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The Hat Makes the Man

The rise and fall of my reputation as an American cowboy

By Brad Miller

One of the best ways I’ve found to break the ice in a new community is to entertain the kids. Barry does magic tricks, I’ve done juggling, but my visit to Chambrun called for something special – it was time to let them try on my hat.

BAM-3218 smallMy hat is very dear to me. It has been with me since my very first World Next Door trip to South Africa. But so many Haitians had commented on it, I knew the best way to make friends in Chambrun would be to let the kids try it on. Boy, did that work!

Kids were smiling. I got some great pictures and new friends. Everybody wins. Right?

Well, maybe there’s one downside.

It wasn’t long before my unofficial name was “the American with the cowboy hat”. And of course, if you have a cowboy hat, people assume you can do cowboy things, like ride horses.

I never bothered to correct this assumption. If wearing the hat everywhere was mistake number one, this was mistake number two. But how could a harmless little assumption like that ever come back to bite me?

It all came to a head (no pun intended) on my last day with my host family.

Someone mentioned they needed to go fetch water. I asked if I could come along. They seemed unsure as it was kind of far away and past the safe boundaries for white people. But it was decided I could come part way if I liked.

“Sure!” I replied, determined that my final impression with my host family would be one of helpful service.

With that agreement to come along, my fate was sealed. I was briefly confused when they left in the opposite direction of the river, but my hosts soon returned leading a pair of donkeys.

BAM-0967 smallApparently, big trips like these are taken riding a donkey.

Just like that, my proud cowboy image was doomed. I had not ridden a donkey before. I had NO idea what I was doing.

I could try to describe my failed attempt, the laughter of Haitian children, and the complete destruction of my reputation as a cowboy, but sometimes words can’t quite capture those moments. Fortunately, we have a video.

I may have lost my rank as a cowboy, and I don’t think I’m going to be remembered as helpful. But if I’m lucky enough to be remembered at all, I think this little incident guarantees I’ll be remembered with a smile. And that’s good enough for me!