Storytelling

by Tara Livesay on June 3, 2013

Troy

 

As I interact with the precious people of the island I inhabit, and as I build relationships and get to know women on deeper levels, something unusual and confusing happens in my heart and mind.
I find that I want to honor and remember every last detail of every story shared with me – AND – I want to forget immediately, all of the painful things I am trusted with each week.

 

When we first moved from Minnesota to rural Haiti, long before I could authentically say, “I love this place and I love these people”,  I found it quite easy to take photos and paste stories on the world-wide web about the lives of other people. Many years into our journey, I write less and my husband takes fewer photographs than he did in our early years here.
I think a lot about the responsibility that comes with telling the stories of Haitian people. We’re not journalists, we’re not hired to tell stories, we’re not experienced professional writers. We’re sharing Haiti from one unique perspective that certainly cannot even begin to cover all of the angles. We’re not experts on this culture or country. We never will be. We are searchers. We are changing day by day because of our experiences here. We are learners that care about this tiny little piece of land in the Caribbean.

 

“It’s about collecting other people’s pain and trying to hide it, write it, 
catalog it, transform it, understand it, avoid it.” 
Emily Troutman

 

Every day, month, and year on this beautiful and complex island brings us to a greater realization of how little we understand.  The only “experts” around here are the people who have been here a couple of weeks or months.  (Ouch. Was that too much snark? I repent for my snarkiness and admit that I give myself this pass to be snarky because with time a lot of us realize that we know less. Most of us laugh at how little we understood back when we thought we knew it all.)

 

We’ve come to care deeply about this place and her people. Our biggest fear in sharing our experiences in Haiti is that we, in places of discouragement or frustration, might disrespect the people of Haiti or generalize when generalizing is simply unfairWe never want to do that.  We don’t wish to preside as judge of anything; it is impossible for us to completely understand the complexities of the lives of the people of Haiti.  It is unlikely that outsiders and newbies could ever totally comprehend history and culture.
 
A large portion of what happens each week is never written. The stories left untold usually remain that way simply because framing them without all of our personal biases and disillusionment would be impossible.  Those stories are for late night exchanges between trusted friends over a bottle of wine. They are to be trusted to God in humility and prayer. Some stories are so difficult we simultaneously want to remember and forget.It is painful to read comments from people who despise this little island. We get them occasionally and over time we’ve found that it doesn’t hurt in the least to be told we’re crappy parents or people, or that we’re stupid or abusive to “force” our kids to live here.  Our skin has thickened enough to take that. But when people say terrible things about Haitians it grieves us.  The level of animosity and prejudice can be shocking.  Those odious words have actually served to help me be more aware of the times I am “down on Haiti” and making generalizations based on one discouraging encounter.
 
We’re grateful to know that there are those in the world that follow along and pray, that care deeply about the struggles of the people of Haiti.  We are grateful to know that the Internet allows each of us to have a team of prayers, givers, and lovers of our respective lands – standing with us to love the worthy and beautifully unique people we walk with around the globe.
 
Our prayer and desire is that we share the stories with the utmost care and respect for the dignity of the people that we so want to esteem and uphold. We are guessing that is your prayer too. 

~              ~              ~             ~

Do you struggle with which stories to tell, and which stories to hold close to your heart?  Do you ever feel frustrated by unkind feedback from the stories you share?  

 

Tara Livesay works as a midwife apprentice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti 

        blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay

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About Tara Livesay

Tara and her family have lived in Haiti since 2006. She resides in Port au Prince, where she serves as a CPM (Midwife) with Heartline Ministries working in the areas of Maternal and Newborn Health. Tara is a the wife of Troy, the mother of seven children ranging in age from 25 to 7 years old. Tara enjoys running, laughing, sarcasm and spending time with her family. Troy and Tara consider Haiti, Minnesota, and Texas "home".
  • I think no matter how much we are writing from the heart it will never be able to convey to others our experiencing from the heart. I’ve often wondered how Americans would feel if some stranger just started snapping photographs of them while they are eating or out in their yard. Yet we find ourselves and people who come on short-term mission trips doing just that. While I rarely find anyone who objects to picture-taking, I am more considerate of it now.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      “…I am more considerate of it now.”

      Me too Debbie, and even with new things in mind and a changed paradigm it is hard to find the line between bringing awareness of the work and situation (to donors) and exploiting people. Not an easy line to walk by any stretch of the imagination.

  • “Many years into our journey, I write less and my husband takes fewer photographs” YES! This is exactly how I feel. I do very much struggle to find a way to honor the dignity of the people of our host nation while respecting the desire of those connected to the work abroad to stay informed. How much do they really need to know? Oh, and your snarky sentence – perfect. Yup.

  • Richelle Wright

    beautiful… thank you so much for this post!

  • Jo-Anne

    I had a feeling a little bit like this. I came home from my missions trip in Haiti not wanting to share the stories I heard. I felt like it wasn’t place to tell others stories. I even had a hard time taking pictures, because the pictures I could have taken may turn people away from the beauty of Haiti. I still struggle with finding a balance, and I’m sure it will get even tougher when my family and I move there in December. But I love that I have found many blogs of families in Haiti and learn from you all.

