Sunday, February 12, 2012

Day 8 - Spellbound!

Today was Carnival! Carnival in Haiti is bustling with colors and sounds, and nowhere are those colors more vivid than in the Southern seaside town of Jacmel. The city’s paper mache artisans design new costumes every year for the parade: devils, dinosaurs, animals, buildings… and politicians!

Traditionally the costumes are making fun of the political figures, corporations and the man; policemen, bankers. During the day we walked around and saw the paper mache masks and costumes. What I loved was that this was not hidden. No surprises. The artisans are proud to share their work. We were able to see the artisans at work and then later see them in the parade…like a show.

Carnival is like Mardi Gras; that’s what people say since I haven’t been yet, whether it be funny or scary, carnival-goers become spellbound. Throughout the day and night, we immersed ourselves in magical, other times burlesque, whim-sical and even the devilish world of Jacmel’s Mardi-Gras.

During the day we watched the parade from the street outside the restaurant we ate at and at times came inside the restaurant gate to chill out or to run from the scary scene. Other times we jumped right into the parade with the participants to sing, dance or act out with them! Some of us went up to the balcony to watch from afar. This view felt exciting, exhilarating and safe. During this time up top, there was one fight that broke out but all was well once authorities came to help break it up.

In the evening some of us went back for the nightlife. If you don’t mind sweaty bodies, an incredibly large crowd and loud music with thousands of people swaying in unison then you would love the thrill of Carnival at night! At one point I closed my eyes and I could have been anywhere. I could have been in a NYC nightclub but instead I was here in the streets of Jacmel with the Haitian community celebrating a European tradition from medieval times.

It was a thrilling day today in Jacmel! How magical that we were here for Carnival!! But then again, it’s been magic since we stepped foot off the plane onto Haitian soil. At Carnival we were spellbound!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Day 7 - Bright Blue Inside and Out

Today was spent back at ACFFC. We split up into four groups. I chose to go with the group to paint a house that the Art Foundation has built for one of the student’s family. We traveled down a path and around a bend to find a 16x16 plywood structure that would soon be home to a family of 9. Yes, NINE! All of their belongings were outside the house waiting to find their home inside the house once painting was done. Some friends from ACFFC already started painting. We jumped right in with rollers and paint brushes. We were painting the house a bright blue color inside and out. No decisions would be made about which color to paint which room since it is only one room. As we started to paint I was reminded that just a couple months back my three children picked out colors for their rooms. Alex picked purple, Luke picked red for the Devils hockey team and Emma Grace picked a bright teal blue. Since Alex and Emma Grace share a room, how lucky are they to have two walls purple and two walls teal blue! If I hadn’t painting this house, I probably never would have thought twice about flipping through the Benjamin Moore samples to pick out paint colors. Not only to pick colors for one room but for multiple rooms. How lucky are we to be able to do this and enjoy the process of decorating.

Throughout our time painting there was this adorable little girl playing peek-a-boo with us from time to time. She simply enjoyed watching us. She was in the space next to us. (Generally I would say in the yard next door but it wasn’t really a yard.) Nothing to do, no soccer game to play, no dance lesson to go to, no birthday party to go to. Just hanging around watching us paint. It was sweet. I think there was maybe a dog, some chickens and a pig in the little yard with her. Yup!

While I was painting this “house” I couldn’t help but again feel like why do some people have so much and some have nothing or VERY little? Nine people will live in this 16x16 plywood room soon to be called house and home. No electricity, no running water, no carpeting or throw rug, no couch to hang out on to watch TV. Let me take a mental inventory of how many couches and TVs I have in my house. Well, right now one couch and 4 TVs. It simply baffles my mind. I feel like I have been sheltered from the world. Why did it take me till I am 40 years old to open my eyes and open my heart? I hope and pray that I go home and I remember every moment of this trip and remember ever stoke of paint I painted on that plywood. I hope and pray that I raise my children to be open to everything and everyone in this world. I don’t want to close my eyes anymore. Now that I know, now that I have bare witness I have no choice but to make some changes in myself and in the way I choose to live my life. In turn I hope and pray that my children learn from me. How can I not try to make a difference?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Day 6 - Djina (Gina in Creole)

Today was a ton of fun! And I am feeling soooooo much better. I got up, showered my body and actually practiced in the morning with the group. I just remember Laura (you know who you are) telling me that some people get sick around their birthdays which I know holds true for me this time of year BUT I didn’t want to think about it since I was going to be in Haiti! So my body went through a sweet detox, cleanse and purge. Well, maybe not so sweet but boy did I purge.

