Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saturday, July 30, 2016 - Day Eight - Visiting Downtown Jacmel and Visit with Voodoo Priest

Saturday, July 30, 2016 - Day Eight - Visiting Downtown Jacmel and Visit with Voodoo Priest

Ari Eckhaus reports:

Today started off with us leaving the beautiful Hotel Cyvadier. We then loaded our luggage and ourselves into the van and traveled to the town of Jacmel. We explored the small town and visited many art galleries that were offering original pieces that represented the history of Haiti. The town of Jacmel used to be a very large port in Haiti and acts as a “vacation spot” of sorts for the wealthier Haitians. Because Jacmel used to be a huge destination for travelling Americans it is fairly developed compared to other areas of Haiti and has some historical pieces from when it used to be a large trade outpost. The coolest historical piece that we saw was an old cabinet that was meant to hold letters to the captains of trading ships. 

After exploring Jacmel we packed back into the van and drove five hours back to Port-au-Prince. In Port-au-Prince we went to a small point and met a man to tell us about Voodoo culture. The man explained to us how Voodoo is trying to create an empire using an old deserted resort from the 1970s. After the man explained the fundamentals of Voodoo we went to meet the Voodoo king of Haiti. 

The king redefined the religion of Voodoo to us explaining the way that Voodoo is not inherently violent and how it is now our jobs to redefine Voodoo among our peers. After the king burned some rum and we took a nice group picture we went upstairs to observe a Voodoo ceremony. We danced, and listened to the drummers that were at the “party." After the Voodoo ceremony we went to the Voodoo church and saw interesting murals and got an idea of how a Voodoo mass is conducted. After our Voodoo experience we returned to our hotel (which was very nice compared to the other places we had stayed). After swimming, and eating a very nice dinner, we had a group discussion about our experiences in Haiti.  Finally, once we had shared our opinions of the country, we went to bed.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday, July 29, 2016 - Day Seven - Day Trip to Bassin Bleu and Visit with Baba

Friday, July 29, 2016 - Day Seven - Day Trip to Bassin Bleu and Visit with Baba

Caetano Brito reports:

Waking up to the sound of the ocean and the warm breeze at Hotel Cyvadier was a perfect way to start our 7th day in Haiti. After a tasty breakfast which included eggs, french toast, and fruit, the gang was ready to head out to Bassin Bleu. 

On our way there, we came to an impasse due to the roaring ending because of a river. Our guide Daniel, decided it was best to walk across the river as Lilly, our driver, drove around an alternative route. Step by step, each of us slowly took our time and carefully crossed the river in excitement and a little bit of fear. Once we successfully crossed the river, our journey to Bassin Bleu began. 30 seconds into our hike, we encountered a sign that said "Bassin Bleu 5.7 km." We knew this was going to be a long and physically draining hike up a steep mountain. As usual, the athletic young soccer boys, walked at their own pace and passed the rest of the group by at least 100 yards. 

The group rejoined when the boys came to a fork in the road and did not know exactly where to go. Halfway up the mountain we were exhausted. Luckily, we had enough water to make it to our destination. Each rest stop we made had its own breathtaking view of Jacmel, the ocean, and the mountains surrounding the city. It was hard to walk away from each view, but we thought a picture would be enough to capture the moment. In a way, we were jealous of the locals living in the mountains who had the view each day. 

After a couple more rigorous hills, we arrived at a sign that said "Bassin Bleu 700 m." Our faces lit up and we knew that the walk was worth it even though we had some people who could not finish and got a ride up to the destination. Waiting for us at Baba's house was fresh coconuts ready to be cut open. We each cherished the sweet states of coconut water and the meat inside. 

Finally, when we arrived at Bassin Bleu, we could not believe what we were seeing. A natural waterfall with fresh water as blue as the sky. It was truly paradise, we wanted to stay there forever. The best part for the kids was the jumps. There were three jumps, two of which Pally didn't was us to jump off of. We started with the first and second jumps which were 10 and 20 feet high. 

