Haiti: Life Beyond the Tent Cities
Two years after the quake, a writer talks to professionals whose lives are almost back to normal.
Plenty of them are taking steps. During my stay, I met Marie Alice Boncy, a principal who founded a school after the earthquake. "I just wish they'd move the tent camps by the airport," said Boncy, who is also a caterer. She was standing in her large kitchen, taking out her frustration on a hunk of dough that she was kneading for the base of a wedding cake. "It just sends the wrong message to visitors."
Anedie Azael, the reigning Miss Universe Haiti, couldn't hold in a frustrated sigh when I recounted, unnecessarily, what outsiders think of her country. Changing the perception of Haiti has been her daily mission since winning the crown in July 2011.
"I wish Haiti was known for its very proud people," said Azael, who founded Peace Love International, an organization with the mission of building a therapeutic center for children and women in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. "We have a lot of dignity. If people knew that, it could change the perception of the world toward Haiti."
Thoughts of "What to do about Haiti?" have become more frequent with the second anniversary of the earthquake approaching. At Hang, a Port-au-Prince bar where young professionals gather after work for a drink and to unwind, there's talk of the $45 million hotel that Marriott will open in Port-au-Prince in 2014 and guesses as to whether people are finally getting that Haiti has something to offer. Maybe so. I arrive in Haiti the week after Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey leave. The week I'm in town, so are Minister Louis Farrakhan, Ne-Yo and Fat Joe.
This conversation segues to a quip that Haiti has become "the Republic of NGOs." The comment launches a litany of complaints about nongovernmental organizations that are blamed for the skyrocketing prices of renting an apartment -- $2,000 for a two-bedroom in some places -- and the newly pricey rates at a favorite local bistro like Pizza Garden, which now charges almost as much as a Miami venue.
But then the liquor takes hold and the conversation turns to topics familiar to any 20- or 30-something in America on a Friday night: Where are we going next, who are we going with and what is coming up soon?
There are two massive weddings on Saturday, events that everyone who's anyone will be attending. Tonight seems light, except for the Digicel holiday party farther up in the hills, but no one here has an invite. Maybe drinks at the five-star Hotel Karibe? Ne-Yo's performing at the Ritz Kinam soon, a must-see event with a $50 price tag because he's performing with Haitian kompa artist T-Vice.
Fast-forward to plans for New Year's Eve, less than two weeks away. Who's throwing the yacht party this year? And which beach is best to see the fireworks at midnight?
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root .