The first part of this post is written by our friend Maggie and can be found in its original HERE
All day, e’ry day
I am asked for things constantly. Every day. All times of day. All places I travel in my day.
Sometimes it’s just my attention—the never ending chorus of “blan! blan!” as I walk down the roads demand a wave or acknowledgement if I want them to stop—even when I am lucky and they know my name and yell, “Maggie! Maggie! Maaaaaggieeeeee!” there is no ceasing until I walk far enough past them that I can’t hear any longer or give them the attention they want. On other occasions there aren’t even words exchanged, just men who think making kissing noises at me as I pass is an acceptable way to communicate since, you know, I’m white and female.
Sometimes they want my English speaking brain. On a daily basis I am asked to teach people English. For free. And these would-be students are so eager to learn they are completely willing to invite themselves to attend our school (despite the fact that I tell them our school is for children and registration is closed) or invite themselves to my house for a free (always free) lesson. They literally laugh in my face when I ask why they think I should teach them for free or try to tell them of classes I know for adults to learn English (because they know these paid classes exist and they expect that since they happened to cross my path that day they should get free lessons straight from the American-source).
Sometimes they want my things—if I am carrying anything: backpack, sunglasses, a dirty sack of garbage—I am told, “give me that” or “I want that.”
Sometimes they want my money. The one English phrase virtually every child knows is “give me one dollar.” They can’t tell you what they want or need when you ask in Creole; they can’t explain why they ask you for money and none of the other adults they passed before me (hint: I’m the only white person). A lot of times, in fairness, they don’t know what they are saying in English, they have just been taught to say this phrase. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Especially when I tell them no and am called selfish or rude. When they laugh at me for speaking Creole to them to admonish them or ask why they are doing it. When they lie after I ask them a question in Creole. When anyone else around who witnesses the exchange joins in laughing at me, a crazy white lady who is too selfish to give kids cash on the street.
It’s exhausting. It’s upsetting. It’s frustrating and disheartening. But worse of all—it makes it so much harder to love them. The “them” who I pass on the street and the “them” who I work with every day. Now, to be clear, no one at my school, or the beading program or other Haitians I have relationships would ever ask me for money like that or call me names. But they are the ones who bear the brunt of my frustration and hurt. It’s so much harder to love people when by the time I walk into the school gate at 7:30 I feel already emptied dry, frustrated, hurt and on the brink of tears (or actual tears. Poor Maxime never knows what he’s going to get from my roller coaster of emotions).
I know this sounds bitter and unkind. I know that the lives of the average person I pass on my walk are harder than my own and exist of far less comfort. I know that even in my salary-less, support-based, missionary lifestyle I have more money than they do. That doesn’t mean I can or should say yes to them. That doesn’t mean they have the right to treat me like I am their entertainment or meal ticket walking down the road. I am here to serve, and I want to do it with hands and eyes wide open, but I have to be mindful of how I spend my few, precious resources (time, energy and financial). A wise friend told me not long after I arrived to stay laser-focused on the purpose God called me here for because it is so easy to get sidetracked out of pity or guilt and attempt to start/fund/help the endless causes that will solicit me.
Waving to some kids who scream “blan!” might sound easy and free. Smiling and walking past kids who ask me for money might sound like the right option. Feigning ignorance when they yell insults in Creole, a language they assume I cannot speak, might be the preferred path, but it’s not the one I am on right now. Because while I know that the thoughts I have in my head and occasionally the words that come out of my mouth aren’t always loving, giving them everything they want and allowing their actions to lack consequences isn’t always loving either. And the truth is, screaming at someone for their attention is rude; asking a stranger for money is rude; calling people names is rude.
So how do I do it? How do I lovingly and patiently serve? How do I show Christ’s love to them when it feels like I am at my breaking point? The tenth kid to ask me for money or scream “blan!” doesn’t know that nine other kids did the same thing in the span of an hour; he doesn’t deserve a tongue lashing the others didn’t get simply because he is the tenth and I only had patience for nine. How can I teach and model better behaviors so that, ideally, there are less rude screams, requests and insults being slung at me and other white people living here?
Seriously. Anyone have that answer? I’m all ears…because today, I’m exhausted. And my feelings are hurt. So I need a little help.
