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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Shopping for Truth: Learning about the people of Haiti

Published: April 11, 2008
Section: Opinions

How many times a day do we complain about our lives? Now I know I’ve previously discussed this (Start Complaining, Start Living, 2/15/08), but here’s installment two in light of my most recent knowledge gained from my current French class.

I’m currently enrolled in Professor Jane Hale’s Francophone Literature class titled Haiti: Then and Now. Before taking this class, I had absolutely no idea about Haiti and its people, and realize now just how ignorant I really was. If you had mentioned the country’s name to me, I probably would’ve shrugged my shoulders and had absolutely nothing to say about the subject. In fact, the first day of class, I was somewhat embarrassed to have very little to say when we had to write down what we knew about Haiti. But not anymore! After several months of exploring the literature, art, history, and culture of Haiti, I have a newfound appreciation for it.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned from taking this class, it would have to be the fact that it is so important to step outside of your comfort zone and explore new things, new countries, new subjects, etc. As a primarily language-oriented person, I’ve usually stayed and intended on staying in my comfort zone in many ways. I always figured that since I knew what I wanted and what subject matters I was interested in (French, Journalism, and American Studies), that it would all fall into place somehow and I wouldn’t have to bother with anything outside of that realm of academia. Never mind any undesirable subjects like science.

Let me tell you something about myself. I hate science! I have nothing against it theoretically speaking, but in practice, it’s just never been my thing. I don’t have a science brain you could say, and shudder when I think about balancing an equation or leading a lab. So I’ve always known that I would never pursue a science major. Not to say that science isn’t good, on the contrary, I admire the people brave and competent enough to pursue a major in this field. More power to them! But it’s just not my thing.

But writing and speaking French always has been so I figured I’d just stick with that. Now I know that taking a French class is going to seem like staying in my comfort zone, but it hasn’t been that way because I’ve never really been an extremely politically or internationally-aware person. Sure, I’ve taken history classes and all and have learned a lot, but somehow taking a class dedicated to a culture entirely different from my own, and in the language that they speak there has been a true learning experience.

I have learned to appreciate the beauty of Haitian art and the spirit of community that the poetic literature we’ve read represents as tantamount to this culture. In addition, voodoo had never even been on my radar until reading literature and watching films about its’ prevalence in Haiti.

Most touching to this whole experience has been the understanding that I have gained regarding the devastating poverty touching Haiti. As my research paper topic, I decided to write about the history and present effects of poverty in Haiti. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti suffers from unimaginable poverty, worse than any of our fellow American citizens.

Yet the spirit of resilience in the Haitian culture I have seen through my reading and video viewing has taught me to appreciate what I have and how well off we all are to be living in a country where we have much more than others around the world. Sure, everyone’s freaking out about a recession in the United States, but do we realize how good we have it compared to other people? And yes, the US has been plagued with political infighting over the years, but I never realized how much political instability the people of Haiti had to deal with before taking this class. Gang violence, political coups, disease due to abject poverty-all in a day for both past and present Haitians. Yet, they persist. It just makes me think that we would do well to stop complaining a little and start looking to what problems we can help to fix other than the trivial personal ones we focus on on a daily basis.

And learning a bit of Creole has been so invaluable to understanding the Haitian culture through the second language other than Creole which Haitians speak. With the help of these basic building blocks of Creole we’ve learned, reading Haitian literature has been a discovery process, as I have been able to take what I’ve learned and apply it to reality concretely.

What is the point of this whole column, you ask? Simply to appreciate what you have and realize that there are other people out there who have it worse in some ways and yet, although they might be worse off economically in many ways, the people of Haiti are rich in cultural beauty. What can you do personally? Well, for starters, research Haiti, read up, and watch documentaries. And on campus, come on down to Schwartz Hall Gallery through April 30th to see select pieces of Haitian artist Fred Cadet on display.

Now to conclude, I’d like to say to all of my classmates in Fren 165: s’ak passé?