Dear Spring Break Travelers,
God bless you. Thank you for deciding to make Haiti your destination for your break. Thank you for choosing the path less traveled when all of your classmates are going to some beach to party for the week so they can star in Girls Gone Wild. Thank you for sacrificing that grand opportunity during your one week off from class or work or whatever it is that you do the rest of the year to come experience the rich culture, beautiful land, and extraordinary people of this country. I hope that you have the time of your life and I hope that your life is changed. I hope that when you leave next week you feel like you made the right choice. I’m glad you came. God bless.
Yours Truly, Lee
DO NOT EVER TRAVEL TO HAITI DURING SPRING BREAK!
1. The T-shirts.
Last time that I flew into Port-au-Prince from Miami it was Christmas day and I was THE ONLY white person on the full plane. It was the first time that has ever happened to me and it was refreshing. For a moment I thought that maybe things were changing in the popularity of foreign teams invading the country. Then I remembered that it was Christmas, and I was apparently just the only American crazy enough to actually travel on Christmas day while all others are celebrating with family, while it was actually the most logical day for Haitians to travel back to Haiti so that they could be to their homes or with family by New Years day, when they would be celebrating. Nonetheless, the fact was, I was riding on a plane to Haiti with probably 220 other people and no 2 people had matching outfits on. Also the first time that has ever happened. That was Christmas. Now two and a half months later I go back again during Spring Break on another full flight from Miami but this time I could have counted the number of Haitians on that plane on my fingers. And all the rest of the plane was color coded by t-shirt according to group. There were four large mission teams and I was surrounded by t-shirts that made me wish I had business cards for my blog to hand out on the plane. If I did have those cards, and those good hearted folks would read my blog, I would add a couple more rules to my mission team T-shirt list for their sake. #1. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO French. No French. No French. No French. No French! Did you not do your homework at all before coming? Before designing a t-shirt that would be your first impression to the Haitian people? Did you not talk to any Haitians? They don’t speak French! And if you do speak French to them, even thought they will understand you, you will be viewed as pretentious and condescending. The only way that you can actually get away with it is if you are indeed, from France. Otherwise, NO FRENCH. Especially on T-shirts. Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest, a less serious offense but still worth considering, #2. Come up with a unique logo. It’s probably a good rule of thumb to assume that if an image starts with the letter “H” it’s probably way overused already in logos in Haiti. For example, heart, hand, house, hibiscus. Probably want to stay away from images of any of these items simply because there’s already a million other groups trying to help Haiti have hope , healing, and happiness, and you want your group to stand out and to leave an impression and the logo you choose to represent your group can have a much bigger impact on that than you might think.
As we went through the airport, all of the employees and customs officials were remarking with surprise in Creole how they seemed to only allow white people on our plane. Again, ashamed.
2. The Airplane/Airport Conversation
Here’s how it goes for most people:
“So, what are you going to Haiti for?”
-“Mission work, orphanage, relief, education programs, deal drugs, the usual.”
“Is this your first time to Haiti?”
-“Yes, I’m really excited but kind of nervous.” or “I go down every year for so many years.”
“What part of Haiti are you going to?”
-“I don’t know if I’m pronouncing it right, but…” or “Out in the mountains a place called…” or “Port-au-Prince”
“Well that’s really great!”
Here’s how it goes for me:
“So, what are you going to Haiti for?”
-“I live down there.”
“Oh really, how long have you been living there?”
-“For about 6 years now.”
“Oh… so were you there for the…..”
“Wow… so… what was that like?”
-“So what’d you say you were going to Haiti for again? Tell me more about that.”
I understand why one would be very interested in hearing a first hand account from someone who was there and survived the quake. It probably had a lot to do with why they chose to come to Haiti in the first place so they want to know more about it. I also understand that one definitely does not expect to sit next to someone on the plane who did survive it so they aren’t prepared to factor that into the casual seatside conversations which would be expected to take an awkward turn at that point. But I’m sorry I just don’t want to talk about it with someone that I just met on the plane and will probably never talk to again. I’ve told that story a thousand times over and it never gets any easier. You can buy my book if you want when it comes out if you really want to know my story, but I just can’t sit here while Parks & Recreation plays on the airplane monitors and tell you about “what that was like” for me. So forgive me and tell me more about all of the cute babies that you hope to hold while you’re wherever you will be.
Any other time of year I’m much less likely to get stuck next to someone who feels it’s necessary to have this conversation. But during Spring Break it’s pretty much a guarantee.
3. Daylight Savings Time
Bad enough when you have to deal with it sitting in one place where everyone follows clear rules about the time change. But it’s absolute hell when you have to experience it while flying across time zones and entering into a culture that already has a different definition for time for every single person within the culture and very few watches.
All things considered, we all should really just be glad that I made it back to Haiti this week without punching anyone, yelling at any children, getting on a wrong plane, or causing any security situations on the way. I’ve learned my lesson in scheduling flights this time of year.