*This is an article from 2013 when I traveled to Haiti for the first time. Since then, I’ve returned to this amazing country once more in 2015. For more on Haiti, check out the Haiti Travel Page*
It’s been nearly two weeks since I returned from my 10-day trip across Haiti to film a documentary on an amazing sustainable energy project under development. Now that my intense reverse culture-shock has subsided, I wanted to straighten out a few things about the bad reputation Haiti receives.
The moment I stepped off the plane in the capital city of Port Au Prince, Haiti, I realized my fears had been false. That all fears of Haiti from others had been false. That the preconceived notions had been false.
Ignorance bitch slapped me across the face for the next 72 hours as I adjusted to the fact that everything I thought I knew about the country; destruction, sadness, squalor, and violence through word of mouth and news — was all false.
All of those “observations” most make lay only on the surface, hiding an amazing and vastly misrepresented country.
It’s as if Haiti this whole time has been a worn book with a blank cover, passed around from person to person. Each time, someone passes on the book to the next person without reading it and tells them what they heard the book was about.
From person to person, the book would collect more dust and wear. The story would change to something completely different. The person receiving it would see the state of the book and hear what it might be about. Then, instead of exploring it themselves, they would let it sit around until they could pass it on to another. And of course tell someone what it was about without actually reading it.
Haiti was presented to me, like this old book metaphor I described, and it wasn’t a book would have been interested in reading either. But I’ve grown to learn by experience. To find the truth for myself. And I am happy I did.
I can tell you one thing for certain. Haiti was nothing like I had heard.
After traveling the country, it is one book I would read over and over again. And I happily state “Haiti” when people ask me what my favorite country is.
Usually people are shocked or confused when I do. Just like when I first told friends and family I was going to travel to Haiti. These were some of the responses:
“Don’t get shot!”
“Don’t get aids!”
“Don’t get kidnapped!”
“Be careful, it’s dangerous!”
“Don’t get cholera!”
“Why would you go to a place like Haiti?!”
“Oh, you are going to help with the earthquake stuff?”
These are the examples of the rubbish most people regurgitated at me. Warnings, opinions, and fears that were all unjustified and not from actual knowledge. Just information implanted from somewhere.
At first, I would laugh it off and tell them I’d try not to get shot or killed.
As the trip grew closer, my responses to challenges back at them. I would ask them why they thought I would be killed. I would ask them why they thought Haiti was a place they would never visit.
Where did this influence come from 100% of the time? Their answer: The news.
That wicked media construct of chaos, death, and destruction meant to always have us shaking in our boots about the world. And meant to, mostly, keep us from finding out truth ourselves. For Haiti — the media painted a picture of exactly that: chaos, destruction, death, violence, danger. And still does for the most part.
Well, I’m here to break down the false image of Haiti before your eyes.
I read and watched the same things about Haiti as you did over the past few years. If my best friend hadn’t been Haitian and the most wonderful person I’ve ever met, it’s possible I would have believed everything I heard. And I would have never traveled to Haiti.
He told me of beautiful places in the country and the history, but it seems some of the bullshit had sunk in. All I could picture was collapsed buildings and crying babies. That’s all that damn media shows us! But I was looking to be proven wrong. Hoping to be proven wrong.
Then the day arrived and I landed in Haiti.
As we passed through customs at the airport in Haiti, it became apparent how much fear the news had driven into me.
Suddenly, those preconceived notions I tried to fend off at home took over. I fought it, I really did. But I’m being honest with you. That fear still lingered.
Someone is going to run up and snatch my camera and my bags. I held everything tight to my body.
A mob will break in any minute with guns blazing just to kidnap us. I scanned the airport continuously with worried eyes.
But of course, nothing happened.
Nobody even asked me to carry my bags to the door to trick me into tipping them afterwards. I thought that was a given.
When I left the confines of the airport, the journey from ignorance to truth began.
Yes, there is plenty of destruction on the surface. Driving through Port Au Prince, the damage from the magnitude 7 earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010 is still apparent. Yes, shanty towns crawled up the mountains around the capital. Yes, little kids scrambled through traffic to wash car windshields.
If you sit there and think this is what the whole country is like, that is all you soak in. You won’t see the good in anything, no matter where you go. In Haiti, you need to look under the surface a much more, because it deserves to be discovered, and it is such an incredible country once you do. Open your eyes.
Once you do look under the surface, you begin to see how the country really is…
The guy on the side of the road creating one of the most beautiful wood carvings you’ve ever seen.
The music reaches your ears as you let your guard down.
That amazing aroma, the Haitian cuisine, it’s damn delicious.
Nobody sits alone — everyone is always conversing with another.
People are doing their best with what they have and nobody complains.
Nobody is too busy to help another person.
Children running around and smiling.
Honestly, not one Haitian mentioned the earthquake the whole damn time we were there. I even hate mentioning it now because it has no place being associated with a country so optimistic and progressive-minded country. And it seems like Haitians feel the same way.
Yes it happened. Yes, Haiti has had a history of unrest and natural disasters or manmade tragedies. But it has a heart, a people, a culture, and a beauty as well.
Not one Haitian ever talked about being miserable or unhappy. Most Haitian’s we spoke to talked about the need for progress and to clean up the country. Most knew the name of every head of ministries and the mayors of the cities. Most Americans cannot even name their senator or governor or mayor.
But wait, the government says Haiti is dangerous and to not travel there!
What about the danger of an American traveling there? Or anyone for that matter?
The U.S. travel advisory warns travelers of increased violence, theft, and injury to American travelers to Haiti. Searching Haiti Travel in Google shows autofill results of warnings and safety advisories. Oh, and the Haitian government disagreeing with those warnings.
Want to know something crazy?
Most of the time I was in Haiti I felt safer than I do in most parts of Washington D.C.
Baltimore, just a short drive away from my hometown, has a reputation for highest murder rate in the USA.
Example: We were grabbing some street food in Cap-Haïtian in northern Haiti. After a delicious meal of pork, rice, and plantains, we waddled out with round bellies and happy faces. After walking a good two blocks, someone came running back to us shouting.
We turned around to see one of the people who had been eating at the same table running toward us. Turns out, my friend left his expensive shiny watch on the table and the person ran after us to return it.
I can’t recount any instances where I’ve left something behind in the U.S. and someone chased me down to return it. This person who returned his watch was someone that we probably would have never seen again and could have taken it for himself. But he didn’t. A country full of thieves and murderers eh? Nope.
Do you begin to see a pattern here?
Of course I am not saying that you should frolic about carelessly through all countries.
And I’m definitely not saying that you should travel around from country to country not believing any types of travel warming. You should always be conscious and careful wherever you go.
Travel warnings in places with past turmoil, such as Haiti has experienced, shouldn’t be ignored. I was even warned by Haitians that Port Au Prince can be a dangerous place at times, but they noted it was mainly when political violence erupted there. And when foreigners are injured during those moments, it’s because they’ve gone in to get their Insta moment and have gotten caught in the mix.
Outside of the capital? They all said there was nothing to fear. And I can vouch for that.
Inform yourself. If there is a local newspaper, read it. It’ll be a much more honest resource about the state of the country.
If you are going to a “third world country” don’t travel with fear, travel aware. Be prepared but have an open mind. Travel there with someone else, or a group. Don’t put yourself in risky situations. Know what you need to stay healthy and be safe.
But don’t just believe everything you see or read in the news. Don’t let it hold you back. Don’t live by other people’s opinions.
I took the time to open that dusty worn book and read what was inside. It is quite amazing. I’m happy I read more into Haiti, and it will always have a special place in my heart.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” So be willing to read it yourself.