Let’s face it.  I’m no stranger to being a minority… and no, I’m not talking about my last name.  Or the fact that I played French horn in high school (oh yeah… babe magnet). 

What I mean is that I’ve spent a lot of time traveling in developing countries around the world. And because of my skin color (somewhere between light tan and Nordic cave-dweller white), I tend to stand out.

I’ve been stared at, laughed at, stared at, pointed at and stared at.

But over time, I’ve come to realize that not all the stares are simply because of my skin.  Here in Haiti, for example, blans do a lot of really weird things… “Why is he rubbing white cream all over his arms?”  “Why is he taking little plastic discs out of his eyes?”  “Why is he talking in that weird gibberish language instead of Creole?”

Combine all that with my own lack of understanding when it comes to cultural norms and customs, and you can see where the potential for misunderstanding creeps in.

That’s why I’ve created a handy 5 step guide to being blan in a Haitian tent village.  The next time you find yourself at the receiving end of a bunch of confused stares in a developing country, perhaps this will help you know what to do…

If only all the kids here gave me smiles…

Enjoy!

Step #1:  Face it.  You do look a bit like a ghost.

Ok, so it came as a bit of a surprise the first time a Haitian child shrieked in terror at the sight of me.  I’m usually pretty good with kids! 

But as we sat outside our tent one evening and a toddler walking by with his mother screamed and grabbed onto her legs for dear life, I realized that something was up.

Looking at it from the little one’s perspective though, I was a strange new person, my pale face was illuminated by someone else’s swaying flashlight and I did have a headlamp beaming like a monstrous third eye on my forehead.

On top of that, it probably didn’t help that I spoke in a scary weird alien-language he had never heard of (i.e. English)… “Gloorp!  Freoz neex law, fuumach?  Nexh, plorg wtawn!  (Translation: “Hi! How are you, buddy?  No, don’t run away!”)

All that to say, if you’re staying in a tent village miles from the next nearest white person, do your best to meet the little ones during the day… :)

The filthy stream I jumped across (rather than be carried by my interpreter!).

Step #2:  Swallow your pride

Haitians seem to really care about my well being.  Usually, this manifests itself in wonderful hospitality.  But sometimes the things they do for me make me wonder who exactly they think I am.  Very often I just have to swallow my pride and move on.

For example, one person showed me how to put a toilet seat down (“Gee, thanks…”).  Another began telling me to watch out for every rock or obstacle in the road after I briefly stumbled on a piece of rubble (“Oh, yeah.  Thanks.  I didn’t see that gaping hole in the road up ahead”). 

And then there was the time we had to cross the sewage-filled stream to get to Denis’ old home.  We approached the edge of the embankment, looked down and noticed that the water level was higher than usual.  We wouldn’t be able to walk across the stones usually jutting up from the water.

After a few moments of silence, Denis said, “I’ll carry you.”  To which I replied, “No way!”, climbed down to the stream and jumped across the water.

Hanging out with some guys in a tent camp. Early in the morning and you can already see the ocean of sweat forming on my shirt.

Ok, so maybe sometimes your pride might be just a bit too hard to swallow…

Step #3: Plan on sweating… a lot.

I’ve never sweat as much as I have on this trip.  Daytime.  Nighttime.  It doesn’t seem to matter. 

In the heat of the noonday sun, with temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees, I have regularly been drenched head to toe by my sweat.  When my shirts finally dry, they’re covered in streaks of salt.  At night, in our 90 degree tent, I wake up to flip my pillow around from the hot, wet side to the cool, wet side. 

I mean, I think we can pretty much scientifically conclude that male sweat does not release attractive pheromones, because if it did, I would have all the ladies in the Western hemisphere lined up for a sniff.

All that to say, plan on getting a few raised eyebrows when your Haitian hosts are calmly remarking, “It’s getting rather warm, wouldn’t you say?” and you’re dripping like an uber-nerdy sweat-beast from the planet Perspirotron 5.