After breakfast we went to the Art Creation Foundation For Children(ACFFC). This center works with about 100 street children to enroll them in school, provide nutritional meals and teach them art therapy methods. We worked on a mosaic project that the children have started to beautify Jacmel. We worked on the bench outside which just looks amazing! I can’t wait to do this project at home, (Karen)!!! Then we went down by the water to work on another larger bench by an already beautiful mosaic wall that the kids have been working on. Afterwards, we walked the streets of Jacmel. It is much more calm here than Port au Prince. I’ve never been to New Orleans (yet) but the streets here reminded the group of New Orleans. Just such neat architecture and doorways and colors and TRUE patina. Although old and still poor (looking) the energy surrounding this place is just so rich! Wait till you see my pictures. And by the water it was like Pirates of the Caribbean. Yup, felt just like out of the movie.

Mostly, I loved getting my hands in the cement and working with the children. They taught me how to mosaic. Quite honestly, although we dropped off our donations and have made a contribution to the foundation, it’s me who comes out the one who is learning. It was really funny how the kids would just shake us off if we were cutting the tiles wrong or putting the cement on wrong. In the end, we worked together and the project looks awesome!! I hope one day your travels bring you to tour the mosaic wall and bench of Jacmel!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Day 5 - Long Road to Jacmel

Today sucked! I woke up with diarrhea and vomiting. Puked the entire 3 hours to Jacmel through the windy, mountains. Now taking Cipro! I spent the day in the hotel trying to sleep. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Day 4 - HOLY SHIT! I'm 40 TODAY!

Today is my birthday! Happy Birthday to me! Seane and the group made it special by offering me a wish/a blessing at the end of practice in the morning. It touched me deeply.

“ I love trash! Anything dirty or dingy or dusty. Anything raged or rotten or rusty! I love! I love! I love trash!” Today we went to a tent city where we shoveled shit! Literally, we were moving garbage from one spot to another. It smelled awful (we were wearing masks and gloves) and it was hot! Some of the Haitians were standing around watching us; even laughing at us at times but soon some boys jumped right in, sandals and all and helped us! While we were waiting for more garbage bags our group started singing, humming and chanting. We used the garbage to make drumming or tinkering sounds to keep the beat. Suzanne led us and we all jumped right in. I picked up a knife and tin can myself. Then there was a Haitian girl that was like, screw it and she jumped right in with us! So we turned shit into a party; celebrating each other and togetherness! Don’t get me wrong, it was disgusting but we did it. I survived.

In the afternoon some of us went back into the tent city to tag the tents with spray paint. This was a little chaotic. The group split and as that happened, I heard Lisa call my name but saw Matt up ahead. The people in the tents were pulling on my arms and trying to lead me in all different directions. I just shook my head no and kept my eye on Matt. As funny as it may sound I thought of the movie Top Gun when one of the actors says to never ever leave your wing man. So I never left Matt! This was not the case with some others who did lose their group. It was wild. The tents were like a maze. Tents above tents, tents below and behind tents. There were ditches and hills, no outlets in some spots. In the end we accomplished our task and we all were fine and safe.

