoughts on this topic!”

This is the decision I came to, if friends of mine (whether they have been to Haiti or not) choose to add a Haitian acquaintance of mine to their social media that’s their choice.  I think it’s crazy to add someone that you don’t know who lives in a foreign country especially where they will see pictures of you living in America with the mall shopping, moviegoing, restaurant dining that goes with that. So many times I’ve had someone say they responded to a friend request from someone I know in Haiti and were asked for money or they wanted to give me an iphone to send to them.  I have nothing to do with it and keep out of it.  If the interaction is strictly correspondence that’s fine but when someone starts feeling guilty about how much they have to send a bunch of things to Haiti, it creates a monster and makes it difficult for the rest of us who respect the Haitians who are financially struggling to be content with what they have and to work hard before God to do better. Hand Ups vs. Handouts. 

HAGGLING

“I’m intimidated at the mache because of all the yelling about prices. Why can’t there be a set price?”

The truth is that technically there is! There is a price that the vendor is willing to sell at but the fun is to haggle until you get there.  Remember these are business people fighting to make money for food and education for their children. So here’s the tip: when an offer is made cut it back by half then try to meet in the middle.

“How much is that?”

“Fifty Dollars.”

“I’ll take it for twenty-five dollars.” Whip out the $25 as if the price has been agreed upon.  Smile during the whole interaction or at least try not to seem insulted.

“Are you crazy!? I bought it for that much.  I won’t even make a profit. Forty dollars is the least I can take.”

“It’s not worth forty. Here, hurry up, take this.” Hand him $35 and more than likely you’re good.  You may get away with $30, if you have the patience to haggle.  It’s an art!

History Nuggets

Did you know that the word Haiti has root meanings in the Taíno-Arawak Native American language of “sacred earth” and that Haiti provided shelter to hundreds of Jews saving them from Nazi Germany. 

Haitian Machismo

Oh boy! I get a lot of questions but mostly statements made by women married to Haitians about this topic.  In the caribbean we use the word machismo for males that act strong and aggressive and are prideful for being just that, men. What’s funny is that that’s the actual meaning of the word machismo: strong, prideful, and aggressive males. Needless to say, it does exist. 

Haitian Marriages

“Is it common for Haitian husbands and wives to live in separate countries?  My husband knows several people with this situation; typically one of spouses lives in the US or Canada and the other spouse is in Haiti.  If they have children, they are with the wife.  I’m sure work/jobs play a factor in this, among other circumstances.  They keep in touch through phone, social media, and travel visits when possible.  In the US there are military families separated due to active duty status and such, and other marriages may have a spouse who travels a lot for work, but typically these are seasons of temporary separation and the couple shares a primary “home.”  In your observations and experience, is it normal/common/comfortable/acceptable for Haitian husbands and wives to live separately?  I’m not judging, just curious.”

Yes. One of my aunts lived in the US while my uncle remained in Haiti for decades.  This is very common because one spouse may be staying on the land in Haiti so squatters don’t take over and the property is lost while the other spouse is working in US where he can make more money to send to Haiti. This can wear down some marriages and can lead to adultery and divorces.

Haitians and Their Mothers

Fanm se motè sosyete Ayisyèn nan – Women are the motors/engines that keep Haitian society going. Walking down Route Nationale 1, surely you have seen that most of the vendors are women.  They walk back and forth to sell their wares, glide down mountains with baskets of fruit balanced on their heads and sometimes a toddler on their backs.  Haitian women are hardworking and tough skinned. As long as they are well grounded and focused they will do anything to help their family. 

Albinos

“Albino Haitians. What is the issue. I have seen Haitian kids throwing rocks – not just the pretend throwing that indicates displeasure levels – at an older albino teen near Delmas 31, and last night we met one in the Cazeau settlement and spoke as well as we could with him in creole/english. He seemed to be pretty much on his own and had no kids he was hanging out with. How are they seen? What are the issues here? I know we are all prejudiced to some degree whether we acknowledge it or not – but it seems they are either looked down on or feared? Is it similar to a disability? Or is this more along the lines of discrimination based on levels of skin tone?”

