18th May was a national holiday here in Haiti; it is what they call Flag Day. And here in Jean Rabel the celebrations began the day before, with all the school children parading through the town to the sound of brass bands, drums and singing behind their flag of red, white and blue.
The Haitians love to sing and play music and can make a real celebration out of the little they have. Everyone was smiling, cheerful and proud on Flag Day, and rightly so, the Haitians have a lot to be proud of. Not only are they the first black nation to have declared themselves independent, in 1804, after tremendous abuse and slavery, they also have a determination and strength of character to persist and persevere in the most difficult of circumstances and tragedies that have occurred in the country since colonial times.
But they won’t be crushed! The Haitian people, from what I have seen in my 3 short weeks here, continue to smile and go about their business despite the scorching temperatures, the long haul to the river and back to do their washing and gather some water for their families and the endless trek by foot or donkey to the nearest market to sell their produce, buy their necessities and bargain and barter with their comrades.
When the rain comes they can be cut off from their neighbours for days, as the mud and muck makes it almost impossible to walk without their feet sinking into it. But life must go on, water must be collected and clothes must be washed!
Very few if any have access to a car, which is of little use when it rains as you run the risk of getting stuck in the river if you attempt to cross it. The donkey is the main means of transport for those that have any, then the motorbike for some lucky few. You can take a motorbike taxi to your destination if you have the means to pay the fare and the good fortune that the day is dry.
It’s a hard life for women in Haiti, as many have big families of children with mouths to feed and bodies to cloth and oftentimes, the husband, partner or father of the children has upped and left the women to just get on with the task of rearing their young.
And that’s just what they do, they make the best of the situation they are in and trust in God (or their Voodoo traditions) that life will be better for their children.