Country to City, City to Country
Haiti's countryside and its capitol city feel like two worlds apart. In Dezam, the countryside lokalite (somewhat like a village) where we just completed our three week home-stay, the surroundings are lush and green. Homes sit perched atop a steep hillside leading down to a clear flowing stream. Accommodations are sparse. We lived in a simple grey cinder-block home surrounded by a garden of fruit trees and hibiscus. A latrine and bathing area sat nestled in a corner where chickens can walk by as you do your morning or evening "business." There was no running water or electricity. Our host family fetched water from the neighbors spigot for cooking and for bathing.
Now, back in Port-au-Prince, the differences in this city and country life come into sharp relief. In the MCC guest house, where we are currently staying, there is electricity all the time. I can bathe using an overhead shower nozzle. I can look in a mirror that reflects my whole face at once. This morning, we went to a Supermarket where we saw a gallon of Kirkland extra virgin olive oil (which had a price tag of $60!), soy sauce, and the Thai Bistro brand of coconut milk that I'm used to seeing at stores in the U.S. I can wear earrings here and not feel ostentatious.
But this is part of the dynamic and structure that is Haiti. Resources are centralized in the bustling, overcrowded capitol. People still live precarious existences here. Slum-like communities abound. There is a greater level of suspicion (like in any city.) In Dezam, neighbors wander into your yard at nighttime after you've gone to bed. They call out your name, wanting to chat, and will carry on a conversation with you as you lay in bed, laughing and talking until they feel like walking back home. There are always people around, but all the people are family (literally, they were all related to our host dad somehow.)
You would think that these two places exist worlds apart. Instead, they are two and a half hours apart by car. The two exist in the same country, and both are fully Haiti. This seeming contrast and divide will come up again and again as we do our work. It is a huge country, and yet a small country all at the same time.
This was re-posted from Katharine & Ted's personal blog, Stories to Tell.
Katharine is from San Diego, California and has served with MCC Haiti since July 2014 as Advocacy Coordinator and Policy Analyst. She studied History and Religious Studies at University of California Davis, then International Development at Eastern University. You can follow her Instagram on life in Haiti @katharineoswald, Haiti advocacy news on Facebook, and her personal blog, Stories to Tell.