You know, I’ve actually been to Haiti. Funny story: I was the only one in my mission group that didn’t take any shots or medications and I ended up being the only one that didn’t get sick. [DEADLY SILENCE] ♫♫♫♫ ♫ It’s time to learn geography…NOW‼♫ Hey everyone, I’m your host Barby. Haiti is like the smallest country with the most intense history. Seriously. This little guy, barely larger than the size of Israel (including the West Bank and Gaza) essentially changed the entire face of western society. Lots to talk about, so let’s just jump in. POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY Ah, Haiti ! You’re like a candle in a hurricane that just won’t be put out ! First of all: Haiti is located in the western third island of Hispaniola, shared with the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean Sea. Just east of Cuba and Jamaica, west of Puerto Rico and south of the Turks and Caicos Islands. At its narrowest point Haiti is only about 32 kilometers wide along the border with the DR. The country is divided into 10 departments and the capital, Port-au-Prince, located just at the beginning of the Tiburon Peninsula, or this long narrow landmass protruding into the sea. Speaking of which, because of the way the country is shaped, Haiti actually has the second longest coastline in the Caribbean after Cuba. People say Haiti is shaped like a horseshoe… However, I personally believe it looks more like a deformed, anorexic Pacman, trying to eat one of those yellow pellet things, just the yellow pellet thing is also anorexic The largest cities outside of the Port-au-Prince area would be Cap-Haïtien and Gonaïves. And the country’s busiest and only two international airports: Port-au-Prince, Toussaint Louverture International and Cap-Haïtien interestly named Hugo Chavez International airport. They made a deal with the Venezuelians, yada-yada, they named it after the guy. There are six main islands: the largest one, Gonâve, Île-à-vache, 2 Cayamites islands, Grande Caye, and Tortuga island which used to be a pirate headquarters that hosted “The Brethren of the Coast”: an international pirate community. Yeah, Johnny Depp and the crew were not too far off from the truth. Honestly, I stopped watching those movies after the third one I mean, I get it: Squid face wants revenge and Keira Knightley becomes the king. Done. Stop adding more plotlines. Otherwise, the only dispute they have is with the US over this little guy, Navassa Island. off the south-western coast. The border with DR is marked off by a series of river systems Like the Libon in the center Or the pleasantly named Massacre River in the North. And a long stretch of the 45 highway that both countries share so on either side you can view a different country. The three main road entrances into the DR are: Anse-à-Pitres, in the south, the 8th highway along lake Étang Saumâtre, and the 6th highway entering into Dajabon in the North. Otherwise, some notable sites might also include places like the Sans-Souci Palace ruins, the Nèg Mawon Statue of the unknown slave, the Marché en fer (or the iron market), The MUPANAH Haitien National Museum, Fort Jacques, The Atis Rezistans contemporary sculpture museum that uses real human bones with metal, The Jubilee Voodoo Monument, in Anse-à-Foleur and the crown jewel of the country, Citadelle La Ferrière, the largest fortress in the western hemisphere, built by 20.000 people to defend against the French. In addition, there are surprisingly beautiful beaches all over, but that info belongs in the next segment. Without further ado! PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY Now Haiti gets a lot of flack for its land controversies and we will explain why in a little bit. First of all… Haiti is the most mountainous country in the Caribbean with numerous chains and massifs defining the interior structure of the land You have the seven main belts The Massif Nord, the Montaignes Noir, the Center Plateau, The Chaine de Mathiheux, the Chaine de Trou D’eau, Not Trudeau, Trou D’eau. There’s a difference. The Massif de la Hotte, and the Chaine de la Selle where the tallest mountain Pic la Selle can be found. Only the North Massif and South Massif on the Tiburon Peninsula retain Haiti’s concentrated rainforests where you can find the national animal: the Hispaniola Trogon Whereas the rest of the country is mostly drier and sparsely forested mountain terrain. This is partially because for the longest time, Haiti has been dealing with a huge deforestation problem. About 60% of the population’s domestic energy production is still heavily dependent on charcoal. Most media outlets get Haiti’s forest cover percentage drastically incorrect. Some sighting it as low as 2%. Ok, that’s like less than United Arab Emirates. Seriously, mainstream media. Get your act together! The point is, whatever the actual percentage is, you can still see trees in Haiti. And in the worst parts, it’s more like grassy hills with patchy tree clusters instead of dry desolate mounds of