In regards to this day, one thing that struck me is that, here we are on a Wednesday morning and afternoon and people just have nothing to do. They are washing their clothes or themselves from basins, buying or selling food, playing cards or dominos…..But when you think about our lives; we get up and go to work, food shop, take care of the kids, go to parties, run a business, go the gym or yoga class….WE have a million things to do. There just aren’t jobs here! We thought well, maybe the tent city residents could get paid to remove or move trash. There is just no money. Some may simply not care anymore. Maybe even lost hope. We were there for ONE day so we could try to make sense of it all and wonder the whys; why not this and why not that? BUT, they live there every single day with no structured house, dirt floors, no money; it’s not unusual AT ALL to see naked children running around. Again, I still can’t comprehend how we have everything and more and these people have NOTHING. It baffles my mind and breaks my heart.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Day 3 - A little smile means there is life ~ Yon ti souri vie di gen lavi!

Today we started our day at the sewing school, lezeau Academie de Haute Couture et d’Elegance. We helped this school purchase equipment to improve training and garment finish. I thought that the school is a peaceful place to work. The girls here learn to make patterns and sew garments. They take orders for school uniforms and even wedding dresses. Mostly, is the importance that these girls learn the trade and hopefully get jobs after graduation.

We then spent our afternoon at the AMURT. This place was magical. A gem in the midst of a tent city. The school is a community learning lab that educates 1500 participants. The school consists of children from kinder to primary but also has a program for woman. They also forcus on urban ecology and offer teacher trainings. The entire school is YOGA BASE! A dream to have in the US. This means their focus is on the school being a circle of love. They offer a neo-humanist curriculum, yoga for all ages and a vegetarian lunch program for the children. Today we toured their garden where they grow vegetables in recycled tires. The hope is for women to then bring the recycled tire back to their tent and continue to grow food on their own. We visited with the kinder students and practiced yoga, sang, danced and played games. The children loved all the attention and couldn’t get enough. They enjoyed getting their picture taken and then looking back at it on the camera. Some of the little girls thought that my hair was funny and they enjoyed touching and playing with it. They also were very interested in my hands; looking at them, clapping with them; just simply playing. I helped paint the mural. Of course only the blue background because I am not get ready to display my non artistic talent on a mural just yet. Heehee! The school is just simply amazing and well run! The children were beautiful and playful! It was a breath of fresh air to be there.

In the evening we had a guest speaker to talk to us about Haiti and Voudou, an African-based religion of Haiti. Voudou can be traced to the first Africans brought to Haiti in the sixteenth century. It truly was a fascinating conversation with our guest speaker. As our guest spoke of Voudou my mind was speaking my language and my religion and how similar the two are. The number 3 meant to me, the holy trinity. When the word sacrifice came up, immediately I thought of Jesus dying on the cross. If there was something that I couldn’t quite relate to then I listened with an open heart and mind. But there was one thing….when our guest spoke of voudou dolls and how they are used for healing; having a figure of a human and maybe a ring of theirs or a piece of hair and then practicing acupuncture on the figure for healing and with good intension. The thought that came to my mind was I don’t care how you heal, weather it is through a voudou doll, a healing service in someone’s house, sitting in a circle holding hands and praying together.

Some of us are born into a religion and/or a belief system. Clearly not everyone around the world believes the same thing. That’s life. Regardless if I agree with others religions and ideas I am open to listening and learning.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Haiti Day 2 - Rise Up!

