Cap-Haitian goes by many names. Au Cap, O-kap, Cap Aysian, and, at one point not too long ago, “Paris of the Antillies”. The second largest city in Haiti, with its Carribean wealth and streets bearing French architecture, was lit with string lights, dotted with restaurant patios framed with vines overlooking the sea. The area is even crowned with a UNESCO site, the Citadelle, sitting atop a mountain, humbling reminding all of the people’s history and strength.
Today, the same architecture remains, but there is nothing inside. Empty concrete rooms left to serve as houses. Corruption of the government has led to a collapse of everything Cap once boasted, leaving it one of the poorest cities in the Caribbean. The Citadelle still stands as strong as the people, but they are in a constant struggle.
I see this while working for a local non-profit on coral restoration. We take our taxi boat out to the island that we dive off of daily. It’s a vibrant 40-minute ride: layers upon layers of dense mountains and valleys on one side, stripes of sand and reef pass under us crystal clear, and on the other side, the open expanse of the sea. Each day I saw this view and had the opportunity to dive (wetsuit unnecessary) for work, my heart filled to its capacity.
Then, I started to notice the lack of… life. Underwater I would scan my surroundings, but only found a lack of fish, of natural coral, of large marine predators. I sat on the boat to go home, gently rocking with the turquoise waves, and watched plastics float past. I could see the smoke rising from the fires burning the lush mountainside for charcoal, leaving streaks of scars, empty. I looked up and saw no birds.
But the reef’s fish are needed to feed families. The charcoal is needed to cook and generate income. And there is no infrastructure for sanitation and waste management. The people are living in poverty, without running water or electricity. Through all their hardships, there comes yet another mountain to climb. Fuel shortages come and go, halting the economy they do have. Challenging progress. Charity donations put small businesses out of work and foreign aid never reaches the people.
And yet, the entire island is magnetic. There is this feeling in the air… swirling happiness through and despite these hardships. It is a palpable love for the land that provides them with so much. The energy of pride felt for their history of overcoming mountains. The people are generous, and kind, and fun. Music is never too far away and the food satisfies your every need. The language is unique and the landscapes can make your eyes water with their natural beauty.
I will miss the people I have met, the friends I have made, and the waves crashing over the reef in my backyard. I will honor them through conservation work, educating myself on global issues, and making sustainable changes to my lifestyle. And you can do the same.
Lespwa fe viv (hope lives on).
- Courtney Tierney
- : Recent graduate of Eckerd College looking for the next adventure.
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- : This is the first time this story has been published.