Haiti Day 2
I am in Haiti this week with Community of Faith, seeing what God is doing down here through the two churches we are associated with and our school, the Community of Faith School in Le Village de La Source, Haiti. I am posting with limited internet, so forgive the sloppy formatting and lack of photos.
I am a person of strong feelings and opinions (understatement). One of the things I have oh so many feelings about is how to honor and respect people when traveling to another culture, so that you aren’t the rude American taking pictures of other people’s children as if they are zoo animals. Just imagine if someone showed up at your house or junior’s preschool and was looking through the window, taking pictures of your little precious without your permission. “Lawsuit” (you need to know that in my head that word was said in the church lady’s voice). It even has a name – poverty tourism – exploiting people with a right to privacy and dignity just so you can score the best Facebook profile picture. It crawls all over me.
So imagine my mental angst when it comes to me traveling for the church to document the progress of the school that our church supports, which involves shooting pictures and video of other people’s children. For me, a natural over-thinker, it is a mental minefield. So I have been praying about it, asking the Lord to give me eyes to see and to use even my camera as a way to connect.
We drove from Gonaives up to Le Village de la Source, which is this tiny village tucked in this valley with literally 360 degree views of absolutely beautiful mountains. We went to visit the COF school up there for older children started by one of the Pastors on our staff. I walked in a little nervous, not only to shoot pictures and videos, but because we had been told that we should each prepare a greeting that they would translate for the children, and I struggled to find the words. I have terrible stage fright and knew whatever I said had to be simple because I was bound to stutter my way through it. The children sang us a song as we walked in, and the leadership of the school began to greet us one by one. Just before I was introduced, our leader David introduced me and explained that I would be documenting the story of their progress, and not only how the school had grown but how they had all grown as students and leaders. I stood up shakily to give my little speech, and it went something like this. “Bonjour (my only French word – they giggled at my Texas/French dialect). Thank you for coming today on your day off to visit with us. Our church loves you and prays for you. I love being here, and personally am so happy to see so many girls in school today. I believe that with education, and Jesus, we can change the world. It is nice to meet you and thank you for having me.” I nervously sat down and looked over to find many of the children smiling at me. It gave me courage, and I slipped out of my seat and began to work my way around the room taking pictures and videos, slowly working my way into a rhythm as I moved around the room and caught more and more shy smiles from eager children. I also caught glances from a group of neighborhood women and children who had seen our van pull up, stuffed like a clown car full of white people, and come over to look through the windows and see what has happening. I shared our snacks with them, and although we didn’t know each other’s language, we communicated through smiles and gestures until I felt like I was making friends.
We gave the school children some gifts, and they gave us gifts, and as they told us stories and gave us greetings, we identified three people we wanted to get on video. I stepped out with another member of our team to setup for the video shoot, and the technicality of it relaxed me even more. As we were setting up, I noticed that the neighborhood women I connected with earlier had following me over and were watching. I used some of them as models to get my settings right, and let them listen to my microphone setup through headphones. I tried to tell one woman my name and get hers, but she remained silent and watchful, not understanding me. I shared a snack with her. After I handed it to her, she reached up to the tree we were standing under and tore off a leaf. She handed it to me and patted her hip. I struggled to understand. I said the word “leaf” and tried to hand it back. She patted her hip again and pointed to my pants. I realized she was pointing at my pocket, and the leaf was her gift back to me. Again tears rushed to my eyes as I put the leaf in my pocket. “Oh Lord, yes, how quickly I forget. This is about connection, one mother to another, and I don’t want to be the one only giving. It is mutual.” I said “Mesi” (my only Haitian-Creole word) and put my hand on my heart to tell her it meant something to me, and we smiled at each other.
We began to shoot our stories, and I saw the children watching me from the periphery. After I finished I took the camera and headed to the group. I asked them if I could photograph them (which of course they didn’t understand) so I gestured and they began to pose. I shot a picture, and then stepped forward so they could see what I had shot. They giggled, and more and more kids came over, and we did this for 10 minutes, back and forth, pose and giggle. I have dozens and dozens of cheesily-posed pictures of smiling kids, and I love them. I need to find a way to get printed copies back to them.
So the Lord did it (not surprising). He made the two things I was nervous about, speaking publicly and taking pictures, the two tools he most used to allow me to connect with the kids. I’m grateful.