Two weeks ago I walked by some Haitian colleagues at the embassy, commenting on an article in the Jamaica Observer about the cholera situation in Haiti. The article stated that from now on, all visitors to Jamaica arriving from Haiti will have to go through secondary screening for cholera; they will be separated and quarantined. The two Haitians reading the article shook their heads and responded “it’s a sad thing to be Haitian.”
I’d have to agree. Haitians have had to endure negative publicity for decades, with hardly a single good word to be advertised about the country. And on top of everything, to have your Caribbean neighbors also isolate you, it’s disparaging to say the least.
In the mid-1990s, Haiti was blacklisted due to what was deemed as an AIDS epedmic originating from Haiti. The Center for Disease Control, at the time, listed Haiti as one of the four main demographics at risk for causing AIDS to spread. These “4 Hs” included: Haitians, homosexuals, hemophilia, and… well, I forget the 4th H. I get stuck on the first one. The fact is, at the time, Haiti’s HIV/AIDS rate was lower than that of its Caribbean neighbors, and considered one of the lowest in the region. Nonetheless the damage had been done, and Haiti’s tourism suffered dramatically.
The cholera epidemic will have a similar effect. Cholera exists within the country, absolutely. Everyday there are radio ads in kreyol advising people to wash their hands and their produce to help prevent the spread of cholera. At the same time, cholera is not the defining factor of Haiti right now, the same way AIDS was not the defining factor of Haiti in the 1990s.
It’s a sad thing to be Haitian, not for what the world sees regarding the country, but what it doesn’t see in Haiti. No one sees the endemic swagger that pervades the country. But that’s okay, my next article will be all about the Haitian swagger.