Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Why I’m sitting in IJDH’s Boston Office? (Nancy Young, IJDH Volunteer)

By. Nancy Young , IJDH Volunteer

A couple of weeks ago at this time, I was smiling insanely into my cell phone, saying to a Haitian friend, “Dis jou! Dis jou!”

10 days, 10 days to Haiti.

Not quite.

With twa jou  to Haiti (3 days), the same friend, seeing sometimes violent protests  over disputed election results told me that the situation was too unpredictable and he did not want me to be in danger.  I knew, too, that if things did get really bad, my Haitian friends would be less safe themselves if they had to pay attention to protecting me.

It put a hole in my heart, but I knew I had to cancel the trip. First I took a swig of Haitian rum and went for a walk. Then, feeling very sorry for myself, but trying to follow the example of my Haitian friends, I buried the disappointment and tried to think what I could do instead to get my Haiti fix.

Which is why I’m writing this in the IJDH office in South Boston, where I’m volunteering for a few days.

This would have been my ninth, maybe tenth trip to Haiti since I first went in April of 2009, something which has my friends and family a little bemused.  Recently, when I was still beaming about my upcoming trip to Haiti, a new colleague  said, “You seem to go to Haiti a lot. It’s…weird.” Then he added, “Do you go to do good deeds?”

“Uh…ok, yeah,” I said, because it was truer than it was not – and it’s one of the few basic story lines that people who don’t know Haiti immediately understand (or think they do). One goes to Haiti to be a do-gooder, to help those poor, tragically dysfunctional people. It’s an easy story line but it completely sells out the Haitian people.

I remember once speaking at a church after my first trip to Haiti and part of my talk was extolling how wonderful Haitian food is. I was chided by a missionary afterwards who told me, “We don’t go for the food. We go because the people are poor.”  I smiled through clenched teeth at her and we stood uncomfortably for a moment in a moral superiority standoff.

Even though it’s a simple concept, it’s harder for people to understand when I say, as I always do, that I go to Haiti because it is my home. Seemingly nuts because, due to job and money constraints, I can rarely spend more than 10 days at a time there and I speak Haitian Creole at a toddler level.  When I go, I try to sneak in a trip to the beautiful  public beach where I visit friends  and eat some pwason fre (fresh fish) deliciously spiced with garlic, onions and citrus (at least I think those are the flavors, I can never replicate the flavors at home.)

So, when I’m not there, which is most of the time, I feel a bit like I’m in exile. And, yes, I also want to do good deeds for Haiti, but for me that generally means fighting, with every choice I make in and outside Haiti, the extraordinarily vicious double standards that exist between the rich country I live in and the poor country that I call home.

To understand the way I feel about how those double standards play out in every minute of the lives of my Haitian friends, you’d have to picture your best friend, or perhaps the person you most admire most in the world for their intelligence, wit or just plain goodness. Then picture that person unjustly imprisoned or, ostensibly free, but jobless. Or sick from bad water.  Picture all that intelligence, wit and just plain goodness glossed over in a favor of a stereotype of helplessness and inferiority.

It is hard to picture that for many of us in the U.S., but in Haiti just about everyone is at risk. So, inextricably wrapped up in my love of Haiti is my anger over what the people there go through.

Which is why I’m here at IJDH in decidedly colder Boston, witnessing a bit of the good work that goes on here every day that is all about justice and respect for the sunny, troubled country I love.

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