Trinididdy was able to capture some live action photos of the kids jumping off the waterfall jumps. After a series of diving, and cannon balls, the boys, were brace enough to climb up to the third jump which was 35 feet high. 

Due to past experiences, Pally was a against us jumping off because he didn't want any injuries. However, because boys are how they are, they chose to jump at their own risk knowing that anything could happen. Although it seemed dangerous, the jump was a once in a life time opportunity and was completely worth it. Sadly, we had to head back down to Hotel Cyvadier because the thunderstorms started rolling in. 

Making a quick stop at Baba's house, we were refreshed with some sweet coffee and a delicious meal which included rice and beans which were planted by the previous Haiti group in March. Saying one last goodbye to Bassin Bleu and Baba, we were all tired from a long day of hiking, swimming, sightseeing, and eating. The scenic route down was just as amazing as the walk up. At last, we all arrived safely at the hotel to conclude our day. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016 - Day Six - Meeting Kako and Travel Day to Jacmel

Thursday, July 28, 2016 - Day Six - Meeting Kako and Travel Day to Jacmel

Ari Eckhaus reports:

Today started in a way that was more similar to home than our previous days. We first checked out of The Wall’s guest house, and ate breakfast. Next Daniel and Lilly arrived to pick us up. With Daniel and Lilly we drove to an upper/middle class summer camp that was being put on by a famous Haitian comedian named Kako. We were informed that the kids in the camp were most likely the children of embassy workers or had parents who were wealthy Haitian-Americans on vacation visiting family. Despite their “easier lifestyle” and their luxurious camp, the kids at Kako’s camp did not seem to be having as much fun as the kids at Sakala. 

After seeing Kako’s camp we went to the Haitian equivalent of the four seasons to meet Kako himself. Kako was speaking at the gala for a paint company’s 60th anniversary, and Daniel wanted to introduce us to Kako since Kako and the paint company were helping to paint soccer field lines on the asphalt at Sakala. 

After meeting Kako we all packed into the car for a four and a half hour car ride. We were heading toward the town of Jacmel.  The drive was through the mountains of Haiti and offered beautiful views of the Haitian countryside that gave us a new perspective on the country. Half way up the mountain we were caught in a torrential downpour and were forced to pull over to put our luggage inside the van. This cutdown on space in the van which was already a premium prior to the rain. Eventually, after about 5 inches of rain and a fallen tree blocking the road the rain cleared and we arrived in Jacmel. 

We got to the hotel, ate dinner, and went for a swim in the ocean which was right outside our hotel rooms. To end the night I looked back on the day and wondered why the kids at the wealthier Kako’s camp seemed to be enjoying their time less than the kids at Sakala. Was this because recreational activities were a privilege for the kids in Cité Soleil and something that the kids in the wealthier camp felt they were entitled to? 

I also reflected on the extravagant hotel that we met Kako in and the way that this created a juxtaposition between life in developed countries and developing countries since the overpopulated hills of Port-au-Prince were visible from the hotel. Finally, I thought about how the car ride to Jacmel changed the way that I saw Haiti. I compared the hills we saw in the Haitian countryside to the ones I had seen in Guatemala and came to the conclusion that these countries are similar geographically and physically, but I couldn’t help but wonder what forces that weren’t so visible were keeping Haiti in its current state.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - Day Five - Visit to Haiti Communitere, the Posh Community of Belvil, SOPUDEP School, and Fort Jacques

Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - Day Five - Visit to Haiti Communitere, the Posh Community of Belvil, SOPUDEP School, and Fort Jacques

Gabi Brito reports:

Waking up this morning was stickier than usual-literally. You'd think the humidity would become easier to deal with over time, but instead it seems to be hitting us harder each and everyday. The cold showers are seriously so so good. Our scheduled pick up time from the hotel is usually around 9, but knowing our fellow Haitian friends, it ends up being closer to 10 due to "island time." We saw some pretty interesting sights on our way to our first destination.

