“Dèyè mòn gen mòn” – Haitian proverb meaning “beyond the mountains, more mountains.”
At the heart of rush hour, 4.53 pm, on January 12, 2010 the earth shook with a ferociously and cruelty like never before. In 35 terrifying seconds, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck near the town of Léogâne, only 16 miles west of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince flattening hundreds of thousands of buildings, hospitals and clinics, and killing over an estimated 200,000 while injuring and displacing hundreds of thousands more. The catastrophic earthquake and its aftermath was the worst urban disaster in the world with an unimaginable loss of life and destruction of a nation that for hundreds of years has hovered slightly above the brink of collapse.
If the death and destruction of the earthquake was unfathomable, the resulting desperation, suffering and attempts to rebuild the country was even worse revealing just how fragile the social, political and economic systems in Haiti truly are. A cholera outbreak introduced by UN peacekeepers killed thousands more. The lack of social services in rural communities brought even more poor rural migrants into the already overwhelmed Port-au-Prince to live in tents or as squatters. Meanwhile corruption, greed, and a gross mishandling of funds made the rebuilding of Haiti even harder. Billions in promised aid was never delivered. People were displaced and living in horrible conditions in tent communities. And the list goes on.
But slowly over time, Haiti was rebuilt. The rubble was removed, the roads were repaired, and hospitals, clinics, schools, and buildings were reconstructed. Then came Hurricane Mathew this past fall bringing Haiti down to her knees once again. The damage was immense- estimated to be over a billion dollars – and the country is still trying to rebuild once again. Against this backdrop, I went to Haiti.
“Ayiti Nan Kè-m” – Creole meaning “Haiti is in my heart”
I will not sugarcoat it. A week in Haiti was perhaps one of the most intensely emotional travel experiences of my life. However, if you are able to look beyond the potholed roads, the piles of trash, the unforgiving, overbearing poverty and the desperation in people’s eyes, then you will able to see something truly unique. Beauty and hope.
Juxtaposed against the stark ugliness is a beautiful resilience and strength in the Haitian people and their land. An extraordinary magical culture of music, art, food and religion. A stunning rural countryside with mountain after mountain- a sea of green against the aqua blue waters and white sandy beaches that make up coastal Haiti. A place that despite its complicated history and immense challenges, offers an outsider something extraordinarily life-changing and unique. A week in Haiti was perhaps one of the most moving trips of my life, and that says a lot given how much I have already seen throughout the developing world.