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2 posts categorized "Alexandra Hall"

12/03/2012

A Few Days in Haiti

I recently spent a few days in Haiti. I returned to Santiago with a new perspective and a motive for change. This is why I travel. Haiti- HatOn November 2, 2012 I and about 16 other students made the trip from Santiago to Cabo-Haitiano/Cap-Haitïen/Cape Haitian on the north coast of Hispaniola. At around 5AM, once everyone in the group had arrived to our meeting point on campus we made our way in the guagua (bus) to the DR-Haiti border. Only three hours away, it was incredible to see the difference between these two countries which share the same island.

At the border in Dajabon, there was a constant traffic of people. I suppose this is common to most border areas, but I was especially surprised by this case. I saw tons of people crossing the border into DR, many carrying goods to sell at the nearby market. Groups of Haitian women were lined up at the DGM (La Direccion General de Migracion) waiting to be escorted to their day jobs in the Dominican Republic. According to our Resident Coordinator, these women had previously only needed a badge to cross into the DR for their work... now the process is much more lengthy and convoluted.

After a long wait at the border, sorting out the paperwork and money, we finally crossed into Haiti and made our way to Milot, the first stop on our short adventure. I will say that in my short lifetime I've interacted with lots of children from different parts of the world, but none as animated and joyful as the children I encountered in Haiti. While sitting in the guagua in Milot and waiting for our tour guides to arrive, we played with the kids standing on the sidewalk just a few feet away from our bus. One of the boys in our group got a kick out of making faces with the children and seeing their reaction. It was really the best welcome we could have received.

After driving up a steep and often muddy mountain (insert applause for the incredible Chauffeur Don Hector), we finally arrived at the  Citadelle Laferrière. The Citadelle is actually one of Haiti's most well-known landmarks. It has been recognized as the largest fortress in the Americas. Pretty astounding. The Citadelle was constructed under the leadership of Henri Cristophe, a significant figure in the Haitian Revolution, following Haiti's independence from France at the start of the 19th century.

I'll never forget the crowd that approached our guagua when we first arrived at the entrance to this historic area. Somewhere between 60 and 100 people, most selling small goods, approached our bus when they saw our bus approaching. A few people in the group bought hats and bracelets while we were there. We began our walk up to the Citadelle, led by a few tour guides from Milot. Nearly every person from our group was also accompanied by a younger Haitian male. My partner, a young man named Steven, served as a history guide, a Haitian-Creole teacher, and motivator all over the course of the hike up to the Citadelle. And what a hike it was! In the heat of midday we scaled steep hills only to find more hills to climb. The sight was well worth it. Once we arrived at the Citadelle, we split up into small groups and began our tour around the area.Haiti- Tread CarefullyHaiti- Camp LaneayBoth the Citadelle and our later stop at San-Souci Palace were some of the greatest highlights of my visit to Haiti in the beginning of November. I've had the opportunity to learn about the history of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution in my university classes, and it was incredible to experience that history so up-close and to also see the pride that Haitians have for their country.
Haiti- RyanHaiti- Palacio San SouciHaiti- KhemaniThat night, everyone was very tired from the long walks around the landmarks, so we had a chance to just relax at our beautiful hotel for the evening. Our hotel in Cabo-Haitiano had a gorgeous view overlooking the beach. In the evening, we enjoyed hamburgers, fries, and some Haitian Prestige and passed the time away playing Mafia, riddles, and other fun games.

 The next day, we made the trip to Labadee. This is a very well-known beach on the north coast of Haiti, but not everyone is aware of its whereabouts. That is because many cruise liners will take their guests to this gorgeous beach and only mention that it is on the island of Hispaniola, not that it is in Haiti. We enjoyed the sun and sand, and visited two different beaches over the course of our day there.Haiti- Khemani 3On the ride back from the beach, I got to talking with a gentleman who started a non-profit organization in Port-au-Prince. His focus has been on feeding the over-populated, urban areas by starting small gardens. It’s a program called Growing Haiti. We discussed a lot of the ways that Haiti is portrayed in the U.S. media, sources of aid that have not come through since the 2010 earthquake, and some of the harsh realities of modern-day Haiti. It was really an insightful conversation that got me thinking more deeply about the things I was seeing during my time there.Keke and JanaThat evening, we went out to eat at a nice restaurant near the sea. I spoke with the same gentleman I was talking to earlier, and he told me about his travels throughout Central America, exploring the African diaspora in various Latin American countries. It was all so fascinating. After we finished up eating, we all went out to a discothèque in the city and danced to reggae, electronic music, and Rihanna. It was completely unlike any discoteca or típico I've gone to in the Dominican Republic, but enjoyable nonetheless.

