We have mentioned the word blan in some of our past blog posts, so I thought I’d expound on this a little bit today.
Blan is the Haitian Creole word for “white”. When I arrived in Haiti for the first time just over a year ago, I was unnerved by everyone stopping and fixating their eyes on us. However, blan doesn’t just mean white, as a reference to the color of our skin. It equates to “foreigner.” Many often come to Haiti and other countries with an expectation of instantly bringing about change which unfortunately is not feasible. We often come with good intentions, but with a lack of understanding of the culture.
As Peter Davis talked about a few blogs ago, it’s a fine line between balancing aid work and perpetuating undesirable habits. A frequent exclamation from children and adults alike is “Ba’m bagay,” or “Give me something.” As a force of habit, many Haitians have been raised to ask for anything you’re willing to part with. While it’s easy to say no to requests for phones and cameras, pleas for food or water pose a strange moral dilemma for blans. Of course we would be happy to give water to someone who may have a need for it, but we have been discouraged against such actions as we do not want to form a reliance on this kind of charity. Instead, we must stick to our goal of improving the quality of the coffee and shade trees we have provided. While not immediately beneficial to them, focusing on developing healthy agroecosystems will provide long-term food and economic security to Bois Jolie.
An extremely important part of us being here is establishing relationships with the farmers and those around where we are staying in Cange that aren’t grounded in fulfilling requests for food and money. Long after I graduate and finish my part in this project, Sewanee students, students from other colleges, and aid groups will continue to come to Haiti to provide assistance in any way possible, which is why forming healthy relationships with our Haitian partners is essential.