By Hal Eisenberg
February 19, 2014
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around does it make a sound? If the highest level of achievement in a remote village is becoming a teacher, does a child know how to develop other dreams and passion? If you are staring out of a hole in a cement wall used as a window, staring into another run down structure that appears empty with some debris, and wondering about your friends and family back home, do they know and sense how home sick you are?
There was a deep sadness in my soul as I awoke this morning for my adventure to a new village and a new chapter was about to begin. I felt fear in my heart and a weeping inside of me, but I was not sure where it was coming from. I had my suspicions, but the emotions were too consuming to find the right words. There is a sense of disorganization in Haiti when it comes to the roads and travel. There remains this overwhelming uncertainty about whether we are going to get out in time or not, as we originally planned, and I am feeling my control being taken away from me. Sometimes I come across confident due to the way I plan and hold my vision in the work I do, but this morning it was hard to stand in that realization, and I am forced to trust the universe in what is to come. It is a scary place to be internally, but perhaps this is God’s lesson for me today. Shannon got stuck an extra day here as she was supposed to leave yesterday and Dafna left 3 days early due to commitments back home, and she could not afford to be stuck in Haiti. I could have left today as well but I am committed to this journey and something deeper than the pain I am feeling now is telling me to stay. This internal conflict is messing with my balanced emotions, but I must give heed to it, and move forward.
Today was mostly travel but it has been some adventure. Where we are staying in Les Abricots is a stark contrast to the accommodations we had in Carre Four Sanon. I thought that was roughing it, but this is an entirely different level of “roughing it”. It reminds me of my childhood days of Boy Scout camping and getting lost in the wilderness. I’ll come back to this in a few though.
As we left Carre Four Sanon at 7:45 am this morning, Edan, the boy I wrote about in the last blog (I think I am spelling his name incorrectly) who has been helping us, woke up early and came to say goodbye to us, even though school did not start for awhile. He reminded me of my old S.P.A.R.K. students at Cardozo High School who would show up at 6:30 am to see me or start their leadership day. He was so shy and quiet, yet every time we seemed to need an extra pair of hands he would pop up out of nowhere. As we said our goodbyes I truly felt bad for him. Separate languages and separate cultures, but there was a connection here. Especially between him and our cinematographer Kishner. I think he looked up to Kishner because Kishner was born and raised in Haiti, came to the United States, and has now returned to assist us on this film. I was wondering what he was thinking now. What were his dreams? Did he have any? What did he feel about us leaving? I am definitely going to send him something. He needs a pair of sneakers to play in. I really cannot forget to do this and let New York City swallow me back up when I get home.
As we proceeded down the one-hour hill back to Jeremie we witnessed swarms of youth coming off the hills and walking what appeared to be miles. Education is a major core value to Haitians. It appears that everyday what we would see as obstacles is normal for these youth, so it is accepted and with no complaints. We have our youth that look for reasons to get out of school, and these youth are walking miles to learn, or will pick up rocks and sticks to assist in rebuilding their school that came down from a storm. It is quite refreshing and a different way of life.
Once we got to the airport, which is a dirt road and a very small 2-room building, we dealt with the confusion of whether or not we could get Shannon and Dafna on this puddle jumper back to the capital. Up until this point we were not sure if we could even get them both out today, but they were our priority before anybody else. Well, that was resolved with some effort and I could see the relief in their eyes. Remember the Mayor who was supposed to visit us in Carre Four Sanon? Well, he never made it up there, but he surprised us at the airport, which I have no idea how he knew we were going to be there, but we jumped on the opportunity to interview him on the spot. Out came the camera equipment, boom poles, and we jumped to action. The Mayor apologized for not coming up but he had recent back surgery and could not handle the roads. He wanted to honor his commitment and showed up at the airport to speak with us. Again, we know that would never happen in New York City. Just when Shannon and Dafna thought they were free from their film duties, we put them to work one last time. Lol. I have to admit it was hard to stay in the moment, as being at the airport with the option to leave, but knowing I was staying, created a buildup of difficult emotions inside of me. Shannon and Dafna have been a great addition to the team and I was sad to see them go. I do not think anybody could see me struggle as I forged ahead to try and stay focused on the work. Once the interview was done, it was time for Dafna and Shannon to board the plane, along with Joe as well. I made sure my sunglasses were on as I felt my eyes well up in tears. Half my team was gone and I was missing them. I missed home. I stood on the runway (you can actually do that here) and I looked up at the sky trying to hold back my feelings that were quickly overwhelming me. I felt like that little boy in 2nd grade that freaked out and had a crying anxiety attack because my parents left me at sleep away camp. As I stared into the sun and watched the puddle jumper disappear into the sky, I said, “Ok God. New chapter. Let’s move forward making the best of this – being open to all the beautiful culture and experiences around me. You never know what the universe has in store for you, so let’s go find it.”
