A Haitian boy living out in the country will rise early in the morning. No good parent will allow a child to remain on his straw mat on the floor after the sun has come up. So, children are up and taking care of things right at or before sunrise. Parents have no interest in remaining on their uncomfortable beds while the best hours of the day are passing by. They like to get up and get things taken care of before the sun gets to be its hottest. SO, a young boy will probably wash his face (the first thing people do in the morning) and be out of the house with nothing to eat by 5:30 am. He will walk down the street and out into the ‘gardens’ or personal family fields where the animals and crops are. Typically, the young boys in a family are responsible for any animals the family has. Boys will untie a horse, cow, and/or mule and lead it to a water source. Perhaps a well, a spring, or a puddle. They will allow the animal to drink its fill, and then take it back to their ‘garden’ plot. They are also responsible to cut some grass and bring it to the animal(s) so that it can eat. After that, the boy may harvest a papaya, a melon, or some ears of corn from his family’s garden. On the way home, he might devour the papaya with a friend or two.
As the boy arrives home, there are things that need to be done. The house needs water so that mother can cook and clean. Most boys will carry a 5-gallon bucket to the nearest pump and fill it for their mother. Then they go back to the well with another bucket and carry it home so that they can bathe. In rural Haiti, there is no running water and therefore no shower. You stand behind your house, behind a bush, or in a coconut-branch shower stall to take your bath from a bucket. Many folks bathe out in the open with a pair of shorts for…protection. You rinse, you lather, you rinse again, and then dry off…then change into dry shorts.
On a school day, a Haitian boy will be fortunate if he gets more than a piece of bread and coffee before he heads to school. Some don’t even get that regularly. A more fortunate boy will get a serving of hot corn meal, or some cooked bananas, or Haitian spaghetti (less tomato and more oil). Then it’s off to school.
A teenage rural Haitian boy may only be in 6th grade. Parents don’t start kids on time. Many kids spend more than one year in a class. And parents sometimes are obliged to have their kids sit at home for a year when there is no money for school. So, most Haitian kids are behind schedule academically.
School consists of 5 major subjects…French, Creole, math, science, and social studies. Classes are crowded and low on materials. About 98% of lessons use only a blackboard, chalk, and school book. No maps. No microscopes. No learning stations. No computers. No DVD players. No overhead projectors. Just a bench, a teacher, and students.
School lunch (if there is one) is a bowl of rice and beans…and water (if the school has clean water).
By 1:00 school is out. Some kids walk for 2 hours to get to school, and many are expected to put in a partial day’s work in the garden when they get home, so school days aren’t long. BUT, with an empty belly, they are quite long enough.
Boys are responsible for the work that needs to be done in gardens. That includes cleaning the land of weeds, planting, hoeing, watering, and harvesting. A day in the fields is tough work. The sun is hot and constant on your back. The sun is bright in your eyes. You are thirsty, hungry, and bothered by ants and thorns that will attack your legs. The workdays are long. Every bit of work is done by hand with brute strength. A machete and a hoe are your main tools.
Most Haitians who have spent any time in the gardens have the scars to show it. Common injuries are machete wounds to the shin, machete wounds to the left arm or hand (especially thumb), and hoe wounds on the big toe. All of these injuries are treated with leaves and/or ashes. Medical supplies are rare and difficult to acquire.
Boys have the luxury of free time. They are free in rural communities to walk around in the evening hours and socialize. Some play soccer. Some cards. Some dominos. Many will just sit around in the street and entertain each other with stories…stories of school, stories about demons, stories about people who did something stupid, stories about stories. Haitians are fine entertainers. They are each other’s TV.
In rural Haitian households, there is almost never a time to sit around the table and eat together. Mom (or a sister) will make a bowl of rice or some other grain with beans. And if things are going well for the family, there will be another bowl of meat and/or sauce. Mom will separate the food and leave one plate for each family member on the table. As you happen by, you grab your plate, sit out behind the house where its cool and no one can see you, and you eat your meal…alone. Each member of the family pretty much eats when he/she feels like it. Men often come in latest from the garden and find their meal cold on the table, but there’s no other option, so it is eaten…with thanks.
By the time darkness arrives, eyes are getting heavy…unless it’s full moon! When its full moon, everyone can see late into the night, and so people stay awake much later. Kids play hide-and-seek games in the street together. Parents sit and talk.
On moon-less nights, there just isn’t much reason to stay awake. Reading is tough by lamp-light. Work is impossible in the dark. And so, most kids will be in bed by 9:00 or 10:00.
Tomorrow will be much the same. Kids go to school. They work in the gardens. They chop wood for charcoal. If they have the chance, boys will watch a tradesman while he does his craft. They’ll pick up tips and try to learn while they watch a mason or a carpenter. Many masons and carpenters in Haiti learned the same way - - by watching.
As a boy grows, his dream is to finish school. What usually happens, though, is that the family is unable to send him all the way through. Somewhere along the way, the family stops buying clothes for him. They stop giving him small amounts of money. He is expected to be able to find some things on his own. Often, a young boy will come upon a day where he asks his parents to give him money for schooling, and the parents will say no. Either the boy figures out a way to make his own money, or he has reached the limit of his schooling. Sadly, this happens often as the boy is in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade…sometimes earlier.
