It´s hard to imagine the beauty of a country like Haiti unless you’ve traveled there. Even after the devastating 2010 earthquake that put Haiti in the news for unfortunate reasons, its natural charisma shines through. I was lucky to spend two weeks there with my family in July of 2012, and we’re planning on returning this coming summer. I liked it so much that when I was recently put under for a procedure and asked by the anesthesiologist to think of the most beautiful place I could imagine, I said: “That would be Haiti.” I heard her say, “Really?” in disbelief, and then I blissfully passed out, and dreamt of Haiti.
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I did not go there on a missionary trip. My fiancé´s mother is Haitian, and her New Zealander husband is a Haitian at heart. After I returned from visiting different parts of the country such as Port-Au-Prince, Petionville, Furcy, Cayes-Jacmel and Port Salut, I found I had left a little of my heart in each of those places.
Before I traveled I was warned about the heat, the mosquitoes, the possibility of contracting malaria, cholera, the lack of modern amenities in many places, the filth, the poverty … But I was also told about the beautiful beaches, the breathtaking views up in the mountains, the artisanship, the tasty food and the resourcefulness of the Haitian people. And that’s what I saw when I visited.
I found that there are more mosquitoes in my backyard in Florida than in Haiti, and the heat is more bearable on the island than it is in Miami. That eggs taste like eggs, chicken isn’t infused with hormones and that if you haven’t tried “lambi” (conch in creole sauce), you should!
Traveling by car in Haiti is perhaps riskier and more of a thrill than going on a rollercoaster ride at DisneyWorld, and you do need to take certain precautions when you travel there, just as to any underdeveloped country. But if you are able to avoid expecting the amenities we take for granted in the United States, you will find a country and people with heart, and soul.
I was glad that my high-school French enabled me to understand a little Creole. Many people speak English, so it´s not a huge problem if you aren’t familiar with Creole. But I was happy to see my then 8-year old playing with a little Haitian girl who spoke no English. There were no language barriers for the kids. My girl would use a translator on my Iphone and show her friend what she wanted to say and they taught each other a few words in their respective native languages.
Aside from the beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the people, there is of course, the inescapable sadness of seeing how many families are living in sub-par conditions, huddled together in slums. A lot of them have not recovered from the devastating damage of the earthquake. Everywhere we went, kids would come up to us and ask us—in perfect English—whether we’d sponsor their education. I found myself giving money to a few of them until I was warned by Haitian friends and family that if I started down that road I’d end up doling out cash for the remainder of my stay.
Still, I was impressed by the resourcefulness of most—they’ll find ways to turn garbage—literally garbage—into jewelry or other art-forms. I love their wrought iron which adorns our house in Florida. We own all kinds of Haitian art, jewelry and I have hand-made clutches, handbags, eyeglasses holders … and now also the papier mache vase that you can see in the picture.
It´s a Heart of Haiti Vase, Spotted Papier Mache made in Jacmel, part of a fair trade collection in partnership with Full Circle Exchange. Part of the proceeds go to the artisans, who have signed each vase. When I look at it, a one of a kind, earthy hand-made piece, I´m taken back to the Hotel Florita in Jacmel, I see the brown eyes of the girl in the picture, my daughter’s play friend. I remember the Hotel Oloffson in Port-Au-Prince, which Graham Greene featured in his novel The Comedians, as Hotel Trianon … and the evenings I spent writing, while sitting in my in-laws´ porch in Petionville, drinking a cold Prestige, the local beer. And, I dream of doing it all over again this coming summer.
Disclosure: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere provided me with this piece of artwork from the Macy’s Heart of Haiti collection. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.