Haiti: A First-timer’s Account

Ray Torresan

I have never been to a developing country before. And, to be honest, it wasn’t really all that high on my to-do list either. So when Bradley asked me to join him on his next trip to Haiti, I surprised myself when I quickly answered, “Sure, love to!” Not sure why exactly, though I suspect it probably had a lot to do with hearing Bradley talk so often about how much his community work has meant to him. As Bradley likes to say: “C’mon and see how the real world lives.”

I guess I expected to see what I have become accustomed to seeing on television news:  suffering and pain, people dying in the streets. While there were certainly a lot of people struggling, I didn’t see the despair that I expected. On the contrary, I saw love, hustle and bustle, and community support. One of the highlights of the trip was in Cap Haitian on an early Sunday morning in a roofless concrete “building” that served as a makeshift church. The church was packed. Everyone was dressed up—men wearing suits and ties, woman in their best dresses, flowers in their hair.

Bradley and I sat on a ledge on the upper level, which gave us a chance to look back on the crowd of 500 hundred or so. We saw a full house of beaming, happy faces, singing hymns in French. There was no hint of self-pity or sadness. They were there in the moment, grateful and optimistic.

I recall my thoughts drifting to a neighborhood at home that I frequently travel through called The Downtown Eastside. It is generally regarded as the poorest neighborhood in Canada. There is real poverty there is well, although, unlike what I experienced in Haiti, it carries with it a feeling of hopelessness and anger. I didn’t see that anywhere in Haiti. For sure there is extreme hardship in Haiti, yet there is no sense of being hard-done-by that I could see. While things are tough, the Haitians we met choose to simply work together and get through. And they don’t forget to have some fun along the way.

Haiti is a beautiful place. With the unfortunate exception of a having a major garbage problem, it is on a par with other tropical Caribbean islands. I saw the poverty I expected to see, definitely. I didn’t expect to see, however, such grace and compassion to go along with it. That was the real beauty of Haiti.