Our Warm Cuture, Our Contageous Smile, Our Country's Natural Beauty, and Our Resilience are what Set us Apart from the Rest
Our Culture and Tradition
Haiti covers 10,714 square miles, which stands for (27,750 square kilometers) of the island known as Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. According to geographers' experts, Haiti is about three times the size of Cyprus Island but is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Maryland. It is comprised of two peninsulas split by the Gulf of la Gonâve. The mountainous, nearly barren island of la Gonâve, which belongs to Haiti, rests in the center of the gulf. Haiti's portion of Hispaniola is significantly more mountainous than the rest of the island, with successive mountain chains running east to west on both peninsulas. The northern Massif du Nord is part of the island's backbone, which Dominicans call the Cordillera Central.
The southern peninsula boasts the Massif de la Hotte and Massif de la Selle. The highest peak, Pic la Selle, is located in the Massif de la Selle and rises to 8,793 feet (2,680 meters). The mountains are punctuated by hills and valleys, where most people live and work. The four main plains include the Central, Northern, Artibonite, and Plaine du Cul-de-Sac which is very close to Haiti's, Port-au-Prince located on the west side of the island. Haiti is crossed by several large rivers, but the longest and well-known one is le Fleuve de l' Artibonite. Most of the trees cover that existed prior to European colonization has been removed due to farming and the production of charcoal fuel for cooking. Haiti's climate is generally warm and only mildly humid. Frost, snow, and ice do not form anywhere—even at the highest elevations; the coldest the temperature can ever be in the low 60's. The average temperature in the mountains is 66°F (19°C), while at Port-au-Prince it is 81°F (27°C). Spring and autumn are rainy, whereas December through February and June through August are dry. July is the driest summer month. The hurricane season lasts from June to October, but sometimes it lasts a little longer than that.
Haiti's population of 10 million is currently decreasing at about 0.79 percent according to experts. The country has a high birthrate, but emigration due to the high unemployment rate (80.3 %), lack of services and poor health keep overall growth rates down. The majority of the population lives in poverty. Up to 300,000 people were killed in January 2010, when an earthquake struck Port-au-Prince and other regions in the country, causing damage for up to 7.9 billion dollars. Most Haitians are descendants of African slaves who came to the island beginning in the 16th century. A small proportion of Haiti's people (5 percent) are of mixed heritage or white known as (les Mulatres). A large number of Haitians live in Florida, New York, Boston area and Montréal, form what most people call (la Diaspora). There are Haitian communities in other parts of Canada, the United States and other countries as well. Haitians have been living and working in the Dominican Republic for decades, in fact; since 1844. Throughout the 1900s, the majority of the Haitians who traveled to the Dominican side of the island worked in the agricultural industry, specifically with sugarcane (Nan Batey).
As sugarcane profits began to decline, increasing numbers of Haitians began to migrate to urban areas in the Dominican Republic; the government there has passed on many occasions new immigration laws in an attempt to regulate immigration and has carried out mass deportations of Haitian immigrants, which has fueled a never-ending conflict between Haitians and Dominicans who share the same island.
According to the 1987 constitution, the official languages of Haiti are Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) and French. Kreyòl is the language of daily conversation; it is most likely spoken in the mountains. French is used in government offices and businesses. Only educated adults or secondary school students speak French, though with varying levels of fluency and accuracy. Knowledge of French has become a sign of social class in Haiti; those who speak French may shun those who do not. Kreyòl is a unique mixture of French, Taino, English, Spanish, and various African languages. It is similar to creole spoken on some other Caribbean islands, such as Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Kreyòl is traditionally an oral language, though it had a written form as early as the 19th century. The use of written Kreyòl began to spread after the 1940s with the introduction of adult literacy programs. Because of the U.S. occupation and the popularity of their television shows and films, and because many Haitians have relatives in the United States, English is used more often than in the past. Religion the majority (80 percent) of Haitians are Catholic. While some people regularly participate in religious services, others only draw upon their Catholic identity in the case of marriages, funerals, or other rites of passage. Protestants claim 16 percent of the population. The largest denominations are Baptist, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventist and Mormon as well. Perhaps as important as organized religion is Vodou (voodoo), which is practiced to some degree by a majority of Haitians. It was given a legal status equal to other religions in 2003. While official Catholicism opposes its practice, Vodou includes the worship of Catholic saints and other Catholic rituals. Vodou ceremonies and rituals, held in temples, usually are performed at night and weekends. Adherents believe that during the temple ceremonies, a Vodou god inhabits the body of a believer. Not all Vodou adherents practice the religion openly. Still, certain Vodou temples are the focus of annual pilgrimages.
