Poor Haitians are not bad people.
They are simply poor. They are needy, and years of hunger, counterproductive NGO efforts,
and destructive patterns have taught some of them that if they do not lie or
steal, they will not survive. The general belief is that blan yo, the white people, have seemingly endless amounts of funds.
I imagine that some justify their actions by saying “Surely, if my problem is
big enough, it wouldn’t be wrong to take some of the foreigners’ money. They
can simply call America and get more.” Thus time and time again, I have seen
money disappear. I’ve had toys, clothes, and jewelry stolen from my home. I’ve
had staff members turn in receipts that appear altered. Sometimes I know
clearly who the culprit is; sometimes, I simply know that something is missing.
Theft is primarily a loss of
material goods, most of them replaceable. But the secondary and far worse
effect of this frequent dishonesty is the nagging fear in the back of my mind
that no Haitian is trustworthy. I have not found it easy to be true friends
with poor Haitians, so the few friends I do have are very special to me. And I
despise the fact that whenever I think about these friends, there is always the
shadow of doubt: “How long will it be before this one breaks my trust?” I don’t
have proof, but I have many reasons to believe that two of my good friends in
Port-au-Prince were stealing from me the entire time that we worked together.
And here in Gonaives, a friend who I have trusted more than any other Haitian,
recently admitted to stealing from us.
It is a terrible fear - that the
ones we trust, the ones who have been with us during the greatest and worst
moments of our lives here – that they will betray us. I try to ignore it but always,
always that fear is there. It weighs
on me and it makes me hold myself back in these friendships. I truly believe
that those who have stolen from me still care about me, and that to them, the
act of thievery did not diminish their affection for me or their loyalty to me.
But something in me changes when that trust is broken, and a person who steals
from me, especially those who lie about it, cannot stay in the same category of
Last week, my friend Christine
visited me with her 5 children. Her teenage daughter cut her leg getting out of
the taptap so I took care of it, and left the bag of Band-Aids on the table. I
didn’t see what happened later; all I knew was that the teenage girl came back
to the living room after a trip to the bathroom and Christine said sharply, “Put
those back right now. They are not yours.” And the girl placed 2 Band-Aids back
on the table.
Sometimes I am haunted by the fear
that my friends will steal. Other times, there’s Christine. She
reminds me that I can and should trust my Haitian friends. And my hope in
humanity is restored.
When your stove stops working and after 2 weeks, a simple repair makes it work again, that is a simple joy.
When an electrician removes the flimsy little wires that gave your apartment power and replaces them with thick, safe wires that are completely enclosed in a breaker box, that is a simple joy.
When the newly strengthened electricity allows you get your pump primed and pumping so that you have running water for the first time in 3 months, that is a simple joy.
When all three of those things happen in the same day, that's a pretty hefty dose of simple joy! And when you get into bed that night and it's cold enough to sleep under your cozy comforter, it's almost too much simple joy to handle.
A few weekends ago, we took Lovena's family to see her at Dorothy's. Her grandma and grandpa, along with 4 of their children, Lovena's very young aunts and uncles, made the journey with us and spent a day playing with Lovena and getting to know the nannies. When it was time to leave, 4 year-old Yolande said she wanted to stay with Lovena!
Lovena has never been prone to displays of emotion. She clearly recognizes certain people, but doesn't laugh or smile or cry easily. I am so torn by her situation sometimes - half of me wishes that she could have never left Jubilee so that she would know the consistency of one home and one family, but the other half of me is glad that she has been safe and well-nourished at Dorothy's.
Of course, for me it was also a treat to get to see Johnny J, my little buddy who came to Dorothy's around the same time that I did, 6 years ago. (Click here to read about the day I first met Johnny). He was a sickly infant with HIV and I always feared that his chronic ear infections would impair his hearing and speech. I'm happy to announce that at age 7, Johnny speaks clearly and hears easily. And he's still young enough to think that a visit from Kez is a very special thing indeed.
When I was a freshman in college, learning about the immune system in Anatomy and Physiology 101, I had a brilliant idea: my classmates and I should dress up as microbes and white blood cells and have an epic battle! My level-headed friends calmly refused and told me I was crazy.
I guess I never really gave up on the idea, because last week when I was teaching my community health agents about the immune system and HIV/AIDS, I came prepared with costumes. We had Killer T cells, Helper T cells, B lymphocytes, macrophages, lymph nodes, antibodies, and of course, a troop of viruses.
I narrated the battle while my students (and a few kids from the elementary school) acted out their roles. Fortunately, Haitian adults think this kind of game is hilarious, so they participated with glee. And when it was all over, they understood the immune response significantly better than before.