#1 US Embassy, which consisted of a gigantic building with a long line full of well-dressed Haitians awaiting their visa approvals. $160 for a visa is not cheap, and rejection is quite common among these hard-working people.

#2 The UN. We asked Daniel, our guide, what exactly does the UN do for Haiti? His answer? Absolutely nothing. They spend almost $2 million each day to drive around and checkpoint different areas, when that type of money should instead be going to infrastructure, education, health, etc., something that Haitians would actually benefit from! It makes me frustrated that the government seems to be just absolutely absent from providing to its citizens.

Upon arrival at Haiti Communitere, our first stop, I immediately saw some pretty cool structures all around. Samuel was the manager at the place and started explaining to us what their project was all about. They made houses and other projects like gardens, chairs, and mosquito catchers all out of recycled material people would find as trash on the streets of Haiti. One of the houses in particular was made entirely out of tires and 10,000 plastic bottles. This house was beautiful, and even I would buy it! It was nice and cool on the inside, making it perfect for the hot, humid weather of Haiti. The ingenuity of using trash to build sturdy houses for Haitians is sustainable, economic, environmentally-friendly, and totally cool! I was really inspired by Haiti Communitere and would love to someday buy my own home following the same blueprint Samuel had for the houses he built.

Back on the road we got stuck in some traffic at an intersection going four different ways with no road lights. People just trying to squeeze by whenever they could was total chaos. But the irony of it all was these two woman on the side of the road carrying about 50 eggs on their heads, absolutely unfazed by the noise and disorganization happening on the streets: maintaining grace and elegance at all times.

Next up, we embarked on a road trip around the outskirts of Haiti. It was then how the contrast between the rich and the poor became so prevalent. We saw huge mansions with beautiful gates and porches all around. Belvil, one of the rich communities we drove around, had security guards, paved roads, and even sidewalks. Rare sightings. 

We then stopped by one of the biggest projects we've seen yet: a new school being built by a beautiful, determined Haitian woman named Rea. This school was massive, providing 18 classrooms, a computer lab, a library, and even a garden rooftop. So far 837 kids are awaiting their spot at this amazing school soon to be open in 2017. Rea's work is truly inspiring, creating this school entirely off of donations. Hungry for lunch, we stopped by a Haitian fast food restaurant where most of us ate crepes with either chicken squeezed out of plastic bags or a crepe of ham and cheese. Some of us just stuck with a power bar lunch!

The last stop of the day was Fort Jacques. The ride there was stunning. We saw the more rural parts of Haiti, towns where there weren't as many people roaming the streets and more peaceful all around. The mountainside was green and the crevices ran deep. After a long car ride we finally arrived to a group of teenagers who were very excited we had come. It seemed as if very few foreign tourists frequented the area. You'd think the tourism would be booming at fort Jacques, especially since it's such an important historical ruin in Haiti. It was built after the French left Haiti as a form of protection from their return. We went through pitch black rooms where soldiers slept and tried to lift 4,000 lb cannons. We even had a funny conversation with a couple creole-speaking kids using hand-signals and some broken French. The views we saw were breathtaking; Haiti may be vast and full of beauty from afar, but when we are up close in communities such as Cité Soleil we also remember the immense poverty and struggle most Haitians have to deal with on a daily basis. We said our goodbyes and mesi to our 17 year old tour guide who did a great job practicing his English and made our way back to our comfortable guest house, Wall’s, in Delmas.

It was a long day full of financial disparities, inspiring people and ideas, and historical enlightenment. Haiti is so complex and difficult to fully understand. Everyday new questions arise that seem impossible to answer.  Why is it that the Haitian people don't do anything much to change their dire situation? Start a revolution maybe? The never-ending cycle of poverty and struggle Haitian people have to deal with masks the bigger picture of absolute surrender and continued enslavement to the corrupt government system.  A "miracle" is all Haitians need, or is it?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - Day Four - Visit to Croix Des Bouquets, Back to Sakala, and Walkabout in Cité Soleil

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 - Day Four - Visit to Croix Des Bouquets, Back to Sakala, and Walkabout in Cité Soleil

Katie Dennison reports:

To start our fourth day in Haiti, we chowed down to a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and fresh fruit. Shortly after eating, our van pulled up and we all piled in excited to visit an area within Port-au-Prince called Croix Des Bouquets.  Croix Des Bouquets is famous for its metalwork made of steel oil drums that are burned to remove paint then hand stamped and shaped into art pieces. Beautiful and unique wall art, bracelets, and figures representing different aspects of Haitian culture are a few examples.

