I’m Sorry

Today I am going to do something that I’ve never done before on the Green Mango Blog: apologize. Specifically to the team and group of people who were offended by my recent post about changing the world, I’m sorry. My words were too harsh and my examples too specific. My intention with what I say on this blog is never to hurt good people and that is what happened this week. I regret that deeply. I have known some members of that team for a long time and truly appreciate the genuine love they have in their hearts for Haiti and her people. Perhaps that’s why I chose to use them as an example because I do know them well and I took that relationship with them for granted. Because what I was writing about was not specifically about them, but I used them to represent frustrations that I and other long term missionaries and aid workers here have with almost all short term teams that come into the country. And I also know that they were not the only ones offended. So, I would like to make this declaration to anyone willing to read it: I’m sorry.

For all those who come here for a short time no matter what you’re reasoning, please don’t be discouraged by my cranky old man cynicism. Your trips do make a difference in the lives of the people you serve here and to them their worlds are changed. Please continue to be a blessing to those around you wherever you go. The reason that I get frustrated is exactly because I do know just how good of people you all are. I know how good your hearts are and how good your intentions are. I know where you come from and I’ve heard you speak about why you want to be involved in Haiti. I understand your faith that pushes you to do it and I know the culture that encourages you to want to change the world. I know how good of people come on short term teams because I’ve been a part of many myself. I know the good. Unfortunately the Haitians who you interact with when you come on a short term team do not speak your language or know where you come from or have attended your church. They don’t know how good your intentions and your hearts are because they’ve suffered from a long history of being the victims of foreigners with horrible intentions and cold hearts. For decades they’ve seen mission team after mission team come and try to change them without getting to know them. And anyone on a short term team here must realize that coming into this culture you automatically become a part of that history. So no matter how good of people you are, without the language and cultural background to inherently convey that goodness, we have to be conscious about the nonverbal communication that tells the Haitians who we are and why we think we need to be in their country. Through your actions with the few people you meet, you will be able to demonstrate the goodness and love that you came to share. But there is still an entire population witnessing your presence here without those personal encounters, and they are the ones that are going to define for the rest of the community what your team means to them. I want them all to know the goodness which is why I share my thoughts. Because I have witnessed too many times myself Haitians missing out on the goodness because all that they know about a team is nonverbal clues they pick up on. It’s the fortified meal package that they received which tastes bad and takes too much work, or the TOMS shoes that they got to put on their feet which are ugly and impractical for rocky paths, or even just the clothes they see the team wear, or the way the foreigners hold on to the back of the motorcycle, or the way that their cameras are always around their necks, or the way that they can’t leave the house without wearing a bandana (guilty as charged). These seemingly meaningless nonverbal signs, when added to a history of offenses, end up meaning a whole lot. We can’t change the offensive history, but we can change a few of the other things.

So, once again I am sorry that in my effort to communicate that I did it in a way that was so hurtful to some. It’s been a very stressful time here in Haiti lately trying to get ready for the school year and I’m sorry if I let my stress turn into a very angry blog post at the expense of some good people. At the same time I would like to thank all the others who have sent supportive messages recently. Those who also live here and understand where I’m coming from, but are smart enough not to say anything publically. Many people who I have never even met, and who have served here in Haiti much longer than I have, who have sent me your positive comments privately. Thanks for seeing the reasons behind my hurtful words and helping me to see where to stay focused.

As my commentor pointed out it truly does take all kinds to accomplish the work together. I would never want to cut off my pinky toe as strange as I think it may look on the side of my foot, although in times of stress I may still tease it for looking funny. And ultimately I do also believe in the goodness of our God who created us each differently for very good reasons whether we always agree or not. The Haitians that I live with everyday do clearly know his goodness and I’m glad that they continually show me that as well. Without his grace and his sense of humor, there’s no way I would still be here.

This apology, a reminder, that I still have some ripening to do.

Sincerely,

Lee, The Green Mango

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3 comments

  1. Lee

    I don’t think anyone doubts your good intentions. There are some positive actions that could lessen the cultural disconnect between white do-gooders and Haitians.

    After my short trip to Haiti, these are the things I wish I would have known before the trip:

    *The Haitians I met were stunningly clean. How did they do it in the red dirt-no running water environment? By the time I left, I was filthy and ashamed of it, but I didn’t know what I could ask of my Haitian hosts regarding laundry and bathing. Because of the language barrier and my concern about offending them, I didn’t ask. My mistake.

    *The Haitians I met dress up! They dress up much more for church and other special events than the people I know in America. If I had known, I would have packed accordingly.

    *Our hosts provided great breakfasts and dinners, but mid-day food was difficult to come by. If you need to eat lunch to feel good, bring granola bars, but well packaged and sealed. The jerky I brought attracted red ants!

    *Toilet paper was not a given. Bring a roll.

    *If your mission trip involves work that Haitians could do, stay home and send money to hire Haitians to do the work. This is a difficult message for us white do-gooders, but my trip to Haiti convinced me that mission trips to build schools or do anything else that Haitians could do are not good things. We’re taking away jobs that people need.

    Useful for the Haitian hosts to know:

    *White people are sometimes, you know, really WHITE. We may wear big hats if we expect to be in the sun just like we do at home. We do it because we don’t want to die of melanoma or spend our time with you suffering from painful sunburn.

    *Our hosts prepared wonderful meals and then left for us to eat them alone. We’re there because we want to get to know them. Stay, eat with us, struggle with us to overcome the language barrier with college French, hand gestures, and good intentions.

    *An idea for a local entrepreneur: build a modest guesthouse for visitors. I would love to come back to Mizak as a tourist to walk, paint, and enjoy one of the most beautiful places in the world.

    Haiti is an extraordinarily beautiful country with smart, energetic people who are fully capable of solving their own problems. The challenge for us white do-gooders is to figure out what we can do (because we do want to help) that’s useful. Tell us. Be direct. We can take it.

  2. I think instead of trashing one another…let’s build one another up. Lee- I am sure that short termers can drive you crazy! Lindsay- I am sure how Lee expresses himself can make you mad! Lee may say stupid things once and awhile…but when we come down to Haiti we can do stupid things once and awhile too… so it looks like we can cancel each other out:) lol One thing we have in common is that we all care about the people in Mizak! Another thing that we all have in common is forgiveness and not judging others can be hard to do. PEACE!

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