Serge McKenzie: It was my first time in Haiti. The only thing I knew about it before was what I saw on the news. In this case the information was very wrong, the situation is much worse than I could’ve ever imagined and yet the people have such a positive outlook.
They seem to be extremely optimistic about the future, aggressive about getting their work done, about making just $1 so they can eat. They are extremely positive. It seems like the whole nation does have faith in God, and now they have accepted the situation … you know there are still bodies under the rubble, they don’t smell anymore, they’ve accepted this, they are taking it day by day with a smile.
FFA: What struck you particularly?
SM: Most people don’t have a home, or their house is leaning to the side or has a large crack in it. People are not living in it because of the fear of it coming down. The most fortunate ones are those who have a tent from the UN or just tarp. Some put up sticks and four sheets. Others people have nothing.
Everyone’s on the street, everyone’s trying to sell something so they can eat something tonight. Some are selling crafts, some - charcoal, one man was trying to sell ice.
SM: Several years ago I used to work for American Airlines as a flight-attendant and I used to do the Haiti flight. People would put live chickens into their bags… things that are too common for us to want to smuggle into another country because you could just buy them there. I never understood why someone would risk being kicked off a flight for sneaking food or small animals to your country. Ten years later, I come back to Haiti and I realize that if you bring a chicken, the chicken will lay eggs, which you can eat for breakfast. You can buy a chicken in Haiti, but it will cost you money you might need for something else.
FFA: What did you think of the Haitian people?
SM: One person who worked with me at American Airlines told me once: “Haitian people are lazy,” and I agreed because I didn’t know anything about them. Ten year later, I realized that to call a Haitian person lazy is to call a rose a stone.
If I saw someone in Haiti who wasn’t doing anything, he was either incapacitated and immobile, or a drug addict.
Compared with what I saw, we live like kings here in the U.S. I have a one bedroom apartment for myself. In Haiti they would have 15-16 people living there. I have grapes in my fruit bowl, I am going to eat salmon for dinner and then take a hot shower. The Haitians don’t have these things. You see people showering in the streets. They buy a pint-size plastic bag, drink half of it and pour the rest over their heads. Or they spray themselves from a hose.
Appearance is not what is vital to them, cleanliness is. Being clean, having a clean shirt on is very important to them. In these difficult circumstances, none of them smell bad, they clean themselves often. It’s interesting because some people here in the U.S. are the opposite despite having the means.
SM: I hope I can go back soon. I didn’t want to leave because I’ve never been surrounded by so many optimists. These people are wonderful. They mission: the priests, the matushkas, the parishioners are moving forward. They regrouped after the disaster and set a plan of action. Our mission is different: it is to make that plan happen because they can’t do it alone. Some people think they cannot afford to give. If you pay $200 a month to watch HBO, we can give the mission in Haiti $100. If it’s too much get four people to contribute $25. That will feed a family in Haiti. Small changes that need to be made for monumental results.
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