A while back, I met a young Haitian-Canadian woman (born and raised in Canada) who told me that I was lucky to have been born and raised in Haiti. Her point was that I knew exactly who I was and that I carried myself differently because of that. She also noted that growing up in a place where people don’t constantly ask you where you’re “really” from, where people who look like you are present in all spheres of society is a blessing in disguise.
See, I had never thought that being born and raised in Haiti was such a blessing. Don’t get me wrong. I think my childhood was awesome, and I liked the better part of my life in Haiti. I just had never considered things from that perspective. Unlike her, I had never felt out of place or that something was missing. This made me think that there could be some truth to her point of view.
I started to wonder: could a visit to Haiti make her feel better about herself?
The answer I came up with was "probably". I’d even argue that people of Haitian descent, whether they feel like her or not, should get to know their homeland. But that trip may particularly benefit those who feel that something is missing.
What you read/hear and what is
The news and social media may not be the best sources of information for a person who either hasn't stepped foot in the country for a while, or has never done so. The focus on the negative and on scandals of the former, makes it hard to realize that people actually build their lives in the country. The latter only provides a skewed view of reality. Between those who are eager to only portray Haiti on the best of lights and those who are obsessed with sensational news, it's very hard to find a middle. That being said, both sources can be used as means to understand the current state of affairs. With a grain of salt.
You might as well just go and see for yourself.
Getting to know your homeland may give you the sense of self that you're looking for. If it's not that deep for you, that visit may be a much needed vacation in a place you can call home. Witnessing the struggles and the hustle of your people may be exactly what you need to make you do better.
Know your culture
Nothing will give you a better understanding of Haitian culture than coming and experiencing it for yourself.
Words cannot describe what it feels like to dance to kanaval (carnaval) music in Port-au-Prince or Jacmel. No amount of think pieces will ever convey the pride you’ll feel as you walk through the halls of Citadelle Laferrière, MUPANAH or any other of the forts our ancestors built.
Nothing beats Haitian food in Haiti. I’ve eaten pretty decent, at times excellent, Haitian food in the US and Canada. But they can’t compare to some good old Haitian street food.
When it comes to Haitian culture, you will have a lot of grounds to cover. You may want to figure out exactly what you’d like to learn about and plan your trip accordingly.
Get addicted to #IslandLife
I currently live in Canada, and I’ve come to realize that I take a lot for granted. And, if I didn’t know any better, I’d be complaining and stressing about the littlest things. Don’t get me wrong, I often catch myself voicing first-world problems. But I know to identify them for what they are and move past them.
I am merely saying that life in Haiti can be—how can I put this?—complicated and difficult. Things that we take for granted here may be very difficult to obtain there. People’s priorities are also different, so much so that they don’t waste their time fussing over just about every little thing. Witnessing this first-hand may help you put your “problems” in perspective.
But be aware that your trip could have the opposite effect. You may find the more laid-back way of life and its challenges to be more appealing than the rat race you may be caught up in elsewhere. Life in the Caribbean, no matter how challenging, can be pretty appealing, especially when you have the means to build a comfortable life.
See, I believe each country has its own set of issues and challenges. And Haiti is no different. A lot of people actually choose to make a life there and to make a difference, just like others, who had the opportunity and the means to stay, chose not to.
Like I said, it’s complicated.
The side of Haiti you may discover isn’t “different”
You may be going back to your homeland, but you’ll be a tourist. And as a tourist, you may not have the opportunity to experience the ups and downs locals go through. But you won’t have the choice but to see past the beautiful beaches: the inequalities will jump in your face.
When travelling, depending on the duration of your stay and the activities you partake in, certain cities will give you the impression that it’s all roses. If you stay confined in the “tourist friendly” areas, all you’ll see are the beautiful sites and the nice neighbourhoods. That was my experience in Paris, where I didn’t venture far from the major attractions.
Port-au-Prince, for example, isn’t like that. The minute you exit the airport and hit the road, you get to see the “real” Port-au-Prince: the shacks, the unkempt neighbourhoods, the nice homes, the luxury cars, the street vendors, street food. Everything. In your face. And that’s one of the things I like about Port-au-Prince. The city isn’t pretending to be what it’s not. Some of its inhabitants are.
I encourage you to embrace all aspects of the country, even when you find it to be embarrassing. You can decide to showcase whichever aspect you want to, as long as you do so without denying that your experience only tells part of the story.
I understand the urge to show people a different side of Haiti, an image not often portrayed by the media. But by labeling the photos you take at a resort as “the real Haiti” you’re erasing the reality of the majority.
I’d argue that “the real Haiti” is a mix of the various experiences that the people have.