When I tell people that I moved back to Haiti for work, I get either one of these reactions: That's awesome! or Are you crazy?
As you may (or may not) know, I have been working in Haiti for the past 4 years. I grew up in Haiti and moved to the States when I was fourteen. However, I consistently traveled home for the holidays to visit friends and family. I always wanted to move back home. In fact, I never even considered working in the States ( my perspective has completely changed since). Perhaps it had to do with staying in my comfort zone and being around what was familiar. Part of me also felt like my knowledge could be put to better use back home, where people didn't have the opportunity to get the training that I did. Everything I learned in school, I thought about how I could implement in our school system back home. Ten years later, when the time came for me to make the transition to start working in Haiti, it was actually harder than I thought. I had built a life in the states filled with people that I love, and leaving them behind was hard! But I knew that I had a purpose, and sometimes, fulfilling our purpose requires sacrifices. As I had promised my self, I packed my bags and started my very first job in Haiti, which came with lots of responsibilities.
I am writing this post because a reader asked me my thoughts about moving back to Haiti, and wanted to know my experience working there. I've put a lot of thoughts into this post, and here are the main things that I learned from working in Haiti.
Do keep in mind that no matter where you live or work, there will challenges, and you will have to take the good with the bad. What you can handle, or are willing to sacrifice is entirely up to you.
Everyone's experience is different, and this is just my experience, from my point of view.
Comparison is The Thief of Joy
When I moved to Haiti I had to stop comparing my life in the States, to my life in Haiti.
Vacationing and working in Haiti, are two completely different experiences! Oh how I miss the days where my trips to Haiti were all about fun, beach, and food!
One of the factors that completely shocked me was the cost of living. Everything in Haiti is priced in US dollars. With the dollar depreciation that fluctuates on a daily (today the currency is1 USD = 68.8900 Haitian Gourdes), everything in Haiti is doubled, or tripled the price of what you would pay for in the states. Anything from rent, groceries, shopping for clothes and shoes, cable and internet, are all overpriced compared to what I pay for in the States.
In Haiti, a brand new Toyota is priced at a based model BMW in the states. You will easily be quoted $200 USD for an oil change and tire rotation at a dealership. Your gym membership in PV will cost you between $60-$75 USD a month (my membership at LA fitness costs me $30/month). Dinner in most restaurants in Petionville will cost you on average $50 USD. Your expensive meals unfortunately does not come with a side of customer service. Last december, I had the worst customer service experience at a very well known restaurant in PV. We made reservations for a table of 4, and when we arrived we were taken to a high top table in the very back of the room, under the booming speakers. This was a dinner party with DJs playing. When we noticed that we were probably the third group of people present, we asked to be moved to another table, as there were still plenty available. The server insisted that they were all taken. I then asked to speak to the manager. After we've insisted, the server assigned us to another table. So we proceeded to have our very expensive dinner, ($300 USD for 4 people... This would make more sense in South beach, then a dark room with high top tables!). Right in the middle of dinner, our server came back and requested that we return the table and move back to that table in the back of the room, because the owner of the restaurant wanted to sit at our table. I was in shock! And still did not move. Of course I made sure I finished my dinner first, because I was not about to leave my plate to move to another table. We paid for our meals and left, frustrated and disappointed. Rest assured that I will no longer return to that restaurant.
Parties in Haiti during the holidays are also overpriced. If you're able to get in at all, (because some clubs in Haiti are "exclusive" and only allow certain people to get in. The only criteria is your looks, your skin color too probably) The entry fee is often starts at $80 USD, and you get the same Djs, the same venues, and the same people, at all of them! The social life in Haiti is more about social ranking than anything else. Statistics show that the average population lives on less than $2 USD a day! So parties and events are priced based on the crowd that they want to cater to.
With prices so steep, and people stuck up on prejudice, I try my best not to compare, the quality and quantity of things that I could get in other countries, spending much less!
