I’ve been living in Haiti for 9 years now. I’ve built a house; I’ve established roots. Making such a commitment to a place would imply that there’s something really special about the place that I like so much that makes me keep staying. And yet, when I’m asked this question it’s always very difficult for me to answer. In fact, the most recent time I was asked it, I gave a really shallow answer about the weather being nice and the beach being close. And afterwords I was disappointed in myself for such a cop out response.
After I gave my lazy answer, someone else there in the conversation, asked, “it’s not the people?” Which, would seem like a good answer. In fact, it was my gut answer when first asked the question, but I didn’t say it, because it’s not really my favorite part about living here, it’s just the “right” sounding answer for a liberal altruitic humanitarian type of expat like me. But it’s not the truth. The people are not my favorite part. Yes, much of the time I love most of them. They are bold and endearing, indulge in joy and laughter, and understand community deeply. But they are also dramatic and petty, love to hold a grudge, and have terrible telephone etiquette. The Haitian people, just like people anywhere in the world, have plenty of positive and negative characteristics about them that make it equally as infuriating to live with them as it is enjoyable. So to say that they are my favorite part of living here seems to me to be just as much of a nonanswer as the sunshine. Saying so would take away their right to be imperfect.
So a better answer may be that some people are my favorite part of living here. A few specific, still imperfect, individuals are my favorite part. A few who prove family can be more than blood, a smile can truly be one’s passport to a better place, and any obstacle can be overcome together. A few who can still be narrow sighted, entitled, and have no clue how to shut a door, but still find ways together to make life worth living here despite the many imperfections and frustrations that surround us and that we each are indeed a part of.
My favorite part may not be the people but my favorite part is when the people forget their problems, they dream of the future, they remember what unites them, they celebrate their strength, and they create space for beauty and pleasure. The people who do that more often than not, those people are my favorite part.
But those people are my favorite part of this planet no matter where I encounter them. So it remains that my favorite part of Haiti remains very layered. Some people are just one of my favorite parts. Others include:
- The fact that I get to where jeans and t-shirts or sometimes just my pajamas all day and still am considered one of the most productive and accomplished members of society.
- The fact that I am removed from most forms of Western entertainment and still never get bored.
- The diverse multitude of people from all over the world that I get to meet by living and working here.
- The boob swipe as an acceptable greeting for men or women.
- The artistic inspiration that I am flooded with daily that I wouldn’t find anywhere else.
- Being able to travel back home in the middle of winter and having the best tan in Iowa.
- The way the stars look from my rooftop.
- Being in complete control of when I do or do not have to hear about Donald Trump.
- My Green Mango readers. I mean this from the bottom of my heart. The fact that in my fourth year of writing on this blog so many people still find value in what I have to say continues to challenge and encourage me each day here.
These and many more.
There is no one radiant element of life here that I can point to as my favorite or as my biggest motivator for staying. Just the same as those who ask me this, if I would ask them what their favorite part is of living in Iowa or Michigan or New York, they’d probably have trouble identifying one thing. For me, Haiti is simply where I’ve ended up. You can call it what you want: I’ve been called, all paths led here, Haiti chose me, whatever, but in the process of ending up where I am today I’ve found plenty of things that I love about this place. But I have yet to find a way to articulate whether any of those things could be called my favorite. And I’m okay with that.