Despite the restrictions imposed by my employer (a ban on travelling anywhere other than in one of my NGO’s vehicles), I’ve seen enough to really like Haiti. I’m leaving today feeling really quite envious of the people working here on six-month to two-year contracts.
Sure, we had to move out of our hotel because of the violent demonstrations in the square outside, we heard gunfire as we left the office one evening, and the cholera epidemic was starting to get out of hand (dead bodies left in the streets in some towns, as everyone was too afraid to touch them). But Port au Prince remains a beautiful city in terms of its steep hills and its greenery, the atmosphere is at the same time both laid back and lively, and the people are so friendly. There are actually some really nice residential areas to the city too, like the enormous private estate of Belvil with its big villas – and nothing in this district fell down in the earthquake of course.
I did manage to get out on the Saturday evening. To my astonishment, the Ivorian band Magic System were playing a live concert, and enough people from work wanted to go that we were granted permission to extend the usual weekend curfew to 2am provided we travelled in convoy. I was so surprised that people in Haiti would have heard of a West African band, but was told that Magic System have made it big throughout the French-speaking world.
They performed outdoors, on a stage set up within a restaurant-museum complex on the site of an old sugar cane plantation, and the audience was a real mix of locals and expats. There seem to be loads of West Africans working in Haiti, as I met people from Guinea, from Sierra Leone, from Burkina Faso and from Cameroon – together with the music, the climate and the French language it really made me feel at home!
I have to admit too that I do enjoy the excitement of being in a place with a bit of danger. & I guess I’m not alone in that, as many of the expats I spoke to there had previous experience in Darfur, Afghanistan, Gaza and DR Congo. I rather wish I could be content in a 9-5 job somewhere suburban, with a husband, a television and 2.4 kids, but travelling/working in places like Sierra Leone or Haiti make me feel, what? More alive, I suppose. Or maybe it’s just the change of scene that does that?