My first published story, "The Coin", was set in Cap Haitien, Haiti, where I lived four years ago. Another story, "Kouzen Zaka", set partly in Vancouver, Canada and partly in Haiti, is currently with a publisher. No word yet on its fate. In just over a week I will be travelling to Haiti for the fourth time, to visit friends in Cap Haitien, on the north coast, in a rural community in the mountains near Jacmel in the south, and finally in Port au Prince, the capital. While there I will be doing research for a third, as yet untitled, Haitian story.
I first went to Haiti in 2001, to visit a friend who had been living there for ten years. I have travelled only a little in my life, mostly in Canada and generally on the serious cheap--hitch-hiking away from the parental home at 13 to travel around the western half of the country as far north as the Yukon, trotting back and forth across Canada and jogging down to the States and Baja California in later years, and finally taking a six month circuit around Australia in 1985.
After leaving Australia I stopped off in New Zealand and Fiji. The entire trip was amazing, and changed my life in many ways. But Fiji was greatly set apart from the other countries in that this was the first time I was on my own in a non-European-based country and attempting to make some type of genuine contact with people of a very different culture. (Two cultures, actually--the indigenous Melanesian and the Fijian Indian.)
In the three weeks I was there I forced myself out of my normally shy and (in my estimation) unadventurous mode of living and befriended numerous people, finally taking a wild 14-hour trip in a small, wave-swept boat to a secondary island and going to meet the unsuspecting villagers, with whom I stayed for several days.
I made a lot of mistakes (some mistakes I postponed for later) and when I left the country I did so with a head full of questions and wonder. Strangely, the culture shock I had been warned about happened not when I was staying with the Fijian family I met on that smaller island, but when I returned to the culture I had been raised in, but never really felt a part of. This raised a lot more questions to mull for a decade or three.
The opportunity to go to Haiti sixteen years later was the next important step in attempting to see the world from a radically different point of view to the ones I grew up surrounded by.
I become slowly aware of the realities of life faced by people who live in ubiquitous poverty on a scale I could not grasp when simply viewing it on tv. I take in gradually the details of their complex and rich and brutal history and situation in the wider world, of nearly complete environmental devastation, of a religious mixture that affects and informs every level of life to a degree previously incomprehensible to me. I contemplate the effects of racism in me and on Haiti, the stubborn invisibility of my own cultural assumptions and prejudices, the degree of laughter and sharing and creativity and cooperation possible in me and the people around me.
I don't know how many times I will return to Haiti, how many stories I will be moved to write, how many lessons I will think I've learned that I will later overturn. But I am shaken alive in a thousand ways by my acquaintance with that land and her people, and I have a feeling I will never stop learning and deepening my love for her, and through her, for us all.
Whenever I write about Haiti, I write slowly and carefully, knowing that my ignorance far outweighs my knowledge, wanting to make of each story a gift not only to us, but to her. So I listen, I watch, I hold my tongue and I question every conclusion I want to jump to. I treasure each dull and painful and happy moment I spend in, or thinking of, Haiti. I can only hope that the following encouraging proverb is true in the case of her and me:
you can see the guts of an ant.
the photo above is of the members of DOA/BN, a Haiti-based group that teaches cultural awareness, history, and a host of other things to groups living in and travelling to Haiti.
At DOA/BN, we strive to be a bridge for those who have adventured into Haiti, experienced new sensations, and have been opened up to new realities.
Haiti's deep roots, wrenching history, and compelling truths will offer you gifts of new understandings. Our vision is to connect you with Haiti's people and history, allowing you to capture the community of their shared daily lives through intercultural experiences.
They are some cool folk. Check out their website, Haiti Travels.
PS BLogger makes me crazy. I have tried to correct the font about ten thousand times. I am now going to retire to bed with mouse-wheel tendonitis. Cheers.