Haiti Fact #13: From 1915 to 1934, the US occupied Haiti. Concerns about German aggression during WWI and Haiti’s proximity to the Panama Canal led to the occupation. The US also occupied the Dominican Republic and Cuba during the early 20th century.
The past two months have been turbulent. Four separate sets of visitors provided a chance to share our knowledge of Haiti and show off our Creole, but also left me exhausted. My family got to see the pros and cons of life in Haiti, reminding me how cool this job is. The abundance of fresh food, beautiful weather and friendly people genuinely led me to say to my parents that I’m spoiled here. I realize that someone in the USA might vehemently disagree, citing the non-potable groundwater or the intermittent electricity. But I stand by what I said. It doesn’t take long to forget about the lack of some amenities considered essential in the USA. Additionally, limited access to the Internet and smartphones quickly becomes a blessing. Fewer distractions open up new chances to read and write, and to just think about everything that is changing. The slower pace and the amount of space to think make any “concessions” in living standards worth it. Thanks to the abundance of time and lack of distractions, I have read a lot of books recently.
I started January with Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. That book hits hard. It tells the story of Paul Farmer, whose dedication and unapologetic commitment to the equality of all people changed healthcare standards for some of the poorest people in the world, especially in central Haiti. Mountains Beyond Mountains is a fantastic read. Then I read The Big Truck Went By by Jonathan M. Katz, a book investigating the shortcomings of aid efforts to Haiti following the earthquake. Learning about the Haiti’s complexities makes it difficult to form a concrete position on the issues. I feel less confident assessing what Haiti “needs” with every book I read about it. After reading even just one chapter, I have needed to go do some domestic chore to better process what I read. Washing dishes or doing a load of laundry are time consuming and labor intensive enough to let my mind wander and hopefully process the most recent challenges to some long-held worldviews. Reading about Haiti leaves me confused, but with a renewed passion to keep trying. So life has been turbulent.
Around New Years my sister came down to visit. It was great to have her, especially at the halfway point of my time here. We went to the big tourist spots here: the Citadelle and the beach. We did more than just tourist stuff though. I showed her the market and we went to CASB, my school. I figured that the poverty and abrasive nature of Haiti would challenge her, just as they would any first time visitor. But I did not expect to be shocked by how much I have changed. Seeing Julia, whom I know better than I know anyone, threw my life now into stark contrast with what it used to be. It’s easy to forget that I used to take hot showers and drink tap water when I’m with Eli because we basically met each other here. Without a reminder of developed world experience, memory of home fades surprisingly quickly. But after a few conversations with Julia, everything came rushing back. It hit me how different everything is. For one, I am less relaxed now – not surprising. It’s hard to say anything else definitely but I feel something. That realization joins an ever-mounting list that exceeds the time to process it. And once again, I’m thankful for menial household chores that provide space to try to make sense of everything.
By the time my parents came in late February, Eli and I had become pros at guiding tours of greater Cap-Haitien. While sister's visit plunged me into confusion about how to reconcile life in the US with life in Haiti, my parents’ visit was seamless and fun. We did the same activities as with we did with previous visitors, showing them both the beautiful and the ugly parts of reality here. But my parents are back at home now and there aren’t any visitors coming for a while. A window of opportunity is open once again. I speak Creole fairly fluently and have enough free time to invest myself even further into the community here. With the turbulence of the past two months subsiding, I can recommit to working hard at this job and seeking to connect more with my friends here. Life is good. As always, thanks for reading.
A special thank you to these donors: