Culture shock

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Not arriving in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  That wasn’t the culture shock … it was returning back to Northern Virginia … to the United States … to the land of plenty.  A veteran of the Haiti ministry, Genevieve, gave me this first hand observation and she was right.  While this wasn’t my first trip to an impoverished country, it was my first trip to Haiti and to a situation far removed from my daily life.

Electricity.  Safe drinking water.  Running water.  Toilets.  Convenience stores.  Infrastructure.  Good roads.  Trash collection.  So much more … we have such an abundance of stuff above and beyond the  basic structure of life.  We take it for granted, we forget it’s there.

We passed people walking, riding horses or donkeys, people packed 3 or 4 on motorbikes, crammed a dozen or so into brightly painted trucks.  They balanced large buckets or bags on their head, some hands free, some steadied with one hand while holding the hand of a small child.

As we traveled further and further from Port-au-Prince, the shacks and huts thinned out.  Fewer vehicles jostled and jockeyed for progress on crowded dusty and garbage filled streets.  There was still a great deal of garbage and trash … and the road was still in fairly good condition, with a few washouts and boulders.  The countryside has been largely deforested … valued trees being cut down for cooking or turning into charcoal.  Here and there in the distance, a think spiral of smoke rose up.  Quarries shaved into the hillsides.  Footpaths crisscrossed into the distance.

This trip was a yearly visit by the Haitian ministry at St.Timothy’s Episcopal church in Herndon Virginia.  We support a church and school in Chapateau which is barely more than a collection of huts and shacks on the side of a mountain centered around the church and school.  There are no roads.  To get to Chapateau, one must travel by boat from Cange, and then up a steep and winding footpath.  It’s rough going but the people there do it because they have no choice.

Where we stayed in Cange, electricity came and went.  Sometimes there was running water, but often there wasn’t.  We learned quickly to adapt, to plug in when the power was on – to take showers when the water flowed.  But, we never once even thought of complaining … we were too humbled to even consider it.

I realize this piece is a little chaotic … it jumps around, like my thoughts and feelings.  I think about the kids who laughed and giggled as I took pictures of the chickens running through the schoolyard, of the young people who knew where we came from and how much we had, of how hard their lives were and how uncertain their futures.  As I sit here in my air-conditioned living room, everything I need either readily at hand or a click away … it’s mentally dizzying.  One emotion barely forms when another shoves it aside.

Haitians are people, just like us.  They want what we want – education for their children, a good job for themselves, respect, acknowledgment, to be happy and productive.  We have so much in common, more so than can be counted as differences.

For more information, go to the following site:  Haitian ministry

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