How to describe your experience in Haiti to friends, colleagues and family (Who’ve never been there)

People want easy answers, bite sized portions of all the complexities that make a country what it is, and so when they ask you about your trip to Haiti, most people are looking for something along the lines of:

  1.  It was great!  We got all this work done and now the community is better off!

Or maybe…

  1.  You wouldn’t believe the challenges these people face everyday, it really makes you appreciate what you have.

These answers are expected, and fall right in line with what people already know of Haiti’s “single story”; so we nod and smile and feel like we get it.

Here’s the thing though, I still don’t “get it”.  I don’t get how poverty, beauty, filth, music, beautiful beaches, garbage, art, injustice, lasting relationships, intolerance, ignorance and love all get mixed up in the same place.

I don’t get how a small community moving forward is part of a place that way too often feels stuck in “systemic” immutability when we look at the country as a whole.

I don’t get why it took seeing it in Haiti for me to put these feelings together when all of the above exist in my own culture as well…

Maybe this is why answering the question, “How was your trip to Haiti?” is always so challenging for me.

The easy answers are just that, easy.  But they’re woefully incomplete.

If you’ve been to Haiti, maybe you have your own diatribe ready to boil up and over.  Either way, you know that the “easy” answers fall short.

The good news is, I think we get better at sharing our stories as our experience grows.  Each short-term visit, or long term stay, means personal growth in the way we understand what is happening around us.

Instead of being limited to easy generalizations, we’re better equipped to process our experience through a more developed sense of understanding.  Stronger language skills of course, help with this too.

The HaitiHub team is leaving for Port-au-Prince on Friday.  One of my personal goals for this trip is for the things I have to share with you on our return to reflect a greater degree of understanding and nuance than what I shared before I left.

For all of you preparing for your own trips to Haiti and abroad, we wish you safe travels, and we would love to hear what you have to share when you get back.


by Erin Nguyen on January 8, 2015

3 thoughts on “How to describe your experience in Haiti to friends, colleagues and family (Who’ve never been there)

  1. I have been living in Haiti for 5 years and have been coming here since 2003. Your words felt like they were coming directly from me. I think I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that 1) I will never be able to put into words beyond “I prefer sunshine and hot weather” over the gray, rainy days Portland is often noted when asked why I am still there; 2) Most people don’t really want to know more than “it’s great, we are seeing improvements”.

    Often, especially these days of increasing discontent, I realize the more I know, the less I know and most likely will always be this way. It’s such a complex history with subtitles not easily understood and the twists and turns of the actors make for an intriguing read if it were a book!

    I like your statement that you had to see all of it in Haiti before you could see it in your own culture. It’s so true for me as well. I look forward to reading your thoughts after your return.

    I am enjoying reading your posts and sharing them as well – maybe because they resonate so well with me.

    Happy New Year!

    Gail Buck

  2. It is the HARDEST question to answer. During my first trip we experienced watching the birth of a baby boy who had died in the womb and no one knew. I honestly felt like I wanted to go hide under a rock somewhere, alone until I could wrap my mind around all we saw and experienced. And with that heartbreak, I couldn’t really explain my complete utter love for this place. I still can’t. And one of the most hurtful responses from people when we describe how we lived while there last year was this comment, “I think I’ll just stay in America.” And my husband heard some rude comments at work. People who just don’t care at all. And that is unfathomable to my mind. We leave again in May and are starting to really prepare. I love Haiti. We want to be missionaries there long term. There’s so much beauty in the brokenness. I have always believed that every American should go to a third world country on a mission trip once in their life, preferably as a teen or young adult. It changes who you are and that is a good thing.

  3. I have been coming to Haiti on short-term trips since 1999 (another story in itself!). Now, I am interning in Haiti for a year and looking at possibly staying here longer. I really liked your comment, “I don’t get how poverty, beauty, filth, music, beautiful beaches, garbage, art, injustice, lasting relationships, intolerance, ignorance and love all get mixed up in the same place.” So true!
    It’s interesting. The longer I am here (it’s been about 4 months now), the less I feel like I know. My world views and understanding of things are being challenged and it’s really hard to process. It’s also hard to relay this to other people.
    Thanks for the post!

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