Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Signs of Spring in Haiti

Day three in Haiti. The days have been very full, with little time to write and sketchy access to Internet connections. I am traveling with Sabrina Reisinger de Angulo, producer with the FSU Film School, and film students Hali Gardella and Patrick Gines, who are working on a film for FAVACA about the “pieces of change” that individual volunteers can bring to a country like Haiti. They are fun and wonderful traveling companions.

Our FAVACA contact here is Marc Roger, who also doubles as our interpreter, cultural translator and driver of unparalleled skill. We are staying at the home of Regina Jarr, a warm woman and gracious hostess, who regularly opens up her home to volunteers like us. Regina was in her office in downtown Port au Prince when the earthquake struck, although she and her staff were not seriously injured. It is remarkable that this level of devastation, which claimed 300,000 lives, could occur from an event that lasted only 30 seconds (but which Regina said felt like an hour.) Regina’s children live in Miami, where she went to stay for three months after the earthquake, just arriving back at her home in Port au Prince the day we showed up. I asked her why she came back instead of resettling in Miami close to her children. She said she was born in Haiti; it’s home, but also that things move too fast and people stay too busy in the States. Amen to that!

I have found Haiti to be physically devastated but remarkably strong in spirit. Although living conditions are dire, with tent cities stretching on for blocks and blocks, covering the lawns of the now collapsed Presidential Palace, the main government offices and the National Television station, there is a determined effort to put normal routines back into place. Many children in uniforms fill the streets in the afternoon, walking home from private schools. Informal markets line the streets, selling produce, bottled water, soft drinks, fried plantains and other local favorites. Artisans sell wood carvings, metal works and bright-colored paintings that depict the landscape, people and street scenes. I didn’t expect to do souvenir shopping in a country so recently and profoundly devastated by a natural disaster, which I explained to my children when they asked what I would be bringing back to them. Yet, the venders are there, sprung up like perennial plants in my garden, always a surprise after a winter it seemed nothing could survive.

The Haitian people are a beautiful, spirited people, a unique blend of the African, French and indigenous Taino Indians, who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when the Europeans arrived. As Patrick, my fellow traveler says in the interview I will try to post, we here to be pieces of change. Maybe small pieces. But you have the sense when you are here that the proud and resilient Haitian people can build a stronger, better more prosperous and sustainable country with the help of many small pieces of change. The keys will be to respect the vision of the Haitian people for where they want to take their country and for the world to stand ready to provide the pieces of change that will be required for a very long time.

It is a great blessing for me to experience Haiti as I’ve never seen it on a newscast or imagined it to be and to be, myself, a small piece of the fabric of change in Haiti, thanks to FAVACA.

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