I went out in the dark last night to see what the church choir next door looks like. Turns out they are just ordinary people, and not even that many of them, but they make some beautiful music. Terrifically strong voices with wonderful harmonies.
I was standing there outside the church in the road when a young woman and some children came up and stood near me. I felt hassled by the woman, and she was saying stuff to me and about me, and they were all laughing at me. I didn’t handle it well; I should have just said “Bonsoir,” but instead I turned around in a full circle (as if they’d think I was doing voodoo and leave me alone) which just made them think I was crazy. They stared at me like I was a nut. I felt like a nut.
I went back and sat on the wall in front of the guesthouse. I felt an element of danger or at least potential humiliation (“What is she doing out here?”) being out there at night, but the guesthouse caretaker, Wilson (a local guy), was hanging out at the gate so I knew I was safe.
Some young men were along the wall, too, and they were talking to me: “Blond! Blond!” (White, white!), trying to get my attention. I was very uncomfortable, so I didn’t reply. Ilona and Laure drove up, and Wilson opened the gate so they could pull into the driveway; Ilona told the boys to not call me “blond.” It pisses her off when people do this. Then, I told the boys they were crazy (Vous est fou! Loco! [I threw in some Spanish.]). One of the boys said, “je n’est suis pas fou,” or however one says “I’m not crazy” in half Kreyol, half French. I felt bad because, again, I could have just said “Bonsoir,” and they were probably just trying to talk to a white person (which is often quite impossible). Can’t win ’em all.
I’m bored and losing energy and my desire to take action. Nothing to do here; I’m in the city, in a ghetto, and I’m almost broke. Laure said I could come up and visit her in the mountains where she’s working (on a water project, I think). Two hours by bus, then moto for an hour and a half. “There’s extra beds; you can come visit,” she said. I’m not going. I just don’t have the desire (or the bus and moto fare). I want to just get out of this fucking place and never come back.
Today Haiti is sapping my energy. I feel trapped. No sense to the place at all; no pleasure; no joy. For the first time, I heard a bird actually singing today. In the movie “Ghosts of Cite de Soleil,”I saw that there’s nothing green growing there, no nature at all. Must be very hard for those country people to live there.
Culture shock! I’m depressed and just want to eat cookies. Luckily, there are no good cookies in this whole country (I’m pretty sure this is not true) so I’m gorging on cane sugar syrup.
I’m doing nothing all day long now except writing and waiting to leave Haiti. I’m having vivid night dreams (I’m lost; the FBI is going to help me, etc.).
Laure said the people who live up in the mountains where her house is aren’t as poor as the people here in Port-au-Prince; they are farmers, and they always have food. They aren’t starving in the streets, like down here, she said; on the other hand, they don’t have schools or any of the comforts some of the city people have.
The electric wires up on the pole in front of the guesthouse are all frayed and taped and patched together. I don’t know how they work at all.
The sedentary life does not agree with me; it tends to disturb my sensitive digestion. I am currently experiencing an unfortunate absence of peregrination (noun 1. travel from one place to another, especially on foot. 2. a course of travel; journey). Therefore, I will entertain myself by provoking, amusing or possibly boring you with some verbal ramblings.
The world is a very cold place when people put their own families above everyone else. It’s a convention, an egotistical tradition, and so wide spread that almost no one questions it. While it’s natural to love those people whom you know best, in the subtly-coercive environment that characterizes most families, family bonding often ends up being considered normal even though it excludes most people and includes only those deemed worthy because of a genetic bond.
Putting one’s family first, above all others, reminds me of Stockholm Syndrome. (OK, this is a slight exaggeration.)
Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy, sympathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly 27% of victims show evidence of Stockholm Syndrome.
Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”
Battered-wife syndrome is an example of activating the capture-bonding psychological mechanism, as are military basic training and fraternity bonding by hazing
Family togetherness has intrinsic benefits for governments: it’s easier to control people who are dependent upon their families (for love, support, etc.). If a government controls the people you depend on, then it controls you. (Individuals on their own are notoriously hard to control.)
Strong family ties also benefit the weak, dependent individuals within the group. (I am not talking about disabled people or young children.) I am talking about the folks who don’t want to go out and find out who they are as individuals. I saw lots of these people in cultures where family ties are strong (like Latin America). The domineering parents control their children, sometimes for their whole lives. The benefits to such “jailers” is obvious, and the abusiveness of the relationship is overlooked and even encouraged. Such parents are widely respected; adult children who don’t respect this corrosive tradition are vilified.
