Anybody who has been to Haiti or has any relationship with Haiti knows about the “ask”. When we talk about the challenges living here, this is often right at the top of the list for most people. In our compound, on the street, and even driving in the streets of Port au Prince, we are asked for something.
How do we respond when we are constantly asked for help? When do we help? When do we just listen?
The book African Friends and Money Matters by David Maranz has 90 observations about African behavior and sometimes an observation about Western behavior that directly contradicts the African behavior. For most purposes, Haitian behavior can be compared to African behavior and this book has been invaluable to help shed some light on behavior we find uncomfortable.
Because here we are. Uncomfortable. Always. Being. Asked.
Let’s look at a few of the observations from David Maranz.
#25 A network of friends is a network of resources.
#25Western – Disinterested friendship is the ideal in the West. Any friendship that includes material considerations is suspect.
Observation #25 basically tells us that Haitians have friends (and we’ll include family here) and they will look to those friends for resources that they need. Those of us from the West often keep friends and business or money separate. We wonder if our friends are using us if they come to us for money. Especially if it happens repeatedly.
So, how does this play out for us? People we consider strangers or maybe an acquaintance will call us friend. Or if we don’t have a relationship with them, they remind us of that they are friends of WISH, or a previous director.
And how do we use this? When kids throw the infamous line out, “Gimme me dolla!” We laughingly tell them to go ask their family. We’re not family. They usually laugh, shrug their shoulders, and walk away.
#38 When people ask for help, they will usually be content with being given a part (sometimes even a small part) of what they are asking for.
Observation #38 assures us that Haitians know one person won’t meet their need. They don’t expect one person to give them all the money they are asking for.
And how does this play out for us? We listen and try not to give a straight “no”. We sometimes ask what their family has done or their community of friends. We appreciate friends who have left money for a benevolent fund. We will donate money from that fund and explicitly state that it is from the fund, and not us or WISH. We will sometimes give out a personal loan and state that we expect it to be paid back. Sometimes we will give out a small amount of money. We always try to pray with the person.
Nothing feels comfortable about this. We would like to direct them to the local church or somehow empower their community. Because we have been humbled to hear and see people around us with very little to give who do give when they hear of a need.
#47 People typically receive satisfaction from being asked for financial help, whether or not they are disposed to provide it.
#47Western – Westerners are largely annoyed by requests for help, and find it hard even to imagine receiving enjoyment from being solicited, or from taking the role of a patron.
Observation #47 gives a little insight to the feelings around “the ask”. Haitians don’t mind being asked for money. Westerners often don’t like constantly being asked for money. There are even churches that no longer take an offering. They just put a box in the church for people to drop money in if they choose. Westerners especially don’t like being thought of as “the big man” who provides for all of the needs.
And this is the rub. How do we maintain our compassion when we hear “the ask” daily and often hourly? How can we, who have so many resources, keep from being a patron? Is there anything wrong with being a patron? We have the ability to provide so much. Not just personally but because we have our own network of contacts who are anxious to help. If we’re honest, it often feels good to help.
We don’t have the answers. We see the need. We feel the discomfort. We know that these observations don’t mean one way is wrong and one way is right. There are problems with both mind-sets. So for now, we live with this discomfort. We question. We struggle. We feel. And we continue to live each day. Asking God for guidance. Asking others for advice.
And now how about you? How do you feel about “the ask”? Do you have any thoughts that have helped you?