Religion and belief

Haiti is a nation of two primary religions – Christianity and Voodoo. It is not uncommon to see people praying over sick children here. Yesterday a grandmother came in and was loudly exhorting Jesus in a hypnotic almost chant in which she mostly offered praise to Jesus’ name, calling out that only He had the power to heal this child. She continued for several minutes, and the other women in the room would murmur Amens at the appropriate points. Sometimes on the weekends there are people who come in to sing hymns – somehow nearly everyone knows the words. Even in fairly poor families, it is not at all uncommon to see that people have brought their bible (or sometimes a smaller booklet with excerpts) with them to the hospital.

I have less contact with Voodoo. I have already had my first patient leave this month because their problem was “not a medical problem.” I have written about this before – the belief that some problems are best handled by a boko – a faith healer. Much tricker for me to navigate, and a topic which people are often unlikely to want to discuss with me.

Somewhere in the middle lies a set of beliefs that I think belongs not entirely to either realm. For instance, people have a very fatalistic attitude. If I am looking to explain the uncertainty of a child’s prognosis, the best way I’ve found is to say “It is God who knows.” Mothers almost universally agree, usually noting that God is good, and saying that it is for God to decide. Same when I tell a parent a child is dying – they will commonly attribute it to God’s will, and say if God wants the child to live, it will live. If God wants it to die, it will die. This does seem like a way of pushing off some of the worrying that I see parents (and virtually all people – myself included) elsewhere engage in – they realize that the outcome is out of their hands and give it over to something they know they cannot control.

There are also interesting superstitions, same as you will find in any culture. I read an article this morning about Korean beliefs about deadly electric fans. I would be interested to read the book mentioned in the article, looking at the truth behind such beliefs from around the world. My favorite one here is a string placed on the forehead of a baby – it ward off hiccups.

I would love to hear about your favorite myth or belief, whether one that you hold or one that you encountered elsewhere. Leave a comment below!

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