The following post was originally published on Medium. I have started publishing my writing on Medium more rather than here on my personal blog. So for any of my followers that would like to keep up to date with my latest writings, please follow me on Medium. I have published a few new articles there lately on topics like compassion and white ownership in Haiti. So check them out and follow me there. There may still be occasions where something that I write will be more appropriate for The Green Mango than for Medium, but it’s important for me to use my writing in ways that allow me to get compensated these days in order to continue creating, and Medium offers that. So please stay engaged with my writing there in the future. Here is my latest post:
I recently tried out an online therapy service and one of the first assignments that my therapist gave me was to describe my perfect dream day for her. I spent the next few days leading up to our subsequent session meditating on this idea and imagining what my ideal day would look like if I could design it without restrictions. Although I thought of a few elements that would be included, I struggled to come up with a cohesive description of a day that truly felt perfect. Then, on the day before my next scheduled session, without any sort of planning for it to be so, my perfect dream day happened to me.
I had two friends visiting from out of town staying at my place for the week and I wanted to provide them with a fun day while showing them the best of what my community had to offer. So I gathered some other local friends, including my roommates, and a total group of eight of us headed out on motorcycles that day for an adventure, all agreeing to allow the day to unfold as it would. We made our first stop at a store along the way to pick up the essentials for an adventure such as this: rum, Coke, and energy drink. With refreshments for the day in hand, we continued on to our first destination, the local waterfall which is a popular locale for both area residents and tourists to swim in the mesmerizing blue lagoons and dive from the cliffs into the pools below. It’s a place with mystical powers and it provided us with the perfect escape for the day as we enjoyed the waters, the company, and the drinks. We had the place all to ourselves that day and it seemed as if the abundant pleasure that the pools offer was reserved just for us.
After hours spent surrendering to the magic of the waterfalls, we weren’t ready to return home yet, so we stopped by the house of some other friends, artist colleagues of mine from the art center that I work for, and brought them along on the next leg of our journey. I wanted my visiting friends to experience the beaches that our area is also known for, but the big public beach that I and my local friends would usually go to wasn’t accessible that day, so my artist friends led us all to a different beach that I had never been to before. It was a stunning, secluded stretch of beach covered in round stones worn smooth by the waves, so isolated that there was no direct path for the motorcycles to reach so we had to arrive by foot. When we arrived, we found a red and orange striped hammock hung between two almond trees and wooden benches installed in the shade. There was a huge cliff towering over the back of the beach, blocking the sun as it began to set in the late afternoon, and large boulders emerging from the water breaking the waves as they crashed to the shores. For the rest of the evening we enjoyed private, undisturbed use of this piece of paradise as well. The beach looked out across the bay with the city on the other side stretching out before us as we looked on from what seemed like a completely different world. The serenity that surrounded us existed in stark contrast to what we knew was going on just beyond the mountains around that city.
That city that spans the shoreline on the bay is Jacmel, Haiti, where I have called home for the last 12 years, having moved here from Iowa in 2007. On that very day as I and my crew of friends were blissfully roaming around the countryside, just to the north, in the capitol of Port-au-Prince, the streets were consumed with riots as the population protested a complex string of political injustices that had made life in the country more expensive and challenging than ever before. The same day that we allowed the waterfalls of Bassin Bleu and the waves of the Caribbean to wash away all of our worries, the headlines in the international media read: HAITI IN DISARRAY AS VIOLENT PROTESTS PARALYZE THE POPULATION WITH FEAR. Images of streets aflame with burning tires and crowds of people clashing with law enforcement splashed across the news homepages. We, of course, weren’t oblivious to this. It had been going on for several days at that point. In fact, my two American visitors experienced the unrest first-hand as they arrived in the country earlier that week and were stuck in the capitol as the roads were shut down. When we finally were able to travel the road to my home outside of Jacmel, we encountered a very tense situation where our vehicle was pelted with some large rocks by some very angry protesters. Even in our peaceful hamlet of Jacmel that week, the riots shut down public life in almost every way. The reason that we couldn’t make it to our usual beach that day was because there were multiple roadblocks set up on the way there making it unreachable. Just as we were searching for ways to get to the beach, most other foreign nationals in Haiti were seeking for ways to evacuate the country all together, some launching GoFundMe campaigns for tens of thousands of dollars to pay for helicopters to escape the perceived danger. We were very aware of the chaos around us, yet on that day, we consciously, and somewhat defiantly, chose to seek out pleasure where we could.
In my experience, this exemplifies the attitude with which Haitians approach every day of living in their country. Haiti is a country that is, outside of its borders, ubiquitously defined by its deficits. When described in international media it is always “earthquake ravaged, hurricane battered, poorest country in the Western Hemisphere … Haiti”. When news of political protests comes out of the country, the narrative becomes even more problematic and negative focusing on corruption, violence, and instability. This particular string of protests in February sent Haiti back up into the maximum category 4 travel warning from the U.S. State Department, ranking it alongside Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia in terms of danger for travel, painting a picture of the country that doesn’t at all reflect the reality on the ground. While Haitians view their country as an underrated island oasis that happens to be unfairly burdened by a long list of societal challenges, powers beyond their control are categorizing them with war zones and terrorist hotbeds, defining them based on their absolute worst moments and largest problems.
Yet, if you ask a Haitian to describe Haiti to you, one thing that you will frequently hear is, “Ayiti se yon peyi plezi!” “Haiti is a country of pleasure!” Yes, they will certainly tell you about how difficult life is and recite that long list of challenges that they face everyday, but they will also, inevitably, make sure that the definition of their country includes all of the pleasure that it offers. Haitians understand their country as a complex one with layers to its identity. Unfortunately, the way that it is typically portrayed to the rest of the world seldom allows space for such nuance. Haiti is a country that can be many different things depending on where you choose to look. If you choose to look only through the lens of the international news cameras, you will see Haiti as violent, corrupt, and dangerous. If you choose to look through the lens of the tourism brochures and travel websites, you’ll see it as overflowing with natural beauty, vibrant cultural celebrations, and colorful artistic traditions. Or you might choose to look through the lens of the NGOs marketing that would show you a country that is suffering from poverty, disease, and hunger. Although all of these depictions may contain part of the truth of Haiti, none of them show the whole picture. The whole picture can’t be seen from the outside unless we put down all of these lenses that limit what we see and start to try to see the country through the eyes of the Haitians who live the country’s truth everyday. They are the ones who are able to see that Haiti is a country that truly does contain multitudes. It’s time that we, the world, begin to allow it the luxury of being defined by those multitudes rather than the narratives that fit particular agendas.
It is this very complexity that makes Haitians value their pleasure as a society so dearly. In the face of the world telling you that your country is a poor, violent garbage dump, reveling in the pleasure of life that your country offers so freely can feel like a revolutionary act. And if anyone on this planet can turn the simple act of having fun with friends into a revolution, it’s Haitians, whose revolutionary spirit runs deep in the blood of every citizen and influences every aspect of their lives.
For myself, this is what made that day of mine so perfect. It was filled with almost cliché examples of pleasure: waterfalls, beaches, sunshine, good friends, cheap liquor, and lots of laughter. Almost anyone could look at those things and say it sounds like the recipe for a good day. It was experiencing these things, though, against a backdrop of such chaos and purported danger that made it absolutely unforgettable, what I would tell my therapist the next morning was a true dream day. When everyone else is suggesting running away from the situation, escaping on an emergency flight, maybe a helicopter, we said, “No, thanks.” Instead we stood in the face of it all and chose to literally dive in deeper to the pleasures waiting for those that are willing to see them in this complicated little country of Haiti.