Posted by: mytriptohaiti | December 30, 2011

Haiti Welcomes Me and You

I’ve traveled to many countries by all methods of transport, but, I wanted to allow myself to be completely overtaken by everything Haiti had to offer. So, arriving in Haiti was a bit unnerving, truth be told.

Deplaning, walking across tarmac? Nothing new. Filling out mounds of customs paperwork and waiting in line to pass through security check after security check? Also, not new. Following people who obviously knew where they were going? Helpful. An escalator from the airport’s upper level to the lower level? Standard. To catch the bus to baggage claim? Any airport, everywhere.

But this? This was different. This is a baggage claim with heart.

And totally awesome!

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So many wonderful and beautiful people greeted me during my week-long venture in and around Port-au-Prince. Individuals and families that Jamie and Ali work with on a daily basis. For all the good these two do, I wasn’t surprised in the least that everyone I met through them was as kind, generous, and giving and Jamie and Ali are.

Smiles as families welcomed me into their modest homes to share food and stories.

Thanks to Haitian Families First, Junia’s (center) two daughters, Daphcar and Schneidine (front) are attending school this year. The cost to send a child to school is equivalent to about four months’ salary in Haiti. This doesn’t include uniforms, school supplies, transportation, or food. Often, the cost means most children are simply left behind.

I fell in love with this family. Those smiles. How could they be left behind?

Even happy little feet.

And love.

Knowing these beautiful little girls have a future ahead of them put a smile in my heart.

Posted by: mytriptohaiti | December 29, 2011

Holidays (not in Haiti)

For me, winter is a season of holidays and celebration. Having grown up in the southern United States without a winter of which to speak, the snow and cold weather season is by far, my favorite time of year. Marked by lights and scarves and warm beverages and singing. Not my singing, but singing, nonetheless.

On the way to visit a friend of Haitian Families First, we encountered a celebration of the town of Furcy, about ten miles from Port-au-Prince. But don’t be fooled. No one road in Haiti is straight. This ten-mile excursion took over an hour. Less than half a mile from our destination, we found a large crowd of revelers dressed in Sunday best, exiting a church and carrying their song and dance into the street. The only street leading us to our destination.

With not much else do to, we turned the car off and waited and watched. Little girls skipped by singing and dancing to the songs of elders celebrating the rich history of this town.

And just as quickly and to us, unexpectedly as it began, it ended. We started the car and drove through a dispersing crowd leaving behind girls in white lace dresses and men in ties.

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Upon arrival in Port-au-Prince, I was asked what I wanted to see most in Haiti. I knew right away. Thinking back over my nearly two dozen visits to New Orleans, one of my favorite events there, probably more a non-event, was of Haitian heritage. The impromptu drum and brass parade. “I want to see a parade!”

For no reason other than an empty street needs a parade, those with horns and drums would gather at the corner of a block and with the sound of a whistle or the wave of a flag, burst into song and walk until the music ended. Residents and shoppers along the route would often run outside and join in the parade, clapping and walking along. There’s just something about hearing brass and drums that gives me a case of the happies.

My last night in Haiti, on our way to find a restaurant with a television showing the Pittsburgh Steelers game, which we found, I got my wish. The impromptu, all-inclusive, flag-waving, people-clapping, drum-and-brass-playing, people-leaving-their-tents-to join, parade.

Call me cased with the happies.

Posted by: mytriptohaiti | October 9, 2011

Returning to Life, Turning to Memories

My friend Tom once called me a professional volunteer. For almost three years, I have spent quite a bit of time volunteering my efforts, be it fundraising, event planning, marketing and media services, or super sweat-inducing, physical, hard work and manual labor. I care. For no other reason than I feel it.

climbing

My heart and soul aches for those who are unable to care for themselves, speak for themselves, make their own decisions, or find help when it is needed. So many people spend much of their time in pain and in search of necessities. I’ve been a part of a few projects over the years that have opened my eyes to the pain that we all share.

fam

Life is filled with pain but the most beautiful and most amazing oppositional force is another thing I have seen in great quantity. And this is why I continue to give. And those with whom I am lucky enough to share my life also give because they, too, have found great joy in finding that opposite of pain. And happiness filled me in Haiti.

cute

Through smiles.

Art.

Furcy

Celebration.

I was welcomed back to Pittsburgh with great excitement and joy and much concern and eagerness by those interested to hear what I’d seen and most of all, what Jamie and Ali McMutrie are doing now. I don’t want to say, ‘You won’t know if you don’t go,’ but I do think there are many untranslatable components to an experience of this magnitude.

While in Haiti, my role was that of a skilled volunteer, an observer, a student of life who would return home to translate the everyday of two young women working to change one life, one family at a time. Because they feel it. And because who else will.

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Posted by: mytriptohaiti | October 4, 2011

Get graffiti, Get going. Art in Haiti.

