Confession REPOST: When In Haiti Bring Your Camera, But Also Bring Your Respect

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While at the beach the other day, Dalencia and I were approached by a complete stranger and his camera. Sitting on my lap and enjoying the relaxing waves of the ocean, me and my girl were minding our own business when a young gentleman came and stood no further than two feet away from my face. He smiled, tilted his head to the side as if to show us he thought we looked cute together, and stood there admiring us for a minute, camera prepped and ready to shoot.

Unsure of his next move, I began to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and degraded, because now I had at least a dozen new eyes starring at me- for we were causing quite the scene. I felt insecure, unsafe, and pressured. And those were just the feelings I felt about me. You should have seen how tight I was holding on to Dalencia. Knowing full well he was going to take a picture of us, my mind began to race. I never knew so many thoughts could run through my head so quickly. How dare this stranger take a picture of my daughter? What will he do when he looks at this picture later? Will he print it and hang it up in his room? Will he fantasize about me? About Dalencia? After all, she is in her bathing suit. Oh God, how can I protect her? Should I run? Where is Hunter?

Then without permission this perfect stranger leaned in even closer and snapped our picture.

“Excuse me,” I yelled in Creole, “Why are you taking my picture?”

“Because you and the girl are pretty,” he replied in perfect English.

Relieved that I could battle this ordeal in my own language I looked him straight in the eye, “But you don’t know us, so why do you think you have the right to take our picture?” I asked now slightly flustered.

“Well, you Americans are always doing that to us. You come here to visit and “help us” (using finger quotes) and you guys are always taking pictures of us with our kids in our homes, in our streets, and in our poverty, and you don’t know us either. And you all NEVER ask us if it is okay to take our picture. No, you just take it. So I thought I would try doing the same to you.”

I sighed. I smiled. I relaxed and I put my guard back down. This young gentleman was no threat at all, actually he was was a breath of fresh air. What he said was true and his little social experiment- to attempt to teach the nearest blan (white person) how it feels to be on the other side of the lens- intrigued me.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Jephte,” he replied.

“Jephte, I like you,” I told him.

Confused, he sat down beside me. I guess after his previous statement, my befriending was not what had he anticipated. Perhaps he expected me to tell him to get lost, not sit down for a chat.

I went on to explain how I live in Haiti, how I wasn’t one of the visitors he was referring to, and how I was actually on his side of the issue. These facts alone surprised him and led him to a dozen apologies- none of which I would accept. I then thanked him for helping me to feel, first hand, what a Haitian mother might feel like when a short-term visitor approaches her and her child with a mere smile and a camera for a photo op. The only reason these feelings quickly subsided for me was because I, unlike a majority of Haitian mothers, had the ability and know-how to stand up for myself. And quite frankly, I also knew I had the “right” to my privacy. If I didn’t want my photo taken, he couldn’t take my photo. Most Haitian mothers do not know they have that “right”- unfortunately because us visitors with the cameras have done a poor job of ever really giving them that right in the first place.

Jephte, feeling rather guilty, looked at me and said, “If I knew who you were, I would not have done this to do you. But this was my intention, to make you feel embarrassed, because that is how visitors make us feel when they take pictures of us. I know you know that. But earlier when I saw you, I just wanted one of you to feel what we feel for a change.”

“And I did,” I replied. “Even though I am not a visitor, I felt it. And I am really glad I did.”

We talked for a little while longer, Jephte and I. We did end up taking a few more pictures together, just to remember our time with one another. And before we parted ways I made him a promise. I promised him that I would share his message with you:

Jephte’s Message

If you ever come to Haiti, which someday I do hope you do, bring your camera. This country and its people are beautiful. But also bring some respect. You aren’t here as tourist; you are here to help. And we aren’t aren’t animals in a zoo; we are people. Our suffering isn’t free for all to capture on film. It is real and it is hard and it is personal. Bring your camera, and if you see something or someone you want to take a picture of, just ask. Ask because it is respectful and because if you were on the other side of the camera, you would want us to ask you too.

For more reading on this subject, check out one of my favorite blog posts on the topic by Tara Livesay.

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9 Comments on “Confession REPOST: When In Haiti Bring Your Camera, But Also Bring Your Respect

  1. I like this story.
    I lived this story all my life, I am from Haiti and I traveled a lot, translating for missionaries just before I came to United States. I traveled so many places and that’s the way I made my income before I came here in the U.S. To make that story short, I wasn’t happy when I see missionaries pull out their cameras and take pictures of strangers all the time without asking for permissions which they wouldn’t be able to here in the U.S. I knew that was not going to represent the country and the people in a good way. I tried to explain it to the so many times, some understood it and some didn’t.
    Life goes on, just be careful when you take someone’s picture, you might forget. You might take one in the U.S and think you are in Haiti. Later on find yourself in the court. Just be courteous.

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  2. Oh I so agree! I just couldn’t take pictures of random kids and me just because they are cute! I did it once with a newborn but what right did I have?!?? None! Thank you for writing this and ring brave and loving at the same time.

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  3. Thank you so much for writing this. I will be leading a team of volunteers down to Haiti next month, and we have shared your post on our site. Sometimes, I think we as Americans, struggle to describe the hardship we witness in Haiti. We want to share with others, not in an exploitive way, but in a way that inspires and brings out other’s compassion and commitment to do something about it. This will be my fifth trip to Haiti, but one trip was all it took to change my life. I fell in love with your country and the people there. Though I usually do ask permission before taking a picture, your post makes me more aware. Thank you again.

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    • I agree. I think there is great value in sharing what we see here. Although a picture does say 1,000 words, it often takes one seeing Haiti with their own eyes to truly capture the struggle. Thank you for leading people to Haiti. I did that for many years prior to moving here. May God use you in ways you could never could have imagined when you come.

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  4. Pingback: #Selfieblan (or How to Take Photos in Haiti) | The Green Mango Blog

  5. I love this! So glad his message is getting out. I am a “visitor” to Haiti but this is still very heavy on my heart. I am very careful to tell my missions teams this simple principle. “Don’t take pictures of everything. Always ask permission. Make sure your photos reveal the beauty and community of Haiti. When others see your photos their hearts should be moved and stirred to visit. Not because they saw the rubble in the streets left over from the earthquake and want to be the “savior”…but because they saw a beautiful group of people who they now want to meet! Because the land is gorgeous and inviting. Take photos how you’d want photos taken of you, your family, home, city, etc. You’d want to look your best! They’re no different then us and deserve that same chance. I want people to see the REAL Haiti – not the one covered in earthquake debris but the one with incredible mountains, the most hospitable people, the cutest kids, beautiful colors and homes, amazing music, church’s on every corner, talented people, a beautiful language, etc…” I want the Americans photos to display the Haiti that the news channels have trouble showing! Haiti is impeccable and the people are unlike anyone you’ll ever meet. It’s BEAUTIFUL.

    Okay, now I’m gonna go pack my bags and visit my Haitian friends and family now, I miss them even more now. 😍❤

    Liked by 1 person

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