Both beautiful and ugly

The island, Haiti.

When I first met her, she was called “Pearl of the Antilles” and life was running peacefully. Despite the paradox of living under dictatorship.

Lazy beach life, not structured, rather rugged. The kids climbing Mango and Kenep trees, fetching the picnic’s desserts. A toothless farmer goes up a wind-bent coconut tree with rapid moves, monkey-style, then throwing down our refreshing drinks. Coconuts cut with sharp machetes. The first hit cutting off this piece of fiber, ideal to spoon out the nutty flesh, naturally.

Warm, turquoise waters turning into a dark, deep blue far off on the horizon. Glorious views if you squint your eyes through the glaring sun. A boat catching the breeze with patched-up sails in grayish colors, stuffed with charcoal from the mountains to feed the ever-hungry city ovens.

Lambi, grilled on assembled beach stones heated with dry wooden sticks, right there, beside us, waiting for the treat, rum with ice in hand, watching the fisherman completing his sharp-knifed chop-chop-chop, mixing tiny pieces of red fire-hot chili peppers with lemon juice that will burn our throats while gobbling down Lambi, lemon juice dripping off our hands.

Seeking rest under palm trees, beautiful leaf roofs shading our heads. The sea’s lazy wave sounds lulling us into a bellyful sleep on a quiet afternoon.

Filling cars with fruit, big fat melons, hearty mangoes, ready to burst Kenep, fresh from the tree. Getting stuck crossing a river without a bridge. Village men pushing, carrying us out, a car full of babies and toddlers. Laughing, cracking up when first attempts fail. Watching them happily sharing a few dollars on the other side. Waving, “See you then”.

Next river: repeat

Next Sunday, we’ll do it again.

43 years forward.

We have bridges now, and beaches with cash registers.

Too dangerous to sleep in the wilderness under a tree.

On the road, cars racing, horns blowing, angry men shouting, reinforcing their anger with indecent gestures. Hurry, let’s get there. Hurry.

Stop at a mango seller’s stand. No friendly greeting but hostile negotiations for some over-priced, over-ripe mangoes with flaws. Leaving the too-early-harvested melons aside.

A beach buffet, as always. As everywhere.

Driving home. More tedious than at times without bridges. Traffic halts, bumper to bumper. For no reason. Another generation of kids and toddlers, whining, impatient to reach home. Parents tired, upset. Worn after a day at the beach.

Next Sunday, we don’t go again.

12 thoughts on “Both beautiful and ugly

        1. It’s challenging. It’s the poorest country in the Americas, and completely different from Jamaica. It’s best to connect with some family if you/your dad want to visit. Nature is beautiful but life in general is tough.

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          1. Yes, Haiti does that reputation. When you mentioned it was once called the Pearl of Antilles, I figured you were West Indian. I’ve never heard anyone else say it. We learn that in history classes.

            I would like to better my French before going there, and maybe build my travel experience. Is there any place in particular you would recommend?

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            1. Best to travel in Haiti is with family. There is no safe public transport. Northern Haiti (Cap Haitien) and the Southern parts (Jacmel, Cayes) are more interesting. P-au-P is rather problematic and not safe if you don’t know where you are going.

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                1. Yes, one of the great challenges to get tourism off the ground… The public tap-taps or “taxis” are not safe by any means. There are some tourist buses who go across the border to St. Domingo, and maybe some might also drive to Cap Haitian. Others are attached to a specific hotel who organizes transport for their own guests but take no other passengers. Otherwise, private or rental car. But, truthfully, driving in Haiti is an adventure in itself and unless someone is used to very chaotic traffic I would discourage her/him to rent a car. Our Haitian cousins living in Europe don’t dare to drive in P-au-P…that says a lot. No?

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                  1. Hahaha. It does say a lot. And I think I’ve learned more about Haiti from you than my Dad 😂

                    Granted, he only knows what his parents tell him and their mindset was just, “Get out as quickly as possible and make a life somewhere else”.

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