There are a lot of things in Haiti that we will get to experience for the first time. We have experienced weddings, graduations, school meetings, immigration, etc. and we will continue to experience new things the longer we live here. Today I want to tell you about our most recent experience, a funeral. I want to start by asking for prayers for a very dear family to us as Marjorie, our cook, recently lost her father. Marjorie was 1 of his 3 daughters and he had a son as well. They were all devastated at their loss, and remember, Marjorie is just 21 years old, so she lost her father at a young age. Thank you for praying for her and for her family.
When we found out that her father died, we wanted to visit her, so she asked if she could come over to our house. She was very upset, so Jess just sat with them for a while (I had to make a trip into Port to take care of some paperwork, so I wasn’t there for the first visit) and talked. They were very open with the fact that her Father was not a Christian and how sad they were about that fact. They were also very open about how the funeral process works. It is much different than in America. First of all, it was over a week in between his death and when the funeral took place, and during that week the family who was grieving was expected to take care of basically the entire community. They were required to have coffee for whoever wanted it in the morning and other beverages every evening. They were supposed to put up a tarp in their yard signifying that they were serving these things. However, we also found out, if they did not serve these things that people would come to their house and, as they put it, “break our tables or steal our things.”
I was kind of shocked by this, that the family who was supposed to be mourning was the family that was supposed to provide food and drinks to an entire community. So we gave Marjorie the week off to be with her family and to take care of what they needed to take care of, but the more we asked around, the more we realized that what they told us was not an exaggeration. People did not come by and take care of them and do things for them so that they could grieve, people came by and expected the family to take care of them! Even when we brought our kids by, they asked for something to drink until we got pretty angry with them and told them to stop.
Anyway, the funeral was very similar to an American funeral. The pastor got up and preached and a few songs were sung and it was over in about 45 minutes. The only real difference (besides wearing a suit in a crowded room with no a/c) was the expressive way that the family participated, but that is definitely cultural. Haitians are far more emotional, in general, than Americans or at least the Americans that I spend a good deal of time with. After the funeral, we went to the graveside. This started off similar to an American service as we all got into our cars/motos and began to make our way to where the body would be buried. The biggest difference was, about ½ a mile from the spot most of the people got out of their cars, including a small marching band and began to walk the final ½ mile. They were singing and playing and the cars just moved slowly along behind until we got to the cemetery. When we arrived everything pretty much wound down within a couple of minutes, we put Marjorie in our truck and we took her home. Marjorie was a lot less expressive than her sisters or Mom, so it was kind of sad to see others get more attention than her. She was definitely happy to see Jessica and to ride home with us.
There were many similarities and differences between how this process works here and how it works in America, but the one I could not figure out was why the family was required to take care of others rather than vice versa. I tried to just call it a “cultural difference,” but is that really what it is? When someone else is hurting, shouldn’t we try to comfort them and be there for them? We were even told by some Haitians that people here are happy when someone dies because it means they can eat and drink for a while and someone else will pay for it. One thing we will teach our kids, regardless of culture, is how important it is to be there when their friends or family are hurting. We will teach them to love and care for those who are in mourning and to never expect something in return. Some things are cultural differences, but some things we want to teach our children how to be like Christ regardless of culture.