Although my trip to Haiti was filled with a lot of intense, overwhelming emotions, it was also filled with moments bursting with joy. And over the two weeks our team was able to embark on various excursions that emerged us even deeper into Haiti's culture.
One of the favorite activities was attending the Haitian Church only a few blocks away from PID. None of us knew what to expect, but considering the Haitian people take their faith so seriously, we were all excited for this experience.
And it did not let us down.
We were surprised to see that a familiar face was behind the pulpit. Mr. Fele, who had helped the teams paint all week, was leading the Church in the gospel readings when we arrived. He was very excited to see us and even introduced us all individually to the rest of the congregation.
Although we could not understand the Creole scripture that was being read, we didn't have to wait long to be moved by the service. The beating of drums and other percussion instruments overtook the small building. Booming voices sung out the hymns in perfect unison. And us white people were all in awe of the beauty of the performance we were witnessing.
I was grateful that I had brought my audio recorder with me to the service, and was able to document the songs that were sung that morning. The teams found them very soothing to listen to the following evenings.
We only stayed for one hour, but the service continued for three more hours. However the celebration of love, praise, and thankfulness we witnessed in church that morning is something I will never forget.
Small business in Haiti is one of PID's most important motives. So for one of our excursions on the first week we got to visit Croix-des-Bouquets, a village that has specialized by creating various products made of tin.
The Tin Village was a small neighborhood of shops, all offering handmade crafts made from the tin found in the streets. There were probably 25 shops in the area we stopped in, and we made sure to tour each and everyone to see what was offered.
We also didn't really have much of an option. The second you exited one shop, another shop owner would persuade you to visit his shop, and so on.
It was very difficult to say no to the locals, who were all just trying to make a little money, but the team had a very good time bartering down the prices as well. Artisan shops were known for raising the price when the "blanc" came to town, but we were prepared. By the end of the trip all the students had become experts in bartering, and most of the time they got their souvenirs for less than half the original price.
It was amazing to see all of the workers hammering away at their products, gently shaping them into new, unique designs. We all left the village inspired by what these locals were doing to earn their income, and were happy we could contribute to their success, while gathering beautiful souvenirs along the way.
The second team got their own opportunity to practice their bartering skills, this time in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
After their visit to the Haitian historical museum, the team made their way through the streets of downtown looking for bargains on souvenirs. The moment the vendors saw a large bus of white people pulling up to the curb, they immediately began to set up shop. What seemed like hundreds of paintings were suddenly laid out on the street, waiting to be purchased.
If the first team felt overwhelmed bartering in the tin village, they would have been very unprepared for the aggressive selling in downtown. The vendors in Port-au-Prince were desperate. They hassled you until you caved and bought something from their table. Or if you were strong-minded, you were successfully able to barter them down until they caved and gave you the price you wanted.
Tables lined the streets and barely left enough room to walk on the sidewalks. As you glanced over the souvenirs on one table, you had to tune out the five other vendors trying to get you to look at their products. It was an extremely overwhelming experience for some, while others thrived under the pressure.
With the help of a few friends, I was able to successful barter for the items I was looking for, but I think I got the best deals after I went back to sit on the bus. You see in the locals eyes, just because you had left the site where the vendors were located, it did not mean they would give up on trying to make a few more dollars.
I was sitting in the front seat of the bus, reviewing my purchases from the day, when I was bombarded by more vendors. Salesmen came right up to my window, which unfortunately did not roll up, and gave me the best deals on their prices. Students in the backseat of the bus had a similar experience. Locals stood on the tires of the bus and were starting to crawl through the windows, just to show us their products.
We were eventually able to pull away from the crowded site, despite the vendors still trying to sell to us in the streets. Even though I walked away with a few more souvenirs than I had originally expected, how could you feel guilty about supporting the local businesses in a poor country like Haiti?
Overall, my time in Haiti was a rewarding one. Over the course of the two weeks I spent in Haiti I met a lot of people whose stories impacted me in a very significant way. I met with the Haitians who worked with PID, families affected by PID, and many others. It was amazing to hear the personal stories of the locals, and I hope that I can successfully share those stories with you through my documentary and other work.
I am extremely grateful for my time in Haiti, as it showed me just how privileged I truly am, and also how much I can help others. The trip has changed my view on life and I hope that I can bring awareness about the country to those want to learn more and who want to help.
Stay tuned to my social media pages for posts from my trip, and for the release of my documentary in May. I only hope that I can make Haiti proud.
Mèsi, Haiti. Mwen ap sonje ou.