“Kob! Kob!” yelled the little lady who always demands for something every time she sees me. Sometimes it’s an emphatic request for food, other times my clothes or accessories like my watch and sunglasses. Sometimes she skips the demands and goes straight to hurling insults like “You’re cheap! You’re stingy! You’re greedy!”…“Ou visye!” when I don’t hand over what she wants. And other days we have the normal surface level niceties, exchanging “Bonswa, koman ou ye?” with my Kreyol “I’m fine, and you?”
But this time “Kob! Kob!” or “Money! Money!” came from her mouth as I drove by, rolling my window down to say hi as I braced for whatever comeback might be thrown this time. Taken aback by this new request, I chuckled under my breath and thought to myself, “Hmm, isn’t that interesting… She’s gone from asking for singular goods to requesting the trading note that can purchase whatever she wants.”
Isn’t it intriguing how conversations and thought processes can evolve over time and with age? This gal has figured out at a young age that money can buy whatever she wants now or in the future, rather than asking for the specific item she currently views as available for the taking.
But can money really buy her true, lasting joy and satisfaction??? That is the question I’ve been asking myself these days. Can a one time, guilt-driven hand out give her the dignity and confidence that she will need to survive tomorrow when the money is spent and the food is gone? I don’t believe it will.
What is it that I’m truly working towards?? Quantifiable “aid”/assistance and economic growth or difficult-to-measure relationships that will last a lifetime? Is it feasible to accomplish both in the short term (2-3 year) picture? These are the million dollar questions that often leave my spirit unsettled and keep me up at night.
I think the answers are yes, yes, and yes…but I’m learning that it takes a whole lotta relationship before the measurable growth. I think so much of my time has been spent putting the cart before the horse, and I’m learning to take a few steps back to see the beauty in each person I get to work with and the story that has brought them to where they are today. It is truly an honor to work with so many resilient folks and to learn from their scarred but marvelous works-of-art lives. These people know how to make a lot of life happen with very little, and I believe they have some knowledge that the world of blind consumerism can learn a lot from.
Switching gears a little bit…I became another year older in August, and I was beyond tired of the abundance of stuff that I own around the time people usually start asking what you want for your birthday. Now don’t get me wrong, I often go through phases of wanting to purge everything in my life and quickly stop once I come to and realize that there is no store down the road if I ever need these items again while in Haiti. The stuff remains and I’ll come around to another purging rage on another day.
But back to the present question. The more I thought about what I wanted for my birthday the more I realized that I’ve come to long for things that money cannot buy… time, quality, deep friendships, truly sharing life with people, good conversations, etc. Maybe a coffee date with my younger sister. A run through downtown Nashville in the crisp fall air. A night spent with my parents watching moves in their library while snuggled under blankets. Time and laughs with dear friends who too are busy chasing their dreams and subsequently thousands of miles and worlds away like I have found myself while chasing mine.
While these things do require money—I don’t think coffee shops or airlines will start taking soul-filled conversations as payment anytime soon—in the end, no amount of money can buy what many people truly want in life. And that puts much of my work in Haiti into perspective. Maybe I’ve been looking at my work a little wonky all along. Maybe instead of seeing what the nationals don’t have physically, I should look for the deep relationships and love they have an abundance of already and go from there.
Now this type of work will be a fine balance, as I don’t want those that I love and work with to suffer from lack of food, shelter, water, clothing, schooling, and other things that require money. But in teaching different mindsets towards thinking and preparing for success and the future, I think it is imperative to not teach the love of money and to chase after the American dream that often ends up not being a dream at all, but yet another form of enslavement that can lead to living a mediocre and unfulfilling life.
Back to the young gal I was talking about before…I have a feeling I’m not the only one she asks for money and things, and I haven’t a clue if her requests are ever met. What I do know, however, is that they come from a place of desperation that I will never know or truly be able to understand given my natural born position of advantage on the economic playing field. I fear that I am offering neither what she wants (money) or what I think she needs (a loving friendship) at this time, and that is something I must makes moves to change. I’m learning that relationship has to come before the assistance. It’s not a ‘hand up’ instead of a ‘hand out’ if I don’t know the story behind the name and face or the situations behind the needs. Economic development is a two way street, and exchange of knowledge and collaboration for a better future.
