The other day I was in Maison Bon Samaritain talking with Jackson. Since coming to Haiti I almost always wear sleeveless shirts for comfort reasons so a little bit of my back shoulders was visible. Jackson leaned around me and asked me, “Oh no, what’s this?” I already knew what he was asking about but I looked anyway and reached around to touch my shoulder. There are some pretty unappealing acne scars on my back perfectly situated to be seen by everyone. Many people in Haiti have pointed these scars out to me and asked if a mosquito or other insect bit me.
As always, I told Jackson not to worry, they are just scars. Joking, I said they’re ugly right? He laughed and agreed.
“I was worried Haiti did that to you.”
I reassured him that Haiti did not, in fact, give me acne scars and that Haiti has been an overall positive experience for me. A number of people told me that Haiti has been good to me and it truly has.
This comment from Jackson touched me and made me a little sad. As a citizen of the US, I would feel horrible if a visitor from another country had suffered in my country. It’s the same with Jackson and many other Haitians as well. They know all too well the challenges and insecurities their beautiful country faces every day. They understand that things are different elsewhere. They want people to see the good in Haiti, not just the tragedies that print in the paper.
Because of the multiple times people have commented “Ayiti fè w byen”, Haiti suits you well, I thought I would reflect a little bit on why Haiti has been good to me and how I have grown since coming here almost two years ago. I have two areas I would like to focus on: physically and mentally.
[I would like to preface this part by saying that it is health that is important, not appearance. And because I am living a healthier and slightly more balanced lifestyle, my appearance has consequently slimmed down some.]
One of the most notable ways that Haiti has changed me is physical. In the past, I’ve never been unhealthy nor overweight although I was on the slightly rounder side. Since coming to Haiti, I have definitely lost some weight. Some pants that used to fit me well require a belt to feel secure. My face is a little thinner as well as other parts of my body. But not thin in an unhealthy way. If you feel good and have energy, that’s healthy, it is not all about appearances.
Some of the contributions to this weight loss is a combination of quality, quantity, and variety of food as well as general exercise. The food is generally very unprocessed. There are no extra preservative chemicals entering my system aside from the occasional bit of ketchup or taco seasoning. The majority of the food I eat is very fresh. There is a lot of fried street food but I don’t often go out and eat that. So I have been eating fresher food (although I don’t eat nearly as many vegetables as I should).
In terms of quantity, I generally eat less now. At home, I love the food and there is a wide variety available. I tend to enjoy that variety a little too much and over eat. I tend to want to try a little bit of everything which ends up being a lot of everything. Here, while the food is tasty, there is a lot less variety. There are not a lot of different kinds of seasoning. In fact there is really only one main one that I know of. There is a lot of starch (potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains), rice (or maize or sorghum/millet but I prefer rice), and beans (usually as a sauce or cooked into rice). A lot of it is very similar so I don’t feel the need to indulge myself in multiple dishes since I know I will likely have the same thing the next day.
It helps that I don’t care for carbonated or alcoholic drinks too. I also don’t drink a lot of juice (and never have really) which is very common here. I love the fresh juice Haitians make but unfortunately my stomach doesn’t seem to love it in return. For awhile I compromised with watered down juice once a week but I can’t anymore. Other juices like Gatorade and Prorade have also given me problems recently so processed drinks are off my list as well. In the end it is definitely better for me.
As for the exercise portion, I walk a lot more. Never underestimate the power of The Walk. It is an underrated activity. I do not t usually work out and only do some minor stretching but there is a lot of walking done in my routine. It is certainly more than what I usually do at home.
Then I drink a lot of water so I am very hydrated. I hope I can maintain a lifestyle where I eat healthy food and remain active in wherever I might be in the future. And here I would also like a wish that all of you are healthy as well and are taking care of yourselves. It is very important to me that you all feel good and satisfied!
The second part is how I have changed mentally, and this is arguably more important than the physical. In conversations with some people, a couple of them said that I have matured a lot in my thinking. They say I seem a lot more comfortable with myself and experienced. I notice certain things too. I am a lot more relaxed and patient. Haiti has a looser understanding of time so I am less stressed about deadlines and timetables. People don’t rush around. Of course there are certain instances of that but overall, we take one step at a time, one day at a time.
I’m a lot more confident in myself and how I am with others. I am more accepting of others and the different ways people do things. Also, I take myself less seriously too. It’s easier to let go of little irritations and joke around so that I am a cheerful presence overall. There is always room for growth though and I am far from perfect.
There are many things I still struggle with, as is the human condition. I struggle with my faith but am experiencing a new aspect of it at the same time. Self-forgiveness and being kind to myself has been a tumultuous road, but one on which good progress has been made. I want to encourage all of you to, as a dear friend often tells me, “grace yourself”. It’s just as important to love yourself as it is to love others. Jesus told us to love one another as we love ourselves. That would imply that we love ourselves. By fully loving ourselves I believe we can fully love those around us as well.
Here is a short video I just watched on that actually! Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
And on that note, I wish you all a blessed Lent, warmer weather, and for good health and happiness. Remember to live joyfully! Remember to love your neighbor as yourself and grace yourselves.