JACMEL, Haïti – Everyone here speaks of it.: “You mean you've never been? And you're an artist?”
Well, I'm not exactly on vacation in Haïti am I? And, yes, I know the value of a break, but in the seven months I've spent here, the opportunity has not presented itself.
So on April 18, two days after l'École Anis Zunizi convened for 10 days of Spring Break and after spending two days recharging with the perpetual cast of talent at GrassRoots United, I cocked the springboard of adventure and released me... [See accompanying video.]
En route I kept asking myself, “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” "Pwovence yo!" (The provinces.) Carefully tended row after row of lush green agriculture, blue skies, billowing clouds... Wait. Little to no trash, no air pollution, and no traffic issues? Why does anyone live in Port-au-Prince? I know most of the answers to that question (an important topic to be addressed in another column), but now what sense they glean seems diluted. I am convinced that Haitians are the most talented, creative, and enterprise-ready-to-happen people on the planet. I'd say another campaign is overdue – charged with new conviction: “If you leave it, livelihood will come!” [the city], or so it seems I heard the countryside cry.
Upon arrival we all stepped out into the technicolor feel-good film we had transitioned into 45 minutes after leaving Port-au-Prince. I kid you not, mid-day people with wheelbarrows and brooms were sweeping and picking up trash in the streets...and smiling! I heard an English-speaking person say, “No NGO has to pay people to clean up around here!” Ouch. Taking that one with me. Then I jumped on a "moto" headed for “Moro Creations.” Two weeks earlier I had met a school visitor in Lilavois and had earned an invitation to the home of locally famous crafters Paule and Moro Baruk!
After a lengthy conversation with Moro about color and design and the pursuit of perfection, and a long walk amid delectible French doors and mosaics, I scored a candid interview with a young man displaying his work at a local gallery. Phillipe shared with me as confidently as a seasoned curator his experiences after the earthquake and his resulting work using pieces of rubble as canvas. He described his pride having work on display at Forsage Gallery amid various pieces representing subjects of mysticism, voodoo, Christianity and life expression. I was particularly enamored with the colorful large scale dragon masks which were part of the March 2011 Carnival celebration.
While I thought I was in very heaven sitting on the third floor patio of Palace Moro taking in the night sky, memorizing the glow of moonlight dancing across the beach water, and listening to scattered sounds of Ra Ra practice, the next day, as a result of a friend with a friend, I ended up a guest at an incredible Taiwanese/Haitian Agro-cooperative. This is a 5-year-old government and private business handshake agreement between two entities with nothing better to do with its joint resources than produce custom bamboo furniture, and chicken farming and agricultural seeding and education. Did I mention Haitian job creation? In the most beautiful place on earth? With an occasional parade of live music?
Yes - this is how I spell vacation!
Pépé, Stanley, Cadet and the CEO, Jon ,graciously shared their projects with me. It was truly the most productive joint venture I have seen in Haïti, and is merely one of five similar production sites. On the way back to Port-au-Prince I must have asked Jon 100 questions – which he seemed eager to answer. What a Utopian template/model for positive work development and change! Heaven is becoming redundant for me in Haïti, but try not to become bored with good...the story is so not over.