One thing about life in Haiti is that life often seems boiled down to common denominators.
Take food, for example. Are not rice and beans two “building block" foods? Are not beans supposed to be put into burritos along with guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, finely grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, and 4 fire sauce packets from Taco Bell? All neatly tucked into a warm, moist, flour tortilla? And isn’t rice that thing we throw at brides and grooms as they run out of the church? Or something Kellogg mixes with sugar and gummy paste to create the magnificent Rice Krispy Treats?
But not here. Rice and beans are a common denominator to food, and thus are daily staples in Haiti. Most days I have lived on this island I have eaten rice and beans for at least one meal. And some days it has been for two meals.
Take transportation. What would be the most basic and cheapest way to transport people if we were to strip aside all comforts? What could be cheaper and simpler than putting two wooden bench seats in the back of a pickup truck with a welded on cover, then packing said pickup truck chock full of people? But let’s not forget to colorfully paint it!
Opportunity is another one. While populations of richer nations (including myself) have a good deal of expendable time to pursue self-actualization and recreation, the majority here work hard to put the next meal on the table. Most Haitians won’t have the opportunity to travel outside their country, nor even visit one of their own beach resorts. When we realize the area of Haiti is about 10% the size of Kansas, that puts things into perspective – imagine never leaving an area that small! For most, opportunity here is boiled down to survival, a common denominator of human existence if anything is.
Many other things too are simplified. Even the language is simplified, lacking many words and having hardly any written literature.
Every church I have visited so far in Haiti uses the same hymnal – the Chans Desperans. The hymnal itself is simplified: there is no music! only words. Tunes are passed on from generation to generation by singing. Hymnals themselves are scarce here and few churches have enough for everyone. Yet people sing anyways because they know the words by heart.
While life is often frustrating here, and I often say life in Haiti can be like playing a computer game on “Hard” setting; at the same time many aspects are simpler. There aren’t as many options. If I wanted to go out to eat at a nice restaurant at this moment, I would choose between two restaurants. If I wanted to go out to a movie theatre this evening, I couldn’t. There isn’t a movie theatre in Haiti! There used to be one in Port-au Prince (Metropolitan population of 2.5+ million), but it came down in the earthquake and has yet to be rebuilt. Or even something as simple as buying buy ground beef at the grocery store: there is only one option, and it doesn’t have a label telling what percent of lean it is. It’s just ground beef, take it or leave it.
As a foreigner, if I wish to go to an English speaking church, there are two options I know of: one more congregational-led and one more elder-led. I go to the elder-led one. People at this church come from all different types of church backgrounds ranging from conservative to charismatic. We find common ground on the denominator that we’re all trying to worship God and obey Jesus Christ. It fosters unity. There isn’t the luxury to split over each small difference of doctrine and practice like happens in the States.
Sometimes it can be hard to keep the main thing the main thing. It is easy to forget what the main thing was supposed to be sometimes. Living here in Haiti has the refreshing aspect of stripping life back a few levels. Sometimes things we think were really important turn out to not be really that important afterall.