PS: I cannot vouch for other areas because I spend most of my time in Petionville. I am almost certain that the prices aren't the same in all areas.
There Are No Guarantees
There are No guarantees when you live in Haiti.
- There are no guarantees that you will get the services that you pay for (cable, water, internet).
- There are no guarantees that your paycheck won't decrease, and your bills won't increase due to the currency depreciation.
- There are no guarantees that you will get the job that you qualify for without cutting corners.
- There are no guarantees that another political crisis won't set you back.
- There are no guarantees that you won't get attacked leaving the bank.
- There are no guarantees that the doctors won't be on strike when you have a medical emergency.
There just are NO guarantees!
Preparation is key! Not only in Haiti, but no matter where you reside, you must stay prepared. However, because of political instability, which has resulted in a constant state of political and economical crises, staying prepared in Haiti is imperative! That means always having a valid passport ready, especially in case of a medical emergency. Planning out your budgets for months ahead, making sure that you have enough to cover your expenses for a couple of months, in case of a crisis that might affect your ability to go to work or income. Believe it or not, once a year you might miss out on a whole week of work, because of a political crisis. This will affect your paycheck, and if you run your own business, it will definitely affect your profit, sometimes for months. So think ahead, and stay prepared.
Although you may have no control over the events or things that are happening, you can, and should always plan ahead and have yourself covered in areas that you can.
It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
If you grew up in Haiti, you'll know that having "connects" is how everyone gets things done. In fact when people meet you they want know who your parents are, and what school you attended. This is usually how they figure out what social class you belong to. Ridiculous, Right? Your name, who your parents are, and who you know, can be the key that open many doors. This is a good thing for some, and very unfortunate for others.
Regular things as getting your passport done and getting your car registration, work faster when you know people.
In the States you're taught that your education is the key to open any door, in Haiti who you know is your key. It really bothers me when I hear about people who are educated and well trained, but aren't able to lend a job, when people with as little as a high school degree can get some of the positions that they no where near qualify for. Or someone with less experience getting paid more, than other people who work in the same office, with a higher degree because of their last name.If you don't belong in Haiti's elite list, some things are automatically much more harder for you to have access to.
You may have all your requirements, and meet all the criteria, but if you don't know the right people, there are just no guarantees.
This should't stop you from going after what you want though, if anything it should be your motivation. You can still be successful even if you aren't part of the elite. My parents are proof enough!
Find Your Tribe
Having a group of friends that have your back is important in life. Making real friends anywhere nowadays is hard. Real is so rare. If you're gonna move to Haiti, I suggest that you find people that you know and can trust. I'm not telling you to be naive and trust the next person you meet on social media and make them your bff. I'm thankful for my small group of friends that I have in Haiti. They are people that I've met back in middle school and stayed friends with, hence people that I've learned to trust over years and years of friendship. You should always try to make and keep meaningful friendships, with people who you can call when you have an emergency, or when you need something taken care of. Think of the few people that you know will pick up call at any given time of the day and night. That you can confide in and won't betray you. That will give you constructive criticism and not bash you or talk behind your back. Those are the people that you need to keep around and nurture.
However, be warned that making new friends in Haiti can be tricky. Let's just say that people aren't as nice and warm as they appear to be on social media. Just because you get a like on IG does not mean that you'll get a HI in person. There is also the whole "talk behind your back, gossip and pretend they like you type of high school behavior". Which is why it's important to know who you're "hanging" with, and keep in mind that if they can gossip about someone else behind their back, chances are they will do the same to you.
So find your tribe, and stick with them!
Do Your Best
If you grew up in Haiti, you've probably heard that "You are the future", "You are the one who's going to bring change", "The country needs you"...yahdee yahdee dah...
Here's the truth: You aren't changing a darn thing, the country will be the same with or without you, and sometimes there's nothing you can about it!
This was my biggest disappointment when I started working in Haiti. I was so determined to make a change, and wanted to "give back". That quickly got old.
