BY ONZ CHÉRY
Under the chronic stress caused by the State being dysfunctional, Haitians look for ways to find happiness.
Rosemilka Ancion, a social worker in Jacmel, could not stop thinking about how she did not have the 1,500 gourdes, or $USD 9.95, to make the pizza her five-year-old daughter asked for. So Ancion started getting that headache she believes is caused by stress again.
While Ancion layed on her bed, Kendy from church sent a message in the church’s WhatsApp’s group. It was the video of Kendy asking his little brother the nationality of the Colombians who took part in President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination. Kendy’s little brother could not answer even though the answer was in the question. Ancion bursted out laughing.
“The stress became chaotic, you’re always thinking, always complaining to yourself,” Ancion said. “But look how Brother Kendy made me laugh when I had a headache. I laughed and forgot about what I was thinking about.”
Stress is extremely high in Haiti due to ongoing violence and high prices, but to release it, scores of residents spend time joking around, use their phone for countless hours and praying to God, they said.
Chronic stress has blanketed Haiti as the country further weakens, with the government unable to to provide basic services such as safety and security, healthcare, justice, even electricity and wifi. To get through each day, people often find relief in fellowship – online like Ancion has as well as offline. They fellowship offline as well, through gatherings.
Finding laughs to live by
Jephte Mondestin, a construction worker based in Cap-Haitien, likes to spend his hours cracking jokes in the various baz, or hangout spots, around town. They help him not dwell on the problems that stem from the country being in such decline. For instance, Mondestin is struggling financially due to lack of jobs, so sometimes he misses meals.
“In Haiti, you have to be the one looking for ways to entertain yourself so stress doesn’t kill you,” Mondestin, 39, said. “The State doesn’t give you ways to please yourself. I like to joke around, I like to have a good time.”
Pascale Auguste, a psychologist in Port-au-Prince, said, she is among those in her profession who recommend having laughs with friends to relieve stress.
“It’s really effective,” Auguste said. “[Do] not stay isolated, always have at least one person you can talk to.”
It works for Manuel Casimir, who cannot go out as much as before because of the ongoing violence in his Port-au-Prince neighborhood. He spends hours and hours joking with friends from high school on WhatsApp and scrolling on Instagram.
Casimir, who asked to go by this pseudonym out of fear, said hearing gunshots is the norm where he lives.
“If you go out and make it back home, thank God,” Casimir said. “I can spend a whole week without going out. Stress is my illness, my passion, I go to sleep with it and we wake up together. We do everything together.”
Auguste also warned that being on the phone could become “addictive” if they depend on it too much to decrease anxiety. It will cause more stress when they do not have their phones with them — something that is common in Haiti due to the lack of electricity.
“Woooy – I’m not well at all,” said Casimir about when his phone is dead. “All the problems pile up in my head. I even think about death. It frustrates me. Especially when you don’t have charge and don’t have the money to go charge your phone.”
Strength from God and gatherings
Meanwhile, scores of other residents keep their stress at a manageable level because they joined a church community and pray to God. Ancion spends time with people from the Jacmel International Christian Church almost everyday for Bible studies, church services and doing fun activities like making fresco.
When Ancion is struggling financially, she often gets help from her pastor or other members of the church.
“If it wasn’t for the people in the church sharing, it would’ve been very hard for some young people,” Ancion said.
For Mondestin, he goes to a Baptist church in Cap-Haitien. While he does not spend as much time with members of his church like Ancion, Mondestin said he goes to God for comfort.
“When you live in a country like this, God needs to come save you, protect you,” Mondestin said. “God likes me a lot. God gives me strength when I’m weak, when I get discouraged.”
Celebrations also decrease anxiety, some say. David Jeudy, a recent computer science graduate of L’Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haïti (ESIH), enjoyed seeing his family and friends come together at a graduation party.
“I got the degree, I’m done. My family was proud,” Jeudy, 23, said. “ The degree means you have knowledge. But the stress is still here.”