  • Erin

    I struggle with this a good deal. In the beginning of my time here I was much more willing to share stories and pictures. As time went on, I became much more aware of my inability to share stories that felt fair and holistic, especially because the stories I am a part of and that I hear…are made in the midst of a context that most (if not all) of my readers and audience do not understand or know.

    Now, most of my writing and storytelling revolved around me and my experiences instead of others. I still struggle with how to write in a way that shares the multitude of complexities and realities that are a part of those things, but at least now if someone is offended or offensive, it’s about me and not my friends or community.

    The hardest part of story-telling for me is when I am on home assignment and expected to share stories and sermons every day/worship service/meeting. I am not comfortable telling other people’s stories in these situations- because I don’t believe they are mine to tell. I try to only speak about what God is teaching me, what I am learning, etc….that feels much more authentic to me. It also manages to disappoint most of the groups I speak to who want to hear about the “poor people” (grrrr).

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      I hear you Erin. Time changes perspective a lot. Living in a culture and learning the norms is actually easier than trying to describe it respectufully and well to folks living outside of it.

  • Yes! And Yes! I, too, blog a lot less about Laos specifically than I did when we moved there. Part of that is my own level of needing to process this other country and culture has dropped off as I’ve gotten (a little) more familiar with it. Part of it is the ever-expanding awareness of not knowing enough to phrase things well enough to be what I’d consider responsible in handling someone else’s story. Thanks for this post.

    • Lisa, I totally could have repeated this comment– I feel the same way. The initial shock, esp. for bloggers/writers, comes out in a slew of words, but as things level off, so does the need to process. And yes, I agree, you gain perspective in seeing “them” as people, not merely objects for a newsletter.

      I agree, great post, Tara!

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      I agree that time means we process differntly, and I think for most of us time also means a deeper respect and abiding love for the people we’re privledged to walk and work with — And it is easy to tell the story of a woman you don’t really know or love but once she is your friend it gets tricky. I don’t like looking back at my 2006 posts because the photos I posted are not a representation of the beauty here, only of the poverty. I think I see the entire country differently now. Thanks for your feedback, Lisa and Laura!

  • I could substitute Honduras for Haiti and your words would speak my heart… seekers, students, life-long learners, lovers of people… praying to honor even better this year than last.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      🙂 me too Laura, me too!

  • I started reading you shortly before I met you. And I’ve admired you from the very first word. This is why…the way you care deeply. Deeply enough to leave stories untold and words unspoken. That is wisdom. In my rush (is that the right word?) to get words on a page, I don’t want to trample others underfoot. I want to hold lightly and steward well the words, the moments, the glimpses. Thank you for how you model this, and for the beautiful way you’ve shared it here today.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Deidra,
      I loved meeting you last year! This is sacred stuff we are allowed to be a part of and I learned the hard way that sometimes saying less, is actually saying MORE (about my respect for Haitians). Much love to you today friend!

    • In my rush (is that the right word?) to get words on a page, I don’t want to trample others underfoot.

      YES, I loved this, and love, too that Tara is modeling this for the international community.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Love.love this post. Convicting, beautiful, timely. I’m sure you’ve heard the old quote “Spend a week in a country and write a best seller; spend a year and write a popular magazine article; spend a life time and you can barely write a sentence” These words meant so much to me: “Our skin has thickened enough to take that. But when people say terrible things about Haitians it grieves us. The level of animosity and prejudice can be shocking. Those odious words have actually served to help me be more aware of the times I am “down on Haiti” and making generalizations based on one discouraging encounter.” I feel this way about the Muslim world. And know that stories shared on the internet can elicit much anonymous feedback – feedback that can hurt the story, the storyteller, and the people of the story. I thank you for your conclusion – so beautifully put and my prayer as well: “share the stories with the utmost care and respect for the dignity of the people ” Of people created in the image of God. Thank you once again Tara.

    • Richelle Wright

      beginning to have my own understanding for the muslim world myself… and sometimes it is easier not to share than to risk the responses of others who are not always interested in understanding but are more interested in proving to themselves how they are smarter, wiser, more humane… etc., that these people that are now no longer just national geographic photo ops, but are souls and friendships and people – a lot more like me than different from me.

      and then that wise statement – treat others as you would want to be treated – becomes quite powerful.

  • I recently posted a quote on our blog from a book I read:
    “If you go to a foreign country for a few weeks, you can write about book about it. If you live there for half a year, you might risk writing an article. But it is worth staying there longer and digging into local life, history and culture, so that, if you’re not a fool, you’ll begin to feel that you don’t have enough information and understand how little you know, how little you can judge the country and its people, their motivations and the logic of their behavior, psychology and mindset. The longer you are acquainted with a country, the harder it is to write about it.”

    http://fylliska.blogspot.com/2013/04/a-book-about-americans.html

  • Randi S

    It breaks my heart that people would say unkind things like that about you “forcing” your kids to be there. You’re a family. But it more, too, breaks my heart that people can be so unkind to other people in general. I was just reading one of the 3 Johns and it said that if someone says they love God but hates a Christian brother or sister, then they don’t love God (completely paraphrasing this). I think that’s completely true of hating any one. How can you? God made them and loves them and wants them to be saved and with Him.

  • Pingback: And then I read “When bad Christians happen to good people…”()

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