In closed families, real love is only given to people who are related by blood. This is the height of vanity. Adopted children and marriage partners (people who are related by law) are often not considered to be part of the “real” family.
Many orphanages exist in Haiti; they are full of children who have lost their families. In the elite groups of insiders called the family, orphans have no place. Orphans don’t “belong” so they can never be truly accepted or loved. Family rules demand the rejection of outsiders; benefits are reserved for family members only.
If more people knew how it feels to be excluded, they would reject family bonding. They wouldn’t be so quick to champion their family above everyone else. Because most families are exclusive, closed institutions, Christmas is a cold time for many people. Families are private clubs for members only.
My ex-husband taught in private schools. (He still does.) These were places where very wealthy people sent their kids to get them out of their hair. One school is in a corner of NW Connecticut; the other is the oldest prep school west of the Mississippi, and it’s in Southern California. The worst thing about these elitist cracks in the sidewalk is the “you’re not one of us” attitude. (Of course, you find this egotistical bullshit anywhere that little people are trying to convince themselves and others that they are actually big people.) It’s the same with family togetherness: it’s all about shutting out those who “aren’t one of us.” Well, assholes, I don’t want to be part of your dumb family anyway.
The best family I’ve ever heard of is the Not-So-Fictitious (as I like to think of them) Addams Family. Charles Addams created the original cartoon.
Charles Samuel “Chaz” Addams (January 7, 1912 – September 29, 1988) was an American cartoonist known for his darkly humorous and macabre characters. Some of the recurring characters, who became known as the Addams Family, became the basis for two live-action television series, two animated TV series, three motion pictures and a Broadway musical. (from Wikipedia)
Charles Samuel Addams
Born: Jan. 7, 1912, Westfield, New Jerseyey.
Died: Sept. 28, 1988, New York, New York
Charles Addams first appearance in The New Yorker Magazine in 1932. He quickly became a regular, and by 1935 his cartoons had evolved into his immediately recognizable style. His darkly comedic visions of death and the macabre lasted until 1989 (published posthumously). His cartoons led to the development of the The Addams Family television series [1964-1966], The New Addams Family series and two feature films, The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993).
The truly wonderful thing about the Not-So-Fictitious Addamses is that they welcome into their family anyone who is willing to join them (on their terms, of course). Margaret (or “Marilyn” in earlier, pre-1991 versions) marries Cousin It and is totally embraced as an Addams clan member by Morticia and Gomez. (It and Margaret later have a baby named “What.”)
Families which spoil and pamper children are not doing the kids a favor. Their well-being and self-image comes almost solely from their families, and they grow dependent upon them. Of course such people praise the virtuousness of putting their family above all others. Their family is their bread basket and mutual admiration society. Close your eyes, baby; you’re stuck in a self-reflecting web, a maze designed to prevent your escape. If you ever see the truth (and not just your family’s version of the truth), it will be a miracle. But I believe in miracles.
Passing on the idea of one family’s superiority over another is perpetuating a fiction. It’s a useful fiction because why else would people stick with a group they are simply born into? Myths are at least based on ancient truths, but family togetherness was only a necessity a long time ago when people literally had no one else to depend on. Family unity wasn’t based on love, and neither was it based on free choice.
A genetic tie is not a good foundation for either love or harmony. Just because children are raised to follow whatever crazy ideas their parents have does not guarantee that they will get along in later life, and the likelihood of such brain-washed,robotic kids becoming independent thinkers is tiny. So what if the whole crowd of Murphys vote Democratic, do the dishes the same way (the “right” way), go to the same church, hate the same people, refuse to watch Oprah, and love spaghetti? In the long run, it doesn’t matter one fuck.
How many families teach children to think for themselves? So few that people who grow up to think for themselves and follow their own path have a special name: Black Sheep. The rest of the kids grow up to follow the party-line (family dogma) and be just regular sheep, which has the unfortunate connotation of meaning dumb followers. (Real sheep are actually thinking creatures who can distinguish individuals within the group.)
In the past, individuality had absolutely no place in the family, and, in fact, it was a force that opposed family cohesion. Individuality is still rejected, particularly for women, in countries like India. I see this in the life of my very dear Indian friend, whom I will call Shanti. Shanti’s life is totally dominated by her roles as wife, mother, daughter-in-law, and sister-in-law in her husband’s exceptionally devout (Hindu), extended family.
In addition, Shanti caters to the demands of her own natal family (including an aging mother) and the needs of her three children. One of Shanti’s grown sons wants Mom to go to India to arrange a marriage for him, and Shanti is very happy to do this because she believes such a girl will never divorce her son (“like an American girl would”).
