Ayiti cherie -dear Haiti - is a study in contrasts. Cap-Haitien, a fast paced (bordering on frenetic) city of too many people and too little anything including land. Sen Rafayel, a mountain village of land for everyone but only if you can afford it. And in both, the contrast between the haves and the have-nots constantly assaults the eye, if one is aware.
Early Sunday morning - Sen Rafayel. Each morning the staff member who works night security, in this case, Kesner and student John-Steevenson head out with our dogs Granjil and Tigger. Each dog has a story to tell if only they could talk-if only they could write!! The sun was just coming up over the mountains and folks were making their way to church. Students work 30 min each day walking the dogs with a staff member. The morning walk is especially beautiful - everything feels fresh and clean, possibilities for the day seem endless. By the afternoon walk (student Furmancia) at 4 pm, the heat of the day has wilted everything and everyone.
|Granjil, John-Steevenson, Kesner, Tigger - doing the dog walking dance,|
also known as the tangled leash waltz.
|The dogs were respectful but curious. The pig was neither.|
|Always contrasts- a motorcycle complete with driver (Fred) who spoke English.|
|Gathering water from the canal. It is used for everything|
including laundry, cooking, bathing (humans and animals)...
|The choir director asked me to take his picture|
as he was dressed for church. He carries a keyboard, hymn books,
treasures marking him as a person of status.
|Sunday morning bath in the canal - a family affair.|
|This early riser displays bread secured for his family |
from the house of 'matant'(my aunt)
Walk over, day staff (students Angeline and Adelaine) had arrived and John-Steevenson changed his shoes and sat down to eat breakfast. We provide running shoes and socks for dog-walkers. Breakfast consisted of Kasav (flat bread we purchase in Haut-du-Cap- made from manioc root - no wheat, no gluten), home made peanut butter (mamba), a sachet of potable water and a banana, which we had purchased in Dondon on the way up the mountain. Although bananas grow here, everything has its season, and right now bananas are difficult to find and very expensive. All students receive the same unless there is a peanut allergy and we eat what they eat. We alternate peanut butter with boiled eggs and cheese.
Breakfast over we met with the engineer (after tending dog bites on each of his ankles - another story) regarding pouring the roof for the second floor. Carpenters have been working on the frame and boss feraye comes in next week to add the horizontal rebars. After the engineer, 2 intake interviews with new students Fresly and Jessido. By this time the center was full and Kesner had returned to take us to see the house he is building on the land he was able to purchase because he has a job.
His property is across from the new market (another story) in the middle of nowhere. The truck was secured, even though it would have taken a pretty knowledgeable thief to steal it- the starter is gone and we have to use a screw driver under the hood to get going. The fun never ends.
Kesner proudly showed the walls, septic (fos pedi) he dug himself , chicken coop (already full) and the lean-to he constructed for temporary housing. His 11 month old niece was taking an afternoon nap on his bed while her mother and 2 siblings sat outside under a tree.
|Security staff member Kesner is a builder and property owner.|
|His 11 month old niece takes a nap on his bed. She doesn't have one.|
Visit over we stopped at a 'restaurant' for take-out - rice and beans with vegetables (diri ak sos pwa ak legim) the only item on the menu. The cook's son was kneeling beside the shack,cleaning the head of a goat recently slaughtered. Took my appetite away. As the vegetables need a lot of preparation, the cook only prepares legim once a day. If you arrive late, there is no food. Normally if I sat in the truck waiting, a small crowd would gather as I am a blan (stranger).However there was A DOG IN THE TRUCK - so the crowd grew very large and encircled the truck. Some asked questions, some taunted the dog and some had rocks to throw as that's how animals are treated by many. After several tense minutes and much talking, our food arrived and we headed back to Lakay Jasmine without further incident (except for the problem with the brakes).
|Auguste eats Haitian style with a spoon. The dog is sitting on the steps |
as the table is beside the staircase.(another story)
As we ate, I asked Auguste about the use of a spoon. He reminisced about his childhood in the countryside commune of Montorganize. Growing up, his family only had 1 eating implement - a spoon. For everyone to eat at the same time, they hunted leaves which were strong and could be made into a scoop. This is still practiced or fingers are used.
Dinner over, I decided to forgo the afternoon dog walk and take a little solitary walk (ti vire) in the village (bouk la) We work in the community so it seems a good idea to be a visible part of it's life. Our drop-in center, Lakay Jasmine, is only about 3 minutes off the main thoroughfare. At our corner, a funeral home, the largest business in the area. Turn right and you head out down the mountain, passing through the bel antre.
|To the right, the grand entrance (bel antre) to Sen Rafayel|
To the left, small homes and smaller businesses. Study on the roof top in the waning daylight. Electricity still has not made its way into Sen Rafayel, although there are posts and wires,
|Small business - selling rice (diri) by the|
cup. ( gode) Dressed for Winter - nightime
temps drop to 60.
|Studying on the roof is common for those who have a roof.|
|Another small business- selling tomatoes.|
Perhaps Haiti captures my heart because it is so real and it challenges me to be real and to be totally present. Lately I've been reading author Deepak Chopra, this week The Ultimate Happiness Prescription" . Embedded everywhere are nuggets of wisdom I want to mine and keep. I have developed a love/hate relationship with electronic readers. I can take a library with me to Sen Rafayel but I can't underline what I want to remember. This I want to remember:
"The true self lies beyond images. It can be found at a level of existence that is independent of the good and bad opinions of others. It is fearless. It has infinite worth."
On January 24, Starthrower lost a treasured friend and staunch supporter. The world lost a tireless worker for improving the lives of those living in absolute poverty. Her family lost a wife, mother and grandmother.
Diane Plett was co-founder of the Jasmine Foundation, along with husband Benjamin. She was too young and too vital to be gone. She knew her true self and that's what you got when you met her. She was fearless and had infinite worth.
Diane's spirit is alive and well at Lakay Jasmine, part of her legacy in Haiti. She is remembered and celebrated - a true fanm vayan (valiant woman).