kembe’s first visit to haiti

We’ve had an amazing time on our family cruise this week – I’ve got lots of stories to recount once we are home and unpacked. But I wanted to share about our day in Haiti.  This was Kembe’s first visit back since he came home shortly after the earthquake, and our first trip as a complete family.

It was surreal to return via a cruise ship since last week I visited with a Help One Now and saw some of the most impoverished conditions in Haiti.  The little stretch of beach that Royal Caribbean visits is hardly representational of the entire country . . . but at the same time, Labadee embodies the beauty and hospitality of Haitian culture (in a safe, touristy way).  I think that this made it the perfect way to introduce Kembe to his culture, which he has not been keen to embrace in the past few years. My goal for this trip was for him to have a positive experience in Haiti, and we succeeded on that front.  In the future, we can work on more cultural accuracy.

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The beaches in Labadee (and in most of Haiti) are quite beautiful. The water is crystal-clear and the sand is soft . . . we had a great time just chilling by the water.

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I had a couple people make some critical comments about us going to Haiti on a cruise ship.  One person asked what the benefit was.  As I mentioned, the one benefit was giving Kembe a positive experience. But I also believe that tourism could be a hugely beneficial industry for Haiti. It was in the 80’s, until political unrest scared visitors off.  But I don’t think people should be dissuaded from visiting Haiti for leisure just because it’s typically thought of as a place of need.  In fact, that’s all the more reason to go spend your money there.  Haiti tourism, FTW!

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That’s not to say there weren’t moments of cognitive dissonance.  The cruise ship served lunch on the island – a huge buffet with a ridiculous amount of food. It was hard to see this knowing that there were people just over the fence who were in need.

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How do I know there were people just over the fence who were in need?  Because they were yelling at me while I took this photo.  They were yelling, and miming “bring me food”.  Not at all awkward.

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Jafta noticed these going-oins and asked if we could take them some. While I’m sure this broke the rules, Mark made them a big plate and snuck it back to them through a whole in the fence. I’m not even sure that was the right thing to do, but it made the boys feel good.

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After lunch we gave the kids some spending money for the marketplace, and a quick lesson in bartering. Despite me wanting them to buy traditional Haitian artifacts, the girls insisted on using their money to buy crappy plastic fans that were probably made in China. They were originally priced at $10 each, but my girls scored them for $3.  Such a bargain, and such a meaningful souvenir.

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After shopping, we headed over to a little water park. You know, just a typical Haitian water park. There is one on every corner in Port-Au-Prince.

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Jafta scoured the beach for a coconut and finally found one that had fallen from a tree. He was determined to get that thing open and eat the contents. I swear, this kid should start a survival show where he just forages and eats weird plants and animals. I tried to tell him that the coconut wasn’t ripe yet, but he would not be deterred. He opened it after quite a bit of effort, and declared it delicious. (It was not).

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There were several installments of traditional Haitians dancers, joined by traditional aging drunk sorority girls.

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Oh look! Another traditional Haitian water park!

 

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Kembe had a blast in Haiti. He also got a lot of attention. Every where we went, locals asked me if he was Haitian.  It’s so funny how they could tell. NO ONE asked about Jafta.  Kembe was getting hi fives and “my brotha!” waves from every merchant. As silly as that was, I think he relished the attention and was walking a little taller by the end of the day.  Over the next few days I heard him tell other kids that he is from Haiti – something he previously was reluctant to share.

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The one purchase I was excited about (beyond the plastic fans, of course) was an old Haitian license plate. We’re planning to hang this in Kembe’s new room.  After we bough it, someone told us it was illegal for them to sell it to us.  Whoops! The Howerton family: food smuggling, license-plate-buying international outlaws.

*A huge thanks to Fisher Price for inviting us on this cruise to experience their onboard partnership with Royal Caribbean!


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