As I interact with the precious people of the island I inhabit, and as I build relationships and get to know women on deeper levels, something unusual and confusing happens in my heart and mind.
I find that I want to honor and remember every last detail of every story shared with me – AND – I want to forget immediately, all of the painful things I am trusted with each week.
When we first moved
from Minnesota to rural Haiti, long before I could authentically say, “I love this place and I love these people”, I found it quite easy to take photos and paste stories on the world-wide web about the lives of other people. Many years into our journey, I write less and my husband takes fewer photographs than he did in our early years
I think a lot about the responsibility that comes with telling the stories of Haitian people. We’re not journalists, we’re not hired to tell stories, we’re not experienced professional writers. We’re sharing Haiti from one unique perspective that certainly cannot even begin to cover all of the angles. We’re not experts on this culture or country. We never will be. We are searchers. We are changing day by day because of our experiences here. We are learners that care about this tiny little piece of land in the Caribbean.
“It’s about collecting other people’s pain and trying to hide it, write it,
catalog it, transform it, understand it, avoid it.”
Every day, month, and year on this beautiful and complex island brings us to a greater realization of how little we understand. The only “experts” around here are the people who have been here a couple of weeks or months.
Was that too much snark? I repent for my snarkiness and admit that I give myself this pass to be snarky because with time a lot of us realize that we know less. Most of us laugh at how little we understood back when we thought we knew it all.)
We’ve come to care deeply about this place and her people.
Our biggest fear in sharing our experiences in Haiti is that we, in places of discouragement or frustration, might disrespect the people of Haiti or generalize when generalizing is simply unfair
. We never want to do that.
We don’t wish to preside as judge of anything; it is impossible for us to completely understand the complexities of the lives of the people of Haiti. It is unlikely that outsiders and newbies could ever totally comprehend history and culture.
A large portion of what happens each week is never written.
The stories left untold usually remain that way simply because framing them without all of our personal biases and disillusionment would be impossible. Those stories are for late night exchanges between trusted friends over a bottle of wine. They are to be trusted to God in humility and prayer. Some stories are so difficult we simultaneously want to remember and forget.It is painful to read comments from people who despise this little island. We get them occasionally and over time we’ve found that it doesn’t hurt in the least to be told we’re crappy parents or people, or that we’re stupid or abusive to “force” our kids to live here. Our skin has thickened enough to take that. But when people say terrible things about Haitians it grieves us
. The level of animosity and prejudice can be shocking. Those odious words have actually served to help me be more aware of the times I am “down on Haiti” and making generalizations based on one discouraging encounter.We’re grateful to know that there are those in the world that follow along and pray, that care deeply about the struggles of the people of Haiti. We are grateful to know that the Internet allows each of us to have a team of prayers, givers, and lovers of our respective lands – standing with us to love the worthy and beautifully unique people we walk with around the globe.
Our prayer and desire is that we share the stories with the utmost care and respect for the dignity of the people that we so want to esteem and uphold. We are guessing that is your prayer too.
Tara Livesay works as a midwife apprentice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti