"Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed" ~Alexander Pope
This past weekend, I was on a last minute flight to Haiti in order to bury my mother in law. For some men, this would be a time to rejoice. I loved my momma…and she loved me. As she so perfectly said…”I already had a son, and Laila brings me another son…a big white one.”
So off to Port-au-Prince we went with heavy hearts. I had been to the Caribbean many times, but still did not know what to expect.
As we flew into Port-au-Prince, I saw shelters crammed together with no roofs. You could see the poverty and "slums" for a lack of a better term.
The first thing I noticed was the prevalence of the class system in Haiti - more so than in the United States. Education is a factor, connections are a factor, but money is everything.
We did not have to wait in line for customs. We got pulled into a private room to wait around 3 minutes for security to usher us through the line and collect our bags for us. I wish I had this pull in the US.
I was warned as a large white man, I might get mobbed...this was not the case. The walk out to meet our driver was completely uneventful and peaceful...I get harassed more in Orlando.
The trip from the airport to the house was interesting. It was unlike any other island in the Caribbean I have visited so far. I saw hand painted commercial billboards and activity everywhere as people hustled to make a living. I spent the next few days asking how much a hand painted ad was...I want one for "Texting Base” Haitians are far from the laid back "islander" you may often think of. Everyone is working and there are people in and lining the streets everywhere.
Haitians have very few traffic lights in spite of fairly heavy traffic. The cars in the city are mostly Japanese and almost all predate 2000 while none predate 1980. Driving in Haiti requires concentration. Dirt bikes, Haitian dogs (wild dogs), cars and people are everywhere...the horn becomes the means of communication to say "I'm not stopping."
I'm told there are very few accidents, in spite of the chaos and police do not seem to issue tickets...just direct traffic with varying degrees of assertion.
UN trucks are scattered throughout and no one can tell me exactly why they were there...only "they have been there for a long time."
Political posters are on everything, as Haiti just had an election. A 42 year-old man with a banana business won...he looks 30.
As best as I can tell, the class system works like this. The educated in Haiti speak French as their primary language and they can spot "lower class" immediately by how clean the French is, among other things. Family names are extremely important. Discrimination based on skin color is surprisingly high considering the island has been under "black rule" for well over 200 years.
Education is hugely important to Haitian families. Even families with nothing will find a way to sacrifice everything so their children can attend private schools. School uniforms are everywhere.
Rich people live up the mountain. The higher you go, the more money you have. As you get higher and higher on the mountain, the grocery stores become more familiar (think brand new Giant), the restaurants play house music out of BOSE systems with flat screens everywhere and all of a sudden Toyota trucks turn into Porsches, Mercedes Benz and BMWs. The Haitians with money have money.
Lower on the mountain where the action is, guards with shotguns protect just about anything of value, from stores and gas stations to banks and private entertainment homes (rented for parties.)
Earthquake damage is everywhere, from collapsed walls to more subtle foundation cracks in buildings. It is reported that as may as 500,000 people died in the 2012 earthquake, which is basically one out of every 16 people in the country. A large number of those who survived are crippled or bear injuries.
The people are incredibly warm and welcoming and the French influence is apparent with each "two cheek kiss" greeting. The food is incredible...goat meat, black chicken that falls off the bone, Griot (fried pork), and a heavily French influenced variety of meat patties and pastries.
There is no such thing as organic...it's called "food." Nothing I consumed was frozen and shipped...it's killed and eaten. The herbs and spices are fresh and the food across the board is stellar. The French can cook and the Haitians put an island spin on the French cuisine. Most of the food has a kick, but never too much. The fruit juices are fresh squeezed across the board and need to be tried to be believed. I will never buy another US fruit drink again and without thinking how bad it is compared to Haiti.
The ice cream is the best I have ever had...ever. I have no idea why or how, but it is. If you know our main brands of Breyers, Ben & Jerry's or Häagen-Dazs and you're wondering how it can get better, it can...by a lot.
Would I live in Haiti? I could...but I wouldn't want to. The Haitian "dollar" keeps getting watered down, it's super dangerous, and any place with a risk of a natural disaster that can wipe out over 5% of the population and your assets is not where I would want to be. To visit? Absolutely...I stayed at a brand new Marriott. At times, it felt like South Beach with an island vibe.
Overall, I have to say Haiti is an interesting country. I saw a work ethic, family values and pride which led me to believe if politicians and governments can stop stripping the people of the incoming money and resources, there is a lot of hope. Haitians are no joke...let's hope mother earth cooperates.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Beans is CEO of Texting Base, Inc., out of Orlando, Florida. Texting Base is a marketing automation platform which allows businesses to personalize group text messages.
Prior to Texting Base, Eric was the first US employee of TechSpan which became Headstrong. Headstrong sold for $550M to GenPact.
With a group of partners in 2005, Eric started Premier Mortgage Capital, Inc., a nationwide state charted Mortgage Company that grew to over 2B/Year in originations.
Eric is the author of "Changing The World Through Texting Software.”
Eric is a speaker, inventor, patent holder, chef, writer for LA Style Magazine, producer and author.