Bondye konnen nou degaje.
God knows we deal with things.
Sometimes there are simple words or concepts that highlight the massive divides that exist in our world. The Haitian Creole word degaje is one of those words. For many Haitians, degaje is a harsh daily reality, as well as a way of life. A simple translation of degaje is simply to absolve or to deal with. However, the word represents something bigger in the context of Haiti.
Haiti is a hard place to live. It’s a land that lacks many things. When confronted with a challenge or a problem, rarely do you have access to the supplies or solutions for a “simple” or proper fix. Degaje is doing what it takes to deal with whatever problem is in front of you, making do with the limited options around you. Maybe the best example of this is found in Haitian vehicles. It’s often difficult to find replacement parts that exactly fit a vehicle. So, it’s common degaje to pull scrap parts off a broken down vehicle and make them work (weld, wedge, tie…) on your broken down tap-tap or moto.
For those non-native to Haiti, witnessing degaje can leave us feeling both amazed and horrified all at the same time. First, we are struck by how different Haiti is from what we are used to. In the US especially, we don’t typically need to degaje. If we have a problem, we call a professional to fix it. If something breaks, we buy new or pay someone to fix it for us. We aren’t used to simply getting by with what we have. From the outside, the concept puts us in awe of Haitians in their determination and ingenuity. However, it can also be scary or frustrating. Degaje in Haiti often sacrifices the long-term for the short-term. It can often cause more harm than good in the long-run. However, when you are trying to survive the day today, degaje may be your only option.
There is another more literal translation of degaje that is important to note: release. One thing you learn to appreciate about the Haitian people is their ability to live in the moment and not be continually consumed by chasing perfection or what life should look like. Most of us who travel to Haiti encounter an unexpected joy and freedom amongst the people that is hard to understand from our perspectives. In Haiti there are no illusions that things can or should be perfect. In Haiti, there is acceptance that assistance is needed. By contrast, those of us who live with means often find ourselves trapped by them. We spend most of our time worried about having all our ducks in a row. We don’t worry about basic survival as much as we worry about comfort and sense of security. To us, degaje is scary and a failure. How can we be living our best life if we are living a life that is uncomfortable and unexpected?
No one should have to live in a situation where they have to degaje simply survive. None of us should accept that people all over the world have to live this way. However, we also need to realize that their experience may offer wisdom and insight that we lack. In that regard, perhaps we all could do with a bit more degaje in our day-to-day lives.
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