Peace Corps Volunteer Remembers Beauty of Haiti

by Wendy Hirsch
ChildFund Strategy Manager

Haiti is a place of extremes, which demands a lot of you and rewards you immensely for the effort. I discovered this while a Peace Corps volunteer from 1998 to 2000 working in and around Cabaret, Haiti.

While visiting Haiti in early January, Wendy photographed the children from her "lakou," or family compound.

I regret that most people are only exposed to the most negative of these extremes — dire poverty, environmental degradation, corruption, insecurity — and over the last week, the absolute horror that comes when you add a natural disaster to the mix. I don’t deny any of these. But I’m not going to write about them here. I want to talk about the other extremes of Haiti — beauty, vibrance, kindness, gratitude, humor and wisdom, and lots of hard-earned wisdom.

I don’t possess the literary gifts necessary to describe the grace that is Sunday morning in Haiti — regardless of religion, whether you go to services or not — it’s a quiet and comforting time. Nor can I adequately convey the gift that is Haitian drumming, or the life and energy that literally leap from the paintings. But I can share with you some Haitian wisdom, as conveyed through proverbs.

I used proverbs a lot when I lived in Haiti. They provided a bridge to understanding the culture, attitudes and thinking of Haitians — and usually got a laugh when delivered through the mouth of a small, blonde American woman. Tenacity, effort, acceptance, practicality, hope and humor are all showcased in the proverbs — aspects of the Haitian people that I treasure and am privileged to share with you.

One proverb in particular came to mind as I learned of the earthquake last week:

W’ap fè’m monte nan sièl pado.
You’re making me go to heaven backwards.

Here are a few of my other favorites…

Chita pa bay.
Sitting doesn’t get you anywhere.

Piti piti zwazo fè niche li.
Little by little, the bird makes her nest.

Yon sèl dwèt pa ka manje kalalou.
You can’t eat okra with one finger.

Men anpil, chay pa lou.
Many hands lighten the load.

Practicality…and its associated wisdom
Tout moun se moun. Tout moun pa menm.
All people are people. All people are not the same.

Ou we sa ou genyen, ou pa konn sa ou rete.
You know what you have, you don’t know what’s coming.

Wendy Hirsch works at ChildFund International headquarters in Richmond, Va. Her Haitian friends and family survived the earthquake. Some are now homeless and some hurt, but as they put it: “We eat, we sleep. We can’t complain.”

3 Responses to Peace Corps Volunteer Remembers Beauty of Haiti

  • Your words painted a breathtaking portrait for me, Wendy. What a touching tribute to the country and people of Haiti.

    This week I have been working on an emergency disaster relief appeal for Haiti’s earthquake survivors. By sharing these beautiful moments of delightful normalcy, you’ve helped end my week on an optimistic note. Thank you.

  • Wendy, I believe that you may have the literary talent for such writing. Your thoughts were succinct and poignant! I am sure you made an impact on the people you lived with and shared many good ideas with! Sincerely. Betsy

  • All I want to say is thank you for writing this. Thank you. I have been to Haiti twice, once to Port Au Prince in 2012 and once to Miragoane in 2014. Tonight I am missing Haiti bad/researching Peace Corps hence how I stumbled upon your positing.

    Natural and pure and real beauty can be found everywhere even in the slums of Port Au Prince because beauty is found is humans loving one another, in laughing, and dancing, in cooking dinner for strangers, beauty is found in the breeze in Haiti, its found in the ocean without sharks (lol), its found in the already crowded busses that make “room” for one more friend, its found in the rain the pours briefly.

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