The worst thing about living in Haiti is saying "No."
Imagine a day where every time you hear your name, the next words are a sentence asking for something. Not just any old thing, but things that matter. Things like, "Can I please be seen by the eye doctor?" "Will you please help me pay my rent so I don't get evicted?" "Would you pay for school for my three children?" "Can you do something about my child's crippled legs?" "Will you find me a job?"
I love when I can say, "Yes". When people are bloody and need to be stitched. When women come for prenatal check-ups on prenatal day and old people come for blood pressure checks on blood pressure day. When someone is hungry and I happen to have a handful of plaintains I can share.
Unfortunately, "No" happens much more frequently than "Yes". We can only see so many patients every day and when all the appointments have been given, I can't give any more. I don't have an inexhaustible fund with which to pay rent and school sponsorships for every family that asks. Some sicknesses can't be healed, even by the best hospitals in the US. And this country is full of people looking for jobs - I have a mental list of about 100 people who have asked me to find a job for them.
I treasure the occasions when people accept my "No" without complaint, verbal or non-verbal. I treasure the occasions when they recognize my limitations and acknowledge that though I am white, I am not God. I treasure the occasions when I can give people a little information to help them on their way and watch them do the rest themselves.
More often than not, though, my "No" is met with protest. Some people become belligerant, aggressive, and rude. I don't have a quick temper, but I have had moments when every fiber in my being wants to punch the offender or grab him by the shoulders and shake him until his teeth fall out. I want to yell at people about gratitude and I want to throw at their feet all the good things that I have been able to do. In a twisted way, those cases are the easier ones because I can justify my refusal with the ridiculous excuse that the person is ungrateful and impolite, unworthy of whatever he's asking for.
Most people just stand there, repeating their need, as if their persistence will suddenly change my mind. That hurts. It hurts in a deep place in my soul and it makes me want to scream. I know that the need is real, but I cannot be the savior and solve all of your problems. I just can't.
We are trying to break the yoke of poverty and to do so, we have to stop simply giving people things, because that thoughtless charity continues to grow the poverty mindset and dependence on foreigners. It would be a million times easier to just pay everyone's rent and everyone's school expenses and see patients day and night seven days a week, but all that does is teach people to beg instead of to work. There is a time and a place for giving without strings attached, but it doesn't come along frequently enough to make my life easy.
I carry the burden of unanswered needs. I carry the weight of expectations that I can never meet. I carry the accusing glare of my Haitian neighbors who do not understand why I cannot or why I choose not to help. I carry a wound in my heart that grows deeper with each refusal and that never seems to fully heal.
All because of that tiny enormous word, "No".