I love graffiti art.  Whether Pittsburgh or Port-au-Prince, my eyes quickly canvas walls lining each street and alleyway. I was amazed at the beauty and the number of graffiti pieces covering nearly every available wall space, not just in downtown Port-au-Prince, but along the countryside, as well.

Seeing pieces emerge from behind a tap tap meant that my camera was constantly glued to my face; I was afraid to miss a piece. And if I wasn’t able to photograph a specific piece, I’d make a mental note of the location and make sure I was ready the next time we passed by.

Only a map citing each location would have proven more exciting for me. The sheer number of pieces was amazing but none were more inspiring or more beautiful than those created by local artist, Jerry Rosembert.

Beautiful.

Here’s a great short video by ABC news that shows the evolution of these pieces and the artist.

Posted by: mytriptohaiti | September 30, 2011

Sustaining Haiti One Family at a Time

Last September, Clercine and her husband Auguste came to Jamie and Ali with a story not unlike so many other parents. The couple felt the had no choice but to put their younger child, daughter Melissa, in an orphanage. Without steady work, raising two children in their small community near Port-au-Prince would be nearly impossible. They felt they were out of options.

I think back to the stories my grandparents told of Depression-era living in the United States. The difficulty in securing the basic necessities, food and water, was so much a struggle that families were often torn apart by disease and hunger. More often though, they were torn apart by lack of money. That was a fear faced in our own country many years ago. It is a way of life for much of Haiti every day.

Knowing how desperately Clercine and Auguste wanted to keep their children, Jamie and Ali vowed to help them find another way – a sustainable way to live and raise two beautiful children. Fortunately, this was not new to them. In their years in Haiti, Jamie and Ali were able to help many families in the same way many times before.

The McMutrie sisters helped Clercine find steady work, a job she still holds today. But that’s not all. While this job helps Clercine and her family afford the very basic necessities, it has not impacted the family the way another small gift has.

During a visit to the family’s rural home, Jamie and Ali brought along a variety of seeds and suggested the family plant them.

Agriculture is a mainstay in Haiti and the land is fertile for many types of fruits and vegetables. Still, purchasing even a few seeds can be costly.

But to the girls, this small gesture of giving away a handful of seeds and teaching the family how to plant and grow them, the reward would not only germinate in the garden, but seeds of sustainability would improve the family’s standard of living, as well.

Today, the family has a large garden with a variety of foods that they are able to eat, share, and sell at the market. They have been successful with foods such as a variety of peppers, onions, spinach, lettuce, peaches, cherries, guava, pumpkin, okra, corn, and barley.

We met the family before church and even in their Sunday best, they proudly gave us a tour of their large plot.

They even have a small pig among the banana trees.

We each tasted a guava right off the tree.

Sharing one small gesture has changed not only the daily life of this family, but has kept them together, learning and sharing. This is what helps Haiti grow. This is what will be the future of sustainable life.

Posted by: mytriptohaiti | September 28, 2011

To Eat or Not To Eat…

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is eat as much of the local food as I can. Having seen Anthony Bourdain eat from the tables of street vendors in Port-au-Prince, I figured I’d be fine. I mean, if he can do it, so can I, right?

Many of us know what it’s like to pick up a hot dog or knish from a street vendor in a big city. But filling a plate with rice and beans and the local chicken in another country is something completely different. It looked wonderful and smelled just as delicious. With so many food vendors on so many streets, how could I possibly choose one?

Not only are there vendors selling hot food at all hours, but there are even more tables set up with fresh fruit and vegetables grown in backyards and along the Haitian countryside. It’s possible to pick up everything that is needed to create an entire meal at just one of these stands.

Markets open as early as 6am so most begin the long and winding trek to their stand long before dawn. It is not unusual to see farmers walking to the local market or loading up the tap tap with goods at 4:00 AM. If you happen to be on a tap tap at this time of the morning, you are sure to be squeezed in between bags of meal and flour, baskets of fruits and vegetables, and live chickens, hopefully strung on lines along the outside of the vehicle rather than in a basket at your feet.

The traditional Haitian breakfast of spaghetti with hot dogs is a great way to start the day. I thought about this meal during lunch and dinner.

Rice is common. Spicy rice, beans and rice, seafood and rice…

My favorite dish was this homemade bouillon, which is a hearty stew with chicken, carrots, potatoes, dough fingers, and loads of spices.

So much food, so little time.

Posted by: mytriptohaiti | September 24, 2011

More to Learn

I’m in Haiti visiting with Jamie and Ali to see what they do, day in and day out. I’m a skilled volunteer and am blogging and photographing the process and routine of their days, in an attempt to provide a better understanding of the value of their work. Especially, post-earthquake.

 

I’ve gone to orphanages with them, we’ve visited families in their homes, and spoken with many other volunteers who provide all manner of assistance. There is much information to compile and am still working on much of it.

With limited internet access, it is difficult to manage so, at times, I’ll post fun and interesting stories of my experience here so you can get a better idea of everything I am seeing. This will hopefully, provide a well-rounded picture. I hope you enjoy.