I did everything to hold this back from being obvious. I knew I had to clear my head because I was presenting workshops the next 2 days in Les Abricots and I will be in my zone, doing what I know I do best. It is great to be working on this film and building the roof, but educating and empowering youth is where my passion comes alive. I need to trust in that. I am concerned about presenting with a cultural and language barrier but that is beside the point. I really need a sharp mind so I can focus and run the best workshop I can. In that moment, as our shrunken team climbed back in the truck, and as we headed back to Jeremie, I was feeling overcome with loneliness. The trip just feels different. It is almost like we had gone back to the states, and returned to Haiti for trip number 2. My mind is so overwhelmed. Kishner and Patricia are so awesome and are great to travel with, but they have a common bond of being Haitians and knowing the language. That’s okay though because they are my friends and I do enjoy the time I am spending with them. It is a new trip with new eyes that I must open up. It is a new journey. I am trying to be positive despite this odd hole in my soul that I feel deeply. Traveling through this dirt road. I stare out the window wondering what is next. It is very hot on this journey and I am very hungry. The Mayor had invited us back to his home – which that sentence alone is such an amazing honor. Let me relish in that for a moment… “The mayor had invited us back to his home.” The hospitality and respect here runs deep. We had to decline because of our schedule (Lol – who do we think we are declining a Mayors invite? If Deblasio wants to meet with me I am cancelling everything. Especially to speak about leadership in our New York City schools! I guess Haiti is slightly different than back home.) We stopped at the Bishops home in Jeremie before the very long trip to Les Abricots. There was an extremely large concrete structure that was about 10 stories high with no walls, and when we inquired about it, we learned that it was the foundation for a cathedral that was paused in its building efforts. There were no walls but there were stairs that went up to the bell tower. Of course, the roof of the church was not scary enough, so we decided to trek these flights and film the climb to the top. When we finally reached the top, the fear was so worth it because the view around us was breathtaking and spectacular. It was called The Cathedral of the Miraculous Medal. I have no idea what that even means but it sounds like a cool name. Then we got a tour of the local hospital where the Vice President of From Here To Haiti donated some hospital beds. At this point my caffeine withdrawal headache was building and I am pretty sure I was hallucinating about Starbucks. That sounds like such a “spoiled brat” statement. We are spoiled. I need to get back in shape, especially if I ever come back here. I feel you need some strength to handle all the walking and bumpy roads.
We began to head to Les Abricots, which was a rough 2-hour drive. I remember saying when I was younger if you blindfold someone and drive into College Point they would know they were there because of all the potholes. Well, let me tell you something. College Point roads are very sophisticated compared to these! These weren’t even roads! They were rocks and bumps carved out through the ups and downs of cliffs and deep into the mountains. We kept stopping along the way to take pictures. Much later on I realized the Father of the next church we were staying at was the one who was our driver. He looked extremely young to be a Father and I am sure we will speak to him about that further. We stopped at a cliff to pay respects to another Father who lost his life falling off of it accidently. Then I learned that within this beautiful greenery there were many fires burning. Kishner was very passionate about taking pictures and videos of this because there are people burning a forest for coal so they can make money, with the cost being that there will be no forest in ten years if this continues. When you see the pictures this will break your heart, as the scenery around us is extremely beautiful. What is beautiful about Haiti will no longer be beautiful. Finding and meeting Kishner was truly a blessing. We are quickly becoming friends and seeing Haiti through his eyes adds to the experience ten fold. At one point we jumped into the back of the pick up truck, through the extremely bumpy road, trying to balance holding on for dear life. We did this in order to get some better photography opportunities. My behind hurts but it was worth the moments we got on film. When we got to Les Abricots I realized their village was slightly bigger than Carre Four Sanon, and could almost be considered a small town. As we drove in I was not sure what to expect, so I continued to observe intently with an open mind. Things here seem more French in culture. When we got out of the car, people we did not know who kissed us hello on each side of the cheek greeted us. I was taken back by this for a second but then realized it was customary and cultural. The accommodations had a completely opposite feel than Carre Four Sanon and if we thought we were roughing it then, surprise surprise. I feel now Carre Four Sanon was the lap of luxury. Here this home is cement blocks, no air, very hot, and feels like camping. The positive side is our hosts are amazing, and there is water pressure. The water is still cold, but I will take the pressure in this hot weather. Kishner originally told me there was hot water here but I quickly found out this was not true. He is such a kidder and totally hilarious. The toilets here do not flush. You have to fill up a bucket of water and dump it in the toilet when you are finished. The Father though had 2 dogs that I quickly became friendly with. We walked up a hill as soon as we settled in to see the site next to the church’s school where we donated our fundraising money to for the completion of their “sanitary block”, which is their word for bathroom. They were very behind on construction but that is okay because our team was cut in half. They still plan on finishing the project with the local church members and the workers they hired before we leave. I am sure we will help where we can. However, as you will tell from the pictures and videos I will be very impressed if that happens. However, one should never doubt the human spirit and there is definitely spirit here. What is impressive to me is how far our donations go and it is extremely clear that it is not just for supplies but for the spirit we infuse into the local workers who feel blessed to have this “window of opportunity” and be asked to be on a project that benefits their village. To me, their wages are so low, but to them, they were making good days pay and making a difference.
I am still feeling extremely sad and homesick but staring at this beautiful jet-black star filled night I am trying not to be homesick and be open to all possibilities. I had a great heart to heart conversation with Patricia tonight who is a wonderful woman and the Founder/Director of From Here To Haiti. She is a good person and has a good soul. Her words put me more at ease, and I am not even sure if she was aware what I was feeling internally. Tomorrow is a new day as I currently slide under the mosquito netting around my bed and try to fall asleep to the sound of the Caribbean Sea in the not too far distance. Good night all. See you tomorrow.