I made a promise that I was going to try and highlight the more positive aspects of Haiti to combat the whole wicked world syndrome thing. And I think I did. It wasn’t that difficult because compared to when we first ventured into Haiti, life is measurably better. People aren’t dying left and right from a mystery ailment. Things have stabilized. The mountains to climb are still tall and numerous. But we’ve actually made tracks on the ascent.
Trying to do this little photo project, I discovered some things along the way. Perspective means a lot. And I would argue that the perspective of the viewer is more important than the reality of the subject or the approach of the photographer. I didn’t take very many photos. Very few compared to previous trips. In the years past, with the accessibility and ease of use of high quality cameras in phones, there is this shift to viewing everything, including in-real-life experiences through a screen. In Haiti, I wanted to spend more time without a barrier between me and the experience. And so I left my camera behind more often than not. And even at times when there was a photo-op, I chose to sit and watch and feel rather than document. I’m old enough that I remember a time when a phone wasn’t a 5th appendage that elicits a twitch every 20 minutes. I’m old enough to remember a time when putting the video on Youtube wasn’t the primary motivator for pursuing an experience.
Just some food for thought: The first astronauts on the moon took just a handful of photos of a place that no human being had ever seen before. Maybe half a dozen if I remember correctly. Now we take 27 pictures of our lunch. Makes total sense.
I also learned an important lesson about narrative. All too often we try to make the facts fit our narrative rather than letting the facts create one. I went into this whole thing with the expressed intent of highlighting positivity. I realized on the plane ride over that this would be dishonest. In terms of documenting, what I want isn’t nearly as important as what is. Trying to only see the positivity would be to create fiction. I even went so far as to learned how to say the word “smile” in Haitian Creole. I said it to one child like so many Sears photographers from my youth, and I immediately felt a sinking feeling in my gut. Who am I to shape anyone’s reaction? I don’t like to smile in photos unless I’m actually smiling. And even then I don’t really pull it off. The hypocrisy struck me and so I swore not to do that anymore. I don’t even remember how to say the word. Their reaction is their reaction. Curiosity seems reasonable. Or bewilderment. Irritiation. Or any other number of adjectives.
Some kids did smile. This is the result of something natural, rather than something I dictated. We have come into, been welcomed, and made a part of the Ranquitte community. So for the people who are familiar with us, curiosity has diminished, and been replaced by a sense camaraderie and collaboration. The photos, over the years, I hope will show a natural history of our time in Haiti. One that documents our growing confidence in our goals, the Haitian’s ever increasing sense of dignity and personal power, and the formation of a bond that transcends distance and language and adversity.
A bit later, I’ll write about the recent developments in Ranquitte and with the clinic in Gard Hiram. But until then, maybe a few of these photos will tell the story:
This is one of the photos where the kids smiled on their own. Well two of them did. The other two still weren’t sure about me. I was in the very early stages of painting the wall in front of the clinic and these guys kind of inched closer and closer over a period of minutes. I’m tall, white, and covered in tattoos. Presumably not a common sighting for most of the kids in rural Haiti. You can tell which one of them is the biggest risk taker. Notice the shoes sized in anticipation of him becoming a full grown adult.
Father and daughter in front of their home-in-progress. No roof yet. The economy is slow. And the rainy season is coming. Thanks to the tremendous support we got at the pancake breakfast, a roof will find its way to the top of this structure. This family does quite a bit in collaboration with Peacework and Ropa. And Nene (the tall one) was largely responsible for keeping me alive in the big cities during my long, solo trip last spring.
A brother and a sister on the outskirts of Ranquitte on laundry day. The kids here have different ways of pursuing leisure. I noticed this in Cambodia as well. The kids always have knives. Not sure why. But I see more kids with Croc Dundee knives (he’s also wearing actual Crocs) in the 3rd world than anywhere else. Whittling maybe.
