Beside Cohousing: Why I Fell in Love with Haitian Lakou

my 1st day in Haiti, in a rural kitchen

My name is Valerie and my interest in cohousing began when I lived in Haiti in 2005.  (After coup, before earthquake, for you fuzzy-in-recent-ish-history types)

It wasn’t called cohousing, but “Lakou.”  I’ll let the esteemed & incredible author Edwidge Danticat introduce you, in the first 40 seconds of this video:

Lakou, physically, are “communities of private homes clustered around shared space.”  The only word from the short form definition of cohousing that might not obviously apply is “intentional”.

Fishing Huts near St Marc, Haiti

That isn’t to say that the clusters were put together thoughtlessly, just not with the same type of “intent” implied by most Canada-raised folk using the word.  Rather, Lakou tend to be structured around how to best use the space you have for whatever you need that space to be. Bedrooms could become dining rooms, Nurseries could become rental units, and then those rooms could change again, ever adapting to the needs of the families living there.

It was Beautiful.

I mean… if you got into a slum where people didn’t really have ownership of anything, and the sewer-gutter was backed up and stinky, it wasn’t so beautiful. We’ve all seen those photos too many times, so I won’t share any of them here.

But the system of sharing and adapting and making room for everyone, that was beautiful.

The system of having grandpas and great grandmas and brand new babies all living, not under one roof necessarily, but within shouting distance certainly, that allowed true culture.

The system of kids having other kids around for play, adventures, chores; without an adult having to endlessly complete reward charts and permission slips, that was freedom.

The system of frequently sharing meals, which meant way fewer people-hours sitting in the hot sun over a hot pot, that was life-saving.

(At least for me.  I would’ve given myself food poisoning or burned all my eyebrows off trying to manage the unfamiliar ingredients and charcoal stoves.)

So, ya.  When by happenstance I visited a cohousing community in Michigan, I was hooked before dessert.  Back then, I was too young to make many choices about my own living situation beyond “have roommates = make rent”.  Now, finally, with Concorde, I can once again experience something akin to this beautiful piece of an amazing country.

For the record: I wasn’t in Haiti long enough to be able to say anything definitive about anything, and I want to be careful to not steal something that doesn’t belong to me.  So, for the record: I’m not actually trying to argue that we’re building a Lakou, just that it was inspiring.  All of the photos are my own or from a colleague, and we got permission to take them, though sadly, because of the nature of Haitian migration and 2005 telecommunication, I won’t be able to let the subjects of the photos – my erstwhile neighbours – know what I’m doing with their images now.  I hope and believe they will be happy with this portrayal if they ever do come across it. (& if they do, I really hope they reach out!)

Now, a song about Lakou by a group named after them:

 

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