Haïti, Un Autre Fois

Last time we were in Haiti, everything was so novel to me: the sights, the sounds, the food, the people. And we got to spend lots of time rehearsing and bonding with the students at the École de Musique Sainte Trinité (ÉMST), which was very rewarding. Combined with our crazy misadventures – which included a hot, tumultuous 10-hour bus ride from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien, motorcycle escorts and heavy rain at the Citadel/Palais Sans Souci, and an amazing jam session on the steps of the Palais Sans Souci – the 2017 trip was truly an unforgettable experience that epitomized the Haitian phrase “Nothing works, but everything works out.”
And so, as we traveled back to Haiti for the second time in 2 years, I expected us to have more wild adventures while we continued to maintain and improve our ongoing relationship with the people at ÉMST.

We did have our fair share of memorable experiences. Most notably, we performed a concert in commemoration of the earthquake for students at a university founded by Haiti’s first democratically elected president Dr. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and afterwards, we met his wife Mildred, a fascinating woman who gave us a detailed account of the political history of Haiti and answered our questions over lunch.

But with regards to furthering our relations with ÉMST, I couldn’t help but feel that the trip was lacking; early on in the trip, all leisure time with the students and all but one rehearsal were canceled for various logistical and financial reasons (in part due to the US government shutdown). Instead of having dinner with the students at Hôtel Karibe, we ate a massive buffet and enjoyed drinks on the roof with some higher-ups at ÉMST. At the Manoir Adriana Hotel, the funding that would have allowed the Haitian students to stay at the hotel with us had fallen through; instead of spending time interacting with them, we ate burgers and swam in the pool. We had enough free time for the trip to feel, at times, like a vacation. Although it’s hard to complain about having accommodations so luxurious it would make most Haitians’ heads spin, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated that we were traveling around in our bland bubble and vacationing around Haiti, while we couldn’t find the means or money to interact much with the people at ÉMST.

During our extensive free time, I was able to read, in its entirety, “The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster” a book by Associated Press journalist Jonathan Katz, who was stationed in Port-au-Prince at the time of the quake. This book completely changed my outlook on what it meant for us to be here. Replacing the novelty and sense of adventure from last trip was the realization that the earthquake continues to have a significant impact on everyday life in Haiti and plays a big part in shaping Haitians’ opinions of the international community. In this light, it meant quite a lot for Americans like us to play a concert with Haitian students, for us to set aside our differences and stand together in remembrance of a catastrophic national event still so recent in national memory.

And this is why I was so happy when we were finally able to play our concert in Jacmel with ÉMST outside the Manoir Adriana Hotel. An administrator from ÉMST thanked the crowd of 200 people for attending and participating in what he described as a “celebration of life” with “joyous music” to pay respect those lost in the earthquake 9 years ago. After each visiting band played their repertoire separately, we ended the night by joining the choir and band from ÉMST onstage to play well known Haitian songs “Mesi Bon Dye,” “Haïti Chérie,” and “Choucoune: Meringue Haitienne.”

Our time with ÉMST didn’t end there. After the concert, we had a big party with ÉMST on the roof of the hotel, with booming Haitian EDM and drinks. The next day, we played a joint concert for the Sunday service of a small Episcopal church in the mountains of Jacmel. Although we didn’t have the opportunity to spend as much time with them as planned, I’m thankful for the time we did have.

This trip had a much different flavor from the trip from 2 years ago. Instead of riding up mountains and having rice, beans, and Prestige at a bar-resto with the ÉMST students, we strolled around picturesque seaside locations outside of cushy Western hotels and discussed our feelings about Haitian history and politics. It felt as though we were treating the whole country as a museum. While I appreciated the emphasis on learning about contemporary Haitian political history, which is fascinating and complex, I felt as though some of the interpersonal and human elements that made last trip so great were lost.

But even so, this trip has been rewarding in a different way. Not only did we learn a lot over the past several days and have grown to have a much deeper understanding of the complexities of national and global Haitian politics, but we also helped pay hommage to the victims of the earthquake through our concerts in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. In what has become yet another unforgettable trip, we’ve made many new memories and friends along the way. If nothing else, I can safely say, “Nothing works, but everything works out.”

-Michael Yee, Trumpet