Hard to believe I’ve been here 3 months. My Visa officially expires tomorrow. But I’m working on becoming a resident so it’s Ok.
Part of the process of becoming a Haitian resident is getting a physical.
To that end I went to a local clinic and, without filling any forms whatsoever, received an official physical. It was eye-opening. They checked little more than that I had a pulse, then after taking my name and some money, presented an official looking form that said I had a clear bill of heath. Voila.
Opening a bank checking account, another part of the process, was more challenging. I had to wait at the bank forever, and they weren’t overly helpful.
So I’ve decided I’m going to try to blog more often, but shorter posts.
Learning a New Language
Today I started Creole lessons officially. Like with a tutor. I have lessons three times a week. I already know a little Creole. Like this evening I went out and bought some street food by myself. I can ask basic questions about the food and count out money and stuff and make it sound like I speak Creole, but then they ask me some question or make some comment I don’t know and I’m completely lost. Maybe it was about the weather, or maybe they’re telling me I have a booger in my nose for all I know.
It was brought to my attention there is a guy online with a blog titled, “Fluent in 3 months.” He is a long-time solo traveler and tries picking up languages quickly. The main trick he espouses to use if one wants to learn a language quickly is to force oneself into situations requiring you use it, as uncomfortable as that may be when you’re not very good.
I can relate with feeling uncomfortable. Today alone I had a group of people laugh at me for getting off a tap-tap and start walking the wrong way. Luckily most Haitians are quite friendly, at least if you are friendly to them. And they can be protective too. For example, today a guy came up to me while I was walking across the parking lot of our nearby gas station who was obviously of the obnoxious variety – trying to get money out of me. Then another Haitian came up to him and, from I could tell, basically told him to leave me alone. That was nice.
Of course, not everyone is nice. Earlier today I was at a Haitian lady’s house helping her with an electrical problem (a lady with Heartline) and a group of neighbors were sitting outside, including both kids and adults. None of them looked happy, and as I left they all gave me dirty looks and one of the young schoolgirls (perhaps 12 years old?) gave me the finger. Not sure what I did to deserve such condemnation. But, when you’re in a foreign culture, there is a lot one doesn’t understand. I’m pretty clueless in America too, so it’s no surprise I don’t know what’s going on here either.
So this “fluent-in-3-months” guy is a big traveller, like I said, and currently he is traveling in Egypt and, of all places, his latest blog post was from the Siwa Oasis! Wow, I’ve written about good ol’ Siwa myself back in the Egypt archives. His blog makes travelling sound pretty exciting. But, having travelled a little myself, and to some of the same locations, I can say that, “Wherever you are, there you are” and there is a lot to be said for sticking put in one place longer. The way he writes about experiencing the wild Sahara makes it sound pretty great, and in a way it was, but not in the way perhaps one would imagine from an armchair. In actuality, the overnight bus ride was miserable, our accommodations were primitive, the food was barely palatable. On the other hand, the thrill of adventure and discovery did make up for it all, but perhaps not to the extend I’d ever want to do it again. You can get most the effect just by reading someone else’s blog post.
So Ryan and I have an ongoing discussion on what our stance should be toward beggars. Both from the standpoint of having material means ourselves, and as Christians. Being accosted by destitute (and often handicapped) beggars is pretty common here, though thankfully nowhere as bad as Ethiopia or other places I’ve been. I remember last March writing a few thoughts about the beggar issue in Addis.
The sad thing is that after awhile one becomes somewhat desensitized. I’ve caught myself even being flippant. The other day I was driving and someone in the car asked me, “What are you doing?” as I fumbled with the drawer I keep change in and I just laughed and said something like, “Oh, there’s this guy behind you with a glass eye who’s missing his other one and I’m just trying to give him a few cents because he’s asking.” It sounded pretty demeaning after I’d said it, making a halfway joke of a beggar, and I felt like soldiers I’ve read about who joke about the dead after seeing so much death.
Ryan and I have decided maybe it would be better to hand out food instead of small change. We’re thinking of stocking the cars with bags of chips. But then we might eat them ourselves accidentally?
It can be easy to get into a mindset of, “Us versus Them.” And to compartmentalize how needy many of these folks really are. From the comfort of an air conditioned vehicle I give 10 US cents to a beggar and when he seems happy enough to receive it I feel justified that I’ve done my good deed for the day. But then later I may treat myself to a meal that costs $15 US, or 150 times the amount I just gave to someone who may be living with hunger pains for weeks on end, and have no home or comfortable place to stay either.
Recently this disparity in wealth has been underscored for me as I’ve been e-mailing a kid from Ethiopia I met while there. The last 3 weeks he has been out of school because he couldn’t afford the school fees, and he wanted to know if I could help him. I e-mailed him back how much it would cost, and he wrote me back that his school fees cost $4 US per month. Wow. Sometimes a little bit could really help someone.
There’s been this big push in recent years against handing out money to the materially poor because it can create unhealthy dependency and has the potential to hurt people more than help people. Yet at the same time, there are people in this world who have no good way of providing for themselves (like young kids or handicapped beggars) that could sure use a few bucks.
Today I was in a tap-tap and a boy and man (perhaps the boys father) came up to the back of the tap-tap asking for money. The kid had a walking stick so I think perhaps was blind. In any extent, after the man gave a short spiel, I was surprised to see a collection being taken up in the tap-tap. It’s safe to say everyone in there was poor, and yet they were taking this man’s word at face value and were spontaneously offering a donation to help one even needier than themselves. It was touching.
There is a lot to learn here in Haiti. And this blog post ended up longer than I meant it to be.