Thursday, December 30, 2010

Port-au-Prince - 12/30/10

Today didn’t start as early as the other days. I got some good sleep and woke up at 8:00am. We got some breakfast and James and I started our day going to meet with a group in an area called Repatriation. It’s a group that helps support women in the community. It focuses on helping women know how to treat the water they get to ensure they don’t get any diseases from their water, they have also worked to help some of the women learn how to sign their names on official documents. They also do clinics with new mothers teaching them how to breast feed and provide the proper nutrition for themselves and their babies. It was a great organization with very dedicated and helpful people. They were very appreciative of our visit and all that we are trying to accomplish with our project. After filming an interview with them and taking some photos of their new mother clinics we loaded up the car and started to drive away. Unfortunately, for the third time in four days, the front tire was completely flat. We didn’t have a jack that worked and our spare tire wasn’t good for driving either. For the next hour we waited for someone with a pump to put more air in the tire or fix the leak or something. During this time James and I found some shade and were soon joined by about 15 boys in the area that were very curious to see this Blan who spoke their language. They had a good time asking me questions and wondering why I spoke their language and why my friend didn’t know any Creole. We talked about all sorts of random things and then someone came with a pump and fixed our tire. It never ceases to amaze me how Haitians are always willing and able to help us. It is true that some Haitians may want to take advantage of us or are looking for a handout, but the reality is these people are very helpful. Thinking back to the last time we were in Haiti and the many people who went above and beyond the call of duty to help us it just makes me love the Haitian people that much more.

James was our chauffeur for the day and I was amazed at how well he could handle the traffic and Haitian style of driving. I’m not sure I could do that. After more time in the country I’m sure I could be more comfortable driving here but certainly not after the one week James has been here. James braved the Haitian traffic and brought us safely back to our base camp. We ate a good lunch and then after backing up our our photos and videos we took a nap. The people we’re staying with had their church choir come over for a choir practice and it was interesting to be listening to the music and have it as a soundtrack during the sporadic dreams I had.

Tassy and Tiana returned from their day and we had a good meeting where we discussed our plans for the rest of our trip and what the other members of the team are planning to accomplish while they’re here. It turns out that there is a very good chance I will be going with Tiana to Jacmel for most of the next week. Tiana has taken me under her wing and I will accompany her to shoot some of the projects she has lined up while she’s here in Haiti. Tiana is a very accomplished photojournalist and has visited Haiti several times as well as other parts of the world. I really look forward to working with her and learning from her. I also really can’t wait to get out of Port-au-Prince. The traffic and pollution are less than desirable. I also just feel more comfortable outside of Port-au-Prince. The rest of the night I spent updating this blog and just getting to know Tiana better. I really can’t wait to work with her.

Port-au-Prince - 12/29/10

I had a somewhat rude awakening when Tassy kicked my mattress at 6:30 and asked me what I was doing to earn my keep. He mentioned all of the things James and Hadas had done to help around the house and asked what I had done. Since all I had done was eat and sleep, I really didn’t have much to say for myself. I quickly got dressed and found out that we were leaving that very moment to meet someone for a shoot. I hurriedly got my stuff together, stumbled into my shoes and jumped into the car with Tassy and James and so began my day’s adventure. Tassy is an excellent driver in Haiti which really and truly is a high compliment. The way most of us are familiar with driving in the States would most certainly cause an accident within 5 minutes here in Haiti. Haitians aren’t used to driving with the same rules and regulations that we have in the States. There aren’t speed limits and traffic “lanes” are more guidelines, not strict designations for travel. (I’m reminded of a traffic ticket I got soon after my mission where the traffic violation was “Driving Left of Center”. I can’t imagine trying to explain what that means to a Haitian. They wouldn’t know what is wrong with it!) Everyone is very quick to react to whatever obstacle is introduced in their path. Whether it be a pedestrian, dog, gigantic sewer opening, or another vehicle, they are always quick to avoid it. At first glance it looks like complete chaos but after surviving so many close calls on all fronts, I soon realized that it’s a survival of the fittest. If you want to pass someone or cross traffic then the champion is whoever proves most daring and assertive with their vehicle position. Drivers communicate with a beep of the horn which can mean “I’m passing you,” or “Go Ahead,” or “Get out of my way!” and it all just works. Tassy says that if you can drive in Haiti and Manhattan, New York, you can drive anywhere in the world. He’s probably right.

