In January 2010, Haiti was struck by an earthquake. The nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince, was hit hardest. Remonde Polché, who has family in Port-au-Prince, went back this summer for the first time in five years. Here, she shares how things have changed.
This past June I traveled to my parents’ native country, Haiti. It had been my first time there in five years. Coincidentally, a relative’s wedding inspired this, as well as the last trip.
Many things occurred within those five years, most prominently the earthquake of January 2010. I am eternally grateful that the lives of everyone in my family were spared. We are ineffably fortunate, as most of my relatives live in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where the 7.0 magnitude earthquake produced an immense amount of devastation.
While in Haiti, my father and I stayed at his sister’s home in Port-au-Prince. I arrived about two weeks before my cousin’s big day, allotting time to visit my mother’s side of the family, and travel within the country as much as possible. Before leaving the States, many people requested that I take plenty of pictures, and that was running through the back of my mind during the first week where I simply enjoyed my family’s company, and actually being in Haiti, a place that is practically my second home and where I spend my summer vacations during my childhood.
Upon arrival at my aunt’s home, memories, good and bad, flooded my mind as I surveyed the house and the neighborhood, and made mental notes of the things that once were, but were now changed. A few remnants of the earthquake were present, such as unpainted walls where repairs were made for cracked walls. In general, during my stay, it appeared that most, if not all, of the earthquake rubble had been removed; unfortunately vast amounts of people still live in “tent-cities.” I made many mental notes during my trip, one of them being how the socioeconomic disparity was compounded as a result of the earthquake. Here I was living comfortably while about a mile away you could find people living without a solid foundation beneath their feet.
Haiti has an unemployment rate of 40.6 percent, according to 2010 CIA estimates. While I was there, I came across a plethora of vendors, selling everything from bottled water, used clothing, artwork, and even car parts, all along the streets. For those are not formally employed, this is the way of life. It was, and always is a humbling experience to visit Haiti, because one thing I can definitely say about the people is that no matter how dire the circumstances are, everyone always makes the best of that they have.
I cannot write about my latest travel experience to Haiti without mentioning the food—it is to die for! Everything is delicious. I devoured the fresh fish, sugar canes, fried plantains, well-seasoned rice, varieties of fresh fruit juices, and mangoes. The mangoes, a.k.a. mango francique, are, without a doubt, the best mangoes in the world. Fritay, a platter of everything fried (mainly pork and plantains) is one of my guiltiest pleasures. Delicious, but oh-so-bad for one’s health.
While the nation has what appears to be an insurmountable amount of problems, what I saw indicated that the country is moving in the right direction. In my opinion, the current Haitian government is working tirelessly to make the nation a better place.
I read an article the other day that mentions that for the first time since 1987, all three branches of government are functioning. That is a major accomplishment for a government that for years was (and may possibly still be) marred by corruption.
The country has invested in solar power; for the first time ever in Haiti, I saw light posts powered by solar rays, and my aunt owns a flashlight that is also solar-powered.
While watching TV, I saw for the first time public service announcements for the wellbeing of Haiti’s people, including messages to wear helmets, stop littering, drive slower, check automobiles’ breaks frequently, etc.
This new government cares. I am proud of the work that President Michel Martelly and Prime Minster Laurent Lamothe have done and they’ve done a lot; everything from sending a few million of children to school for free with a required lunch time to building new clinics, from providing new homes to families to working to create cities outside of Port-au-Prince.
I had an unforgettable experience in Haiti and look forward to going back as soon as I possibly can. I miss my family, the country’s natural beauty, and the food, among many other things.
Haiti will always hold a special place in my heart, not just because it’s where my parents are from, but also because, from the moment you land, you can’t help but to be captivated its vibrancy.
[All photos by Remonde Polché]