Before touring the different metal artisans stores, we visited a voodoo artist named Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph who creates voodoo flags which are essentially beaded tapestries depicting voodoo spirits. Each voodoo flag takes up to three months to create and are sold for hundreds, and in some cases thousands of dollars. Each piece was authentic and depicted a distinct aspect of Haitian voodoo culture, which challenged many mainstream US ideas about voodoo. Some of us bought smaller items like key chains and coin purses while others splurged on larger tapestries and paintings. We said goodbye and mesi (thank you in Creole) and decided to continue exploring the metalwork the area is known for. After observing artisans at work we toured shops and purchased merchandise. After an hour of roaming around the area we sought respite on a bench where local children greeted us with smiles and Quenepe (a local fruit that is similar to a Lychee).

Once we parted ways with the locals we returned to the van and made our way to Sakala. We arrived at Sakala and the kids quickly recognized us. We naturally broke off into different groups, playing sports like soccer and volleyball while others played singing and hand games. The language barrier did not stop us from communicating and playing games in the blistering heat. To say the least, our second day at Sakala was full of laughter, smiles, and sweat. Before leaving Sakala, the volleyball coach, Davidson, gave us a tour of Cite Solei during which we were exposed to the living conditions of the city residents. We waded through streets filled with trash and filthy water that paralleled a canal full of putrid smelling rotting garbage. We were disgusted, shocked, and overwhelmed with the living conditions in Cite Soleil. Davidson also introduced us to some of the local families who lived in tiny cement houses that surrounded the canal. The families were shy but thankful for our visit as, we hope, our presence reminds them of our solidarity.

We returned to Sakala for one last volleyball game before leaving for the guesthouse. At the Wall’s we ate dinner and had a group discussion reflecting upon the themes that we had recognized during our time in Haiti so far. We also discussed the most important interaction or moment we had during the day. We all agreed that throughout the day we were challenged to get comfortable with being uncomfortable with regards to heat and humidity, as well as understanding some of the complex ideas that Haitians have about their country.

But perhaps, Peter best summarized Haitian progress as being equal parts big and small.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Monday, July 25, 2016 - Day Three - Missionaries of Charity Orphanage, Papillon Enterprise, Visit with Lavarice Gaudin of the What If? Foundation

Monday, July 25, 2016 - Day Three - Missionaries of Charity Orphanage, Papillon Enterprise, Visit with Lavarice Gaudin of the What If? Foundation

De La Salle High School student Ari Eckhaus reports:

To begin our day we checked out of the Eucalyptus guest house. This was difficult for us all because of the relationships we had formed especially most of us kids who had a very informative conversation with one of the house worker named Caleb. 

After leaving Eucalyptus we traveled to the Missionaries of Charity Orphanage located in Port-au-Prince. We were greeted at the orphanage by mothers who were begging for us to take their children into the establishment. My understanding is that some Haitians use this orphanage as a daycare where their kids can be taken care of. Others leave their kids in the orphanage more permanently but the parents visit the kids quite frequently. When we walked into the orphanage we found about 20 children varying from newborn to 4 years old, and all in varying states of mind and health. Some children were up and about walking around with smiles on their faces and seemed relatively healthy. While others were so malnourished that they were confined to their cribs and unable to walk. Many of us interacted with the children who looked more sickly until the sadness and guilt forced us to move on and enjoy the cheerful presence of the other children. We played, held, and even helped feed the children for about an hour. When that time had passed we were faced with the difficult task of leaving the kids back in their cribs. Most children cried, screamed, and even crawled and walked after us as we left the room their cribs were in.

