“Le travail c’est le secret de la vie.” Work is the secret to life.
(Handpainted saying at the entrance of a metal work shop in the village of Nouailles)
I recently returned from a long weekend in Haïti. And every day since my departure, I wake up thinking of this enlightening first trip to Ayiti.
Like many folks who hear the mere mention of this country, my first thoughts were to the 2010 earthquake and the memory of devastating, chaotic images broadcast all day long on US cable television. I was in Jamaica at the time, under 300 miles away.
Still, having had Haitian friends in the US who often told me of the “unseen” side of Haiti–the positive that the media rarely shares–I went there excited to see a destination they called home. One that I expected to be “more African” than the rest of the region, but also one that was reportedly getting back on its feet and investing heavily in its tourism industry in the past year.
What I experienced, in just four days of exploring Port-au-Prince and its western coast escape of Côte-des-Arcadins, left me in complete surprise. Starting with Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport–which could have easily been located anywhere in the region–I didn’t expect Haïti to feel and run as smoothly as most other Caribbean islands (silly, I know). Except, it was also a hundred times more alive, more vibrant and cultural.
Sure, there were signs of poverty along the way, but no more than I have seen in parts of say, Jamaica, Belize, or even the Dominican Republic.
What struck me the most in Port-au-Prince?
Color. So much color!
Music, movement… life, in full display around every street corner and along every major intersection.
Entire sidewalks turned flea markets, selling oil paintings, furniture, fruits, leather sandals and every possible nick-knack you can imagine.
Soda and ice cream vendors weaving carts and containers through bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Women hopping onto motorbike taxis.
Haitians going about their daily lives, balancing baskets on their heads and passing each other in dizzying directions, somehow never colliding.
The center of Port-au-Prince, the most hard hit during the earthquake, is the most cacophonous yet exhilarating