Are you a Haitian-American who has thought about moving to Haiti? Okay, you’ve been on YouTube, and you’ve religiously perused Facebook and you’ve seen all these gorgeous photos of Haiti. Oh, the longing these visuals have created in your little heart. All of a sudden, Jersey doesn’t feel like home anymore, Miami Gardens looks blah, and Spring Valley, well…Spring Valley doesn’t reek of spring much…And Albertville, Ala and Beaverton Oregon, and Effingham, Georgia? Well, these country, boon-docksey places only make you yearn for those virginal territories in Haiti you’ve seen on Instagram.
Ile-a-Vache, here you come. Petionville, here you come! Hold on Port-au-Prince, you’re on your way! Not so fast, my little kreyolicious Cherie. Get your head on straight, and take these tips from native New Yorker and fledging filmmaker Natalie Holly who recently made the move to Haiti.
Ready or not, buy that ticket. “You will never feel completely ready, and you may not have all of the support that you would like,” explains Holly.
What if you can’t communicate in Creole well? Or perhaps—perhaps—you swear you’re fluent, but every time you visit your little cousins in Miami (who swear they’re more Haitian than everyone else), they tend to give you the side eye? Well, go regardless. “It will be a battle no matter what your family dynamic and situation is, your level of French or Kreyol, or your experience visiting the country,” advises Holly.
Holly says she’s seen just about everything since her own move. “I’ve met Haitians from the diaspora who never visited Haiti prior to moving and didn’t speak any Kreyol or French, yet they still managed to make the move and have made the necessary adjustments,” she observes. And there’s also the other angles of the coin. “I’ve also met Haitians who were raised in Haiti who don’t know how to navigate certain parts of Haitian society simply because they never had to.”
Get a gig. Holly contends, “If you plan to work, I advise lining up a job before you go. I say this because a job can often be used as a vehicle to help get you acclimated to the terrain.” And the job you get doesn’t necessarily have to be long-term. “This can be anything from a temporary volunteer experience that provides housing—until you find something more long-term—or an expat position for any of the ngo’s or foreign governmental agencies. Even if you’re the adventurous type, be sensible. She cautions: “I personally don’t recommend coming without having a job or a temporary situation planned out ahead of time. Either way, it will be necessary to have a little savings together for unforeseen expenses.”
Tap taps don’t enter every nook and cranny in Haiti, so figure out how you’re going to get around. “In Port-au-Prince, if you don’t have a car, you will have to degaje yourself someway somehow,” she muses. “When I first moved here [in Haiti], I put my family’s fears about public transportation into my back pocket, brought a helmet from the U.S., and stuck to a handful of motorcycle taxi drivers to get around.” Motorcycles, huh? “Many people reading this right now are surely wagging their fingers and hanging their heads,” Holly says, “but it was either that or stay home. It was very important to me to establish a sense of independence and autonomy, within reason.” While Haiti is a little island, one has to move around. “I did what I had to do, and proceeded with caution. I don’t necessarily advise everyone to do that, but in my case, it was necessary. Now I have a diverse array of drivers and other transportation options at different price points, which I can rely on in both Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitian.”
Network before the move. “Find someone who is currently living in Haiti to talk to,” suggests Holly. Don’t know anyone? Resort to the internet. “There are expat blogs that can help, Facebook and other social media sites where you can connect with people who can help you transition,” she advises. But, you must be selective about it. “I strongly encourage talking to Haitians—those who were raised here and those raised abroad,” Holly adds. What if you’re venturing in Haiti for things other than pleasure and cultural fulfillment? “If you plan to work or start a business, it’s best to speak to someone who has had similar experiences,” Holly points out. “Your matant, who never leaves her neighborhood and only goes to a handful of places, cannot fairly assess what that situation will be like. Neither can your parents, who left Haiti 30 years ago.”
Make friends—lots of them, and as soon as possible. “I cannot stress enough how building a community will not only help with the transition, but will help give you a sense of security and promote longevity here.” If possible, especially seek out those who’ve walked in your shoes. “There are so many people like me who took the leap and have been living in Haiti even before the earthquake,” Holly points out. “Whether its through family, friends, co-workers, a church, having community will help give you the support you will need to get through the tough times. And if you are serious, there will be tough times. You will get frustrated. It’s never easy. But nothing worth having ever is.”
Make your mindset over. You may be Haitian, but are you familiar with Haitian traditions and contemporary cultural norms in Haiti? “I think its important for women moving here to keep in mind that all too often, our culture tends to encourage misogyny,” Holly explains. So with this in mind, know that this isn’t the streets of New York, nor the sidewalks of Miami, or the little neighborhood in Orange, New Jersey where you grew up. This is new territory, baby. “From our physical safety, to how we are regarded even in the work place, it is something to be cognizant of,” says Holly. “Women have to work very hard to be respected, in spite of an environment that far too often encourages bad behavior from men in the face of complicity by other women.”
Some days, you might get flustered and downright exasperated about people’s expectations and the way their minds function. “Current conversations taking place elsewhere, with regards to sex politics, gender roles, respect for women, women’s rights, misogyny, and the like–have not yet been fully realized, across class lines,” says Holly of the social scene and mindset on the island. “Haiti still has a long way to go. I had known this prior to moving, but never felt so deeply, how my gender plays a role in my decisions, experiences and interactions, until I moved here.” Even if you’ve lived outside the United States before, you might still experience a culture shock. “It’s interesting,” contends Holly, “because I had different expectations and felt better prepared in some West African countries, for instance. The good news is that I’m much more aware and sensitive to these issues.”
There you have it, kreyolicious cheries, 5 Expert Tips From A Haitian-American Who Has Moved to Haiti to those who are thinking about, or are on the brink of doing the same.
CLICK HERE TO FOLLOW NATALIE HOLLY’S JOURNEY AND HAITI PROJECTS.
VISIT NATALIE’S WEBSITE TO KEEP UP WITH HER CREATIVE ENDEAVORS IN HAITI.
CLICK HERE TO GET SOME TIPS ABOUT GETTING A JOB IN HAITI