by Jason Myers
The Fund for Theological Education
You learn the basics of any language when you’re going to a foreign country: “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Do you have wireless here?” Well, perhaps the last is not very useful in Haiti, where most things except the internet are wireless, and where my Kreyol (the local spelling of Creole) remained rudimentary to the last. I could tell when people were talking to or about me (“Blan, blan!) and I knew if I heard the word manje it meant we would be eating soon. I learned the generic words for bird and tree, but found most of the expressions people tried to teach me going in one ear and out the other. On one of my last days in Port-au-Prince I rode out to Delmas 75 and met with the good people at the Mennonite Central Committee. They were gracious enough to invite me into their lovely guest house/office, serve me deliciously strong Haitian coffee, and tell me about the work they do in the country. As Alexis Erkert Depp was showing me a video produced by local farmers, she handed me a button. In letters made up from bananas, beans, and other native produce were the words ‘kore pwodiksyon lokal,’ which translates as “support local production.”
This phrase took on a talismanic power for me. I pinned the button to my bag and have been showing it off at any chance I get. Kore pwodiksyon lokal, kore pwodiksyon lokal – the words slip around in my head, my mouth, they’ve become a rosary. I’m not a Catholic, but my first week in Haiti when I was riding on the back of a motorcycle on crater-pocked roads, convinced of my imminent death, I said “Hail Mary, full of grace” at least a thousand times. Prayer in this manner can be solipsistic – I was saying the words to protect my own life, to take my mind off the terrible condition of the road. But my new rosary, kore pwodiksyon lokal, has become my dream for the world, for Haiti.
One of the many dismaying things about the current state of Haiti is the lack of support for local agriculture. This is not because people don’t want to farm, or that the climate is inhospitable to local agriculture – though the extraordinary Dr. Paul Farmer has an acerbic joke, “Haiti is the only country where a farmer can die from falling out of his farm,” a reference to the mountainous terrain that many in the country inhabit. Part of the problem has to do with American policy – we’ve strong-armed Haiti into accepting trade agreements that will ensure its continuing poverty. Among the most heinous of these is the reduction of tariffs on imported goods to 3 % - most countries have 35 %! Rice from America is cheaper than rice from Haiti, which helps put Haitian farmers out of business. Kore pwodiksyon lokal! I can imagine Amos or Jeremiah exclaiming similar words.
I hope to learn more Kreyol when I return to Haiti, but I already have my three favorite words. When I think about supporting local agriculture, the words of Deuteronomy 11:11-12 come to mind, for Haiti “is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for, the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.” So if you’re looking for words to write on the doorframes of your houses and your gates, might I suggest “Kore prodiksyon lokal.” And if you’re able, support these wonderful organizations: