Jogging has been going well. I have a new route that I’m enjoying. I run up the hill past Blancha towards Divye. Just below the market in Grifen, I head down towards Franswa. I turn at the church in Franswa, and then descend past Kafou Mortel to Nan Konble. From there, it’s a short, hard uphill run back to Ka Glo. The whole thing takes a little less than an hour. Though I’m not in Ka Glo as much as I’d like to be – I sleep there two or thee nights most weeks – when I’m there, I’m jogging. And that feels good.
The other day, as I was working my way up the steep stretch of road that leads to lower Blancha, I passed Micanol. He was hiking up the hill with a five-gallon bucket of water on his head. He goes down each morning to Ba Osiya, a ten minute walk from his parents’ house, to get the water from the public faucet there. He makes three or four trips each day, starting early to avoid the crowd. Five gallons of water is about forty pounds, so the total amount of work he does each day to supply his family with water is considerable.
I often see him during my run, and it makes me wonder. I ask myself why my jogging doesn’t seem pretty silly to him. He has more than enough work to do every day to keep himself both busy and strong. The idea that someone would need to add something otherwise useless – like jogging – to their schedule in order to stay in shape must seem strange. But he has never shown any evidence that he finds my jogging strange.
He works a lot. It’s not just a matter of carrying water. He’s in the final year of a course designed to teach something like general contracting. The course involves masonry and carpentry, but also home design, drawing, classes on building materials, and some other stuff. He started after deciding that he could no longer afford to attend a conventional high school that was not preparing him for a job. He made that decision despite the fact that he had always been a very fine student. We talked about the decision at the time, and it was clear that he partly regretted his sense that he had to make it. Before the start of last year, he decided to return to high school, not instead of the course but in addition to it. He would go to his academic school all morning and then to the professional course all afternoon. He would be in class for something like ten to twelve hours each day, then he’d need to figure out how to do homework and chores. Despite those obstacles, he passed the first part of the national high school exam last summer, qualifying therefore to start his last year of high school in September and to take the second part of the exam this July.
He and I spoke recently about hard work, and it was striking how little he thought about himself. He was much more focused on his parents. When I mentioned that I thought that many Haitians work very hard, he immediately offered his father then his mother as examples. His father is a farmer, and even in this season without rain and, therefore, without planting, he leaves the house before sunrise each day and isn’t back until late. His mother is a marketwoman, hiking the hour or so from Blancha to Petyonvil six days each week to sell various low-margin foodstuffs in a stall in the midst of the market.
It would be hard to spend a lot of time in Haiti without thinking about work. I often hear colleagues at Shimer and other folks back home complaining that they are busy. I sometimes engage in the practice myself. But the only time I’ve ever heard my Haitian friends and colleagues complain that they are busy is when they are explaining why they had no time to do something specific that they had expected or hoped to be able to do. What I recognize from the States – the talk of busy-ness as though it was an undesirable state that one could find oneself trapped in, a kind of disease – is something I just don’t hear here.
This is true, though many people I know are doing something or other almost all the time. If Madanm Anténor isn’t cleaning some part of her home, she’s in the kitchen preparing food or headed off to work or to do the marketing. From my back porch I can see the fire in her kitchen light up light up before dawn each day when I’m in Glo. The last few hours before bed, she sits in her pantry where her children do their schoolwork and prepares a supper and, then, the ingredients she will need for the meals she’ll prepare the next day. She’s never idle, yet I’ve never heard her say that she’s too busy.
When I’m in Matenwa, I live next door to Abner Sauveur, the principal of the school I work with there, and it almost never happens that I see him sitting around his pleasant front porch, relaxing. If he isn’t at the school leading a class, he’s in the school’s garden or his own, or he’s meeting with some or all of his faculty or headed to Ansagale on school business or to a literacy center or a meeting of the grassroots network he’s a part of.
One last example: In Darbonne I know a woman name Sipòtè. I doubt it’s her real name, but it’s what she goes by. It means “supporter.” She has business selling food at the side of the road that leads from the Darbonne tap-tap station to Frémy’s house, where I stay when I’m there. She serves big midday meals: rice with bean sauce or vegetable sauce or both. The servings are large enough that I had to make a special arrangement with her so that I could get a smaller portion. She’s never stopped to count how many people she feeds each day, but she thinks it’s in the neighborhood of two hundered.
In fact, she never really stops at all. She’s sitting at the side of the road by 5:00 AM and is there into the evening preparing the day’s food, serving it, or doing clean-up and prep work for the following day. Her children work with her, as do a couple of adult employees. I try to spend a few minutes sitting with them as I return from the station where I have coffee most mornings here, and they like to chat, but they don’t stop working while I’m there.
It’s not that everyone in Haiti is active all the time. There’s idleness her, lot’s of it, just as you’d expect in a place where unemployment figures are extraordinarily high. It’s just that being busy is not a problem I find my Haitian friends and colleagues presenting themselves as having.
I suspect it has something to do with what it really means to be busy. One thing I noticed when I was Dean at Shimer is that there was only a weak correlation between the degree to which colleagues and students described themselves as being busy and the amount of work that it seemed as though they were doing. The same is very much true when I consider only myself: There’s not much connection that I’ve noticed between how busy I feel and how much I’m accomplishing.
Being busy has, perhaps, as much to do with our imaginations as with any other part of us. It implies that we’re imagining ourselves doing things other than what we’re doing, that we feel blocked from doing, because what we’re actually doing takes up too much time. It implies that we imagine ourselves entitled to rest that we’re not getting or to quiet times that never come.
For thosed immersed in the lives they lead, too fully engaged to imagine other things they migh be doing, for those wrapped up in what they do, the feeling of busy-ness, busy-ness as a disease, what I’d call “maladi okipe a” just doesn’t exist. That was that point Frémy made as we headed to Fayette, a village on the outskirts of Darbonne, for the first day of a two-day workshop. He put things ironically: the busiest Haitians he knows are, he said, too busy to feel busy. Busy-ness is felt by those who have time on their hands.