Following the heavy mental baggage of the orphanage we tried to lighten our spirits by eating a traditional US-American lunch of pizza and burgers at an organization called Papillon Enterprise. Papillon is an NGO that works on giving jobs to Haitian parents to keep their children out of orphanages (perhaps the very same one we had visited earlier in the morning) by providing them with the means for a livelihood. We toured the workspace at Papillon seeing the way that the Haitian artisans worked like a well oiled machine to produce clay, paper, and glass beads for jewelry as well as pottery pieces.

Following the tour of Papillon and a quick shopping spree we returned to Shalom (the (Megachurch whose service we had attended the day before) to meet a man named Lavarice Gaudin who with much help from Saint Mary’s donations runs a program to feed hungry citizens in the poor neighborhood surrounding the megachurch (he is not affiliated with the megachurch). Lavarice, along with the US based What If? Foundation also has created a beautiful school called the Father Jeri school. We were given a tour of Lavarice’s school and listened to him share his political views about what Haiti must do to improve its living conditions for its people. Lavarice also shared his thoughts on Shalom. Rather surprisingly after 8 years of working within 50 feet of each other Shalom and Lavarice’s organization don't get along particularly well.

When we had said our goodbyes to Lavarice, we loaded back into the van and headed back to our new guest house the Wall's Guest House (the name is after the people who run the house). After a large dinner. We had a group discussion on the day. Many of us agreed that the hardest part was leaving the wailing kids at the orphanage. We concurred that we had abandoned them in a similar way that their parents had, making many of us feel guilty, and sad. We continue to reflect on the questions are we doing more harm than good and why are we in Haiti. We also talked about the pros and cons of Papillon and the ways that we feel it is more tourist oriented then it should be.  Finally, we discussed our thoughts on Lavarice and his school with many of us brainstorming ways that we can continue to help his school grow. All in all we agreed that today was the most emotionally complex day in Haiti thus far.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sunday, July 24, 2016 - Day Two - A Visit to Saint Jude Catholic Church, Église Shalom Tabernacle De Gloire, Atis Rezistans

Sunday, July 24, 2016 - Day Two - A Visit to Saint Jude Catholic Church, Église Shalom Tabernacle De Gloire, Atis Rezistans

Lizzie Ward reports:

Our second day in Haiti was full of complex and controversial emotions.  It was Sunday, and due to the deep spirituality of Haitian culture, we went to church. Two churches to be exact. The first was Catholic, located in an upper middle class area (which looks completely different in Haiti than it does in the US). The service was beautiful, and though the priest was speaking in Haitian Creole, due to our familiarity with Catholic liturgies we understood the content and tone of the mass. The service also had a heavy component of music, the chorus sang earnestly and beautifully, with drums as accompaniment, speaking of Haiti’s connections to Africa. The church was packed, standing room only, and the people who filled it came in all shapes, sizes, and ages.  The sense of community was in the air. 

The second church that we attended was Église Shalom Tabernacle De Gloire (or, Shalom, for short), a Pentecostal Protestant megachurch that stared less than ten years ago. In the years of its existence, Shalom has grown from one man preaching in a small room to a massive open-air megachurch that can seat over a thousand people and has numerous pastors. The church was full of intense energy and emotion, and the air was filled with the sounds of singing and shouts.  The congregation of Shalom is extremely earnest and kind, and when they sing their emotions saturate their voices. One of the songs that touched our group as a whole was repeated for almost the whole service

The Creole lyrics were Bondye ou san parey Ou toujou la pou defann muien Si ou pa te pal Yo ta deja fini ave Kmwen Pote ba ou tout pwoblem yo Pote ba ou tout Kirye nou yo. 