This sounds like discrimination based on disability.  It can be like this in heavily populated areas where children run around with little supervision and correction and in rural areas where there is no understanding on the subject.  Please remember that not all Haitians feel this way. 

“Hey Gloria! I hope you are doing well!! I have a question for you. We recently began partnering with an orphanage that is caring for children, some of whom were restaveks. I watched your video that covered this and so greatly appreciate your insight and honesty. What is the best way to explain what a restavek is to partners and those that will hear of the story? We want to explain the case in such a way that honors culture while still explaining the situation the children came from. With every case being different, how do we explain the situation in a “general” way? Does that make sense?”

This is a great question and takes great sensitivity to explain and to understand. First I want to start off by saying there are many restavèks throughout Haiti.  In other cultures a restavèk may be considered a slave but in Haiti, culturally, they’re considered an indentured servant.  I know that sounds about the same but while I don’t agree with it I have promised to explain it. 

A family can not take care of their eight year old and give her to a family member.  The family takes her in.  Though she may live with the family, she is not on equal footing with the family.  She will have more chores than the children, if they have any.  She does everyone’s laundry, helps to keep the house clean, cooks, and more. If she’s in a middle class family, they may pay for her to go to school but she must still carry on with her chores, which are the equal amount of an adult. Sometimes the she is greatly abused and feels a keen sense of being unloved and unwanted for anything other than servitude.  There is so much to this because when she grows up feeling this way, the only way she knows to love is by doing things for people.  She seems like a selfless soul but truly she is denying herself of being loved but doesn’t know this.  She trusts no one and does not trust herself because she does not think highly of herself.  To her she is lowest on the pyramid of society.  Such a person is easily manipulated, bullied, and pressured into what she truly doesn’t want to do unless someone comes along and helps her. She needs saving.

Many Haitians, even those who are poor, have restavèks.  They won’t call them that.  It is simply understood.  Some restavèks, knowing no better, are incredibly thankful for their situation because they are not a burden to their families and also do not have to live in the streets.  So some Haitians see it as a necessity and others look on it with shame.  It is a shame.  No one should have the life of a restavèk.  No one.   

“What is Haiti like to you?”

Haiti is…sitting under trees with friends late at night, telling stories, making up jokes. Haiti is mangos, pineapples, and bananas for breakfast with avocados for lunch so big that I can fit some rice and beans in them to eat.  Haiti is glass bottled sodas and dogs racing every which way more afraid than frightening.  Haiti is not knowing what to say or do to make things right while loving every moment of being where you are.  Haiti is laughing until you cry and crying until you laugh with someone who sees that you get it. Haiti is sitting on roofs and asking God what to do. Haiti is leaving and feeling disoriented because somehow you’re more at home…in Haiti.

Medical

“Do you know if there is a large frequency of mental illness in Haiti? My daughter was adopted in 2013, we first met in 2004 and had twice a year visits, 1 – 6 weeks each trip. She is in therapy for complex trauma (could write a book on it all), has an intellectual disability, PTSD and now has a diagnosis of bipolar.  Looking back over our years of visits, I think she probably had early onset bipolar, and some of her PTSD symptoms overlap with the bipolar.”

While I try to be careful with ‘blanket questions’ I have to say that yes, like every other country, there is a frequency of mental illness in Haiti.  First of all, life is incredibly difficult in Haiti.  A family may have had to part with a beloved child because they couldn’t care for her or they may have watched a child die from malnutrition.  This could break anyone’s heart and make a mother lose her mind, I should think.  Also, if someone has experienced any sort of trauma (an incident where they felt hurt and felt as though no one was there to help them) there is a possibility of counseling needing to be provided. So, I would say yes to that question. 

Immunizations

“Other than bug spray, what do I do to avoid Zika and any other harmful disease that I may run into? I’m at the docs getting Hep A and typhoid vaccines right now, and to be honest, I’m getting a little scared.”

