Just about every aspect of life in Haiti is different and more complicated than at home. I thought I’d share with you a few activities of daily life here to help you get a feel for the culture.
Electricity – In Haiti there is city power, but someone (nobody really knows who) decides when to turn it off and on. It may be on for six hours per day, or ten, or none. It may be on in the middle of the night or from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Every day is different, and we never know when we will have it. We are very lucky in the guesthouse to have back-up power sources such as batteries and a generator. This means we will almost always have some type of power. Most people in Haiti are not as lucky as we are.
Getting gas – Going to the gas station is one of the most overwhelming experiences for me in Haiti. As you inch your way in, there are at least 10 people coming up to your window either wanting to exchange money, sell you something, wipe off your car, beg for money, or finally, fill up your gas tank. There is no building that you go inside and pay – just a person at each pump who fills it up for you. We have been told to be careful, as they will often try to give you less gas than you paid for.
Going to the “bank” – Well, we still have our money in our bank account in the States. But we brought US dollars with us, and have to exchange it for Haitian money on a regular basis. You can do this at several places, first being the chaotic outdoor market. You really need to speak Creole well to go there and get a good exchange rate, otherwise if you are white, you will probably get ripped off. Option B is to do it at a little building on the streets. The only problem here is that they take your money through a little slot, and then give you Haitian money back through the slot. Whatever they give you is what you get, seeing as though they already have your money in their hands, and you can’t really get it back if you don’t like their exchange rate. You can try to argue and may be successful sometimes. You can also exchange money in the grocery store, but you pay for a more protected environment. The exchange rate is lower. Finally, you can do it on the streets. There are people with big wads of money everywhere trying to get you to change money with them. This is probably your best option, as you have the control, and can say no to them if you don’t like what they give you.
Shopping for groceries – There are actually grocery stores that resemble ours in the states. The difference is that they are much smaller, and have mostly foreign brands that we don’t recognize. There are several of them around, and you have to know which products you can get where. For example, there is only one that sells tortillas, another has cheaper cereal, and another may have powdered mash potatoes. The funniest thing to me is that when you check out, if you are using American money, it has to be in perfect condition – not a fold or tear or anything – or they won’t accept it. This is funny because the Haitian money is often very dirty and falling apart. Also, they have about a 2 foot “conveyor belt” at each check-out, but it doesn’t move. So you just keep sliding your groceries forward J
These are just a few activities of daily life that we are trying to get used to. It makes me realize how much I took for granted all the conveniences back at home. It is a constant struggle not to long for those things, and to remember that the reason we are here is not to be comfortable, but to serve Christ where he has called us.