The song is a prayer to God for deliverance out of their suffering in the form of a miracle.  The beautiful emotion conveyed in Shalom is somewhat tainted by the corruption of the original pastor. The people who attend Shalom are very, very poor, but they donate their last dollar to the church, which goes toward the lavish lifestyle of the pastor instead of back into the community.  It is impossible to convince the congregation of the pastor’s immorality though, partly because it is not our place, and partly because, as Daniel, our guide, said in regards to Shalom: “When you have a health system that has failed and a government that provides no jobs and an education you cannot trust, this is what you know is real: hope, faith, and love, with a depth of conviction and resignation to the divine.” Despite the unjust sacrifice that the poor of Shalom believe they must make in order for God to grant them a miracle, they have found a beautiful community that they believe strongly and earnestly in, and though we may think it wrong we cannot deprive Haiti of that. 

The other aspect of our day was a visit to Atis Rezistans, a project aimed at empowering at risk youth through the production of art. The art is made out of trash collected from the streets of Haiti and depicts mostly voodoo themes, such as snakes made out of rusty nails and human skulls covered in paint. Some in our group found it fascinating and some found it terrifying, but it was certainly unique. 

After a very long and intense day, we headed back to the Eucalyptus Guest House tired. That didn’t stop us from discussing the complexity of Shalom and Haiti itself for over two hours though. We are not much closer to a definitive answer, but we are “wrestling with it” as Mr Palladino says. 

Best wishes to all our friends and family at home.

Bon Bagay!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Saturday, July 23, 2016 - Day One - Day at Sakala and Soccer Game for Peace

Saturday, July 23, 2016 - Day One - Day at Sakala and Soccer Game for Peace

Our first full day in Haiti was a joyful one spiritually, and a difficult one physically.  After a delicious breakfast, Daniel picked us up and we headed out to Sakala, which is an organization that Daniel created to provide hope to children and young people of Cité Soleil.  Sakala stands for “Sant Kominote Altènatif Ak Lapè,” which translates from Haitian Creole into English as “The Community Center for Peaceful Alternatives.”

Originally a Pax Christi initiative, it is indeed a youth-oriented community center that provides organized activities, and mostly sports.  Soccer, volleyball, and basketball are mainstays while board games, and especially "hot hands" are staples.  The latter is that old elementary school game where we place our hands on top of another's hands and they try to slap while we avoid getting hit.  Sakala also provides women's empowerment, computer education, and language education (particularly English language via Rosetta Stone software) programs to the young people.  Funding for the organization is available through public grants and private donations.

Saint Mary's College High School (SMCHS) has actively supported Daniel and Sakala since the very first immersion experience to Haiti took place in 2012.  Whenever SMCHS brought gifts, they have always been well used and cared for.  Immersion experience participants take a position of support rather than a position of imposition.  They ask the question: "What do you need?" rather than "Here's what you need to use." 

Throughout the day, our students were involved in all the sports, joining right in and socializing with the many kids who were present.  In the midst of heat and humidity, soccer, volleyball, and basketball were happening simultaneously while Gabi, an SMCHS alumna and resident expert in Afro-Haitian and Afro-Brasilian dance, got going with a set of the Sakala participants.  There were no inhibitions, and everyone seemed genuinely interested in learning how to dance.  Smiles and laughter littered the air as the Sakala kids tried their best to imitate their leader's movements. 

Two Sakala participants, Albert and Jesula, are ready to graduate from high school and have high hopes of transcending the barriers that Cité Soleil and the surrounding hopelessness imposed upon them.  Albert was busy practicing his English with the Rosetta Stone software program and Jesula just completed her high school summative exit exam.  She is waiting for the results.  While she is confident that she passed with flying colours, her dream of becoming a physician, she says, must be put aside in order to take up the more "practical" profession of agronomy studies and to learn specifically about sustainable agricultural methods.  

Jesula is deeply involved in the agronomy initiative at Sakala called the Jaden Tap Tap.  

