We recently met up with a young woman that stayed with us in 2006. She shared how special it was to her as she spent her first week in Haiti with us before moving to the central part of the country for a two year assignment. It totally surprised us to learn that it meant something to her. It got us thinking about our ability to figure out "healthy boundaries" and how ambiguous that is. We want to be open to these unique opportunities God gives us to connect with people that are visiting or new in Haiti .... All these years later we are still trying to figure that out and not at all certain we have it right yet. It is definitely a balancing act. The post below was written in 2009.
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 - arms/shoulders must be covered) to the total hippies (bras are offensive - live free or die!) ... and everything in between. We've met cool and unusual 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 have done the hurting. We've 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 (and other places like it) 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 beyond 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 can be 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.) Living here and visiting here are very, very different experiences.
One night early in our time in Haiti I was feeding 25 people dinner. I put forth my best effort with my incredibly limited domestic skills. It was Shepherd's Pie and Bread and Butter. A man in the group said "Hey - 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. Did he know what a stretch Shepherd's Pie was for me? Does he know just planning a meal for that many people gives me hives?
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 $6.50 USD for 8 ounces) and all the other things to make pizza. Her guests only 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.
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.
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 has email to answer and other work that has been neglected all day and 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 have healthy boundaries and do his job well.
I could go on and on and on.
These things happen and sometimes the people living here seem edgy, rude, defensive and uncooperative or disinterested. The people who visit seem demanding, spoiled, and hard to please - they want to feel appreciated for coming.
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 value when we experience a different culture, see the world outside our own front door and there is much learning and growth that can happen when we're uncomfortable in a new context.
We want people to fall in love with the work and the vision when they visit so they will care and support our work into the distant future 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 (many times) we're dealing with a lot of unseen things - things we cannot share. 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 around our time are important for our kids and our longevity. It is not personal.
Finding the balance is very difficult. There are not very many lines of work where you both do your work and also host and show, explain, justify, and share your work multiple times a year.
We are trying to find the right balance again. Raising a large family certainly makes us less available to meet the expectations of visitors. 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 and amazing people.