HNOW in Haiti: Arrival
On December 21, 2016 I boarded a plane headed towards my Motherland, Haiti. I went with my father, who hadn't been to Haiti in 15 years. Technically, he and I were visiting Haiti for the first time. Yes, my dad is a Haitian-born American, but with a decade, earthquake, and hurricane later, my dad had no idea what kind of Haiti he would meet. We were strangers headed back home. Since I couldn't really ask my dad what Haiti would be like, all the ideas I had about Haiti were from hashtags, YouTube, and stories that my friends would tell. I knew not to Google anything about Haiti, because I knew what I'd get. I knew they would show ugly photos of hungry children and muddy streets. I was curious more than anything, but also very excited. I've traveled to several places and seen many things, but I was finally going home!
Day 1: Arrival
We flew JetBlue from John F. Kennedy Airport to Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport to Toussaint Louverture International Airport. We landed in Port-au-Prince around 9am. The sun was already beaming, but somehow I wasn't hot. It was just sunny as hell. We were directed to customs to get our passports stamped which took around 20 mins and were then greeted by a cute Haitian band with drums and maracas singing and welcoming us to Haiti. They are there every day.
One of the many rumors about Haiti is that your luggage will get stolen. FALSE. I didn't see anyone talking about luggage issues, everyone on my flight picked up their luggage and left. My dad thought he lost his luggage but it had been taken off the conveyor belt to make room for more luggage. MYTH BUSTED!
We were then directed to an officer to have our passports checked (again) and while he let everyone else go, after checking my passport we were told to proceed to an area for payment. Apparently because I wasn't Haitian born, I had to pay 10 dollars (US). I still low-key feel like that was unnecessary. My last name is Jean-Francois, how could they know I wasn't born in Haiti when my last name is as Haitian as they come? And why didn't my dad have to pay? He has an American passport as well! But whatever, I obliged, because I didn't want any problems.
We exited the airport, and it was just hot and crowded. Most of the people there weren't even arriving passengers, they were mostly cabbies. I was staying with my godfather who picked us up and brought us back to his house. Haiti doesn't have traffic lights so everyone drives at their own discretion. If there's traffic, drivers just figure it out. There was traffic, so it took us about an hour to get home.
I sat in the back seat of my god father's pick-up truck - watching. I was watching everyone and everything. I was seeing everything for the first time but it was like I had already been there. Nothing about Haiti surprised me. The route leaving the airport was heavily populated and if people weren't on the sides of the street selling, they were walking with urgency - stopping traffic on their own. There is no public transportation, taxi cabs, or anything of the sort. If you want to get around, you walk, hitch a ride, ride a motorcycle, papa-dap or camyonet. Camyonets are small trucks that travel up and down the main roads that take passengers around town. They are all painted so beautifully with different evangelical phrases. They'll say something like "God is Good" "The Lord is the Greatest" or "Soldier of God". Papa-daps are small vans that do the same but are known to drive way more recklessly. These are the only method of transportation if you don't own a car.
After about 30 minutes, we arrived at my godfather's house. It was guarded by a wall and gate, so we called someone from the inside to open up for us. My godfather lived in Brooklyn more than 40 years before retiring. While he worked in the States he built a house in Haiti with all the plans of going home. His home had 2 floors, with about 10 rooms and 3 bathrooms. His home was very similar to one of the houses you'll find in the South with lots of space for no real reason. I'm shooting myself in the foot because I didn't take pictures! I'm still a New Yorker at heart, taking pictures of peoples houses isn't second nature for me.
That evening before sundown, we went to see the new homes that had been built under former President Michel Martelly's regime. A lot of places in Haiti are remembered by who was serving as president at the time. The homes are small, but they look good. The homes would be suitable for a college student living alone, not a person looking to start a family. I don't think Martelly put much consideration into the sizes of these homes.
For Haiti to be so small, it takes a long time to get around. A lot of the places I planned on going to like Basin Bleu, Labadee, and Cap Haitien, were too far to travel to enjoy and return in one day. Its best to book a hotel to get the complete experience of those areas. I know better now. So many of you have reached out to me wanting to know more, and I'm going to try my best to include every last detail about my motherland Haiti. Make sure you check out all the travel posts included in my HNOW in Haiti series!
Thanks for reading!