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Haiti, a Hard Taskmaster

March 18, 2011

One of my friends made what I believe to be a very apt comment in response to my descriptions of Haiti.  “Sounds like controlled anarchy.”  That sums up much of what happens there very well.

I’m feeling very judgmental these days.  I’m kind of like a reformed smoker.  Now that I am back in Canada I see what people are doing here and a lot of it grates on me.  I want to tell them exactly what I think, but I most often don’t.  It is a challenge to keep in mind that I was exactly the same a very short time ago, that I need to remember this about me, not others.   Haiti changed my perspective on a lot of things.  I was probably leaning in that direction for some time but my visit there pushed me over the edge.

Exactly what is important in my life?  In what does it make sense to invest myself?  How do I define success?  Is life really all about me?  Do I use my resources in a way that truly makes sense in this world?  These are the kind of questions that have rattled around in my head for many years, but Haiti has ferociously thrust them to the forefront.  With a long history of hard taskmasters, the country has itself become one.  It strengthened my resolve to make wholesale changes in my life.

All my stuff, things that were very important to me, I now see as a needless burden.  How much of it do I really need?  Very little I think.  What about my life?  Some of it looks pretty me centered in hindsight.  To come face to face with wide-ranging devastation, grinding poverty and almost total lack of opportunity is an almost indescribable.  To have someone ask me if I can do anything to help them get the education they know they need to escape their situation and appreciate that there is probably little I can do tears at my heart.  To have a child let me know they are hungry when I know that I will do nothing because to help them would trigger an avalanche of others just as needy flies in the face of everything I believe.  To live in comparable luxury among those who have so much less raises very uncomfortable questions for me.

Haitians cannot put all the blame for their situation on others, for some of the things they have done historically and continue to do contribute to their problems.  But I know in my heart that I am certainly not without culpability.  Many of the problems these people face are caused at least in in some small part by the way I chose to live, the institutions I chose to support.  I cannot blame institutions for what they do; they have no conscience, no soul.  Without our support they can do nothing.  But when I turn a blind eye to the devastation they wreak, it is I who must bear the guilt.  Is this “white guilt?”  Perhaps.  But I think there is more to it than that.

I saw people who have come to Haiti with excellent intentions to help imposing their standards, beliefs and values on those they had come to help.  Do I have any right to do this?   Perhaps I can offer a few choices not otherwise readily available, but have I any right to make my doing so dependent on their compliance to my wishes?

It works best for me to remember that we are all God’s children and it is incumbent upon me to do what I can in the face of need.  And so I will.  God has gifted me with many skills.  My life has prepared me for a future in Haiti.  I have learned to be calm in the face of crisis.  I allow little room for fear; it is not that I am fearless, but I have learned to act in spite of it.  My life has cultivated a compassionate heart.   God has tempered that compassion with a little wisdom.

And I have always been able to speak to the minds and hearts of others through words.  I have been told  by many of my readers that the way I write allows others to “be with me,” to “see through my eyes” as I experience the things I am experiencing.  So I will continue to commit my experiences to “paper.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. kim evans permalink
    March 19, 2011 4:04 pm

    Barry:
    Knowing your heart in the small way l do, l imagined you would immediately struggle with “our” culture upon returning from Haiti.Some of us struggle even without the visual knowledge you have just gifted us with. I can only thank God for His infinate patience while at the same time join in the spiritual chorus of”how long oh Lord long?”
    Thanks for widening my own vision by sharing your journey
    Kim

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