 Finally on our last day in Haiti, we woke up and headed out to do some last minute souvenir shopping at an artisan market. I picked up a few carved stones and some bracelets to bring back. We also visited one last landmark, the Monument of the Vertieres. The sun was beating down on us by this point, but we took pictures and talked about the historical significance of the monument before hopping back into the guagua and heading home to Santiago.

 Although it was a very short trip, I will never forget the things that I saw and learned about Haiti during these few days. I am glad that I had the opportunity to see the modern-day reality of this island nation, which so often is portrayed maliciously by U.S. media outlets. I hope to one day return, and hopefully for a longer span of time. And I also plan to share my experience in Haiti with more people, so that they too can learn about the modern-day situation there, it’s something which I feel everyone ought to know.

10/04/2012

El Rally International: International Student Rally

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Despite my plans to get away from campus most weekends, a few Saturdays ago,  I returned to PUCMM to participate in the international student rally. A tradition at the university, the Rally Internacional allows new international students to get to know the PUCMM campus a bit better while working with other international (Haitian, US, etc.) and Dominican students. The rally itself requires teams to race around campus picking up clues and answering questions along the way. Inspired by the recent Summer Olympic Games, the Olympian theme was ever present in our clues and activities of the day.

After registering for the rally and getting a wristband I went looking for my teammates. Slowly, I found the other members with my same color wrist band. And soon enough, the purple team aka: Angry Birds, was ready to take off. Then suddenly it hit me, I was the only girl on this team of eight. I quickly let the thought go, and focused on the race ahead. I hoped that my extremely competitive nature and my athletic background would help me keep up. 

The countdown began, "Diez, nueve, ocho...tres, dos... uno," and we took off running. Given a paper with the clues for the rally, we started to read the first one as we were running. Too focused on keeping up with my speedy group of guys, I didn't even get a chance to look at the first clue. We ran into the Student Center where several chess boards were set up. An International Student helper (Estudiante de Apoyo) gave us our first question and task. Two members of the Angry Birds had to set up all the pieces of the chess board exactly how it should be at the start of any game. Then came our first questions,"When did the Olympic games begin? and where?" I could easily answer the second question: Greece. But I couldn't remember the date. We sped up the stairs to the third floor of the Student Center where we were asked to name ten Greek gods and their characteristics. Thankfully, we had a "cheat sheet" on the wall! After finishing up and getting our first star for completing the activity we fled the Student Center and headed towards the library across the way.

The next few rally activities were kind of a blur. I can remember running up several hills, completing a three-legged walk with a teammate, and attempting to find shade anywhere possible. It was nice to be surrounded by so many other competitive people during the rally. I felt confident about our performance throughout.

Perhaps that confidence turned into cockiness soon after, because I made a questionable choice along the way. We arrived at the PUCMM track and were given two options: Successfully kick ten soccer balls into the goal or jump over two hurdles. I immediately volunteered for the hurdles. I do not know why. In high school, I was a cross country person, not track. I had never attempted to jump a hurdle before. Could it really be that bad? Besides, one of my best friends in college was a track star, and hurdles were one of her main events. She made it look so easy. It couldn't be too hard, I figured. Maybe this was my motivation. Regardless, I decided to participate. As I took off running, I braced myself for the leap ahead. I was mentally prepared to clear that hurdle. I could even visualize myself clearing it, but beyond that... nothing. I couldn't imagine myself landing. When the time came for me to jump, I easily cleared the bar, just as I had imagined. It was a great feeling. With my teammates cheering from the side,  I was really feeling the adrenaline. Soon enough, the moment after I had successfully jumped over the hurdle I came crashing down on my knees. Like a good sport, I quickly got back up on my feet and kept on running towards the finish line, unwilling to disappoint or accept defeat in this challenge. I completed the hurdle task with minor injuries: one bloody knee and the other scratched up, some ripped and dusty shorts, and raw hands. "Shake it off," I told myself, "There's no room for hurt here. You have to push on." And "push on" is exactly what I did.

My team followed the rest of the clues on our sheet and finally arrived back at the starting point, ready to pass out after completing the incredibly strenuous rally. As a reward for completing the challenges, we all received complimentary Vita Malt/Malta (See the picture above: I grew up on this stuff!) and Cascada Water. A special thank you to our sponsors! [Insert product plug here]

As if the Malta wasn't enough (I would have been happy with just this), everyone received a certificate of participation. And what's more, prizes were given out to the top teams, those that completed all the tasks in the least amount time. Pleased with these lovely prizes, I quietly sat with my teammates in a grassy area awaiting the announcement of the first place team. To our excitement, we heard moments later that the purple team had won! We came in first in the rally! It was an awesome feeling, I'll never forget. As a reward, we received a trophy, more certificates, and the unofficial prize of bragging rights. I can certainly live with that! What an amazing end to all the craziness!