My Time in Haiti (Part 1)

­­I’m writing this blog post from Haiti.  I am currently in the inner-city of Port-Au-Prince (PAP), within a region called Delmas.  I’m staying a couple of days with a Haitian friend from college's family.  I’m grateful, as I have always wanted to know and immerse myself within this city I hear so much about, the heart and epicenter of Haiti.  It’s quite serendipitous how I ended up staying with this family and experiencing PAP for several.

What happened was that my plans changed due to riots and civil unrest against the government.  The people want to kick president Jovenel Moise and his administration out of the office after learning about their spending government money for their own houses and vacations in the world’s most beautiful and expensive spots (or so the story goes).  It’s unfortunate, since the whole country had high hopes for this president, being a entrepreneur and businessman specializing in banana exports in the north of the country.  One of their very own. 

Consequently, tree planting organization that was to send me a driver for my travel from PAP to the deforested mountains of the Artibonite couldn’t send one since there had been blockades along the road passage of Highway 1.  Additionally, there is widespread theft, cars being lit on fire, and guns being fired. 

Not wanting to miss a single day in Haiti and in a last minute act of desperation, I reached out to my friend from college to ask if I could stay with her and her family!  She said yes and that her father would pick me up from the airport!  Eureka!  Right before I left for the airport, I had asked my friend if she liked playing chess (so we could play in Haiti).  She said yes, but proceeded to remind me how she was in New Jersey for the summer as a camp counselor.  Whoops… I had forgotten. 

Nevertheless, when I arrived Mr. Charles, my friend’s father picked me up with the warmest embrace of an unknown college-aged man, I knew I would be safe and enjoy my time here.  And I have!   The temperature is very hot and humid, enough to make you deeply crave an air conditioner.  Additionally, I have been bitten by 20-30 mosquitoes. 

Haitian by Trees

I have already been touched by almost every person I’ve met thus far.  On the plane rides over to PAP, I met two awesome ladies with whom I shared a connection.  The first, on my flight from Pit to Miami, was a mother who was going to Cap Haitien on a mission trip called Surf City Haiti with the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation.  She was the treasurer and accountant for the organization doing awesome things in my city.  I had met her once before when I was first originally starting Te Amo, back in December 2017.  I was selling tea at quaint but very nice vendor show at a high-spirited coffee shop called Uncommon Grounds Café in Aliquippa.  She had bought a ton of my grandma’s Peruvian Chai Tea!  It was crazy how things are connected and God smiles upon us with the kind meetings of his created people.

The second lady I met on my flight from Miami to PAP, and she was headed to Grazie (southern part of Haiti) to visit friends from her time working at a Christian school non-profit in that area.  She reminded me of someone I knew from Grove City College, with a striking and slightly older resemblance and demeanor.  We spoke about the history and circumstance that Haiti finds itself in now – from the main issues of government, taxation (and tax collecting, or lack thereof), education, medical care, disease, the amount of non-profits all over the country, deforestation, business opportunity, energy production/consumption, overpopulation, religion in Haiti, and on top of all the unfortunate circumstances – natural disasters.  All these are directly or indirectly tied together, and they make for a country that is deep down on a slippery slope that began over 500 years ago during French & Spanish colonization.

We talked about whether or not the nation is cursed.  I try not to make mystical assumptions, especially when they are negative, however we proceeded to chat about how the nation began with a voodoo ceremony called Bwa Kayman where a voodoo priest, Duty Boukman, called for slave revolt in the nation.  100’s of years later, the country’s unfortunate circumstance (as compared with the rest of the world) has not recouped.  Despite their less than ideal circumstances, there is a love and positive energy coming from within every Haitian I meet.  It is an ironic duality that Haitians happen to be under worse circumstances externally than we Americans.  However, internally they have a spirit that cannot be matched by most of the American population. 

Indeed, going to a country in which no one looks like you nor speaks your language is my favorite sort of travel. It’s at this point that you enter another planet altogether...  a planet you may have had presuppositions about before arriving to.  A planet where almost every presupposition is torn down.  The ignorance of media representation vanishes and the truth comes from immersing oneself in true happenings. 

One of my favorite parts of the country is the food.  It’s incredible.  It’s hearty and comforting.  Full of flavor, spice, fat, and savory calories.  Just how I like it!  In these Caribbean countries, the people kick back by going to local bars where they can drink all sorts of juices, coffee, tea, beer, and liquor.  One after the other.  It is awesome, and it’s a delictably glutinous consumption of liquid and laughter with the others present.  Plus, the coffee cups are tiny and cute little finger-sized cups.  This is vastly different from our humoungous 16+ ouncer coffee mugs and thermoses in the US.

Kindness takes you a LONG WAY in Haiti, and as it should be anywhere, of course.  For example, when I arrived here in Haiti and walked out of the airport, there was over a hundred taxi drivers waiting to get a customer.  They would say “Taxi?”, to which I simply responded “No, merci anpil”, which means “No, thank you very much”.  They would smile at my foreign-ness and polite refusal - instead of being bummed out or sour like they certainly could be if I just said “No”.  In fact, there’s a Haitian proverb for being kind.  It goes “Bonjou ou se paspo ou”, or “good morning is your passport.  The way you say “good morning” is how you will be received.  In other words, courtesy will take you far.

Yes, it is very quick and easy to fall in love with this small developing country, as myself and many others have in the past.  I yearn to reforest this beautiful country and perhaps help these incredible people and their children little by little with indeed planting over 100 million trees over my career with Treecup.  It’s a do-able thing, and the market/circumstance in the USA makes such an endeavor profitably fruitful as well.

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