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Haitians have learned to persevere through the worst crises, often with humor

Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, was largely shut down March 4, with residents venturing out only for essentials, AFP reporters witnessed, as authorities imposed a state of emergency after an attack on a prison freed thousands of inmates.
Clarens Siffroy
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AFP via Getty Images
Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, was largely shut down March 4, with residents venturing out only for essentials, AFP reporters witnessed, as authorities imposed a state of emergency after an attack on a prison freed thousands of inmates.

Harold Isaac is an independent journalist living in Haiti. He moved back from Canada in 2015 and has collaborated with several international media outlets and networks on the complex topic of the ongoing crisis in Haiti.


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Is there a life beyond embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry? Haitians did not wait for the answer. They never really do. If political violence brings silence in various parts of the country, any reprieve brings back life.

This month, violent gangs took over most of Haiti's capital, the prime minister became stranded abroad and the country came to a standstill.

Now, after two weeks of suspended life, signs are pointing to society revving back up again. Nothing says as much like the roar of car and motorcycle engines taking to the streets.

The gangs and the police have allowed fuel distribution from the main terminal, so gas stations are back up and running. Life is beginning to return to normal — whatever normal is. For many, it's just ordinary life things, like trying to take kids to school, go to work, run errands or go to church.

And this is Haiti.

Sure, there are persisting political feuds, but one also has to survive, provide and — as much as such a thing is possible — thrive, in an environment where it is far from granted.

As a people, we are sadly accustomed to facing blanket, simplistic and cartoonish labels placed on us by outsiders, such as "failed state" or "cannibal gangs." But Haitians have understood that as long as there is life, there is hope.

And nothing shows this as much as Haitian humor.

Some Haitians were silently outraged by the way the country and its neighbors have treated Prime Minister Ariel Henry. On his return trip from reaching an important security agreement in Kenya, the Dominican Republic refused to let him land on its soil. Nor has he received assistance from the United States to get back to Haiti, while stranded in Puerto Rico.

Still, many Haitians did not hesitate to make light of his woes.

Henry not only faced an uprising from armed gangs, which fought their way to control about 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince. He also was berated by politicians and various segments of civil society.

Members of the G9 and Family gang speak to each other while standing guard at their roadblock in the Delmas 6 neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday.
Odelyn Joseph / AP
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AP
Members of the G9 and Family gang speak to each other while standing guard at their roadblock in the Delmas 6 neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday.

This week, the prime minister said he will resign once a transitional council is formed and his successor is named, hours after Caribbean leaders had already announced as much. The news sparked some celebrations here and there late Monday night in Port-au-Prince, but even that was not the object of wide agreement.

Much of the country had been clinging to events in Kingston, Jamaica, where Caribbean leaders and delegates from the United Nations, the United States and other countries held emergency talks to quickly figure a way out of the multiple crises facing Haiti. Yet Haitians also joked and took some jabs at the transition deal brokered by those talks.

Children play in the courtyard of a shelter for families displaced by gang violence, in Port-au-Prince on Thursday.
Odelyn Joseph / AP
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AP
Children play in the courtyard of a shelter for families displaced by gang violence, in Port-au-Prince on Thursday.

The Caribbean leaders and the international quorum proposed the installment of a seven-member presidential panel that would appoint an interim prime minister and pave the way for elections.

A seven-member council, you say? Municipal cartels in Haiti are made up of three mayors who are constantly fighting one another. And just to think: Seven members of a presidential council means seven offices, seven motorcades ... what else is it going to be?

Ayiti se tè glise — meaning 'Haiti is a slippery land,' or so goes the saying.

That paves the way for some good laughter, in the circumstances.

But in all seriousness, Haitians have a complicated history with the international community — especially the United States. On the one hand, they are fiercely independent and have been so for over two centuries. On the other, they assume nothing can be done without America's blessing — and participation.

Humor allows for Haitians to not take situations too seriously that would have otherwise been overtly too dire. Why would they? After all, Ayiti se tè glise — meaning "Haiti is a slippery land," or so goes the saying.

Nothing you see continues indefinitely. Anything can change with the blink of an eye.

Just like any Haitian proverb, it carries significant wisdom. It is wisdom forged over 220 years of independence after overthrowing enslavers and French colonial rulers to become the first Black-led republic in modern history. And before that, it was 299 years of enslavement of people brought by force from Africa. It has been more than 500 years since the first enslaved Africans set foot in Haiti.

After all, one day you may be an embattled prime minister trying to bring peace back to your country — the next you yourself could become an internationally displaced person, a bit like your own folks back home.

Irony is not dead here. At least not yet.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Harold Isaac
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