As my two and a half weeks in Haiti has come to an end, I've been able to understand more of the problems and situation of this country. Talking with people both of Haitian origin, individuals from the UN and other organizations, I have started to understand just how far deep the plight of this country goes. Improving this country is not going to be easy. There are superficial improvements and superficial aide to help the smaller immediate problems. However, the key for true change runs so much deeper than that. There is an immense lack of money to provide things that are needed - better roads, infrastructure, clean water, proper trash disposal, etc. It's difficult for Haiti to receive money because investors and businesses don't feel bringing their business to Haiti is a sound investment - due to lack of road infrastructure, businesses can't be sure their products will reach the necessary destination. Because of lack of electricity, they can't be sure that their products won't spoil. It's such a catch 22. Haiti needs money to provide education and create sound infrastructure. But they need sound infrastructure to build confidence and gain monetary support from outside countries and businesses.
It wasn't always like this. Back in the 60's Haiti used to be known as the pearl of the Caribbean - a beautiful, exotic and magical destination for honeymooners, nomads and vacationers. But government corruption and constant thirst for power killed that utopia, and since then things have been heading towards a downward spiral.
Alland was also explaining just how much things have worsened since the earthquake for everyone. Before the earthquake, Jacmel used to be known as 'the city of lights.' Since the earthquake oil has become incredibly expensive and people (who can afford it) must pay the government enormous sums of money per month to keep their homes lit. Even still, the government must regulate electricity because of the cost. Therefore, every day in Jacmel, electricity runs for only about 11 of the 24 hours a day. This makes things very difficult for the Haitian population - food constantly spoiling, inability to do important everyday business affairs, etc. It's even worse in other parts of Haiti. The individual I was sitting next to on the plane was saying how Jacmel is lucky to have 11 hours of electricity per day. His family lives in the epicenter of the earthquake and he said since January 2010 he's lucky if they have electricity even four days out of a month. It's astounding to me. So many things we take for granted are a luxury for this country. It's very sad to me, and maybe I have done a little bit to help in someway, but we are barely scratching the surface.
What is amazing to me is how the people of this country are so resilient and still continue to smile and experience life with such joy. They have been through so much, but somehow they hold on to faith so strongly and have hope for a better Haiti.
Yesterday, my student Linia invited me to a service at her church. She wanted me to hear them sing, and offer any advice or suggestions. Haitians have such an incredibly strong sense of faith, and channel this faith through song. I've never been to a church service before, and this service moved me in a way I can't explain. 60-80 young and old people standing up, rejoicing, praising and singing boldly to their God while Linia was belting over them in beautiful gospel song. It was so big and epic, it just moved me to tears. People from the outside were huddled around the open windows, quietly listening and praying. I could feel the hairs on my arm standing up, and my eyes filling with pools of water - in that moment, I had this overwhelming feeling that Linia and her church were giving their community a true hope for a better Haiti, like they were giving their country something to believe in. Even as I write about it now, I am welling up! I am ever so grateful to Linia and her church for inviting me into their faith and allowing me the opportunity to experience such a beautiful celebration of life and faith.
As I sum things up, I will say that this trip hasn't been without its challenges- stolen passport and money and IDs, extreme heat with lack of electricity, the language barrier, etc, but all of that is small in comparison to what this community deals with on a daily basis. All along the way however, they smile, and keep living. Their passion for music, for dance, love of food, extreme generosity and hospitality is inspiring and infectious. Alland, Ailene, and the music school crew took us dancing last night, and I was overtaken by what I experienced - just how much the Haitians embody a profound zest for life despite hard times. I have never sweat so hard on a dance floor before! Afterward, a long night ride under the Haitian sky on motorcycle, the breeze in our faces as we zipped down along the coast, and I just want to keep that memory tucked away forever and ever.
Haitians are so proud of their culture, and I can see why. Even though we have more than them in many ways from a materialistic, there is much we can learn from them. They live with such a positive attitude always. Whenever I ask how someone is, they always reply in this sweet singsong of a voice in creole 'All is well.' And then flash a big smile. This trip allowed me to see all of the extremes in Haiti- the dire poverty, the situation of the majority of the Haitian population, dirty and heavily polluted areas, and absolute serene and stunningly picturesque areas. Although this country may not be all beautiful in the quintessential meaning of the world, to me the people and the culture make it truly vibrant and breathtaking. The people here do what they can to help - Fritz, Alland, Aline, Fabrice, Mignon and others, providing hope and inspiration for the Haitian community through music. This country needs music, they need it to keep hope and instigate change. I'm so happy I could play a little part in that mission, and I hope this is the beginning of long and lasting relationship with an amazing country of people.