This description of Jaden Tap Tap comes directly from their website: 

"The central component of Sakala’s agronomy program is the “Jaden Tap Tap” (Tap Tap Garden), our community urban garden and tree nursery.  Set on over an acre of land that was once a garbage dump, the garden now has more than 500 brightly-painted tire gardens, a flower garden, and a moringa tree nursery.  The Jaden Tap Tap is a source of hope, as well as improvement in food security, health, environment, and community development our neighbors in Cite Soleil.  
The Jaden Tap Tap is also a living classroom, providing youth with a safe, positive environment in which to learn the basics of agroecology, agroforestry, nutrition, and to develop their leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Waste recycling and composting are also important elements of the program. 
We have a community Eco-San toilet and we lead community-wide workshops on recycling, composting, as well as planting trees and gardening.  The Jaden Tap Tap employs ten at-risk young adults that would otherwise have little economic opportunity.  This group is also being trained to garden as a business. We also recently launched a 'Moringa the Miracle Tree' campaign which encourages neighbors to grow and use the tree, and we plan to plant 10 million trees, one for every Haitian."

Though the cost of studying medicine is extremely cost prohibitive, Jesula knows that the area of study she wants to undertake will prove to be very useful in Haiti, in general, and Cité Soleil, in particular.  

Albert, on the other hand, has hopes of leaving Haiti altogether to study engineering in the United States.  It is the reason why he is working on his English and was eager to practice his skills with the new Sakala visitors to see how he measures up. 

At midpoint in the day, a well-known Haitian comedian named Kako Bourjolly stopped by with a really good friend of his who manufactures industrial paints.  The kids all flocked to get a glimpse of the famous figure and the news cameras that followed him.  They came to visit with Daniel and discuss how the comedian's friend can help to provide the paints necessary to create game regulation striping of the bare asphalt.  These are the official lines to designate such things as the playing area, offside areas, and so on for the various sports.  Daniel hopes that by placing these regulation stripes that it will help to attract kids from the other neighborhoods, and, that they will be able to host games and matches with teams from other neighborhoods, and in particular those teams that come from more affluent areas of Port Au Prince.  

After a full day's worth of playing games, another game was to be played on the outskirts of Cité Soleil.  A soccer game was arranged between the Sakala women's and men's team and another set of teams from a neighbourhood closer to the water.  According to Daniel, there have been some gang related tensions and it was agreed to by all parties that a soccer game would help to heal any wounds.

As we left Sakala and made our way to the place where the match would take place, we had a clearer view of the difficulties that residents of Cité Soleil have to go through.  Trash was everywhere, and sanitation was a major issue.  Refuse and sewage mix together in a disgusting and putrid way.  It is clear that there is no infrastructure in what seems to be a forgotten city.  People eek out a living selling whatever wares they can salvage.  Fresh fruit and vegetable stands selling mangoes, avocados, quenepe, and sugar cane and other brightly coloured foods offset the dismal background. 

We arrived at the pitch and the women's game started.  We were surprised at how physically the game was being played.  There was a lot of body contact and jockeying for position.  But, even if the Sakala women lost two to nothing, as hard as the game was being played, handshakes and hugs were abundant and this show of peace concluded the hard fought match. 

Then came the surprise of the afternoon.  Daniel asked Cole, Peter, Dane, and Gaetano to participate in the men's match.  To their delight the four SMCHS soccer players joined in.  It was an exciting opportunity for them to play alongside the Sakala men's team, some of whom were at the community center earlier in the day.  The four held their own through the intensity and the physical play.  Their Sakala teammates were eager to get the four the ball in order to give them an opportunity to score.  Cole picked up an assist in the two to nothing victory for the Sakala team, avenging the women's team loss.  But, of course, the real victory belongs to the cause of peace, which competitive sports, thankfully, helps to advance.

After the match, we drove back to Eucalyptus House and we shared our experiences of the day after dinner.  After a guided meditation by Mr Trinidad focusing on the sense of "sight" Mr Palladino asked us the following questions:

What most challenged me today?
What most inspired me today?
What was one thing that I saw that really struck me?
What was one thing that I saw someone else do that really inspired me?

