Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas)

It’s 3:08 am. I cannot sleep. Or shall I say I cannot go back to sleep. I was awakened just after midnight by fireworks, singing and kompa music. Very loud kompa music. To say I was annoyed is an understatement. If I thought anyone could hear me, then I would have opened the window and shouted, “Quiet down please folks. I’m tryna sleep ova hurr.” (That’s my Midwest politeness combined with my St. Louis accent.)

But as I sit here now, some three hours later, wide awake, the annoyance has disappeared. I can still hear the kompa music, and occasionally fireworks, but I also hear laughter, clapping and the roar of men’s and women’s voices. Obviously, people are having a good time. A really good time. And they deserve to celebrate the holiday in this traditional Haitian way; especially because last year, most people didn’t feel much like celebrating at all. This is the first Christmas since the earthquake that many people feel hopeful and happy again. With last year’s tragedy, many Haitians felt like they couldn’t truly enjoy Christmas as they had in year’s past, and most didn’t have the financial means to do so.

So with that in mind, how can I possibly be annoyed? Let them party on. If I had the energy, then I’d join them. But since I don’t, I’ll just continue eavesdropping on the festivities until they end or I fall asleep. I wonder which will occur first?

Joyeux Noël!

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The Pearl of the Caribbean (La Perle des Antilles)

I wish everyone could see and experience the Haiti that I’ve come to love – and yes, sometimes hate. This country is so much more than what you see on television; so much more than the dismal statistics and heart-wrenching images often publicized. Of course, there’s lots of work to be done, but there are countless examples of the potential that exists within this country; the potential for Haiti to drop the oft referenced title of poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and regain the moniker Pearl of the Caribbean.

I’ve been fortunate enough to experience many beautiful places in Haiti from Jacmel to Port Salut to Île à Vache. And since moving to Port-au-Prince in August, I’m learning that the capital city, namely Petion-Ville, beholds several treasures of its own.

As I write this blog post, I am sitting in Rebo Expresso, a coffee shop on rue Metellus near Place Boyer. The cafe is very reminiscent of a small, independently-owned coffee shop that you’d find in the United States. It serves locally grown coffee and tea, as well as pastries and sandwiches made by local patisserie Marie Beliard. There’s also free Wi-Fi. It has quickly become one of my favorite places in the city. The only downside to the cafe is that it’s quite small, so it can get crowded (and noisy) quickly.

On lazy Sunday afternoons, you can usually find me at Fior di Latte, an Italian cafe in Choucoune Plaza. The cafe is best known for its pizza and gelato, but it also has a fairly broad selection of salads, sandwiches and pastas. I especially like the lasagna, fettucini with pesto sauce, and pepperoni pizza with olives and capers. A mix of locals and ex-pats, friends, families and colleagues enjoy the food and ambiance at Fior di Latte, which makes it an excellent place to people watch.

Nestled above the city in the mountains of Petion-Ville is Hotel Ibo Lélé. The hotel courtyard and lobby are beautifully decorated with locally-made handicrafts, and black and white photos of Haitian and international stars that frequented the hotel in its heyday. But the best thing about the hotel is the breathtaking view of Port-au-Prince below. An afternoon poolside at the Ibo Lélé makes me instantly relax and feel like I’m on vacation. It’s the perfect escape from the chaos of day-to-day life without having to travel too far.

Another hotel with a fabulous view of the city is the Hotel Montana, located in Bourdon. The Montana may sound familiar as it’s where many people, mainly expats, were either trapped or died during the earthquake. Many of the hotel’s facilities are still being re-built, but the Acajou Restaurant and Bar, along with several meeting spaces, is open. The restaurant has a sleek, modern decor that always makes me feel like I’m in Miami, not Haiti. I have yet to enjoy a meal at the Montana. So far, I’ve been content to just sit with either coffee or juice in hand, and enjoy the view.

When I first moved to Port-au-Prince, I’d often spend afternoons and early evenings at Le Parc Canne a Sucre to flee the stuffy, shabby living quarters I was residing in at the time. As the name suggests, it’s an old sugar cane mill that has been converted into a museum, restaurant and popular venue for concerts. Le Parc Canne a Sucre can be remarkably peaceful and quiet, despite being on the main road near the US Embassy. The drinks (especially the rum punch and freshly made juices) are excellent. The food, mostly Haitian fare, is good, but inconsistently so. The staff is pleasant and attentive without being overbearing, which is perfect for lingering and conversing with friends. Since I moved to Delmas, I rarely go to Le Parc Canne a Sucre. In fact, I’ve only been twice in the last three months. It’s the only thing I miss about living in Tabarre.

There are so many places I’ve yet to explore, as I have limited accessibility to reliable transport. But as I discover new (new to me, anyway) and noteworthy places, I’ll be sure to share. While I don’t want the reality of Haiti’s current situation to be neither forgotten nor overlooked, I do think it’s important for people who’ve never been here to see that it’s not all gloom and doom.

 

 

 

 

Lavi Double / Double Life

This morning, as I sat inside my gated apartment complex drinking high-end Haitian coffee prepared by the housekeeper and reading the British edition of Vanity Fair that my flatmate purchased on a recent business trip to Papua New Guinea, the irony of the moment was not lost on me. Just minutes prior, I was outside on the chaotic streets of Delmas hopping over puddles of who knows what, dodging morning traffic and school children to purchase a 50 gourdes “papadap” – $1.20 pre-paid credit for my cell phone.

My day-to-day life in Haiti is filled with such stark contrasts. One day, I’m in a rural village chatting with beneficiaries about their needs and aspirations, and the next I’m enjoying a poolside lunch/drink/coffee at a hotel filled with foreigners and wealthy locals. One moment I’m being shuttled around town in an air-conditioned SUV, and the next I’m climbing into the front seat of an overcrowded van, praying I don’t go flying through the windshield. One afternoon, I’m buying a lukewarm Coca-Cola from a street vendor and the next I’m in Giant, a large supermarket filled with imported and local items, splurging on Apollinaris Big Apple Spritzer’s. One evening I’m buying BBQ chicken from the man on the corner and the next sitting at a table next to the Prime Minister or dining with the Minister of Agriculture at a restaurant with armed security in Petion-Ville.

Sometimes I’m able to navigate these two very, very different worlds with ease, seamlessly entering and exiting both. At other times, I find myself at odds with the double life I’m living, and feel guilty for allowing myself to indulge in luxuries while the majority of people all around me are suffering. I rationalize my expensive purchases by telling myself I deserve to enjoy first world comforts. And that’s definitely true. But spending $25 dollars on a meal just for myself, when that same $25 could feed at least 25 people occasionally gives me pause.

Nevertheless, I’m learning to accept that living in two worlds is just part of my life in Haiti. It’s not going to change, so I may as well embrace it.