"Haitians Love Life"
Me, MCC country rep Wilda, and co-worker Estere
A friend asked me to share on things we are learning and perceiving about Haitian culture. It’s taken me a little while to contemplate this. Culture is funny. It’s ever-present but elusive. When you try to put your finger on one aspect to define or explain it, it slips away. It can be hard to speak generally, when the variance of specifics greets you day by day.
Yet I've decided that one observation of mine can be expressed well in this statement made by a friend, Milo. It’s very simple but profound. “Haitians love life.”
The people of Haiti are generally very open. When walking down the street, you may see many grim or concentrated faces, but once you say “Bonjou” or “Bonswa” you are often gifted with the brightest smile and an equally bright “Bonjou!” in response.
Visitors often love and comment on this openness and the hospitality they receive at the hands of mere acquaintances in Haiti. The food portions are grand; the inquiries after your family and your well-being are persistent. People love to connect with others.
Haitians love to laugh, to joke, or “bay blag.” After a full day of staff meetings during November’s konbit, our co-worker who was coordinating the day’s events announced that the evening activity was to simply sit around and “bay blag” with each other. Who would say something like this in the U.S.? We don’t usually plan to sit down and joke with each other; it’s a gift when it happens, but it’s a big part of life here and something people love.
MCC staff Christmas party - lots of announcements and speeches and of course, laughter
Another detail that I love and speaks to me about the openness of the culture, is in the way people talk to each other. There is a French term of endearment that many people know, “ma cherie” in the feminine or “mon cher” in the masculine. In Kreyòl the spelling is different but the pronunciation is the same, and the term is well-used. Men say to other men ‘’mon cher” all the time. While passing by the street market a seller may call me “cherie,” asking what it is I want to buy. Something I associate as such an intimate phrase is freely used in kind greetings and good-humored banter here. I love it!
The presentation of 'secret Santa' gifts - MCC staff Christmas party
And finally, a closing observation.
I have two teenage boys in our backyard right now, emptying out our cistern by bucketing out the last 6 inches of water and then eventually scrubbing it clean. (It's not like they are getting paid the big bucks for this, by the way.) In the midst of their work, they are listening to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” on their radio and softly singing along. In the U.S., we make fun of music like Celine Dion’s –we say it’s cheesy. And why is that? Because we are cynical! Perhaps cynicism is not so pervasive here. I think that many Haitians are realists, but enjoy life all the same.
This was re-posted from Katharine & Ted's personal blog, Stories to Tell.
Katharine is from San Diego, California and has served with MCC Haiti since July 2014 as Advocacy Coordinator and Policy Analyst. She studied History and Religious Studies at University of California Davis, then International Development at Eastern University. You can follow her Instagram on life in Haiti @katharineoswald, Haiti advocacy news on Facebook, and her personal blog, Stories to Tell.