Arriving in Haiti: “I imagined the worse scenario, get robbed or even murdered!”


By: Michael Wagener-Marion Mauget – 1 july 2012

Subersify, in association with their new affiliates, Micmag presents  a world tour with the German photographer Michael Wagener. After Laos, China, and California, Michael arrives in Haïti. And what a surprise with the NGO there… strange way of life, in their 4 wheel drive who never stop on those dusty or muddy roads.

I am still on my journey but I did not expect that the last two months would be so different, because of my previous experiences. After the culture shock during the first weeks in San Francisco, I had a problem: I forgot my driver’s license. So, in a country in which the traffic system is based on having a car, I could not rent one. Yeah, there are Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses…but when I asked my American friends how it worked, I discovered  nobody had any idea on how to travel by bus or by train. I decided to buy a bicycle and cycled down Big Sur. I remembered all the old Chinese people carrying everything on their old bikes and, when I thought about that day, when I carried this sweet Italian girl on my rental bicycle through the whole Beijing, I said to myself: “if you can carry a 110 lbs Italian girl…you can carry your backpack as well”.

“Hollywood :I discovered that I did not need the glamour of this illusory world”.

I had a wonderful 10 days on the Highway Number 1 from SF to LA, following the Pacific coastline. Wherever I arrived with my bicycle, it was an eye-catcher… Nevertheless, cycling is still not very popular in the States and sometimes even dangerous. It seems that a bicycle can be a symbol of change, which some US citizens do not like. Therefore, I had to deal with angry drivers, who tried to kick me off the road. On the other hand, I had nice conversations about a country which recognizes that it is not the first Nation anymore. And when I arrived at my destinations, Hollywood and LA – I am a great movie fan -, I discovered that I did not need the glamour of this illusory world.

Afterwards, I decided to take a plane to visit a friend in Haiti. Haiti? I expected nothing when my plane arrived in Port au Prince. Of Course, I had heard about the earthquake that killed around 220.000 people but, after being in the US, I probably had forgotten that I would go back to another poor developing country. Nonetheless, as I saw thousands of small metal buildings during the landing, the feeling of being in a new adventure immediately started. Tiziano Terzani was right when he said that traveling by train is the best way to explore a country but that flying immediately shows you the difference between cultures.

“In Haiti : “I never saw a tourist…!” was his answer”

Haiti could be a touristic place – beautiful beaches, wonderful coral riffs and a tropical climate – but until now it is only crowded with foreign people working for hundreds of different NGOs or for the UN on missions to rebuild a broken country. That is why it was a surprise when I answered: “I am a tourist!” to a member of MSF that had asked me what I was doing there, while I was at a small seafood restaurant in Leogane, Haiti. “I never saw a tourist…!” was his answer. There I was in between a lot of people on different missions. Adventurers of a modern time, those development workers. I listened to their stories about their busy lives, about how a long distance relationship did not seem possible when you change your working place every few months to go to another remote country or to a new area in crisis.

On the homepage of Germany’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs is a warning about travelling to Haiti and, during my time there, I also heard about many security rules that do not allow development workers to move around by themselves. I was as well a little bit scared. Carrying my expensive camera I saw a lot of angry faces…and my mind directly began to imagine the worst case scenario: get robed or even murdered.

But, I am a tourist who wants to see the world and after a tropical rain I took a small walk. Standing in the mud, talking with the only few French words I know with some Haitian people, I felt safe and saw a lot of friendly faces. At that moment, I recognized the 4 wheel drive Toyota of one of the development organizations, in its shiny white color – the color of virginity – driving through the same mud with surprised faces inside as they were seeing a European barefoot in the mud next to Haitian people.

Ok, often there were aggressive looks in the faces of Haitian people and I still feared an impulsive aggressive moment that would get out of control. But now I can understand a little bit better the feeling of Haitian people: living in a poor dirty country, sometimes never seeing the goods of those development organizations…only their white cars that never seem to stop on those dusty or muddy roads.

In a few weeks I will be back home, back in my clean country. I am afraid…

…more pictures www.mwagener-photo.de

Michael Wagener – Marion Mauget

2 Comments on “Arriving in Haiti: “I imagined the worse scenario, get robbed or even murdered!””

  1. I really enjoyed this candid view from someone who was simply traveling to get to know the people. It’s the type of story that truly creates more open communications, with its friendly tone and frank observations. Thank you very much.

  2. I live in California and while I do use the train, it doesn’t take you everywhere you want to go. It would go from San Francisco to Big Sur, but you’d have to jump off because I think the only stop comes later, nearer to Hearst Castle.

    Riding a bike all that way must have be beautiful and yes, difficult with drivers, we are after all a country in love with our cars.

    A lovely snapshot of your time here.

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