It had already been a difficult day of ups and downs when I was asked to go out onto a field visit. We bounced over the rocky riverbed, passing women washing clothes, men taking their cattle to drink and children splashing around in the water.
We arrived in the community and met with the local authority figure who introduced us to his family. We sat patiently and asked some questions but it was soon clear that he was dominating the conversation and his wife barely spoke, whilst his son remained silent. Eventually our questions were exhausted, as were we, and we asked if there was another family we could meet.
Further on up the hill we struggled up a steep slope and met with another member of the community. He was clearly in a bad mood and we almost left straightaway but decided that it was worth persisting for a short while. He answered our questions curtly and said that his wife was not home. His wife then emerged a few moments later from the house carrying a young child. He told her to go back inside, but we asked if we could speak to her for a moment, and he eventually relented.
Unfortunately his dominant presence meant we only got one-word responses from his wife. When asked if we could take a photo his immediate response was ‘what are you going to give me?’ We patiently explained that the story and photo would be used in a document presenting positive stories from Haiti, but he was not convinced and embarked on a tirade of insults and demands, insisting our organisation had done nothing to help the community (despite several projects in the area demonstrating otherwise). We smiled politely, thanked him for his time and left the community.
At the next community we visited a spring site, scrambling down the hill followed by a group of curious children who ran ahead of us laughing and smiling, racing down the steep slope. At the spring itself we chatted to a girl from the community who enthusiastically told us how the spring had made a real difference to the quality and the way they collect water in the community.
We met her family of 14, all living in shelters next to each other. She introduced us to her mother, father, and 8 siblings along with other extended family members. Her mother sat outside the house in the shade of the tree and we joined her, grateful for the refreshing cool breeze after our walk back up the hill. The youngest to the oldest members of the family were all there, a six-month old cradled in her mother’s arms and the oldest son leaning against the tree behind her.
They spoke of how the clean water in their community had reduced the number of illnesses in the family and the mother smiled as she proudly declared all the family members to be in good health. They were chatty and friendly and gave us some great answers to our questions, providing the sound bites we needed for our stories with little prompting. We stayed a while in the cool air talking to the family before we took a family portrait and said our farewells.
Two very different stories. Two very different experiences.
Sometimes I have too many of the first kind of encounters and begin to wonder why I am still in Haiti. Then I will have an encounter like the second, and my heart is warmed and I am encouraged to keep going, knowing that the work we are doing here is making a difference to people’s lives.