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. On 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.Both 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.
That 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.On 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.That 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.