Haitian reality checksFiled under: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Travel, UK; Tagged as: Alltech, Cap-Haiten, Dajabón, Dominican Republic, Dondon, earthquake, Everett McCorvey, Haiti, Haven Partnership, Hispaniola, Hotel du Roi Christophe, Jeanie Kahnke, Jorge Arias, Massacre River, Muhammed Ali Center, Ouanaminthe, Port Au Prince, Rafael Trujillo, Santiago, University of Kentucky
CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti — I hadn’t looked over the left side of the balcony on my room at the Hotel du Roi Christophe.
The hotel itself, according to some descriptions that I had read online, is a throwback to better days in Haiti, when tourists would come to enjoy themselves. And it stands as an island of Western comfort in a city, Haiti’s second largest, teeming with people, trash and cratered streets.
The Roi Christophe made it easy to forget all that was outside — until I looked left and saw an alley with heaping piles of trash. Directly below me, pigs dug through the rubbish with their snouts, one wallowing in a muddy puddle. Down the alley, a man was digging through a drift of trash, part of which smoldered.
You don’t have to look far to find such scenes in Haiti.
Plenty of painfully accurate descriptions have been written about the nation on the western end of the island of Hispaniola. They still don’t prepare you for seeing it firsthand, as I did for two days earlier this month, when I took a quick trip to see a few projects that Nicholasville-based Alltech is working on.
As we flew in, Alltech global aquaculture director Jorge Arias said, “The earthquake did not happen in this part of the country. But when you see it, you’ll think it happened yesterday.”
January’s devastating earthquake was centered near Port-au-Prince, in the southern part of the country, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation.
But in northern Haiti, what we saw were the cumulative effects of years of political, social, economic and ecological upheaval.
The Dominican Republic, on the other side of Hispaniola, was a prelude.
When our group helicoptered into Dajabón from Santiago, we were besieged by children shouting, “Dollar!” A few boys had shoe-shining kits and would go to work without asking, hoping to reap a payment. One boy tried to shine my canvas shoes.
A confluence of people and vehicles created a crazy scene at the border between Haiti and the Dominican, the entrance amounting to a small door.
As we passed through, we were greeted by a desolate, brown, trash-strewn land on either side of the Massacre River, so named because it was where mid-20th-century Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo had 20,000 to 30,000 Haitians killed. We drove into Ouanaminthe, past people bathing and washing clothes in the river, to a school where Alltech is setting up a music program with the University of Kentucky voice program.
There is nothing uniform about roads in Haiti. At best, they are relatively smooth dirt roads and highways. At worst, some appear to have once been paved but have fallen into disrepair that would make me long for something as simple as Lexington’s late-winter potholes.
In a few spots in Cap-Haiten, our drivers traveled on the sidewalks because the roads were too cratered.
On the highways, cars were well outnumbered by pedestrians and the frequent mule or ox, sometimes guided by a child. The late-model SUVs that we rode in had few peers, although there frequently were pickups with benches on either side of the bed transporting groups of people. We also saw trucks piled high with bananas, and people riding on top of them.
What was not in evidence was any sort of authority, save for occasional white transports carrying United Nations troops. If, for example, riding atop the banana trucks was against the law, there was no one there to call anyone on it. There also was little evidence of sanitation services: Trash, occasionally on fire, was piled on roadsides and sidewalks.
As we entered Cap-Haiten, a woman was sweeping trash off a sidewalk in front of her building into the gutter.
Along the road were miles of makeshift shelters and buildings in various states of disrepair. Stopping at one of the few gas stations we saw between Ouanaminthe and Cap-Haiten, we noticed that the attendant was carrying a shotgun.
Most services that we take for granted in the United States were not in evidence in Haiti; if they had been, how would people pay for them in a nation where the average daily wage is $2 — if you can get a job? Two of Haiti’s most glaring problems, even to a casual observer, are overpopulation and a dearth of businesses. There are a lot of people with nothing to do.
But there was joy, particularly in children, who would greet us with smiles and song, and not just at the school in Ouanaminthe.
When we visited the village of Dondon, where Alltech is working with a coffee cooperative, we were briefly detained by village officials who were unhappy with where our helicopters landed. As we waited for Alltech executives and local officials to iron out the issue, UK voice professor Everett McCorvey engaged children surrounding us in a chorus of He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.
It was easy to wonder what the future would hold for these children, what kinds of chances they would have in a place where school ends at sixth grade. With half the 9.2 million people age 25 or younger, Haiti has potential in abundance but few avenues for realizing it.
Two days — really, less than 36 hours — is hardly enough time to get immersed in a culture. The real culture shock must come to people who spend weeks and months living side by side with Haitians or residents of other impoverished nations.
Still, it was strange to land back at Blue Grass Airport, get in my air-conditioned car and drive to my home, where I knew I had a refrigerator full of food and a faucet that dispenses water that I am not afraid to drink.
It was almost as strange as looking over the wall from my posh hotel and realizing that there were pigs wallowing in mud and trash on the other side.
3 Responses to “Haitian reality checks”
How many BILLIONS have we poured in to Haiti over the past 50 years, and to what avail except to further support their corrupt politiacal politicians. And now U. of K. has a contingency there teaching them to SING?
[...] Copious Notes » Blog Archive » Haitian reality checks copiousnotes.bloginky.com/2010/08/15/haitian-reality-checks/ – view page – cached Filed under: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Travel, UK; Tagged as: Alltech, Cap-Haiten, Dajabón, Dominican Republic, Dondon, earthquake, Everett McCorvey, Haiti, Haven Partnership, Hispaniola, Hotel du Roi Christophe, Jeanie Kahnke, Jorge Arias, Massacre River, Muhammed Ali Center, Ouanaminthe, Port Au Prince, Rafael Trujillo, Santiago, University of Kentucky Two girls who live at a… Read moreFiled under: Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Travel, UK; Tagged as: Alltech, Cap-Haiten, Dajabón, Dominican Republic, Dondon, earthquake, Everett McCorvey, Haiti, Haven Partnership, Hispaniola, Hotel du Roi Christophe, Jeanie Kahnke, Jorge Arias, Massacre River, Muhammed Ali Center, Ouanaminthe, Port Au Prince, Rafael Trujillo, Santiago, University of Kentucky Two girls who live at a development by Haven Partnership in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, grind rice. Photos by Rich Copley | LexGo.com Read more: Alltech hopes to help Haiti by bringing in jobs CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti — I hadn’t looked over the left side of the balcony on my room at the Hotel du Roi Christophe. View page Tweets about this link [...]
D. Wallace August 16th, 2010 at 7:11 pm
After spending almost 15 years in Haiti and at least 3 years of that time in the Cap Haitien area – you are so right. One cannot imagine the smiles that you see on the faces of the children but the scenes of real poverty is almost too much to take in. It is a saddness that is so difficult to put into words. There are no easy answers for Haiti but it is a country that needs a lot of work and that work really needs to be done by the Haitians themselves, They need to have the desire to save their country. We can help, yes – but they need to take leadership. The Haitian people have a lot of pride – sometimes it is put aside when they think someone else will solve their problems but when it happens – it isn’t their answer and it isn’t their work and the result is that they take no ownership and no pride in the work and it basically falls apart. It is hard for us to understand but it is the way it is.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich