BY BEE SCHINDLER
I wouldn't remember my age the last time I visited Haiti, except that I recall drinking my first airport beer on the way to a country that felt so far from my Los Angeles home. In fact, the California coast seemed to push the small country "a stone's throw away" from the United States even further from recognition, as my neighbors tried to place it on a map - is it near Mexico or South America, they'd ask.
When we arrived in 2001 the airport was a flurry of activity, but it felt warm and bright. Standing outside we scanned a pulsating crowd of what felt like thousands who wanted nothing more than to grab my bag and ease my load. We went with someone from the Hospital - a rural healthcare complex that my good friend and traveling partner's grandparents had founded in the 1950s. Our driver's little sign alerting us of his connection, and my friend's face lighting up as we stepped into the SUV. We pushed forward through the capital - viewing the far away place through dirty windows. There were kids and adults and animals and shops, and brightly colored stands. It was before the earthquake, where flash forward nine years, the ground's rumbles brought people and buildings to their knees.
The road was long and dirt and took just about the better half of a day. We had limited connection with the good people of Haiti - sans a stop we took about halfway there - the person behind a deli counter gave a smile as we bought a bottle of coca-cola. It wasn't until we arrived in Deschapelles that I had a conversation with a local who asked me if I knew Michael Jordan, and said he wanted to move to Jamaica. It was a bubble of a trip - we hung out on the campus, took a ride to see the markets and the ocean, and to visit with a trio of young people whose dad was as famous as Warhol. We hiked to see a waterfall, and ate fresh bread stored in black plastic bags. I ate a griot stew, watched metal works be created, and went to a bangin' party in the dark - the moon and tapered candles lighting faces that smiled while those in attendance danced and drank rum. At night, I tucked in the from-the-ceiling canopy into the bottom of my mattress so that it would create a barrier between me and the mosquitos, but more important at the time, from the hairy tarantula I so unluckily spotted within the first hour or so of our arrival. It was easy to love Haiti. With its rainstorms and sunny mornings. The trees that had branches that rooted into the ground.
On the way back to the airport, we were stuck in traffic and not moving until the clearing began, and we snaked past a large metal truck - its side gashed open and a body lay in the middle of the road. The man's head shattered and yet the time moved so slowly. No ambulances rushing through the crowd. Just a moment of chatter and deciding how to proceed. Much of the country felt so rural. So connected.
It is not surprising that I am the Deputy Director of Haiti Friends. And I am preparing to travel to Haiti again - same friend, different role. Edward Rawson is the Executive Director of Haiti Friends, and sees the world through Haiti-colored glasses. His attention back in 2001 was on the better parts of understanding - pushing us beyond our boundaries by staying one minute longer than we should - the conversation only then deepening to a space of genuine truths. What did the country want to teach us? What were we willing to be a part of?
A NOTE FROM THE ARTIST - EDWARD RAWSON
To most of my friends who know me well, it is no mystery how much I love Haiti. I talk about it way to much, I know. Haiti is just such an amazing place full of life. I look forward to this trip with Bee where I will be able to show off the Haiti that I love.
Stay tuned all week long we will be posting writings, drawings, videos, pictures, reviews and more. Experience Haiti through us all week long!