It was like any other Christmas shopping marathon. Well, sort of. I left the house at 10am bent on getting it all done in one day. I had my mental map out of what stores I would hit in what order and what presents to buy in which. Nothing is ever totally normal in Haiti, but considering we had political riots shutting everything down only two weeks ago, it was pretty good.
Some things that struck me were the fact that all the cashiers at Eagle Market, where we buy most of our food were wearing santa hats with light up stars on the front. It was pretty corny really, and sitting right next to the guard with the semi automatic weapon just lent itself to a funny picture.
For the most part chocolate is out of the question. It is very hard to find Christmas MnM’s until April and even then, they have melted so many times that they have that chalky brown fuzz on them. So, no chocolate Santas or green and red MnMs on the list today.
I went to a store up in Petionville called “Interior Chic”. They have a guard with a huge rifle standing outside next to the kiddy playlands for sale. It is right across the street from a tent city of about 1000 people and I parked right in someone’s tent front yard while I looked for things for the kids. I had a great time. I found a cool puppet set for the kids and a little puppet theater. It was at least double what I would pay for it in the states, but I splurged knowing that that is just what things cost here. I paid for it all and was loaded up with my bags, happy with my purchases and then stepped out into the street to get in my car.
That’s when my heart dropped. You see, I wasn’t doing anything different than anything I’ve ever done my whole life. It is totally normal for us to spend and splurge and treat ourselves royally on Christmas (or any other day for that matter) and because it is so normal, we don’t notice. A small naked child was standing by my car. A pregnant mother was sitting in front of her tent hungry. Two kids jumped on my car to wash my windows for some spare change. A father, unemployed, was drinking. The tents are ripped and dirty. The situation is worse and not getting better. The poverty is staggering. And I was loading my car up with presents just like I have always done.
At Target, they ask sometimes if you want to donate $1 to this or that charity. Sometimes there are Salvation Army bellringers outside the store and we try to remember the less fortunate during our season of binging. But this was so different for me. I wasn’t watching a PBS special on children in poverty and desolation… I was living it. Bags in hand, they were in front of me.
“Can you give me one dollar” they say. I shake my head as I almost always do. You can’t give to everyone who asks of you here. It’s impossible to fill the void.. nor would it be particularly helpful. At least that’s what I tell myself. It certainly made me think and ponder for the drive home. I wish we all had it in front of us, how blessed we are, how excessive we are allowed to be.
Christmas as we know it is not “normal.” It is more than most people see in their whole lives. It is abundant. It is colorful. It is full of riches and beauty and music and parties.
I have no closing argument to this stream of thoughts. I want you, me, everyone to have a good Christmas. Period. I don’t want you to have to give that up, for my children to have to give that up. But I do want the naked child across the street in the tent city to have clothes, and food, and a good education and the very basic things that we have as fundamentals in our world. Merry Christmas to my very rich friends in America (because that’s what we are in comparison- VERY rich).. and Merry Christmas to the naked child in a post earthquake tent. May joy be found in all circumstances this year.