On Cancelling My Field Season in Haiti

So, as of the 23rd, I was supposed to be on a plane heading towards Miami, where I would spend the first night of a six-week field season in Haiti. I had been learning Haitian Creole since December (M’ pale kreyol tou piti!), watching documentaries about Haiti, and reading about the history and culture of the country- all in preparation for my work there. Unfortunately, a week before I was supposed to leave an integral piece of my plans for my time in the field fell through, and after consulting with my contacts in Haiti, it was determined that my trip out there wouldn’t be fruitful for my research without that missing piece. I called the airlines and cancelled my plane tickets for the first time ever, and began emailing the people at my university responsible for my funding. Hours and hours of planning, applying for grants, and getting translations and IRB approval was all wasted.

Despite this, a big part of me was relieved to not be leaving. Some of this is due to the fact that I just got engaged and didn’t want to be away for that long, my little lovebird that I got in fourth grade hasn’t been doing well, and my brother will be moving away in August, but another part of me was afraid to go to Haiti as well.

I have been to every continent (besides Antarctica) on trips of all different sorts- study abroad, exploration, family trips, some planned by myself and others facilitated by other people. Even with this experience, and a growing knowledge of Haiti, I was still afraid.

I haven’t gone to Haiti, but I have been learning a lot about this country for the past few months. Despite my fear of the unknown, I would have gone, and I believe it would have changed me for the better. So, for anyone who has never considered Haiti before, or people thinking about going, this is for you, and for my hope that someday I will have the opportunity to visit this country and learn from its people as well.

One of the first things that I picked up during my research is that even living in a place as close to the Caribbean as the US, I knew nothing about this brave, little country. Of course, I had heard plenty from the media after the earthquake that decimated Port-au-Prince, and my parents were aware of the dictator “Papa Doc,” but the history and character of the people there was something that few people ever seemed to discuss. In talking to people who have gone to Haiti or are from there, the country is not at all what it is painted to be by the media, however. Yes, there is political upheaval, and poverty, and all the dangers that go along with that, but the people there are kind and welcoming and they have a lot to share with the world.

First of all, Haiti has a very proud history, one that I think we should all celebrate. Haiti, despite all its struggles, is a global symbol for freedom, and its people have fought hard for lives and land to call their own. The Haitian revolution, which took place from 1791-1804 (according to Wikipedia), was one of the first successful slave revolts in the world, and is still considered one of the most successful. Unfortunately, the economic powers of the world relied on slavery at the time, and because of this, they saw the freedom of the Haitian people as a threat, and did their best to ignore their existence. France, having lost its prize colony, forced the Haitian government to pay them reparations. No history is as simple as this, but these things played an important role in the current state of the country, along with a long line of corrupt leaders and complexities that I can’t hope to understand. Regardless, Haiti is a country founded on the essential idea that people had a right to their freedom- something that we are still struggling with in various forms today.

Second, the spirit of freedom and perseverance is still strong in the Haitian people, and they deserve more than the tinted lies that the media tells about them and their country. Everything that I have seen and read, suggests that the people of Haiti are not willing to give up on their country, and we as a global community shouldn’t either. Haiti faces many challenges- a weak economy, a corrupt government, and an environment that has been widely destroyed after ages of desperation and mismanagement. However, as naively optimistic as this may sound, I have little doubt that there are answers to these problems in the people of Haiti, if only given the chance.

I’m sure that had I been able to visit Haiti this summer, I would have a much more fleshed out understanding of this country, but after trying to delve into the state and culture from afar, I do feel that the global community still doesn’t give Haiti the credit that it deserves, or the kind of help that it needs. And at any rate, I think that it has a lot to offer the world, and a lot to offer to travelers.

The other thing that I want to leave you all with, and something that I am learning about myself, is the value of learning about places even if you may not have the opportunity to visit. I hope that I see Haiti someday, but even if I don’t, I think I will come to the table with more understanding when the media reports on this country, and I also think that I will better be able to support the Haitian people in whatever small ways I can as they persevere and build, now that I know more about them, their culture, and their history.

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