Haiti is unforgettable
The international press often diffuses a single narrative of Haiti—one of political instability, malnutrition, disease and devastation. Haiti is too often described simply as “the poorest country in the Western hemisphere,” ignoring the many layers that comprise Haitian culture and customs and make Haiti one of the most fascinating but least understood countries in the region.
In October a group from the Central States visited Haiti to engage with MCC Haiti partners and communities on a 1-week learning tour centered around the theme “Soil to Table.” During this time, the group encountered Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows is a participants' reflection that challenge the stereotypes and offers a different perspective on Haiti.
Haiti is the epitome of hospitality.
When you walk into a room it is customary to look each person in the eye and greet them warmly. You are served soup joumou, a pumpkin soup that Haitians were not allowed to eat during the time of slavery and which now has special meaning as an honor that you serve to guests. When we visited the extended family of people my parents knew, they brought two chairs so we could sit down while everyone else stood to warmly receive and visit with us. Eclane, MCC’s cook, stayed overnight and got up to make coffee for us in the dark before the electricity came on, even though we had to leave for the airport at 4 am.
Haiti is strong, proud, and dignified.
Haitian culture is a dress up culture. It is important to look your best. Children in their school uniforms look very smart. Women carry their loads in baskets on their heads and make it look easy. The way people carry themselves evokes strength and dignity. The Haitian people have been through so much—natural disasters, political complexities, limited infrastructure, sickness, aid that often does more harm than good—yet they are still standing.
Haiti is rich in human relationships.
In Haiti, there is such joy in being together, no matter it seems how hard life may be. People aren’t distracted by unimportant things as they can be in North American culture. If someone gets sick in one of the mountain communities, people will literally carry that person hours down the mountain to medical care.
Haiti is determined.
Evelyn Larrieux and her partners showed this determination when they started Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen (Solidarity with Haitian Women), or SOFA, whose mission is to walk alongside and advocate for women who are survivors of sexual and economic violence. In her words, “When people lose things, it is women who lose the most.” She expressed that her dream is for young women to be involved in advocacy so that she and her team can help pass the torch.
Haiti is unforgettable.
If you have the chance to go to Haiti to listen and learn, you will not regret it and you will be changed.
Jill Gerig is a Tissue Donor Coordinator for Donor Alliance in Denver, Colorado. She visited Haiti with the Central States learning tour in October 2017.