When I encounter a foreigner in Haiti, the standard exchange quickly jumps to the question, “What are you doing here?”
This question implies work, not leisure. It asks for little information about the person concerned, and everything about their purpose in Haiti. I see you are here, but what are you doing? This is quite different from the question, “What do you do?” which implies permanence. “What are you doing here,” implies a passing fancy, a short term objective.
Visitors to Haiti often overwhelmingly imagine they have a unifying mission. They actually have a troublesome overabundance of different, small missions—projects for this school, water for that town, toothbrushes for this clinic. Invariably, visitors come with something to do: to build schools, to teach, to provide medical care, to hand out used clothing, to run water quality tests, to plant trees, to preach a gospel. People come to Haiti to meet the children they’ve sponsored in school for the past ten years, to train a group of Haitians how to use “modern” solar panels and water pumps, and to see poverty.
“What are you doing here?” I rarely, if ever, ask Haitians this question, and I don’t ask it of people when I'm in the U.S.
A recent trip to southeastern Haiti for – dare I say it – pleasure showed me another way to travel and experience the country.