We actually saw the guy we were planning on seeing on our way across town and found that he wouldn’t be home for another 2 hours. We changed our plans and decided to go to a small tent city next to a hospital in Carrefour. We arrived and found some pretty sad stuff. Lots of people are really mad and frustrated that they hear about the millions of dollars being promised to Haiti to help after the earthquake but they haven’t seen one cent of it. We had difficulty at first trying to find people who would stand in front of our cameras to tell us about what was going on. They talked about the several other journalists who come, take their pictures, and leave. They profit from the poverty and sad situation and don’t change anything. I can completely understand their situation, but that doesn’t really help the fact that the whole reason I had come was to show what Haitians are doing to help one another. If we can’t document what’s going on then what’s the point of us being here? Anyways, we finally got some guys to warm up to us and finally talked on camera for us. Then a bunch more people showed up and we decided to pack up before more people started to gather and draw attention to us.

We headed over to see Francois who is a local political leader and director of a school for the handicapped. He himself has lost both of his hands but he seems to get along just fine. Unfortunately, he had come and gone again before we got there. Hopefully we can make another appointment with him. I know he has a great organization and a great story that is definitely in line with our project. After trying to find some clean food (the risk of Cholera is very real so our Haitian friends take every precaution to make sure we avoid any potential contact with the horrible disease) we ended up making our way back across town so we could meet our next team member Tiana at the airport. We had almost reached our base camp when we drove past a traffic accident that had just happened. A pedestrian had been hit by a passing car and about 35 people had gathered to make quite a commotion. The unfortunate pedestrian had been struck below his calf and was bleeding and yelling in the back of car that hit him. The crowd of people gathered to ensure that the driver wouldn’t run away while the police were coming. James and I got some video of the situation and left when more and more people started gathering. The police did arrive and the driver was being questioned. Tassy drove us back to the house where we got our first meal of the day (it was now noon) and he and James left to pick up Tiana who had been delayed in New York for 3 days due to the blizzard. I stayed back and worked on researching some organizations in Haiti that we’d like include in our project.

They returned almost 2 hours later and we ate again and got to know Tiana better. After dinner Tassy, Tiana, and I went to grab a drink and talk about the project and what we would like to accomplish while we are here. We had a good discussion talking about our goals and how we can accomplish them.

We went back to the house and soon after were met by two guys who direct a small grassroots organization in the area. They pool their own money and resources to arrange food and water distribution and several other things to help many of the tent communities. They had formed before the earthquake but especially after the earthquake their work was needed that much more. They are really great at organizing efforts to put people in the community to work. They feel that there is high value in the work that people can do in their own community. When I asked them what things they needed they talked about the basic needs that we enjoy in the States. Things like patching potholes in the road, or public restrooms where people can use the bathroom while traveling between cities, or even having reliable electricity at night to allow more work to be done after the sun goes down, all are specific things they mentioned that would really help their work improve. It was great to hear such organized and motivated people really making a difference in their own communities. This group is one of many that we are going to feature in the Nap Kenbe Project.

James, Tiana, and some of our other Haitian friends went out to drink but I stayed home to catch up on this blog, take a shower, and get to bed early. Which is what I am doing right now. Until tomorrow!

