Monday, July 4, 2011

Greg's Haitian adventure part 2: En route to Haiti

In my last blog post I raved about Copa airlines' pan-American charm. The final leg of my flight to Haiti affirmed this further, as our pilot was a Brazilian woman speaking heavily-accented Spanish and English. However, Haitians seem not to figure in this pan-American vision (as is often the case!). No Copa staff spoke Kreyol or even French, and they continued to make announcements in Spanish and English. I asked myself how hard it would be for them to find just one or two people to work the Haiti route who could speak the country's languages, so as to be able to help passengers with customs forms etc.

The flight was filled with people of varying shades of brown. When I've flown to Haiti from the US, it's usually all black people, with the occasional white missionary or something thrown in. But on this flight there seemed to be folks from all over the Caribbean basin, many of them Hispanophones, and some seemingly of mixed Haitian-Latino ancestry. There was also an inexplicable elegant French couple in first class with a suit bag! I wonder what everyone is going to Haiti for. The obviously Haitian people aren't a mystery, but the Cuban doctors, the French couple, the mulata Latina women, they all must have interesting stories, interesting reasons for going. I wonder if relations between Haitians and Afro-descendant Latinos are more natural and amicable than the hierarchical, neocolonial relationships that prevail between Haitians and white foreigners. The experience on the plane appears to indicate so, but then I see the Panamanian flight attendant carrying around a young Haitian girl that she doesn't know, both victims of the "I'm going to pick up a random cute black kid from its mother" syndrome. Seeing this reminds me of a friend of my wife's and mine that seemed bent on posing in photos with my baby son as an example of a "standard-issue tragically lovely Third-World baby". And with that, I feel my first pangs of intense solitude, intense desire to hold my wonderful, furious baby son.

The hermetic environs of the plane, with its white plastic and fogged windows, contrasted with the landscape below us. As we pulled out of Panama city I looked at the houses stretching off into the distance, seemingly carved into the thick forest. As we flew over the sea, and eventually spot the Haitian coastline and the waves lapping it, I was filled with a joy of recognition, of belonging. This is my land! My America! From the moist oak-dotted forests and windswept prairies of my native Midwest, to Panama's city gashed into red tropical soil and verdant forest, to the craggy mountains of Haiti, to the folded green plains perched high atop Colombia, this land feels mine more than anywhere I've been. I have visited Europe, fallen in love with Africa, but America is where I belong.

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