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Posts Tagged ‘beauty’

Beautiful the word

Friday, April 21st, 2006

Leah Millis

All I could do was tell her she was beautiful. And she was. Her mother brought me in to the small room, revealing a skinny little girl, enveloped in sheets, curled up on a bed so big it seemed to swallow up her tiny body. Her dark skin contrasted with the white of her covers. Daylight filtered in from the window, providing the only light in the room. A glass of water sat on the floor next to the bed. I could hear the girl’s laboured breathing, and her mother watched anxiously as I sat down next to the girl, and struggled to find words. They thought I was a doctor. They told me she had problems breathing, had a bad cough, and sometimes she fainted. All I could do was tell her she was beautiful, and smile, and ask her name. She smiled weakly back, and I realized that in that sad smile, in her small, frail arms, and sick eyes there really was beauty.

As we passed hundreds of faces, bumping up and down a dirt road full of potholes and puddles, it finally hit me. We really were in Haiti. I felt out of place, almost a rude invader while we streaked through these people’s lives, stirring up dust behind us, the travelers on the road parting ahead, to let us through. Here an old man, with fifteen hats stacked high on top of his head. There a young boy leading his family’s mule, the animal weighed down with twigs and cargo. Every house, every naked child, every family we pass, all have stories. The thatched roofs and fences made with cactus, the lines of clothing hanging near by, the old women cooking by their fires all fill me with emotion. I search, and I grope for the right words to describe what I see, and the word that comes up the most is beautiful.

We arrived at our destination, and set up camp. All the children came to greet us, with their big white, beautiful smiles. It wasn’t a school day, so they all wore their own clothes. Some were better off then others—some boys had a belt, others did not, some had shoes, others did not. Their shirts and clothes were all second hand, usually with some recognizable logo, or something written in English. The children’s laughter rang out through the afternoon, and I was overwhelmed for a while trying to learn names, and allowing them all to touch my white skin, and my hair. Each smiled, and many of the little girls used my own word to describe me, as I used for them, “belle” they said as they examined my hands. One little boy with big eyes and a wonderful smile wore an old worn out sweatshirt, that maybe once was white, but since had turned grey. It hung loose over one shoulder, and the disparity between the old piece of clothing, and the pure, chocolate color of the boy’s remarkably clean skin was beautiful.

woman in haiti with poem

Since my arrival in Haiti, I realized that the meaning of such a common word in America had completely changed for me. The word became once again uncommon, and special— it lost its superficial feel. The meaning of the word had previously been warped, misconstrued, violated, and utterly tainted. In America, the word has been used to describe giant mansions, unnaturally skinny movie stars, and pretty sunsets over the mountains. I realized that the mansions, the movie stars, and the sunsets did not deserve beautiful. Such a sacred word meant more to me now then something that was simply aesthetically pleasing. The surface meaning had been broken, and the true depth of the word was being revealed to me. It was much like watching a stone disappear into the darkness of a deep pond after having been cast in, the ripples upsetting the flawless surface.

Beautiful was in the sad conditions of the houses with rusted tin roofs, beautiful was in the hundreds of lines found in the faces of the elderly, lines etched by the sorrow of time. Beautiful was in the eyes of a mother who had five children, and no food to give them. Beautiful was in the face of a young man who looked like he hadn’t eaten in three years, but still smiled as I wished him a good day. Beautiful had been written in the songs, and in the souls of these people. Beautiful described the brightly colored graves, and the happiness seen in their luminescent white smiles. Beauty emanated through the night when the stars shone, as the warm breeze tickled the palm trees silhouetted by the moon.

I watched the little girl as she lined up with the other school children in her loose-fitting uniform, with the newfound knowledge that her cough was caused by asthma. In America, it was an easily treated problem—in Haiti, a constant plague and hardship. Especially for a skinny little girl who just wanted to be able to run and play with the other children. But despite her affliction, she smiled, and laughed with the other girls. And though sadness gripped my chest, and crept up my throat, all I could think was that she was beautiful.
And she was.

Beautiful pain in Haiti

Friday, March 24th, 2006

Geoff Cooper

geoff cooper with a haitian boy

  • World’s poorest western country
  • 9,000 UN troops
  • 10 kidnappings everyday
  • Life expectancy at birth = 49 years

It was a full on trip to a country that few of my family wanted me to visit! The current political situation is “highly unstable” - to put it nicely. A two-week trip to a town called Petit-trou, a mere 7 hours (90km) from the capital city of Port-au-Prince, on roads that few of us would recognize as such.

The first question that I was asked on my arrival back in NZ was “were you surprised at the level of poverty?”

Now for those who are not aware, the poverty in Haiti is among the worst in the world (it is, in fact, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere). The poverty is BAD, of that there is no doubt. But having worked in the area of poverty reduction and education, this was one of the few areas that surprised me very little. In short I knew what to expect. And I was so glad that I did not get caught up in the poverty of Haiti, because it would have been easy to miss what is so very rich about Haiti . . . Community!

I have always believed that is more than a word . . . it is a concept, a way of life, a process of connectedness between the people whom you live beside.

The way the Haitians made each one of us feel like family was the heart of Haiti. Connecting with people in spite of the barrier of language and culture. Connecting because you see hope in one another, connecting because you understand that this is what humanity is about! This is what Haiti is so very rich in. If anything, it should make us question the word ‘poverty’ and why we associate it with a financial situation, rather than a communal one (who would be the third world if community was our measurement of development?)
view of buildings in haiti
My one fear from my trip to Haiti is that I got more out of it than the very people who I was suppose to be there to help. It is sad to see such vibrant people melting away in the face of our global world. Effectively being lost among our headlines of celebrity. The truth is they have so much to teach us about fulfillment, about what life is all about. This country makes me question the values that I hold so highly in my life, yet unconsciously refuse to extend to other parts of the world. The country and these people ask heavy questions of my convictions.

There is one last point I wish to make, surrounding the currently sexy topic of International Development. Haiti has taught me the important lesson of what international development is actually about. Let me first say what it is not.

International development is not about turning Lusaka into New York and Petit-trou will never be Taranaki . . . nor should it be! Our goal cannot be to reform these countries into our cultures so that they become bustling centers of economic activity. Our goal is to give these people options! Where they can make choices that agree with their values and their culture; and I imagine that would be one hell of a place to live in. They have the community, and the hope and the stamina . . . all we need to give them is a fair system in which to work. Jefferson called it justice.

The following poem was written by my good friend Leah Millis, an up and coming photographer (as you can tell) who was part of the medical team to Haiti- her words are much more real than anything I could convey about this situation.

woman in haiti with poem