The story is worth repeating: I visited Haiti on January 14, a few days after the activities commemorating the 2010 earthquake. And as luck would have it, Jean-Claude Duvalier, aka Baby Doc arrived two days later and not only stayed in the same hotel, Karibe, where I stayed, but on the same floor, in the same wing, he in room 303 and I at the very end of the hall in 313. His arrival forever changed and altered my visit, but I refused to allow his presence to distract me from my main objective, that being to see what progress had taken place after a year and the more than $5.2 billion that was collected to help rebuild.
My fears were realized, very little to nothing has been done, debris is till piled high, as is the rubbish and the crumpled, and half-standing, dangerous pitched buildings are still there, as are the people living in tents, with little to no toilet facilities. NGO’s are abundant , driving around, seemingly busy and important, garnering $10,000 monthly salaries (I was told), plus house and car allowance and staff. Ostensibly, 50 plus % of all the money that was collected comes right back here via the pockets of USA employees; and probably another 30% goes to USA companies, some of the same ones that went to clean up Iraq, who have formed non-profits, usually with an Haitian as a front, and secure demolition bids for as much as $25 million. Disaster is a very profitable business. Who is investigating this whole sale exploitation?
Despite this, or perhaps because Haitians have been exploited since they bravely fought for their freedom in 1803, the first to achieve such success in the new world, having to pay France billions, surviving a 37 year embargo imposed by Europe and the USA, military occupation, dictatorship, etc, the spirit of the people is hearth-warming and the artistic production is amazing. In all mediums: wood work, metal, paintings, furniture, crafts, found-art, everywhere. People are creating incredibly, beautiful, intricate, detailed works.
I toured one of the worst ghetto areas, I was told by my guide, that long before the quake, they had some of the talented amazing artists doing awesome work, raising a whole generation of young men to be artists, utilizing all the scrap metal and other junk in their surrounds to make art; many of the young boys between 9-18 years old also work on bits of wood and rubber from tires and discarded house paint. Yet to see the conditions under which they work, small cramped tent, with poor ventilation and hardly any light- you can’t help but marvel at the end product. Tools are almost none existent; they make do with what they find, their minds, determination and creative impulse their guide. The image included is one such piece among many pieces in this artist community where art thrives and the spirit and soul of the people reside in another realm rather than the dirty cramped space that they occupy.
I marveled at the outpouring of creativity that I witnessed and wondered about its genesis – we know for instance that the majority of the people who now reside in Haiti originated from the Congo region in West Africa. What was the role and value of creative production in pre-slavery Congo? How does vodun, spiritual, homeopathic, nature based rituals of honoring, contribute to this sense of creation as a given rather than as art practice? And what allow for the relentless creativity? These are not questions I can answer, but despite all the suffering that Haitians have endured, I sense that their infinite creativity will carry them through, yet another disaster, and the next time they rise up, they will be untouchable, and no one will be able to steal their freedom again.
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California Poets in the Schools
Homeless Shelter for Pregnant Women