I don’t want to write about Haiti right now. Not least cos I still haven’t worked out how to put ‘it all’ in one concise post. However I also have not been able to stop writing about Haiti.
Since I first got proper confirmation that I was going (i.e. after I’d looked at my bank balance after buying the plane ticket) all I’ve been able to talk about is going to Haiti. When I was in Haiti, I jumped up and down in my seat on numerous buses, as excited as a little girl about the place I’d been to, and in anticipation of the next town. High on the experience of travelling through Haiti. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been in part low that I’m not still there, catching jokes and exploring, part femme comblé because I made it. I went to Haiti.
And it was f*cking amazing.
On lots of different levels.
I witnessed things I’ve never seen in my life which I hope to never see again. Like supermarket entrances manned by armed guards carrying long-range rifles on a regs…and I was just picking up peanuts. That was some scary sh*t.
I experienced my first surreal ‘first day in a new town’. Nightmarish surreal. It involved dropping bags in accommodation once arrived in Port-au-Prince, and immediately wandering downtown towards the Champ de Mars, the city’s major concourse, and running into huge f*ckoff UN tanks.
They stopped me dead in my tracks.
I felt like I was in black and white grainy film footage. I hadn’t been strolling for 15 minutes, and suddenly coming around the corner from the Champ de Mars, one after the other, were huge, take up the whole road, long gun thing at the front and pointed ever so vaguely, but still immensely uncomfortably in my direction, army tanks. Filled with armed guards in the little window bit.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
I was simultaneously terrified and thus rooted to the spot, gripped with the urge to run as fast as I could in the other direction, and just plain confused. What the hell was going on? I had just arrived and was still chewing on the sugarcane I’d bought from a friendly Haitian roadside cane-seller dude 5 minutes earlier. Why were UN tanks now passing me on the street like it was not A Thing? Which warzone had I just walked into? And why did everyone else seem so calm?!! Is it not a warzone then? So why could I see one tank turn the corner, trundle past me, and then turn again, and then another, and then another, and then another??? ‘They’re apparently the peace-keeping force, Haitians say they’re the force maintaining the war’ said my companion, amused by my utter disbelief. There’d been political demonstrations earlier that afternoon apparently.
But it was to be but one incident of many which would leave me slack-jawed.
In my last post, aptly (I now know) titled 6 Reasons To Be Ridiculously Excited About Going To Haiti, I mentioned that I’d heard it was a really beautiful country. I was deceived. Terribly.
St Lucia is a beautiful country, Martinique is a beautiful country, Dominica is a marvellous country in the old skool, dictionary sense of wonderment and amazement accompanying beauty. Haiti, however, is God’s own country. It is without doubt the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited.
If it can be argued that Haiti has had a tumultuous history (and let’s be honest, that is applicable to any country which has been submitted to the rule of transatlantic slavery AND European colonialism AND US colonialism), I hereby dare to suggest that it’s because when God created the world, he spent a little bit of extra time on Haiti.
There were kisses, caresses, pure divine love lavished on that part of Hispaniola and anyone who’s been there knows it, so the devil’s been out to cause trouble ever since I reckon. Okay, sometimes I get a bit crazy with my descriptions but I think you get the point: Haiti…is out of this world. Forget what you’ve heard about whatever you’ve heard about Port-au-Prince. All capital cities are loud and overcrowded and dangerous and smelly and dirty to one degree or another. I passed out in the traffic fumes on my first day in Bangkok. But I managed to fall in love with the city nonetheless. As I did with Cap Haitien.
Port-au-Prince is home to over a million people. The other 11 million Haitians share a whole bunch of stunning space. I got back yesterday. I’m still floored by the memories of the landscapes. The sunsets, the valleys and the rolling rolling blue-y mountains. Truly estupendous.
I promise to write a post that is not about Haiti soon. But I wanted to flag up that, in case you didn’t know, Haitians have got one more indignity to suffer just before Christmas. On September 23rd, it appears that the highest court of the land in the Dominican Republic (with whom Haiti shares the island) reckoned it was a good idea to strip anybody of Haitian descent born after 1928 of their citizenship. Now I don’t know where you went to school, but if you went to school in England, anytime after 1945 you probably got an overdose of Nazi Germany in your history lessons and are smelling a rat right now.
Indeed, according to the UN, it’s illegal to render a people stateless. And seeing how my granny was born in Barbados in 1927, but I’ve already written about how I’m British by birth, I feel the absolute immorality of their decision cos if the British government tried that, I’d keep my nationality (and precious passport¹) by the skin of my teeth, but I know many many others who wouldn’t.
Government beef on a terrifyingly violent scale is not exactly new when it comes to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Not all island-sharing schemes are as happy happy joy joy as St Maarten/Saint Martin. It wasn’t that long ago, 1937 in fact, when 20,000 Haitians were murdered by the Dominican state for being Haitian.
20,000 may not sound like ‘that many’ now that we’re all accustomed to grimness taking place in the hundreds of thousands and millions of human beings killed, but contextualise that number with the information that it was estimated that there were only 50,000 Haitians in the Dominican Republic at the time.
And the massacre took place over five days.
If in 1937 you saw some traumatic sh*t as a seven year old born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents, you’d be fighting for your nationality right about now. You, your kids and grandkids and great-grandkids’ right to be Dominicans have just been thrown in jeopardy.
I’m just giving you a snapshop of what’s going on but I’ve been following it thanks to an awesome blog by Caribbean feminists I encourage you to read, and repeating islands have also just posted an update. If you’re galvanised by injustice, read more here, and sign the petition (the authors are also good about sending updates), then tell everyone else you know to sign would be my advice. And don’t even think about going on holiday to the Dominican Republic anytime soon. Take your money and your free time someplace nicer to foreigners. Encourage everyone you know to do that too. (Disclosure: I flew into the Dominican republic with a French airline and spent a night in Santo Domingo on either side of bus journeys crossing the border).
I absolutely loved my time in Haiti. It is a beautiful country with a long rich history. As well as a fabulous budget-y holiday destination (5* hotels for US$100 a night! Celeb watching in Jacmel! Landscapes to make your eyes pop out!) it was an intellectually rewarding experience as I encountered some thought-provoking discourses about danger, fear and being alone in Haiti.
But more about that another day. For now, having profoundly enjoyed the country, the least I could do was mention the crisis many people of Haitian descent are currently engulfed in. Especially as more recent immigrants are being targeted for violence in the Dominican Republic according to people I met along the journey, in Haiti and Santo Domingo.
Travelling is supposed to teach you something. The lesson isn’t always pretty.
¹I’ll save the more general post on Why Immigration Law is the Most Indefensibly Racist, Greatest Racket Ever To Be a Blemish on Planet Earth for another day.