BY EDWARD RAWSON
I met Bee at the Fort Lauderdale Airport about noon, and we went for a drink to celebrate our journey. Over a few drinks we caught up about the night before when Haiti Friends held the Metal March opening. I personally was in south Florida so I could not be there, but Bee was and told me all about the music, drinks, conversations, and the art sales.
After a few cocktails we headed to the gate where we saw a sea of people mostly white faces in matching t-shirts that declared their various mission projects. In all I counted at least nine groups. It seems to me that Haiti's new tourism is still "disaster tourism". I feel conflicted about these various missions because on the one hand they are obviously well intended people who are going to Haiti to do something positive like build a school, or a church, or host a medical clinic week. The issue I have is that they perpetuate the negative impression the world has about Haiti. Haiti is full of problems, believe me, and people do need to roll up their sleeves and help make those problems go away. I get it, but I just can't help but feel like there is a preconceived notion that Haiti "needs" help. That if not for Suzy Homemaker taking a week with her church to go help those poor Haitians they would never rise up on their own. That attitude and perception of Haiti is so demoralizing and helps stick Haiti in the category of a place of need, and not the Pearl of the Caribbean. I sat for a few moments on the plane between two women who each were on their way to Haiti for their respective mission trips. Each were very nice frankly, I don't mean to demonize either of them in my saying this, but they both literally scoffed at the idea that I was personally on my way to Haiti for a vacation. All be it there will be some business, but my goal was to take some time and enjoy Haiti. Soak it in. Eat at some of my favorite restaurants. See my friends. Go to a few clubs. Buy some art. These two women were on their way to "help Haiti" and the idea that I was on my way to "enjoy Haiti" seemed unfathomable to them. So in their goal of helping Haiti and not believing in how we can enjoy Haiti, we keep Haiti from flourishing. So there in is my internal conflict. I get that Haiti needs help. Look at my family's life work, we have been helping Haiti since 1954. I represent the 3rd generation of my family helping Haiti in some form or another. I'm not trying to illustrate that Haiti doesn't need help, but that its how we help that can make a big difference. People in New York need help, but it is still a major global tourist destination. People in the Dominican Republic are impoverished and there are charities there to help those in need, but it is still the number one tourist destination in the Caribbean. Haiti on the other hand, just across the boarder, is not.
Frankly Haiti isn't fully ready to be a tourist destination where you can rent a car and explore. At least not yet. I don't honestly believe that either of these two women could go to Haiti on their own rent a car and go explore Haiti safely. Without their team on the ground to usher them from the Airport to their destination I don't see them being able to do it on their own. They could however arrive and be picked up by one of the resorts and brought to their destination safely. So many places in Caribbean deliver resorts on the beach where Americans, Canadians, and Europeans sit by the pool and drink bottomless rum infused beverages while they soak up the sun. Haiti is no exception. You can do that in Haiti. It is absolutely possible, but as long as there are this comical volume of Missions to Haiti, those beautiful Haitian resorts will be filled with wealthy Haitians and UN workers on their days off not Suzy Homemaker and her family from Minnesota. She will be doing the other kind of Tourism that Haiti has. The kind where you go to give to the poor and return feeling better about yourself. I'm not against them doing this. I'm not against helping the needy believe me, I'm kind of doing the same thing. I just wish that it wasn't such a stretch in their mind that I could be going to Haiti just to enjoy Haiti.