Lost and Found: What I Learned from this Sojourn

 

imageChinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has one of the most powerful endings in literature. In this novel which chronicles the dramatic rise and ultimate downfall of Okonkwo, a black Ibo clansman, the story is literally and figuratively taken over in its final chapter by the District Commissioner, an unnamed, incredibly minor white character, who is unequivocally, by that point, in charge. Despite the complex two-hundred plus page narrative about Okonkwo that precedes the District Commissioner’s late entrance into the book, he concludes that “The story of this man..,would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate.” And so begins, as Achebe suggests, the “chapters” or “paragraphs” perpetuated as complete stories of Africa in the West, by the West.

The chapter or paragraph that is Haiti’s Western narrative begins and ends with the classic “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere” line, an idea that defines Haiti’s value strictly by dollars and cents, and which goes hand in hand with the abject desperation and violence which is the only Haiti we see in the media. It’s the one image that is now permanently cemented in people’s minds since January, 2010, when Haiti made news yet again for its seemingly uncanny ability to attract bad luck. This is why, even as a native-born Haitian, people wish you “safe travels” instead of “bon voyage” when you tell them you’re going to Haiti, why it took decades for my family and me to return, and partly why some dyaspora like us never will.

Haiti is poor. This is not about disputing facts. It’s hard to overstate its challenges, which I’ve now seen firsthand with grownup eyes. The long tradition of Haiti as a political disaster lives on, and we’ll leave it at that.  Port-au-Prince is incredibly over-crowded, still shell-shocked from the quake, and parts of it (and Cap-Haitian, to a slightly lesser extent) are buried under seemingly impregnable walls of trash.

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We rode around the city with my parents, listening to their sighs and lamentations for the city they remember, which while not great, was better, cleaner, and more orderly. The metamorphosis of PauP’s Grand Rue drew the most gasps, as they mourned the loss of what was once a street of shopping plazas with honest-to-goodness store windows, and one which was also home to the now defunct Boulangerie St. Marc, the grandest, best bakery in town.

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Grand Rue in its heyday.

Their reactions confirmed that my cherished childhood memories were not so fantastical. The spirited, yet peaceful excursions with my grandmother to church, for treats, or to designated outdoor markets really did (and could) occur once upon a time. “Markets” are now everywhere, spread out like weeds, burning their garbage, and impeding progress in every sense of the word.  There are so many pop-up markets in PauP that  it’s not uncommon to see rows of neophyte merchants lined up by the dozen, each selling an identical stack of mangoes.

In short, there are people everywhere, with little to hang onto but hope.  One of my parents’ friends joked that everyone left the city after the quake, only to return a short while later, with fifteen friends apiece.

But Haiti is also rich, and that is indisputable as well.

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The ruins of King Henri Christphe’s Sans Souci Palace in Milot, Haiti

As I’ve tried my best to convey in earlier posts and in the ensuing images in this one, there is beauty everywhere, even among the ruins, old and new.  In fact, with seemingly so little imposed order, there’s something beautiful and miraculous about the fact that large cities, like PauP and Cap-Haitien, function at all–that despite the chaos, people find ways to get around, get along, and get by.  My favorite example of this is an outdoor community workout session that takes place along the sea wall every morning across from Auberge du Picolet, our hotel in Cap-Haitien.

And of course, life is a little simpler and slower in smaller cities and towns, as reflected in this market scene in Gonaives:

Haiti’s scenic beauty, despite environmental ravages, is also remarkably lovely, and certainly not hard to find if you’re looking.  This collage doesn’t even include the incredible  beaches.

But, of course, there’s more….

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Ultimately, Haiti can no more be defined by a chapter, a paragraph, or what writer Joel Dreyfuss calls “a cage of words” than Achebe’s Okonkwo can. And in these times, when the richest country in the Western Hemisphere finds itself so poor in spirit, there’s a lot we can learn from the intrepid people of the poorest.  Haiti needs  to have its full story told, and the world, particularly those of us who are of Haitian descent, deserves a more complete narrative as well as a bigger picture. I’m so glad our family returned to find these for ourselves, so we can spread the word.

