I look at the miles of tin shacks, busted up towns, dirt roads and smoke and I get scared. The terrain rips my carefully-affixed American blinders off like Bandaids, and fear of the unknown whispers, “Welcome to ugly, welcome to depraved, you’ll probably be a victim of something heinous here and nobody will help you.”
Luckily, those thoughts are frail. As long, sweaty moments pass in immigration, the fear recedes, because staying mentally hysterical takes a lot of energy and everybody else, the Haitians I mean, are just waiting quietly.
Haiti, it turns out, is so much like West Africa it’s disorienting to recall that Florida is only 800 miles away. One hour and 20 minutes on American Airlines flight 337.
But Florida is so much farther than 800 miles away.
Kim Kardashian if you’re reading this, and I’m pretty sure you are, you ought to swing down to Haiti on your next trip to Miami. I think if you saw it – kids struggling to scratch out a fourth grade education, some of them eating only 4-5 times a week, – it might wreck you permanently.
America darling, we need a good wrecking.
Christian ministries like Nehemiah Vision feed local kids everyday, sometimes twice. They host English camps and the only community clinic for miles. They grow food, train local leaders and create jobs for about 80 Haitians. Plus, its founder is Haitian, and we, this rag-tag band of multi-national Mercy Shippers, work under his authority.
If NVM’s work sounds noble, I assure you it is, but I struggle to describe how grinding hard it is. On Monday, the heat index was 112 and it hasn’t rained since March. The streets of Port Au Prince are so choked with potholes and busses, pregnant stray dogs and noise, it’s hard to hear yourself think. Many of the children from English camp told us their life dream is just to get out.
On days where I secretly calculated the minutes until I would use my vast American privilege to get out myself, it occurred that if I learned nothing but deep compassion and respect for Haitian resilience, that would be a fine start.
Pastor Pierre, NVM’s founder, who grew up in a dirt floor tin shack, got out, but in an act of sheer obedience, he doubled back. Today, he’s responsible for a small slice of a new Haiti, a generation of readers, leaders and lights. His students are passing their exams in the nation’s top tenth percentile.
So I’ve been thinking, why is it fair to single out Kim Kardashian as the most irresponsibly gauche and indifferent American? To the Haitians who survive on $2 a day, my middle class life in the US is just as impossibly lavish as Kim’s. No sense in me sending the responsibility for poverty up the food chain to someone even better heeled than me.
I’ve bagged the white guilt though, recognizing it for the waste of time it is. What I have instead is responsibility to a generous maker to whom I’ll give an account. And when he says “Baby, I put you in a good family, in good schools, in America at its economic apex. What did you do with that?”
What will I say?
I’m rarely sure of the right answer, so at the start of each day, I sit with Jesus and ask “what do you want me to do today?”
Then, I just get busy doing that.