Family Trip

Travel Firsts: On a First Trip to Haiti, Understanding the Lush Land My Family Comes From

This is part of Travel Firsts, a series featuring trips that required a leap of faith or marked a major life milestone.

The elder members of my family often say that dreams can be messages from ancestors, meant to ease you down the right path and guide you towards your future. If so, my ancestors were anything but gentle when they woke me up in the middle of the night in March 2021 with an intense urge to buy a flight. This wasn’t any ordinary flight either. It was a flight to Haiti, a place that to much of the world is lost and beyond repair, but to my family is home.

Haiti is where my grandmother, Jacqueline, remembers trips to the bakery my great-grandfather owned and where, at just 19 years old in 1956, she rode the annual carnival float as the event’s queen in a stunning strapless gown that she remembers as blue, but I’ve only seen in a black and white photograph. It’s where my grandmother met my grandfather and raised two of her five children, including my dad, before immigrating to Brooklyn, New York, in 1968. It’s where she, eventually, used her money from working as a home attendant in the U.S. to buy a piece of land and build a home with a room for each child, and all the grandchildren to come. It’s also where my grandmother returns every winter.

Yet in my thirty-eight years, I’d never been to Haiti, despite my grandmother’s pleas for me to visit. My father and his siblings never went home, so neither did I. There were always moments where I told myself “next year,” and then failed to keep the promise. I always found it more exciting to galavant to far-off places like Dubai; the earthquakes and political turmoil in Haiti didn’t help either. 

But this time was different. The pandemic had shown that time waits for no one, and had shined a light on what was truly important. In my dream, the voices were very clear that going to Haiti was important, that my grandmother’s wish for me to visit was important, so there I was on a JetBlue flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to surprise her and make my debut as a child of Ayiti. 

From the minute I landed, the sights and sounds were at once foreign, yet familiar. The traffic at first glance seemed wild and lawless, yet somehow the unspoken rules of the road reminded me of other islands I’ve visited. As a Flatbush girl, the loud Creole voices greeting each other and haggling over produce on the street made me feel at home—but looking up at tall green trees hovering above the crowds, sprouting fresh mango and avocado, reminded me that I was a long way away. 

Pulling up to my grandmother’s bright pink home brought on a tidal wave of emotions. In flooded memories of my grandmother packing items like door knobs in her suitcase on her way to Haiti, trip after trip, year after year, to complete ‘The House That Jackie Built.’ And there, in front, was that same grandmother, dressed in her sleepwear and a bonnet, in shock as she watched me jump out of a van, run toward her—and her home.

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