hope for a new year

No one can deny that the people of Haiti have had--only barely metaphorically--one hell of a year.

On this day a year ago, the country's capital and surrounding areas experienced a shaky start to the new year with an earthquake that many Haitians heralded as an apocalyptic warning. The country could hardly be said to have gotten back on its feet when, in October, the country was hit with a cholera epidemic for which it was not at all prepared and which spread rapidly to all areas of the country. In the midst of this unprecedented illness, Haiti's citizens prepared for and participated in a highly disputed and unpredictable presidential election, the results of which led to riots and roadblocks in its major cities.

On my recent trip to Haiti, I experienced, in some way at least, the repercussions of each of these major events: I saw the sprawling tent cities which, in many cases, are becoming more permanent rather than being dismantled; I worked in a cholera clinic; and I saw the lines of election posters, heard the pre-election rumors, and experienced the frustration of people stuck in the post-election roadblocks.

Throughout my journey, I experienced a gamut of emotions that I know was only a drop in the bucket compared to the emotional roller coaster that the Haitian people rode this year. But the feeling that emerged on top, somehow, was admiration.

I spent time with many Haitians of different classes and witnessed in all of them attitudes better than the ones I have on my bad days--days which, even if strung together at their worst would create a year that could not begin to compete with the year the Haitian people just experienced.

For many Haitians, their good attitude is based on hope: hope that the earthquake's destruction could be an opportunity to build a better infrastructure; hope that cholera could spur someone to promote better sanitation methods and education; hope that this election could bring about a change. Along with all these hopes, the Haitian people cling to a traditional hope--a hope in the proverbial new morning, a hope that this year will be better than the last.


calebasse: a conclusion

As anyone who has been reading this blog from the time we left for Haiti knows, our trip did not turn out exactly as we had expected. But just because the trip was not as we thought it would be does not mean it was bad; in contrast, it was better than I could have ever planned it myself!

Before we got the surprise call to Ebenezer Clinic, I was writing a lot about Mom's calebasse project. Needless to say, the cholera epidemic put our calebasse plans on hold for three weeks, but when we got back to Port, we jumped right back into the project. And just like the rest of our trip, this project turned out differently than we expected, but was still successful, as far as I can tell.

Originally, Mom thought the main part of the project would entail giving classes at a local art gallery. She hoped that she would also be able to spend a little time at her friend Caroline's school. Well, classes at the art gallery fell through, but this just meant that our focus shifted to the school. Considering that we had less time than originally planned (due to the three weeks we spent in Limbe) it was actually a blessing that we could narrow our focus.

So, as I wrote in a previous post, I spent one day teaching kindergarten kids to make calebasse ornaments. After I came home and showed Mom the pictures of the kids and their ornaments, she was rearing to head to the school the next day to work with the older students.

On our second day at the school, we met the art teacher, Hans Francois. He is an accomplished multi-media artist who has even done a little work with calebasse. Furthermore, he has previously been involved in organizing community art clubs and would like to start an art club for interested students at the school.

Before we went to Haiti, Mom had collected tools and supplies for calebasse art
that she had intended to donate to the art gallery after she taught the artists there how to use the tools. Since that was no longer an option, Mom was happy to find an excellent alternative: she left the remaining calebasse and all the supplies with Hans Francois. He plans to apprentice a few interested older students, teaching them new methods and how to use the electric tools.

This is only one example of the interest Mom raised with her calebasse project. The family we
were staying with--who had no interest in calebasse art before Mom introduced it--grew increasingly interested as they witnessed her process of collecting and drying calebasse.

After seeing her students experiment with calebasse art and hearing the art teacher's plan to start a school art club, Caroline invited Mom back to participate in the club. She also suggested that Mom plan a visit to Haiti that would put her in Port-au-Prince for the annual fall art show at the Petionville Sugarcane Museum. Attending this show would give Mom an opportunity to rub shoulders with many Haitian artists and to spread awareness about the possibilities of calebasse art.

But even the Haitians who were most interested in calebasse art were highly realistic--I guess this is where Haitians get their reputation as masters of micro-enterprise. Thus, throughout our trip, Mom found herself continually challenged by the following, very fair question: "Where is the global market for calebasse/gourd art?"

I once heard that the goal of the best teachers is to leave their students asking more questions
at the end of a lesson than they had at the beginning. If this is true, Mom's calebasse project has been a successful lesson--it has left her with some research to do.

So before Mom makes any more plans to spread the possibilities of calebasse art throughout
Haiti, she is interested in looking into exactly what its possibilities might be--not only from an artistic standpoint, but also from a marketing standpoint. As she brainstorms the answer to the Haitians' question, Mom is open to collaboration. If you have any ideas about this subject, she would love to hear them!


haiti conclusions to come...

For those of you who don't know, I'll put your minds at ease; The abrupt lapse in my posting was not due to any major problem--whether political, health-related, or airline-induced--with our Haiti trip. In fact, Mom and I made it safely home ahead of schedule and--other than the shock from the sudden climate change--unscathed.

Rather, my lapse in blogging was due to the typical busyness of the holiday season, which for me included participation in my cousin's beautiful wedding on New Year's Day. So I apologize for the rather ungraceful halt to my Haiti articles. But on the other hand, I suppose that most of you were just as busy as me over the past couple of weeks and wouldn't have had much time for reading anyways. So, if you are still interested, I have a few more stories about and reflections on my trip to Haiti that I would love to share (and my mom has some input, too!)--even though I am not there any more.

So stay tuned for some conclusions about our trip--I'll try not to leave you hanging this time!