Port-au-Prince - 12/28/10

So my first and second day of the trip weren’t divided by sleep like most people. I stayed awake and made good friends with a guy from France (who I thought was Haitian). We had an interesting conversation while he spoke broken English and I spoke broken French. We talked about great places to see on vacation and how different the cultures of America, France, and Senegal are. His family is from Senegal and he visits on a fairly regular basis. After talking for a few hours I decided to go sit in front of the Air France ticket office just because there was no way I was going to sleep. It was positively cold in the airport. It was probably 40 degrees outside and maybe 55 degrees inside the airport. I found another man sitting in front of the Air France desk and after quickly discovering that he was Haitian we talked for another hour about how to fix all of Haiti’s problems. We both came to the conclusion that Haiti is so far into its problems that it will take several generations to fix everything. After our long talk we checked in, I grabbed a bite to eat, and then tried to get at least some sleep before my flight. I realize now as I’m writing this that I had been awake for 22 hours. That’s a long day! I got about an hour of sleep before the sun was in my eyes and boarding for the plane was about to begin. I got on the plane and noticed that my window seat was already occupied, leaving the aisle seat available. Normally I would have spoken up and tried to get my window seat since I love looking out the window as we fly into Haiti, but I was too tired to protest. I went through the flight with little conversation and another hour of sleep.

After landing I got off the plane and got my first reminder of the reality of the earthquake last year. The main (and only) terminal was condemned because of the structural damage sustained by the quake. Broken glass, rubble, and cracks running all over the walls was all that was left of the still standing building. It was eerie peering through the doors as I boarded a large bus that took us further down the runway where the makeshift terminal was found. An old American Airlines cargo warehouse has been converted into customs and baggage pick-up. Luggage is laid in neat rows and long lines zigzag around the open space on the floor. After passing two less-than-interested customs workers I was out of the airport with my bags and looking for James Rhodes, the originator of the Nap Kenbe project. He hadn’t arrived yet. I was hounded by countless Haitians attempting to give me an overpriced taxi ride but I told them sternly, “Non, M’ pa bezwen taksi!” “Nope, I don’t need a taxi”. My Creole impressed them and they left me alone after that, discovering that I wasn’t a “Blan Bet” “Dumb White Person” that could be tricked into giving them my valuable American dollars. After waiting about 15 minutes I agreed to use the phone of a friendly (almost too friendly, obviously looking to profit with his “Haitian Hospitality”) Haitian taxi driver named Patrick. James told me that he was 10 minutes away. I took the opportunity to get a SIM card for the phone my buddy Howard let me borrow for my trip. My new found friend Patrick walked me over to the Digicell hut where I could get what I needed. Fortunately, it wasn’t near as expensive as I had feared. $5 got me the SIM card and $10 bought me enough minutes for at least a few days’ use. Patrick gave me the Haitian Hustle and told me about his starving children and how much he helped me and everything. I gave him $10 after talking him down from $30 and found James soon after.

We stopped at a nice Haitian restaurant on the way to the house which is acting as our base camp. (Interesting note, our house is across the street from former-President Aristide’s house. I think that’s kinda cool!) I was reminded of our trip last year when it took 30 minutes for them to bring us water and then another 20 minutes to bring us food. The food was great though. After being stuffed silly we went to the house where I finally got a chance to get some quality sleep. 4 hours later I woke up and got a chance to talk with another member of the Nap Kenbe team, Hadas. This is her first trip to Haiti and she is certainly getting a good dose of how Haiti works. She was trying to go to one of the cities outside of Port-au-Prince and the bus she took ended up stopping and taking everyone back to town after the driver wanted to charge another 10 goudes for the bus fare. She then walked 45 minutes towards another bus stop and was met by Tassy, another one of the Nap Kenbe Project originators. I used the internet for a short period of time and managed to get a short Skype video chat with Karen, Rachel, and a stubborn Everett who wasn’t wanting to sleep. After eating another meal we took a car over to one of Tassy’s friend’s house and I got a chance to get to know Tassy. He lives in Orlando and is a Priest in a church there. He’s a very well known man in the area and nearly everywhere we go he stops to talk to people he knows. He is pretty much the one who has arranged most of our contacts here in Haiti and takes care of transportation for us. After grabbing another mattress for me to sleep on we returned to the house and after my very first genuine Haitian bucket shower I went to bed.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Miami, FL - Monday 12/27

