Monday, April 24, 2006

You've Got Mail

In a world of emails and cell phones and scanners and the internet, I had almost forgotten the importance of the hand-delivered letter. Haitians take great lengths to produce official, albeit often handwritten correspondence, for all kinds of important business. I have started a collection, it is a stack of papers with envelopes bearing all kinds of fancy stamps and flowing language. Most of them start out with a few paragraphs describing the pleasure of writing to our organization, how thankful the author is to have made our aquaintance, what good work we are doing, how many lives we have changed, and how happy God is that we are here to help the Haitian people.

Almost as an afterthought, the praise is immediately followed with the request. Requests have included food, jobs, clothing, tools, support for a church, money to pay employees, opening a new school, gifts for children, a bicycle, and my personal favorite: an electric keyboard. It's very sneaky. At first, I was naive enough to think some of the letters might just be a word of thanks or encouragement. Maybe someday.

These letters are usually written in French if they are very official and come with stamps and multiple signatures. It seems everyone here is involved in some organization for aiding others (and, of course, themselves). If you ever wanted to sit on a board of directors, come to Haiti - opportunities abound.

A few of the letters have been in English, those are usually much shorter and to the point. The language barrier is useful in this area. It is harder to brown-nose in a foreign language.

This is my favorite letter to date (it was in English, sort of.) The 'piece de resistance', if you will :

Good morning Mister Tchoy
I am Happy to day if me white you please and please I have a probleme
my sisters is sike in the mountain
please send me 200 thousand dollars
I will Be go in the Hospital wif her
I give this ofter on month
please receive me
I wait for you
thank you thank you so muche
this is Benoit wif you
By the way, after some investigation I learned that he has no sister in the mountains, and has no concept of currency exchange rates.
Also, don't get me wrong. I am here because I care about these people and because God asked me to be here. I know they have many needs. Some, we can assist with ... others we cannot.