Watson listening to music on his cellphone. Dusk. Bois Jolie, Haiti. May, 2015. [photo: Pradip Malde]
When one is inundated in an alien situation it seems that the mind attempts to categorize the situation in terms of similarities and dissimilarities, the good and the bad, what is acceptable and what is not, etc. In my experience my mind attempts to make a black and white dichotomy out of the grey of a new experience. Inevitably I have done this with my first two weeks in Haiti. In an effort to make sense of my surroundings I have outlined the differences in my mind, which only serves to further the distance that I feel with this place. Of the many small and superficial contrasts, cellphones are one that comes to mind immediately. Every Haitian it seems, regardless of socioeconomic status, has a cellphone and cell service. Even in the mountain villages of the Central Plateau farmers have small cellphones in their pockets. This struck me as odd and wrong in its similarity to back home.
When I mentally prepared for venturing to a developing country I was expecting more bleak austerity. While there is some truly terrible manifestations of poverty here, the trappings of Western society are still jarring. In my arrogance of expectations I was disappointed to see people on their phones as they walked with the mules down from the mountains to the market. In my mind I had drawn the difference between the States and Haiti along these black and white lines of wealth and expectation. Upon examining myself I found that I had taken an unconscious pride in being in a destitute region with no modern amenities and nothing but poverty. In the good and bad categorization of my mind, my purpose would seem more noble in an area completely foreign from my normal surroundings.
Contemplating a simple thing like the use of cell-phones on mountain trails has made me consciously recognize a reality that I knew to be factually true; poverty does not fit neatly into our first-world categories. Everyone knows that there are always a multitude of factors at play in any situation, but for some reason we still resort to these stark generalizations, limiting poverty to black and white definitions.