July 28, 2008
At six o'clock this morning, the sun, street noise and smoke streaming in through the big pink wooden doors nudged me back to consciousness. One more blare of a truck horn, and my transistion is complete. Even at this hour, I could feel the sun tanning my already brown arm, and sliding over toward the remaining shade, I realized I feel at peace for the first time in weeks.
It must be Cap Hatien. Just being here, I feel closer to...well, I don't know what. I do know I am drawn to Shada, and can't think of leaving Haiti without walking with her children again, and capturing them with my camera. But it is more than that. I was trying to explain my compulsion to a Rotary member from the states, named Claude yesterday in Port au Prince. He has been coming to Haiti since about 1988, often for several months each year, "doing god's work", as my partner, Paul would say, sort of tongue in cheek. It's his way of chastising me a bit for my cautionary eye to all evangelicals. He gives this little verbal badge of approval to any and all good hearted people who, like me, keep coming to Haiti with some small bag of good intentions, and maybe a medicine or two.
Claude had asked what I was doing in Haiti. Most of the time, when I stay at St. Joseph's, I answer that question with the short version: "bringing in medical and school supplies." This time I decided to share a bit more since Tom Griffin, another boarder at St. Joseph's had told me about Claude. I trusted Tom, his courage when trying not to slip on oosing bodily fluids while photographing piles of corpses in a forbidden morgue earned him that, and more. Tom told me that Claude was a long-timer, and a "crazy, interesting guy". Sounded like a fit for me, so I was as honest as I could come up with words for.
Sure...I bring in medical supplies, and have, in fact, managed with lots of help, to ship 27 boxes of hospital extras from Marshall Hospital in Placerville, California to Father Gerard Jean-Juste at Sainte Claire's Church in Port au Prince, near the infamous slum, Cite Soleil. This trip, I will leave most of the distribution to his discretion. Before donations got so plentiful, I would hand carry and distribute all donations myself, leaving little time to photograph or do sociological research. Having the honor of being the one that gets to hold the babies that may be saved with a little Tylenol or amoxicilin, has also granted me acceptance and access to Shada, a place most white people would not find safe to body or wallet, due to the raw extreme poverty of he inhabitants. "The hungry have no ears", as Euvonie Auguste, an elegant, well-spoken Haitian Voodoo Priestess or Monbow, told me yesterday. She explained that when people are desparately hungry, they let loose their normal convictions.
But I didn't start out coming to Haiti bringing these supplies. While I was a political prisoner for my protest of the School of the Americas I got word through Paul that I was invited to join a delegation of human rights workers going to Haiti. Even though a donated two-week old copy of the New York Times had just arrived that afternoon to Dublin Federal Prison showing drowned bodies draped in trees, and women selling dirt biscuits on the street, I was thrilled and honored to get to look into the eyes of some of the people I had gone to prison for.
Turns out, I was released too late to join the delegation. It seems, though, that Pierre Labossiere had invited me to do a bit more than take down testimony of abuses. When I asked what I could do for Hatii now, he said simply, "buy your ticket", so I did...on blind faith really. My family and friends told me I was crazy, and tried to talk me out of going alone into a country so recently racked with a hurricane and a coup d'tat, but for some reason I felt very sure from the first burst of humid wind that greeted me stepping off my little plane for the first time, that Haiti is where I need to be right now.
I tried to explain that to Claude.
Shada, where we go today, is the heart and soul of my search, I just feel it. Each time I go there I have to push back my emotion. My very good friend, old professor, and renowned photographer, Roger Vail, invited us to visit him last month in the Santa Cruz mountains, to bask in his hospitality and soak up some clean sea breeze. I had been voicing my insecurities about capturing this thing I am drawn to in Shada. As a grad student in sociology at CSU Sacramento, and a political economy student concurrently at UC Berkeley, I feel the weight of W.E.B. Dubois and the other great sociologists... and frankly feel incompetent. Roger reminded me, simply, "You don't need words". I almost cried, though Paul would tell you this is not an unusual state for me, I did feel a huge burden lift. Maybe, just maybe, I could pull this off with some photography/sociology combo.
At any rate, accepting my opportunity and my own limitations, here I am. Sitting up again in Sasha Kramer's bed.
This is the first time out of eight or nine trips to Haiti that I will not spend some of it with Sasha, now a famous Haiti humanitarian, known largely for co-founding a grass roots organization, SOIL, that has built dozens of dry toilets throughout Haiti. I can't help but see her same enthrusiasm in the bouncing puppy, Ti Compost (or Little Poop in English) that misses her here in her home here in Cap Haitien, a city dominated politically by the Aristide-originated Lavalas movement. Sometime later today, we will walk through this city into Shada, the neighborhood I tried to explain to Claude yesterday.
Partly because Shada is perhaps the most impoverished neighborhood in Haiti, I sense it holds the essence of what I find so complelling. When looking over images I've taken in Shada, I am not as drawn to the dramatic evidence of their existence, though that is so stark and strange to our sensitivities, that Paul thought he would vomit from the smell the first time he went there, as I am to the eyes of her people, especially the children. I told Claude that there is a courage and hopefulness, enduring strength and determination that I think westerners and the world could learn from. In this place, where little girls and boys walk with pigs over mounds of untold layers of muddy trash and feces, they show strength I can only aspire to. It is something I passionately want to capture a bit of, though I feel at a loss for words. Claude said, "Stupidity, is what I would call it. Why don't they just move?". I hope he was kidding, though I am not so sure.
In Shada, barefoot boys make kites salvaged from discarded yellow plastic grocery bogs; a bright eyed little girl smiled up into my camera wearing a powder pink rag the exact color as the algae bloomed pink pond behind her. Mother's cradle babies not destined to live past infancy due to hunger and malnutrition, and ask me to take their picture. This was not their doing, this is not their fault. I do feel though, that it is the world's responsibility and mine, to in any small way possible, make it right.
Thank you for caring about Haiti, and for helping to provide food, medicine, and school supplies for the chldren. Your support is making a world of difference. Later, I will try to write about our visit to Father Jean-Juste's church and seeing the feeding program, though we very seldom have both electricity and internet connection.
In solidarity, and gratitude, always,
c/o Leisa Faulkner
3025A Cambridge Road
Cameron Park, CA 95682
c/o Leisa Faulkner
3025A Cambridge Road
Cameron Park, CA 95682