Second-hand Compassion

April 19th, 2013

I’ve heard it said in order to go live in Haiti it’s a nice idea to either be crazy or have a clear calling from the Lord.  And preferably both. 

Not sure if I have either of those, but this past week I’ve had strep throat, which wasn’t near so exciting.  On the mend now, thankfully.  Taking antibiotics.

One afternoon I was out running errands, fighting traffic, and feeling particularly sick (consequently, grumpy).  At one point while walking a short distance was accosted by three different beggars (two young kids and a very old lady), each telling me how hungry they were.  I shrugged them off, being hungry myself, not having eaten all day – for one reason because my throat hurt too bad to swallow! 

As annoying as the beggars were, I got to thinking about them and feeling more compassion… “I’ve only missed two meals today and feel this hungry, wonder how many meals they haven’t had?  I’m sick and grumpy, but I bet they’re often sick too without access to medicine like I have, or to clean water, a comfy bed at night, a refreshing fan, 24hr electricity, the occasional slice of pepperoni pizza, etc.” 

So, after working up my compassion, I went into a nearby store and bought three loaves of bread.  On my way back to my car I handed a loaf to each of them, in turn, as they came up again asking for food.  The kids were happy, but the old lady complained it wasn’t enough. Or perhaps that she couldn’t eat the bread with no teeth, but my Creole wasn’t good enough to know the difference.

I asked a middle-class Haitian who speaks English if beggars often accost her too.  She said, “Yes,” and sometimes she gives them something.  But oftentimes, she continued, people don’t give beggars anything because if one stops to talk to the “awousa’s,” they might find their money and/or important documents gone afterwards. I assumed she was referring to the risk of being pickpocketed. But no, she explained, stuff could be stolen without them even touching you! through voodoo.  I was skeptical, but she assured me this was the truth.   

In some ways voodoo is below the surface; in other ways it is right out in the open.  I took the following picture of bizarre-looking voodoo doll trinkets I saw for sale one day:

Dolls

While I can’t say I’ve had any of my things disappear through voodoo spells per se, Haiti does seem hard on stuff, in general.  For example, since coming here my trusty Gerber pocketknife has fallen apart, my cell phone cracked open, my expensive pocket flashlight broke, my DeWalt cordless drill locked up (what, DeWalt?!), both pairs of sandals I brought from the States disintegrated (sad days), my shorts now have holes in them and are stained, and my laptop keeps giving me the blue screen of death… heck, even my nose-hair trimmer broke.  Oh well, who needs a nose-hair trimmer anyways? I haven’t cut the hair on top my head in about six months.

Flip-flops are essential though, so after mine bit the dust I went to a local outdoor market to look for a new pair.  Couldn’t find ones the correct size that I liked, but did buy a pair, which is mostly what I’m wearing these days.  They were six dollars.  Though a little small, I feel more like a local wearing shoes that don’t fit.

 My new flip-flops

At that same market I also bought a new hat because I’d lost mine.  Was excited to find a nice, fashionable, brand new baseball cap for only three dollars.  But when I got home realized the bill was sewn on crooked.  I’m guessing it was a factory reject, and therefore made its way to Haiti as a charitable donation.  A charitable donation for me to find scrounging around in a boxfull of caps in an outdoor market. I still wear it frequently; it keeps the sun off.

Not sure why we sometimes think it’s OK to send rejects as donation items.  Recently, a guest showed me a purse she wanted to donate and asked if I knew someone whom we could give it to? perhaps one of our Haitian staff?  Problem was, one side of the purse had an obvious hole with the inner stuffing coming out.  I was like, “Well, I don’t know…”  Noticing my hesitation, she said, “Well, that’s OK, I’ll find someone to give it to before I leave.”  In my head I was thinking, “Is that the type of gift you would want for yourself?”

On the other hand, I can’t be too harsh, I just admitted to giving out loaves of baguette bread to beggars, and that’s not the type of meal I normally eat.  Though the loaves did look yummy.  I’ve always enjoyed French bread, as this picture of a younger me shows (taken in France, ironically):

French bread

While I’m on the topic of food, Melissa and our Haitian staff arguably make the best pizza on earth.  About once every couple weeks we’re treated to their crackerjack culinary arts.  It’s always a highlight, anticipated many days in advance. 

These pictures from last Tuesday:

Creating the worlds best pizzaFinished Product

Ok, so this post turned out eclectically random.  But that’s ok, I just felt like writing.

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