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Diaspora at work: Haiti Edition

Ebel in the driver's seat

Ebel in the driver’s seat

In the absence of a hotel shuttle upon arrival here in Orlando last night, we got ushered into a bright yellow taxi once outside the baggage claim. I don’t know who wrote the international law that every country on Earth must only hire foreigners to drive taxis, but it’s a fortunate rule. Every city I’ve been in, in my travels this year has featured a taxi driver not native to that locale. And in every instance the conversation has always been an eye opener, a welcome lesson in cultural immersion and awareness—as if the back of a taxi is where you go to learn about the world.

Our driver’s name was Ebel, a graying middle-aged gentleman from Liancourt, Haiti. He had a sultry thick accent that wrapped his English vowels in tropical French brown sugar. He was celebrating his 28th year in Florida. He waxed poetic about what he’s managed to do back home with the money he’s earned here in the Sunshine state.

He started out as a line cook, he said. He worked his way up the “food chain”, (sorry) until he was a Sous Chef, a major accomplishment given West Palm Beach’s highly competitive fine-dining establishments. After a few years Ebel decided to switch careers, enrolling in various IT certification courses to try to get a foothold in the computer industry. Ultimately, he decided that the IT industry didn’t serve his tastes. He decided to drive taxis because the money was better. Desperate to put my hard-earned French minor to use, we traded barbs about the IT industry and life as a cabby in the best broken French I could muster. “You speak well,” he smiled, tapping the meter as we sped through the toll booth. “I forgot to add the toll to your charge.”

Of course you did. I thought.

He used the lucrative return on some real estate investments at the time to help his family in Haiti live a better life. He built a house for his mother, sponsored the education and the migration of 5 of his siblings to Florida, and topped it off by building himself a beach house in Laincourt, Haiti. There was a proud, wide grin on his cropped face in the rear view mirror as he espoused about his half-acre of corn, his horse, and his donkey. He makes annual trips every year, but shrugs off a permanent return.

“They say I have been gone too long,” he pauses, “that I am not one of them any more.” But they treat him like a king every time he goes back.

Anyway, he continued, he’s not ready to leave permanently yet until his 3-year old son is through with school. By then, he says, he should be finished with his 1-acre spread high in the Haitian mountains.

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