Haiti : First Impressions

07.09.17 12:13 PM By Putri

So it started on last week late Friday afternoon when my boss, all of the sudden, asked if I was available to go on a mission to Haiti on the next Monday, and I non-challantly answered that it wouldn’t be a problem at all. Because jumping on the first plane to a country you’re not sure where it is actually located and all you know about the country is nothing but earthquakes, coups, and poverty is not a big deal, right?...

It was my first field mission ever and I was so pumped up. Though, I am not here to blabber about my field mission because it’s confidential.. (Mission Impossible theme song would fit here just fine)...

I am here to talk about that busy week I spent in Petionville, Haiti. Yes, a week is too short and I realize that I am not in the position to make a sweeping generalization about Haiti. However, I just can’t keep to myself the fact that I went to Haiti... So here it goes my first impressions about the country;

1. The going there…

Map wise, Haiti looked just a jump away from Quebec but my departure flights made me jump from one airport to another; Quebec - Montreal – Chicago – Miami – and finally; Port au Prince, Haiti. I was supposed to have a 7-hours of transit after midnight in Miami too that would’ve costed me about 200$, ewww…

Anyway, my flight from Montreal to Chicago got delayed twice and it brought a domino effect to the rest of my flights. I went up to the agent about it and she re-routed my whole itinerary. I ended up flying to JFK and catch the first flight to Port au Prince the next morning. The agent booked me a room at Holiday Inn JFK to compensate the re-routed itinerary, and I wasn’t complaining. It’s much better than sleeping on a bench in Miami like I have had planned. Yay!

2. The visa...

Ogawd y'all, I wish entering any country would be as easy as entering Haiti. I mean, seriously, once I got out of the plane at the Toussaint Louverture International airport at Port au Prince, all I needed to do was to pay 10$ (the funny part is, you could either pay it with 10 USD, 10 Euro, or 10 CAD, although each currency has different value, it doesn't seem to matter for them) in exchange for a flimsy ticket that served as an official v isa proof and a stamp on my passport. Not having a hassle with paper work when you are about to visit a country is a bliss!

3. The sleeping there...

I had to stay in the capital for easy access to wherever I had to go for my work. Port au Prince, the capital city is packed with international luxury hotel, which means accommodation costs a lot. This is always the case in any capital city/capital business area in the world, so no surprise there. 

I stayed at Bestwestern Premier at Petionville, a city right next to Port-au-Prince. It was a lovely hotel, equipped with great facilities; a pool, a rooftop restaurant and bar, and a team of helpful staff. 

One thing I got to comment about the hotel was the room service. One day they tidied up my room perfectly, the other day they only took my towels and left me with none. I realized it only when I got out of my shower.. I had to dry my body by shaking it off like a wet dog, and no it was not as cute. My flabs jiggled and I was almost slipped and falled because the floor was slippery from the missing floor mat.

4. The eating there..

Poulet à l'Haitienne

The moment I knew I had to go to Haiti, I had a core mission to fulfill which is to eat real Creole food (well, I mean, apart from the official mission from work which sent me to Haiti on the first place, of course). I’m proud to say that mission's accomplished, food-wise and work-wise. I had Poulet à l’Haitienne (Chicken in Creole sauce), and Cambrit (authentic Haitian goat stew with Creole spices). They were seriously delicious.

Another famous Haitian dish that I found on every menu in every restaurant I went was Lambi (conch). I’ve never eaten conch before and I don’t know how I would react to it (I have a severe allergic to some seafood), so I skipped it. 

I don't think my boss would be happy if I've showed up in the meetings all swollen up from a food allergies. 


5. The going around... 

The name Haiti is based on Taîno indigenous language, which means The Land of High Mountains. It is true tho, the country IS defined by layers of mountains. The roads are small with zigzag route wrapping the mountain from the bottom to the top like a boa constrictor. I was lucky that I had an arranged transportation with a car and a driver, otherwise I would be panting walking up and down the hills everyday, plus, I have no clue how the public transport works in Port au Prince.

There is no public transport in general in Haiti. No train, no metro, not even an official bus lines. What serves as public transport here called Tap tap or Camionette. Tap tap is a shared public transport, an old pick up that got modified to be able to carry passenger at its back. A ride on tap tap costs about 20 cents and you can disembark yourself at any point you want, there is no official bus stop from what I have observed anyway. 

Another thing that is non-existent in Haitian traffic system is traffic lights.. Y'all, there's no traffic light in Haiti, how could this even possible??? Well, okay, I might exagerating. Maybe there is actually traffic lights in Haiti, it just so rare and far between that I didn't see any?? 

Road signs are also missing, a 2 lanes street can somehow spontaneously become a 3 or even 4 lanes. No real rules applied. The infrastructures are broken, there are holes on the road, broken tarmac, garbages, and even left over debris from the earthquake from a decade a go that has not been totally cleaned up. So with all this chaotic traffic system, what about car insurances? it is probably nothing but a folktale for now.

6. The life in general... 

It’s been 10 years since the devastating earthquake stroke, and according to the reports, millions of dollars have been donated to help the country, yet I saw so little has been built and or restored. A lot of ruins are left untouched, giving the feeling that the earthquake just happened last week, instead of a decade a go. The social contrasts are striking, the gap between the haves and the not-haves are huge, but then again, that happens all over the world. 

However, with all the unlucky conditions that they have to bear, the Haitians are continiously living their life with grateful and positive attitudes. They are very friendly and easily makes you feel welcome. I surely hope I can come back again sometime soon :)