 

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Triumph On The Mountaintop: Citadelle Laferrière, a Reflection in Photos

Photographs and Thoughts by Guest Blogger, Elijah Marshall

La Citadelle Laferrière or Citadelle Henri Christophe, or quite plainly, The Citadelle, is the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere. Built under the decree of the king of Northern Haiti, Henri Christophe, in 1820, it is situated 3000 feet above sea level atop the mountain Bonnet a L’Eveque, about 17 miles south of the city of Cap-Haitien and approximately five miles up from the town of Milot. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, the Citadelle’s construction was completed after Haiti won its independence from France through a fourteen-year slave rebellion. Its construction was no easy feat for an under-resourced workforce of former slaves. Fortunately for King Henri, his men were flush with one of the most indispensable resources of all, ingenuity. Using blood and gelatin made from animal hooves to create mortar, and virtually any sediment that could be found, the Citadel was successfully constructed as a formidable deterrent and strategic wartime structure unlike any other in the New World.

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When I first saw pictures of La Citadelle Laferrière online, prior to my journey, I envisioned a structure with the function of a slave prison. It looked so practical by design with such a remote location, that I could not help but picture a dense, onyx cube structure tasked with keeping poor, oppressed souls within its confines. Further learning revealed a radically different narrative to me, one of triumph and ingenuity. As fascinating and awe-inspiring as it was to read of the ambitions of the Northern Haitian King, Henri Christophe, and the self-freed former slaves who built La Citadelle Laferrière with a religious fervor, it is something entirely different to step through the open spaces and wide corridors of the largest fortress in the Western Hemisphere.

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Thousands of rounds of cannon ammunition that would have surely wrought sheer hellfire upon any would-be aggressors. Remarkably, not a single shot was fired from La Citadelle Laferrière. A true testament to the message both the fortress and the Haitian Revolution sent to the Western World.

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A mountaintop view unlike any other in Haiti. If so much as a palm tree was felled anywhere in Cap-Haitien, King Henri’s guards would surely know.

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This particularly imposing heavy wooden door adorned with iron studs was re-created by UNESCO. Observers will also notice a multitude of different brickwork styles utilized to complete the Citadelle, a true testament to the determination and ability of the former slaves who erected the fortress.

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An open courtyard-like space near the top hosts several light artillery armaments for display purposes. Upon viewing it, I noticed the diversity of the masonry that went into building this area and many like it throughout the fortress. The sediment ranges from grainy to brick-like to natural.

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This photo strikes me with its metaphorical significance. Here, a cannon, instrument of war and resistance, lies dilapidated atop a broken support beam. Both are worn down by well over a century of exposure, but before them lies a blinding light. It is the light of freedom from bondage, a presence that makes it clear that you no longer have to fight for your basic right to experience liberty despite how broken down your prior struggles may have left you. This is the ultimate sign that the fight for liberty and justice is always worth the struggle.

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Short stairway to one of La Citadelle Laferrière’s many spacious corridors. One thing that struck me about the La Citadelle was how easily it facilitated movement. I have visited castles and cathedrals with incredibly narrow and winding pathways, restricting movement to an ever cautious creep. This fortress built by former slaves, however, allowed an impressive fluidity of movement for myself and ostensibly for the thousands of soldiers who kept watch on all of Cap-Haitien .

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The very top of La Citadelle Laferrière is a true wonder. It sits among billowing, grey clouds of hot vapor and invokes visions of mountaintop world wonders like Macchu Picchu. The lush greenery of the ground beneath this magnificent summit resembles fresh Caribbean carpet grass on a rainy day. It’s a sight that must be seen with one’s own eyes.

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Three cannons stand guard atop the summit serving as the first would-be line of defense against any who would try to retake Haiti.

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A view of a small but intricate canal system buttressed by stone and mortar supports.

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A solid bronze cannon captured from a French vessel. Though imposing, it was never again to fire a single round after its capture.

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Four light artillery cannons displayed in what was likely, at the time, a rather strikingly decorated chamber. Haitian artisans have always prided themselves on their style and craftsmanship. I’m sure that standard was no different even for former slaves.

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Heavy cannons, like the one captured from the French, affixed to an adjustable instrument for the purpose of aiming. A heavily armed, strategically placed mountaintop fortress operated by the same force that ousted the French from Haiti? No wonder no one dared to attack La Citadelle Laferrière!

Beneath the Mountains Lies Pleasure Valley

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Deye mon gen mon
(Beyond the mountains, there are more mountains.)

