Lamontay, Haiti
View from Lamontay — J.O. Haselhoef
Lamontay, Haiti
View from Lamontay, Haiti. Photo by J.O. Haselhoef

“The government leaders don’t do enough for us,” one young man at the dining table said. 

Another said, “And when they do, they put it on our backs to pay.”

That was 2009, when my husband and I were in Lamontay, Haiti, volunteering with a local group. We joined the priest of the parish for dinner that night with five young Haitian men. A few of them were translating for us or consulting that week on Haitian culture and traditions. We knew the others from previous trips.  

The conversation became animated, and the nuances of their disagreement flew past me. When my husband could interject a word, he quoted John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” He wanted to make the point that Haiti needed them as much as they needed Haiti.

But Mike was 30 years their senior and from a different culture and country, and they were youthful — not fully aware of their responsibilities or their potential. Their conversation paused, as if two soccer teams waited for the ball to be in play before they took up their positions and engaged that new topic with just as much vigor.

I’m reminded today, as I receive and respond to my 20th text two days after the American election, of that night in 2009. The communiqués are from many of the same young men we talked to back then. They are now in their 30s and early 40s, with jobs, families and other responsibilities. 

Serge works for a nonprofit, has a family, and is a leader of a local community association — an excellent realization of John F. Kennedy’s statement. He wanted to know if I’d heard who was finally elected in the U.S. He noted, “the majority of Haitians are for Joe.” He, too, supported the former vice president, knowing that Biden would help the Haitians, who are part of the United States’ Temporary Protected Status.  

Voltaire supports his daughter and extended family with his work in manufacturing. He and I talked about the two presidential candidates for many months. He was watching the election’s slow counting process between his shifts and requested I text him state-by-state updates, which he passed on to other friends and family.

He reminded me that some Haitians, though not him, do support Trump as the Haitian Times story “Trump, Missing-In-Action With Haitians, Still Draws Handful Of Supporters,” explored this issue. It cited religion and family values as key reasons.

Flag-waving revelers and musicians during a Haitian celebration — Bailey Torres from Unsplash
Haitian celebration — Bailey Torres from Unsplash

Gabriel was not a person I expected to hear from. In 2007, he had helped as the translator in the pharmacy of the volunteer medical clinic in Lamontay. I had watched him make certain that patients understood how to get open the odd bottle with the child-proof cap. He waited calmly as the patient demonstrated their skills to him, once, twice, sometimes three times. He didn’t want them home with a bottle of medicine they couldn’t access. 

Gabriel continues to farm the family land and didn’t move to the city like many of the others in the dining room. He, too, helps his community through a volunteer association. Still, I thought his home and work might be too remote for him to care about the American election and its results. 

And yet, there on What’sApp at 7:12 p.m. one evening in early November, I saw his name, image and two words: 

Need Biden. 

And a few seconds later: I love his ideas.

Avatar photo

J.O. Haselhoef is the author of “Give & Take: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti.” She co-founded "Yonn Ede Lot" (One Helping Another), a nonprofit that partnered with volunteer groups in La Montagne ("Lamontay"), Haiti from 2007-2013. She writes and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *