The Best of Times In Haiti Were Bad
Wednesday - January 20, 2010
I had the opportunity to spend some time in Haiti in the 1980s while working aboard a cruise ship. We would dock at the private resort of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line called Labadee. The Haiti experience for passengers was dramatically different than the reality of life. Labadee was a playground. The area was blessed with beautiful beaches, gorgeous views and all the comforts of a world-class property. My fondest memory is playing in a softball game with then Boston Red Sox players Wade Boggs and Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd - good fun.
Passengers would arrive by ship’s tender and then be whisked away at the end of the day back onboard their luxury liner.
We may have been in Haiti, but we weren’t in Haiti.
I had the chance to get to know some of the locals, who included our ship’s agent. He invited me and some friends for occasional sightseeing trips and visits to restaurants and even his home.
The one thing about Haiti is that it is a stunningly beautiful country. The verdant hills contrast with the bustle of the city nearest to us, Cap Haitien. As the second-largest city, it was a fair representation of Haitian life.
What first struck me about Cap Haitien was the smell. It was a rank odor reminiscent of trash, urine and exotic foods. I mean no disrespect, but even decades later, I can still smell it.
There weren’t many vehicles, mostly bicycles and pedestrians. The city was colorful with what appeared like row houses painted in different shades of blues, yellows, reds and oranges. It was unsettling to see so many children without adults. It was clear that age did not discriminate. Young children, bedraggled and barefoot, either congregated in groups or would simply sit or lie on the ground. I don’t recall seeing a school.
Haiti has a population of about 10 million. The average Haitian earns about $2 per day. It is estimated there is an unemployment rate of more than 50 percent while more than two-thirds do not have traditional employment. Haiti is the most impoverished country in the West and, while Americans will live on average 78.2 years, Haitians’ life expectancy is only 60 years of age.
In 2008, Haiti was struck by four hurricanes/tropical storms, and hundreds lost their lives. It seems unusually cruel that they must endure the catastrophic consequences of a 7.0 earthquake - so much devastation.
Haiti has lived under dictatorial rule for generations. The Duvaliers decimated the people and resources of Haiti until free elections were held in 1990. Even so, the road to democracy was rocky. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a coup and then reinstated two years later with the help of the U.S. Haiti has maintained a constitutional form of government and has shown great promise in stabilizing itself for the future. This latest disaster will prove challenging to overcome.
We have a vested interest in assisting Haiti to return to its most recent path. In times of chaos, there is opportunity. With Haiti so downtrodden, rest assured there will be those who will try to make Haiti their own. There are no first responders in Haiti. No fire department, no police, no ambulance. There is no army or air force, either. It’s no wonder the recovery process will take so long.
Pray for the people of Haiti and for those who love them. Please, send what items you can afford and, if you do have cash, I guarantee it will be appreciated.
Remember, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
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