Don't listen to what they say. Go see! My first impressions of this amazing country.
There 's just something spectacular about starting a new day in the Caribbean. Maybe it's the sound of waves meeting the shore. Or the sweet smell of papaya and mango cut for breakfast. Or maybe just maybe its the feeling that runs deep when the sun kisses your face or when sand sticks between your toes.
However, in Haiti there was something magically different...something far beyond the norm here. Paulo Coehlo once said, "certain things in life simply have to be experienced – and never explained. Love is such a thing." I believe Haiti is another. (But here is my feeble attempt.)
I arrived for my eight day vacation filled with expectation. I was certain that Haiti was more than violence, poverty, chaos, and aid. I just needed the personal experience to prove it. My first full day was spent exploring the breathtaking beaches near Cap-Haitien. For around $17 USD RT/person, my friend and I secured a water taxi outside of Royal Caribbean's private resort Labadee and headed towards the small island of Ile a Rat. Since we returned to the mainland earlier than expected, we waited about an hour for our ride back to the city. During the wait it began to rain. As buckets of water literally fell from the sky, we were invited to take shelter in the only covering near by. We were shown unimaginable hospitality as others sacrificed their spots inside so that perfect strangers could stay dry. (Y'all, I almost cried!)
The following day we journeyed about an hour away by tap-tap (public transport) from Cap-Haitien to Milot. Here, we experienced the ruins of Sans Souci Palace and the splendor of Citadelle Laffariere. Walking the halls of the fortress evoked an emotional response; the feeling you get when visiting a historical site that represents a shift in humanity's story. That's how powerful the Haitian liberation was and still is. I couldn't help but remember the resilience, determination, and sacrifice of Haiti's past and I was awakened to see that same spirit alive and well in Haiti's present. For example:
Walking through town, I encountered people working tirelessly and with enterprise to succeed even under limited economic opportunities.
I forgot my hat in a public place. 45 minutes later it was still there; kept safe for me by a shop keeper. (You can't imagine how glad I was to be reunited with my $12 "Formation-esque hat!)
I stayed with a Haitian family committed to educating the next generation. They believed their efforts contribute to making Haiti a better place,
When looking for a replacement cellphone charger, I was not only told where to go but I was escorted there to make sure I received the price for locals. (And I'm not even Haitian!)
On the flight back to Port-au-Prince from Cap-Haitien, I met a 30-something Haitian American who relocated to Haiti for work that advances physician training and residency in the country. She casually mentioned missing her son, and when I pried, she shared the selfless story of how she adopted him.
Interesting Fact: Above is Citadelle Lafferiere, the largest fort in the Western Hemisphere built after the Haitian revolution. Fighting for self determination and independence, African slaves triumphed over the French, British, and Spanish armies to become the first black republic in the world and the first country in the Western hemisphere to abolish the institution of slavery.
I only spent two full days in this region of the country, but it set the tone for the rest of my trip. I could sit here for hours and tell countless stories of hospitality, hope, and beauty. Yes, there is poverty but Haitians are rich in character despite the circumstances they face. Yes, there is crime but in terms of homicides, Haiti is actually safer than many of its Caribbean neighbors including popular tourist destinations like Jamaica and Dominican Republic. Yes, Haiti is considered a nation of NGOs and foreign aid, but I met so many capable Haitians doing the work to develop their own country (and I'm certain others could as well if empowered to do so.) And what about the matter of government corruption? Well... name a capitalist society that doesn't struggle with power and wealth concentrated among the few at the expense of many? Then add on the trade restrictions and sanctions Haiti faced for years after their independence, the forced payment of billions in reparations to France, the US occupation of the country which restructured its economy/constitution/government, the fact that only 10% of earthquake relief funds went to the Haitian government or Haitian organizations, the ongoing meddling of the West in Haitian elections and affairs to protect their interests, etc.
This is by far an over simplification of Haiti and my time there. I could have highlighted the delicious food, the amazing terrain and associated adventures, or the nightlife/Carnival. However, it was the people of Haiti and her beautiful/complex past that helped me to see a different side of the country. Haiti taught me:
Don't listen to what they say. Go see!