How Americans View Haiti

I think I have mentioned that when things get a little stressful down here, blogging helps me to work through the stress a little bit, so here comes another one.  As you may know, we are leaving next week to spend 2 months fundraising and working on the organizational side of All Things New. Getting ready to leave, and especially for that long, is very stressful to begin with, but something new happened today that I will blog about in the very near future. I got a summons to appear in Haitian court. If you remember, when we started here in Haiti, we worked with a Haitian couple. Without going into any detail here, the wife of that couple is bringing a grievance against me. We are not sure what the grievance is yet, but please be praying that everything goes smoothly Friday, and this new development has been the cause of some new stress in Jess’ and my life. Since I will not be writing specifically about that today, I did want to do a follow up to a recent blog I wrote called 10 Ways Americans are Treated in Haiti. Today I want to talk about how many Americans view Haiti.

Almost all Americans view Haiti strictly from an economic perspective. It is, after all, the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  There is this tunnel vision that can form in all of us when something has a defining aspect, positive or negative, that overshadows everything else about it. Let me give you a couple of examples. What comes to mind when you think of Michael Jordan/Wayne Gretsky/Babe Ruth/Pele? When someone uses the word “diet”? When someone mentions the date 9/11? It’s the same phenomenon that makes people use a brand name when referring to an actual product like Vaseline is actually petroleum jelly, Crock Pot, Ping Pong, Band-Aids, Coke (if you grew up in the south it can refer to any soft drink), Slim Jims (our kids absolutely love them), or chap-stick. My point in all of this is that we sometimes focus so much on one aspect of something that we forget it is more than that. Michael Jordan is not “just” the greatest basketball player who ever lived (though he is that).

Haiti is not “just” the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

The problem with the way many Americans view Haiti is that they view it with tunnel vision and cannot look past the economic issues this country has faced. We get into deep trouble when we take one small aspect of something or someone else and judge them completely based on that one thing. What would that one thing be about you? For me, it would probably be the size of my head. If you know me, let’s just face facts, my head is really big. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of it, it is just the truth. I have actually had a little girl, who I had never met before, come up to me and write a poem about my head. She was no Shakespeare, but she got her point across. It went like this:

Roses are red, Violets are blue
You got a big head
You got a big head

What if this was the first thing a stranger noticed about me? I have to say I do not want my head to be the thing that everyone judges me by.

Why is poverty and an earthquake the only things people know and discuss about Haiti? Did you know that it was the first free black nation in the world? It used to be a slave state for the French until they successfully revolted and formed their own free nation a mere 25 years after America gained its independence. Did you know that there are mountain ranges right next to beautiful beaches where you can float on your back and look up to breathtaking scenery? Did you know that Americans could learn a lot about work ethic by following around Haitian workers? Did you know that people are more friendly and inviting here than I have ever experienced in the states? All of these wonderful, positive things are true about this nation, but very few people have ever heard them mentioned.

The other trouble with only seeing the economic troubles of Haiti and nothing else is that Americans begin to form what some people refer to as a “Messiah Complex.” There is this belief that we need to rescue Haiti from where it is and it is just not true. For one thing, Americans cannot turn Haiti around, not even economically. If that is going to happen, it is going to happen when Haitian leaders come together and make changes. For another thing, nobody wants Americans to come in and change Haiti. Haiti does not want to be America and it shouldn’t! They have their own rich history that they celebrate and that makes them uniquely Haitian. This country has shown a resiliency that I have never known or seen before I moved here. On top of that, America has her own issues that are as big or bigger than the issues here and we need to fix them before we even begin to think of ourselves as saviors.

My point in writing this blog is that Haiti is more than a poor country and it is more than the country that an earthquake hit a few years ago. When you view anything with that type of tunnel vision you are almost always wrong. Haiti is an absolutely beautiful nation with wonderful people and a huge amount of potential to be great. Is it poor? Yes. Does it have other issues? Absolutely. But please do not equate Haiti with poverty, it is so much more than that!

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