Updated: May 29, 2020
There I was. Day one in Haiti. I'm covered in oil thrown by an angry motorist. Now I'm caught between a suspect and a local policeman who has his gun drawn inches away from me.
I was hired by a nonprofit group called Help Haiti to film a documentary and capture images of Haiti during one of their mission trips. I was excited to travel and find the ground truth concerning the Haitian people. When watching media and news, Haiti always seemed to be a country in squaller and desperation. However, my interactions with Haitians in the U.S. were completely different. My Haitian friends and associates were all studious, ambitious, and well-educated people. So what was the reason for the disconnect? I now had a chance to investigate and find out for myself.
An hour or so before the incident with the locals, I broke off from the missionary group and connected with a personal guide, Miguel. He knows the streets of Haiti like the back of his hand. Darting in and out of traffic and sometimes eliciting the assistance of a siren built into his weather-worn truck I felt a surreal safety from the chaos. A similar feeling I had while driving through the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. This time I didn't have an automatic weapon, armored SUV, or flash-bangs. All I had was a camera. When our guides' siren didn't work, his assertive yet gentle tone smoothed out most situations. Well, all but the one involving the assault that would take place later that day.
Our guide quickly brought us to the epicenter of Port au Prince via a major intersection. While there he enlisted the help of a friend and on-duty officer. I don't ask questions as to why an officer leaves his post. I just appreciate our guides' savvy and street cred. I learned a long time ago while traveling in locations like Kuwait and other places that our idea of security and loyalty was just that. A western idea. Positions and loyalties play out much differently in other parts of the world. Something I've grown to appreciate as it cuts through red tape, yet sometimes brings about a culture of corruption and graf. The same police officer would later pull his pistol in an attempt to detain suspects during the incident. But more on that later.
Traveling throughout Port au Prince is a daunting task. Dilapidated infrastructure and congestion are a part of life. We slowly navigate through small roads and later join better-maintained arteries that circulate us throughout the city.
The people bear the scars of an earthquake that took over 300K lives. Uncles, brothers, breadwinners, sisters, bankers. Everyone was impacted. It's as if the entire population of Pittsburg or Windsor, Canada was wiped off the map.
On the other hand, the Haitian people have a strong air of dignity. No matter how pressed, or disenfranchised, they refused to be "less-than." It explains why the Haitians I know are so gifted. Surely such a spirited and strong people can make it anywhere. Being successful is an obvious conclusion when coupled with opportunity.
The strange thing is, I expected the locals to be more... humble. But there was no deference, there was DEFIANCE! Defiance to the prejudices and stereotypes that have falsely defined them. They all had a universal refusal to be molded by prejudices.
Each Haitian demands to be known for WHO they are and not who they are assumed to be.
They maintained their PRIDE throughout it all. Haiti taught me that men are men and no one can take that away. Yet despite the pride of the Haitian people; prejudices persist even amongst themselves.
Some for good reason. Why can't the Haitians pull themselves up? Why are commerce, health care, and self-resolve so far from the average Haitian? Much is due to corruption and the epic loss. In addition to the disasters produced by nature and men.
Sometimes international attempts to help Haitians have set them back (Bill Clinton Apology to Haiti). But still, I had high hopes for Haitians in Haiti. Despite all the setbacks, it's still hard to understand the depth of despair some Haitians live with.
As I traveled through Haiti my heart was warmed by all the children. Most of them were affiliated with the church that was supported by my benefactors. But I saw the sam child-like innocence and contentment in all of them. One thing I love about traveling is that children are the same everywhere. Its culture and our prejudices and pain that mold them into flawed adults.
Those flaws are fortunately tempered by the patient and resolute the people of Haiti. One of the
most touching moments I saw were during a session when we were feeding the children of the town our mission trip group supports. One child had a plate of food yet only a fraction was eaten during the end of the session. So why was he not taking advantage of the opportunity? I knew these children only ate once a day. Did he have a physical condition or was he afraid? It turns out he wanted to take the remaining food home to his younger siblings. I was undone by his selflessness. Gone was the stereotype of brown children fighting over scraps- more animal than man. I gained tremendous respect for this young Haitian boy and the culture that gifted him with his values.
There were many success stories during my trip. The church was changing the landscape of a broken nation one heart at a time. This is why I'm so suspicious of those who feel the church is absent in our world. Everywhere I travel, I see the church holding the world together.
Despite it all, many parts of Haiti are doing well. Five-star mountain restaurants, water parks, and posh coffee shops. Far from perfect, but still a surprise for my prejudiced assumptions. Every country I visit that's below the "poverty line" has beauty and affluence. The key is knowing where to find it. In addition to eateries, Haiti also has resorts (albeit with shotgun-toting security). I was enthralled in a conversation on the flight with a young lady headed to a Haitian all-inclusive for a millennial wedding.
Although Haitians have taught me they are more than our prejudices, they are also flawed people in need of light like all of us. Back to our guide and my unexpected meeting with a bottle of oil. Pride got in our way then, as our team was a little too enthusiastic to have my team documenting their lives.
Some local drivers didn't appreciate the boasting, and we found ourselves dodging a bottle of oil! Oddly enough, I instinctively knew the group wasn't into the exposure. But despite my mentioning, egos persisted. And so I found myself caught between two ends of Haitian pride. It was funny after the fact and no one was hurt. But it reinforced to me more than ever that pride and prejudice go hand and hand in our imperfect world.
Special Thanks to Rebuild Haiti http://www.rebuildhaitinow.org
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