Changing the Narrative, 9 Reasons to #NotSleeponHaiti
When writing this article, I typed into google “Why is Haiti…” and "...so poor” automatically appeared. However, when I asked the same question for the United States, Google finishes it off with "called America." This is NOT ok. Having a Haitian mom who shows significant pride for her country, I was raised with the same level of enthusiasm.
In the sixth grade, I recall a friend stating that “Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere." My mom, however, had a great comeback: "Why does everyone only focus on the poor aspect of Haiti? When Jimmy Carter visited the country, he cited it as one of the most beautiful countries he has seen. Like any country, there is rich and poor. I did not grow up in those poor parts." I did not process the beauty my mom or Jimmy Carter were referring to until I recently made a trip to my motherland.
No, I did not travel to Haiti as part of a medical brigade’s trip or to visit family! I actually went for a vacation (as people do come here for that) through the Haitian Nomad's Roots of Free tour experience.
Here are 9 Reasons why anyone should #NotSleeponHaiti and vacation there IMMEDIATELY:
1. Haiti LITERALLY started the movement of black independence.
Haiti exemplifies the fact that blacks, united, can truly resist oppression, even while at an economic disadvantage. As the Haitian flag states, "L'Union Fait La Force." Let this sink in: The #HaitianRevolution was the only successful #slaverebellion to date in human history, PERIOD.
#DidYouKnow that in the 18th century (at the time, Haiti was called Saint Domingue), Haiti was France's wealthiest overseas colony, largely because of its production of sugar, coffee, indigo, and cotton. When the slaves revolted, they motivated the rest of the Caribbean and South America to resist white power. It is crazy to think that at one time, Haiti had a population of about 520,000, BUT 452,000 were black slaves. Nearly half of died in this revolt! However, that effort was not in vain because not only did Haitian slavery end, but the global slave trade also ended within a few years.
In Haiti, freedom and resiliency fill the air. Whether it is the Citadelle or the Vertieres monument, you are reminded that Haiti is the world’s #firstblackrepublic.
2. Haiti contains the "8th wonder of the world."
Although it is not officially designated as such, this massive fortress needs to be! When you see the Citadelle Laferrière for yourself, you will understand why.
Due to its steepness, it is a struggle hiking up there (even for the most fit person). I cannot imagine the amount of strength it took to transport materials to the top. Realize that the #Citadelle was literally one of the first monuments to be constructed by independent blacks.
The views from the top of the fortress are as breathtaking as the views to pictures of Machu Picchu (as I have never been there myself). I now understand why this icon of Haiti, this symbol of freedom, is one of the most popular Haitian tourist destinations. Sadly, however, it is lucky to even get 40 daily tourists because people simply just don’t know about it!
The #PalaisSansSouci is also worth a visit. Located nearby to the Citadelle, the "Palace of No Worries" was once the home of Henri Christophe, Haiti’s first independent ruler.
3. Haiti is a mountainous country.
The name “Haiti” originates from a Taino word meaning “land of high mountains.” Sharing the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, Haiti does not disappoint with its majestic, breathtaking mountains and views. For example, the beaches of Paradise Bay are surrounded by lush green mountains. The pictures speak for themselves.
While in Paradise Bay, I stayed at a house that was built on the side of a mountain. From the house, we had our own private beach and gorgeous mountainous views of #Labadie. These views alone are worth a trip to Haiti. If you don't believe me, check out these pictures below!
4. Haiti is island beauty defined.
In my opinion, TV and online advertisements of island vacations seem to selectively forget that Haiti is also in the Caribbean and has beautiful beach getaways. Thanks to Balancé Haiti, I was able to experience this up close and personal. It does not get any better than riding on a yacht and eating barbecued chicken on the beach!
I have never felt sand so light and powdery until swimming in the beach of #ParadiseBay. I recommend getting someone to scoop sand underneath the water and give you a natural scrub massage! Haiti's water is the perfect mix of blue and green hues.
An island off the coast of Haiti is Amiga Island. Also known as Ile Le Rat, legend has it that Christopher Columbus would come here and spend "alone" time with his mistress. Columbus also "met" Native Americans here. It's called #AmigaIsland because he found the Native Americans to be friendly. Amiga Island was also believed to have medicinal rhubarb. Turns out that the rhubarb was only weed!
From the countries I have traveled so far, Haiti has the prettiest sunsets. I have never seen what a moonrise over water looks like until my first night in Haiti. I think Haiti's sky was just showing off to me!
