I recently received the following from Mitchell native Natalie Sturdevant. It’s too long for a letter to the editor or guest column, but interesting nonetheless. I provide it for you here in the land where space is no concern, also known as the Internet.
I am a Mitchell Native and I recently spent two weeks volunteering in Haiti with an organization committed to cultivating self-sustenance among individuals and consequently a whole community in a small Haitian village. While I was there, my American teaching experience, love for children, and my ability to persuasively write enabled me to help in many facets, but I was also given a unique opportunity to interact with Haitians as if I were a lighter-skinned version of them. I was taught Creole, attended a Haitian birthday party, and I even ended up taking a scooter accident victim to a Haitian hospital and later getting his scooter from the Haitian police. I never viewed myself as a separate entity, but rather I felt like I shared my life with the people I surrounded myself with and they did the same with me. As a result of this communion, I learned a valuable lesson in simplicity that I believe is worth sharing…
During the school year, I teach in Texas, on the border of Mexico. Shortly after I moved to Texas, one of my friends got stung by a scorpion in my house. Not long after that, I was stung by a scorpion while I was lying in bed and then again while I was doing the dishes. We found a huge prehistoric-looking bug in our bathroom and spiders and other creatures tip toed around our house incessantly. I had to literally talk myself into sleep each night. I would tell myself, “you’ve been stung by a scorpion and survived, even if you get stung in your sleep, you’re going to be okay.” In Haiti, each night I crawled into my mosquito-resistant tent, I would see little lizzards chasing each other around my concrete space in the compound. I’d see rats the size of puppies crawling on the unroofed walls. As I enjoyed the succulent meals provided to me by the women who worked in the compound, I would be accompanied by ducks, chickens, mangy dogs, and an occasional goat that found it just as convenient to enjoy my living space as I did. Despite the noah’s ark of creatures I lived alongside in Haiti, each night when it was time for bed, I would crawl into my tent, zip it up, and sleep without uttering a word of self persuasion to lull me into my dreams.
On one of the first days of English class in Haiti, one of the students said, “On a big dog, you can’t see the fleas, but on a small dog you can.” He then equated that to America and Haiti. He said America is a big dog and we can’t see the problems there even though they exist, but since Haiti is a small dog, the problems are seen in plenty. As I consider my creature-phobia in America and my peaceful existence with creatures in Haiti, I am reminded of that students saying and a little bit embarrassed and very much humbled by my afterthoughts. In America, I choose to fret about the creatures in my house, as if there is nothing greater to worry about. I have clean drinking water, I have access to good food whenever I want it, there is no threat of typhoid, malaria, or cholera. If I don’t remember to wash my hands before I eat, it’s not a huge deal. I don’t have to wear shoes in the shower and I can brush my teeth with water from the faucet. These are all inherent luxuries of America, more specifically, my life in America. In Haiti, the trash that litters the street is a reminder of the toxins that poison the water. Each time my stomach felt off, I was forced to consider the probability that it was a serious disease and not a common stomach bug. In Haiti, the bleach-purified water I had access to was a gem, a gift that not many are given without cost. People live in tents and most houses are opened and unroofed. Air conditioning is almost unheard of and access to basic things like internet and phone are limited, at best. In Haiti, there were far greater things to worry about than the creatures in my open walled house.
As my time in Haiti adjourned, I made a “To Do” that I could quickly complete once I returned to the States. It definitely included “Hair Appointment and “Wax ( my then Groucho Marx style) Eyebrows.” I had a list of food I wanted to buy at the grocery store and ample amount of e-mails I’d be neglecting that needed responding to. My “To Do” list including things that prior to making it, I hadn’t even considered since I’d been in Haiti because there were far greater things to consume my time with. I consider my life in America a pretty simple one; I live in t-shirts and homemade jean shorts and I find most of my free time spent outside or conversing with my neighbors. Regardless of my self-professed life of simplicity in America, as I prepared to depart from Haiti, I found myself trying to reconcile my new truer definition of simplicity that I lived in Haiti with my life at home. I am grateful for the drinking water and cleanliness at home, but I want to be able to live grateful for the these pleasures without worrying about the “creatures in my house.” Truer simplicity was the resonating lesson I learned from the uncommonly purely simply people in Haiti. It’s the greatest lesson I believe I’ve ever been taught. It is also one that, if written on the souls of each person in this world, would inherently result in a better place to live. In a time when our country is being unhinged with economic turmoil, I believe we would all benefit from looking to the Haitians for an example in how to live a life of truer simplicity.