Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Culture Wars

John is one of many expats enjoying multiple chances to embrace the parts of the culture that deal with timeliness, or more accurately, the lack of any such thing.

This time of year there are tons of people getting married. Weddings that are scheduled to start at 2pm may not start until 7pm. Christmas parties scheduled for 4pm, may actually commence at 10pm. It's like you get to be a detective in a little mystery ... trying to guess the REAL start time for each and every event you're invited to attend! Good times.

It's been a long while since we last wrote about culture lessons. We learn those lessons all the time but writing about it without offending is a bit tricky. The fact is, I value my cultural way of approaching things and the Haitian people value their way. And like Noah, we both think we're the most-awesomest of all. ;)

Troy and I really would accomplish much less if we did not have full time help with our household and the little ones ... we found out last week when Jeronne went on vacation that we can do it without her - but we also found out we'd really rather not.

Without her help I would not be able to help with Womens Program at all. Our floors would not be nearly as clean - I could not keep up with the meals the kids and cleaning at the current level without some outside help. The week Jeronne was gone we skipped mopping and dusting and just focused on keeping kids fed and alive and doing dishes all day while trying to keep up with laundry and sweeping.

When you live with someone the differences between your two cultures become glaringly obvious quite quickly. Trying to convince Jeronne to do it our way is pretty much fruitless. I don't really know why we keep trying. Stupidity I suppose. I constantly say things to her that I know she is going to ignore. I guess it counts for practicing Kreyol, but I may as well talk to myself. Do not read this wrong. We are so blessed to have Jeronne in our lives for the last few years now. We love her and love working with her. She genuinely loves our children. I don't share these cultural-war-stories to be disparaging to her. I share to give you a glimpse into some of the ordinary day-to-day life stuff.

Children under four or five are not really disciplined. This culture typically (these are generalizations and of course I do not think every parent raises their child the same way). starts to discipline after a child is about four or five - and then the discipline becomes pretty harsh.

When I see Lydia or Phoebe doing something they should not be doing I first say "No" - if they don't listen I physically remove them. If they have a fit I will swat their hand or diapered butt. Jeronne shakes her head disapprovingly and tells me I might break their spirits.

This means that Phoebe, Lydia and Annie are not really consistently disciplined by Jeronne. Once in a while I'll observe her correcting them and standing her ground -- but in general they get what they want. Lydie knows that if she acts jerky enough, Jeronne will give her anything she demands. No matter how ridiculous it is. It is really not a fun issue to deal with. In some ways we've created a little monster by trying to have a multi-cultural approach to child rearing. I spend half my life trying to undo this problem. It's a little bit insane.

This morning Jeronne gave Lydia "Chicos" (Styrofoam cheese-puffs) for breakfast. I was offering toast, an apple, a banana, or cereal - but Lydie was shaking me off and saying no to all options. Jeronne walked in to see this and offered her Chicos. A breakfast of champions, fortified with 110% of the RDA of Styrofoam.

When Jeronne's daughter Jenny comes in from the village we ask Jeronne to please just let her play with the kids and she does not need to help in the kitchen or anything. We actually invited her to come so that they will both get to come with us for our little hotel trip once Britt and Chris get here this weekend. Hope loves playing with Jenny. We want to treat them too.

Today I walked in to find Jenny dusting. I got ticked and said, "If Jenny works - my kids work!" We made Jenny the "Pwofese" (teacher) and she showed the lard Livesay kids how to do some deep cleaning. I cannot convince Jeronne that it is wrong for Jenny to clean while my kids get to play. For whatever reason the kids of the white people are not supposed to work. Oh, my blood boils!

One of the not-cool things about having a live-in helper is that it creates lazy kids who think that someone else will do the work. I have instructed them to introduce Jeronne to guests as our "co-worker" because I hate hearing the other titles and I want to convince them that we need to work together to clean up after ourselves. We are co-workers! (Go ahead and laugh ... I have to start somewhere.)

At this moment I have all the kids with rags in their hands walking around "cleaning". Trust me, it is not doing anything at all for the cleanliness of the house -- but it just might be breaking their cracked notion that OTHER people do all the cleaning.

The other night Noah triumphantly declared that when he grows up he is not doing dishes, he will "get help." That pretty much sealed his fate and he is now in charge of his own dishes after every meal from this day forward. I bet he is wishing he could hit rewind on that declaration!

It is great to create jobs in a country where there are not a lot of jobs. We pay Jeronne well and try hard to love, empower and elevate her ... but in this culture it seems like many people feel more comfortable in a subservient role. That bums me out.

It has been kind of nice to chat with other people our age also raising kids here to find out that we're not crazy or experiencing anything unique -- culture wins whether you want to believe it (or not) fight it (or not) accept it (or not).

On another unrelated note, I reminded Jeronne that in December she gets her regular pay plus a whole extra month's salary for Christmas. (Haitian law requires a 13th month salary to be given at years-end.) She said, "No Madame Troy, don't do that, you don't have the money, the refrigerator is empty." I told her that it had more to do with no time to grocery shop -- and that she did not need to worry about us not having the money to feed the kids or pay her ... the refrigerator is actually NOT the economic indicator here.

She seemed totally unconvinced. :)

Noah just walked by ... I asked "When you get older are you going to do dishes?" He said, "Yep!" I asked, "Why?" He said, "Because you tode me yestawday that boys do dishes. That's why!!"

Available to all young ladies looking to marry a dish-washing husband around 2029...