5. Haiti is LOUD & PROUD of its black roots. Melanin bleeds everywhere.
In Haiti, being #blackandmelanated was a good thing I recall being in Miami, looking around the gate and thinking to myself, "Finally! A flight where black people are the majority." I noticed one Asian family and one group of white people, but they definitely stood out among the sea of #HaitianCreole speaking black families. Sitting on the plane, it hit me that I am actually one of the LIGHTEST people on the plane! While in Haiti, I never felt singled out for being lighter or for being black. I felt right at home!
6. Haitian food is unique and delicious.
Having grown up among Haitian culture, I have had unlimited access to #Haitianfood. However, I have realized that many of my Caribbean friends do not know what Haitian food entails. They have had jerk chicken or rice & beans, but not #Griot or #DiriDjonDjon. Having tried a range of Caribbean foods, there are certain staples that all Caribbean foods have: rice, plantain, salad. However, the seasonings are very different.
Haitians surely love their seafood. In Haiti, I definitely had my fair share of crab, some being freshly picked from the sea. Haitians love their portions. If eating at a restaurant, your meal will most likely come with your main meat along with rice, beans, some pieces of fried plantain, salad and pikliz. Eating at a house, you will have large bowls of food for you to choose from.
In my opinion (although others may have different opinions), the main dishes that are unique to Haiti are:
a) Diri Djon Djon: A black mushroom rice. Usually, dried mushrooms are boiled, which release a grayish-black coloring, giving the rice its gray color and the dish's distinctive flavor. Often times, Haitians add extra flavor by adding shrimp.
b) Griot: Griot involves pieces of pork shoulder that are marinated and deep fried. I would argue that this is Haiti's national meat dish.
c) Legumes: This hodge podge of a dish is made of mixed vegetables that are cooked with meat, usually beef, then mashed and served over rice.
d) Pikliz: #Pikliz is a very spicy, pickled cole slaw. It is made with shredded cabbage and carrot, but also contains hot pepper and vinegar. The longer it is sits in a jar, the more potent it is. It is served on the side of every meal, especially on top of griot and rice and beans, providing a kick to food!
e) Sos Pwa: A black bean puree usually served over white rice
7. Haitian music is not like anything you have every heard. One word: Kompa.
In mainstream culture, Caribbean genres like Soca and Reggae have the most popularity. However, you have not heard good music until you have heard some Haitian Kompa music. Kompa is very unique as you can hear African and Spanish influences in the music. There are almost always sounds of percussion and woodwind instruments. Songs are usually 6-9 minutes long, as there is always a long instrumental feature.
Here is a sample of #Kompa music from artist Sweet Micky, unofficially known as the "President of Kompa" music: from his appearance at the Brooklyn's West Indian Day Parade 2017:
Here is a cute video of my mom and I dancing to Sweet Micky performing at the Brooklyn's West Indian Day Parade 2017. I think it will put a smile on your face :-):
8. Haitians do not play when it comes to education.
Having taught in a predominantly Caribbean population for five years, I noticed that Haitian students often had a stronger work ethic. However, I did not understand where that stemmed from until I came to Haiti. Driving from the airport, I noticed tens of school aged students in the streets studying. I have never seen such a sight before! Someone explained to me since many do not have lights, they can only study during the day when there is natural daylight.
I have also never seen so many kids in plaid uniform. I learned that even though so many families have little to no money, they find a way to hustle and put their kids in private schools because the public school is unreliable. Unfortunately, public school teachers often go 5-6 months without pay, so consequently, kids may go 5-6 months without an education.
I felt enlightened as to why my mom hustled to put me in Catholic School and why I was sent to school with matching ribbons and a plaid uniform.
9. Haiti is a country of artistry.
Finally, Haiti embraces #art. You will see tons of paintings and wood carvings, which often depict the natural landscape of Haiti or the struggles of the people. They definitely reflect African roots with strong Indigenous American and European influences. One thing I was surprised to see was the use of metal. Art is a crucial part of Haitian life, which explains the love of art that my mom and I have.
What can YOU do to change the narrative?
The only way that the #narrative is going to change is by visiting. Undoubtedly, the media initially impacted my hesitancy to visit. It has scared my mom to the extent that she has not been there since the 70’s. However, I could not justify having been to a resort on the opposite side of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) but not my mother's home country. If the news media is not going to change the narrative, we can saturate social media with OUR stories, OUR pictures, OUR experiences. I am glad to have taken this first step and plan to return, sooner rather than later.