Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Learning Haitian Creole has been a challenging task. I started volunteering at a local grocery store to learn the language more quickly. It's helping a lot. The grocery store story is another blog post, but for now I will say that the owner and manager have been super kind to let me hang out there, learn the language, and even feed me! It's been a really good experience.

Back to the Creole though. Today I learned a new word - anmbago.

It's embargo in English. Some words are easier to remember than others.

The receiving clerk at the grocery store taught me the new word. A bit about him first and then we'll get to the word anmbago. This guy is a great young man. He carries himself with dignity. He has the respect of his fellow-employees, works diligently, is detail focused, and seems to be very honest. He's shown only kindness to me since I started working with him. He has a clean look in his eyes, he's a Pentecostal Christian, seems to have a lot of common sense and is patient in a job that can sometimes try patience. He also teaches Spanish in the evenings.

We were talking today about many different topics. He tries to bring up conversation and force me to answer him in Creole. Today we spoke a bit about foreign aid, NGO's (non-government organizations), and foreigners in Haiti. I asked him and another employee, who was sitting there, a question. I asked what their opinion was on all the people and organizations helping here. It's actually the first time I've asked that question of a Haitian. The response I received was interesting.

They both said they think that everyone should go back to their own country.

They were kind when they said it, but it was a quick answer and it was obvious they had thought and talked about the subject a lot.

The receiving clerk had some pretty strong opinions and ideas too. He said the problem with Haiti is the Haitians. His focus was more about the poverty of relationships than poverty as is commonly defined (lack of food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.) He said that Haitians aren't looking out for each other. Even in the church, he said, people only care about themselves and not their brother in Christ.

His solution: A 15 year embargo. He thinks all non-Haitians should leave Haiti and stay away for 15 years. He thinks that no new people should be admitted into Haiti for the next 15 years. He also thinks that Haitians shouldn't be let out of the country for 15 years. He's confident that this idea would fix Haiti. He thinks that if Haitians had to be responsible for the country, and there were no foreigners or foreign money to fall back on, then they'd figure it out by themselves.

He said that only God and Haitians have the ability to fix the people here. He said that foreigners have been trying for years with limited success.

His argument has limits, I know. It's probably not the perfect solution. Would it work? I'm not sure. Will everyone actually leave? Not a chance. But it's interesting and caught me by surprise. Even if I disagree with him on some of the details I think he may be onto something.

Is foreign aid hurting Haiti? Are the groups and people that came here to help actually causing harm by being here? Should we all go home?

I've been here for 6 months. I know very little about this country. This post isn't meant to convey my opinions about poverty and Haiti and foreign help. I just want to communicate their opinions as something to give thought to. I have opinions that are forming. I realize that I'm a rookie in Haiti and there are people who have given their lives, sometimes lost their lives, to help here. They know way more than me about all of this. In no way do I want to take away from the legitimate work, sacrifice and love that many have poured into this country.

But it's worth thinking about.


  1. WOW!
    Now, if a grocery store receiving clerk in Port au Prince (who's job depends completely on foreign investment and involvement) thinks foreigners should all go home, I think that is REALLY something to think about. A more measured approach might be that instead of just going home, the foreign organization works only in areas of intervention requested by the host, and implemented on the host's terms, under the host's leadership. If foreign organizations continue to refuse to align to this seemingly universal guideline of conduct while a foreigner in another land, I can't help but agree with the store clerk who sees poverty and brokenness in Haiti in terms of relationship rather than infrastructure.

  2. My dad has sorta said that.. He thinks that we should stay out of foreign affairs for a while, we are in to deep. Also he says that a lot of times we go to places and just give them help with out asking if they want it... I agree, I think that we need to work on the home land a while.. Especially where we are politically..