dirt. Nonetheless, deforestation has caused erosion and flooding problems all over the country in the past century. Add with that, pesky hurricanes and the occasional earthquake and BAM! You have the country with the worst luck in the Americas. This is because Haiti (and even more unfortunately the capital Port-au-Prince) lies directly on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault Zone, a lateral, shifting fault which is part of the Caribbean tectonic plate that grinds against the North American plate. Worst possible position ever! But hey, I feel you Haiti. I live close to the San Andreas fault and we’re due for a big one that will basically kill everyone. So, high five! These fault lines are also pretty much the reasons why the largest lake Lac Azuei or Étang Sumâtra (the twin lake of the DR’s Enriquillo) was formed. Both are saline, brackish water lakes that harbor flamingos, crocodiles, and flamingos that the crocodiles feed off of. Otherwise, the longest river in Haiti and all of Hispaniola, the Artibonite River, starting in the DR until it empties into the Gulf of Gonâve The Plaine de l’Arbonite is the most important area for crops, where most of Haiti’s agriculture comes from. However, most of their economy is actually driven by textiles, not food crops. About 2/3 of the population don’t even have formal jobs. Most people make income under the table, or free lance, or day labor gigs. Remittance money from family members abroad also fuels about 20% of the national GDP alone. Speaking of that, Haiti is known for having some really good food. Like, I know you guys are in poverty, but man when you have food, you know how to cook it! *Gasp* Did he just make a poverty joke? Yes I did because it was used lightly based off of statistical data that was not grounded on my opinion and not used for the purpose of defamation. Amazing foods like: Tonmtonm, Poul ak nwa, Cassava bread, Griyo and the disputable national dish Soup Joumou or Pumpkin soup. Also, around Ft Dimanche, you can find the famous dirt cookies made of dried clay originally used as a cheap food source to help people get minerals, even though they kinda really offer little nutrition. Also Haitian Geograpeeps, is it true? Do you guys really make spaghetti shakes? Rapid fire round! Other notable points of interest include… The Grotte Marie-Jeanne Caves, The Bassin Bleu beach, Labadee, various waterfalls like Bassin Zim, Saut Matherine, and the Haut Saut D’eau waterfalls where there is a yearly Voodoo pilgrimage where the believers ask Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel and her Voodoo counterpart Erzulie for healing. Yeah you heard that last part right. I know you’re dying to hear more about the Voodoo stuff. Well, you’re in luck because now we’re gonna transition into… DEMOGRAPHICS Haiti was once called “The Pearl of the Carribean” as it was the richest part of the French empire. Today, things look a little different. First of all… Haiti has just under 11 million people and is the 3rd most populous country in the Caribbean. About 95% of the country is ethnically black and the remaining 5% is mostly made up of mixed and white Haitians, mostly of French descent. They also use the Haitian Gourde as their currency, they use the Type A, B American style plug outlets, and they drive on the right side of the road. But be careful though because Haitians also use the word “dollar” to refer to 5 Gourdes, NOT an American Dollar. It’s a little confusing. Now let’s get to the fun stuff! What exactly makes a Haitian person so special and how did Haiti become to what it is today? This is a very long, winded question rooted in history, but in the quickest way I can put it… Tainos, Columbus, French, Slaves, Voodoo prophecy, Revolt, French masters killed, Independence, then France was like: “Pay a fine or avoid war.” They agreed. Crazy dictators Even temporary monarchs arise, they attack, colonize, and heavily tax the DR for a short period of time. DR gets angry and fights back. Haiti resorts to paying debt mostly in trees. Finally in the 40’s they finish paying off the debt and the economy is absolutely decimated at this point. Essentially, Haiti was not only just the first black republic, but also the first nation state to have a successful slave revolt, ban slavery in the Western World, and played a huge, pivotal role in disrupting the whole international order of the 19th century by starting a chain of events that would eventually end The Atlantic Slave Trade. Unfortunately, this is kind of where the good news stops for Haiti. Haiti’s revolt came at a huge price. Their history would soon be followed by: embargoes, invasions, military occupations, dictatorships, not to mention natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, the occasional cholera outbreak and a merciless series of unfortunate events. Yeah, y’all Baudelaire kids ain’t got nothing on Haiti, ok. *mockingly* Oh your rich parents died, boo hoo! Yeah, try having nothing and having everyone die, including you! Haiti’s history was