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Communiqué #087


to the PEOPLE of HAITI

March 22, 2011

Exciting news!!!!  Late this afternoon, I saw two shiny new, white garbage trucks picking up trash.  “So what!” you might say.  Well, these shiny new trucks were picking up trash from the streets of LesCayes, a city like all the others in Haiti where trash is piled everywhere.  There is trash in everyone’s yard.  There is decaying, weeks old, smelly trash piled in various places on every street, in every alley, in every direction.  The hard-not-to-miss trash seen throughout the country is a topic of discussion by many visitors to Haiti.  Some ask, “Why don’t they pick up their trash?”  Others ask, “Don’t the Haitian people care?”  I ask, “Where are you going to take the trash once it is picked up?”  There are no government-built incinerators here.  They are no recycling centers (other than the places that take old metal and turn it into something else.)  There are no discretely disguised landfills.  And why would people pay to have their trash picked up when tossing it anywhere has always been free?  So, even though I am excited about the new garbage trucks as being a step in the right direction, I still ponder where the garbage will receive its final home.  Perhaps in a grove of palm trees near the ocean or a mountainous area outside the city!  Not sure that this has solved anything other than to move the trash from one place to another!  Oh for simple solutions to the many complex problems that face Haiti!

There are lots of things that I ponder in my life here in Haiti.  I have always been taught that as a Christian I should share with people that have less than I do.   I really thought I was pretty good at that.  I gave food to the food bank.  I helped serve meals at the homeless kitchen.  I donated clothes to Goodwill.  But here in Haiti, I find how very superficial that kind of giving is.  When I was a child, I remember when friends would come over to play when it was near mealtime.  When it came time for our family to eat, the kids were sent home and my family sat down to eat.  Here in Haiti, you would never send someone home when it is time to eat, even if every day someone is at your home near mealtime.  You would instead offer them a plate of food, even if it means eating half as much as you planned on eating in order to share with those who were visiting.  Turning a person away at mealtime, in reality could be turning away someone who has not had anything to eat for days.  The meal you are offering often times is realistically life-saving to the person it is being offered to.  If a family in the neighborhood has a big bag of rice, more than enough is prepared so that plates can be brought to nearby homes where it is known that the family has nothing to eat.  It is common knowledge that one day the favor will be returned, when your family has no money to buy food.  To some degree, we practice this in the states, but it is more of a courtesy than a  conscious decision that the sharing is being done to actually keep someone from starving.  The Haitian mentality regarding food is so much different from ours.  Each day, the Haitian people need to literally think about what they are going to eat today – not what they will eat, but IF they will eat.  I still struggle with my American-bred thoughts in this regard.  I am not used to sharing my food without feeling like someone is sponging off from me.  I am not used to that kind of life-and-death sharing, sharing that will actually determine whether someone will go to bed hungry because of my inaction.  There is a Haitian saying that “No Haitian is ever hungry!”  You and I know that is not true!  But what it means is, if you are a Haitian and you have one loaf of bread when someone comes to your home, you break that bread and share it with all who are there.  Everyone gets something.  No one gets nothing!  It strikes me as sad that in America where we have more than we know what to do with, we have not fully grasped the simple concept of truly looking around us and sharing with those that might be suffering right under our noses.  Here in Haiti, as a family of two, I need to get comfortable with daily preparing meals to feed six or seven.  I had been trained to be conscientious about not wasting food, by not preparing more than my family would eat.  I never gave it a thought to deliberately prepare more than we needed to meet the needs of the hungry in my immediate neighborhood. As I struggle with “No! Times are hard for me! This is mine!  I have worked hard for this!  I earned it!  You can do the same.” and turn that attitude into a type of compassion where my eyes are WIDE OPEN to the needs of those around me, I must fall on my knees and ask for forgiveness and a softened heart as I have failed to truly practice being my brother’s keeper!

Sobering thoughts for me!  I still have a lifetime of learning ahead of me!  So help me God!

Nora Léon

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic                 Until next time. God willing …………

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