By Elizabeth Case*
Shortly after returning from Haiti, I read Earnest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The book is set in Cuba, a locale about as foreign to Americans as the country of Haiti. Hemingway stunned me with his portrait of a Cuban fisherman. When I turned to write my own account of Haiti, I knew I risked writing about it with pity, exoticism, and ultimately, misunderstanding. It takes a long time to understand a place as different as Haiti. That said, I learned a lot during my week in Haiti. It was an experience I feel compelled to share.
Our plane flew low over the rusted roofs of a neighborhood in Port au Prince. The plane landed and we walked into the throbbing heat of a May afternoon. The airport was small by American standards, and unembellished. We were not the only foreigners; there were two other groups of Americans, one medical and one religious.
Outside the airport we were met by drivers. The service had been arranged by Medishare, as were all other in-country services we needed. The driver in charge, called Riche’, was an African-looking man who wore sunglasses. I will always remember him as being responsible for the spirit of all our travel in Haiti: something like a high-speed car chase over rubble-paved mountain roads. Passing through the country-side in this fashion, we kicked up dust plumes so large that we left everything, civilians included, dust-covered. The pace of the cars and their metallic luster so contrasted with the lives of the people we saw on the road-side, that our driving felt almost violent. I kept thinking, ‘I want to walk a little in the sun and take this place in slowly’; but it was a very long way to our destination.