Welcome to New Voices, a new section devoted to columns written by members of African, Spanish-speaking, tribal, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Arabic-speaking communities. If you are interested in contributing to New Voices, please write to [email protected].
By Rupal Ramesh Shah
Kembe fem Ayiti Cherie, which translates as “Hold tight dear Haiti” or “Stand strong beloved Haiti,” is a well-known Kreyol phrase used throughout the island of Haiti. In light of what has been happening in Haiti this past month, that phrase is more appropriate than ever.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moise last month, the recent earthquake, and the upcoming hurricane are all challenges that the country faces. And these are on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already overwhelmed the limited-resource nation’s overall healthcare system. At a global level using various metrics, Haiti is a nation that for years has been severely affected by poverty, hunger, and conditions such as malnutrition. From my work and my time living in Haiti, I am aware of all the above challenges.
At this time, I feel heavily for the people of Haiti. One thing, though, has particularly struck me. During phone calls on August 15 to my colleagues and friends in Haiti, at least three of them responded, “C’est lavi!’ which means “This is life!” in Kreyol. I am reminded that for the Haitian people, the potential for adversity remains a reality that they are very well aware of. While I empathize with my colleagues and friends in Haiti in the current situation, I know that they are handling this situation the best they can. They are holding tight and standing strong.
My relationship with Haiti began in 2017 when I started working as a Tuberculosis Laboratory consultant in Mirebalais with Partners in Health. Mirebalais is in the centre department of the island. After one year, at the time of project completion, I moved to Fond-des-Blancs, in the southern department, to work at Saint Boniface Hospital. During my years in Haiti, I had the chance to travel extensively throughout the country, including around Les Cayes where the August 14 earthquake caused extensive damage.
Haiti is a beautiful and peace-loving country. It has a lot to offer in terms of tourism – from beautiful beaches, to rich history, to delicious food, to flavorful music. During my time in Haiti, I was impressed by the beauty. I enjoyed Haiti so much that I encouraged family and friends to visit me from the U.S. to go sightseeing. My friends and I were able to enjoy Miragoane, Seguin, Île-à-Vache, Les Cayes, Jacmel, and many more places. We ate the sweet and juicy fresh fruits the country has to offer. We absorbed all the different flavors of music: raboday, mizik rasin, kompa, jazz, and more.
Most importantly, while I lived in Haiti I built beautiful friendships and relationships with people that I still value today. I learned from Haitians, laughed with them, and enjoyed special moments with them.
Recently, I have been in touch with friends and colleagues throughout the country. Those who are located in the Grande-Anse, Nippes, and Sud departments are assessing the needs on the ground after the earthquake to determine how they can assist. While they are not directly impacted at this time, they all have family, friends, or colleagues in the southern part of Haiti. They are safe at this time, but they are vigilant and continue to hope for a better future and a stronger Haiti. Their hope in their country, strong faith in each other, and perseverance to live and work is what is striking and inspiring to me.
So as we hear and read about the uncertainties and challenges that affect the country, I ask for everyone’s support, whether it is in the form of praying, sending funds, or providing skilled expertise on the ground. Please stand by Haiti at this time to show camaraderie. Let’s hold tight and stand strong together.
Rupal Ramesh Shah is a third-generation Tanzanian who grew up in an ethnically Indian family in the town of Moshi, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was a teenager.