First of all if you’re scared, find out if you really should be going.  Haiti is one of those places where you need complete peace about going and wisdom and discernment about everything else. I always tell people do whatever makes you comfortable.  If you’re afraid of catching something, take every shot.  If you don’t want to take shots, still find out from the organization you’re going with what they require you to take.  Also, make sure you’re taking care of any medical conditions you already have. I don’t like immunizations due to my own personal beliefs, studies, and experience.  I do take the tetanus shot because there are a lot of rusted wires and I would hate to get sick from a scrape. For the mosquito issue I take garlic pills, use natural bug spray on my skin and clothes, mosquito netting when I sleep, and try to sleep in a room with a screen door and screened windows, if possible.  

Aging in Haiti

“What about the life expectancy?” 

 That’s a subject we all have to deal with whether we’re living or serving in Haiti, it means experiencing a lot of loss. I never get over it. You see someone today and then they’re gone on your next visit. The life expectancy remained in the lower forties for years and while it’s a little higher now there are many car and motorcycle accidents, cancer is becoming a common thing, and there are still people living in rural areas dying from infections for simple cuts or because visiting a doctor is being discouraged because someone thinks, ‘it’s no big deal.” 

Online Resources

I get a lot of questions about superstitions and Haitian Proverbs.  You can actually look them up.  Most of our superstitions come from old European superstitions and old wives’ tales but our proverbs are as to creole what idioms are to English.  Definitely look into those online.  We use many proverbs to express a thought, opinion, or emotion.  

Disabilities in Haiti

I must confess I was furious about a post a few months ago about Haitians killing deaf people. First of all I was upset because people reading that will immediately think all Haitians practice this and I, who am the parent of a deaf child, don’t want someone thinking I have negative feelings about my son.  What I had to realize was that this is very real.  People have died and the only explanation seemed to be because they were deaf. The truth that we must all realize is that not all Haitians feel this way or would harm anyone because they’re deaf.  I suppose it would be the equivalent of saying Americans kill homosexuals. That’s a loaded and rash generalization.

Disabilities are not seen as something to embrace in Haiti.  Please understand the why:

1-parents can’t afford to meet the special needs

2-it isn’t easy to get around in Haiti with physical special needs

3-there aren’t enough resources to help a child with special needs

4-there is not enough knowledge to empower families with children who have special needs

5-there is too much superstition or unhealthy views on why someone may possibly have special needs

That doesn’t make the views right but it does give you an opportunity to understand why it is viewed so negatively.  It was not too long ago that the deaf were locked up in asylums in Europe because people thought they were less than other people in the population.  These are old and uneducated views.  Knowledge, in this case, is power.

Communication

“I often struggle with the way things are being said or asked in what feels to me like a negative or accusatory way (I realize this is my perception).  For instance, rather than say “èske ou te bay li sa?” – did you give him that? they will ask “ou pa te bay li sa?” – you gave him that? or just say “Ou bliye bay li sa” – you forgot to give him that, whether I had or had not yet completed the task.  It’s not even said as a reminder like “Pa bliye fè sa” – don’t forget to do that, just a statement, “Ou bliye fè sa” – you forgot to do that.  My pride is probably playing a role here too, but when things are worded this way, it immediately puts me on the defensive.  No I didn’t forget, I actually already did that.  Or no I didn’t forget, but A, B, & C were of higher priority and I haven’t gotten to it yet.  Is this common to Haitian culture or  just among the Haitians I interact with?  Does this have anything to do with aspects of an honor/shame culture?  Am I just overly sensitive?  A very real possibility 😉 Help me understand!”

This is very cultural and comes from old English phraseology: “Have you not yet turned in for the night?” In modern English it seems someone is implying something hasn’t been done than just directly asking, “Have you turned in for the night yet?” Actually, “Did you go to sleep yet?” It’s not accusatory. It’s a different way of phrasing the question.  That’s all.

Physical Affection

“From my experience I would describe Haiti as a physical culture.. e.g. kissing to greet, holding hands no matter the gender (men to men, women to women), sitting close together, having no problem bumping into each other. 

Would you describe it as so?”

Yes.

“My question is, what are the cultural differences to be aware of when it comes to touch, especially between genders. Are their distinct cultural “bubbles” between genders? Example: In Haiti it is okay to kiss her on the cheek, but not okay to hold her hand walking down the street.”

