Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The thing I hate about Haiti

If you have ever traveled to Haiti with me, or heard me talk about my travels in Haiti, then you have heard me talk about the things I love here: the hope, the joy, the stripping away of excess, the beauty of the mountains, the children’s smiles.   Chris calls me an optimist.

Haiti has her dark side, too.  So often, visitors here can only see the dark: the want, the need, the desperation, the lack of education, the chaos.  I see all of these things- I always have.  I’ve just been able to see the beauty as well. 

But, there is one thing I just hate about this place.  I hate the beatings.  In the last week I have witnessed so many children being smacked, slapped, spanked and outright beaten.   Toddlers are smacked on their hands and legs.  Preschoolers and children are whipped with belts, cords, or switches torn from the tree and de-leafed while the child watches. 

It disgusts us.  One 5 year old girl was beaten for ‘playing games with boys.’   Another, for not wearing underwear.  A 2 year old boy was hit on the legs with a stick.  For what, we don’t know.    Every day, children wait in a row in the principal’s office (which is right below our room) to receive measured smacks on their hands with a 1/2inch PVC pipe.

Not everyone beats the children (Pastor and Madame Kesnel are more likely to have a child kneel facing the wall) but, everyone condones it.  One older boy here who speaks fairly good English said that “if you don’t beat them they will just go wild.”    It is accepted as normal.    

I am powerless.  There is nothing I can do.  I shield my own children from witnessing it, but there is no denying the sound: the swish through the air, the smack against a child’s skin, her wail of pain.  Sometimes it repeats 7,8, 9 times.  I do all I can to not throw up.

I would love to hate the women- it is almost always the women- who dispense these blows.  But, I can’t.  I can’t hate them- I pity them.  They have never known any other way.  Could they number the beatings they have received in their own lives?  Has anyone ever given them love and tenderness, and invested the time and energy to encourage good behavior or thoughtful self-discipline in them?  Probably not. 

I think of the times, when, in my own fit of frustration and/or exhaustion I have lost my temper with my children.  I think of that moment when I can’t bear another irritation, another infraction, another complaint, another argument.  I snap.  I lash out, not with my hands, but still in anger.  Am I that much different from these women?  I have the blessings of plenty, of education, of knowing and sharing love and trust, of hope for the future.  I also have other outlets for discipline- I can restrict privileges, charge chores, or simply express my disappointment.   Yet, still sometimes anger wins.

In this place, where tenderness is scarce, where children have no privileges to restrict, where there is little bond between the women and the children they are paid to care for, where centuries of abuse and punishment have been endured, it is no wonder that the children are beaten.  But, I still hate it.