I had the chance to chat with one of our drivers on our trip through Haiti this week: a 28-year old local named Holgan who was kind enough to share his perspective on his country. How had the attitudes of Haitians changed in the twelve months following the earthquake, I wondered?
Before I share his response, let me say that Holgan had it better than many Haitians. Having gone through secondary school (the equivalent of high school in the U.S.), he was relatively well-educated. And by working as a well-connected driver in Port-au-Prince, Holgan likely earned a pretty decent income. He even had a girlfriend from the Netherlands he was crazy about, and showed me a picture he kept of a used BMW he aspired to buy one day.
But when Holgan answered my question, he was quick to point out how hope for new beginnings after the earthquake had now soured into frustration at a lack of action. As Haitians haven’t seen their government deliver on moving the country forward, he said, the initial optimism had almost fully waned. I couldn’t blame him – touring Port-au-Prince for the umpteenth time yesterday, I was still amazed at the appalling conditions in which people here live and work. For example, upon seeing a produce market that was half-flooded in runoff and sewer water, with buyers and sellers nearly wading through the filthy river-like streets in order to conduct business, I asked Holgan if the market was always like this. No, he laughed, after the earthquake everything changed. Yet over a year later, daily life still often takes place in squalid conditions.
But just because Holgan was frustrated didn’t mean that he wasn’t bullish on the future. He was quick to smile, proud of his work, and had no problem pointing to some programs and organizations that were truly doing great things. He didn’t share anything negative unless he was asked to. The fact that Holgan still held on to the idea of a more prosperous future showed that at heart, he was truly a “glass is half full” kind of guy.
One of the things I love about being in Haiti is that Holgan’s attitude isn’t unique to him. We sat in on a devotional service this morning in which the preacher talked about the prophet Jeremie’s unwavering faith and optimism, despite the trials and setbacks that he and his people faced. The audience listened closely, nodding as if merely being reminded of an attitude they held deep within. When we toured the home of a poor, jobless woman who was raising ten children herself, all she had for us was a smile and a sweet-sounding “Salut!”. Even most of the expatriates living here are cheerful. The “new” couple I stayed with last night, who moved here about a month ago, beamed with pleasure at showing us the projects they were working on with locals. And the couple of “veterans” from a local mission I had dinner tonight continued to be excited about their work that lay ahead, eager for the next challenge.
The fact that I rarely hear anyone complain seems strange, especially since there’s so much to gripe about here. Maybe this attitude can teach those of us who have a great deal more a thing or two. There’s a lot going wrong in Haiti, but I’ve seen that no matter how difficult the circumstances, human beings have an uncanny ability to find joy in life. What other way could you survive in such a tough world?