There were various challenges including a significant language barrier which made direct communication difficult.  The heat and humidity was especially stifling and it made "staying present" also challenging.  It was difficult to see the various wounds on the Sakala children, some of which appear to have been untreated for sometime, and many of which appear to be the result of poor sanitation. 

There were many inspiring moments including Peter teaching chess to an eager group.  In spite of the language barrier, Peter successfully taught the basic mechanics of the game and that same group was glued to that game set for most of the time that we were at Sakala.  We talked about Albert and Jasoula and their hopes and dreams and how Sakala is changing the narrative of hopelessness that surrounds much of Cité Soleil life.  

Finally, we all agreed that Gabi was the heroine of the day ... she jumped right in with no inhibitions and taught dance and yoga and kept a smile the whole time. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016 - Day Zero - Departure and Arrival

Friday, July 22, 2016 - Day Zero - Departure and Arrival 

After meeting at SFO at the unholy hour of 5.30 am, we checked in and found our flight to ATL on time.  After a terminal shift in ATL, we also boarded an on time flight for Port Au Prince.  We did not know why either was a surprise but we were thankful for everything running like clockwork.

We landed in Port Au Prince without too much fanfare in spite of the random flashes of lightning in the background and new world crosswinds.  Streaming through customs and immigration, we picked up all of our luggage, proceeded out of the airport and found Mr Daniel Tillas waiting for us.  

Daniel has been our prime translator and guide while in Haiti, and this trip is the eighth installment of this very successful immersion experience program.  He has been helping us with contacts and arrangements since the very beginning.  There are eight students (plus one who will arrive tomorrow night) with us on this trip, with three being second time participants.  

Outside of the airport, the intense humidity hits you in the face like a Scandinavian sauna stalking us everywhere we go, broken up roads with plenty of random rubble, and total darkness illuminated by the occasional car and very scant city lights.  Apparently, the city power grid is offline until about midnight.  People are milling about, being social ... music is blaring from a truck on the left and a makeshift corrugated tin roof hut on the right.  The poverty seems to be a given, but the joy on people's faces is clear.  And, maybe that, too, helps to light up this early part of our journey.

Daniel drove us to our residence for the next three days, the Eucalyptus Guest House.  We were greeted Ernso, the proprietor of the guest house who warmly greeted us and welcomed us to his place.  After a very tasty meal consisting of fried chicken, red beans and rice, fresh avocado, beets, carrots, and finished off with eucalyptus tea, we sat for our first reflection meeting of the trip.

Mr Joe Palladino led our reflection and asked us:

Who are we?
Why are we here?
What we might be afraid of? 
and, What are we curious about?

And, with that, we proceeded to share with one another our intentions and aims for the trip and we got to know one another.  Already bonds are being formed as short stories of our early experiences were being shared with one another. 

Words of wisdom were shared by all:

Lean in, don't lean out; 
"Punch the devil in the face" (to be explained later, says Palladino); 
stay present;
wrestle with your questions;
and, work with "island time."

Group responsibilities were also divvied up with rather interesting titles:

Dean of Water: Caetano
(responsible for ensuring the group is hydrated at all times)

Overlord of Timeliness: Dane
(to counteract island time, our group needs to be on time all the time)

Vibes Co-Coordinators: Peter and Lizzie
(to ensure inclusive community within the group)

President of Introductions: Gabi
(responsible for formally introducing our group to folks we will meet)

Sheriff of Smartphones: Cole
(no phones, only our presence!)
Assistant Manager to the Regional Manager of Blogs and Pictures: Mr T
(to share our stories with our loved ones back home)

Minister of Sunscreen: Ari
(to remind us to protect ourselves from UV rays always)

Secretary of Bugspray: Katie
(to remind us to protect ourselves from miscreant bugs)

With that, and after a long day of travel, we decided to call it a night.  Tomorrow, we meet Daniel after breakfast for a daylong excursion to Sakala

(wi fi is a little slow, and we'll try and post photographs when the line speeds up!)