I recently took a trip to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere -- Haiti. It was a trip I needed to take, having never left the country. We flew to the western end of the southern peninsula to a port city named Jereme. This city has a population of about 50,000 and what was hard for me to wrap my mind around was that a city could grow so large and yet still be so impoverished.
There are Haitians with money. One lady we met who works for the local airline is married to a doctor and they own two houses. It wasn't easy to tell the poor from the rich, and I think the reason is that most Haitians have nice clothes. I'm assuming everyone has nice clothes because Americans have donated nice clothes and Haitians like to look nice. They take excellent care of their clothing. But I admit, it is confusing to see well dressed poverty. Cell phone towers were also recently placed all over the country. Some might see this as extravagant for such a poor country, but the word I would use is "opportunity." Suddenly, with open communication, a Haitian in Jereme can work more regularly with say a Haitian from Port au Prince or even an American in Mattoon.
As we drove out into the mountains, vehicles disappeared and houses would be ever so often. We drove one hour into the mountains (only 10 miles but the roads are horrendous). We turned on to a cow path and drove about 10 minutes, then we walked into the forest for 20 minutes. On a hill was a school, a concrete building perhaps 80 feet by 20 feet, with a tin roof that had gaping holes and broken beams. There were 102 primary age students and 3 teachers. No cars in a parking lot, not even a horse or donkey. No road to the school. Where did all these people come from? I long to help this school. My heart aches to help this school. Yet, we must wait because to act to hastily could cause more damage than not helping at all.
Wherever we went, there was a child (between the age of 7 to 12) following. I never saw their parents, but they would follow, either out of curiosity or perhaps hope of a candy or a dollar. Sometimes when I spoke with the children, they would giggle and look at their friends like it was the most exciting thing to talk to a blanc (white person). The picture is a little girl who followed me through the market. I would lose her for a short time only to look again and there she was. I called her "ti zamni" or little friend. She had a mischievous smile, plenty of personality. I would like to have known her situation.
My biggest hope is to learn Creole so that I can find out personal stories. I hope to return in March, at least for certain sometime in 2007.