Today, May 18, is the annual celebration of Haiti’s flag. It’s a day to recognize and celebrate Haitian culture and history, and its bright, beautiful flag.
Haiti’s flag was sewn by Catherine Flon in 1803, is an important symbol of pride and optimism, and is a good place to wrap up my trip to this extraordinary country and try to make sense of my experience.
But first, a flashback. My last morning in Port-au-Prince, I packed up and walked over to the Roi des Rois Market a couple of blocks away, the same store I visited on my first morning in Port-au-Prince. This time, I went by myself, a blan on her own. It was another hot, cloudless day, and Port-au-Prince was the usual swirl of traffic, noise, and hustle. This time, though, I wasn’t tentative, I crossed streets in stages with the rest of morning rush. One driver waved me across with his right arm as he stuck his left arm out the window to stop the truck in the next lane. In that moment, Haiti was perfect to me.
Back to present day. I’ve been working on this post for months and have struggled to finish it. Back in October, I wrote about my expectations for the visit:
I’m keeping expectations modest. I want to learn about this fascinating country by seeing it, meeting some people, and eating as much delicious food as possible. And to drink some Haitian-brewed Prestige beer, a two-time World Beer Cup gold medalist in the American-style lager category. All indicators are this will be an interesting journey, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.
Check, check, check. On one level, I got everything I wanted to get out of this trip.
The sights are amazing. I still can’t believe Bassin Bleu outside of Jacmel exists and that I got to swim there like a mermaid. The people are extraordinary. Initially reserved, once they figure out you’re not there to proselytize or tell them how to “fix” their country, they open up, smile warmly, share jokes. The food is incredible. True story: pikliz is now a regular part of my meals.
And that wonderful Prestige lager – it’s light and refreshing, perfect after a hot day of exploring, a swim, or paired with pizza at a beachside restaurant. The rum punches made me a rum convert, but only for Barbancourt rhum.
I’m having so much trouble writing a conclusion because I feel unfinished in Haiti. My time in Haiti was short, giving me just enough time to figure out I’m not done, I’ve barely started.
I’m also having a hard time balancing my experience in the country with everyone else’s story of Haiti. I have two Google news alerts specifically for Haiti. The first, “Haiti tourism,” picks up news about new hotels, trips for travel agents, political news, and, more recently, Haiti’s place on a CNN list of hot Caribbean destinations. A lot of cautious optimism, which I share.
My second alert leaves me cold. “Haiti travel” picks up local news stories about groups of students going to build a school or churches going on mission trips. Almost every day, I get pinged with some new group going to “help” the poor unfortunates of Haiti. It’s gross. It reminds me of sitting in Departures with groups of people wearing matching t-shirts, confident their efforts will “save” Haiti. What are they changing, really? How many of them will inundate their Instagram feeds with pics of poor people and orphans?
So, back to Flag Day. Like Catherine Flon’s flag, Haiti is a bright, colourful, proud, and resilient country. The future is uncertain, but hopeful, and the country deserves more than the story still being told about it after all of these years. Visiting Haiti did more to change how I think, not only about the country, but the rest of the world, than any trip that preceded it. Going forward, I am ready to have my mind changed and let a place reveal itself to me, instead of looking for confirmation of an opinion. I am grateful for the experience and look forward to returning one day: mèsi anpil, Ayiti.
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