At the beginning of this year I wrote an article on Converge Magazine. The article was entitled, "Happiness Without A Price Tag", and examined my observations of the essence of true happiness, from moving to Haiti a few months prior.
In my first few months of relocation and adaption to a life in the third world, I was astonished by the sheer happiness of the people I encountered. Despite the utter despair many of them lived in the midst of, they still found a reason to smile and ways to enjoy life. My "first world" and Americanized ways of thinking about those living far below the poverty level within developing countries, quickly began to dissipate.
But moving to Belle-Anse has opened my eyes in a whole new way. Here, poverty has taken on a face you can't truly understand or explain, unless you've encountered it for yourself. We live and work in the poorest region of the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere, yet regardless of the immense amount of pain and suffering that plagues countless lives, there is a sheer, simple strength and joy, which outshines the darkest of despair.
In Haitian Kreyol, there's a common phrase used when asked, "How are you?"
"M'ap kenbe fém", translation - I'm holding strong.
Very little is ever reported about the strength and tenacity of the Haitian people. The average American's knowledge of Haiti is the 2010 earthquake, cholera and AIDS. They know that a lot of people are sick and/or dying and that it can be a very dangerous place.
Hardly anyone ever takes the time to share and document the sheer beauty this country is surrounded by. The natural wonder alone is so magnificent, it can leave you dead in your tracks, and the absolute kindness and warmth of the people has done nothing but destroy everything I ever thought I knew about Haiti and it's culture.
When I first moved to Belle-Anse, I discovered that the village children were using condoms from the local clinic, trash bags and yarn for soccer balls. Initially I found this sad and even disturbing, but then I realized - these children know no difference. This is their ball, and this ball allows them to play the sport they love, hence they are lacking nothing. Maybe I'm the one who should be pitted for the fact that I was saddened by something I misinterpreted as lack, rather than the acknowledgment of their ability to find satisfaction and delight in the smallest of pleasures.
Every day something happens, which further reveals to me the utter beauty of Haitian people. Whether it comes in the form of tea being delivered to my door because someone heard I was sick, or standing in awe as I watch a man come home and hug and kiss his wife in front of a group of strangers.
There are too many stories of young mothers being abandoned by despondent fathers, and rampant cases of abuse. Yet in this moment, once again stereotypes and preconceived notions were stripped away as a man took ownership of his family and publicly displayed his love for his wife.
These are the types of moments I get to experience every single day. For every brush with death, every tear I shed for the suffering, there are those incredible reminders of not only the goodness left within humanity, but the sheer richness of spirit.
Own nothing. Yet have everything.
Every time my team and I venture out into a remote village of the region, we are almost always welcomed and soon ushered into homes and given stalks of freshly roasted corn. This is most likely the only food they have for their entire family to eat, yet the give it to use freely because we are their guests.
How much are we willing to give? How much are we willing to sacrifice when even in our moments of greatest need, as first worlders, we still have so much more than 80% of the world?
Each day I am humbled by the graciousness, generosity and richness of spirit of the beautiful souls my life has been so graciously blessed with.
They may deal with insurmountable degrees of difficulty and at times grief, but their perseverance shines through, proving that they are some of the richest in spirit. And by that, I am deeply inspired and can only hope to one day obtain that kind of strength and character.