Maybe the Explorers got Something Right

The good news about my new job is that it provides me with regular and somewhat frequent international travel, which provides fuel for my blog. The bad news is that the weeks surrounding my international travel are usually pretty busy, which means that I don’t actually get to post until about three weeks later (such as this time).

About three weeks ago I returned from Haiti. We were there running teacher training seminars in two separate cities, and were privileged to interact with almost 100 Haitian teachers in each city that we worked in. We drove through gorgeous mountains and had breakfast by the beach overlooking Caribbean water. We also taught outside in some pretty sweltering humidity amid random power outages and braved attack peacocks, so it wasn’t all fun and games.

As a Caucasian who has spent a chunk of time overseas and an educator, one of the things that I’m always thinking about is how I am impacting another culture as an American. This is something that I had to carefully consider before I took a job that would lead me to directly impacting the education system of a third world country. It’s also something that I had to think a lot about when I moved to North Carolina (despite it being in the United States, it was actually a very different culture than what I had lived in previously). You can find an excellent description of why I feel this way here: http://cindywords.com/an-open-letter-to-missionaries/ .

Too often I see people in other countries who uphold Americans because they believe that American way of doing things is the best–because they are white and therefore must be rich and thus must have a quality of life to be coveted. They desire to follow the “American dream” because they believe it leads to material wealth and prosperity. In so doing, many of them leave their own countries and try to conform to an American way of life.

This trip, though, I met Pierre (which isn’t his real name, but since I try to avoid posting real names on my blog, we’ll call him Pierre). Pierre interpreted our training in the second location we visited. We weren’t actually sure if he would come, because no one could get a hold of him before the seminar. But come Thursday morning, there he was, tall, skinny, in a plaid button down shirt ready to go.

As we introduced ourselves to him, he told us a little more about himself–he had interpreted for similar events to ours before, and was also a teacher. He taught history (US and World History) and was currently in university. I’m not really sure how the school system works that a person can be in university and be a teacher at the same time, but there are a lot of things that I don’t really know how they work in Haiti, so I didn’t ask.

During lunch, I snagged Pierre and started asking him questions about teaching, his classroom, and Haiti.

“You know what the real problem that we need to solve in Haiti is?” he began. Inwardly I cringed a little. I feared that he would say that the country needed more American aid coming in, that they needed more money, or more American businesses.

“We need to want something,” he continued. “The Europeans who traveled across the ocean to the New World on their boats, they had a clear objective. They were working toward something. In Haiti, too often we just wait for things to come to us. We don’t work together to get anything.”

I paused. His analysis was never something that I had expected to hear during my trip in Haiti. Moreover, it was one that I had rarely given value to myself. Frequently as a social studies teacher, I had written off the early explorers and pioneers into the United States as narrow-minded and selfish given the way that they blatantly devalued native cultures. I prided myself in getting my students to see these people not through the lens of glorification that they are traditionally taught, but with a critical eye, challenging cultural assumptions about these people.

But as I listened to Pierre, I saw someone whose analysis knew this and considered this, but saw good in them anyway. And in so doing, he took a lesson from it that transcended culture and values. He was not saying that Haiti needed to be like America. Rather, he was saying that he wanted his people to build a country that they could be proud of, and in order to do that, they could look to other parts of history as examples.

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2 thoughts on “Maybe the Explorers got Something Right

  1. I love this perspective! As a descendant of people who ran for their lives into the freedom offered by another country, I loved the way you listened to Pierre. Good listening and good writing-thanks!

    • lowen17 says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I was hugely thankful to Pierre for helping me to see another perspective. I’m looking forward to working in Haiti again soon and learning to understand more.

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