Degaje (day-gah-zay)

January 6th, 2013

This commonly used Haitian term literally means, “Get By,” and has the idea of, “Just make it work somehow,” or, “Jerry Rig it.”

Examples of Degaje abound, and to be honest they drive me nuts.  I prefer things to be done “correctly,” whatever that means.

Here is a good example of Degaje I took a picture of today:

Pull the String to Flush

While I’m here in Haiti flushing by pulling a string, I’ve seen the Japanese have invented a bluetooth enabled toilet that connects to smartphones with an app. This toilet app lets you control it all: both lifting the seat and flushing (so you don’t have to touch anything, at least with your hands), the volume of soft jazz through the onboard speakers, even recording a detailed poop diary! Guess it pretty much does “everything.” This world is crazy, isn’t it?

So while googling “degaze” I found an entertaining blog post entitled, A Different Reality Strikes where this guy (Ray Pruban) describes a day from his short term mission trip in Haiti where they try finishing a simple construction project. 

I identified with his frustration as he related everything that went wrong during a single day, especially as he is a Mechanical Engineer like me. 

At one point in the story they are pulling a generator apart using a pair of pliers (because the socket ratchet was broken) and end up fixing the broken engine pull-cord with a pair of shoelaces.  The author had vetoed the shoelace idea as impractical, but then, when his back was turned, the Hatian guy put the shoelaces in the generator and got it started! Degaje.

In my mind, this utilitarian attitude of, “Just finish the job regardless of how well it gets done,” is frequently counterproductive, and for sure counterproductive in the long run.  Yeah, the shoelaces started the generator today, but what about tomorrow? or six months from now?

Here’s another example: Today I went to an upscale grocery store after church and they were mopping the floors while the place was full of shoppers!  At one point I walked through a wet section (trying to get a can of pop) and left shoeprints on the ground.  The Haitan worker said a choice word or two at me for having messed up his freshly cleaned aisle, then began running his mop back over my dirty shoe prints. 

I was thinking to myself, “Why mop when the store is full of people? Why not mop at night?  Or early morning?  And why get upset at customers who are only trying to buy merchandise from you, like a precious can of pop?”

But the common attitude is, “Just get the job done, regardless of how well it gets done.”  I can kinda understand this attitude when there is a lack of material resources to fix things correctly, but in the mopping case above they could have done the job “right” by mopping at a different time.  The issue at hand was a lack of thought put into the process.

Ok, enough grinching!  I need to learn to accept the differences between my culture and here.  There are many great things about Haiti too! 

Speaking of Great Things about Haiti, on New Years Day I went to the beach.  That was super fun, I read a book in the shade, went swimming, ate great food, drank a freshh fruit smoothy, and got sunburnt.

Relaxing at the Beach

3 Responses to “Degaje (day-gah-zay)”

  1. Danny R Says:

    I always feel bad walking on quick trips freshly mopped floors, although they just smile, nod and act like they don’t care. I like your iconic beach picture, you probably have two piña colada’s in your hand too!

  2. Beth Says:

    Personally, I love the concept of degaje (and, in fact, it is probably my favorite word in the Kreyol language). However, having grown up with an engineer for a father and having seen him [attempting to] work with Haitians on several projects, it doesn’t surprise me that “degaje-ing” drives you crazy. I do get how frustrating it is when things are done inefficiently and/or in ways that just plain don’t make sense (totally get it – that drives me crazy, too). I guess, to an extent, though, I’ve just kind of come to expect that in Haiti. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not… Anyway, back to my original statement, I do love the concept of degaje as it relates to being creative and making use of whatever resources are available; usually, when I think of degaje, it’s in that context. And it’s a fun word to say, so it’s gotta get points for that, right? :)

    Glad you got to go to the beach! Sounds (and looks) like it was a great day!

  3. Seth Says:

    That beach looks so warm and relaxing…

    Interesting post on degaje! I can see that it’s not so much the making do with what you have actions that could drive one crazy, it’s more that mentality of fixing things for the moment without regard for the future.

    I saw an example of that this week too… the heater in the room next to my friend’s room went out last week. The repairman came by, unplugged the power from my friend’s heater and plugged it into the room next to him & called it fixed. Well, technically, I guess it was fixed…

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