both ground breakingly defined and revolutionary, but also very violent and riddled with treachery and suffering. Former president (“president”) Jean-Claude Duvalier also known as “Baby Doc” was quoted for saying “It is the destiny of the people of Haiti to suffer”. I mean, that was the leader of their country saying that. Yeah, thanks for that bout of reassurance, Nonetheless, struggles aside, Haiti is absolutely rich in culture. One thing you kinda have to understand about Haiti is that it is very Afro-centric. Other Caribbean states like Cuba and the Dominican Republic might identify closer with their European roots rather than their African ones. However, Haiti, it’s just like Kanye West once said, “Black is the new black”. Uh. Did you just quote Kanye West? Yes I did and I am sorry. I will never do that again. As tough as things get, Haitians are super proud of who they are and where their ancestors came from. One of the most distinguishing facets of Haitian culture would be the language. Today, there are two official languages: French, the language of the elite and business class, and as off 1987, Haitian Creole became the second language making Haiti the largest Creole speaking people group in the world. The spelling is almost completely phonetical and has a grammar and syntax structure of its own. For example, in French you would say C’est mon ami But in Haitian Creole, you would say Sa se zanmi mwen In French, Il va au travaille le matin. In Creole, Il ale travay nan maten. Nonetheless, if a Haitian person were to go to France, they could still probably articulate everything they would want to say in Creole and with enough patience and listening, they could survive. Otherwise the one thing that always seems to be synonymous with Haitian culture to the outside world would be Voodoo. Voodoo is one of the official religions in Haiti, however it’s hard to get an exact number of how many adherents there are. As Haitian voodoo has been heavily synchronized with Catholicism and Indian beliefs. Now there are different types of voodoo rituals and rites, but essentially they believe that during a ceremony a god inhabits the body of a believer, which explains why you might see convulsing and erratic movements if you are to witness one of the events happening. Nonetheless, most Haitians will definitely at least nominally identify as Christian with Catholics making up over half of the adherents and Protestants making up about 30%. However again, it’s hard to tell exactly which ones are very devout Christians as the voodoo synchronisms are pretty prevalent. Regardless of the economic struggles though, Haitians are never short of partying and enjoying life. They host one of the biggest Carnival celebrations in the Caribbean. Oh, and Haiti is incredibly colorful: everything from the tap tap buses to the paintings you can buy on the side of the streets… Music styles exist like Rara as well as Creole Resin and Hip-hop. Dances likes Merengue and Compas are common. Otherwise some notable Haitian people throughout history might include people like: Jean-Jacques Desalines: the founding father of Haiti, Anacaona the Taíno chief that met up with Christopher Columbus, author Franketienne, John James Aubudon, Raoul Peck, Jimmy Jean Louis, Garcelle Beauvais, Philome Obin, T-VICE and of course Grammy Award winner Wyclef Jean who tried to become the president at one time but then he was ruled out because he hadn’t been a resident of Haiti for 5 years, the minimum. Haiti likes to keep things Hatian, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like to reach out to other countries. Let’s find out who they cuddle with. FRIENDZONE Now, Haiti is today pretty friendly with everyone. It’s just they’re like a little bit of an economic liability. The largest trading partners are of course the US and the DR (Dominican Republic), both countries also host the largest populations of Haitian immigrants abroad. Hatians love Quebec, Canada and see it as like their francophone white cousins. Montreal even hosts a noticeably sizable Hatian community and Québécois tourists are not uncommon visitors. When it comes to their best friends, however, every Haitian I talked to has said Cuba and Venezuela. Cuba is like the on-and-off boyfriend of Haiti that flirts with her all the time. Cubans are smitten by Haitian Creole music even though they might not understand it and have sent numerous numerous medical proffesionals to assist the second Haiti. Venezuela was very impressed with Haiti’s revolt and has shown utmost respect for their nation for a long time. They provide Haiti with most of their petroleum needs and Hugo Chavez has visited praising the country which in return got him an airport named after him. In conclusion, Haiti is probably the country with the worst luck but with the most respect. Although negative images may still prevail, give them a chance. As the Haitian proverb goes: “Sa pa konnen pi gran pase’w” (“what you don’t know is greater than you”). Stay tuned! Honduras is coming up next!