I was sitting on my stairs outside my house with my roommates who had just finished up their cow’s blood stew that they had cooked up with other honorary BAZ members. They’re not vampires, really, it’s just one of the manly bukson sort of things they like to do when they’re all free on a market day when there’s plenty of blood available. As they were cleaning up their bowls my CEO of Poor Isn’t a Dog roommate started telling the others of his plans, “You know, it’s because of all those blans that come in for a week and get to know us and act like our friends but then forget about us as soon as they go back to their lives. We drive them around on our motorcycles (and you know they’re not that light like Haitians) and we go with them to the beach and to the internet and to Bassin Bleu and to the store in Jacmel to buy wine and into the countryside to pray for people. But afterwards they never think about us again but they’ll send money to send some kid to school that they’ve never met or build a building that we’ll never go into or buy medicine for some old sick person that’s just going to die anyway. But where’s the future in that? What about our future?” One of my other roommates interrupted his tirade, laughing, “And what are you going to call this organization again?”
“Malere Pa Chyen” he proudly responded, “Poor Isn’t a Dog”
“Oh yeah?” replied Roomie #2 with a smile on his face, “Well I’m starting an organization too. Mine’s going to be called ‘Feathers Aren’t Wings”, “Plim Pa Zel” for all those people who like to get our hopes up by giving us something little, a feather, but not doing enough to help us fly.” Then he plucked a few leaves off of the almond tree next to him and held them in his hands and flapped his arms while hopping like a lead turkey trying to fly. All of the guys burst out laughing and Roomie #1 cried, “That’s great! It can be a branch of Poor Isn’t a Dog International!” Great, I thought to myself, my roommate’s already becoming a nonprofit politician trying to create a monopoly with his pretend organization to control all the rest. But it was all in good fun and I always enjoy hearing my roommate’s opinions on these things (makes good blog material). They’re a bunch of guys who have about as much interaction with foreigners as any Haitians without actually working with them in any sort of official capacity. And they’re a bunch of guys who know their own white guy well enough that they’ll say anything in front of me (knowing full well that it will probably end up on the internet sometime).
So whenever they begin to go off about the blans I always take note but also maintain a keen sensitivity as to how to take a joke. When they say these things I know that they’re not saying them out of a vindictive, hateful place, but from a place of real sincerity where they wish for more of a relationship with the visitors who come through their community rather than just the momentary use of their services. They wish for a more concrete and long-term effect of those visitors time beyond friendly good intentions. They realize the fact that there is more potential for growth on both sides if we remain connected and continue to search for ways to support one another. No one likes to feel used and then discarded. No one likes to be reminded that they don’t have what it takes to fly and never will. Hope, after all, can be a very dangerous thing if it never turns into anything more.
This isn’t to say that everyone that comes into the country for a week or so should become BFFs with every motorcycle driver they ride behind and every interpreter that translates for them and every Haitian that they encounter, but we should be careful about where we suggest authentic relationships may exist when in our American mindset we may just be trying to be friendly. If you get to know someone well enough when you’re in Haiti to at least accept their friend request on Facebook (because they will send you a friend request) then at least write them a message every once in a while to see how they’re doing to show them you remember them and appreciated the short time that you spent with them. If you want to go one step further, on their birthday, send them $20. Whether it’s to repair their motorcycle, feed their child, pay a school fee, or just to go to the beach and have some fun because it’s their birthday, I promise you that they could use it and would really appreciate it.
Or if nothing else, at least keep those individual’s in mind when you’re thinking about making a donation to some program in Haiti. Think about those people that made your time in the country a little easier and a little more enjoyable and consider what programs might actually have an impact on their future that they might actually benefit from. You’ve already helped support their life on the ground by paying them for certain services while you were there, now think about how you can help them make it higher in life. What programs are going to give them wings? Or if you’re really crazy, you could actually write them a note on Facebook to ask them their opinion on what a good program would be to support with your donation. I know it seems a little upside down to ask the advice of the people whose lives would actually be impacted by the contribution of your money (they’re not the ones who worked hard to earn it after all), but you might be surprised how it changes your perspective. But please, don’t suggest anything if you don’t intend on following through. It may seem like a polite way to let someone down easy by saying “I’m thinking about,” or “it’d be nice if,” but it actually becomes the quickest way to set up unrealistic expectations and break hearts. It’s the quickest way to make someone feel like a dog or to see the feathers that they’re clutching will never help them fly. Consciously considering our intentions to follow through on interactions cross culturally is where solidarity can begin and dependence never gets a chance to take seed.
You can still support the education sponsorship and the construction projects and the health initiatives; they all need to happen too. And we certainly can’t start to believe that we can help everyone. But in the process let’s be careful not to step on the toes of those who are right next to us the whole time helping us along the way to make those things happen. Let’s remember that they have ideas and needs and dreams as well that won’t be fulfilled with the feathers we hand them while we focus on everyone else. Sometimes the ones who seem on the outside like they need the help the least may just be the ones who could do the most good with the help that we’re willing to provide if we’re willing to include them in the process as fellow human beings. The sexiest path to benevolence may often exclude the ones that helped us get there so let us be wary about taking it. Instead, let’s seek to take a path whose destination is unsure but is full of people that we can lift up with our presence as we are lifted by theirs.
Tell me your story. What feathers do we allow to go to waste in this world? Which ones do we need to stop giving out? Are there any feathers that you’ve been clinging to in hopes that they would become wings?