Which brings us to the next step…

Step #4: Don’t drink the water.  Or… Spend several years traveling to third world countries until your stomach laughs in the face of intestinal parasites.  Either one will work.

Trying to take cover from the heat in the early afternoon. My options: in the sun with a breeze or in the shade with no breeze. Pretty much a lose-lose situation.

When I first started travelling, I took all the standard advice literally.  I kept my mouth tightly closed in the shower, I awkwardly brushed my teeth with a giant Nalgene in one hand, and I even avoided eating vegetables that could have been washed in the local water supply.

Nowadays, however, my attitude toward water is a bit more relaxed.  When I’m sweating and parched (see Step #3), I don’t always have time to go looking for a bottle of Perrier.

Since coming to Haiti, I’ve taken swigs from a random hand-pump in the village of Chambrun, sucked down water from a ton of small plastic bags (pulled, I should add, from grungy sacks resting on top of the heads of random water sellers on the street) and once politely drank from a cup of water offered to me that could have come from anywhere.

Somehow, miraculously, I’m still perfectly healthy.

And besides, whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, right?*

I may stand out when I’m with the Dazmas, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel perfectly at home!

*Well, I guess unless it causes me to be violently ill, bedridden for a month and moaning in agony as my intestines try to eat their way out… That probably wouldn’t make me stronger.

Step #5: Just go with the flow

The fact is, if you’re a blan in the middle of a Haitian tent village, you’re going to stand out.  You’re going to be weird.  You’re going to be the butt of a whole lot of jokes that you’ll never understand.

But as long as you’re willing to be flexible and to just go with the flow, you’ll make it through the experience in one piece… that is, unless your sweat glands die of exhaustion and fall out of your body.

But you know what?  For a life-changing experience like this, I’d gladly take that chance…

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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. Chrissy said... 

    Reply

    September 13th, 2010 at 10:02 am  

    I’m really enjoying your pictures, Barry! Hope things are going well!

  2. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    September 13th, 2010 at 10:50 am  

    Note to self…never travel to Planet Perspirotron 5? Glad you are finally learning how to put a toilet seat down. Your future wife will be thrilled.

    Do we need to get your French Horn back?

  3. Amy Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    September 13th, 2010 at 11:34 am  

    LOL–your Dad picked up on the two things I did: 1) French Horn (wait until Tucker reads this, as a fellow hornist) and 2) planet Perspirotron. Few people would dare post photos of their sweaty t-shirts or admit to playing the King of all horns . . . another brave-not-safe moment. Love it!

  4. Barry Rodriguez said... 

    Reply

    September 13th, 2010 at 12:12 pm  

    Hah, Amy… You’re right. Come to think of it, people don’t usually post photos of themselves in sweaty t-shirts.

    (Or post videos of themselves 5 minutes after waking up in the morning, as you’ll see on Wednesday!)

    Maybe that seminar I attended on “How to Get a Girlfriend by Being as Gross as Possible” was a sham after all… :)

  5. Maeven said... 

    Reply

    September 13th, 2010 at 4:51 pm  

    Hilarious, Barry. Loved it.

  6. Jim M said... 

    Reply

    September 13th, 2010 at 7:04 pm  

    I agree with Your dad on the toilet seat, and prefer a no to the french horn.

  7. Emily Cox said... 

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    September 14th, 2010 at 4:10 pm  

    How accurate. LOL – I love this.

  8. Erika said... 

    Reply

    September 15th, 2010 at 9:59 am  

    Not sure how I missed this one… laughing out loud at my desk! Excited to sweat it out with our Haitian buddies in a few weeks. :) Holla at ya, French Horn boy!

  9. Tucker said... 

    Reply

    September 16th, 2010 at 9:55 pm  

    I play the horn too! I love it and you’re right about it being a chick magnet :). See you at Church! :)

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