Posted by: mytriptohaiti | September 24, 2011

Getting Around

Days 1-2 not so much 3

09/22/2011 9am-4pm

 

I’m not sure about this, but I believe there are no rules of the road in Haiti. On occasion, drivers play a game of chicken. For no reason other than every other person in the country is also driving at that moment, also on that road.

Single lanes moving in one direction often became double and triple lanes. Not to mention a motorcycle, bicycle, and sometimes mule lane. Vehicles are everywhere. All the time. It’s difficult for me to fathom how it flows, but for Haitians, it works.

Yet, traffic jams in Haiti are more like moving tides, waves of various forms of transportation that ebb and flow. The only ‘jam’ is everyone doing everything all the time.

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I remember learning Spanish in school and giggling at the page in the workbook that showed the little yellow dog barking in Spanish. What ‘woof woof’ translates to, I forget, but learning that animals, too, speak different languages stuck with me. The same is true for vehicle horns.

We’ve all heard sirens in Britain, whether there or by watching an old movie. Haitians are not shy about using a horn, either. Unlike my use of a car horn, which is hardly ever – I’m much more a blinker user – Haitians have a hand constantly affixed to the horn.

Add all those ‘meep meeps’ from small cars, pickup trucks, box trucks, and taxis the size of buses, and you get a noisy, invigorating lesson in Haitian driving.

 

Posted by: mytriptohaiti | September 23, 2011

Roosters and Cows and Goats, Oh My!

Day 2

09/22/2011 7am

A big, bellowing “cock-a-doodle-doo” at sunrise is just about the best way to wake up. Even better, a ‘moo’ from one of a few cows along the hillside just beside the house. “There’s no hot water,” I’m told when I open it after a soft knock. I stand still, looking bewildered at Jamie before I finally blurt out, “does that mean it’s my turn?” I turn to my computer to check the time and the power has gone out, as well. Luckily for me, I can manage. Camping has prepared me for this.

An hour later we set off for Junia’s house to visit her and her two daughters, Daphcar and Schneidine.

Junia’s sister-in-law, Jeta, and her son, Kervens will be greeting us there, as well.

Our visit to the school the children will begin in October was as exciting for me as it was for them and their mothers. I walked away from the tour proud to have made this trip and honored to be able to share what two caring women have done and will continue to do for these beautiful children and their loving parents. And this is my first morning with Jamie and Ali.

It’s the day to register for school and I was lucky enough to be along for a tour of the cinder block building. Walls were scant, probably better for ventilation, and the rooms were not much bigger than a typical Pittsburgh dining room – 12×12, maybe a few feet larger. Although the building is simple and relatively small, it is not unreliable. The local water pump is in the courtyard and while we were there, women and children streamed in to fill ten gallon buckets and out with the water atop their heads.

Haitians are proud, artistic, clever, and hard working. This is a wonderful combination. Nothing goes to waste, everything is salvaged and reused if at all possible. A school worker repainted chairs for the children – the very same type of chairs used in my kindergarten class a few years ago.

School workers were sorting books and cleaning floors preparing for the 600 or so children who will fill the six rooms this year. Cedric read to the registering children while I took photographs.

One child’s tuition, including uniforms, books, and supplies for a year is equivalent to about four month’s salary for the parent. And no school is free. Some schools offer a snack program for an additional cost. For the children I met, a half day of school will last from 7am to 1pm. Unless children can walk to school, which Junia and Jeta’s can, they’d have to take a Haitian taxi service, a Tap Tap. With other costs for living in Haiti, most parents simply cannot afford a good school, much less a school at all.

This is why we visited with the families and toured the school today. These are just two families that Jamie and Ali help. Two thankful mothers can send their children to a good school and three Haitian children have a world of opportunity in front of them.

Posted by: mytriptohaiti | September 23, 2011

Welcome to Haiti

Day 1

09/21/11 5:00pm

Per email instruction from Jamie a few days before my flight to Haiti, I would find my driver upon exiting the airport. After three planes and an eleven hour day of travel, I did not find my driver. I also discovered I do not speak or understand French. Or Creole.

Rather, I found Ali and Jamie waiting for me at the end of the covered pedestrian walkway. “The airport is the most chaotic part,” Jamie assured me, and I was thankful for that. Cedric drove the three of us through downtown Port-au-Prince while acting as tour guide. My flipcam filmed the entire hour-and-a-half ride home. Up and around steep, winding roads with sidewalks completely covered with artisan and market stands, I watched wide-eyed as other cars, motorbikes, animals, and pedestrians vied for the same public space – a sometimes rubble road with potholes that would easily give Pittsburgh the award for Most Drivable City in America.

Brilliant colors coat this country and its people. Smiles and handshakes are all around. And while there is need, and rebuilding from an earthquake a year-and-a-half ago is still underway, there is much kindness and there is no doubt, beauty is around every corner.

 

 

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