Haitians are warm, friendly, and generous. Their tradition of hospitality is clear in how they treat guests or go out of their way to help strangers find an address or something else they need. Haitians are very proud of their culture and history. The stories of past Haitian heroes are not forgotten by today's youth. Some claim this is because the present offers no heroes, but others believe the past gives hope for the future. Everyday life is hard for most people, so parents strive to send their children to school, though it is very expensive, trusting that an education will give the next generation a better life. No matter what society's conditions, Haitians celebrate life with joy, laughter, and dancing; even after the terrible Earthquake that kills 100's of thousand they found the courage to celebrate life.
There is an extremely large income gap in Haiti. Rural and middle-class urban people have different perspectives on life, as their cultural practices and attitudes vary significantly. Urban elites consider themselves to be more European or cosmopolitan than people from the countryside. People living in rural areas value their traditions and a slower pace of life. Haitians' attitudes toward other countries usually vary according to social class. Haitians from lower classes often claim a historical connection to Africa, while upper-class Haitians may feel closer to France, Canada, or the United States. Haitians often migrate to other nations, including the Bahamas, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Mexico, the United States, Canada, and France, with a few going to countries in Central and South America. Feelings toward Haiti's closest neighbor, the Dominican Republic, vary according to occupation, class, and geography. Haitians from the upper classes may have business ties in the Dominican Republic, and those from the lower classes may take short-term trips to the Dominican Republic to buy and sell wares. Haitians living on the border often have friendly social and economic interactions with Dominicans.
In fact, a growing number of Haitian students study at Dominican universities. Despite the tension that exists between Dominicans and Haitians, after the earthquake in 2010, the Dominican government, as well as Dominican businesses and private citizens, contributed goods and money to reconstruction efforts in Haiti. Personal Appearance Whenever possible, Haitians pay great attention to their public appearance and usually dress like Europeans. Urban Haitians prefer to wear Western-style clothing. Women may wear pants or colorful skirts. Some wear a headdress to match their outfits. Young people like to wear shorts. They also follow the latest North American fashion trends (American style).
Sandals are the most popular footwear. Government officials and businessmen wear suits and ties. Rural men wear T-shirts and shorts or pants when working. Rural women wear dresses and headscarves, but they rarely wear pants due to their tradition. Almost all Haitian women enjoy jewelry and brightly colored clothing. Men may wear gold jewelry with status symbols.
Customs and Courtesies:
Personal greetings are very important to Haitians. When entering a room or joining a group, a person is expected to physically greet each individual. Haitian men usually shake hands, women throw kisses when meeting a new acquaintance. Everyone else, from relatives to friends and casual acquaintances, receives a kiss on each cheek. The most common verbal greeting is "Bonjou, Koman ou ye? Sakapfet or Sak pase? Meaning (Good day, how are you?"). The response usually is M pa pi mal, e ou menm? Or Map Boule Piti Piti (I am okay, and yourself? or Not bad). Haitians address superiors or persons of status by title (Monsieur, Madame, Doctor, etc.) followed by the last name. Friends use first names or nicknames, which are usually related to that person's name, in order to address each other.
An older person might be called “aunt” or “uncle” as a sign of respect even if not related to the speaker. Gestures Haitians are animated people who enjoy impromptu gatherings wherever they may be; they use gestures to make themselves understood correctly whether at the market, in the street, or at the movie theater. At such gatherings, people engage in loud conversation and laughter.
Hand gestures usually accompany discussion or storytelling. If one is too busy to talk, one will greet a passerby by nodding the head up. To get someone's attention, especially a woman, Haitian men often say “pssst.” Clicking the tongue, called a chip, is a sign of protest or disgust and considered impolite.
