by Jammil Telfort, IV Form
Sadness. Desolation. Poverty. Fear. Hunger. Disease. These are some of the words that people immediately think of when someone mentions Haiti. In the minds of many Americans, Haiti is a broken down, third world country that is being ravaged with the aforementioned afflictions and in need of dire assistance. The general population does not live in nice homes, and some people even live in tents due to the horrific earthquake that decimated much of the country three years ago. Most citizens do not have access to medical care; what medical care there is often takes herculean efforts, as evidenced by last year’s Grey Colloquium all-school read, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, that chronicles Dr. Paul Farmer and his Partners In Health organization. There are even people who have to struggle to savor a morsel of food on their withering taste buds. Unfortunately, without assistance, Haiti will not be able to pull itself out of the shambles. All of this seems awful, but there has to be a good side to all of these bad circumstances, right? It isn’t possible for all of one country to be in total anguish and despair, right?
Contrary to popular belief, that is correct. Haiti is much more than poverty-stricken people living virtually homeless and rampant diseases taking life after life. Behind what is constantly portrayed in today’s media, many places in Haiti are breathtakingly beautiful. This past summer, my brother and I traveled to Haiti to visit my dad and his side of the family. Admittedly, under all the excitement that we had built up over going there, we did have a bit of apprehension. My brother and I knew that post-earthquake Haiti would be a much different place than the last time we had visited. While there, we would only have a month to make memories that would last us a lifetime.
Haiti is the second largest island in the Caribbean, with a population of almost ten million people. Most of the people are either Roman Catholic or Protestant, and the median age is 27, with 70% of the population under 30 (Daumerie and Hardee 3). The official languages of Haiti are French and Haitian Creole, however, only 52.9% are able to read and write (Haiti). My brother and I were well aware of these statistics and figured that we would fit in well. After all, we are in the most robust age range, we practice Roman Catholicism, and we can speak Haitian Creole. We felt prepared for our trip.
Upon arriving, we saw palm trees and many pedestrians. Everyone seemed so busy, which was a pleasant surprise for us. While we were being distracted by the sweltering heat, everyone was going about their day, going through their itineraries and doing what they needed to do. Often the images of Haiti are of people struggling and lacking direction, but this is not what we observed; we beheld a spirit for life. We made our way to my father’s house and immediately became accustomed to it. It was what we expected: no electricity, a lot of trees, and stray cats. At the same time, it was also more than we expected. From midday naps, zealous religious singing, storytelling, and eating sugarcane under the stars, my brother and I ended up savoring much more of the culture than we had expected. Being in an environment where spending time with family was a priority showed us the value of community and how having a tight knit family brings joy to anyone, regardless of economic status or uber-challenging conditions.
Outside of the house, there was much to see around the country. The lush green mountains in Kenscoff invited us into the town to take in the cool crisp air of the southeast. Lying down on the mountainside to watch the melodic clouds can alleviate one’s worries in a surreal way. In the western city of Grand-Goâve, a beautiful beach-resort called Taino Beach allows people to enjoy some seafood on the ocean coast or swim in the crystal clear waters. Even just coming together to watch local teams play a game of soccer is an exciting event. Loud cheering for each solid kick and crisp goal was mesmerizing and enveloping into a new found, simpler joy.
So, yes, it’s true. Haiti is a poor country with little to no medical care, disease, and hunger. Haiti is a country that needs dire assistance. Yet, with all that is wrong with Haiti, there are still things that are right. The people still find a reason to enjoy themselves, to laugh, to smile, and to dream. When almost all of the odds are laid out on the front lines, remember that the human spirit beats on, as my brother and I witnessed, experienced, and joined while in Haiti.
Jammil Telfort, IV Form, is from New York City, and he lives in Theiriot dorm. He enjoys talking to people, laughing as much as he can, and making a difference in all different types of ways.
Daumerie, Beatrice, and Karen Hardee. “The Effects of a Very Young Age Structure on Haiti.” Population Action International. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.
“Haiti at a Glance.” Embassy of Haiti. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.