This is an image of a Taptap, they are the primary means of transportation for people who do not have cars.
I just taught a Media Literacy Unit and in one lesson we talked about stereotypes. How the media portrays Haiti inevitably came up and it was so interesting to hear the comments that my students had about how others view them. One girl recalled a time when she was in Summer Camp in Michigan, the other kids kept asking her if she had electricity, came over by boat or owned a TV (keep in mind that my students are the wealthiest Haitians). Her response was “I came by plane but if I did come by boat it would have been on a cruise.” Needless to say, she is a strong proud Haitian young lady that does not take crap from anyone.
One student talked about meeting a friend in the States and asking them to come visit him in Haiti. He told the friend about riding bikes, playing video games, the beaches and all of the fun things that kids like to do (and are possible in Haiti). The friend said “it is dangerous in Haiti and all of the food makes you sick.” The boy in my class was so upset. How could someone believe that where he lived was unsafe? He felt safe and loves his home. How could someone say that all of the food makes you sick? He eats it every day and is proud of Haitian dishes like griot and fried plantain. It hit me like a brick in the face.
As a class assignment, my class wrote letters to a 13 year old girl in Canada. She is an environmentalist and had some interesting things to say about kids and the outdoors. My students shared their unique opinions about the outdoors with her. I told the class that they all had to write a letter but it was optional to send them. Two girls came up to me and asked me not to send theirs, I asked them why (as both of them are beautiful writers) and they reluctantly said it was because they were afraid that the little Canadian girl would think that they are “dumb Haitians.” Imagine being 12 years old and starting to form your identity, starting to like boys and feel insecure about your body. Now add the pressure of others believing that you are stupid, or undereducated just because the country where you live, is upon difficult times.
If you live here I am sure “uneducated” or “stupid” would not be words you would use to describe a single Haitian. I watched some videos of the earthquake happening yesterday and it was amazing. Imagine that you are a merchant on the street at 4:30 pm and all of a sudden building starts to roar down around you, or you are sitting at the kitchen table eating your dinner and the roof collapses on you and your family. People stood on the street crying, frozen in disbelief. And then do you know what they did, they picked themselves up and stood strong. When you talk to Haitians they all have similar stories of bloodshed, governments who control and corrupt, people dying needlessly and so on. Yet what I see on the street and in my class is resilience, resourcefulness and simple happiness. Those are the words that I would use to describe Haitians.
When you hear about someone moving to another country, I implore you to ask questions that get to the heart of the issue. Don’t ask them if their immunizations are up to date, if they are taking malaria pills, or if they are scared, those are just minor details. I am not even sure what questions you should ask, but ask the ones that matter; the big ones that empower them to go somewhere where new and to think differently too.