I consider Shanti a victim of repression. Her culture, religion, and family absolutely and specifically forbade Shanti’s development as an individual. Her personal needs and desires were dismissed as selfishness that went against the will of God.
Shanti is an exceptionally strong woman. She loves her family and puts them before herself. This seems like an admirable trait until you realize that Shanti’s husband and his family control her life. In traditional Indian culture, women are the servants of the family. Chandra comes from a poor, father-less, Indian family from the countryside; she had very little education. Making her own choices, for her personal satisfaction, was never a possibility.
To people who put family first, Shanti’s life is an example of righteous self-denial. You learn to fold the newspaper just like Mom and Dad did (which is, of course, the ONLY way). Anyone who follows a different path is lost and probably going to hell.
The concept of family includes legitimizing children by a piece of paper which says that a man accepts a woman as his wife and believes that any child she bears is his (not the milkman’s because there are no milkmen anymore). Without such legislation, people (like me) are considered “illegitimate” (illegal, not real), and we are called “bastards” (which means those who bring shame upon the family).
I think matrimony is a bunch of phoney baloney, and I’m surprised that so many people buy into it. Marriage has social, economic, and emotional benefits. People mistrust single people and we don’t get invited to couples-only parties. Most people hope that their families will love them and take care of them (in sickness and old age). If the kids won’t go along with this, many parents believe they have the right to demand it, like family is some kind of weird contract.
The (Not-So-Fictitious) Addams Family had the right idea: be wicked. It’s the only way to protect yourself from parents and other sadists.
ALL parents fuck up their kids; we can’t help it. It goes with the territory, which is a no-man’s land. The first ten years are just about keeping the kid alive, for God’s sake. After that it’s like catch-up, trying to instill the values you kind of kicked to the curb during the initial maelstrom (the insanity period, I call it, of being home alone with toddlers). And forget having your own life; the kids will despise you for it.
It’s easier to live according to the roles that are expected of you (like “The Good Mother”) than it is to live authentically. People will hate you for being yourself and flaunting your disdain for familial and social rules (they can’t do it, why should you be allowed to?). Maintaining illusions requires a lifetime of symbolic behavior (i.e., lies). You do “the right thing.” If you don’t conform, your society or family will kill you (or at least ostracize you). Most people don’t dare to try it. The monsters will be on you before you even step outside the circle, when you’re just THINKING about it. They’ll know, and they’ll try to pull you back in.
This is when lots of people give up. But if you stick with the process, one day you’ll find you are truly, finally and forever free. I promise.
If you take the other road (and not “the road less traveled”), you will go to your kids’ weddings because you have to, not because you want to. (These things are like parties with all the people you hate: your ex-husbands, his new wife, the new daughter-in-law’ family, people you don’t ever want to meet, let alone have to smile at or talk to.) You go see the new baby because it’s expected of you, not because you want to. (You’d really rather wait until the kid is four or five and can say “hi.”)
You can act out the “appropriate emotions” for your whole life or you can be one of the honest Women Who Run With the Wolves* or one Of (the) Wolves and Men.* It’s your choice. (*I am referring to books by Clarissa Pinkola-Estes and Barry Lopez, respectively.)
I gave up roles a long time ago. I don’t have to be an adoptee, daughter, mother, wife, or grandmother. I can just be myself. I can love who I want to love, do what I want to do, say and write what I really feel. I am no longer living according to a script written for someone else.
One of the greatest things in Western culture is recognition of the individual and the concomitant lessening of religious dogma, social obligations,* and family ties.
*The reduction of social obligation in Western societies has had a negative effect upon many wealthy people. They do not respond to the suffering of the poor around them. Noblesse oblige used to be an obligation of rich people, and they were respected for their kindness and generosity to their communities.
“Noblesse oblige” is generally used to imply that with wealth, power, and prestige come responsibilities. The phrase is sometimes used derisively, in the sense of condescending or hypocritical social responsibility. In American English especially, the term is sometimes applied more broadly to suggest a general obligation for the more fortunate to help the less fortunate.
In ethical discussion, it is sometimes used to summarize a moral economy wherein privilege must be balanced by duty towards those who lack such privilege or who cannot perform such duty. Finally, it has been used recently primarily to refer to public responsibilities of the rich, famous and powerful, notably to provide good examples of behaviour or to exceed minimal standards of decency. It has also been used to describe a person taking the blame for something in order to solve an issue or save someone else.
Yeah. Not much noblesse oblige today in Haiti or the US.
