Tag Archives: Haiti

Visiting Haiti: My First Impressions

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“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.

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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

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Passport DC Around The World Embassy Tour: How to Go Around the World in a Day

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Yesterday was the fifth annual Passport DC “Round the World Embassy Tour” – an all-day open house at over 40 Embassies in downtown Washington DC, with all sorts of free cultural goodies – from food tastings to drinks, live music, dancing and pretty much anything the embassies decide to organize for the hundreds of people coming to discover and sample their countries.

This year’s event was outstanding. I had so much fun walking around the city, hopping from one culture to another. The only downside? Not having enough time to make it to even half the Embassies. So much to sample and experience. And, super long lines by 2pm.

I started off at the Mexican Cultural Institute - I figured it would be fun given it was Cinco de Mayo (OK – I was hoping for free Margaritas). Well, none of that but they had hot tamales flowing, non-alcoholic drinks, desserts and other goodies. A mariachi band was blasting on the top floor and the gorgeous murals at the Institute made me want to stay longer.  I finally left after an hour and headed to Dupont Circle’s Embassy Row, venturing wherever the wind took me (kind of like my own virtual RTW trip). Here’s where I managed to travel: Bahamas, Haiti, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Trinidad & Tobago, Peru. And all that took about three hours and some change (mind you, I’m into details plus I shoot).

All were a good time – particularly Haiti with their dance and skit performances, and Cote d’Ivoire with traditional junkanu dancers and drummers outside the Embassy, real Ivorian-style (you guys know that took me back to my childhood days). I didn’t go in given the long line – but was happy to see the interest in my other country. Maybe Drogba has something to do with it?

I slipped away at one point to run to the National Cathedral for the Annual Flower Mart honoring Jamaica (more on that later) but the lack of good (and zero Jamaican) food made me return to Passport DC around 3pm, thanks to a friend who suggested we check out Trinidad & Tobago. What a brilliant idea.  Forget the neat lining up outside, it looked like Carnival on Mass. Ave. They had “moko jumbies” all up and down the sidewalk and on the steps outside the Embassy, and a full-on steel pan band you could hear for blocks. Not to mention, a hot buffet at $5 a plate, lots of rotis and rum punch (finally)!  It was simply fabulous, and I kicked myself for >> Continue reading »

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