The Other Side

Today a team from America came to Ravine Seche to do a medical clinic. I didn’t know any of them. Getting to see things from the “other side” was a bit disorienting. I suppose at some point I’ll become so discombobulated I won’t know which way is up or down.

For one thing, the pace of life between “them” and “us” was overwhelmingly different (with “us” including me and the villagers). We here are just quitely minding our business. Life is slow. Recently I was commenting to one guy that Haitian food took forever to cook. He laughed and relayed this message to his wife who responded with, “Well, Haitians have lots of time.” It’s true, out here nothing moves fast, and time can drag. The team blowing in and out today was like a small blip on their life.

While waiting around this afternoon, one of the kids told me he was looking forward to us making watermelon juice later (something we had planned on). I said, “Well, you want to go start working on it now?” It wasn’t like we were doing anything else. He said, “Nah, lets wait until after the blans leave.” (Blans being “white people”). No point in being hasty, I suppose. But that’s the thing: “Blans leave.” Even me, someday. Yet there are those who stay long enough for both sides to get into each others hearts. But staying for part of one day isn’t long enough for that.

In contrast to the slow life here, the team from America had an agenda and strong Judean-Christian work ethic to implement said agenda. They blew in setting up tables, opening a miniature pharmacy from suitcases, snapping pictures, etc. Wow, what activity.

First, let me caveat that the team was respectful, professional, and I think helped quite a few people.

But you can always tell newbies to Haiti because they’re dressed decked out for a safari. One of the first things I noticed were the hiking boots a number on the team were wearing. Were they hiking somewhere afterwards, I wondered?

Most people here in Haiti wear flip-flops, sandals, or a derivative thereof:


Americans work hard. These ones did, even if they hadn’t been on the ground long (perhaps because they hadn’t been on the ground long). Two volunteer engineering students told me this was their first time in Haiti, and they just landed day before last. They looked uncomfortable, like fish out of water. I suppose they were.

There is an idea that if we are going to be here on a Missions Trip for only a short while (like a week), we need to squeeze as much “helping people” into each minute. Translate: ramp up the already fast-paced American pace a few notches, which puts the gap between us sleepy-eyed country folk and “them Americans” even more.

So while they were busy setting things up, I was under a shade tree nearby with a group of others. I was curiously watching who showed up. “Why is that guy guarding the front of the line?” I didn’t even know he was sick. “Oh, there is Noë’s baby, I know he has a bad fever.”  Or, “Ahh, they got George from church to help with the crowd, he is such a nice guy, wonder how he got picked?”

One person turned to me and said, “I have asthma and need a new inhaler, but I’m going to wait for the line to die down, it would take forever right now.” That seemed reasonable, this shade tree was pretty nice.

One of the team asked me what I do here. Well… you’re seeing it. Today I’m watching you guys work.

So the team leader came up to me as well in the morning and asked if I could help get lunch for everyone. I said, “Yes, my friend Darlene here can cook you guys up something.” There were 22 of them. I talked with Darlene and she agreed to prepare rice, beans, and chicken for $50US. I felt that was too low. Usually similar street food is closer to $3/plate, not $2/plate. So I pitched it to the group leader for $70US, I felt this was a more reasonable “blan” price, seeing as it was a group of doctors (who were no doubt wealthy?) and wouldn’t it be chump change for them either way? And surely Darlene needed the extra $20 more than they did…. plus, isn’t there a charge for “spur-of-the-moment” preparation? I told the leader the money would need to be provided up front so the groceries could go be purchased. This they did. The one hickup was that in the end it was fish that were prepared instead of chicken, which though more of a story for them, was probably less appetizing for many in the group, especially those who got the heads.

After I had arranged the deal, I felt a pang of conscience. Here I had perpetrated several annoyances frequently done to me: 1) when asking for a service, being taken to a friend of whom I asked instead of the person who can really do the job best, and 2) charging them more because I felt they could afford it, where if they had negotiated with Darlene directly they would have got a better deal. I felt bad enough about this to later offer the team leader the difference, but he wouldn’t accept it.

In my defense, Darlene does cook good food, and I think with her original quote she might have lost money; she not being regularly asked to feed that many.

Lunch for the 22 people ended up being served out front of my house, the food put out buffet style on the table inside my house. As they all trooped through my kitchen, were they getting the opportunity to see the inside of a Haitian’s house, or an American’s? I don’t think most of them knew I lived here.

It was really interesting watching how the Haitian’s responded to the team. Overall, I felt they were shy. Not suspicious, just very reserved.

I know it is easy when you blow in like this to only see everyone enmass and objectify them as, “Those poor Haitians.” But for me, knowing a number of them now, I know better: these are a tight-knit community of just regular, ordinary people. People who would react just like we would if we were in their shoes. Oftentimes I feel like I’m living in an Adventures in Oddysy episode. There will be some conflict, which is then aired out publicly, and the pastor or some other wise older person puts in his two cents, and at the end of the day everyone is happy again.

For instance, the spirit stuff last night. Today over lunch that was aired out. And pastor Yve gave a public denunciation to Darlene and all others who were living in fear of the devil, because the demon world couldn’t touch those who had Christ within, and he apologized to me for having multiple people pressure me into coming inside the night before. Darlene was nonplussed by all this, she is good friends with the pastor. I think at 40 years old though, she isn’t going to change what she is a-feared of.

However, on the topic of last night, there actually was a little more danger than I allowed. Because, come to find out (with more investigation today), what they were really saying was afoot were “chanprèls,” real people who are members of a secret voodoo society. On certain evenings they collect together and, after first becoming possessed by demonic spirits, go wandering around looking for something to kill… and sacrifice. Sometimes they do this to an animal, othertimes a human. Woe be to the person out on the road at night found by a group of stalking chanprèls. I asked if they usually went around making a lot of noise with drums and such, or stealthily. I was told both were the case. But the culmination of the evening seems to usually be a voodoo ceremony with blood sacrifice.

The theory of why I was safe from the chanprèls (as espoused by the pastor and two other Christian Haitian men I talked to privately) was that they were demon-possesed men, and the demons would know I was a Christian with the power of God behind me and would leave me alone.

Personally, I wasn’t confident that if a group of blood-crazed voodoo men rushed me in the dark they would relent upon discovering I attended church last Sunday. Nevertheless, I still think I was safe talking on my phone a couple hundred yards away from my own house. It would be difficult for them to sneak up on me in the open on the beach.

One man told me if any champrèls came to his house (and he suspected some were living right here in Ravine Sèche), he would give them a beating they wouldn’t forget (or something to that effect).

Ok, back to the medical clinic today……!

Several cases had particularly pressing needs and I was brought into the loop with them so that perhaps I could follow-up. So much for client confidentiality!

One little boy, perhaps seven, had a bad problem. I knelt down and asked him first where he lived. He told ne across the river. Then I asked him if he knew who I was. “Wi, ou se blan Mayse Nicolas.” My reputation precedes me, I see. After discussing his problem, which was more severe, he asked me why my toe had a band-aid on it? what had happened? Kids!

Ok, others much more to say, but I’m tired of typing for now.

(written from my cell phone)

2 thoughts on “The Other Side”

  1. Love you, Nick. I’m glad you’re a good writer. You make this real for this peon who would be worse than a fish out of water in Haiti. God is faithful.

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