—  Hatian proverb

I now know that I needed to come back because my childhood memories of Haiti never included mountains. As a literature teacher, I make it a point to emphasize the importance of context in a piece of writing–historical, cultural, and political, as well as verbal. But geographical context is often just as important in a text, sometimes taking on a role that’s as vital as the characters themselves. What is A Streetcar Named Desire without the contrasts represented by New Orleans, Louisiana and Laurel, Mississippi, or The Tempest without Prospero’s enchanted island? In a similar way, Haiti’s story, and my family’s own, is incomplete without mountains.

The word Haiti (Ayiti) literally means “land of (high) mountains.” Returning the island, at least in name, to their Taino predecessors, similarly enslaved, and murdered wholesale, was the ultimate act of poetic defiance by the leaders of the new republic. Our long drives through Haiti during the past few days, however, also suggest that our slave ancestors may have wanted to honor a topographical landscape that clearly favored them in their long struggle for independence. It doesn’t take long to realize that The Haitian Revolution could not have succeeded without miles of dense foliage, dark skin that doubled as camouflage, and lots and lots of mountains.

In Port-au-Prince and Petionville, certain streets are so steep that my little niece and nephews would lift up their arms roller-coaster style and let out a “wheeeeee!” when our car descended them. Traveling to Jacmel in the South and to Cap-Haitien in the north involved watching nervously, as our trusty driver, Webert, wound his way up, down, and all around narrow mountain roads with spectacular drop-offs, many of them unencumbered by guard-rails.

The most nerve-wracking of these rides by far was the one to Plaisance-du-Nord, our family home. I have grown up being told that we are moun nan mon, mountain people, or more literally “people in the mountains,” and I guess I somehow got this intellectually, but it really didn’t register until yesterday when I realized that Plaisance (which means pleasure in French) is really a tiny and isolated valley, tucked beneath some rather prodigious peaks.

Since there’s hardly anyone left that my parents know in Plaisance, our time there was short, just long enough to glimpse the cemetery where my great-grandparents, paternal grandmother, great-aunt, and numerous uncles and cousins are buried, as well as to drive down the small Main Street to see what had become of the houses my family had once called home. The most important of these by far, was my great-grandparents’ home, one that I remember pretty well, even though I was five when I was last in it, and as the setting of my mother’s and grandmother’s stories about my great-grandmother, Virginia, who I’m also fortunate enough to remember.

 

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This is what’s left of the house my great-grandparents built to raise their family. Neither the day-glo colors, nor the makeshift store on the front porch would have been to their liking, but this was a house of love when it belonged to our family, and I hope that spirit continues to sustain those who call it home today.

 

No one, at least in my lifetime, called my great-grandmother Virginia. She was  La Mère, Gran La Mère to her dozens of grandchildren, as well as to me, the eldest of her great-grands. She was, as the nickname suggests, the consummate mother. And perhaps because she is no longer with us, her presence is all the more palpable, and her legend has only grown with time. Gran La Mère, like the mountains that surrounded her, was a force of nature, a strong, tall woman, who overcame being orphaned as a toddler to grow up and marry my great-grandfather (appropriately nicknamed Papa Le Père ). She worked tirelessly with him on their small farm, gave birth to twelve children–my grandmother being her seventh child, and first girl to live through childhood–and ultimately survived outliving all but five. She loved a good song, a good story, and liked to show off her English–swear words she’d picked up from the Marines during the American Occupation. Most of my mother’s stories are enhanced by her humor, and punctuated with her wisdom.

Looking now at that tiny house, in the tiny valley which was once hers, it’s hard to imagine that it could ever contain her sublime magnitude. But in the end, it turns out of course, that it couldn’t.

Click on images below for enlargements and captions.

 

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Plaisance’s Catholic Church, and the center of all things spiritual in my parents’ childhood and adolescence.

Hot and Cool in Jacmel

 

I’m writing this post perched on a canopied four-poster bed that rises so far off the floor that, at 5’4″ tall, I either need a running start and a leap, or a chair to climb into it; Ive opted for the chair. The yards of thick mosquito netting that normally drape down from the canopy are now piled high atop it, as we’ve learned the hard way that it’s an excellent way to repel ventilation, as well as bugs.

