The president of the United States of America decided to use some colorful language when describing certain countries from where people immigrate to the United States.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” he allegedly asked, talking about nations such as Haiti and Nigeria, then suggesting the U.S. bring more immigrants from places like Norway, according to the Washington Post.
Since the story broke, President Donald Trump has denied making these comments; there has been an argument about whether Trump said “shithole” or “shithouse,” as if one of those is an arguably better choice.
But the damage is already done.
Governments from countries in Africa as well as Haiti have condemned the president’s words. The argument has also been made that he was speaking in a private meeting, but in our current political climate, rarely does anything stay private.
I’ve been left to wonder exactly what he deems a “shithole” (or “house,” depending on which side of the “shit” aisle you fall on) country. I can only assume, given the context of the discussion, he is referring to third world, or developing countries.
Now, I have never been to Haiti or Nigeria. I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on these places, but I have been to two developing countries and spent extensive time with the people who call some of these places home, and I can tell you one thing — these people carry themselves with more honor, respect and dignity than our president does.
I had the privilege to volunteer in Guatemala twice while in college, and I took a freelance job in Ghana last March.
My first trip to Guatemala has shaped me in a way I don’t think I could ever explain. It influenced me so much that I worked hard to be able to go a second time.
There was a lot of anxiety I carried going to a foreign country where I couldn’t speak the language and where I didn’t know how I would be perceived. I was never scared, but nervous that these people would think I was a fool for trying to come work with them when I couldn’t even communicate with them. Especially given the United States “you come to this country, you speak our language” mentality. I wondered if people in other countries felt the same way.
Not once in the two weeks that I spent over there did anyone look down at me because I couldn’t speak Spanish. Instead, they helped me understand through body language, hand gestures and photos. They laughed with me, were patient with me, and more importantly, welcomed me without any hesitation.
It was the most humbling and eye-opening experience of my life.
And it wasn’t just the way they treated me; it was how they treated life.
One morning, we were out working in a home, building a stove for a family. One of my advisors, who has lived in Guatemala and is fluent in Spanish, greeted a woman walking by to wish her a good morning. The woman started telling my advisor about her morning and making time to thank God for all that she has and that she woke up healthy in the morning.
My advisor told me of the conversation later, and I still think about it almost daily.
Very rarely in my life do I take the time to sit and reflect on all that I have been blessed with. In fact, I don’t know many people in my life who do. I’m more concerned with making it to work on time and being fixated on the luxuries I have in life to really sit back and think “hey, I’m here. I made it another day. I’m so lucky.” But, since that day, I’ve made it a point to at least try to be a little more mindful of all the blessings around and within me.
Similarly, when I traveled to Ghana, I met a man named Stephen who opened his entire house and family to me, a complete stranger, so I could film them, interview them and document them. There was never any hesitation, which most journalists I know would tell you is a rarity for just meeting a person.
The first day I met Stephen, he greeted me with a hug. He called me “friend” and allowed me to walk his kids to school. I was there for the celebration of Ghana’s independence day. Everyone was so proud and cheerful of how far their country has come, and they were open to celebrating with everyone who was around — even those girls from the United States.
You see, politicians and people like President Trump want to make generalizations about these countries. And yes, they are developing and poorer than the U.S., but with the richness they have in their culture and in the kindness they carry in their hearts, we would be lucky to share our homes with them. We might even learn a thing or two about humanity.
Reach Brigid Edmunds at 570-991-6113 or on Twitter @brigidedmunds.