I liberated myself from my parents when I was eighteen. I moved out of the nest permanently with my mother’s blessing. At the ripe old age of thirty-two, my adoptive mother got married and moved to the suburbs of Boston, distancing herself from her big family of ten siblings. She knew the distinct benefits of escape from the confines of the womb. She encouraged me to elope rather than go through the foolishness and expense of a big wedding. Wise woman.
I moved 3,000 miles away from my parents when I was twenty-two years old, and I returned to visit them only a few times after that. We kept in contact by phone and by mail, but I was on my own, married, with small children, and very far away.
By demanding–in no uncertain terms–their own independence from all family authority, undue influence, coerciveness, and interference in their lives, my children, led by their powerful, older sister, Anya, FREED ME. In so doing, my children forced me to discover who I am and inspired me to create a life for myself on my own. Motherhood is a role with a lot of power inherent in it; it’s hard for some women to let it go.
I am grateful for my whole, huge family (both my birth-family and my adoptive family). They have all helped me and taught me a lot. I am also grateful that, as a family, my children and I have abandoned, not love (which endures), but false, forced dependence upon each other. We are individuals who have moved beyond the kind of love that is primarily for one’s own family. We have moved into the Age of Aquarius, with all the possibilities of universal love suggested by the astrological sign Aquarius.
Some adventurous souls find their own, individual paths through life. It’s not easy, but anyone can do it; as they say, it starts with one step. I chose this pathless way, and I’m contented now. I am still on the Hero’s Journey (see the collected works of Joseph Campbell in the Hero With 1,000 Faces). I heard and heeded “the call to adventure.” It’s not the safe way; that’s why anyone who chooses it is called a hero. And that’s why it’s called an adventure, with all that wonderful word implies.
End Verbal Rampage
I am an old, faceless, white woman here in Haiti; no one on the streets notices anything else about me. I am not exactly dehumanized, but I am rarely seen as an individual. Today, a woman buying produce at a food stall assisted me so I was able to buy a nice bag of green beans for 25 goud (a reasonable price, instead of what the vendor initially asked me for). This lovely, older woman “saw” me, and she was kind enough to help me.
I see almost no disabled people on the streets here. I think the injunction to walk straight, proud, and unswervingly toward one’s goal is not intended merely to open the heart chakra (and, in fact, this may just be my interpretation of it). I think it’s also so one appears to be healthy, strong, and a force to be reckoned with. I think these qualities are probably very important in any poor country, and especially in countries like Haiti where there is very limited health care.
People carry all manner of things through the streets. I have seen people carrying mattresses on their heads, dragging multiple long pieces of metal behind them, bags of food, of course; people pushing impossibly heavy, bulky wheelbarrows through the deeply rutted, rocky streets filled with rotting, wet, burned trash and many people (including lone children) and cars, trucks and motos driven by maniacs who CAN’T STOP! Women (and some men) balance big basins of food on their heads; men and women roll big, black, plastic, trash bags into fantastic “wigs” that they display on their noggins; one gal balanced a tower of 50 or more baseball caps on her head; a young woman had a toddler holding onto one hand and she carried a bucket in the other and sported a charcoal stove on her head.
In Haiti, originality and practicality merge with the People’s go-ahead attitude and undeniable enthusiasm, optimism and energy. It’s an unbeatable combination, and with a benevolent, strong government, extensive foreign aid, and free education for all, Haiti will move forward and never look back at these hard times.
The nation of Haiti is 200 years old. Let’s take a look at the slightly over 200-year-old United States of America:
–an overweight population of workaholic consumers (not producers); very materialistic (main interest is making more money than one needs); a sense of world superiority despite ignorance about the world, disinclination to travel internationally, inability to speak a second-language, and innate isolationism; hatred of immigrants (check out the film “A Day Without a Mexican” to appreciate the influence of Mexican immigrants in California); power is in the hands of a wealthy elite who are admired and emulated by the masses; disdain for manual labor and those who perform it; dependence on technology; increasingly urban (and consequently ignorant of and isolated from the natural world); separation from food sources and consumption of an unhealthy and unnatural diet (Monsanto continues to control seeds and to genetically alter our food); a proletariat who unquestioningly slave for the “bosses,” making the rich richer; social status is a huge motivator; women are still not equal to men; the US is a very violent society (women and children are frequent victims); the complacent population generally prefers to believe what “authorities” (in politics, in the media, and in the churches) tell them rather than seeking out the truth for themselves; Americans are a weak and pampered people who are, overall, way too comfortable for their own good.
Obviously, I have focused on the negative things about the United States (and omitted the many, exceptional positive things). But this assessment is not original; many people know the US is in trouble. Comparing the two countries, is Haiti really so much worse off?