See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction…Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…Deut 30: 15; 19b
I was born in Gonaives, Haiti; a small city, just a few miles from the Gulf of Gonave. In that city I received my very first course on Entrepreneurship. Not by Donald Trump or some other successful CEO, and not by some NGO promising to develop the leaders of tomorrow. My first course on Entrepreneurship was from non-other than the women that lived in the city, whom, might I mention, carried no formal education. The women in that city were who stimulated the economy. They would wake up very early in the morning for their water run at a nearby well, pump or river. They made sure all of their children were well dressed in their uniforms and then off to school not forgetting to put something in their belly to hold them up throughout the day. They washed the dishes and cleaned around their “house” and they were off to run their businesses. By that time it’s only around 7:30 or 8 in the morning.
It’s funny but I can’t remember the men’s presence in the town. Over the years I’ve thought of many reasons why men were somewhat absent in our town. And one of the reasons for the men’s lack of presence in countries like Haiti is due to the lack of resources, jobs and famine. The men leave in the hopes of a better life and opportunities for their families. In some other countries, it’s war that drives the men out of town. My dad was one of the men that left in the early 70s searching for work and a better life for our family. And the women are left behind to fend for themselves.
Because of ‘being left behind’, the women were forced to play roles that traditionally would not have been handed to them. These women advanced to be business women with the ability to “successfully” sell their products and use their profits to send their children to school and for food. I remember one of our entrepreneurial neighbors; her specialty was brewing medicinal tea. She would brew a concoction of leaves because she knew in that city her audience relied heavily on natural cures. There were insufficient doctors and hospitals to respond to illnesses. She had a captivating audience. She brewed her tea and every day she’d walk up and down the streets promoting hot tea that can cure all kinds of maladies. I loved it. Not the tea though, yuck! To this day, I can recite her little “jingle” as she walked up and down the streets promoting her tea: “retire gaz sou lestomak nou maten-an, lave lestomak nou maten-an” “take the gas out your stomach this morning, cleanse out your stomach this morning”.
My favorite entrepreneur was the peanut butter merchant who made peanut butter from scratch. She would start off by roasting the peanuts with habanero peppers and later grind them to a heavenly buttery peanutty taste I only associate to Haiti. Anyone who knows me knows of my love for Haitian peanut butter, I spent a lot of time near this woman’s home as I learned her technique. But don’t ask me to make you Haitian peanut butter; I only love to eat it.
These were some of the influential women entrepreneurs in my circle when I grew up.
But these women entrepreneurs walked around carrying heavy burdens from what’s been done to them. Many of the women in town weren't just alone because their husbands left for a better life; many of them were alone because their husbands rejected them and did not see their worth. You could almost single out the women who had gone through a tremendous amount of pain and suffering. Some of them were mean, bitter and distrusting of everyone around them. Everything was a big “secret”. They hid from others and never learned who they truly were. They would start scuffles for no reason at all. They would gossip because it made their lives feel a little bit more superior to the other. Sad to say, I had many of these women in my family. Sad to say, these women aren’t specific to only Haiti. I’ve been to Africa and India and I was shocked that these women were there too. And as civilized as America is; these women are here too. In fact I was becoming one of these women; pain and suffering started turning me into that mean, bitter old woman with no love to give; until I read something that changed my path:
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction…Now choose life, so that you and your children may live… Deut 30: 15; 19b
This verse has forever changed my perspective on how to live life in the midst of pain and suffering. Moses told the Israelite community who was about to cross the Jordan River into a life of more pain and suffering to “choose life”. I screamed at the Bible: “choose life?? Are you kidding me Moses??” This verse stopped me dead in my road of self-destruction and put me in the middle of the fork in the road and asked: “Dieula, what are you going to choose? The choice is yours, life or death?” So I chose life not only for myself but for my family, my children and now I aim to encourage other women to do the same. The reality is we can still have life in spite of pain and suffering. Yes, I can only imagine what’s been done to you. I hear your stories every day from women from all over the world; there’s rape, betrayal, infidelity, rejection, neglect and more. I hear your pain but you can still live a productive life even when chaos has entered your world.
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