I visited Haiti last December because my best friend, a native Haitian, would not rest until I came to experience it for myself. When we lived together, he would always talk about Haiti: the revolution, the earthquake, the political climate, the dancing and the beaches. After a year or so, I finally went through with it. I got my passport, bought the plane ticket, and was on my way to Haiti. Being completely immersed in the culture for two weeks definitely opened my eyes and reinforced my belief that the story that is perpetuated by the media is not the full story.
Although it’s apparent that the country has not fully recovered from the earthquake, it’s a naturally beautiful place. Haiti’s name refers to the numerous mountains that populate its landscape; while we were driving around I couldn’t help but continuously take pictures of the many mountains in the country. At one point, we even hiked up and down a mountain and I was awestruck when taking in the scenery from high above. But the beautiful scenery isn’t the only that Haitians are proud of when it comes to their country.
A source of great pride to Haitians is their revolution which expelled the French and established them as an independent nation: the first independent black nation to arise out of previous enslavement. Led by such national heroes as Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Alexandre Pétion, the Haitians defeated Napoleon’s army and declared independence on January 1, 1804. This major event continues to have an effect on Haitian culture to this very day. The soup that Haitian soldiers were given to eat during the revolution, Soup Joumou, is eaten in Haitian households on every New Year since the revolution. Even when Haitians are not in Haiti, they will find fellow Haitians and have Soup Joumou with on New Year’s Day.
Speaking of the food, everything that I ate there was great. Two of the dishes that I particularly liked were akra (which I was told was essentially fried flour) and pikliz (same ingredients as cole slaw, but with spicy vinegar instead of mayonnaise). Many of the social interactions we had centered around either food or dancing. There was a lot of dancing. No matter what the social event, if there was any music playing, people would eventually start dancing. It’s quite a contrast from social outings in the United States.
During my time there, I felt very much at home and welcomed by everyone I met. I do not wish to romanticize Haiti or pretend that there aren’t any problems there. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of poverty; approximately 70 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day. There is government corruption and incompetence (but that is everywhere honestly). As I state these issues, I challenge people to really think about how Haiti got to this point. Because they dared to expel the French and declare themselves a free nation, Haiti was charged by France the equivalent of $21 billion in today’s currency. To add insult to injury, France and the United States colluded with other western nations to effectively isolate Haiti politically and economically. Who knows how Haiti would have turned out if they had not been shut off from the rest of the world. Even with all of those things, Haiti is still a wonderful to place to visit and I definitely recommend going there, particularly in December because of all the festivals and parties. I hope that this piece does Haiti justice and somewhat encapsulates what this country is truly like.
Dominique Thomas is a graduate student in the Community Psychology Ph.D. program at Georgia State University. Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi, he now resides in Decatur, Georgia. He received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Morehouse College and a master’s degree in community psychology from Georgia State University. He is an avid comic book and graphic novel fan, especially those with Black superheroes. Twitter: @TheDreadedOne90, Instagram: youngblackademic.