Many young men in Haiti are in that gray zone after leaving school (age 16-20). They are no longer in school because they can’t afford it. They can’t afford to learn a trade as an apprentice. They can’t find steady work. They can’t leave the community because they don’t have anywhere to go. They spend the day sitting or walking around. Many times, idleness leads to destructive behavior, and a jobless uneducated young man will increase his troubles by fathering a child. The cycle of poverty continues.
Girls get the heavy end of the stick. They work pretty much constantly from sun-up to sundown. Girls sweep the house, sweep the 'yard', sprinkle water on the floors and 'yard' to eliminate dust, make beds, clean the table, make the food, wash the dishes, and everything else that needs to be done around the house.
Girls go to school too, but often drop out before their male counterparts. Parents ‘need’ them at home, and so school ends. Sadly, what the parents ‘really’ need in the long term is for their children to finish schooling. Too few parents see far enough into the future to protect their child’s schooling.
Girls arrive home from school and begin working around the house. They will be busy until sundown. Being busy keeps girls from wandering around town like the boys do. It is also culturally unacceptable for girls to be walking around alone. Boys will be seen walking down the road with nothing in their hands…maybe a stick that they are playing with. Girls, on the other hand, are only in the street if they are doing some kind of chore…buying a cup of sugar, buying a cup of oil, carrying a plate of food to a neighbor, carrying water back to the house. You don’t see girls in the street unless they are carrying something.
Girls and women carry heavy loads on their heads. It centers the weight, and allows for free hands. Women can be seen carrying a bucket with pots, pans, and food on their head, a gallon of water in one hand, and a baby in the other hand. This is how they will head out to the field to make food for their man while he works. The man carries his tools and a bag for produce. Behind them is a skinny dog looking back and forth as he walks along…head hung low…suspicious of kids who will throw rocks at him. All dogs are thieves.
A big day of the week for women is wash day. Most rural places in Haiti have some kind of river or stream in walking distance. If not, women will go to a well. Wash day means carrying your clothes to the water. The water doesn’t come to you. Women and girls head out together. They carry clothes and sheets in big aluminum basins on their heads. Girls will spend the day sitting by the river scrubbing away. It’s hard work washing by hand. Folks in Haiti like their clothing CLEAN and bright. Colors need to be bright, and whites need to be white. There’s no special chemical, only ‘elbow grease’. Women scrub and scrub, rinse, and scrub. There is also a technique where women beat the clothes clean with a wooden paddle called a ‘batwèl’. (It’s a good activity if you’re frustrated about something, too.)
Clean clothes are strung out over the ground and trees. The bright tropical sun will have most of them dry by the time afternoon roles around. Women pack up the clothes, wash themselves in the river, and carry the whole load home again.
Wash day is a social event as well. Women will sit together by the river and share stories about their families and any other subject that comes up.
A problem for girls in Haiti is the accepted role of women. Women don’t play sports…at least not in rural Haiti. In our school, 5 and 6-year-old girls play soccer with ease. By the time they are 10 or 12, many have been conditioned to believe that girls don’t play soccer, so they find it nearly impossible to kick a ball with their feet. They’ve LEARNED to be helpless in the area of sports. The same thing happens in some school subjects and some jobs.
Young women too often attach their hopes and aspirations to a certain kind of man. They sit in waiting (or worse yet connive) to find a man who can get them all of the things of which they dream. The plight of women in Haiti is a difficult one. Women tend not to seek a man who cares about them. Nor a man who is on the same path in life. The main condition is financial status. As a result, many marriages are really just working arrangements. She agrees to wash and clean while he brings home the money she needs. It all works well…for a short time. Then eyes wander, and a family falls apart. It’s no wonder…the foundation was bad. Each and every broken family contributes to the cycle of poverty.
Imagine coming home from school and discovering that there was no food in your house…no snacks, no meat, no bread, no peanut butter, no cans, no nothing. You figure you’ll at least grab a drink of water before you head out of the house for food. You go to the faucet, but no water comes out. Just air. There is now NOTHING you can put in your stomach. You figure you’ll check on a neighbor. You ring his doorbell, and he shows up. You’re embarrassed to ask for food, but you do. Problem is, he is in the same situation…no food, no water. You go to the corner Econo-Quick market. The shelves are almost bare. You are very hungry, so you pick from what is left. As you reach into you pocket for money, you discover your pockets are empty. You can’t even pay for the bad, leftover food you see before you.
We as Americans would be challenged by the above situation if it ever happened. We would create a way to get help. (We would call family…we would contact an organization…we call the police…) It would be a good story for us to tell our friends when it’s all over.
BUT, many people live that way every day. They have no food cupboard with a week’s supply of food. They have no water at their house. They have no money available to buy food.
The food you have in your house right now could probably feed a family in a developing country for weeks.
Next time you stand at the fridge and say, “There’s nothing to eat,” think again. There’s plenty to eat. Thank God for all you have to eat. Your house is a treasure chest of food, and the super market with 50 different kinds of canned corn is only a short drive from your house. BE THANKFUL!