Haiti, as one person told me, is a country of contrasts. This person also told me to be careful that I present all of Haiti with all of its contrasts.
For example, as we drove up mountain after mountain visiting the Haitian countryside, there were farmers moving around doing the business of daily life. They were tilling fields on the side of a mountain with hoes. Their backs and arms were bent at angles that made them seem more like acrobats and dancers than farmers. There were women and children smiling as they fetched water and carried it in buckets on top of their heads.
I mostly noticed the contrast of the bright greens of the banana trees, corn and beans growing in the fields and the deep red-rust of the soil. I have enjoyed seeing the signs of social life as women, children and men walk in long lines on the side of the road with loads of bananas, eggplant, peppers and breadfruit in big basins on top of their heads. They are all headed to the outside market where they will sell these products and buy others.
It is lovely to watch and think about how many years this process has been going on, neighbors growing food for themselves and one another.
The same person who told me that Haiti is a country of contrasts also looked me in the eye and said, “Azalia, I want you to see the real Haiti.” I keep thinking of this comment as my eyes try to take in as many sights and sounds as possible. Bananas and breadfruit, yes, but also piles of garbage on the sides of the road in Port au Prince that show no signs of having been collected in weeks.
While I am here, I also think of the outside perception of Haiti.
Before leaving for Haiti I checked out the Haiti page of the U.S. State Department website where I saw a warning strongly advising American citizens not to travel to Haiti. The State Departments cites “much sporadic violence” and neighborhoods where they “strongly advise” Amercians not to venture. A few months ago the U.S. embassy had evacuated all of their “non-essential personnel.” These warnings always perplex me because the idea is that this country is not safe for Americans. Well, what about the 8 million Haitians who live here and do not have any choice but to stay? The implication is that an American life, obviously, has much greater value.
What about finding a solution to the insecurity described by the U.S. State Department? Perhaps the presence on the UN’s MINUSTA troops is supposed to be that solution, but it is hard for me to believe that this is true as I notice them hanging out and staying in the most exclusive beachfront hotels that cater to tourists. Our first day in Port au Prince Daniel and I noticed MINUSTA trucks on the side of the road throughout the wealthier neighborhoods of Port au Prince. Each truck is filled with about four armed men. We saw one truck filled with four MINUSTA soldier holding rifles. Their “security” consisted of them all sleeping in the truck with their heads on top of the rifles.
“Azalia, I want you to see the real Haiti,” my friend told me. I want to see “the real Haiti.” One day Daniel and I are invited to the beach by two people. They tell me to look around the beach. I notice people of different classes swimming and drinking and enjoying the weather. I think Daniel and I are the only foreigners on the beach.
The person who insists that I see “the real Haiti” says, “This is not the Haiti you see on T.V. in America every night that presents an image of nothing but poverty. Do you see our beautiful beaches? Our people laughing, playing and enjoying life? Haiti has a hidden beauty and this is it. If Haiti is a beach of sand, all of the violence in Cite Soleil that gets so much press is just a grain of sand in the midst of much beauty. This is the real Haiti.”