CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti- I walked into the Croissant d’Or bakery in Cap-Haitien, and immediately met three very large, armored bodies of UN soldiers. They are here as a part of a re-stabilization mission called MINUSTAH. I walked up to the soldiers — I had little choice, they took up the entire bakery — and asked them in English were they were from.
One was from Egypt, one from Jordan, and the other was from France. They were ordering sandwiches. I asked them how long they have been in Haiti. The Egyptian laughed and told me that he had been here for seven years.
“I have been here so long that I am Haitian now,” he said to laughs all around.
The other two men vouched for his statement — they felt they had been here long enough to be Haitian as well.
“Do you ever go home?” I asked them.
The international group of soldiers laughed at this too. Apparently, this was a strange question.
“I have one year left,” the Egyptian answered with a far away look.
We made further small talk, and, with a shake of their very large soldier hands, I made my way into the bakery.
“Do you need help?” the Egyptian solider then asked as sort of an afterthought.
“No, I just wanted to talk.”
I ordered a pizza for 100 Gourde — $2.50. It was probably the best meal I had eaten in over a month.
I noticed a Haitian man eating a pastry that seemed to be listening to me talk in English with the girls who worked at the bakery. The girls could not fully understand what I was saying, but we managed to communicate in pidgin English, pidgin Spanish, and with the help of my notebook. I turned towards that Haitian man and asked him if he spoke English.
He said no, but he then began speaking English.
“I don’t speak English, but you have to know English to get a job outside of Haiti,” he said slowly, clearly demolishing my belief in his prior statement.
He told me that he was a student in Port au Prince, and that the earthquake destroyed his university.
“Everything fell down,” he spoke solemnly.
He then explained how he returned to his parent’s home in Cap-Haitien after the earthquake, like thousands of other Haitians had done all over the country.
“When do you think you will be able to return to school?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied slowly, “maybe four or six months.”
He then told me that he really wanted to leave Haiti, that he really wanted to live in the United States.
“There are lots of Haitians in the USA,” I tried to encourage him.
It did not work so well. My new acquaintance knew the reality of the circumstance all too well.
“It is very difficult, it is very difficult for a Haitian to leave,” he spoke, and with a tinge of emotion added with sense of finality, “my next place is Haiti.”
There was not much that I could say to this.
“My next place is Haiti,” he repeated.
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