I nearly forgot to make my first blog post on my Haiti trip. I'm currently in the Miami International Airport camping out in front of the Ron Jon Surf Shop just people watching and working on stuff on my computer with the reliable and fast (but not free) internet. I will eventually work on getting some shut eye but with Kenny G and other instrumental artist's renditions of Christmas songs loudly blaring over the intercom AND the TSA announcements in both English and Spanish happening every 5 minutes AND a verbal reminder of what the local time is every 15 minutes AND bright florescent lights as far as the eye can see AND security officers whizzing by on their ridiculous Segways, it will be difficult for sure. Oh, AND I'm still getting over from a pretty wicked cold that left me all sorts of congested. I can't go very far without needing a kleenex or two or five. My descent into Miami made my right ear feel close to bursting with all of the congestion in my sinuses. I can at least hear out of my right ear now, but it still hurts and feels numb and heavy for some reason. Hopefully my flight into Port-au-Prince doesn't leave me as bent out of shape as this flight from Houston to Miami.

For the record, I really do enjoy traveling. Travel was one of the things Karen and I have made a priority in our budget. Even with the significant decrease in our incomes over the last year and a half, we still manage to stuff away about 5% of what we make into an account just for Travel. With that said, I really don't enjoy the traveling part of travel. Or maybe it was just today. Flying when you're sick and congested certainly makes things more difficult and uncomfortable. Oh, right, and I'm 6'4" so it's rare to find an airplane seat this side of Business Class that can comfortably transport anyone taller than 5'10". My knees, feet, and elbows are ALWAYS in someone's personal bubble. Yep, I'm the guy that inspires cringes from travelers who board the plane early and then have to move and rearrange things to accommodate this freak of nature. I'm talking to you 40-year-old-woman-with-her-nose-stuck-in-her-book. I saw the look you gave me. Maybe the part that doomed it from the beginning was when I was going through the security check in Kansas City. I had taken longer packing this morning than planned so everything was running 30 minutes late. We got to the airport and I was hungry so Karen insisted that we run by Starbucks to grab something for me to eat before my flight. My lovely wife of almost 3 years knows that her husband gets very cranky if he doesn't eat for extended periods of time, so, with less than 30 minutes until my scheduled departure, we got some food. We walked half-way through the terminal to Starbucks (we had a gift card so we HAD to go) where I knocked some things over on one of their displays and lost friends real quick, then we walked the other half back to my departure gate. I bought a yogurt parfait and a blueberry scone to enjoy on the plane. We had a loving family hug in a small corner, said our goodbyes, and I went into line to check in. I would have thought my huge bag of camera gear with the various lenses, accessories, laptop, and external hard drive would have caused a long delay at the x-ray machine but that went through without a hitch. The part that did cause a delay was my yogurt parfait. "This is not a solid," says the TSA agent with a cold robotic face, "You will have to surrender it in order to pass through the security check," he said handing me my yogurt parfait. Translation: "You get to throw away the yogurt parfait you just bought because that's what I've been trained to tell all of the unfortunate travelers who thought they could buy unreasonably priced food and take it on the plane with them." I mean seriously. Did I put C4 in my unsuspecting Starbucks yogurt parfait? No! That's absurd! Oh the world we live in. Anyways, enough with my rant about traveling. It's really not THAT bad and it comes with the territory. I could save my money and spend it on other things if it really bothers me that much. I will just be happy to have finally arrived in Haiti. I can't wait to get on the ground and start work on this project.