My husband knows and tends to indulge me in this fascination I have for hotels with “character,” along with all things historical and vintage. Back in 2009, for example, when we were getting ready for a trip to Peru the following summer, I became enamored with the Gran Hotel Bolivar in Lima–named interestingly enough, for one of Jacmel’s most important 19th Century guests (see historical note below).  The Gran Hotel Bolivar is a real throwback constructed in 1924, which, in its heyday, had hosted the likes of Orson Welles and Ava Gardner. And the rate of $35.20/night total for two rooms certainly didn’t hurt. I remember the four of us walking into the lobby, with its cathedral ceilings and threadbare carpets, its old-world formally trained and attired staff showing us to our (gigantic) rooms, each with faded bedspreads and claw foot tubs attesting to their spooky, antique glory. Long story short, the whole thing turned out to be a little too Norma Desmond, even for me, and we hightailed it out of there, enveloped in a few chills.

Chills however, have been at a premium these past two days in Jacmel; here at the historic, non-air conditioned Hotel Florita, things have only been cool in the most figurative sense. Since I was basically left to my own devices in planning our family trip to Haiti, I couldn’t resist the Victorian grandeur of the Florita, so with a few clicks on an online travel site, I booked the eleven of us on a journey back to 1888.

The town of Jacmel, like its signature hotel, exists in a state of elegant, if somewhat faded splendor.  Founded first by the Spanish, and then later taken over by the French in the 17th Century, Jacmel was a thriving, wealthy shipping port, and the first city in the Caribbean with electricity.  Jacmel owes much of its beauty to its French Colonial architecture, and a walk through its streets will leave you with a distinctive New Orleans vibe.  Today, it’s basically a large artists’ commune, best known for making miracles with papier-mâché.

The Florita itself is the definition of shabby chic, although I wish it were less self-indulgently so. While the entire space is practically a gallery walk, and the staff and the lobby/restaurant/bar area are all wonderful, certain details are hardly ideal, if not lacking altogether. Replacing missing doorknobs, shower heads, or refining obvious room repairs so that they’re more aesthetically pleasing would take nothing away from the hotel’s charm, and would add significant value to guests’ overall experiences. Well, that and some step ladders.

Check out this slideshow for more, and click on all images throughout the post for details:

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* Historical note:  Jacmel played host to Simon Bolivar, arguably its most famous guest ever, in 1816, while he was trying, unsuccessfully at that point, to liberate South America from Spanish Colonial rule.  Having been rejected by Jamaica, Haiti, then governed by Petion, welcomed him with open arms, and secretly provided him refuge, along with ships, weapons, ammunition, and even a printing press for propaganda– all under the condition that he would free all slaves in the areas he managed to liberate.  In fact, Venezuela’s flag, whose blue and red stripes were inspired by those of Haiti’s own, was designed in Jacmel.  While Bolivar kept his promise to free South American slaves, a debt black South Americans owe to Haiti, he also ultimately refused to recognize the legitimacy of his former benefactors, in deference to Europe and the United States.

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Baptism at Bassin Bleu

(Featuring guest blogger, Samuel Marshall)

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Hiking to the Bassin Bleu Falls

As my Dad, uncle, grandfather, and I tumbled through the rocky municipal river running through Jacmel, I finally knew what my gym shirts felt like when I threw them in the dryer on its highest setting. But even as the uneven terrain catapulted my head into the roof the our van every ten or so minutes, I still couldn’t manage to avert my gaze from the awe inspiring scenery of the Haitian mountainside. The hike to Bassin Bleu is lined with tropical fruit trees and towering palms that provided occasional shade during our trek towards the waterfall. From high-hanging deep brown cocoa beans to shy branches whose leaves receded at the slightest touch, the wonder of Haiti’s flora never failed to provide me with an incentive for moving forward.

When our guides finally announced that we had arrived at the waterfall spring’s entrance– a steep cliff with a rope to repel down on–my first thoughts were to question Grandpa’s safety. But to my surprise, my grandpa’s rigorous workout regimen and my slight fear of heights allowed him to complete his twenty or so foot descent more easily than I did. But spending those two interminable minutes suspended parallel to a cliff face was a small price to pay for admission to what would turn out to be the most beautiful swimming pool I had ever seen. Although the recent heavy rain had rendered the water a deep green as opposed to its usual crystalline blue, it didn’t lessen the relaxing effect diving into the cool water had on me, and doubtlessly on everyone lucky enough to experience it.

