CAP HAITIEN, Haiti- From where I sit, on a roof top in Cap Haitien, the second largest city in Haiti, life goes on as usual. There is music here, the streets are full of people, some of them are going to work, some are sitting listlessly, some are just talking, some laughing — a Haitian woman across the hotel roof from me is singing to herself — a group of men down below are gambling over dominoes, there is a lottery brokerage on nearly every block, women sit outside of their homes selling bags of purified water, pop, candy, kids chase each other, a group of young girls in Sunday dresses walk by.
There are no evident signs here of a country in distress. If it were not for the fact that I read of the earthquake, I would see no indication of it here. A man even asked me today: “Did you know there was a quake in Port au Prince?” This was not a crazy question, from the scene that was around us, there was no way to tell that the capital city was virtually reduced to ruins just a month and a half ago.
The earthquake happened yesterday, my first impression of Haiti is that it is a country that lives only for today. At street level, in the north of Haiti, the residual effects of the earthquake seem far more subtle than what meets the eye of the traveler.
“There are going to be a lot of refugees, there are going to be a lot of desperate people,” my wife spoke before I left the Dominican Republic. It is my impression that this is the common view on the entire country of Haiti, but upon arrival I had to wonder where all of these desperate people were.
Haiti is a country that is often feasted on by journalists who seem to go there determined to find the worst of anything that they can find. The news is a cyclic regurgitation of expectation: the media gives people what they demand to be shown. The happy faces of well fed Haitians do not sell. So the world gets images of kids eating mud cakes.
If the following articles seem trite due to the recent occurrences in Haiti and in contrast to how the country is portrayed in the media, then it is representative of my experiences there. Life goes on in Haiti. The country outside of Port Au Prince is functioning as it usually does. The people are not dour, angry, or in crisis; they are enjoying life, talking to each other, singing, dancing, working, betting, sitting in the streets, arguing, fishing, and laughing. The Haitian people that I talked to still mention the earthquake, but it was not often the main topic of the conversation.
They asked me first what I think of their country.
I told them that, from what I could see, it seems like a good place to be.
They usually smiled and agreed with me.
I was only in Haiti for four days — much too short of a time to formulate any solid opinions — but the following series of articles represent my experiences there. I talked to many people, I found the Haitians more than willing to talk with me, a foreigner who speaks neither Creole or French, about nearly any topic that I could come up with. They were also rarely ever short of coming up with topics themselves.
The non-native English speaking proficiency of the country is amongst the highest that I have ever before observed. I was surprised at the depth of conversation that I was able to have, even with the people who had never been to the USA before.
In my brief glimpse at the country, the people of Haiti seem to have one of the most valuable, though least sought, commodities of our age: they have time. Each time I walked up to someone working or doing something that interested me, the person would stop what they would doing, lay down their tools, and — usually with a smile — try their best to explain to me what they were doing.
For four days I walked through the streets of Cap Haitien and Labadee just talking with people. This is not a difficult thing to do in Haiti — sitting in the streets and talking seems to be the prime occupation of the country — and all a foreigner needs to do is to show their blanc face to attract more than enough conversations to keep their minds spinning and their notebooks full of quotes, anecdotes, and information.
Travel writing tends toward only showing the best of a place, journalism aims for the worst. Both professions lie through omission. As I sat on a hotel rooftop in Haiti I wondered where that left me. I don’t meet either standard, I fall through the cracks. I aim to write what I see, think, feel and leave it at that. I have few editorial guidelines, I care nothing for presenting the world that people expect to see, I don’t try to find conclusions but prefer to come to them naturally, I have no angle, seldom have a real objective, I don’t bend to meet the throng of popular opinion. I came to Haiti as a traveler — to see what I would find — and the following series of articles is the recorded of what I came across, what provoked me towards further inquiry, what made me smile, and what stuck in my craw.
This is neither intended to be a complete treatise on Haitian culture or current events, nor will I pit my observations against any person who has traveled through the country for a longer duration than I. But these are my observations anyway. I came to Haiti not looking for anything — I was devoid of a mission. But I found more than a few clusters of interest that I hope to one day build upon, the next time I travel to Haiti.
Another Side of Haiti series — Caribbean Travelogue Entries — Haiti Travel Photos