Source :Google photo of Haiti
Synopsis : There are many countries that go through a greater share of misfortune than the others, Haiti being one of them. They have suffered and continue to suffer from poverty, corruption, ineffective government, international apathy, lack of jobs and very little foreign investment. Just one family kept an iron grip on them through mass murder and torture but they are gone now so Haitians breathe a little easier. It is a tragedy that so nice people with so much potential live in such dire straights.
If you ask someone where is Haiti in the world map, most people will not know let alone anything about the country or its people but one day I packed my bag and flew in to Port au Prince not knowing what to expect.
It is a small airport just near the city that has an ocean front but a part of Port au Prince is spread over the steep mountain slopes that form a majestic backdrop to the city below but up there where the air is cooler and where most of the rich people live have great mansions that are uniquely designed to fit the slopes. So their garage is at the top of their house and the rooms two or three story below with a balcony that gives a spectacular view of the mountain , the city below and the blue ocean beyond.
While driving up the slopes to reach Petionville,you will notice the vendors by the roadside selling beautiful rugs made of animal skins of various colors and shades and many other handi craft made of wood or clay. These vendors also mark the invisible border beteen the poorer and the richer section of the city and eke out a living.
Near the waterfront is the GPO or the post office where the artists spread their wares on the sidewalk for sale. You will find interesting oil and water color paintings , polished wooden boxes and many other handicraft so you may stop to look at them raising the hope of vendors who may not have sold anything but wait in the scorching sun.
It helps to know French in Haiti spoken by the elite and the educated ones but helps more if you know Creole that all Haitians speak who are mostly poor.Speaking Creole helps you get a better deal but the quality of the paintings are not extraordinary so you end up with what you pay for.
The aerial view just before you touch down is more than shocking to the first time visitor to Haiti because it shows a large spread of a bidonville where the poorest of the poor live . You will find many minibuses gaudily painted in bright colors showing big breasted women in skimpy clothes . You will see the gutters overflowing with sewage and garbage but the Haitians do not mind. They will be seen loading charcoal, live chicken, goats, fruits and vegetable laden baskets on top while they pack as many people as possible inside before they leave for the provinces.
To get a better view of the city you will have to climb the hill top to the balcony of the hotel there called Castel Haiti from where you will notice a massive cemetery below where many victims of a very repressive dictator called Papa Doc and later his son are buried. He wrote the history of this unfortunate nation in blood and where his son continued the bloody legacy through his goons called Ton Ton Macoute that I saw on the streets .
Haitians lived in fear of these murderous goons who wielded absolute power and could arrest anyone even suspected of voicing their dissent , tortured them or killed them so the cemetery kept growing. The head of this goon squad was a big woman who enjoyed torturing her prisoners.
I arrived at a time when the Haitians were in the streets in large numbers celebrating their Mardi Gras beating drums, symbals and drinking rhum as if there was no tomorrow. They were partially right. I heard it from the prostitutes who hung around Castel Haiti hoping for a client but I also saw it in the faces of people who were suffering. There was no war like in Vietnam but there are many types of war. The agony of living under a dictatorship and suffering was no less than a war where the poor people suffered the most.
If you go outside the city, you will notice the exquisite beaches of Zanglais to the west where pelicans cavort and the alluring golden sand invites you to take a dip in the azure blue ocean. On the road people sell shrimps , cashew brittles, fruits and charcoal. The non stop demand for charcoal has decimated all the trees on the slopes and causes massive soil erosion. The view from the air is stark that shows completely denuded hills of Haiti and very green Dominican Republic side that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and nothing else. These two countries are world apart in language, culture, level of freedom, type of government and history.
I arrived at a time when the underlying tension in Haiti was building up and later would reach a level that it could not contain any longer even with all the repression so I watched in dismay the start of the revolution there and worried about the safety of my family with a young wife and two small children.
It came to boil soon enough but I had a premonition of it when I sat behind the dictator in a public function in a village while his body guards stood in a row pointing their guns at the joyless crowd that was ordered to be there. I saw it in their faces clearly that the end was near for the dictator although he did not seem to notice anything unusual. His awful wife kept talking to someone near me while the minister of agriculture was making his monotonous speech.