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Bassin Bleu, still gorgeous in green.

Art and Craftsmanship: Port-au-Prince Day 2

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The facade of a shop at the oil drum artists, collective at Noialles, Croix-des-Bouquets.

 

This will likely not be my last post about art and artistry in Haiti. Art, of both the high and low varieties abounds, and surrounds you even along the dusty, ruined streets that must have once had sidewalks. Artists display their originals, or original copies, on everything from clothes lines to fences. The ubiquitous “Loto” stands, beauty parlors, and barber shops all have multicolored hand-painted and hand lettered signs. For the beauty purveyors, also throw in elaborately rendered portraits of idealized clients groomed to the last follicle, and you get the picture (check some out here). Unlike in the States, I’ve yet to see laminated glossies of the latest hair styles or the seemingly de riguer 50 Barber Styles for Men chart pasted to a store window. My mother, the daughter of a carpenter, consistently marvels at workmanship of the beds, cabinets, and bureaus lined up for sale in the literally open market. What happens when it rains? I wonder aloud. She doesn’t have an answer. Then of course, there are the post-psychedelic tap-taps and remarkably, even a few painted portraits, either commissioned or inspired by, the latest flock of presidential candidates.

In terms of craftsmanship, Barbancourt Rhum, a company that pretty much defines Haiti, is as good is it gets. Haitian kids like me grow up looking at that distinctive gold-capped brown bottle with the beige label long before we’re allowed to drink. It shows  up in cases as part of everyone’s souvenir loot from home; it, along with fried pork griot, is the centerpiece of any party; and at year’s end, it’s incorporated into the thick, sweet Christmas cremas, which itself is poured back into the recycled bottle. So getting a chance to visit the Barbancourt distillery yesterday, capped off with a “rum buffet” at high noon, was a singular treat.

From there, we headed to the Musée Canne à Sucre in Tabarre, a restored sugar plantation, whose indoor dining room pays tribute to another of Haiti’s passions, music. The walls are lined with portraits of all the greats, while outside, a live band played traditional folk songs. Finally, because things like this happen in Haiti, we were all asked to listen to and judge, American Idol style, a young singer looking for a job.  She, of course, was wonderful.

Our last stop was the recycled metal drum artists’ collective in Noailles, Croix des Bouquets. I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

The Magical History Tour: Port-au-Prince, Part 1

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The grounds of MUPANAH

 

We spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday, our first two days, reuniting with friends and family who had either never left Haiti, or who had chosen to return out of love, for work, or both.

Among the former group, were my aunt, and three of my mother’s cousins, the aforementioned pressers of uniform pleats, who had been teenagers when I saw them last, and who are now in their sixties. Talking with them made me realize just how easily a conversation in Haiti weaves the mundane with the magical. One moment they’d be sharing tricks on how to cook the distinctly Haitian black djon-djon mushroom, and how long one should ferment pineapple rinds in clairin (basically moonshine liquor) for optimal flavor and potency, then they’d bring up the wells on our family property, then the water in the wells, then the turtle who reportedly took up residence in one, and ultimately make their  way to the spirits who were known, in the collective Haitian consciousness, to inhabit all wells and bodies of water.

This brings us to the magic of Thursday morning, when we started the guided portion of our trip. There is relatively little tourism infrastructure in Haiti, and there was no way we were going to wing it with my parents and small children in tow, so I contracted with a local tour operator, Tour Haiti, to both get us and show us around. I’m hanging out in the lobby of the Karibe Hotel waiting for our guide, when in walks Romel Jean-Pierre, a young artist and filmmaker I met last year when he’d visited my school, and had popped in to astound my Literature of the African Diaspora students and me with his talent, eloquence, and self possession. I approached Romel, just wanting to say hi before it dawned on me that he was going to be our PauP guide! The coincidence was both remarkable and fortuitous, as he managed to endear himself to my entire family by the time we made it to the day’s first stop, The Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien, or MUPANAH.

The MUPANAH has a small, but impressive collection of Haitian historical artifacts, from the anchor of Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria, to the silver gun Roi Christophe, King of the North and builder of the Citadelle, used to commit suicide and evade capture by rebel forces. Then there’s the spectacular gold, jewel-encrusted crown of Emperor Faustin I (1849-1859), and not to be outdone, the unequivocally Haitian  juxtaposition of “Papa Doc” Francois Duvalier’s stethoscope with his personal machine gun, its body and barrel beautifully encased in a shell of polished wood.

