Santo stands up and says,"I am tired of people saying Haiti is the poorest country. How do they even know we are poor? We are not that poor anyway. They just say that." I can tell he is hurt, confused and mad and I guess just tired of hearing this over and over again.
On this particular afternoon, I have asked the Hatien midwives what supplies they think we need and they tell me throw away blue chuck pads. Right now we use washable pads and a wide variety of folded up sheets, towels and blankets; all that are washed by hand and hung in the sun to dry.
I pause and ask where we would get such a thing and when they say the United States, I try to say it is too hard to get that many chucks here and besides there is not a good way to dispose of them. I think of the road sides and streams and beaches all covered with endless litter and sigh.
It is then that he says, "we are not poor."
And for days, I think about his face and how it would feel to have the world call you the poorest country in the western hemisphere, the one with the highest infant mortality, the lowest literacy rate and on and on.
I think how I worked with a woman once who use to say how bad it felt to grow up poor and I remember asking her how she knew she was poor. I said I supposed we were pretty poor but I thought I had everything in the world one could want. I was surrounded by creeks, fields,forests and friends. If there was something better I had no way of knowing. Later, when I could make a comparison I still thought of my childhood as rich with the best of so many things.
When I walk out into my Hatien neighborhood, I see the richness of Haiti. I try to see the world through the eyes of the children I meet. It is warm outside and they play games with friends who live close by in small village communities. They throw water from the pump on each other and laugh at dusk when its time for a bath. They cook and eat outdoors and enjoy an abundance of fruit from the trees around them. When it is dark, they go to sleep or turn on the soft glow of a kerosene lamp. The dirt roads are worn and familiar and everyone calls "bonjour" or "bonswa". On Sunday, everyone dresses up and walks to church and the mountains echo with their faith and their songs.
I see this world and I understand that it is hard to hear that this life; this life so rich with family, church and the sweetness of life is anything but rich.
I try to say that the world measures poverty by schools, health care and clean water; things they all deserve. But I say I also know that there is another way of viewing poverty; the ones of isolation, loneliness, fear and greed.
And I promise, Santo, when we measure wealth by love, generosity, resiliancy and faith you will never be called the poorest country. You may even be called one of the richest of all.