Every morning on the way to school, one of the kids runs up and offers to carry my things. I gladly say yes and hand over my water bottle, Creole/English dictionary, and whatever else I am carrying for the day so as to free up all hand and arm space for pushing wheelchairs and leading the blind. As I was making sure the kids got settled in their respective classrooms, I turned around to a loud crack and the sound of many surprised intakes of air. My water bottle (a Nalgene, which for the record claim that their bottles are next to indestructible) had fallen and cracked open, spilling water everywhere. I calmly walked up, quiet out of surprise really, and picked it up to examine it. Thinking I was angry, the kids all started pointing fingers and placing blame as to who had broken it. The second bus had just arrived and so I was anxious to get back to my classroom to make sure the kids weren’t starting to get into too much trouble.
An hour later, a middle schooler was lead into my kindergarten classroom by two teachers. She tearfully apologized for breaking my water bottle. Overwhelmed by her tears, I said it really wasn’t a problem and tried to reassure her that I was not even remotely angry. When I walked back into the room, I saw that one of the kindergarteners had left one of the little packs of water they all drink on my desk.
This is an idea that Dr. Susan Nelson – long time volunteer and board member for St. Vincent’s – talked about recently in an interview. It is part of Haitian culture to share what they have, no matter how little they might have. It is why I am more often than not cajoled into eating too much, accepting the cookies, bags of the Haitian version of Cheetos, or even entire meals that they insist I eat no matter how full I already am. It is a means of showing their respect and appreciation for you – one of the highest forms of flattery in any culture – sharing with someone you care about.
It is not just for me. If I have chocolate to share, they all make sure I have enough for everyone, sometimes even asking for another to give to their friends or parents.
This sharing what they have is also why I have been spending the majority of my school days working on crafting masks, crowns, and little heart shaped bags out of paper for Carnival and Valentine’s Day that fall at the same time this year. Myrlande and Gamalene, the two kindergarten teachers I have gotten to know the best, insist that we make enough for all of the kindergarteners, their teachers, and all of the student residents living at St. Vincent’s. They use their time and money on the weekends to make sure we have enough supplies and chocolate to share with everyone.
In a country that purportedly has so little, it speaks volumes that their ultimate goal is always to make sure their friends are taken care of.