Our friend Maggie who wrote this lives about a fifteen minute drive from us. She writes so well about how we feel and what we experience on a daily basis that I’ve wanted to share for a long time. Lately it seems I am incapable of sharing anything besides adding to the noise around me. My writers block could have something to do with a certain two year old, her busy mother who cannot grasp that working at a computer could ever equate with “work”, very loud male neighbors who are all singularly in love with our front door, four children (Oh wait. Sorry. That’s three children and one sixteen year old who states she is “WAY older” than child status even though she typically consumes more energy and effort than the other three “children” combined), two dogs, rising heat and the mosquitos that come with it, and a houseful of both expected and unexpected overnight guests. I’m not complaining. I truly treasure spending my days and nights with all of these. But sometimes I need a teeny break and figure a walk around the block or trip to the market will do the trick. But as soon as I step outside…
An older-ish man sees me. I do not know this man and have not seen him in on my street before. He calls me by my name which is always “blan” (love how spell check always tries to change that word to “blah” cause that is exactly how that word makes me feel). This guy I have never seen before points to me and then to his belly and then to his mouth. If I didn’t know better I would think he wanted to eat me. I give him the “I don’t know you so why are you asking me” look and keep walking. This makes him use his words. Then I use mine to say exactly what I already said with my eyes. I have no way to know if he actually is hungry but even if I performed the miracle of pulling food out of nowhere I would have a mob of other “hungry” witnesses on my hands. He doesn’t care about any of that. I do care. I am conflicted about whether I care more about him or the consequences. I know he is suffering the consequences of all those who have come to “bless” this tiny speck on the globe with stuff for nothing, the consequences of immense poverty, of bad manners passed down, of either a lack of dignity or extreme desperation that would make him ask the cream colored lady holding back a snarling dog in one hand and a bottle of mace in the other for ANYTHING. But if I didn’t care about him, I wouldn’t still be wondering about him a week later. I am thinking about whether he was actually hungry and feeling both guilty and stupid for feeling guilty that I was still standing outside my house (that he didn’t know is mine) and therefore could have gone inside and grabbed a banana or something. But why couldn’t he just ask the fellow Haitian he just passed selling bananas for a freebie? Why ask me? This is the perpetual question (we already know the answer to but cannot accept) ALL THE TIME. EVERYWHERE. EVERY DAY. I think it is in the caring that much of the frustration comes dear Maggie. I am so frustrated that I couldn’t even walk to the end of the street without being accosted and yet even more frustrated that I have no solution to meet either need (my need for an ask-less walk and his reasons for needing to ask).
Since I have lived on this tiny speck only a little bit longer than you and feel the same way, I’m certainly probably not qualified to answer your question. I only know what has helped me to hold it together as long as I have thus far–not always well, but I’m still here.
#1. Jesus. You know I don’t mean the cliche Sunday school answer. I mean the Jesus we both know that is the only answer left when you come to a crisis end to yourself, to what you thought you knew to be true of humanity, to an utter incapacity to fathom the lack of justice in this place. When I am at that crisis breaking point it is comforting to remember that He fully understands above and beyond how I feel. How many dirty hands selfishly groped for Him each day? How many titles did He endure that were not His own? How many people did He teach, feed, listen to in a day and it never be enough? How many occasions when He tried to get away for a walk in the wilderness, on the shoreline, or even on the sea was He bombarded with needs, wants, insulting name calling and despicable kisses at every turn? Sometimes He ignored them. Sometimes He healed them. Sometimes He fed them. Sometimes He lectured them. Sometimes He taught them. Sometimes He got righteously angry with them. Sometimes they were stricken with consequences. Sometimes He had compassion on them. He despised the foolish lack of understanding, the “you give me” attitude (equating to “you owe me” simply because You are Jesus and therefore have all things at Your disposal). The lack of respect of anything resembling the humanity He created (lack of respect of humanity = INHUMANE) exhausted Him too! And yet He loved them. He left his heavenly home and His Father to come and serve them. He was willing to die for them and did. But did they make Him mad and grieve His heart? Yep! Did He wish they could understand their ignorant foolish request at times? Yep! Did He make a big deal out of those who did “get it” and use them as the few examples for others to stop and take notes? Sure did. Sometimes it was that tenth one that got it. And it wasn’t who everyone expected it to be. It was a foreigner like us. Which reminds me that the experiential lesson is just as much for me.