Visiting is a national pastime. Friends, neighbors, and relatives are welcome in the home at any time of day until about 8 p.m. It is not necessary to call ahead. Visitors arriving during a meal may be asked to wait in another room until the family finishes eating. If it's a close friend, he/she might be invited to share the meal, and they may accept or decline politely. It is also acceptable for guests to decline refreshments. Hosts typically offer fruit juice or soda. In addition to impromptu visits, Haitians enjoy inviting friends over for an evening of socializing or for dinner. When a visit ends, hosts accompany guests to the door. Rather than leaving, however, Haitians frequently extend their visit for a while by standing and talking with their hosts depending on how comfortable they feel with that person. Special occasions also call for visits. Guests take gifts to hosts celebrating a communion, baptism, graduation, or wedding—occasions for which many organize elaborate parties; in order words, Haitians love to party.
Haitians who can afford it eat three meals a day per tradition. People in rural areas may eat cassava (bread made from manioc), Biscuit and coffee for breakfast; and they may not eat again until evening. Per tradition, the family gathers at the table for the main meal, which is usually at midday in cities. However, economic pressures and varied school and work schedules mean that families are increasingly eating at staggered times or separately. Diners take their portions from serving dishes on the table. If guests are present, they are given the first opportunity to serve themselves. When no guests are present, family members often wait for the mother or the head of the household to begin eating before they eat. Usually, only the upper classes go to formal, enclosed restaurants on a regular basis. There are, however, a large number of small eateries where workers can go for a noontime meal, in case they do not have the opportunity to eat at home. Everything is closed on Sunday because it's traditionally reserved for church and considered as a family meal day.
Urban families might have three or four children, while rural families have ten or more. The basic unit of society is the extended family. Grandparents may act as parents in place of an absent or working mother or father. Relatives may also fill the role of godparent, which entails responsibility for a child if a parent dies. Children from cities may be sent to live with relatives in the countryside during summer vacations, and children from the countryside may be sent to live with relatives in cities to attend school. Adult children are expected to remain with their parents until marriage, and occasionally, married children live with one spouse’s parents until they can afford a home of their own. Married couples usually live close to their families. This is especially true in the countryside, where the traditional “lakou” form of housing (a common courtyard surrounded by a family compound of small sleeping rooms) is prevalent.
In urban areas, the father, if present in the home, is head of the household and responsible for earning an income. Mothers are responsible for cooking, cleaning, and teaching their children religion and morality. Middle-class urban families may have a servant to cook and do other chores. Rural men work their fields, while women sell produce in the market and care for the household and children. Though men may earn money and make decisions, it is often the women who manage the household’s money. Single-mother households are very common, as men typically have children by more than one woman. In such households, mothers often rely on older children and relatives to help earn income and to care for younger children. In most families, a child's main concerns are succeeding in school and completing household chores. In wealthier families, children may be responsible only for keeping their rooms clean; in poorer families, chores include cooking, laundry, and cleaning. Some families can afford to send only one child, usually the oldest or the boy, to school while the other kids especially girls, are expected to do housework. Educated children are expected to better the social and financial status of the family, providing for parents or less fortunate siblings later in life. Other children are expected to help more around the house or with the family business, which could simply mean being a street vendor.
In wealthy families, parents establish goals for their children to become doctors, lawyers, or entrepreneurs who will expand the family business. After retirement, parents often move in with one of their married children. Domestic violence against women is fairly common, and some of Haiti's laws tend to discriminate against women. For example, wives who murder their unfaithful husbands face harsher punishment than husbands who murder their unfaithful wives. A growing number of women from all social classes hold jobs, own their own businesses, and participate in government, though less than 5 percent of national legislative seats are held by women.
Houses are built with whatever materials are available. In Port-au-Prince, cement buildings are common. In older, established neighborhoods of the capital, brightly painted two-story wood and brick houses are prevalent. Middle-class families may have land dotted with tropical fruit trees, corn, or sugarcane. Primitive cinderblock houses are found in newer parts of the city. These houses often consist of just one nine-square-foot room with packed-earth flooring and a corrugated tin roof. In some places, houses are built on top of each other and winding narrow footpaths snake down to the local market. Electricity is very rare, only a small portion of Haitians have access to electricity; access to clean and running water is even less common.
Outside of the capital, the traditional “lakou” form of housing survives. The “lakou” is a compound built around a courtyard where the family eats, cooks, braids girls' hair, and takes bucket baths. Surrounding this courtyard is a ring of small sleeping rooms made of mud and rock, wood logs, banana leaves, or cement. During the earthquakes of 2010, over a million Haitians lost their homes and were forced to relocate as a result. Most of these were cinderblock structures with insufficient flexibility and internal support. Hundreds of thousands of people still lack permanent housing. However, many old buildings in the so-called gingerbread style of housing (Victorian-era architecture with high ceilings, porches, narrow windows, and triangular roofs) suffered almost no damage, given the flexibility of wooden structures.
Dating and Marriage:
Although young Haitians socialize in groups, they do not usually begin dating until their late teens. Teenagers of the new generation are increasingly entering into sexual relationships. Young people often develop friendships that later turn romantic with the children of their parents’ friends. Others form such relationships with classmates or acquaintances. Group activities usually include participating in study groups, watching soccer games, celebrating birthdays, and attending school fairs and church activities. Once adulthood is attained and education is completed, a young Haitian’s focus is generally on marriage and success. It is our tradition that men usually initiate the dating process. Even if the woman loves the man she refrains from declaring him in order not to be seen as a bad woman, Haitian women are very conservative and resilient.
When dating, the man will visit the woman at her home to become familiar with her parents and family members. Couples also go out to dance clubs, to movies, or to other social events.
Once a couple has been dating for a few years, a proposal is expected. A man traditionally asked a woman’s father for permission to marry her, but where there is little relationship between the woman and her biological father, a man may ask the mother or the mother’s husband. Today, asking permission is less common, especially in urban areas. Most parents do not greatly influence dating or marriage anymore, but they expect their children to choose spouses from respectable families with a social status similar to their own. The minimum legal age for marriage is 15 for women and 18 for men. Early marriage is more common in rural areas than in urban areas. In rural areas, a couple will not officially marry until they can afford a big wedding.
Weddings are usually paid for by the groom or his family, but the bride’s family may also contribute money. Couples often live together and have children as if married until they save enough money for the wedding and wedding reception. Typically, urban couples have a church wedding followed by an evening reception where rice, beans, meat, salads, cake, champagne, and soft drinks are served. Receptions are usually held in private homes, where guests eat, dance, and socialize until late in the evening. Formal polygamy does not exist, but married men usually have many girlfriends and children out of wedlock. This is often attributed to the desire for a son to continue the family line. Women are expected to remain faithful to their husbands and are chastised if they are not. In rural areas, a man's partners acknowledge each other and may even cohabitate.
Divorce is very rare but separation is common, especially after a couple's children are raised and have families of their own. Usually, children live with their mother after separation, but they may also move in with grandparents or other relatives.
Celebrations of births are joyful, but Haitians are careful not to be seen as boastful in a country where so many children die before the age of five. Motherhood is extremely valued. Women do not usually announce pregnancies until they begin to look pregnant out of a belief that doing so could bring bad luck to the baby. The gender of the child is not commonly announced before birth. Due to a preference for traditional practices, most births take place without formal medical assistance. Once the baby is born, the maternal grandmother traditionally comes to care for the baby and mother.
Names are given just after the baby is born, though consideration may be given to a name prior to birth. Deciding on a name is an important event, and it is usually done by the husband. It is common for children to be named after respected family elders or ancestors. Firstborn sons are usually named after their fathers. Children carry their father's surname unless the father is unknown or denies paternity. In rural areas, a child's name reflects the circumstances of his or her birth. For example, a couple who has had difficulty becoming pregnant may name the child Jesula (Jesus is here), Dieula (God is here), Dieufel (God created him), or Elifet (Elie is born), etc. as a way to show their gratitude to God. Children who survive their first years are given a nickname that everyone outside of official institutions will call them by. Baptism and First Communion are significant rituals. Children dress in nice clothes, and family, friends, and neighbors gather to celebrate with a large meal, including some meat and music if the family can afford it. Because people often live with their parents into their adult years, young people are not seen as adults until they have children of their own.