Here's a little bit about what I'm thinking the day before I arrive. What I do know is:
  • I will be in Haiti from 12/28-1/14.
  • I will be doing both still and video photography of Haitians making a difference.
  • I will be working with, and for, the Haitian people I have learned to love and respect.
  • I will be speaking Haitian Creole more than English.
  • I will be working with a handful of other photojournalists as part of the Nap Kenbe Project (
  • I will be warmer in Haiti than in Kansas. Seasonally the temperature is between 65 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. When I land in Port-au-Prince it's supposed to be 85!!!
  • I will be in Haiti to experience my first Haitian Independence Day (January 1st) and will be in Haiti for the anniversary of the earthquake that has so changed Haiti forever (January 12th).
There are several more unknowns in this trip though. I have no idea where in Haiti I will be except for the first and last days of my trip. I have no idea if Haiti will finally elect a new President. I have no idea how bad the cholera outbreak really is. I don't really have a clear idea of what groups or individuals I will be photographing. I don't really even know what the end product of the Nap Kenbe Project will look like. I know we are wanting to make a documentary and hopefully submit it to film festivals like the Sundance Film Festival, but I have no idea how that can or will happen. Hopefully the morning will answer at least a few of the unknowns.

I'm going to try to get some sleep now. Just imagine how difficult that can be with some guy Kenny G-in' it up on the intercom. If you don't know what that means, just watch this video from Mike Birbiglia. Skip to the 3:20 mark and watch at least until the 5:00 mark. If you want to hear the whole story it starts in Part 10. Please watch it. You will laugh and enjoy it. I promise!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New family tradition?

For the second year in a row, Adam will spend half of January in Haiti (and the tail end of December too). Everett and I will not be joining him on this year's adventure, which we pray will not be nearly as exciting as last time. We knew we would go back to Haiti, we just assumed it wouldn't be so soon (school, new baby, no know). On Thanksgiving, Adam was reading a photography blog, which talked about a project being put together to raise awareness about Haiti leading up to the anniversary of the earthquake. It asked for donations and requested a small number of photographers/videographers to travel to Haiti to document the project. It was the perfect project for Adam, so he contacted the guy that day, spoke with him the next, and then joined the team! We have felt that same peace about this trip that we had about our previous, so despite it being Haiti (cholera, riots with UN, crazy elections, etc.), we still feel good about his going. AND, the project takes care of all the costs in country, we just had to buy Adam's plane tickets. In a continuation of Haiti miracles, after contacting Air France, Adam was able to get a full refund on our tickets that we voided last January. Wa hoo! We had been told right after the earthquake that they could give us a one-way travel voucher and that was it, so this was a pleasant and much needed surprise. Anyway...if you enjoyed our previous travelog on Haiti, keep your eyes here from December 27 - January 15. I have made Adam promise that he will keep a detailed account every day, no matter how tired he is (more for us than for anything...but we were certainly surprised by how many people actually read our vvvvvvery long posts last trip!). We've started practicing using Skype with Adam and Everett. Everett doesn't really get it yet....he's more concerned with how to get the keyboard into his mouth, but at least that makes for a cute video for Adam! We will definitely miss him while he is gone, but my sister Rachel will stay with us and we know Adam is doing a good thing.

In other big news, my little baby is going to be six months on Tuesday! I've been waiting until then to start him on solid foods, but this kid is definitely getting ready! He will stop whatever he is doing when we are eating and just stare at us putting food or drink in our mouth. It makes it quite difficult at breakfast when Everett is nursing and insists on pulling away to watch me put every single bite of cereal in my mouth. It's like a big surprise to him every single time I do it....which is a lot for a bowl of cereal. I've been giving him a baby spoon to hold and chew on and we've been "practicing" taking bites on it....this kid puts up with a lot with me as his mother!

We got family pictures taken in November and will be posting more of them on Facebook, but here are a couple of ones we really liked. Thanks to Amber of BellaRay Photography for the great work - she took our engagement and wedding pictures, so it's only fitting she took our first family photo!

On my desk at those eyes!

Adam gave me a hard time for how much thought I put into our "coordinating but not matching" outfits. I think they work.

It's very typical (and cute) for Everett to be doing something crazy with his mouth.

I love my boys...even when Everett is mean mugging the camera!