You probably should not write a post when you are disgruntled, but writing is cathartic and therapeutic, so I’m going for it! And the person I am writing about will understand this since he claims to be a writer, too. He also says that writing keeps him out of jail, distracting him from a variety of other unhealthy choices that men of lesser character in his circumstances use to find their daily bread.
I was babysitting yesterday, doing a lot of rocking and cooing with a three-month old. I love it, but when she is sleeping, which is often, I had a documentary going in the background. It was about the privacy we are all losing because of social media. That is not the direct cause of my mood at the moment, but it is connected so bear with me.
In all honesty, I bounce back and forth between feeling like I should protect my right to privacy and wondering if we would all be better people if the lack of privacy acted as a protective governor on our craziness. Not that I think a Big Brother, the church or the government should dictate how to behave, more in the way of allowing our own conscious to be visible to anyone at any time without any dark corners to be pulled into and talked out of being the best we can be. Perhaps if we learned from a very young age that our actions can have lasting repercussions on others around the world we would make more loving and purposeful choices. Too often, however, we don’t learn these important lessons until we are caught, by parents or teachers or some significant other person and our impact is pointed out to us in a disciplinary fashion.
We all know the truth of verses like Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and John 8:7 where Jesus says, “let any of you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.” Most of us can look in the mirror and see both our inner and outer flaws and imperfections. Sometimes, however, if another person could really look at the heart (like God can – I Sam 16:7) what looks like a bad choice may actually have been the best and most loving choice in the situation.
So, back to the point. Why am I disgruntled? I am trying to decide if I have been played for a fool. I cannot see into another person’s heart or read their motives without conjecture. I never want to write (I didn’t intend the pun – but it fits) anyone off, but I also don’t want to waste my time or resources.
Some years ago I went on a missions trip to Haiti. I was assigned a task to clean up an old desk in an office as part of a renovation. Simple enough. I was also given a helper, a young Haitian lad named G. He was fifteen or sixteen at the time. He’s now twenty-two.
Unfortunately, as happens in many orphanage and mission settings, locals often adopt an American. People in poor settings learn to become survival savvy. Children can perfect this art. By pecking order and other mutual agreement, the children in an economically distraught situation will divide the rich visitors among themselves to be their special friend for the duration of their missionary stay. The hope is that whatever material wealth is possessed by the visitor will be bestowed on the child at the end of the stay.
This is not anyone’s fault. The children (sometimes all the way to adulthood) have not been taught any different. Even if they are instructed not to ask for things, they can see immediately by a myriad of different signs that the visitors come from a land of plenty. The visitors, for their part, are often in shock at their first glimpse of true poverty. Overwhelmed by the sheer inequality of life, I have watched grown adults peel off their watches and leave their backpacks, clothing and new tennis shoes as a sign of friendship and solidarity. So, this weird relationship of taking and giving is created.
Having already worked in many impoverished countries, I had long since learned not to buy new clothing for a missions trip and just bring my normal stuff, which is not what anyone here in the States would call ritzy. I think there is a tendency for people to buy new clothes or shoes because our mothers drilled into us that when we are going on a trip, we should look our best and have clean or new clothing. A missions trip should be different, but often people still succumb to those old maxims. Packing my worn (and often favorite) clothing is my miniscule attempt to not make the disparity in economics looks even greater than it truly is by showing up in brand new clothing. Point of fact is that even the poorest of Americans is wealthy in comparison to most of the world. Another point of fact is that most Americans do not walk around in brand new white tennis shoes every day.
G could probably tell by my clothing and lack of luggage that his prospects were limited. He also was not your typical mission compound child. His mother was employed by the organization and he attended school outside the orphanage. We talked in his limited English and my non-existent Creole as we worked together. He stayed in the room, but not always with the task. He was chatty and knew who to ask or how to find the tools I needed to scrape and sand the desk. That was all. He shadowed me around the compound. He asked about my family. I showed him pictures. I never gave him money or gifts. I did give him my email and FB information.
G sends me FB texts almost everyday. He is persistent, relentless. He tells about his mother, his siblings. Sometimes they are sick. Life is not easy in Haiti. His opportunities are limited.He tells me I do not understand. He asks for money. He tells me I can send it Western Union. I do not. I tell him it is inappropriate to ask. I correct his English and tell him he should call me Mrs. M and not Mom. I tell him that he should help his mother around the house and do well in school.
At seventeen he complains that he has to get up before dawn to go to school. He says that often he goes all day without eating. I wonder how and where he gets the money to be on the internet. He tells me friends help him. I tell him to be grateful for the opportunity to have an education and to work hard at his studies.
When he is eighteen, G says there is no money to continue school. Please can I help. I am going on a mission to Port au Prince. It is far from where he lives, but if he can get there, my husband and I will give him the money for school. He gets there. I am uncomfortable to have this large young man putting his arms around my shoulders for photos. My husband is there, so I hope for his confirmation or hesitation. He doesn’t know. We give him the funds for school. He uses some funds (did he have any previously?) to buy new clothes (to make you proud, Mom) and souvenir gifts for my family.
Now it is a year later. he still has not finished school. Even as I write this I am feeling like a naive idiot. And I shouldn’t be, I’ve been doing this work for 30 years and consider myself a good judge of character. G is hard to read. Life in Haiti is difficult. Opportunities for young men without education are limited. These things are true.
I have given him very little despite his dogged persistent over the past seven years. He is clingy and immature, even on social media. Our longest communications have been on FB. So, how can I even make a decision? Do I continue to dialog with this individual? Do I ignore the little notice jingle and move on to other business at hand as if he is not a human being living in a very difficult place reaching out for hope? Does he really want to be a writer? Or has he insidiously leaned how to read off of other people’s FB pages what their interests are and then try to use that as an emotional opening?
I am physically safe from this individual many plane hours away. How do we use social media, allowing ourselves to be public and vulnerable, and remain emotionally safe? How do we tell the difference between being emotionally safe and not wanting to take on added responsibility? Right now I don’t have answers. I just keep coming up with more questions.