Because of Haiti’s low life expectancy, elders—especially those who reach the age of 50 or above—are revered. When a person dies, family and friends gather to reminisce and provide emotional support to the deceased's immediate family members. Given the respect for ancestors in Haitian culture, even poor families make an effort to have a proper funeral. A viewing of the body is followed by a religious ceremony. Funeral processions in rural areas include a single car and mourners dressed in black led by a marching band. Urban funeral processions consist of cars and fewer pedestrians.
Burial is traditional, although cremation is becoming more common.
Traditional cemeteries contain brightly colored aboveground tombs. Food and other offerings—such as kleren (an alcoholic drink made from cane juice)—are often placed on the tombs. People sometimes pour kleren and rum onto the ground as offerings to ancestors and to pay tribute. Families of the deceased have masses in their honor on the anniversary of their passing.
Most Haitians eat rice and beans every day, although the main meal, when affordable, usually also includes meat, salad, and a vegetable, but the most common food is rice and beans. Rice and corn are staple grains. Spicy foods are the most popular. Piman zwazo (small, hot pimentos) and garlic are often added to dishes. Meat is marinated in sauces with ingredients such as sour orange juice, lemon juice, and hot peppers. Chicken and Pork are the most commonly eaten meat, but Haitians also eat goat, guinea pig, and seafood (fish, shrimp, conch, and crab). Eggplant, yams, sweet potatoes, plantains; and a variety of fruits round out the diet. For breakfast, one might eat the traditional urban fare of coffee, herring with plantains and avocados, corn with codfish, or liver with plantains. A lighter breakfast consists of jam on buttered bread and coffee. A favorite daytime snack might be bread and butter or pastries. Meat-filled pastries are also popular snacks. Haiti is especially known for its fresh-pressed juices made from passion fruit, oranges, chadèk (grapefruit), cherries, papaya, zikak (a small, pulpy fruit), and other grown fruits.
Most Haitians have access to radios, and people generally listen to music and news throughout the day. A growing number of middle-class families are able to afford televisions in their homes. Few people own DVD players because it is seen as very expensive, but they can watch videos at television stores or rent videotapes. Haitian music videos are favored such as Kompa and Troubadour, and zouk. They also listen to foreign music as well. The most popular sport is soccer. Streets are empty if an important regional or world match is being televised. The most popular soccer teams in Haiti are Brazil and Argentina. Children—both boys and girls—begin to play soccer at an early age. Leagues are organized throughout the country. Adult soccer stars are extremely popular among people of all ages. Many Haitians of all classes cheer for soccer teams, with a special affinity for Brazil’s and Argentina's teams due to their repeated successes in the World Cup. Children like to play games like patty-cake, marbles, oscelet (jacks generally made of cow or goat bones), jump rope, and various versions of lago (tag). Children often invent their own games as well. In rural areas, the tradition of tirer conte (storytelling) continues. Children gather around an adult who begins the storytelling with the greeting Krik, to which the audience responds Krak.
Popular stories include tales of Booki and Timalice (famous Haitian fable characters), stories of old times, and lougawou (ghost) stories. Young adults in urban areas spend their time with friends at fairs, bals (concerts), parties, or nightclubs. Important events such as baptism, communion, graduation, and weddings provide families and friends the opportunity to get together and enjoy each other's company. These events include much Bambach (partying and having a good time), catching up with old friends, joke-telling, drinking, eating, political discussion, and dancing. Haitians enjoy dancing and will often dance whenever they hear a catchy tune. Men enjoy cockfights, usually held on Sunday afternoons. They also spend hours playing dominoes and card games such as casino, a complex game involving counting and Bezig. Recreation for lower-class women often occurs in the form of jokes and storytelling while washing clothes, gathering water, or selling at the market. Vacations are a luxury enjoyed by wealthy families. Though vacationers usually visit foreign countries, there is a growing interest in visiting other areas of Haiti also.
