The people of Haiti wear pieces of America on their bodies, visible to all. An American riding through the streets of Haiti can feel right at home with the recognizable slogans riding past on motorcycles, climbing into taptaps, selling mangoes on the street corner, pushing wheelbarrows filled with sugar cane.
Boy Scout troop 382
Columbus volleyball team 11
Nike. Just Do It.
Raleigh High School Wolverines
I’m the Best
Be Jealous. Be Very Jealous.
This Is My Party Shirt
Then there are the truly unique signs painted on business fronts.
Christ Capable Boutique
Blood of Christ Cimint Depot
Jesus Saves Barber Shop
Paradis de Anges (Paradise of Angels) not sure what was sold there?
Eau Miracle (Miracle Water) I need some of that, I thought to myself
Père Eternel Loto (Eternal Father Lottery). These are ubiquitous
The tshirts make me wonder about the journey from someone’s clothes closet in America, to a garage sale, Goodwill or other charity, to a plane? Ship? To a port in Haiti. Do these thousands of items get sold again? Are they dumped in a pile for folks to pick through? The Haitians refer to these second hand clothing donations as “Kennedys”.
This system embodies much of the confusion for me about what America has done for Haiti. Do we help or hurt Haiti with our donated goods?
Have we withheld investment in their country so that they are forced to be dependent on us?
Does the woman in the Be Very Jealous shirt wear it proudly?
The layers of economics between me, the American riding around in a truck, and the man knocking on our window with cold drinks for sale, are those layers fixed? I try to blur those layers by staying at a guest house owned by Haitians rather than a hotel designed for tourists. I buy our medical supplies from local businesses as much as possible. We’ve stopped sending food from Memphis because we realized we need to support the food producers in Haiti. Yet I know that at the end of this week I will go home to my comfortable house with a full refrigerator. I will shop at Kroger and buy anything I want to eat. I will throw out leftover food and drink clean water straight from my own faucet.
The mystery of why humans have created this system that separates us from each other is not a new question for me. It slaps me in the face every time I go to Haiti. I see it in Memphis as well. We who are privileged by birth keep everything of value for ourselves and then wonder why the poor don’t have enough.
I told Père FanFan that when Americans come to Haiti for the first time, it is out of curiosity. The second time they come out of guilt. The third time they come out of love.