There are just too many boundaries that will stop you from doing the things that you really wanna do. You have no control over the government, the people or the system. You can only control what you do, and that's what I did.
I try every day to give my best. It isn't always rewarding, You won't always get recognition, or a "thank you", but do your best anyways. You owe it to yourself to give your best in everything that you do. If you aren't going to give it your best, then don't do it at all. If you are going to put your time, and effort into something, do it with all you've got, for your own self satisfaction.
It’s All Mental
You can't control what happens to you, but you can control how react to what happens to you.
Haitians are resilient!
Both of my parents have been attacked in the past. For some reason I felt like I took it harder than they did. When you've survived an attack and wake up the next morning going about your routine like you didn't almost lose your life, to me that's resilience. Resilience is losing everything that you've build in 15 years in an earthquake, and have the courage of starting all over again, despite your loss. Resilience is what I see in Haitians every single day!
If you aren't mentally strong, Haiti isn't the place for you. Things will happen to you and around you, and there's nothing you can do about it, unless you lock yourself inside your home, which still doesn't guarantee your safety.
People have different ways of preparing their minds to handle the stress and tension that comes with living in Haiti. Some say that they aren't afraid of death, others say that they are always prepared to attack back, some rely on their faith in God. You just have to find what works for you.
Personally, I find that prayer is really the only way I can keep my mind at ease. Knowing that nothing will happen to me if God doesn't allow it. I also do my affirmations, in order to keep a positive mind.
If you aren't mentally prepared, you will not be able to live successfully in Haiti, and you will be paralyzed with fear, so prepare your mind.
Take a Break
This is a biggie for me!
I believe that a break is the only way to stay sane! Especially in a country as stressful as Haiti.
Thankfully, Haiti has plenty of resources that can cure your aches and pains, where you can relax and recharge. I always recommend that people take the time to rest, and reset when necessary. When you are worn out and tired, you aren't able to function at your full potential. So go hiking in the mountains, spend the weekend at the the beach, take a drive to the country side and bathe in a waterfall, visit a province that you have never been to, chat with the locals, drink some coconut water and stay hydrated...You will never run out options and the experience is never dull. Whatever your preference is, find a way to replenish your soul, and rest your body when it is needed.
Is It Worth It?
Taking the decision to work in another country should be well thought of, and planned out, especially if you haven't been offered a job position ahead. Before you make the move, consider weighing your pros and cons. That is usually a good way to make any decisions. You should also do extensive research and have an action plan. Find out what your budget will be and have enough funds to cover the first few months up front. Do some research about what your income will be, and decide whether that will cover your expenses, and also find out if it's worth moving to another country. For instance, I wouldn't advise a physician to quit their practice in the states, and move to Haiti where I know their income will be much less(I would advise on taking mission trips instead). So compare both incomes before making the decision. If you have children, find out what school they will be attending and how much tuition will cost. Find out what quality education your child will get. Find out what extracurricular activities they will partake in and how much that will cost.
If you plan on starting out your own business, find out how much you will need and what the process of getting a loan might be if you'll need one. Research the area, and the demand for your business. Starting a business requires a lot of planning, especially in Haiti. So do your research.
Lastly, do not let anyone influence your decision. This is a decision that you should make for yourself, by yourself, unless you are married of course. But, because everyone's experience is different, try it out for yourself.
I know a lot of people who have made the decision to move, and never had any regrets. Others came, and left. For me, working in Haiti has been a positive experience, despite the many and many challenges. It has taught me leadership skills,and the importance of having a product of quality. I enjoy learning from my mother, who is the best mentor that I could ever have. I have an amazing staff and love my job! I won't lie to you and say that it's a piece of cake because it's not. But I do believe that you can do anything that you set your mind to, if you have a purpose.
So, If this is something that you've been considering, by all means do it, but do it with your eyes and mind open. After all, experience is the best teacher.
If you have lived in the States, or another country and had the chance to work in Haiti, Please share your experience with me! I would love to hear different perspectives.
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