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How does someone whose skin has been described as “translucent, ghostly, and slightly phosphorescent” deal with the intense Haitian sun? Well, let me tell you: I find it difficult to blend in playing laser tag because my skin glows in the dark, and had an even trickier time blending in while in Haiti.
There is a word for “white person” in almost every culture. In Kenya, I’d be a mzungu. In Mexico, I’m considered a gringo. If I’m in India–people would just assume I’m British. The word for white person in Kreyol is “blan”. I took blan to a new level…blan squared.
It’s not enough to apply my SPF 45 sunscreen once an hour; the adorable Haitian kids have an obsession with rubbing my arm hairs and then smelling their hands. For some reason they can’t get enough of the combined scents of sweat and sunscreen. And, to top it off, the kids all think it’s hilarious.
Now that I’ve survived the Haitian sun, here are some tips on how to beat the heat:
- Wear a turtleneck everywhere you go. Sure, the average high temperature in Haiti in November is 92 degrees, but I heard the beatnik craze is about to sweep through the country in a big way.
- Carry an umbrella. I’m kind of a pessimist and I briefly considered joining the Boy Scouts in second grade, so I like to carry around an umbrella at all times. If someone stares at you strangely while you’re staying shady, just reply, “Looks like rain!”
Get a great hat. Thankfully, my wife bought a great hat for me in preparation for the trip that contained UPF 50+. I don’t even know what that means, but it kept me from coming back lobster-red. Plus, the Indiana Jones look gave me a boost of confidence just in case we came across any maniacal, evil genius in search of an ancient relic.
- Wear two turtlenecks. If you’re a blan like me, you can get a pretty brutal sunburn through one turtleneck. Two turtlenecks will make for a big sweatfest, but I don’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
- Pray for a solar eclipse. The last total solar eclipse in the U.S. was in 1979 and the next one is scheduled for 2017. There’s a chance we’ve overlooked the next one and could have a surprise eclipse. It could happen.
- Say no to sandals. They’re a death wish. Not only do you have to fend off attacks on your ankles from tiny little devil ants, but you could end up with feet looking like candy cane stripes. My solution? Ugg boots.
Now, those tips may not be super-practical, but they’ll keep you safe from harmful UV rays.
Despite my uberblanness, the people of Chambrun welcomed me with open arms. I will not forget Jestin, Zilannu, Mackendie, and all the other people in the village who manage to get by on an average of $100 US per year.
They have a gentle and steady courage that I can only hope to someday attain. I want to extend a personal thank you to all my friends in Haiti who didn’t look away when the sun reflected off my blazing white skin into their eyes.
About the Author: Curtis is a journalist and board member with World Next Door. He graduated in 2003 with a bachelors in religious studies from the University of Oklahoma. He has a strong desire to see the local church engage in issues of social justice.