In Haiti, by and large, you get one handle that works. If you even have a sink. And clean water comes in plastic containers.
After a week there on a construction project, my mind and heart are swirling with so many thoughts and impressions that I hardly know where to begin. So, let’s start with something we in first-world countries take for granted (I certainly do). Water.
As you drive around Haiti (warning: driving in Haiti can be hazardous to your sanity. I can’t even begin to describe what it’s like on those roads…!) you’ll see trucks with little plastic containers of drinkable water for sale. You’ll see large jugs and small bottles of water (hopefully clean), and 5 gallon pails being toted around on top of people’s heads, on donkeys, on motorcycles…what you won’t see are nice bathrooms, drinking fountains, or sparkling reservoirs.
Our normal would be Haiti’s top 0.00001%. I made that number up. But I’ll bet it’s close. Haiti is poor in a way that we barely comprehend in “first-world” countries.
Haiti is in the Caribbean. When I think of that part of the world, I think of beautiful blue water and lush, tropical beaches. In Cap Haitien, near where I was staying, there’s a spot called bottle beach. Guess what it looks like. Now envision a landscape where trash is thrown aside everywhere, and almost never collected.
Rough on the eyes. And not so good for the water.
Take a look at this picture. This is the backside of an outhouse – you don’t want to see the inside. Do you and I have a bathroom today with hot and cold water, a flushing toilet, and lights that go on and off? I don’t know about you, but I take that for granted. Or, I did.
Haiti is about daily survival. It’s a land with a paucity of infrastructure, few opportunities, little productive and long-term work, and scarce natural resources. It’s a land where life is eked out. If it weren’t for the mission groups and other charity organizations that continually come in to put in wells, build buildings, support schools, and provide medical care, there’s no telling what life would be like. And yet…this is normal for residents in Haiti. They cope. They make do. They improvise.
Our first-world problems seem pretty miniscule in comparison.
Despite the tragic living conditions, there is something about Haiti that wraps itself around your heart. You see the little children – some with barely any clothes – and they are just like kids anywhere (yes, they loved the give-me-five-then-take-my-hand-away-trick, as every kid does!) You see warm smiles and hear laughter. You wonder about the potential of this nation and its people, and what it would take to move it from a continual state of need and desperation to something better. You realize that with great difficulty comes great opportunity to love, even if it seems like a tiny drop of water in a desert of need. As far out of my comfort zone as Haiti is, I want to go back again someday.
And I have to wonder if one of those kids, privileged to be in an orphanage or a school, is going to grow up to be the one who leads Haiti into better days. Maybe one of the very ones who clung to my neck in a wonderfully-run home for orphans, or got up in unison to say “bonjour!” when the visitors from America came into the classroom.
I was slightly surprised last evening when I was on the plane back to Newark, and using the faucet in the little bathroom to wash up, I felt hot water running over my hands. Perhaps in a few weeks, that will seem normal again. I kinda hope it doesn’t, though.
As I have opportunity, I’ll try to write up some other reflections, but for now, let me close with this. If you are one of those discontent with America, if you whine about being the 99%, I’d challenge you to spend a week or two Occupying Haiti. You’ll quickly realize what percentage group you really belong in. Smell the burning trash. Watch the mangy dogs by the side of the road. See the crumbling buildings. Experience how water and electricity can be unpredictably optional. And talk to the people, who still somehow seem to make the best of it.
We – you and I – have it good here. This is a day for gratitude, not complaining. When we sip that coffee and turn that faucet and open that full refrigerator, remember – we are privileged beyond belief.
And it can be our privilege to help others.
P.S. for those visiting Steve’s Free for the first time (Welcome!), this is my little-known personal blog. Most of my marketing/branding/business writings are over at Connection Agent, and my pharma ramblings are at Impactiviti, if that’s what you’re into…