Next time the trivial insults come, I’m challenging myself to do the uncomfortable task of inviting my most vocal little enemy inside the wall that ‘protects’ our campus for some cool water and a snack, and maybe as we get to know each other a little better I’ll begin to have more grace and compassion and she’ll understand the reasoning behind my denial of her requests. Maybe it will take the dirty work of building a relationship first before we can get to the root cause of her needs and ultimately work together to try and alleviate some of them. Maybe, just maybe, we CAN use money to work in both of our favors…but it will take some time to search for the proper investments before lasting change can begin.
August was a joy-filled month brimming with potential for opportunity. During our meetings with business leaders, we are working towards viewing business and community problems from many angles and perspectives to come up with the best and most holistic solutions, while also learning to manage our products, customers, money, business, and selves to the best of our abilities. I also facilitated a meeting between one of my business leaders who is an agricultural mechanic among many other trades and a young man from Georgia who studied ag education. It was a beautiful scenario to witness two similar but starkly different worlds colliding as knowledge was shared. In the end a conclusion was drawn that has no simple solution—Haiti needs more access to water, especially for crops that form the backbone of its market economy. Shortly after this meeting came possibly the greatest and most thoughtful tangible gift I’ve ever received—45 avocados in my trunk from the avocado tree I check on every time I visit Barboncourt. While receiving was fun, I almost enjoyed sharing them with several families even more.
It was also a pleasure to get to introduce my sister to the many little ones I cherish knowing in Disciples’ Village’s partnering communities. She got to meet a few that I quickly bonded with years ago and some that I’ve crossed paths with here recently. These are the little ladies and young gentlemen that we work for. We labor now to build a brighter future for each one of them. They are the ones that will rise to lead their beautiful nation into its glorious potential, and now Sydney can say that she knows them!! How cool! We also hiked up to a water(less) fall and enjoyed the beauty of a different side of Haiti together. All in all, I had a blast showing Syd around the places and people I love calling home as she shadowed my work for the week. She left Haiti filled to the brim with new foods, new experiences, and new friends, and I look forward to the day she gets to return once again!
In August I also had the opportunity to begin learning to sew and had a DV partnering church come along side me to support whatever efforts I deem necessary to teach others in Haiti this valuable, money-making skill. I look forward to furthering my knowledge of this craft and to see where this opportunity could go for many I work with who have expressed interest in learning the trade. This is something I’ve been interested in for about a year now, and I’m thankful ideas and dreams are slowly starting to come to fruition! Who knows, maybe this time next year we will have a whole cohort making school uniforms for the kiddos heading back to school! One can hope.
Quite possibly the greatest thing to happen in August was the rekindling of a friendship that began on my first trip to Haiti a little less than 6 years ago. Mrs. Bettie has been a missionary in Haiti for over 40 years now, and we stayed in the guesthouse she helps run before DV’s grounds were up and running right down the road. She was back and forth from the US for medical reasons for a few years, and now she has returned to Haiti to live out the remainder of her days on this earth. I am oh so thankful! She is a wealth of wisdom and knowledge and beautiful stories. Mrs. Bettie has the greatest advise on how she has been able to remain in Haiti for so long, and that is a genuine and consuming love for the people. As she says, “If you don’t have love, go home!” It has been an honor to get to sit at her feet once again, and I look forward to the many conversations we will share over banana bread and coffee in the future.
This life that I get to live and the work I have the honor of participating in continue to blow my mind. God’s faithfulness is overwhelming and His grace continues to push me forward despite my many inadequacies. I’m so thankful for the many sweet moments that came in August, and I am expectant for the fruit that will come forth in September. Until next month, friends!