This trip has been full of firsts for me; the first time I climbed a mountain, the first time I visited orphanages, the first time I have dealt with the challenges of being the minority. With all of this change around me, it is sometimes hard to see these cultural differences as being a good thing. I automatically wanted to label some of the habits of the Haitian people as wrong compared to my traditional American way. But I have learned after a closer look and with asking myself every day, “Where are you seeing God in Haiti?”, that I may actually have A LOT to learn from the lifestyle of these amazing people. I want to talk about two different characteristics of these people that, even if it has taken me a while, I have grown to really appreciate.
I had never really understood exactly how important the concept of time is to people in the United States before coming here to Haiti. We get up at the same time, get to work at the same time, eat at the same time, and have meetings we need to be on time for. Likewise, we expect that the people around us are going to be on time. If someone is five minutes late to get me, I make a point to ask why they are late or what was holding them up. If I am going to be even a few minutes late to get somewhere, I always try to let the person know where I am. Contrastingly, Haitians are late for everything. 90% of the time, if we were told we’d be leaving at 9:00, we could expect to pull away in the car around 10:30. However, it is not at all a sign of disrespect. In Haiti, someone would much rather take the twenty minutes to stop and talk to an old friend that they saw on the side of the road that morning than to be on time to get to an appointment. They would much rather take the opportunity to pick up a few school kids running late for school than be on time for their job. This is just how they work. And at first, I definitely saw these actions as rude and disrespectful until I realized that in fact it was only I who was irritated. The other people who are immersed in these ways of the culture every day could have cared less what time it was or what they were late for. They were happy to stop and chat with an old friend or help someone in need. Our team has learned that there are even a few expressions the Haitians use when referring to time in acknowledgement of their tardiness. A close friend of ours, Jobina, informed us that in Haiti, if someone wants you to ACTUALLY be at their house at 10:00, they will tell you to be there “at 10:00 white people time.” Also, if you apologize to someone in Haiti for being late, their response could often be, “Don’t be sorry. It’s Haiti.” Their ease when it came to time is so different from our rushed pace of life that this cultural change has in fact turned into something a little refreshing and freeing.
Another huge cultural change that took me by surprise within the first few minutes of arriving in Haiti was their driving! Anyone in America would go crazy to see the way that people get around here. Speed limits? Street signs? Lanes? What are those? I am completely amazed that after being here for almost four weeks, the only vehicular accident I have seen is a girl being gently hit by a motor taxi near the border of the Dominican Republic. But just like the Haitians’ fluid sense of time, their streets operate the same way. I have learned that Haitians are very relational people. They want to always feel that they are connecting with one another. They drive through the streets like ships on the sea. There are no borders and there are no rules. Horns are honking left and right. What would this lead to in America? Several extreme cases of road rage! But even through the continual cutting off of cars, the crazy speeds, the people almost getting hit repeatedly, our team has not once seen anyone get upset or angry while driving. Haitians use their horns not to tell someone that they are mad but to simply say, “Hey, I’m coming around the corner” or “You can go in front of me.” The horn is in some ways a sign of respect for the people who you are sharing the road with. When first entering the country, I did not believe why they were always honking for no reason, but now I understand. They just want to connect with one another. They want the other people on the road to know that they are there. In America, we love our turn signals and our lanes and our traffic lights. Now, I’m not saying we should all go out and rack up a few speeding tickets. However, the care that these people show for each other while going through their hectic everyday lives has shown me that I need to relax a little. Maybe the next person who cuts you off REALLY does have somewhere more important to be than you J
These things that I have learned did not come in a day or a week. Trust me, I have become quite frustrated over the past four weeks getting accustomed to these new ways of thinking and interacting with people. But if I can change my mindset, I think that it might work for you too. It made me start to wonder how much I let time and schedules get in the way of the relationships that I am building with other people. It made me wonder how much I guard myself from others and could really benefit from just letting things slide sometimes instead of getting worked up over nothing. This reminds me of Exodus 14:14 which says, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” This will be a reminder to me the rest of my life that even with the struggles that the Haitians face every day, they still value the time and laughs that they share with their community. So this week at work, with your schedule, and with your family, take some time to build the relationships that are important to you. Throw your calendar away and focus on the things that matter most. God will take care of the rest.