There are so many things to do before leaving the United States to visit a place like Haiti. You may get shots, malaria pills, pull out your summer clothes, buy plane tickets, coordinate the details of the trip, and the list grows and grows.
This post is meant to be funny and a bit cynical. We learned this stuff along the way and I am sure we will learn another 10, 20, 100 things in the coming months!
This could also be titled, “Top 10 things people don’t tell you before coming to Haiti”. Some more important than others :-D.
- Ask who owns the wandering donkey, chicken, dog, pig or any other animal.
- As an aside, if you end up accidentally injuring these wandering animals you will find the owner. In fact, you will probably find multiple owners. Get your pocket book ready!
- Ask what everyone is doing. We don’t know.
- I know you feel the urge to ask… the wheels spinning in your head as we drive down the street. I don’t blame you, I wanted to ask the question. It is only later you realize, what a ridiculous question. If we were driving in Minneapolis and you asked me, Where are all the people in suits going? I would just stare at you, blink my eyes and say, you’re kidding me, right?!
- Whistle songs.
- Kids are taught from a young age to not whistle. It is impolite and rude to whistle around people. It’s a Haiti thing, let’s leave it at that.
- Think everything will go as scheduled.
- What other place on earth can you go and get a money back guarantee that things will not go as planned. Only Haiti.
- Wear brightly colored shirts that say, “Save Haiti!”
- I want a “Save Wisconsin!” T-Shirt.
- Say Bonjou (Good morning) or Bonswa (Good afternoon) when entering a room.
- You might be entering a room and think, why aren’t the Haitians saying, “Hi”? While they are thinking, “Unbelievable, why aren’t they saying Hi.” The person entering should greet the people in the room.
- Ask the Haitian permission before taking a picture of them.
- Let’s not be the paparazzi. Treat these wonderful people with love and humbleness.
- Barter for everything.
- I mean everything. From the fruit, meat, milk on the street to buying printer cartridges. It is not just limited to the gift shops.
- Have dogs for security.
- Haitians have a fear of dogs because a past president said he would come back as a dog to kill them.
- Understand the real and fake currencies. Market, stores and people will use the Haitian dollar. It does not exist.
- $1 USD = $8 Haitian = 40 HTG (Gourde). So if you are in a store and it says, $12. If it is in Haitian dollar and you need to do $12 x 5 = 60 HTG. If you want to know in USD then do $12 / 8 = $1.5 USD. Technically we are getting $1 USD = 8.10 HTG. Now calculate this all up at the cash register or worse on the street when they keep changing the price! Fun times, fun times. We need to send kids down here for real world math lessons.
- Don’t say it’s hot. We know 😀
- It stays about the same temp all year (varying a bit in the winter).
- Do be friendly and smile. Say Mesi (Thank you).
- Pronounced “Macy”. They might not speak English but saying mesi goes a long way. Here are some more resources to help you pick up the lingo.
- Don’t give money handouts.
- Read When Helping Hurts. No doubt, there are situations that it is helpful. Unfortunately, the majority of the time (especially as a visitor) it perpetuates poverty instead of alleviating it. It creates a stronger feeling of inadequacy for the poor person. Talk to your organization who is long-term in Haiti. They will recommend the best approach. Here are some other good reading materials.