Sunday, August 16, 2009

An Explanation

I have been trying to figure out how to package this post for awhile. I have not figured it out, so I am going to just write it - and let it fly without being well-organized or too careful.

For whatever reason we've been blessed to meet all sorts of people in Haiti ... everyone from the incredibly conservative (running shorts worn WHILE RUNNING are offensive) to the total hippies (bras are offensive) ... and everything in between. We've met cool and strange people from all over the world.

We've hosted short term groups that come with their MacBooks, piercings and tattoos and short term groups with head coverings, full beards, and matching home-sewn clothing.
(The very night I moved to Haiti there were thirty formerly Amish people at our house - it sort of said "Welcome to Haiti Tara- your life is going to be very weird from here on out.")

In our exchanges with dozens of groups from varying backgrounds and walks of life some things about mission work and people have become a little bit clearer. We've had our feelings hurt. We've watched friends get hurt. We've even sent people home mad and disappointed with us. At times it has been incredibly frustrating and at times it has been incredibly wonderful.

This is my theory ...

People who live and work here in Haiti live sort of on the edge emotionally. (Or they live detached from emotion which is maybe not so good. But I am not here to judge that and I digress.)

Let's face it, Haiti is heavy. Situations are overwhelming. Trying to figure out solutions that will last can be exhausting. That whole mountains beyond mountains thing. Often times there are no solutions to be found. Just getting groceries and paying your electricity bill can take an entire day and drive you to drink. Those living and working here are so tired and irritable from dealing with all that ministry/service/life here throws at them - that by the time their visitors arrive they're not always the perfect hosts. (Guilty as charged.)

example a
One night I was feeding 25 people dinner. I put forth my best effort with my limited domestic skills. It was Shepherd's Pie and Bread and Butter. A man in the group said "Where are the side dishes?"

He was just thinking out loud. He was not trying to be rude. I went to my room shut the door and cried. I felt criticized.

example b
One night a friend decided Pizza would be a really fun treat for her guests. (Pizza is not easy to get in Haiti like in the USA.) She made a special trip to the store and bought incredibly expensive cheese (think $5.25 US for 8 ounces) and all the other things to make pizza. Her guests picked at the pizza. Finally one of them said, "Sorry we don't really like pizza".

They had no idea how much it cost to make that meal or that it was a major treat for those who live here. My friend felt unappreciated.

example c
A friend runs a ministry that rescues sick kids. She makes due with the space they have, even though she would like a much larger space. It is open air space, like many buildings in Haiti. Visitors come for a week and say, "Can't you do anything about these flies!?!?"

The visitors were just thinking about how much they hate flies. The friend was hurt because OF COURSE she has tried everything to get rid of the flies, she hates them too. My friend feels judged. She feels like the visitors think she does not care for the kids in her rescue center.

example d
A group of 10 come to Haiti. The host family prepares for their arrival and plans the meals and events for the week. The group comes in excited and wanting to ask lots of questions of their hosts. The hosts answer questions for a long while then excuse themselves after dinner. The visitors wonder why the hosts are upset. Why they did not stay up to talk longer. They want to talk. They wonder if their host does not like them.

The host is not upset. The host knows that he has to be up at 6am and ready to answer to a lot of people the next day. He excused himself to prepare for the next day before going to bed. He was not trying to be rude, he was trying to do his job well.

example e
A visitor wants to give the child he sponsors a gift. He wants to buy "his child" a bike. The missionary tells the visitor that is maybe not a great idea. The missionary makes other suggestions. The visitor pushes. He wants to give his kid a bike! The missionary digs his heels in and says "no we cannot do that". The visitor sees the missionary as cold and unkind. He leaves angry.

The visitor did not understand that the missionary knows if the child is given a bike it will be taken from him immediately. The child will be subjected to teasing and even ridicule in his village because of the gift. The gift would not have actually been a gift. The missionary has much more cultural awareness and was trying to protect the child.

I could go on and on and on.

These things happen and sometimes the people living here seem edgy and defensive and uncooperative. The people who visit seem demanding, spoiled, and hard to please.

Neither group is really that way. They just don't operate within the same paradigm. They have trouble communicating well. Everyone ends up frustrated.

We believe it is great for visitors to come experience Haiti. (Or any developing country.) There is huge value when we experience a different culture, see the big world outside our own front door and even in being uncomfortable. We need people to visit so they will care and support our work with prayers and finances. We want to offer them a chance to see and do unique things.

Sometimes our defensive sensitivity stops us from doing a great job. Sometimes we're too tired to joyfully try to meet expectations. Sometimes we seem aloof or withdrawn. (Because sometimes we are.) Sometimes we need a free pass and extra understanding. Sometimes we say no to requests because we know boundaries are important for our longevity. It is not personal.

In recent weeks I have come to realize that I retreated when I moved to PAP. I stopped trying to be hospitable and my boundaries tightened up waaaaay tight. I was tired of meeting expectations of visitors and I was a little bit ticked off. I was upset that so much of my time went to groups of American visitors when I moved to Haiti to work with and serve Haitians.

I am trying to find the right balance again. I always want to put my family first and protect us from the burnout we faced hosting large groups so frequently, but I don't want to be so protective that I miss out on the blessing of meeting and getting to know interesting people.

(Photo of sugar cane.)