Our next stop was a mercifully short visit to the Marche en Fer, or Iron Market, with its endless rows of paintings, vaudou paraphernalia, wood carvings, and other souvenirs for sale. The chaos both in and around the Iron Market is almost surreal. In fact, our tour van got into a fender-bender with a tap-tap, who was determined to pass us on the right, all in full sight of a traffic cop, who pretty much encouraged both parties to keep it moving. Needless to say, our friend the tap-tap driver, in true abracadabra fashion, careened off, never to be seen again.

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Then we visited Atis Resistans,  Romel’s creative home-base, and a vital testament to the power of found objects, reimagined and repurposed.

We then stopped for lunch at The Hotel Oloffson, one of Haiti’s most distinctive architectural gems, and as the backdrop of Graham Greene’s The Comedians , a must-see for literary geeks like me. Honestly, the food wasn’t the best, but the atmosphere was second-to-none.  The Oloffson is feast enough for the other four senses, and perhaps the sixth as well.  Driving up to this particular hotel, and being greeted by the sounds of drumming,  which continued sporadically throughout our meal thanks to dance lessons in the courtyard, seemed entirely a propos.

 

 

From there, it was off to a scenic mountain top overlook at Boutilliers, and then home to rest.

Homeward Bound

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Back in February, I found myself uttering the words “We should go to Haiti” on a phone call to my sister, with whom my parents were staying for the week. To understand the magnitude of this proposition, and the ultimate decision to embark on this family pilgrimage, you need a little background.

We are Haitian and proudly so, but we’re also pragmatic, so despite the fact that our romance with our native country never lost its ardor, for many well-documented reasons, it also remained long distance. In the 46 years since my parents immigrated to the U.S., like many dyaspora, they returned very rarely (mostly for funerals), and my younger sister and I haven’t been back since we were three and six respectively. So until we stepped off our JetBlue flight into Port-au-Prince yesterday, Haiti had retreated to the part of my mind that takes abstractions from learned history, mingles them with family folklore, and throws in a few sharp and mostly sensory childhood memories.

To illustrate, here’s something I wrote for my school community in the immediate wake of the 2010 earthquake:

Dear Students and Parents:
As you may already know, I am Haitian-American.  I was born in Haiti and immigrated to Boston with my family when I was a toddler. When my parents found it difficult to juggle adjusting to a new culture and language while providing adequate care for my younger sister and me, they sent us back to Port-au-Prince to spend a few years with my grandmother.  Thus, my first conscious memories are of Haiti, and reflect the six year-old I was when I left for the last time:  I remember the heady smells of cooked food stalls; a bright pink ice cream cone that melted away because I didn’t lick it fast enough; the technicolor tap-taps (or camionettes) that people used like city buses, the crisp pleats my older cousins used to press lovingly into my first school uniforms, and the clean, starched, impossible whiteness of the National Palace….

Since I never lost this child’s-eye view of Haiti, I could never reconcile it with “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere” depiction I saw over and over again on newscasts growing up. Of course, I read about Haiti in books, and I learned through conversations with my family, about the national history of imperialism, coups and corruption that seemed to solidify that oft-quoted moniker as a self-fulfilling prophecy. But despite its troubles, my Haiti retained its lustre, and I think in a way this represents our collective consciousness as a people. We are poor, but we are free; we are hungry, but we are hardy; we are illiterate, but we are poets. This to me, is the soul of Haiti; this is why we will get through this.

Driving around Port-au-Prince yesterday cemented my belief that Haiti’s soul had indeed remained intact, even though its traumatized infrastructural landscape bore little resemblance to my (perhaps somewhat fantastical?) childhood recollections. There were people everywhere–buying, selling, painting, learning, gambling, squeegeeing (yes, there are squeegee guys in PauP)–boldly living under conditions that Americans would consider marginal at best, and giving new meaning to the word resilience.

Over the next ten days, eleven of us, my parents, my sister, our husbands, Haitian by association, and our collective five children will travel south to north along this magical island that has given so much to us and to the world, but whose greatest offering yet, might be its boundless capacity for hope.