For four years we've been watching people come in and out of Haiti. The visitors have mainly been Canadians and Americans. Over and over again people talk about feeling a deep connection or a unexplainable love for Haiti and her people. More often than not people leave Haiti and soon after report that their lives will never be quite the same.
What is it?
Haiti is a country of stark and overwhelming contrast. There is stunning physical beauty, both the landscape and the people. At every turn you meet men, women and children that live their lives with inspiring strength and grace. They humble you. The good is so very good. The beauty so rich, so staggering. On the flip side there is deep poverty, and sometimes very deep corruption, wrong-doing, and abuse. The weak are not often protected, it can be devastating to witness. The society "functions" while looking away from much of that darkness.
It's beauty and it's horror.
Every culture has its strengths and weaknesses. That is not what makes Haiti unique. Haiti just functions in the extremes. The contrast is so incredibly in-your-face that you almost cannot categorize what you've seen or felt or been able to touch and smell and taste.
Our love of a place is either born of our own experience or from hearing of someone else's experience. There are many who have heard only the bad things about Haiti. Their opinions are based off of the incomplete snapshots of others ... Our opinion of the country and her people will depend on what we choose to focus on and see. All of it is real. The good. The bad. The beautiful. The hideous. But what sticks with us? What comes to represent Haiti?
While I am not terribly endeared to a few of the cultural norms in Haiti, I am inexplicably endeared to the people. I am especially touched, moved, inspired, awed, strengthened, fascinated, challenged and in love with the women of this culture. The old women usually leave me speechless. An old woman in Haiti deserves royal treatment. These ladies have seen things. They know things. They exude wisdom and knowledge.
To me, THEY represent the culture and to me they are Haiti.
The women carry the majority of the daily work. From my perspective they carry this land (on their heads) and they do it with style. They are tough, strong, courageous, reliant, tenacious, and graceful. Watching them and all they cope with and endure makes me want to be a stronger woman too.
They are Haiti.