Today as I was walking down my mud-river road to the tap tap station (a colorful public bus of sorts) I stopped to greet a child selling peanuts. I try not to buy from children as a general rule--a lesson instilled in me by a Zimbabwean friend and child labor expert in Liberia who said mothers take their children out of school because people think they're cute and want to buy from them, not the moms. But I didn't think of that right away this morning; I just thought of lunch.
As I was looking for change, I asked the little girl about school--questions she dodged with her eyes, making me feel like the purchase wasn't a good idea--like maybe she doesn't go to school, and maybe there is a similar child labor problem here. I didn't have any change anyway, and thanked her and said "another day". I walked on, but a man by the side of the road saw me and said--"you don't have money? Let me buy some for you. They are a gift."
Random kindness of a stranger happens every day here. I am learning to receive in Haiti.
Outsiders come to Haiti right now with the best intentions to give. People have been moved by the crisis here. People have been moved by crises here for many decades. Our compassion is a gift--but I am realizing compassion isn't only about giving.
My friend Djaloki is an expert in helping me and others find ways to interact with Haitians in a way that maximizes dignity. My first week here, he said: "2.2 billion dollars for Haiti, and it is stuck in our throats. We are choking on your 2.2 billion dollars--and this is not the first time. All we want to do is give you something. Let us!"
I'm learning to receive here--it's never been easy for me. My host sister spent 3 hours in the sun washing my clothes as a surprise for me. My host mom got the tin roof fixed where it was dripping on the bed (the bed she bought me while she continues to sleep on a mat on the floor). She was horrified that I was momentarily uncomfortable. She cooks for me, gives me the best of everything. The neighbors are patient as I stumble with my words and fail to understand them on the 3rd attempt.
Generosity doesn't begin to describe.
People ask me for things every day, too--but I have seen the looks on their faces when they receive the handouts of toothbrushes or "2 little old scratchy blankets" after standing in impossible lines, handed to them by beaming and well-meaning outsiders. There is a mask there, even if it's smiling. And I have seen people's faces when I say I don't have tents, I can't pay for their medical visit. When I say it in Creole, here is the strange thing--they actually light up at the 'no'.
I do want to give--but I am learning that charity is not the best option, even in an emergency. Engagement is. Equitable exchange.
Still not sure what that means for a 9 year old peanut seller, but I am trying. And for now, selfish as it may sound, I am receiving the most amazing gifts every day, and it is beautiful. I invite anyone who wants to explore compassion with Haiti to come visit me. Nope--I don't invite you, I challenge you. Engage.