Rise Up! Rise Up! Into the arms of Love. The more I see, the more I know that we are here to live in the Beauty of the World.” These were the words we chanted back to a group of women that greeted us with song . There is so much devastation, poverty and trauma here in Haiti but there is also beauty; beauty in the eyes of the Haitian people.
Today was a day spent with Fonkoze and Zafen. Fonkoze is Haiti’s Alternative Bank for the Organized Poor. Zafen is the micro-enterprise arm of Fonkoze. For all of you who supported me throughout this challenge, know that a small business loan was granted to a women’s coop to expand upon their tilapia fish farming business. We visited with several groups of women who clearly are back on their feet in business successfully due to these loans. We attended meetings to listen to how the system works and how they meet to exchange the money they owe. Through these loans these woman are in business for themselves, ultimately to feed their children and themselves. These businesses are unlike the businesses we know. Not your Trader Joes, Gap or Starbucks. Not even your local mom and pop or local yoga studio J. This is so they can sell on the street. Similar to a cart or a box you may see a vendor carrying at a football game selling beer except that vendor will for sure receive a paycheck. Here, it’s sell what you’ve got to survive. No sale. No money. No money. No food.
Let me also explain that these meetings are no ordinary US boardroom meeting. We were outside, greeted by song, hugs and kisses. Children were in attendance. Although there is business to take care of, this is a time to boost morale and keep these woman on the upswing; feeling empowered and to never give up. We also visited the site of the fish farm project and met with the women and president of the group. Through this business these women and families have a better and maybe even a little bit easier life.
Lastly, we visited one woman (the one in the picture) at her home (tent) who just gave birth to her third child TWO DAYS AGO! The baby’s name is Blondie (that’s how it sounds but I am SURE not how it is spelled!), a beautiful daughter. Now, again life as we know it does not exist here in Haiti AT ALL. She gave birth in her tent by herself but then only to find help from her agent (the person that is helping her through Zafen).
Her umbilical cord was cut with a blade. She was up and at em talking with us holding her baby hoping for a better life than this. I held Blonde in my arms and looked into her beautiful, innocent and pure eyes and wondered why? Why you and not me? Not at all do I wish for a life like this but how does it work that this little girl is born into such poverty and I was born into a comfortable hospital; into a loving supportive family who sure! had it hard at times, but my parents were always able to have a roof over our heads, put food onthe table, clothes on our bodies and shoes on our feet. I think about how we (including me!) have baby showers and receive a ridiculous amounts of goodies, nighties, formula, diapers, swings, pack and plays, high chairs...the list goes on. I had two of my three children in hospitals with nurses and doctors. How can one have SO MUCH and another HAVE NOTHING? It breaks my heart. It makes me angry and at times guilty. Someone once told me that by me having more doesn’t mean that others have less. I disagree. I will always do what I can when I can even if it’s for only one person. When I asked to hold Blondie, her mother said to me that I am family and the same as her. When I gave her back her daughter I told her that we have something in common. That I, too gave birth to one of my baby’s at home just like she did at home (even though it’s a tent, it’s still her home). We both had strangers, yet family at the same time deliver our babies. I am honored to have met and held Blondie today. I am blessed and grateful for my wonderful life. If only others were so lucky.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Journey to Haiti - Day 1

We arrived in Haiti this morning sometime after 8am and as Christina said we hit the ground running! Today we toured Port au Prince including the palace and cathedral. I truly don’t know what to say except that the pictures you see on TV do no justice as to what is going on here. To see with my own eyes is quite unbelievable, heartbreaking and sad. While stopping at the Cathedral to get out and walk around we were approached by many beggars for money. We were told this would happen and to give nothing or be very discreet. Since it was my first time off of the bus, I choose to not risk a riot. BUT, anyone who knows me knows what I say, “Give what you can IF you can.” But in this case it was suggested otherwise. First, the devastation of the city and the ruins of the Cathedral just simply astonish me. But most of all the young ladies (girls) with their babies asking for help really tug at my heart. I tried to talk to them and their children but not too many words were exchanged due to the language barrier but I still looked into their eyes and smiled the best I could and exchanged a moment of sadness. I got back on the bus and cried.
After lunch we went to Camp Adokin in Demas 33, the second largest tent city in PAP housing 30,000. We walked through with camp leader, Genesis and took part in the solar light project for the camp. No air conditioning, no bathrooms, no houses, just tents and lots of people including many children. Here I taught some of the children a simple hand slap game. We danced and even played peek a boo with the children. I felt at times sad, angry and guilty. How is it that people are living this way? Finally, in all of this the Haitian people are joyful and loving. They stand for liberty, unity and perseverance. There is a reason I am here in Haiti at this time. And there is a reason in all of this. One day I will understand. In the meantime, I will continue on my journey and process what I feel each night.