“But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:17-19
Perhaps our “foreigners” are the little brother standing beside Mr. “give me one dolla” or the group on the other side of the sidewalk watching for our reaction to this encounter. Whether it is two or twenty (cause we all know there will be a minimum of two) demanding our attention along the way, surely God has a purpose for each one sent our way. It is most often with the last that His reasons are fulfilled–even if we are fresh out of patience and feel like we blow it. Not saying my yelling/ranting is ever justified or comparable to Jesus holy fits of righteous anger, but I know that at least one person (me) receives a lesson in each of those moments. We are not here to be anyone’s savior or solution but to point them to the One that is. But how do we do that especially on the days when it is so hard to love our “them”? This is the daily prayer as we strive to display our Jesus well.
#2. Don’t discount the seeds planted. Keep doing what you said you do that may seem like it only results in lying, insulting laughter and typically labels you as “selfish”. It is still a seed planted. We also sometimes stop and ask the askers to think about the why and how they ask and then attempt a lesson on the difference between the Creole “ba mwen” and English “give me” that are lost in a literal translation. Usually when we begin to explain that the American head and Haitian tet do not hear “give me” in the same way. They typically listen up when we tell them we know how to raise their chances of blan giving. First step is to check the rude factor. We then commence in practicing other, more polite, forms of asking. They try it out on us. We usually say, “no” but explain that this is not because they did not ask nicely. Last week I played this little game with some kids while watching a game at our community basketball court. All I had on my person was my clothes and my water bottle. I was asked for both. I’ve even been asked to hand over the hair on my head (on a different occasion)!!! I was just about fed up by the time I decided to leave and didn’t think anyone benefitted from my little lesson. But then one boy about age 14 followed me to the gate. He gently touched my arm and said in the new English we had practiced, “Excuse me Madam. May I give you service please ? I need travay (work).” Smiling and giving him a congratulatory pat I told him that I did not have work for him that day but that if he continued with that great attitude and asking in a respectful way, he is sure to find work much faster than all the others. He was my “tenth” that day and that encouragement has stretched a long way as I haven’t observed a fruitful seed since. But he reminded me that you never know.
#3. If you can’t beat “them”, join them when all logical lessons, and levels of tolerance fail. We learned this pointer from our son Evan at the age of five after he had only been in Haiti one month. Evan took a rather unorthodox approach after observing the randomly occasional success of the “give me”. The difference for Evan was that he saw no “them”. We were at a local restaurant in Port au Prince visiting with other missionary friends. Evan asked his daddy if he could have money to go buy ice cream. Daddy said, “We don’t have money for ice cream.” A few minutes later I began my usual scanning to see where Evan landed and my eyes and ears find him at a table with about seven big, burly, beer drinking men. Evan is holding his little hand out and sincerely asking, “You give me one dolla” complete with Haitian accent! After picking myself off the floor I look up to see the entire table of big, burly men crouched over in laughter. Plenty had they seen Haitian kids ask this question, but never a ti blan (little white/foreigner)! Evan didn’t understand what was so funny. He really wanted money to buy ice cream and was using the skill he had observed to try and get it. We learned a lesson from Evan that day. Instead of getting so aggravated when the “give me” is upon us, we just ask the same. When we receive looks of disbelief or laughter with a but “mwen pa gen” (I don’t have) response, we say that we don’t have either (or at least don’t have something we can willingly give at that moment). Sometimes we carry this as far as asking for their shirt, shoes, etc. When they say, “Huh? No!”, “What? Why?” “but then I wouldn’t have a shirt or shoes!!!” We say, “exactly”. Sometimes we are not in the mood for the consequential laughter and name calling and sometimes we take it in stride. Sometimes there is a teachable moment. Sometimes not.
I guess I’m trying to answer your question with the very question I’ve asked myself at least a thousand times.
As we live among the Haitian people (or any people), and strive to love as Christ loves (in spite of another’s negative behavior and equally in spite of my own) I’m thankful to learn from each other and lean on the example of Jesus. How can we model this? Your doing a great job Maggie! Don’t become weary in well doing! (I know that’s easier said than done.) I really can’t imagine a one-size-fits-all answer even if the same ole “give me” is the catalyst. Sometimes we may be led to teach or lecture. Sometimes we should say nothing. Sometimes we might answer a question with a question. Sometimes we might simply ignore a following crowd while trying to get away. Sometimes we might yell and rant. But always we can listen and learn from these experiences. Some One is trying to teach all of us something that He has already modeled for us.
His feelings must have been hurt not only by the crowds hurling insults and abuse but by the very disciples He spent every day teaching and loving who betrayed and abandoned Him. And yet “for the joy set before Him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
Because one day there will be justice and answers to all these things. One day there will be no more “give me” because everyone will give Him their everything. I pray He gives us the joy set before Him to endure well until that glorious day.