MYTH 1: HAITI IS DANGEROUS

“Are you sure you want to go to Haiti, is it not dangerous?”

“Be careful, your French passport is worth a lot of money, it might get stolen!”

“You cannot cross the Dominican border to Haiti, it is closed because of the mass deportation taking place”

“Are you going to do some humanitarian work?”

Such were the warnings and comments I received ahead of my trip to Haiti.
My innate spirit of contradiction reinforced my determination to visit the country as a tourist, to form my own opinion on the island. I sensed that whatever was reported by the press was not reflecting reality.

Whilst my mind was full of well-intended concerns when making my way there, it soon turned out they were all unfounded.

Crossing the border was not an issue at all, even in the light of the current frictions, and I felt absolutely safe in the island, but only after I gave myself the chance to relax and view things from my own perspective.

The capital Port-au-Prince and its suburbs Petionville were unsettling at first because they were so busy. But which capital is not unsettling to the first time visitor? I never felt unsafe or under threat walking around the busiest streets.
Haiti turned out to be a holiday destination like no other, with arts manifested in every street corner.
The Haitians I came across were culturally aware, quirky and fiercely proud of their country.

 

MYTH 2: HAITI IS POOR

It is quite disheartening to see shanty towns in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. But what is more perplexing is the magnificent senator houses standing next to them.

The issue it seems is with institutionalised corruption, a plague that affects every single politician with seemingly noble intentions at the beginning of their mandate..

There is without a doubt, a lot of wealth in Haiti. But it is held very tightly by a small minority.
And with the vast majority of educated Haitian now living outside the country (an estimated 78% according to a 2012 report), there is no change in sight.
Many of the Haitians I spoke to seemed to be resigned to the situation.

How can Haiti rebuild itself if Haitians themselves inside and outside the island, have given up?

Cap Haitien - shanty town
Cap Haitien – shanty town

MYTH 3: HAITI NEEDS HUMANITARIAN AID

That Haiti needs humanitarian intervention is perhaps the biggest misconception cultivated on the first black republic.
Many charities and humanitarian organisations have lent Haiti a helping land. But the gap between the rich and the poor has kept widening.
The illiteracy rate stands at about 40% whilst the government’s funds are consistently used for personal interests.

It seems that no amount of compassionate help from the outside will solve the problems that need to be addressed through constitutional changes.

Change in Haiti needs to come within Haiti.

The owner of La Reserve, a trendy bar-restaurant,  in Petionville even declared that Haitians living in the Dominican republic shouldn’t be so reluctant to come back, to help and rebuild the country.

Those that do make it back to Haiti have the opportunity to do well. Like the owner of this beautiful beach retreat that I visited, Coterelle Breeze in Jacmel, south Haiti.

Haitian by nationality, but raised in the USA, he came back to the island to develop his business. His hard work paid off and his holiday retreat is rarely empty. And he is pursuing other ventures.
Opportunities are infinite in a developing country indeed.
For outsiders, tourism is  the best way for outsiders to make a difference.

MYTH 4: HAITI IS NOT PRETTY

The media tends to solely show images of Port-au-Prince, the overcrowded capital, but take the time to travel out and you will discover the real Haiti.
The south has got some beautiful beaches and the Bassin Bleu  waterfalls:

Bassin Bleu

Jacmel - Bassin Bleu cascade
Jacmel – Bassin Bleu cascade

 

La Reserve, bar-restaurant and Hotel in Petionville. Beautiful decoration and awesome happy hour night every Tuesday:

La Reserve, Petionville
La Reserve, Petionville

 

La Citadelle Laferriere, a fortress build in 1820 and a UNESCO Word Heritage Site, a must-see in the north of Haiti:

La Citadelle
La Citadelle


And Cap Haitien, a buzzing town with quirky buildings and fascinating architectures:

Cap Haitien - ancient building
Cap Haitien – ancient building


Visiting Haiti goes way beyond these landmarks. Art is everywhere, especially in the buildings, and in the tap taps (taxis), all customised and personalised, demonstrating the unique artistic sense of  Haitians.

Tap tap
Tap taps in Cap Haitien
Cap Haitien, public transport
Cap Haitien, public transport

Haiti is perhaps the only island in the Caribbean that reclaims its African roots. In fact, being in Haiti is very much an African experience.

The attachment to the Voodoo religion is perhaps one of its most apparent heritage, and it is everywhere. Even in the cemetery I visited in Cap Haitien. Apparently, it was a celebration of Baron Cimetiere, that takes place every Wednesday at noon. A fascinating experience, that I wouldn’t have swapped for any luxury beach resorts.

MYTH 5: HAITI IS NOT WORTH VISITING

Walk in the busy street of Jacmel, south Haiti, amongst the colourful tap taps and find yourself in the most soulful concert, with the coolest and trendiest crowd. You could now be in New York’s Poisson Rouge or London’s Charlie Wright:

Steeve Valcourt in concert at La Taverne, Cap Haitien
Steeve Valcourt in concert at La Taverne, Cap Haitien, July 10th 2015

Take a drive and admire the beautiful landscape, not everything is deforested it seems:

Port-au-Prince to Jacmel
Port-au-Prince to Jacmel
Haitian border
Haitian border

Go to the countryside and see how people live outside the bustling cities:

Jacmel countryside
Jacmel countryside

Look at the shanty town with sadness, buy hey, the streets are so colourful, it makes you forget that some people are very, very poor:

Cap Haitien - streetside van
Cap Haitien – streetside van

Relax in a cosy retreat in the south of Haiti by the beach, where the sound of the waves is so strong, you fall into meditation and deep relaxation:

Coterelle Breeze
Coterelle Breeze holiday hideaway, Jacmel

See art outside, but also inside:

Galerie Monin - Petionville
Galerie Monin – Petionville

Yes, Haiti is well worth visiting, well worth going back to.
Bewildering, striking and disheartening at once.
Somehow, one cannot stop dreaming about it after visiting it!

Sources and further reading
UNCTAD Background Paper: Brain Drain, Brain Circulation and Diaspora Networks in Haiti
Repeating Islands: Are Foreign NGOs Rebuilding Haiti Or Just Cashing In?
Repeating Islands: Groups Rally in Haiti for Immigrants in Dominican Republic
BackPast.org: Haitian Revolution (1791-1804)
UNESCO.org: National History Park – Citadel, Sans Souci, Ramiers

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