Music and dancing are integral to everyday life. For over one hundred years, Haitians have composed and performed classical music. Older still is the traditional music of the Haitian peasantry and lower classes. These include music performed in Vodou ceremonies, music played before Lent (called rara), and other music associated with a particular rhythm (merengue, etc). Contemporary music in Haiti includes rap Kreyòl (Haitian hip-hop), rasin (traditional music fused with rock, jazz, or reggae), chanson française (traditional French songs), or kompa (dance music). Urban residents enjoy a variety of North American music. Haitian artists and sculptors are known for their unique images and striking colors, in fact, it is one of the most popular arts in the region. One popular art form is a sculpture made from cut, pounded and painted scrap metal. Tap-taps, brightly painted pickup trucks fitted with benches and covered tops, is both a means of transportation and traveling art. Many artists choose Haitian history or daily life for their subjects. Nature is also an important theme. Painted screens, papier-mâché art, wood carvings, basketwork, pottery, and painted wooden boxes are prominent crafts. Oral literature is abundant and includes songs, proverbs, and riddles. Storytellers carefully craft their performance, acting out the story with their voices. There is also a vibrant tradition of Haitian literature, mostly written in French, although Kreyòl is now commonly used as well.
Haiti's national holidays include New Year's, which is also Independence Day; National Heroes Day (Jan. 2nd); Constitution Day (Mar 29th.); Labor and Agriculture Day (May 1st); Easter; Flag Day (May 18th); Fête Dieu, which marks the institution of the sacrament, or communion (first Thursday in June); All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1st); Day of the Dead, or Fèt Gede (2 Nov.); Battle of Vertiers Day (18 Nov.); and Christmas. Freedom from the Duvalier dictatorship is celebrated on 7 February. Haiti also celebrates Catholic holidays, such as Kanaval (Carnival), held before Catholic Lent; Good Friday (the Friday before Easter); Ascension Thursday, celebrated 40 days after Easter; and the Feast of the Assumption (15 Aug.).
On January 1st, Haitian people traditionally visit their parents and friends to wish them well in the New Year. Almost every household eats 'Soup Joumou', a soup made from a squash broth with carrots, potatoes, cabbage, pasta, and meat, which is traditionally understood to be the food of the French colonists who were driven out of Haiti.
Haitians celebrate several patriotic holidays. Jour du Drapeau (Flag Day on May 18) is commemorated with a parade held in front of the palace; students from various schools participate.
Dessalines Day (17 Oct.) honors the assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the man who led Haitians out of slavery and became the nation’s first president and Emperor. Battle of Vertiere Day, celebrated on 18 November, is the anniversary of one of the most important battles in Haiti’s fight for freedom.
Kanaval (the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) is a festive time of dancing and parades. People prepare for the holiday for weeks in advance, beginning just after New Year's. On the holiday itself, people awaiting the main parade dance to music they play on their own portable stereos. The parade includes dancers dressed in traditional clothing, 'raras' (musical bands on foot), chaloska (people dressed as monsters), and chars (floats from which popular music groups entertain the crowd). The partying continues all night and into the early-morning hours for two or three days. Stores are open only in the morning these days.
Rara, another holiday closely linked to Lent, contains a mixture of African and Haitian voodoo traditions. It is usually celebrated in rural areas but occurs also in Port-au-Prince. Every Sunday during Lent, and occasionally on weeknights, a number of 'rara' bands take to the streets, playing music on Haitian-made instruments and collecting people into a crowd, who follows them as they go. The instruments include the bamboo (a bamboo pipe), tambou (a hand drum with a wooden base, topped with leather), lanbi (a conch shell horn), and graj (a grater that is rubbed with a metal stick). Fèt Gede (2 Nov.) honors the dead, who are highly venerated in Haitian culture. On this day, offerings such as coffee and 'kleren' (an alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane) may be brought to the 'Bawon' Samdi (the first man buried in a cemetery) or Gran Brijit (the first woman buried in a cemetery). Each village or town has a holiday for the local patron saint, celebrated with a morning mass, daytime festival, and evening ball. Some of these festivals are very large, such as the Fête de Notre Dame.
