Friendships With Haitian Women


I’m constantly asked why or how is it that Haitian women aren’t catty, competitive, or don’t seem jealous with each other. Or sometimes someone may write me a long message about how they were surprised by a Haitian woman who prayed for them, or gave them something from the little she had, or who surprised them by giving one of the greatest gifts, a delightful intimate friendship. It’s kind of okay to stereotype and generalize on this one. 
A friend recently told me that in some western cultures, women dress for women. Meaning some women dress to outshine other women. I had never heard this before and trusted the source but thought to myself, that’s gross and weird. But I’m sure not everyone does that, however, coming from a culture where we are encouraged to look our best (men in 3-piece suits in a hot church and women in high heels walking to church on a lengthy, dusty, rocky path) where women even share clothes, and make a big deal about helping one another look beautiful, it was difficult to wrap my brain around competing with our style of dress. Women sit on porches styling each other’s hair and doing each other’s makeup for an event. Women in Haiti appreciate one another’s beauty and encourage it. This goes for Haitians living abroad, the diaspora. My relatives didn’t like when I walked out the apartment like I just threw something together. It was embarrassing to them. We have joy in seeing one another look beautiful. We have joy in seeing one another being successful, doing well with education, and growing spiritually. The down side is the turning away of people from the church who don’t have nice clothes. Being too stern with the child who has problems learning. Praising individuals in the Body as though they are better because they may know more about the Bible or have an “important” role in the church. 
Most Haitian women aren’t competitive because it’s a helping culture. If one woman does well she will naturally begin to help the other. We praise what we see God doing to bless the other. It is as though we share in all the good things that are happening although it is not happening directly to us. You have to remember that the Haitian culture is one of giving, lending, borrowing, loaning, and general helping. In fact, many foreigners say the negative is the lack of using “please”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome”. Haitians don’t feel a need to use those terms frequently with each other because it’s seen as a polite interaction with an acquaintance as opposed to an intimate interaction with family and friends. If I’m constantly helping Marie-Marthe with her laundry and she helps me with meal prep, I’m not needing to say “thank you”. Our level of intimacy allows us to know the feeling is mutual. I always say life in Haiti is hard. There’s not a lot of time for reassuring each other that they love each other, the proof is in the actions and not the words. I’m not saying this is the right way, I’m stating facts only. 
Also, there is a natural physical affection one woman has toward the other in Haiti. Many of you notice men walking hand in hand and women do this also. You will see women sitting on each other’s lap on a taptap (public transportation) or talking right up against each other’s faces, talk about space bubble invasion! My sister and I would sit on each other’s lap and give an affectionate cheek bite, something that I learned (the hard way) is viewed quite differently in other cultures. When I was in Kenya, however, I saw the same level of intimacy, men with men and women with women. A dear Haitian friend once said that maybe it’s some of the things people watch on TV or at the movies that pervert their minds so that they don’t see relationships as they ought. I don’t know if there is truth in that but I am quick to admit that I believe every culture has its issues. 
Some Haitians have issues with public display of affection between couples. This view is changing but there are some places where if my husband wraps his arms around me and kisses me they may think that’s inappropriate. This was a favorite lesson in a marital class that we did one summer. We asked the men to kiss their wives…a romantic Frenchkiss. While there was a lot of giggling and even tension during this teaching on physical intimacy both private and public, not one couple left without holding hands and several of them came to church holding hands the following Sunday and one man even picked up his wife and carried her into the church for all of us to see and laugh with them about. However once in the church building the men went right back to sitting on one side and the women on the other, might I add that that was inherited from the teachings of the missionaries of old. 
Remember, every culture has its issues. While Haitian women are incredibly relational there are things that every woman struggles with. I hope this quick post sheds some light on the topic. 

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