Vodou Lounger: A Tourist's Eye-view of Haiti
24 February 2014
"Please don't go to Haiti -- it could be dangerous
down there!" several worried friends begged me right
before I left. But boy were they wrong. Haiti is
totally fun! I never had so much fun in my life as I
did this past week in Haiti. And this is my very own
tourist guidebook to all the neat stuff that I've done
down here. Not exactly the Lonely Planet. But boy am I
having a good time.
The most frequently asked question before I left was,
"Are you going down there to do humanitarian work?" No
no no. I'm going down there to be a tourist!
To start with, I got a really great bargain deal on
Expedia -- $800 to fly me from SFO to Port au Prince
and five nights in a convenient, clean and quiet hotel
called the Diquini Guest House. This was absolutely
the smartest thing that I did on this trip. Why?
Because the manager of the guest house, a former
member of the Haitian diaspora and long-time resident
of Washington DC, took me under his wing and for a
reasonable fee let me hire his driver, translated for
me, kept me fed on nicely-flavored Haitian stew and
rice -- and then took me off to explore Port au
First we went to the famous Hotel Oloffson where the
ghosts of past American ex-pat writers such as Graham
Greene and Lillian Hellman roam its gardens, terraces
and gingerbread-style balconies; where Mick Jagger and
even Jacqueline Kennedy have stayed -- and where the
famous vudou-inspired RAM band was playing that night.
The next day we explored what is left of the 2010
earthquake ruins, from what was left of the tragically
beautiful stone-filigreed huge rose window of the old
cathedral and the site of the historic National Palace
to various small tent cities dotting Port au Prince
that still house earthquake victims today, and the
ruined buildings that still have market stalls
precariously tucked into whichever concrete slabs are
still left standing.
"So, Jane, how is Port au Prince actually doing now,
four years after the quake?" you might ask, now that
I'm an actual eye-witness to the scene of the crime.
It's not doing super-good, but not doing as badly as I
had expected either. Most of the tent cities are gone
now -- as a lot of the homeless victims have by now
squashed themselves in with relatives, left for the
countryside or otherwise made do.
"But what are Haitians really like?" you might ask
next. You can tell what Haitians are really like by
the way that they drive. There are only a handful of
traffic signals in Port au Prince and even fewer rules
of the road. And Haitians drive very fast. But they
also drive in a way that is almost polite. Everyone
wants to get where they are going (and to get there
fast) -- but no one wants to actually hurt anyone
else. I didn't see any road rage there. Just people
trying to get by.
Basically, Haitians are just people trying to get by
after having been dealt a very rough hand for a very
long time, from the moment they were kidnapped from
Africa and sold as slaves here -- starting in 1503,
just eleven years after Columbus discovered the
island. And those slaves were expendable too, worked
to death in a few years at most and then replaced by
other new slaves.
Then after having fought for and achieved its freedom
in 1804, Haiti was also constantly attacked, exploited
and/or invaded for the next 200-plus years by America,
Canada and various combinations of European nations.
And now Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the
world, resembling the slums of Uganda or the slums of
Zimbabwe. And yet despite their poverty, which is dire
and extreme, Haitians still remain stoically polite.
Next we went off to the Iron Market bazaar to buy
Haitian stuff to hang on my walls when I get home. And
then we drove all over Port au Prince -- the grand
tour. And that night we went off to Carnival in the
Carrefour district. Are you jealous yet?
Carrefour's pre-Lenten carnival was like one gigantic
block party and was actually as much fun as Berkeley
in the 1960s, the benchmark against I always measure
how much fun something is.
I also wanted to go see San Souci and the Citadel,
UNESCO world heritage sites up in Cap Haitien, but it
was a seven-hour drive to get there, so we went to
Fonds des Negres instead, which was only a three-hour
drive, and I met a vodou master there. "No one is
cursing you," he told me. Not even the NSA? Good to
know. Then he performed a candlelight ritual to help
my knees get better. Then he pulled out a business
card for his son who owns a botanica in SoCal who, for
a price, could finish my knee treatment when I got
back home http://www.felixbotanica.com/. And then the
vodou master pulled out his cell phone and started
texting someone. Guess the ritual was over.
And there's also a cave in the mountains near Fonds
des Negres where a "Suzan," a vodou spirit, resides.
But you have to get there by motorcycle and we didn't
have time to do all that on this day trip. So I just
bought a sequin-covered vodou flag instead.
"Have you seen any zombies in Haiti?" might be your
next question. Sorry, no. But on my plane ride down
here, we ran into a bunch of really scary turbulence
over Chicago and I thought I was going to die. So I
had an epiphany. "When you are in your mother's womb,
the only way out is by going through a whole bunch of
pain first -- and death is also like that. First you
pass through a whole bunch of pain and then, poof, you
are out on the Other Side." As a zombie? Let's hope
The next day we went out searching for Jean-Bertrand
and then ended the day in that famous five-star hotel
in Petionville -- just to see how the other 1% lives.
Trust me, they are living well.
What else have I done down here? I can't remember
exactly. But I will tell you this: I have really had
fun. And if you ever want to go to Haiti too, I
totally recommend it highly. And, no, I'm not getting
paid to say this.
PS: While in Haiti, I also watched the winter Olympics
on TV -- thus getting a chance to compare Port au
Prince and Sochi. One city has far too little city
planning and one city had far too much!
According to journalist Roi Tov, "With less than
350,000 denizens, [Sochi] has been occupied by at
least 25,000 police officers, 30,000 soldiers, 8,000
special forces, and an undisclosed number of FSB
Port au Prince is nothing like that. The streets go
every which-way like a patchwork quilt. But it does
have one thing in common with Sochi -- abuse of its
fragile labor force. http://thinkprogress.org/
And let's also compare Port au Prince with Havana. I'm
currently reading Carlos Eire's autobiography,
"Learning to Die in Miami". Eire appears to believe
with all his heart that the Castro experience was a
nightmare -- and yet just compare Cuba and Haiti
today. Haiti has been under the thumb of American and
European corporatists for ages and ages. And now,
despite all its amazingly fertile soil and impressive
mineral riches, Haiti is currently one of the poorest
countries in the world. Seven out of ten Haitians live
on less than $2 a day, according to the International
Red Cross. http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/world/poorest-countries-in-the-world/19/
But in Havana under the Castro brothers, everyone has
a good chance of getting a college education.
But, hell, most Haitians are lucky to have a chance to
even get as far as fourth grade!
If Fulgencio Batista and the American corporatists who
owned him back in 1959 had remained in power and
Castro had never taken over Cuba, Cuba today would
more than likely look just like Haiti today. And does
anyone with a working brain really think that having
American and European oil companies, bankers, war
profiteers and neo-cons in control in Syria, Venezuela
and Ukraine are going to help those countries either?
Hell, just look at what those guys did to Afghanistan,
Iraq and Libya -- and to Detroit! http://www.youtube.com/watch?