Government and its Structure:
The Republic of Haiti is divided into 9 departments, but the central government has control over most political affairs. The president (currently Joseph Michel Martelly) is head of state and is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president cannot serve consecutive terms. The Prime Minister (currently Laurent Lamothe) is head of government and is appointed by the president and confirmed by the bicameral National Assembly. The National Assembly's upper house is the 30-seat Senate and the lower house is the 99-seat Chamber of Deputies. Members of both houses are elected through a majoritarian system. Senators serve six-year terms and deputies serve four-year terms. There have been efforts toward constitutional reform to ensure that more women are represented in politics on the national level, but these reforms have not yet resulted in concrete changes. However, there are still women who serve as senators and deputies
Several parties field candidates in national elections and gain representation in the National Assembly. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Haiti's government is rebuilding the country in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake and reconciliation. Lack of transparency in using foreign aid is also an important related issue and the prime cause of poverty and inequality. Despite chronic political instability and weak institutions on a national level, Haitians enjoy a relatively strong democratic tradition on the local level.
The Government and the People:
Citizens of Haiti do not generally enjoy free speech, press, or assembly despite many efforts made. An ineffective police force and a corrupt and failed judiciary system, in addition to the government's heavy-handedness, contribute to this situation. Corruption is a major problem in Haiti. Haiti's political instability has made it difficult for the government to provide basic services to citizens, including repairing damaged infrastructure and addressing public health concerns. Many have protested against the government for failing to control the high cost of living, injustice, and insecurity that is skyrocketing. The voting age is 18, and voter turnout has been low since a popular and elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide was taken out of the office and sent to exile, and also because elections are largely unfair and fraudulent.
Haiti's economy is based on agriculture, which employs about two-thirds of the workforce. Large farms are rare, so production quantities are small. The most important cash crops include coffee, cacao, sugar, and mango. However, little is actually exported, and international aid is necessary to develop future agricultural potential. Around 80 percent of all Haitians live in severe poverty. Real wages have not risen in a generation. Industrial activity is minimal, geared mostly for domestic needs (cement, sugar refining, kleren, etc.). A few industries make toys and clothing for export. The economy experienced a severe setback when the 2010 earthquake struck Port-au-Prince.
Corruption, high unemployment, political instability, and inefficient state enterprises are additional barriers to Haiti's development. The government is pressured to privatize some state companies, but the process is slow and unpopular. Haiti's currency is the gourde (HTG), but the U.S. dollar is very popular. Transportation and Communications For short distances, most Haitians travel on foot. In cities, they may also ride bicycles, buses, taxis, or colorful tap-taps, which travel fixed routes but not on a fixed schedule. Intercity transportation is made by bus, boat, or plane. Few people own private cars because Haiti does not have a credit system yet; in order words, you pay cash for everything you buy. Most people use cell phones; landlines are increasingly hard to find. About 15 to 25 percent of the population uses the internet. The postal system is generally reliable but not protected against theft. In the past, people often posted messages on certain radio stations or sent a written message via truck drivers, who would drop the messages at a store on their way where recipients could retrieve them. Haiti has five major daily newspapers; le Moniter, le matin, le Nouveliste, Haiti en Marche, and Haiti Progres. However, there are well over two hundred radio stations and several television stations.
Haiti's school system is patterned after the French model, with kindergarten, six years of primary school, and seven years of secondary school. It is common for students from poorer families to end their education after primary school and begin working. Children usually enter primary school at age six, and at the completion of their last year, they take a national exam called Examen de Certificat. Passing the exam allows students to move on to secondary school while failing means they must repeat the last year of primary school until they pass the exam. Students also must pass exams at the end of the third, sixth, and seventh years of secondary school in order to succeed. However, the education system often does not adequately prepare students to pass these difficult exams. In some schools, known as lekòl bòlèt, or lottery schools, students are said to have as much chance of graduating as they do of winning the lottery. In general, schools lack qualified teachers because teaching is not a well-paid profession in Haiti, and sometimes they pass months and months without getting pay. Another issue with the Haitian education system is that the necessary materials are very rare, and the school year is often interrupted by political unrest. In Port-au-Prince especially, daily schooling is sometimes interrupted by street demonstrations focused on elections and other social issues. Because these events can be violent, parents tend to keep their children home whenever a protest is announced or anticipated.
