My history with Haiti

Looking back fifteen years or so, I regarded Haiti as an extreme which people did not dare visit.  I had the image that if I walked down the street someone would come along and lop off my arm with a machete.  I wondered if visitors could go out without armed support.  Somehow I felt that if I could manage a trip to Haiti, I could deal with many of the life problems which would, sooner or later, come my way.

I also imagined the place was full of lush trees, which is the direct opposite of the reality.

I set off in (I think) 1993.  The place was popular as late as the 1970s, but by then hardly any Caribbean guidebooks covered Haiti at all.  My friend Christopher Weber, the investment writer, ended up coming with me at the last minute, maybe as more of a dare than anything else.  Plus he had the longtime dream of visiting the remote Haitian city of Jeremie, because of its association with the family background of Alexander Dumas.  

Upon arriving, I realized the country was relatively peaceful, provided you were not there in times of elections, coups, or demonstrations.  The terrain is so crowded, and white people are so conspicuous, it is (was) hard to get into trouble.  Plus Haitian crowds are known to knock down and kill petty thieves on the spot.  There's just not enough room for anyone to mug you, at least if you exercise due caution.  Nor, for that matter, were there very many beggars, since usually there was no one to beg from. 

Despite oppressive poverty (other than India, I've never seen anything comparable), there's simply a remarkable feeling there and most visitors to Haiti end up sharing this understanding with other Haitiphiles.  I've long wished I could explain this.  I've since been five times, though never to the north.  I also started collecting Haitian art and reading everything I could about the country and going to Haitian concerts.  

For the last ten years I've been afraid to go, mostly because kidnappings started on some of the roads.  Finally, it seemed safe enough and the economy was improving.  Over last weekend, in Miami, Natasha, Yana and I drove around Little Haiti, ate a wonderful meal, and bought some Haitian gospel and compa CDs, which served as the soundtrack for the rest of the day in the car.  I was all set to plan my next trip back.

Neither Chris nor I ever made it to Jeremie.

Comments

Terribly sad but a beautiful piece, Tyler. Thank you.

Thank you for this beautiful account of Haiti. People have been led to believe that Haiti is an horrible place to visit, which is not true. I went there in 1986 to visit family in both Port-au-Prince and the provinces (Belladere and Baptiste) and saw beautiful places. I even went to the beach. As I mentioned previously, my dad lives there now and always sends us pictures of beautiful places. Moreover, the Haitian people are proud and resilient. Even though, they have been down, there are never out. I truly hope people will finally get that

This post by Tyler is a good reminder of how his aesthetic tastes have biased his views on immigration policy. As you'll recall, after Katrina, Tyler advocated in Slate the growth of shanty towns of Latin foreigners in New Orleans:

"Shantytowns might well be more creative than a dead city core. Some of the best Brazilian music came from the favelas of Salvador and Rio. The slums of Kingston, Jamaica, bred reggae. New Orleans experienced its greatest cultural blossoming in the early 20th century, when it was full of shanties... Katrina rebuilding gives the city a chance to become an innovator once again."

http://www.slate.com/id/2140224/entry/2140206/

Steve Sailer: Winning* discussions on the internet since 1994.

(* He says so.)

"Steve Sailer: Winning* discussions on the internet since 1994.

(* He says so.)"

As do most others.

The people knocking Tyler here are missing his point completely. He is in fact pointing out that Haiti *is not* all misery; that there are a lot of good and wonderful things about Haiti and Haitians, in contrast to the media of the last several decades. It's a heck of a lot better than writing the country off completely, a la Pat Robertson.

There's nothing wrong with Tyler vacationing in shantytowns abroad. It's his advocacy for policies bringing more shantytowns to America that I object to.

He seems to be finally grasping the point that while Haiti and Mexico are nice places to visit, you don't need to import millions of Haitians or tens of millions of Mexicans into your own country to enjoy their cuisine, music, and art. A few will do fine.

I love the quantity of immigrant haters who visit Tyler's site. You can't be a free market advocate without advocating for the free movement of human beings. The very existence of the nation state is a strike against the liberty of the individual. No human being is anything more or less by nature of his nationality, although development economics clearly does show us that no single factor influences our economic fortunes over the course of our lifespans then the country we happen to be born in.

Thank you Tyler for the great piece on Haiti. I agree that there is something wonderful about Haitians, and I can't put a finger on it either. I too was frightened by the spree of kidnappings which had escalated over the past couple of years. I don't know if you were able to visit Ile a Vache off of Les Cayes, a French family has a great little bungalow to visit. Pirate ships galore to go snorkeling at. The economics of that little island in and of itself would be the worthy task of a doctoral candidate.

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