The sign read: "Amour, Bonté, Patience"—love, kindness, patience. I noticed it on the front of a tap tap, the brightly-colored buses, or trucks, or vans, which all serve as public transportation in Haiti. For Haitians, it seems less important to advertise your name, and more important to express your philosophy.
Or your faith. We drove past an "Only God" bric-a-brac store and a "Merci Jésus" hair salon.
A lot of faith is on display in Haiti. And I don't mean only what we might call traditional religious faith, although there's plenty of that.
Just getting up every morning—to sell flowers, shine shoes, blow a whistle to direct traffic, dress the children for school in the clean, pressed uniforms Haitian children wear—all are acts of faith.
So are the expressive paintings with their brilliant colors that can be seen hanging on fences everywhere, produced by Haitian artists with a commitment to beauty in the midst of indescribable scarcity, and against all odds. I think of Joseph Jean Paul, who paints beautifully, without arms or legs.
When people ask me about Haiti, it's often with a knowing tone of voice or look on their faces. Especially since the 2010 earthquake, folks have a strong impression of the country; they think they know it. They seem to expect stories of deprivation, suffering, and pessimism.
We must not be cavalier about the conditions people endure in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The camera doesn't lie. The images we see from Haiti shock—as they should—as well as prompt us all to take responsibility, to do something, however small, to help the people of Haiti build a better future, which is possible.
However, based on three trips to Haiti over twenty-four years, I try to emphasize to everyone with whom I speak that Haiti is not a one-dimensional place. It's a nation of more than ten million people who have endured an often cruel history and remain survivors, a country where anyone who is willing to look can witness a hundred daily acts of faith.