The Ingenuity of the People of Haiti

I have had on my mind to pen my next blog on the creativity and resourcefulness of the Haitian people to use whatever is available to them to perform a given task to the best of their ability. In pursuit of a finely written blog, I thought that as a matter of principle there would be a wealth of information readily available on the very topic, “The Ingenuity of the People of Haiti.” I could not have been more wrong. In reality, I found very little on what I consider this their greatest virtue, and quite a bit, total libraries in fact, on what the problems are with a people group that has managed to survive centuries of oppression, slavery, persecution, and even domination by their very own people. There is a fine line between being the slaves of one’s own destiny and being held down by someone else’s ropes of poverty. And yet there is much to be said about a people group that has survived due to their personal strengths, cleverness, and God given ability to overcome.

For the Haitians that I have come to know and love, it is their ingenuity, their innovativeness, and their thinking outside of their prison of a box that has made them the masters of their own destiny. It is their resourcefulness that provides their means of survival. In solving day to day issues and problems, even the best of us may squirm or throw our hands up in despair; however, this brings out the best in a Haitian as it is their skillful way of making things work, and their cleverness in solving problems that lift them from the grips of failure and the sorrows of defeat.

There is an old Haitian Proverb, “Bout kouto miyo pase zong.” A piece of a knife is better than a fingernail; meaning that something is better than nothing. In Western cultures this could actually mean that we should be appreciative of a piece of hard stale bread which, of course, is better than no bread at all. However, what this means for the people of Haiti is that there is always something that can be done or at least tried before giving up. Which, just as a frame of reference, I have yet to see a Haitian “give up”, and there is always a use for something that has outlived its intended use or has an entirely different usefulness than its original purpose.

One of the most common examples of Haitian creative recycling is readily seen in the use of the old, rusty, worn out and compressor-less refrigerator, laid down on it’s back.  Which has now become an ice chest that is the perfect size for the huge blocks of ice that are used in the market place.  Speaking of ice, one of the most amazing re-uses of something that would be discarded  is that of the rice hulls.  These hulls, evidently, are perfect insulation for keeping the blocks of ice frozen until sold or picked up for use elsewhere.  Mounds of rice hulls line the streets covering and insulating these huge blocks of ice.  I actually thought the ice was meant to keep the rice hulls cool and damp and asked the question, “Why do the rice hulls need to be kept cold when they were just dried out in the sun during harvest?”  Another thing I love about my new Haitian friends is their laughter and their cleverness in enjoying my unfunny jokes.

Rice Harvest Collage

On most days, as I look out across the beautiful blue waters that make up my “room with a view” there is usually a fishing boat or two within sight, some have sails, some are muscle powered, and most are overloaded with hopeful fishermen. One morning as I looked out I saw a most peculiar sight.  Right at the horizon there was a plastic crate strapped on to what appeared to be half of a surf board, turned upside down. I could not see the rear fin (not sure if that is the proper term) so I am assuming it was being used as an anchor of some sort to hold the crate in place. Attached to the makeshift raft was a rope, yet fisherman, captain, or ships mate was nowhere to be seen; however, there was definite visible movement. Not long afterwards I noticed a young man coming up from the water and tossing something into the crate as he went back down. This is what I would call a determined and innovative mode of primitive fishing – nothing but a plastic crate full of some kind of catch, attached to a messed up surf board, being navigated by the best form of renewable energy that I know of – an inventive and novel young man.

Surf Board Collage

As I go out on filter deliveries in some of the impoverished areas where running water is purely imaginary, the Haitian ingenuity is readily apparent in the construction of their homes. There is nothing that goes to waste in these villages. The photographs below say more than I can ever hope to describe. The stems and stalks from the rice harvest are gathered, along with mud from the sludge pit.  The combination of these two, much like the concrete we are familiar with, form the walls, and when the mud dries and hardens it has the same effect.  I was touched by this one house that the owner had formed their name and a heart on the side of what I am assuming to be their first home.  I have also noticed that the desires for privacy and pride of ownership is another characteristic that ran common through these communities.

Creative Home Construction Collage

The fences are constructed much in the same way and by this I mean whatever means is necessary.  In the photographs here we see the banana trees that have been cut, dried, and formed, also coupled as the perfect growing environment for the sweat pea vine that runs along the fence.  Some of the pole fencing has dual purposes, first to keep property lines in tact and second, as a means to run utility wiring along the fence lines.

Fences Collage

Speaking of technology and utility lines – electricity is also a very rare commodity as is radio/telephone services.  In the pictures below you can see how public utility service lines are entirely at the discretion of the property owner.  I was also amazed at how this young boy was charging his phone while holding the appropriate wires to the phone.  Now, I am not sure on this so I can only surmise that there are very few young men in the states that would have the technological savvy to even attempt this type of recharge.

Technology Collage

 

it seems to me that the common thread that runs through the ingenuity of the Haitian people is faith.  It is faith in knowing that God will provide for our needs; however, we must have the wherewithal to recognize the provision.  The Haitians have known prosperity and they have known poverty; they have known sorrow and they also experience joy, and they have known hunger and also have the wisdom to bring in a plentiful harvest.

This ingenuity brings to my mind a passage that has kept me going at a time when I felt all was lost.  The gumption and determination to make it through whatever trials come, and to use the talents and gifts that God has given to make success rather than giving up is given to us by Paul in Philippians,

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13)

Lasting Impressions  Collage

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