I’ve been back in the states a few days now. Here in west Michigan the traffic is mostly minimal. The winter semester has kicked off and the daily grind is in full effect. The weather has moderated and a sense of relative normalcy has returned.
The transition back from Haiti has been a startling one. I’m thinking back on the shocking week around the Haitian capital and I’ve noticed it resonates daily.
It’s time to talk about Haiti.
There is poor…and then there is Haiti poor. I’m going to come out and say it. I’ve never been anywhere like this. Ever.
I’ve been some places, I’ve seen some shit..but nothing like this. Shocking on multiple levels on a daily basis. I tried to place and contextualize all of this brutal new input…and finally it came down to post apocalyptic imagery, books, movies…Mad Max type shit. Here’s the kicker though…Mad Max set on a Caribbean island with a cool sea breeze.
How’s that for bizarre?
I will tell you this. Most go here from the states with a well intentioned but condescending super white pity. They come down for a week with a Church, bang out a another church, feel like they saved the world. Pat them selves on the back and go home with a bracelet.
When you show up as a “tourist” most Haitians are quite confused. They give you this look essentially saying “the fuck are you doing here?!”…takes a bit getting used to.
KNOW THIS. (Thank me later)
You will accomplish absolutley, positively, nothing in Haiti without a fixer. A local keen to help you and show you how to navigate the insanity in return for your American dollars. Accept this, embrace it and enjoy.
Haiti is a place that slays spontaneity. My usual travel style died a painful awkward death by the second day in country. But once a solid fixer entered the picture, the layers of this turbulent island began to peel back a bit for a wee peek.
This is where I will directly recommend my man Richard. (Jacques Richard Miguel) his story is as rugged and awry as the local landscape. Richard grew up in New York, after his parents immigrated from Haiti in the 1960s. He soon discovered rock n roll, and the party that raged along with it in the 1980s. Richard eventually succumbed to a crack addiction and was arrested stealing from a department store to get his fix. He was deported back to Haiti in 1988. After getting clean Richard had no choice but to adapt to his new yet native home. (He has been clean over 12 years) His observations and insights delivered in New York accented English and rapid fire French are priceless and reveal keen tidbits about modern Haiti. (Please drop me an email or a comment for his contact info.)
Through Richard we were able to discover the gnarled yet throbbing art scene expanding in the capital. The best example of this being the Ghetto Biennale. This “art gallery” literally sits among the tarp/trash city within Port Au Prince and is run as a collective. This is also the coolest fucking gallery I’ve ever visited. No pretension here. Every piece is made 100% from collected garbage. Kids collect the pieces and learn how to craft/create. This is raw, this is real, and completely kick ass.
These aspiring young artists show amazing skill and tenacity. We enjoyed joking and a few candid photos on this afternoon visit.
You come to realize that “garbage” in Haiti includes metal, car parts, glass, body parts, etc. upon realizing the abundance of real skulls I was told “after earthquake, we find everything”. For a very somber moment I let that one sink in while admiring the twisted beauty of these pieces.
Voodoo themes abound and flow through the reality that is life in the capital.
Next up on the agenda is the attempt to roadtrip outside of the capital…sounds easy enough right?
Didn’t I tell you this one was going to get weird? I’m still ripping through thoughts and words back here where things mostly work, and I don’t have memories of an earthquake that claimed near half a million lives.
Want more Haiti?
Drop a comment with your thoughts.
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