Being an American myself I realize how unpatriotic this sounds. The country that lives in dirt piles and ruins is better than our dear land of silicon and granite counter tops? No, absolutely not. But I do have to admit: I was mildly surprise by my findings when going to Haiti for the first time last year. I booked a job to walk in a runway show for Haiti’s first fashion week. Images I had seen on the news of Sean Penn and other celebrities growing beards, living in tents, and relieving earthquake survivors jogged through my head as I read the email from my agency with a plane ticket showing Port Au Prince, Haiti as my destination.

MY EXPECTATIONS: I expected to get there and stay in a hotel room with no air conditioning, eat crackers from a box, witness destruction, and interact with foul/bad people. I expected for a lazier kind of society, one on ‘island time’ that doesn’t do much with their day (this sounds so biased, I know, but I’m being honest here!) I expected the people to not know who Brittney Spears was or even the use hair spray (or deodorant) for that matter. My genuine expectation was to find people living under big boulder rocks with sad puppy dog eyes; the same you see on those Sarah McLaughlin commercials— queue “In the arms of the angels…”

REALITY: I’m a fool, a damned fool I tell you! We had a driver pick us up from the airport. The van spiraled through the mountaintops while the sunny blue skies shown through the window, sunshine dancing on our legs. On the way to our hotel we went through town, passing people and buildings the whole way. The first thing I noticed were the people walking on the streets. We didn’t pass one human being that was stagnant or doing nothing— every single person was carrying some huge box/basket/crate over his or her head or in their hands, on some mission to somewhere. These people looked more determined and faster paced than the seasoned faces you find rushing around on Wall Street. The only difference was that each Haitian had a smile plastered smoothly across his or her face. They were happy to just be out in the sunshine, living their lives! Their happiness danced through the van windows as well, leaving all of us smiling for no reason. Almost all of the buildings were painted a bright color to go along with the happy faces. A lot of them would wave to us as our van passed.

Finally we got to the Karibe Hotel at the top of the mountain. Entering the hotel I noticed Haitian soldiers. They were nice guys in military gear that always smiled at us as we walked by. They were everywhere too, which gave us a sense of security. Before even going to our rooms the first day we were taken to the restaurant to feast. Back to my expectations: I was assuming they would bring us big slabs of goat (or some weird animal?) to the table and expect us to eat it… raw or something? No, absolutely not. We feasted on beautiful dishes: pizzas, potatoes, and pastas— anything you could imagine. Everything was organically grown, flavor popped with every fresh bite. The food was impressive to say the least.

The other models and I would start out each day basking around the glimmering pool that laid in the dead center of the hotel. The weather was perfect— Every. Single. Day. The afternoon would consist of fittings, followed by a couple hours in hair and makeup, then walking in that nights show. One night however, the people who were hosting us at the hotel decided to take us to a “club”. When I first heard we were going to “da club” in HAITI I couldn’t help but laugh. What the hell? Are we going to dance around a tribal fire and pile beads onto one another (I know, I know, I sound like one of those biased idiots. I get it. Once again- I’m being honest here!) Anyways, no the club did not consist of tribal paints or barefoot fire walks. It was an actual club! And almost as, if not more fun than the clubs we go to in the states. They had an upstairs VIP room that we were taken to with bottle tables. A little later we went down to the dance floor and danced to every new up-to-date song you could think of. The DJ was great! Midway through the night, the president of Haiti’s son showed up and hung out with us for a bit! It was such a cool experience. By the end of the night all of us had sweat dripping down our faces from dancing so hard.

I remember spending some mornings on the rooftop by myself, staring at the mountains in the distance, wondering how a place could feel so calm and beautiful. I looked out into the unending distance as the sun landed on my lips and the breeze kissed cheeks. This rooftop told me I could conquer the world. It felt like perfection in the very most pure form. It’s as if I had been reborn again, peering at the horizon of mankind for the very first time. Although it was work, my trip to Haiti changed my mind forever about new places I had never been. Listening to what others say about a place is like merely holding an apple in your hand for the first time. Finally biting into it, tasting its flavors, feeling it’s surface rub against your inner cheeks— is like traveling to a destination and experiencing it for yourself.

Haiti may or may not be better than America. It’s hard to say. But that girl who sat up on that rooftop, wind flowing through her hair, miles between her and the ground— had the world in the palm of her manicured hands— And Haiti gave that to her. A gift she will cherish forever.

P.S. For all of us Americans that didn’t know: it’s pronounced Ah-Ay-Tee. Not Hay-tee. AND they speak French. Not some unknown African language. Mind blown, right?

I’ve included some photos on the roof, backstage, and on the streets of thy beloved Haiti.