The grit of Haiti’s landscape is still beneath my fingernails. The memories are vivid. Perhaps there will be a series of posts of what I think of Haiti, our trip and the work we’ve accomplished there, the people and various things I’ve learned (am learning) from this most recent trip.
Having paid the $10 fee to get into the country, clearing customs & immigration, and gathering my luggage, I followed the team out the doors of the airport and into Port au Prince. The sounds, sights & smells were refreshingly familiar. Immediately my senses were assaulted, despite the light rain that was falling. The air was warm and moist – very comfortable for a group of Hoosiers leaving their winter wonderland. With less than a dozen steps taken on Haitian soil, we were surrounded by various men all vying for an opportunity to carry our luggage while inviting us to board their “tap tap”. Throngs of people stood huddled together underneath small shelters or palm trees waiting for their expected travelers to exit the airport. Horns were blaring and bleating from the nearby road which was filled with fast moving traffic. I took it all in and smiled. Haiti, though I’d never been there before, was comfortably familiar.
Port au Prince seemed like a maze of concrete and tin. Stereotypical third-world structures leaned and jutted in a dozen different directions. Razor wire, concrete block walls, dirt, trash, and sporadic vegetation all presented themselves to us as we headed to the road that would take us to Bercy, Cabaret. The city was very much like any other major city I’ve visited in third world countries. It did not take long to begin the departure from the city proper. As we left the city, and despite the overcast skies, I was impressed with the mountain ranges in the near distance. Banana trees, palm trees, various “mom & pop” shops all caught my eyes as I hung on the back of the tap tap. What I wasn’t prepared for was the barren mountains that quickly approached. I was shocked by the lack of trees…no, by the absence of trees. The mountains were gorgeous and huge, but without any foliage of any considerable size. And due to this lack of forestation, the mountains appeared to be brown and foreboding. I made the comment many times during my time in Haiti, “This is the harshest land I’ve ever visited”.
We were instructed to be careful in how we took pictures. It was a good reminder. Too often Americans show up to work, to do “mission”, to do _____, and somehow (even unintentionally) ignore the dignity of those to whom they may minister. The nationals become an entity to “see”, to gawk at, to observe in some weird voyeuristic sense of privilege over poverty. While I didn’t take many pictures of people, I did try to burn their every image into my memory. Their faces were many times grim, weathered and full of lines that spoke volumes of the hardships of their existence. Earthquakes, hurricanes, lack of food & clean water, no work, no housing, and a myriad of other torments tend to do that to a person. And yet, every morning they answered, “Bon jou” to my feeble attempts at greeting them. A smile, a curious glance, and down the path they would go. Many people we encountered allowed us into their modest homes, gave us the best seats they owned, shared what little they had with us, all because of their pride. They are a proud people, willing to be hospitable and generous despite the circumstances of life that shower them with difficulties. By the end of the week I admired them more deeply than I had when I entered their country. Haitians are a strong people. They care for each other and about those who may enter their community. Earthly possessions they may have blessed little of, but a beauty & courageous spirit overflows in all that they do. I felt honored to get to know them as I did.
Over several posts I will attempt to share various aspects of my recent trip to Haiti. If you have questions, please feel free to ask. I’m still processing it all. I think of these posts like some of the many goats I witnessed in the hills around Canaan: just wandering, stopping and going, without any definitive goal in mind. I appreciate you sharing the journey with me.