Three months! I have been living in Haiti for 3 months now and it feels like I’ve been here for a whole year. My first week alone was a very comprehensive “Welcome to Haiti” experience. Co-workers have joked that what I’ve endured, some Haitians would come to experience only over a lifetime. Being here for only 3 months, it’s easy for me to note some of my immediate thoughts. And also, experience a sense of nostalgia from things I haven’t encountered since I was a little girl living here. Here are a few of things I wanted to highlight.
- Growing up in Miami, I was brought up as an only child. However, I was surrounded by my younger cousins who all happened to be boys. But as a little girl in Haiti, while living at my grandmother’s house, I was surrounded by all of my older cousins. So it’s new territory living with my younger cousins who are girls.
- It feels like American music dominates the streets way more than konpa.
- The days seriously zoom by when you’re in Haiti. It’s still hard to believe that it’s already been 3 months. I can recount the day I touched down at the airport and the customs agent was skeptical when I said I had nothing to declare, as his eyes beamed at my 3 luggage.
- I have come to believe that every Haitian mother who has shipped clothes to Haiti has had a child that either attended the University of Florida or the University of Miami. Not one day goes by that I don’t come across someone wearing the same GATOR or UM paraphernalia that I am certain is hanging in my closet.
- Car troubles have been a motif in this chapter of my life. I can no longer recall the number of times we’ve caught a flat tire or the car broke down. The flat tires are often easily resolved, but when the car breaks down that’s when it’s the most comical. It always seems to happen in the evening, on our way home, after a loonnnng day. And I usually get out to help my uncle push the car out of the traffic lol
- I learned that students who attend lekòl kay mère “cannot” be seen doing certain things while in their uniform. And pushing a car is one of them lol
- Rain is the kryptonite in Port Au Prince. When you suspect the possibility that it may rain, you have to do your absolute best to get to your destination, QUICKLY! Your 1-hour commute can instantly turn into 4 hours. This happened to me on multiple occasions. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone. We’ve been stuck while driving through La Saline, Cité Soleil, Kafou Aeroport, and Clercine. Some areas flood so badly, it gets practically impossible to drive through. Therefore, you find yourself in standstill traffic. There’s no police to direct traffic so it is a complete free for all. So imagine, getting off of work at 3PM and not getting home until 8:30PM.
- On the evening of October 6, 2018, the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit northern Haiti, sent some tremors to Port Au Prince. I was laying in bed while waiting for my aunt to finish making hot chocolate in the kitchen. Then all of a sudden, I felt my bed shaking. I thought to myself, “that’s odd”, so I sat up in my bed. But I didn’t sense anything, so I laid back down. And yet again, I felt the bed shaking. I had no idea what was happening until I heard my little cousin run out of her room and yell out there was just an earthquake.
- Haiti is one of the few countries where cars appreciate in value, not depreciate. I have seen four-door sedans transformed into 2 door pickup trucks. I understand why Haitians in the U.S. love themselves their little Toyotas, those cars really do go the mile. There are cars here that I don’t think have been in the U.S. since the 80s.
- Always carry a pack of wipes with you, they are your best friends. I would share this story because it’s EXTREMELY hilarious, but I rather not because it is highly embarrassing lol
- I’ve experienced the meaning to have a sense of closeness with the neighbors in your “lakou”. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, if we’re home, you’ll find us sitting outside taking in the fresh air. And the people living nearby will come to sit and share the latest news or just give us a simple bonsoir/bonswa as they pass by. Everyone knows each other and you really feel the sense of community here. Watching the small children play and converse with each other like old adults is my favorite part of sitting outside.
- Let’s get into the money. Currently, the U.S. dollar is worth roughly 74 Haitian gourdes. That means for less than $3 U.S. I can buy a hearty plate of food. The idea of this still blows my mind. Also, you’ll often hear the people refer to money in either gourdes or dollars. But when they talk in dollars it’s not necessarily U.S. dollars. It’s Haitian dollars. One Haitian dollar is equivalent to 5 Haitian gourdes.
- Gang violence. You know how there are gangs in the U.S., there are gangs in Haiti too. And a few of them happen to operate right around where I work, which is considered to be one of the ghettos in Port Au Prince. My coworkers are often very perplexed about how calm I am when there are shootings in the area. And I have to often break it down to them that, this is not some strange phenomenon to me because this happens in Miami too.
- I have walked into really nice hotels and restaurants instantly feeling removed from the population. It often makes me feel “weird” because most of the time the people who frequent these places, don’t mirror the majority of Haiti’s population. It really brings light to the fact that if you are financially well off in Haiti you can easily be removed from the day to day challenges that many of the Haitian people experience.
- I’m not questioned or harassed by security when I walk into an establishment because they assume that I’m supposed to be there because of my outward appearance. But when I catch public transportation or walk to work on foot, I always receive looks of confusion from the locals. One thing about Haitians, they will stare you down! And I’ll often hear, “ti pitit sa pa mal non”… so then I start to walk faster lol
- Oh! I have been through two manifestations (demonstrations) and a week-long grève. When Haitians have their demonstrations, it’s pretty serious and the one on November 18th was in fact serious. I came home from work on Friday, November 16 and couldn’t’ leave the house until Saturday, November 24. So after a few days, we were running low on groceries. But luckily, there are machans within the vicinity of our home so we were able to buy things here and there to prepare some decent meals. But after a few days, the machans started to run low on supplies which meant our meals were starting to look like struggle food lol This situation really had me examining the state of this country. I know that Haiti isn’t going to change if we as Haitians abroad don’t do something to strategically throw ourselves into Haiti. It is easy to “rep” Haiti when you’re living away, out of the economic situation. It’s easy to become discouraged and point fingers, blaming so and so for the state of the country. However, with a simple google search, you will realize that Haiti has been going through this cycle for quite some time. Imagine. I spent a week at in the house, unable to leave because of the large demonstrations taking over the streets. Why? Because the government cannot explain what happened to funds that were set in place to support developmental projects for the country. So the people are mad. The community is frustrated, they can’t eat, they can’t send their children to school, they lack security, they lack a proper roof over their heads, they lack proper sanitation, they lack clean water, and the list goes on. With reason, they are mad. Wouldn’t you be? Because I am. But the difference between a good majority of the Haitian citizens and myself is that I have the ability to leave. You’re living in a country and all you will ever know and see are the four corners of your neighborhood. Where someone else holds the power to either approve or deny you the opportunity to experience somewhere other than your neighborhood. As a U.S. citizen, I can just get up and go. If there is political unrest, I can just go. If there is a natural disaster, I can just go. But what about the countless number of people that are always left behind to pick up the pieces? I can’t find it in my heart to not use the opportunities that I have been given and reinvest them in the country that has given me my sense of identity and purpose. Because at the end of the day it is our responsibility to elevate the county.
There are countless other things I could highlight, but it would be overwhelming to read. But being in Haiti has taught me to value life. Not in a cliche sort of way, but to appreciate the things, the people, and the moments that come into my life. Living in a fast-paced city like Miami, we often forget to poze and really listen. I don’t think I’ve ever really understood what it meant to be still and to listen until I got here. So while I’m here I have a whole lot more listening that I intend to do.