So, I was recently asked to answer a few questions for a friend’s college project. I decided to answer them in a blog because I figured there might be some other people interested as well. I have to admit, putting these thoughts into words did not come easy for me.
How do I perceive differences in cultures? So since I have only been exposed to two different cultures this is only my perception of Haiti and America. What I have found is that America is far from how it was when it was founded. It is constantly evolving and changing. Haiti is slow to change and their routines, habits, rituals, and food remain the same. So much so that they are for the most part still living like their ancestors who came from Africa. Here are a few major differences I see and struggle with.
Habits: Haitians constantly ask for things. Not just from us white people, but even from each other. “I need food, my kids need money for school, my roof needs to be fixed, I need a ride to the store, I need shoes, I need clothes for church, I need to borrow your blender, I need you to watch my kids, I need a glass of water, I need to charge my phone, I need a job, I need medicine”, and the list go on. I have been in very few conversations that someone has not asked for something and it wears on you because it is not something we are accustomed to.
Rituals: Most Haitians are extremely superstitious. To them it’s complete reality. To us, it’s ridiculous nonsense. “If you walk around with one shoe on, you're calling one of your parents to the grave. Rain on a sunny day means that the devil is having a domestic dispute with his wife. If you eat standing up, you'll end up with a swollen leg. If a cleaning broom sweeps your feet, you'll never marry. To outlive your husband, you must wear black panties on your wedding day. If a black bird flies into your home you must kill it, otherwise death will come to someone close to you. If a funeral procession passing in the streets suddenly stops in front of your house, you have to quickly throw a bucket of water at the entrance of your house to prevent death from coming into your home”. These are just a few…there are hundreds.
Routines: Haitians do not call before coming over, they just show up, and it’s usually really early or really late. Haitians are very communal and they depend upon one another for survival so their typical routine in the evenings is to go visiting. Keeping relationships with those who they view as prominent people in the community is insurance for their future. People with jobs will get visited more often than those without and they are not only ok with it, but it gives them pride to be viewed as important. They feel honored where Americans would be bothered by it.
Religions: Syncretism is huge in Haiti. The statistics say Haiti is 80% Roman Catholic, 20% Protestant, and 100% Voodoo. How can that be? Syncretism. The vast majority of Haitians regardless of religious affiliation hold at least some Voodoo beliefs. Voodoo is so intertwined with Catholicism that it has become one in the same. It is perverted so much so that they believe the virgin Mary conceived Jesus who they believe to be Satan. Yes, you heard me right. They believe Jesus is Satan! You can see statues in Haiti of Mary and baby Jesus with horns coming out of the ground around them. In some Catholic temples there are even children sold by parents to be temple prostitutes. I am literally sick to my stomach writing about it all, but this is Haiti. I have never attended a Catholic service in America, but I am almost 100% sure they do not do these things or believe this way. They also believe in many gods and spirits, which control every aspect of their lives so there is very little self-responsibility taken for anything. For example, a baby is dying because it cannot nurse. The mother will not seek help because the spirits are in control and this is supposed to be happening to her baby. She would probably view it as a result of one of their superstitions or a Voodoo curse.
Foods: Rice, beans, spaghetti, avocadoes, eggs, and bread are the staples. If they can afford meat it is usually chicken, beef, goat, or fish. I have also known them to eat black birds, cats, horse, and dog. Variety is very limited and most Haitians are not willing to try new things and if they do, they usually don’t like it. Having a wide variety of food is definitely one of the things I miss most about America.
Rules: The only rule I can see in Haiti is that there are no rules. Actually, there are rules and laws written but no one abides by them or enforces them. The most frustrating part of this is no one seems to know what the actual laws are and they can be changed and created in an instant to their advantage. This often comes up when we, the white people, are seen. There may be a line of vehicles going down a road and all of a sudden we get pulled over because that’s a one-way road. No sign, we are following everyone else, but who gets pulled over? As I am typing this there are riots, tire burnings, and shootings just minutes away from us because of some land jurisdiction. Law enforcement is not there to help stop it, but merely to direct traffic around it and watch. Haiti is barely under control. Lynchings are very common here and what’s even worse is the police are usually aware, and sometimes involved. I actually miss the American government. As much as there is wrong with it, there is so much more that is right with it. And trust me…it could be worse!
How do these differences affect my current occupation?
I cannot successfully work in Haiti if I am not aware of these differences. If I do not know that there are really no traffic laws enforced or observed, I would have already been killed in a car wreck trying to keep the laws that are familiar to me. If I did not know that most Catholics believe Jesus is Satan, I would assume like other mission sending organizations, that Haiti is completely evangelized because everyone believes in Jesus. The real question for me as a missionary is not “do you believe in Jesus?” because even the demons believe and tremble. But the question is “who do you believe Jesus is?” If I did not understand the reason Haitians show up unannounced to visit I would not appreciate the fact that they value me. If I did not know their superstitions I could not intentionally do those things to show them how ridiculous they are. I’m just kidding, although I really would like to do that J Nothing gets done in a hurry and you can’t depend on anything to be the same way more than once. This is imperative that we realize this difference in order to have a flexible and patient spirit to get things accomplished in Haiti.
How do I perceive the way I am viewed by others?
This is a tough question because I have never asked so I really don’t know, but this is just how I perceive it. This is also two-fold because I feel Americans view missionaries in a completely different way than Haitians view missionaries.
What I perceive to be the American view: That we are crazy. Some people think we are irresponsible parents for bringing our children here. That we think we are better or moral than them. Some have shown signs of being intimidated by us for whatever reason. Some have expressed jealousy that they can’t do something like this. Let me just touch on that one for a minute. If you think you can’t, you can’t, and we can’t, but God can. And if you are jealous, could that not be a desire God has placed within you? Just something to think and pray about J
What I perceive to be the Haitian view: That we will not stay. So many missionaries come and go and the Haitians are use to that being the norm therefore they are slower to trust and develop relationships with us. They think we are all rich. They think we are here for their benefit. They know we are Christians and so they pretend to be hoping to get something out of us. They know everything and we know nothing. Americans are idiots. We pay way too much for things and they can easily trick us because we are suckers for a heart-wrenching story. We are gullible, naïve, and they can take advantage of us. But for the most part, regardless of what there intentions or thoughts of us are. They are glad we are here.
Does the way I view other cultures matter in my day-to-day life.
Absolutely! If it didn’t matter, why in the world am I here. I am not trying to live and American life in Haiti. I am an American trying to live a Haitian life. Just like we do not want immigrants coming into America and expecting us to adapt our lives to their culture. We expect them to adapt to the American way of life and the same is true here. We are the ones who need to adapt and change. Not in every area, and this is where I constantly struggle. How and when do I conform to culture without compromising my beliefs? Do I not cross my legs in church because they believe it offends the Holy Spirit or do I cross my legs because I know that is not in the bible? Do I wear a skirt when I go visit someone so they know I think they are important enough for me to dress up for them or do I wear my comfortable shorts and just tell them how important they are? We are free to choose. We have been going through Paul’s missionary journeys in the books of Acts on Sunday nights with several other missionaries. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings. “
So this is my answer and my prayer. I will become Haitian that I might win one.