Actually it is okay to hold hands when walking on the street but many Haitians do not like to show romantic displays of affection. Many Haitians I know that are married actually walk hand and hand, hug, sit on each other’s laps, and kiss on the cheek in public. My husband and I actually did a couples seminar encouraging this because it’s so important for children to see.  

“Are there distinct differences between what is seen as appropriate in America and what is appropriate in Haiti? I ask because I work with teenagers in Haiti and sometimes, I cannot tell if their physical interactions (holding hands, kissing as greeting, sitting closely) are cultural or.. because they are teenagers :)”  

This is tricky. If it makes the Haitian leaders around you uncomfortable too then it’s not just friendship. 

“So let’s explore “I’m waiting for you”.

The first time I heard it, I got nervous, thinking they were actually sitting and waiting for me, even though I was in the US!”

No, it is just a way of saying they can’t wait to see you again. 

Haitian Communications

“You know – sometimes friends having a “lively” discussion can come across to the uninitiated like Wrestlemania is about to break out.”

Ha! Funny but true. I had a group of people asking me about that one day and I told them that the voices are usually raised with hands going every which way and no lack of voice inflection. The next day a real argument broke out and the same group of Americans were sitting there calm and I thought, they’re assuming it’s just a normal conversation!

Trust Issues with Haitian Team

“I’m curious to hear from other Americans who support Haitian organizations financially and through leadership training, education, etc find ways to create accountability when you are unable to be on the ground. 

Background- we have had some Haitian staff who were very dishonest in the way they handled the financial support that was sent. And we’re working with our current staff to create a culture of accountability and trust. However it’s very hard when you don’t have someone there. I honestly don’t want to impose my culture and type A way of doing things but I’m getting frustrated. What are some ways to help the communication come across clearly of what needs to be upheld? What are policies you have in place with your partner organization’s that you uphold and what are some issues you have settled on letting go of?”

Everyone needs accountability, it’s not about whether they’re Haitian or not. If staff is being dishonest I don’t believe it’s wise for them to have responsibility without supervision, point blank.  Sometimes it’s the wrong person in the wrong position because of course there are many trustworthy Haitians. Also, it may be that it’s too soon to throw someone in a position where it’s tempting them to do something they shouldn’t do. If someone can’t stay in Haiti to run their organization, partner with another organization where there are already feet on the ground or change the dynamics of the organization.  There is no need to follow any specific model.  

We decided we didn’t want Haitians Helping Haitians to be an organization that owned or ran anything. We stayed at Haitian-staffed guesthouses and partnered directly with Haitian leaders. So, we don’t own an orphanage but can go to a Haitian orphanage to provide supplies. Every year something changes.  This year, in fact, we have decided to stop focusing on one area and go where God leads us to partner with people who work directly with potential Haitian leaders. Be pliable, ministry requires it and Haiti demands it. 

Sending Money to Haiti

“Hey! We frequently use a bank wire to send money to our feeding program in Haiti. However, we are getting hit with steep fees on both sides. Just wondering about getting money to Haiti? Thanks in advance!”

I once set up a business paypal account for a friend doing business in Haiti, which means US taxes will have to be paid. This individual was able to receive money and use the Paypal debit card for withdrawals.  Now, there has to be a strong trust level, no greed, and accountability, especially if the bank account it is linked to is yours. I paid many a bank overdraft because he didn’t take into account that you can withdraw money from an empty PayPal account with the card because they’ll dip into the bank account it’s linked to. However most people are now using xoom.com, which allows you to send money via your paypal account to a bank in Haiti. In fact, that’s the route I would recommend because the fee is lower than Western Union and MoneyGram. 

EDUCATION

“Can anyone give me an idea of how much school costs in Haiti?  Sorry I don’t have more specifics on ages or type of school; let’s assume primary/grade school (much more for secondary/high school?).  And are fees usually due all at once at beginning of year or monthly?”

Cost of education varies on Haiti based on region, organization running the school, and quality. Most foreign-ran schools are going to be expensive because they are trying to give the best program possible. This means teaching English, French, Spanish and usually all instruction done in French or English depending on the school. Most Haitian schools are ran by churches trying to help the community which means they are incredibly cheaper although the education may mostly be in creole. So, first you would need to figure out your budget, then visit the schools in the community to make a well thought out decision.

“Regarding Trade Schools and Universities…Any idea on the costs for a complete program at a Certified facility?  Are there jobs available if one does complete an education?  Thank you in advance for any information.”

The answer is identical to the previous question. Figure out a budget, look into local trade schools in the region your student lives, and then decide from there.  We supported a young man in Port au Prince for a year in trade school for accounting. It was about $1,000 per year which included textbooks, transportation (this must be included in your budget), supplies, and incidentals. We supported two other young men in St. Marc for construction work and engineer (I think more like auto mechanic) for approximately $250 for the year. As you can see the price varies. One can’t just call out a cost and expect that to represent all of Haiti. It’s great to connect with people who are serving in different parts of Haiti to get such information.

Haitians and Visas

“Any suggestions for helping a Haitian friend get their visitor visa to the US? We have two guys who we partner with in Titanyen who we’d love to bring to the states for a visit. But they have both been denied multiple times.”

Honestly, that’s just how it is.  There’s no secret formula.  Follow the steps indicated, pray, and keep trying.  It does usually help if it’s an organization filing for it on someone’s behalf.  This is even difficult, at times, for Haitians married to people who live in the U.S.

Church

“I have heard that women have to wear a dress/skirt to go to Haitian church. What about men? Do they have to be in a suit/tie, or would our summer casual be acceptable?”

Summer casual is acceptable if one means khakis and a buttoned down shirt but not shorts and most certainly no jeans on Sunday.  Haitian men wear dark slacks with belts, buttoned down shirts with ties, and many wear suit jackets.  Church is still pretty formal throughout Haiti. 

Famous Haitians

Sidney Poitier, Blake Griffin, Wyclef Jean, Garcelle Beauvais, Usher, and Zoe Saldana are among the many. Since the earthquake most diasporas are no longer ashamed of admitting to being Haitians. 

Style

Haitian Hairstyles: 

In the old days women wrapped or braided their hair. From the  80’s Haitian women started using hair relaxers to straighten their hair but in the last five years this has changed drastically with the natural hair movement. As beautiful as natural hair is however, schools and churches still encourage styled hair: hair pulled back, braided, or with boul gogo (hair holder with plastic balls)  and barrettes to keep hair from getting in the face and tangled.

Haitian Clothing

It is pretty much identical to American because women definitely do not wear quadrilles anymore and most people get their clothes from donations in some form or another.

Poverty

“I just returned from 5 weeks in Haiti (my 8th time in the country).  Three of the five weeks was for Haitian Creole Bootcamp. Today, someone who asked the usual, “How was your trip” question, stated, “I think it would be harder to be homeless in our country than there.  At least they don’t have to get out of the cold in Haiti.”   It was so hard for me to hear a comment like this…most Americans have no clue how bad the situation is in Haiti…there’s no way to compare our picture of a homeless person  in the USA (where we have homeless shelters, soup kitchens, & government aid) with  the poverty in Haiti, yet some people sound like they think it’s the same.  How do you respond to people?”

I may just nod, not in agreement but because I can’t force someone to see things the way I do.  Also hardship is relative. I was homeless in Miami when I was 16 but it couldn’t compare to the woman who was and remained homeless since she was 16. So for a Haitian being poor is the worse and to an American, Canadian, or European being homeless in the freezing cold is the worse.  I don’t think it’s fair to compare the poverty of one man to another. This is somewhat insensitive, I believe. 

Public transportation

“Why is it called a taptap?”

Answer: Because you tap when you want the vehicle to stop.

Saddest Drive

No matter how difficult our times in Haiti, we can all admit that leaving Haiti is even more difficult, always. Our hearts pang to return. Something about the land cries out to us. The ocean keeps us in its spell. We embrace all the positives, all the negatives, all the yelling, all the barking, all of the loud, big trucks zooming, all of its smells of street food and spells of smiling faces. Leaving Haiti is always the saddest drive.

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