Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lesson for living in Haiti: don't expect food to be served quickly.

I respect cultures that know how to enjoy every moment, I really do. I am a fervent believer in slowing down. Urgency, rush, business. These are not good things. Some of us take pride in being so busy, and I am even convinced some people I know are busy because they create work for themselves in order to feel busy: not good. Calm, peace, smelling the roses. These are good things.

But surely there is a limit.

Last night, an evaluation team presented the findings of the research they had conducted in communities where we work. It was a fascinating discussion about how to reach the neediest people in the community, and how fulfill the goal of meeting ALL their needs - not just give them one thing or another. After the presentation, we sat down to dinner together.

The presentation was 1 1/2 hours long, and we ordered the food before the presentation began. So when we sat down, it was with a general sense of anticipation that our food would soon be happily in our tummies.

Instead, we took our seats, then for fifteen minutes nothing happened. So our leader went up to the waitress and asked her to please start serving the food.

One foot in front of the other, she meandered into the kitchen. A minute or two later, she emerged with a tray that had two plates on it. With perfect posture and a relaxed look on her face, she arrived at the table and whispered, "Shrimp? Who wants shrimp?" We all looked at each other. What were the other options? Who would decide? Another team member rose to the occasion: he pulled out a list and told us that there would also be fish and lobster coming. Two people reluctantly accepted the shrimp and the girl ambled away.

A couple of minutes she came back with the tray again. This time with one plate. When she arrived we discovered it was also shrimp. I accepted. She left again and emerged eventually with one more plate of shrimp. No one else wanted the shrimp. They were waiting for the fish. So she just stood there and looked at us. The boss rolled his eyes and made some comment about the poor quality of service.

This pattern repeated itself for the next 15 minutes until all 15 people had a plate. I was desperately thirsty and accidentally mentioned this out loud. While the group gratefully dug in, the girl walked over to a refrigerator and pulled out a few bottles of soda. She didn't bring them to us, though; she put them on an empty table across the room. The boss pulled her aside and asked if there was any rice coming.

I kid you not: without answering him, she abandoned the drinks project and moseyed into the kitchen, emerging 3 minutes later with one small plate of white rice. She dropped it on the table in front of the boss. Then she took a few more bottles from the refrigerator, set them on the table, and disappeared into the kitchen.

The boss could take it no more. He started making comments in French to the extent of: "There's really no one here who can give you a hand?" "You can't finish one job?" "The owner must not pay his employees anything!" Everyone at the table could hear, and we all could see his level of exasperation rising.

To his credit, the boss then stood up and started distributing the sodas himself. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out some bottles of beer which he then passed around to the group. He kept fluttering around the restaurant until people's cups were filled.

He sat down and we all began clearing the last bits of food off our plates. Then the girl wandered in carrying a platter full of spicy rice.

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