We made it! After a 3 hour flight from Boston, I met Kelsey in the Miami airport and we boarded together for the flight to Haiti. We couldn’t have been in the air for more than 30 minutes, it felt like, before we touched ground in Port-au-Prince.
Luckily, we’d met up with another group traveling to Les Cayes in Miami and we found each other again in the airport in Haiti. As we waited for our luggage to arrive, we learned our first words of Haitian Creole to be used as we carried our bags to the van: “I do not need help.”
“Pas bezwe aide.”
As we drove the next five hours through city streets and up over the mountains I had lots of time to think about that phrase. Lots of time, that is, between short naps sandwiched between backpacks and suitcases.
“I do not need help.” It brings a lot to mind when you are traveling for a year to do service work.
When I visited this orphanage last year with a group from my school some of the kids asked us why we had come to Haiti. I think our bumbling response had been something along the lines of, “we want to learn from you and get to know you.” The reply we received caught us off guard at the time. One of the older boys told us, “Ok. You know, we don’t need help.”
“Pas bezwe aide.”
A completely fair response. Who are we to think we can “help”? If you want to get into a discussion of semantics, I don’t particularly like the word “help” anyway. I think it suggests the helper somehow has more knowledge or expertise than the helped. In reality, service work is not only a two-way street, but the person being “helped” knows a heck of a lot more about how to approach a problem than the “helper.” And that was a good reminder on our long drive to the orphanage.
And actually the “I do not need help” mentality contradicts how we’ve been living the past two weeks…
Kelsey and I ended up taking over the position of Guest House Managers a little earlier than intended in lieu of a family emergency. With our minimal training and desperate attempts to learn Haitian Creole as quickly as possible, we’ve needed a lot of help.
“N’ap bezwe anpil aide.”
And the Espwa family here has been more than willing to give it to us. We’ve learned so much from the people working here in these past couple weeks and even the kids have shown us a thing or two. Already we know some quick plumbing fixes, how to introduce ourselves and ask questions in Creole, where and how to get clean water, and how to fill out financial reports.
I really do feel like we’ve joined a family. Nobody needs help per se, but we’re all there for each other if ever there’s an opportunity to chip in.