Earlier this year, I sat in an auditorium in the Upper East Side on a cold winter evening to celebrate Haitian cinema. I was there to support Haiti’s only film school, Cine Institute. I remembered when this little boy came on the screen. He said that Haiti to him represented life because of how colorful it is. And that no matter how hard things are and how difficult life may be, if there is color, there is life. That little boy had wisdom beyond his years. I teared up right after the short film. And I teared up as soon as my plane reached Aeoport Toussaint Louverture in Port-au-Prince two Mondays ago. I saw the colors and felt the heat from inside the airplane. I was home once again. I saw LIFE!
It was my second time back since I left. The last time I was there was in December 2009, a month just before the earthquake. I’ve always wanted to do a service trip to Haiti. I’ve volunteered so much in the states and abroad, and I wanted to do the same for Haiti. I decided to go with Fleur De Vie, a small non-profit organization based in NYC to distribute school supplies and organize a recreational day for hundreds of students this year.
Driving in the van throughout the week from my hotel room to where the group needed to be was my time to focus and reflect on what the country was and had become. I kept looking outside the window focusing on the things I found beautiful. My eyes couldn’t focus on one particular thing for a long period of time because there was so much beauty. There was so much beauty, but the most obvious thing was the poverty. Poverty traveled through the mountains and climbed over the city walls under the hot Haitian sun and stared back at me. We locked eyes and started a staring contest.
I saw strips of land with no trees. I saw topless men working hard under the hot sun, destroying my mountains with their construction tools to make a living. I saw tent cities after tent cities, and naked children running around washing cars with dirty water. I saw women selling their bodies. I saw the word “survival” tatted on everyone’s foreheads in bright red letters. I saw cry for help.
I saw many reflections of myself. Underfed, overworked women carrying giant loads on their heads. Giant colorful loads of vegetables and fruits. Giant, bulky buckets of liquids. Their eyes squinting under the sun, determined but still distant. Their high brows and cheekbones glistening. Their hips and skirts sashaying. Their feet moving firmly as if they were marching. And their indifferent expressions plastered over their beautiful, tired faces. I saw color. I saw life.
One of the things I found most beautiful during my trip, and you might find this odd, was watching this woman sewing inside her house. Our van was stuck in traffic, and it was right after dusk. The time that calls for candles and lamps although everything has this beautiful orange fading to purple hue when there is no electricity. I saw her in the distance, wearing a large, comfortable dress, with her head wrapped. She was focused on the sewing machine in the soft candle light. Her door was ajar, just wide enough to let any breeze passing by in for a quick visit. The honking of the vans and motorcycles drowned, and colors on the tap-taps faded. She looked so relaxed and content, and the sight of her in her own little world made me happy.
It’s impossible to ignore the poverty despite all the beauty. Haiti needs us. There is so much life. So much potential. So much color. I’m going back more often.