I have now been back in Haiti for just over a month, but it feels like it’s been much longer than that. The excitement of being in a new place that I felt in my first few months is fading as life here becomes my new normal. Though this adjustment has been difficult at times, it is still easier than I expected it to be; I love it here so much and truly cannot think of any place in the world I’d rather be working and learning.
I am in a season of real growth now, and I have thankfully been pushed to become more independent in this time. This is partly due to the fact that my roommate has been staying at her parents house here in Gonaives, looking after things there while they are on sabbatical in their home country, the Philippines. Because of this, I have had to do things like get drinking water and take the trash out to a place where it gets taken care of (typically trash that is collected is burned here due to a lack of landfills). I have had to take on the responsibility of cleaning the apartment on my own (I’m telling you guys, it gets SO dirty SO fast due to all the dust that comes through the windows from my dirt road). I go to the market for groceries by myself now instead of always with a buddy, and am starting to figure out a schedule to go more than once a week. Lack of consistent electricity makes all of this a bit more challenging, but I am thankful that I have pretty much had it every other day for the past month, so I’ve been able to plan cleaning and cooking accordingly with that pattern. Slowly but surely, I am getting into a rhythm of life here, and it is a great feeling to start getting the hang of things.
Luckily for me, a local Haitian recently decided to start teaching Creole lessons. This is something I had wanted to do when I first came to Haiti, but when I got here, I learned that there wasn’t anyone teaching at the time. So I was so excited to find out that it is happening now. Honestly, (and I can say this because I struggled with learning French in college and it was a huge source of self criticism for myself) I have been pretty proud of myself for how far I’ve come in Creole already- and all those hours of French are to thank since Creole is a French-based language. For not really needing it to survive, (since the coworkers I work closest with daily all speak English) I feel like I have picked it up pretty quickly. So this class is helping me to really solidify my foundations in the language as well as forcing me to keep learning new words and practice more often. As someone who always loved school, I have actually missed learning in a class setting, and I have really enjoyed getting to be a “student” again.
I have been going to those lessons 2 nights a week for 2 hours each time, and have been trying to make time to study and practice outside of that. I have also picked up much more responsibility as the Marketing Director at work, and am cooking and cleaning more often, as well as trying to practice self-care regularly by doing yoga or working out each day. So you can say I’ve gotten much busier. Those who know me know that I thrive when I’m busy, but they also know I have to be careful to not overdo it. So I’m trying my best to find balance and routine amidst it all. More growth!
I decided pretty soon after returning here that I needed to start doing something that scares me every day. This sounds adventurous and exciting but in reality it is mostly scary! Ha. But challenging myself like this has significantly increased my confidence in living here, though I still have a long way to go. Some example of things that I’ve gone out of my way to do are talking to more people on my way to and from work, pushing conversations farther than I normally would to test my creole, and buying different things I need from different people who sell them on the street rather than just going to the store that has all of it. Many times I get really frustrated when I get laughed at or can tell people are saying not-so-nice things as I walk by, when I don’t know how to respond to what someone is saying to me, or when people ask me for money. But other times I have sweet interactions that make it all worth it, like when an old man saw me waiting to cross the street the other day: he gently took my arm and stopped traffic on both sides as we crossed together and he wished me a good day.
Recently, I have been given more insight into the culture in Haiti and our Big Question Monday meeting that we have each week at 2nd Story Goods is largely to thank. A few weeks ago, I got the chance to ask the question, and I asked about what Haitians think of when they see foreigners here. I learned so much from this conversation that has really helped me understand why random people on the street can seem to be harsh towards me at times. Hint: the history of slavery here as well as white people coming and just giving people free things both play a huge role in it. The conversation turned into one about race and I was honored to get to listen and learn from it. The next week, the conversation shifted soon after the big question was asked; we ended up spending the entire time talking about employees being late too often, and that they were seemingly not taking their jobs as seriously in Kathy’s absence. People talked about how they could personally do better and that they needed to remember that they weren’t doing this for the big boss, but for themselves and their country, so that they need to be just as serious about their jobs whether or not Kathy is here. This was another example of the slavery mindset that can sometimes infiltrate the culture here (in the way that without even realizing it, employees were working more for their boss or “master” than for themselves) and it was beautiful to watch as they dismantled it together and chose something different for themselves.
I ended up having a humbling moment when I spoke up and what I said was not taken as I meant it. I mentioned something about once coming to work 5 minutes late myself and no one being there yet, and I also said something about how we invest in this big question time as a company by paying them to be there in that time because we believe it is worth it. After being translated on the spot, it ended up being taken as I had come to work several times when every person was late (and they assumed I would pass this false information to Kathy); I also learned that it is never good to bring up money, so when I mentioned that, it turned something that was already being taken badly into something worse. I could tell that it wasn’t being taken well as I was speaking, and several people spoke about it with our human resources person after. He was so kind when I asked him what happened and he explained to me how what I had said was taken badly and helped me come up with a plan to make it better. I ended up apologizing the next week at the end of our big question time, and the most amazing thing happened. One of our employees who has had anger/behavioral problems in the past pulled me aside and apologized to me. He said that he had spoken to another employee about being upset about what I said and that he should have come to me first. It was a beautiful moment when I realized, this is what we are doing this for. For real change to come on both sides of the equation. As a foreigner, one of the ways the change comes in my heart is as my savior complex is dismantled and I realize how much I have to learn, and for the locals we work with, the change comes in that they have the opportunity to have meaningful employment in a company culture that values them as a whole person. We are all growing so much together.
I also had the opportunity to visit a Prolead class taught by two of my friends from work a few Sundays ago. As I’ve mentioned before, Prolead is the employment training program through Much Ministries. The purpose of it is to shift personal and cultural habits that are barriers to success and prepare people to become good employees. I have heard a lot about the curriculum and went to their graduation in December but never got to experience a class for myself. In this particular class, I was able to follow along for the most part as they taught in Creole, especially as they wrote key words on the board. They talked about what makes a good boss versus a bad boss, what you can do personally to succeed if you work somewhere where you have a bad boss, about clients and their needs, having good and bad experiences as a customer personally, and learning to not say “it’s not my fault” when you have a problem at work but to instead take personal responsibility to fix it. These things may not mean much as you read them if you haven’t been to Haiti, but it felt like Christmas day for me to observe this class and realize that these lessons are being taught here; all of these things are vital for Haitian employees to learn as customer service is notoriously not the best here and corruption is high in many businesses.
I have had to learn to have lots of grace with myself lately. To remind myself that I am still new here and I still have so much to learn. I find myself getting frustrated when I make a mistake or feel like I should have already known something. But you don’t know it until you know it, right? And I must remember I can’t skip this growing part. As Kathy said during our big question meeting the other day, it is good that our dreams don’t come easy to us, because we wouldn’t be ready for them. We are building the strength as we go to be able to hold our dream when it comes to fruition. And for this growth that comes along the way, I am so thankful.