Education is highly valued but unaffordable to most. Only a small fraction of schools are public, and the chance to get in is almost the same as winning the lottery. Private institutions make up to roughly 80 percent of all schools in the country.
Private schools include Catholic schools, 'écoles nationales' (national schools, which are funded by foreign countries), and international schools. Most urban dwellers send their children to private schools, even though tuition can be a burden. Even in public schools, parents are responsible for enrollment fees, books, uniforms, and school supplies, School curriculum consists of math, chemistry, physics, grammar, history, and geography classes.
Courses such as literature and foreign languages, and occasionally extracurricular activities such as sewing, are introduced at later levels. Learning by memorization is common. Students at higher levels of primary school and secondary school spend their afternoons studying and completing homework assignments. Most Haitian students only study until sunset because of numerous power outages and the prohibitive expense of generators. Parents are generally involved in their children's study habits; involvement decreases as students’ age. Cheating may result in expulsion, possible rejection from other schools, and severe reprimands at home.
Students who complete secondary school may pursue higher education at a university or other institutions. Wealthier students are more likely to attend universities in foreign countries, while middle-class ones usually attend universities in Haiti or the Dominican Republic. The country's main university is the State University of Haiti. The majority of less-wealthy students often search for employment immediately after secondary school. A growing number of vocational schools, which have no entrance exams and are less expensive than universities, provide career-specific skills to students who can afford tuition.
Many Haitians live in one-room houses with outhouses and no running water, the bathroom or restroom is traditionally located outside of the house. The earthquake of 2010 destroyed many buildings and forced many Haitians to live in tents or relatives. Such living conditions foster the spread of diseases such as malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. In 2010, a mass outbreak of cholera afflicted the country, killing more than ten thousand people in a year and a half. These diseases, combined with malnutrition and the lack of health care, and clean water; lead to numerous deaths—life expectancy rates are low, 62.06 years. Infant mortality rates are high, 53.44 deaths on every 1000 live births. Hospitals provide minimal assistance to new mothers and infants, and a large number of women give birth at home without medical assistance. Infants do not usually receive vaccinations; most children receive vaccinations in school or right before they start school. Haiti's national health system is unable to meet the needs of most people due to the lack of funds, staff, modern equipment, and sometimes even basic supplies can be unaffordable. The majority of hospitals are concentrated in the capital. A small number of clinics and hospitals serving rural areas (Hopital Communautaires), but they are not accessible to everyone they are intended to serve. There is no reliable ambulance or fire rescue system in Haiti. Sick people must be able to afford both the trip to receive the treatment and the care itself, which is often lacking in quality. There is no public health care in Haiti; most have to pay for their medical expenses out of pocket if they can afford to do so.
Since the 2010 earthquake, there has been a visible presence of foreign medical aid; such as Doctors without borders, however, aid organizations can often only treat the most urgent cases. Traditional beliefs strongly influence the way that many Haitians view their health, especially in poor and rural areas. When confronted with a condition, some might try plant- or food-based remedies or traditional remedies prepared by a family member or friend. If money is available, one might try to purchase products at a pharmacy to relieve symptoms. Illnesses are often characterized as “sent” sicknesses, magically placed on a person by a traditional religious practitioner. If an illness is understood to be mysterious in origin, one may visit a doktè fèy (a healer who mainly relies on herbal remedies), an oungan (a male Vodou priest), or a 'mambo' (a female Vodou priest). Payments are usually made in cash, but some patients exchange cattle or land for services. Usually, there is at least one such traditional healer in each area.
Culture Grams, (2013), Republic of Haiti’s Culture. Retrieve from: http://www.culturegrams.com/
World Health Organization, (2013), Culture and Mental Health in Haiti: A Literature Review. Retrieve from: http://www.who.int/mental_health/emergencies/culture_mental_health_haiti_eng.pdf
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, (2013), 2012 Report about Haitian Culture and Tradition. Retrieve from: www.cia.gov