The house I rent in Haiti is two stories tall and concrete. I live on the top floor apartment and the bottom floor is now used for packing and receiving. I live modestly, but have a solar hot water heater and a few air conditioning units, so just that alone makes me spoiled. Don’t get me wrong, I did my time. The first few years in Haiti I did my share of bucket baths and no electricity and sweltering nights getting bitten by mosquitoes, but now I live comfortably.
I justify it because I know I need it to be able to work. I need to sleep in order to make good decisions. I need my electricity so that I can get my emails off. I need hot water so that I can get my body clean and don’t get sick. (and it doesn’t cost anything once you get the solar water heater bought anyway)
But when I look out over my balcony at the shack across the street, I can’t help but feel guilty.
Every day. I feel so guilty.
Nerline lives in a leaky hut that is about 6 feet by 6 feet square with her baby and her husband. The floor is dirt. Her baby is sick and dirty. I was finally able to give her a job this year and so her conditions have improved some, but it will take time.
You say, well, why don’t you help her more?
Well, because if I help her, then there will be another and another and another.. and eventually I just run out of money and time. I try to focus on jobs. I try really hard to help that way. It makes a more lasting impact that helps for years. And for Nerline it is starting to pay off now. But I still feel guilty.
My move to the states last year intensified things to a degree that I could never have expected.
I borrowed money from my parents to make a down payment on a home. I figured it was wiser to buy than pay the same amount in rent money. I own my own home. I drive a car that is in my name. Now I have to pay for school supplies, and winter coats and boots and hats and field trips and youth group outings and just this month my daughter got asked to homecoming.
Back in Haiti things are rough. September was one fo the worst financial months ever. The artisans got hit hard as a side effect from the political situation and the hurricanes and were mostly moved back to part time work. I was down there last week and many couldn’t’ send their kids to school. Our hopes of providing an income that could take care of their basic needs are falling flat. It’s hard not to feel like a failure.
Two days ago I fly back to the states deflated and drive up in my nice car to my home that I own.
My daughter is standing in the driveway with bright eyes and asking me when we can go dress shopping for homecoming.
My stomach hurts.
How can I make sense of my life?
How can I pay for everything she needs for homecoming when my people can’t send their kids to school this month?
And on the flip side… how can I look my daughter in the eye and tell her that she isn’t worth that?
The daughter and son want to go to church youth camp- another $200.
Jackson got invited to a birthday party and I need to buy a gift.
Every penny… drip..drip…drip….
We all know what it feels like to have money float away.
To feel like we can’t seem to hang on to it.
But there seems to be a certain kind of pain that comes with spending money when you know that every cent you spend on yourself or your family could have gone to someone else.
I am also keenly aware that if I don’t take care of myself well enough that I won’t be of much use to anyone else either. But still I live in discomfort.
Where is the balance? I am forever searching for it. And never quite finding the place that feels right.