I don’t think this needs an explanation. Just like when I was a kid, vehicles were a major inconvenience during a heated match. I wonder if they ever fantasize about demolishing houses at both ends of the street to make it impassable and a more suitable place for games. Luckily I didn’t learn the necessary chemistry to demolish a house until college, when I had less desire to do so.
Another brother and sister on the outskirts of town. Laundry day again. Most days are laundry day. It’s not drudgery. It’s a social event. They wash these clothes by hand and get the whites whiter than mine ever are. They have pride. I think I relinquished that a long time ago. The shirt I have on right now has Siracha all over it. I will wear it for two more days.
This is just sort of a teaser of the sign covering the wall in the front of the clinic. I’ll write a more detailed post about the whole experience and rationale later. But sometimes its hard to find things in Haiti. No one will ever accidentally drive past the clinic.
Another family in the village outskirts that needs a new roof and will get one because of your support. I never understood why we buy babies clothes when they grow out of them on like a weekly basis. As far as I can tell babies don’t even like clothes. The Haitians have a pragmatic approach to this. They don’t make the babies wear clothes.
I can hear people yelling, “Well if we don’t dress our babies, then they’ll never wear clothes. And then we’ll have a lawless society of naked heathens running around wreaking havoc and undermining the necessary values of shame and repression.” This image is proof that at some point, people make the choice to become well dressed adults and look after the shameless, naked babies. Everything is going to be OK.
Brother, sister, (not laundry day) gate, and one kid hiding behind said gate. There are three types of people in the world. Those who smile for photos, those who don’t, and those who hide because they distrust intelligence agencies.
This man was collecting/machete-ing wood near the first water tank that Peacework built during the cholera epidemic. I assume he was one of those kids that always had a knife. He posed for this photo. Smiled of his own volition.
A mason working on the clinic. They have figured out ways to get the job done with what they have. They’re innovative. And they don’t have OSHA. So coming to work barefoot or in flip flops is common practice. The brick still gets laid.
Market. It wasn’t that hot outside. But it swelters with the people. There’s fresh meat everywhere. So fresh it’s still recognizable as the animal it came from. Men gamble on dice. Kids run around unsupervised. The women seem to do most of the work of selling. And white people draw attention. These markets are held once a week on a different day in different villages. Wednesday is market day in Gard Hiram where the clinic is. Friday in Ranquitte. I think. I kind of lose track of days once I get through Haitian immigration.
This is Son-Son, a regular contributor to Ropa and Peacework. He’s 13 or 14. I don’t know if I’ve seen another kid willing to work as hard as he is. There is nothing asked of him that he doesn’t do with enthusiasm. Especially manual labor. This is after a day of painting. Son-Son hates school. But begrudgingly, he has started to go. With an education and his work ethic, the sky is the limit. It’s up to him what path he chooses. But mark my words, he will be among the best at whatever he chooses. Might be the world’s greatest pickpocket, or he might be the worlds greatest humanitarian. Time will tell.
This is Dawins and the personification of progress. I don’t know how many of you remember our first introduction to Dawins, but he hated white people. He used to scream at the sight of us. A patient campaign of trying to get fist bumps from him in exchange for candy yielded results. Now he’s the constant companion of any visitor who will engage him and even those who don’t.
Finally, this is Demitch in front of his home-in-progress, which has since been finished. I think something he said sums up our success as we measure it. Demitch runs security for us when Peacework does the big clinic in the summer. On this last trip he said, through a translator, “I love you guys because my mother and father have died, but you treat me like they did. You treat me like I am family, and so you are my family.”
This is the intangible that truly marks success for us. It can’t be measured by any quantitative metric. But the moment we made the Haitians feel like family and they welcomed us into theirs, we knew we had accomplished what we set out to do. Wicked world my ass. It’s not beyond repair. We share a boundless, collective power. Community trumps selfish individualism any day. We only need to look up from our screens every once in a while and notice. Oh, the irony.