As today is the two-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, you’re going to hear a lot about how much progress has been made rebuilding the country. From both the media and non-profits alike, they’ll be plenty of stories about “how many tons of rubble are left”, or “how many buildings have yet to be rebuilt.”
Those are the same questions that I asked the first couple times I visited Haiti in 2010, and my friends and family did the same after each trip. But after visiting Haiti on several occasions since the earthquake, I thought I’d share how my has perspective evolved since then. My thoughts progressed a little something like this:
- Visit #1: I spend a week witnessing the impact of an earthquake on an already impoverished country. “This place is a wasteland,” I thought.
- Visit #2: Still awed by the destruction and the poverty, I began to appreciate the fact that people were able to survive at all. I didn’t know how they did it.
- Visit #3: It dawned on me that while the earthquake was awful, Haiti had been a terrible place to live for a very long time. This led to frustration of not knowing how a country could remain in dire straits for so long.
- Visit #4: I finally stopped seeing general bleakness and began to notice hope and happiness – a taxi driver who wanted to go to college in Wisconsin (and later did), and an old lady teaching dance classes in a rural town. Incredible geography. Smiling kids and proud mothers. Soccer games.
- Visit #5: First thinking that I had Haiti figured out, and later realizing that I actually knew very little. I stopped trying to figure out “solutions” and learned to take things as they were. Only then could I start to appreciate the people and the places I visited.
After all those experiences, all I can say is that life is complicated in Haiti. Smiles, death, dust, friends, sewage, hope, beauty, and chaos blend together to form a place of paradoxes that defies simplification. Situations are often both tragic and cheerful, hopeful and pitiful. How can people smile (and stay sane) when death, lack of opportunity, chaos, and poor circumstance are pressed upon them? The Haitian people have something we lack, but I don’t know exactly what it is. Some type of hope that most of us don’t have to tap into, I suppose. But even if I lived in Haiti for a year, I doubt I’d really be able to understand.
I’m saying all of this because I want you to appreciate Haiti. I don’t want you to see it as a wasteland, like I did during my first couple visits. I don’t want you to think that it’s hopeless and forgettable. And I don’t want you to believe that just because things don’t look much different a couple years later, that Haiti is just a lost cause. Instead, I want you to know that the country and the people have joy, they have beauty, and they have hope. And I want you to think of those things, not of an earthquake, when you think of Haiti.