Haiti is practically in the fore yard of the mighty United States that keeps Haiti tightly under its influence by giving aid money most of which returns to the US keeping the country poor and destitute while the dictator fills his pocket with the foreign aid. This scenario is repeated elsewhere in the world but I would like to keep my focus on Haiti now.
I felt nervous because I knew that something bad was about to happen but had no idea of its magnitude. It started with the killing of a mulatto woman in the small town where I lived. Mulattos are hated by the Haitians because of their arrogance and a feeling of superiority because of their lighter skin color. They are the illegitimate progeny of their past colonial masters and can be found in most latin countries. In Haiti the mulattos were richer than the rest and many had shops and businesses.
Then the news broke that the crowds were in a violent mood and had started to burn down the hotels and shops owned by the mulattos. This was the start of the revolution that rapidly spread to all parts of Haiti and took a very sinister turn in the capital Port au Prince where I was ordered to take refuge in a secluded place. The streets were now in the hands of a mob that had gone berserk so they attacked their hated enemy the Ton Ton macoutes whom they killed in large numbers and went after the mulattos. They chopped off their heads and paraded with it on stakes.
The dictator and his partner in crime one day fled the country early in the morning with all the loot he could gather in a hurry but no one noticed it because of curfew and empty streets although one innocent man riding his moped was gunned down by the goons because he happened to notice the dictator’s car going to the airport.
This news spread quickly throughout the country and encouraged the mob to take revenge on the people who had tormented them for so long. No foreigners were targeted and I was allowed to go back to my town after I had explained in Creole that I was an agronomist helping their farmers. There were road blocks everywhere manned by people with machetes and anger in their heart because of what they had endured for so long in the hands of one family.
The chaos continued until a makeshift government of sorts was put in place that had the daunting task of bringing back the normalcy so that the life could go on. But the country was in desperate need of money that could only come from foreign aid. There was practically no tourism although there were beautiful beaches and many tourist attractions.
Source :Google photo of Haiti earthquake
The UN sent troops to maintain law and order after a terrible earthquake nearly flattened parts of Port au Prince where thousands died under the rubbles. Their bodies rotted because the rubble could not be cleared fast enough. When I thought that the country could not suffer more than this came an epidemic of cholera that some claim was spread by the UN troops taking thousands of lives. Poor lives are always cheap anywhere but it seemed that the Haitian lives were cheaper than the most. While they suffered a dictator and his goons, then revolution and earthquake, the world hardly took any notice . If there was a case of one cholera death in Europe, the whole world would know about it but thousands died in Haiti that the world ignored.
The poverty, lack of jobs and utter desperation made many Haitians take un seaworthy boats to try to reach the shores of Florida but most died on the way and the few who made it to Florida were promptly arrested by the police who put them in detention centers to languish for years.
Then there were the fanatic missionaries who tried to convert the devout Haitians to their brand of faith and argued with me that saving their heathen souls was more important than the help I was giving in agriculture. It was as if all the bad things only happened to the Haitians who were described as heathens, voodoo practitioners, devil worshippers, backward and uncivilized.
But I saw them as noble, wonderful people who were kind hearted who always shared their hospitality and food even with strangers. They brought to you a glass of water in a tray with lace cover on the glass. They wore colorful dresses to go to the church on Sundays and their children in smart uniforms could be seen going to schools in large numbers. Girls played football so well that often I brought them to neighboring villages to play. Haiti beat Mexico the host in the world cup to their great dismay.
I saw them longing for the day when they will have a representative democracy when they will be able to vote. But the corruption is endemic in Haiti. Some Haitians steal money from projects and construction works while powerful people take most of the water from canals for themselves and leaving little for the farmers downstream.
The foreigners told them to kill all their native pigs because of the swine flu that they claimed was spreading so they slaughtered their pigs with heavy heart. It seemed that it was always the foreigners who told them how to live and remain poor . But the Haitians know better. Given half a chance they too can come out of their poverty if given a little help . They are very hard working people who hated their dictators and foreign colonizers so they became a free country long before their brothers and sisters were toiling to pick cotton as slaves in the United States.
It was once a prosperous country covered with forests and wildlife but nothing remains of their glorious past. It is a tragic country but it has a special place in my heart.
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