Haiti: Up Close and Personal
By Laurie Ahner
Still magical and special, Haiti is hard to explain. It gets to your heart and stays there forever.
This island that scares so many, is in reality a puzzle. Beauty and chaos coexist. A smile to or from a Haitian is all it takes to know that one is safe here. Much to the surprise of the American media, most Haitians have a good heart and soul and would not hurt a flea.
The ladies at the outdoor markets push and plead for a sale, but when they don’t get one, there is no sign of anger…only laughter and chitter chatter ….this is their life: selling a few mangoes and a few bunches of bananas every day, a few dollars here and there. It is acceptable to them.
Dire poverty, intense heat, sweating bodies clad in torn clothing, hard working people, dirt and trash and rubble everywhere, street sellers closing their eyes with heat and sleepiness overtaking their need to sell; the contrasts are many.
We wonder what goes on in these minds, in this apparent misery, and with conditions most Americans would find appalling. And yet it is their day to day existence, with no other choices available. There is a strong pride and an elegance that Haitian people have, though their manner is slow and deliberate. The smile is key !
The ironies are blatant. Expensive, brand new as well as old SUV’s line the roads, which are full of potholes and cracks, requiring big and heavy tires, and drivers who can withstand the delays and the tough road conditions.
A rainstorm is a deluge; intense, angry, over the top. extravagant, not your typical rain shower.
The traffic is so terrible that the SUVs, motorcycles and human beings weave in and out constantly, butting in front of each other, impossible and unreal conditions, absolutely no order or “system”, except that somehow it all does eventually and miraculously flow. There are no traffic lights, and very few police in sight. Crazy and chaotic are the best words to describe the scene on the roads.
Yesterday we encountered an old man on the street, making thick rope out of tiny strings of rush- twine. All day he works and proudly shows us the product of his labor: a few yards of heavy rope to tie around large baskets for sale in the street. His pride was on his face. We gave him a few bucks and some crackers; such gratitude that we received was very warming.
That’s Haiti: patience, endurance, resilience, diligence; completely unpredictable and chaotic.The phone service is horrible and completely unreliable. How can a country exist with no phone service? And yet it does, and business gets done, people get together, parties and weddings happen, life goes on in spite of hardships such as these problems and issues.
The “necessary” is a sense of give and take, acceptance, and a good sense of humor.
Don’t take anything for granted in Haiti; there is always a surprise waiting around the corner. Very unamerican in that sense: expect chaos, the exotic, the unique, the unexpected.
The earthquake has left its damage and its marks upon the land. The dead are ghosts whispering from their fallen spots beneath the rubble. The Haitians are slow to speak about this disaster that seems a cruel blow to an already tragic country. They all lost.
And yet life goes on, the pursuit of recovery and progress is apparent. They are not giving up. Hope and resilience are everywhere in this land. The survivors are here and very much alive, and life is about the living and their current problems, joys and sorrows.
The Hotel Montana is still my favorite hotel in Haiti. It has the ambience and charm that I love in a hotel; even though it is not completely “Americanized”, thank goodness. What I love is that it is unique and very Haitian. The views are the best in Petionville, and the terrace and swimming pool area, restaurant and bar, are breathtaking. Where the old , gracious and grand Hotel Montana main building once stood, stands a more humble version , still commanding an incredible panorama of the city of Port Au Prince. The new buildings are charming gingerbread style, with elegant and modern touches.
From the pool one looks up to see the huge mahogany tree standing guard against future earthquakes and tragedies such as occurred in January 2012. A beautiful garden memorial has been built to remember those who died , and it seems that the dead are honored and remembered. So much loss in just a few moments time. How does one cope and recover from that disaster? Yet the people here are living life , and time goes forward at the Montana. Little by little they are building a beautiful and wonderfully unique hotel. It is comfortable, safe, well-located, and pleasant. The staff are genuinely friendly and sincere. This hotel is “home” to many devoted International clients from many years. Like Haiti itself, the Montana is predictably different, and there lies the absolute charm.
The artists in Haiti are still working hard, making voodoo flags, metal sculpture, paintings, paper mache crafts, sequin and beaded purses, woodcarvings, and all kinds of wonderful works of art. There are many treasures in Haiti….and I was able to buy several of these to bring back to Galerie Bonheur. Below you will see some of the marvelous “finds” that I captured on my trip in May 2013.
All in all, I am happy that I got up the courage to go to Haiti. So many people are afraid for the wrong reasons. I would take my children and grandchildren, friends and family, without fear. I love Haiti and will always go back there to buy art and to get inspiration for life!
Haiti Cherie !!!
Written with love,