When I told people I was traveling to Haiti, they often reacted like I was going somewhere ominous, dire, life-imperiling. I might as well have been going to the moon. In truth, I shared some of those concerns, which were only reinforced by State Department warnings, malaria precautions and Wiki summaries.
Since coming here, I have experienced a fuller reality of Haiti. More than anything, I have felt the power of this moment, when a 36-minute geological event reshuffled the deck. World interest and investment is focused on Haiti as never before. There is a chance, not just to put back together the pieces of Haiti as it was, but to realize a vision of Haiti as it might be.
Of course, there are many visions of that new Haiti and many interests those visions will serve, from foreign nations pouring capital into the rebuilding effort to private investors seeking an opportunity for returns to artists like Richard Morse, who want to see the 80% of Haitian residents who have so little get dealt a better hand.
One opportunity before Haiti is to change its brand identification. Right now, for most, Haiti’s top-of-mind descriptor is probably “poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.” It reminds me of when Florida suffered a series of highly publicized tourist murders in 1993, and the State scrambled along with its tourism industry to make sure that didn’t become its new “between the commas” association. This is Haiti’s time to rewrite what goes between the commas after its name.
Fortunately, as architects often say of a building with good, strong design features, Haiti has good bones. Topographically, it’s a beautiful country, with stunning views from mountain heights, colorful tropical foliage, miles of coastline spanning aquamarine water. Its culture and history are rich and exotic. Its art, music and handicrafts may be among its first exports ready for the world market. Its people are friendly, noble, resilient, a mixture of diverse origins and languages. It has an interested and energized diaspora eager to witness and participate in its rebirth. And, right now, it has the world’s attention.