Making Lemonade

It's hard not to think about what's going on in Haiti. It's everywhere. And it's heartbreaking. But when I saw the headline at CNN.com today, I stopped.

Is it ethical to vacation in Haiti now?

Is it "ethical" to vacation there? I somewhat reluctantly clicked on the link and read the story, to learn of a heated "debate" sparked by Royal Caribbean and their decision to resume tourist operations in Haiti. Even now, I sit here shaking my head at the misplaced anger and resentment.

The article contains quotes like: "Royal Caribbean is performing a sickening act to me by taking tourists to Haiti." and "Having a beach party while people are dead, dying and suffering minutes away hardly makes me want to cruise that particular line."

I respectfully disagree.

In November, Laura and I were very deliberate about spending our time and money in Zimbabwe – a country so deep in crisis that many backpackers and tourists are now simply discounting it as a destination. It was impossible not to see the looks of gratitude in the eyes of our guides that day, as we enjoyed our private tours. We were acutely aware of the fact that had we not decided to cross the border that day and schedule tours and activities on the Zimbabwe side of the Falls – the people we met that day would not have worked. The American dollars we gave them in payment – in lieu of their own worthless currency – were the only ones in their pockets as we saw no other backpackers in the lodge and no other tourists on the tour vehicles.  As we walked around the nearly deserted town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe it was pretty brutal to see one dark and empty store window after the next. As our day unfolded, we talked and agreed that we were so glad we had decided to spend the day in Zimbabwe – a truly beautiful country – and that we hadn't shied away after repeatedly hearing "it's not what it used to be".

And while I'm not suggesting that the political and financial struggles of Zimbabwe equal the horrific destruction that's happened in Haiti, the hearts of the people in these two countries strike me as similarly dauntless and I've seen it with my own eyes. I could feel how genuinely proud the Zimbabweans we met were of their country and their heritage. Most of them had never left the country and were doing everything they could to make the best of it. They were thrilled to have a reason to go to work that day. And if people like us hadn't tread that "ethical" line of vacationing in a country in crisis, people like them would go hungry.

The article goes on to balance the debate with news that Royal Caribbean has pledged to donate at least $1 million in humanitarian aid and is able to help deliver supplies like water and canned goods. But aside from the direct aid they're able to provide, I honestly think it's just as important for the Haitians to see any little bit of "normalcy" they can during a time when nothing is as it should be. It's important for them to continue to welcome visitors and tourists and to benefit from the money and awareness those visitors are able to inject into the circumstances.

I usually don't get all serious on this here blog-o-baby-pictures, but I felt compelled to speak up in favor of giving the Haitians a reason to get up in the morning. Give them hope that things will be back to "normal" someday. God willing.

5 Responses to Making Lemonade

  1. Missy January 21, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    Well said! Not that it is any comparison to what has happened in Haiti, but when we had the tornado, ice storm, and 2 floods in Mountain View in 2008, the last thing we wanted was for the tourists to stay away. (4 disaster declarations in 3 months tend to do that, though) We desperately needed them to show up and help us get ‘back to normal’…sadly, they never did, and our economy entered a recession here a year before the rest of the country. It was heartbreaking to know that our resilient little town had done all it could to rebuild our infrastructure and our spirit, but that people were still afraid to come because of what we’d just experienced. Very little of that disaster funding will go to help Haitians put food on their tables, whereas the money gained from tourism will provide income for families when it is most needed.

  2. Autumn Parker January 22, 2010 at 9:03 am #

    I completely agree. There are lots of ways to give and contributing to the economy of Haiti by visiting now is a reasonable way of saying we support you as you go through this. I also think it is a great opportunity for people to see how real this event is. We so often live in a bubble where nothing “that bad” really happens that we forget that this tragedy is real and devastating and will make a mark on Haiti forever. I commend Royal Carribean for their pledges and willingness to help, but also for not being afraid to go to a place where things aren’t as beautiful as they were 2 weeks ago. It’s real life.

  3. Martha Feland January 26, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    Amen, Sarah! Royal Caribbean’s decision to continue helping with the Haitian economy is commendable & their relief efforts are applaudable! Hugs!

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