As I entered the country through the ramshackle Port au Prince airport, I was filled with a variety of emotions. In a few seconds, I would be walking the streets of a devastated capitol city, spending my days at an orphanage protected by tarps with rooms sectioned by the few standing walls that still remained, and meeting inspiring people that would forever change my worldview. But I also felt capable – capable of absorbing this experience, wandering this city, and understanding a new perspective.
I have not only witnessed but also lived in the developing world and thus expected Haiti to feel much like the rest. I have perceived the sadness and desperation that so comfortably partners up to a life of poverty. I have strolled the Killing Fields and been a spectator of eerie rooms of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. I have helped children into the hospital in Cambodia, unable to walk or cry or eat because they are so ill. Food that to many seems inedible has been swallowed with a forced smile. I have seen the name of a child I spent the past week making paper cranes with erased off of the white board in the ICU, signifying their death. Tents as houses and shacks as shelter are things that not only have I seen, but have found refuge in myself. But Haiti was different.
Debris, cement, and rock from a devastating earthquake more than a year ago still cover the streets. Tent cities spread across blocks providing asylum for thousands. There is no denying the immense loss experienced in January of 2010 as you walk through the streets. Yet, it is a country filled with hope, relationships, family and love. One can feel the passion and resiliency rising from the rubble. The desire to experience success, overcome adversity, to rebuild homes and lives, and to provide for those without palpates throughout the sweltering city. The dichotomy of what you physically see and what you spiritually feel can be overwhelming and immensely empowering.
The beaches of Jacmel were visited via curvy mountain roads through beautiful countryside. Indeed, it is possible to live in the mountains and at the beach if you live in Haiti. I enjoyed ice cold Prestige and the warm waters of the Caribbean, as perfectly ripe coconuts freed themselves of trees. Jacmel provided me with a glimpse of what Haiti could be – and perhaps was.
I have yet to process through all of the emotions and experiences of Haiti. At times, I have an aversion to sharing my experiences with others because it makes my time there seem less sacred, less important, less real, less mine. Other times, I feel as though I can only express this trip through contradictions and oxymoron, making it impossible for anyone to understand what the experience was like and what it meant to me.
A different vacation, to be sure, but one that more should experience. My international trips of days gone by were filled with typical debauchery: libations, tanning, friends and questionable decisions. This trip to Haiti was one of learning and growth, experience and education: a far cry from the vacations of yesteryear.