Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mangoes In The Teeth

Being in Haiti during mango season means learning to floss on a daily basis, it also means learning to check yourself.

Cultural mindsets can be a bit tricky to walk around. Some I need to let challenge me, some I need to learn how to challenge, and some I need to keep my mouth shut about. I'm not a sociologist, I don't hold any culture immune to criticism. Sometimes we need to stand up and in the words of Mal from Silverado say, "That aint right." If I use western culture as THE standard of comparison then freely criticize me, I probably deserve it. Even if I'm right in the instant, there's something wrong if I can't find a higher standard for support.

Watching kids throw mangoes at trees to knock other mangoes to the ground... then leave them there because they'd rather not walk in the mud to get them, is something I need to keep my mouth shut about. Sure it's wasteful, maybe 1 in 4 actually gets eaten, but there are a freak-ton of mangoes (this is a scientific term) and there just aren't enough people to eat em all. Saying "Hey, the way you've been doing this all your life isn't a good management of resources." Is like criticizing a Grizzly at the height of the salmon run for only eating the brains and skin, it only makes me look like and idiot and the principle of the matter isn't that great of a hill to die on.

I was talking with a pastor friend and he made the statement that in ten years the situation in Haiti would be better. I asked him what was going to happen that would make things better. He thought about it for a bit then said, "If we don't improve things ourselves, America will occupy us." The strange thing is an American occupation fit into his concept of "things being better", hows that for an argument against neocolonialism? I told him he didn't want things to get bad enough for America to occupy, an earthquake and some nasty poverty wouldn't cut it. I mean, we didn't even interfere in Rwanda and that was before we scalded our hands in Iraq.

There are things that just aren't right, and not in the mangoes rotting sense. Corruption, abuse, oppression, mental and physical poverty, etc. deserve a reaction, they demand a response regardless the culture we come from or the one we are in. But those issues aren't unique to Haiti and we aren't free from them in America. When we react we need to do so with a higher standard in mind. Jesus seems like a good start, he acted independent of local politics, religious catchphrases, and cultural elitism. He didn't overlook the world around him, but he didn't limit himself to worldly solutions either. I'm trying to figure out what that looks like in my life, and God knows it'd be good to figure out what it looks like in Haiti.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Self serving comments about other self serving people

I tend to dislike awareness campaigns, the "I wear a bracelet because I know and I care" type stuff. It seems fairly self important and meaningless. What kind of idiot would I be if I walked around San Diego with a homelessness awareness bracelet and went to college groups talking about the issue rather than doing something practical for the people on the street. I found out today a friend of mine, one I lost track of years ago, finally died. I don't know if he died on the street, but I know he spent a lot of the last ten years there. A lot of us tried to help him over the years, but it seems his demons stayed with him longer than some of us who loved him yet couldn't figure out what to do. I was always sad I didn't know how to help him - sorry M.

I think Kony 2012 is different. Invisible Children isn't a perfect organization, but I have a hard time criticizing them when they do stuff no one else does. Are they potentially self important white guys who are trying to save Africa? Maybe, but that doesn't mean they are like all the others who have tried. I'd much rather have their track record than the UN's, that 1 Million T-Shirts guy, or a whole host of others who've had the good sense to stay out of the spotlight. In reality, there isn't that much you or me can do to stop Kony, and yes he should be stopped, regardless of where he's now operating or how much he's scaled back his actions. Almost the only thing we can do is get vocal, tell others, and make a noise our politicians can't ignore. Though there are no guarantees, the U.S. staying involved in the hunt for Kony is more likely to be productive than if we walk away, something we've done a lot of in the past. It might all turn out horribly, but it's not like the LRA isn't abducting, killing, raping, and destroying lives right now, so yeah, doing something might be better than doing nothing... at least for those yet to be abused and destroyed.

This chick has made a popular argument against what I just said, but she doesn't fairly represent the movie, IC, or the reality on the ground. LRA is a northern Ugandan issue, he never touched the south, and most all of his impact was in the Acholi tribe. So yeah, he isn't that big of a deal right now for a lot of people in Uganda, then again, there were a lot of people in Uganda that never cared too much about him or what he was doing.

The only real issue I have with Kony 2012 is that it might create the impression stopping Kony will fix everything, it wont. He's just one of many wicked little men doing everything he can to destroy lives and torment good people in East Africa, and for that matter around the world. Regardless of what happens to him, there are a lot of people who can use your prayers and actions, some of them probably won't be helped, but some of them will - I've seen them, walked with them, talked and cried with them, and shared their food. The "white man" can't save Africa, but brothers and sisters can help brothers and sisters regardless their history or the color of their skin.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

All that glitters is not gold

Haiti has the ability to make you think about things you really don't want to think about. It has the potential to reveal the best and worst in us. A few hours from the U.S. Haiti is the pet project of a massive number of NGO's and church groups, many of which were here long before the earthquake, and yet, Haiti is worse off than it was 30 years ago (not even counting the earthquake). This prompts the question, "What are we actually doing?" I mean, is Haiti the bleeding hearts Disneyland, it's need making us feel needed, so lets not worry about the deeper issues as long as there are orphans to hold? It's not intentional, most of us aren't bad people, but there is something ironic about criticizing TOMS for the negative impact their free shoes have on local economies and the way they help create dependent mindsets, while in the next breath talking about bringing donated sandals out for the at risk kids we work with.

In the last month I've seen massive organizations that do amazing work, I've seen micro organization that do everything they can for those in need, at great personal cost to those in charge. I've been the token white guy that enables kids to get food just because he is white and therefore "trustworthy" with the resources available, while at the same time seen locals refused those resources because the trend of selling food meant for orphans so the higher-ups get some cash has developed, or at least come to light. I've got local friends who say this, as well as much worse stuff, happens. I've been told of Haitian pastors going to America to raise funds for their ministries, and the orphans they take care of, only to spend the donations on private homes new cars and school for their own kids, with hardly a dime going to the kids in the pictures. Some lighter skinned missionaries are far from innocent of these and worse practices.

Money and good intentions are as likely to fix Haiti as a lack of action bolstered by indifference. A friend asked me what I would do for Haiti if I were the president of the United States. I couldn't answer him. I told him the truth, America can't fix things here. At the same time, we can help, we just can't do it in ignorance and with shaded glasses. If we care about God, and at least pretend to be Christians, when we read:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matt. 25:34-40

we shouldn't ask "What does this mean?" as if we were that stupid, but "What does that look like where I am?"

I wish I knew how to fix Haiti, I don't, I can't even fix myself. But I hope I can learn how to love God and love the people I'm around.