“You’re from America? What did people tell you about Haiti before you came? What do you think of Haiti now?”
We were at the beach on Saturday when I was accosted with these questions, though it was not the first time Haitians had approached me to ask about preconceived notions of Haiti. In these moments, I didn’t have a good reply because honestly, I didn’t have many clear thoughts about Haiti before coming. Leading up to this trip, I knew just about as much as the media had taught me (which is to say, nothing good). Although I thought up vague images of poverty, growing up in a middle class American neighborhood couldn’t provide me with very clear expectations of what this meant.
To the Haitians that have asked me my expectations of their country, I’ve been able to muster about as much as, “Well I didn’t have any expectations, so everything has exceeded them.” Of course, my thoughts on the matter are a bit less abbreviated than that, but basically it’s the truth. Every minute since I got off the plane in Port-au-Prince has been a new experience with Haitian culture. It overwhelms me to even think about how I would express it all in the span of one conversation.
I appreciate that these conversations have forced me to reflect a bit on of my experiences in Haiti so far. However, I think whatever input I give is pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of the conversation. In every instance, my response has been met with something along the lines of, “I’ll never leave Haiti because I want to stay and change things,” or “Haiti isn’t perfect, but it’s my home.”