Archive for the ‘photographs’ Category
We had been driving for nearly two hours when the road ended. Not that it was much of a road – we had wound up and around and up again through rocky terrain on what would be better described as a dirt path, just wide enough for our 4wd vehicle. Little did we know that we were not yet half way to our destination – a small mountaintop village, inaccessible except by foot – a place without electricity, running water, or a well.
The reason for our visit was to deliver medical supplies and visit with some school children that our organization supported. The village was said to be one of the most remote and poorest in the region. On the way up the mountain, a journey that was at times more of a climb than a hike, we passed women villagers making their way down, balancing large casks for water or huge bundles of laundry on their head. Some of them carried children, too. They were on their way to their only source of water – a river at the bottom of the mountain. I marveled at how they managed to make such an arduous trek every day. It was so steep, the sun scorching. My camera gear, weighing probably no more than 8lbs, felt like half a ton. I couldn’t imagine making the same trip with 10 gallons of water on my head.
After 2 or 3 hours of hiking, my canteen dry, I was nearly at the village. Just outside of it I was met by a few men with a large blue cooler. As I approached, they opened it and offered me an ice-cold Coca Cola – for a hefty price, of course. Again I wondered at how they had managed to carry these large coolers full of ice all the way up there.
Coca-Cola is unique in Haiti, as it is in most countries outside of North America and Europe. First, it tastes better because it is made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup. Second, it comes in the classic glass bottle. The bottles aren’t new, however. They are recycled – not the type of recycling that means melting and re-casting, but recycled as in washed, refilled and re-capped. They are scratched and scuffed and murky – a visceral drink, and good. I bought one and drank it.
One of my hiking partners, a guy who had lived in Haiti for a number of years and had visited this village a few times, told me that the people there are so poor that they cant afford to buy the cokes for themselves. Instead, they buy a case and keep it cooled for when people from our organization come visit. We get refreshed, they make a few dollars – an economic symbiosis, built on aid relief and fizzy drinks.
The village itself was more like a camp. Most people lived in tents or lean-tos. It looked like many people lived without any roof at all, just a circle of blankets and belongings around a fire pit. One of the few true structures was a one room schoolhouse. As we entered, the students sang and said their ABCs, their teacher doubling as choir director and drill sergeant. They stood up, sat down, recited Bible verses. It was a grand show that even got the villagers attention – they watched from outside through the large gaps in the walls. We all applauded.
Shortly after the performance one of my teammate’s bottles of Coca-Cola made its way to the children, and the most remarkable thing happened. The first child took a sip, and then without prompt passed it to the girl on his right. She sipped and passed it to her right. And so the bottle was selflessly consumed one sip at a time, child to child. I took a picture.
I think we gave the children a lesson in English or taught them a new song, but I have no recollection of what we actually did or said. Instead, what I remember is what the children taught me about being selfless. It’s ironic that one of the first lessons we are given in school is how to share with others, and yet its so easily forgotten. Here’s hoping we can all remember that lesson now, especially as we have so much and those very children in Haiti are in such desperate need.
In 2000, I had just finished college and volunteered for a short time with a non-profit faith-based organization based west of Port-au-Prince, and had the chance to make some photographs one day when a nurse and I went out for an eight mile hike down the beach to a remote village called Bord Mer LaSalle. We were going to “thump bellies.” Not knowing what that meant, I asked and the nurse explained that the village was in need of medicine, and the easiest way to determine how many of the children were suffering from parasites was to thump their bellies. Once you learn how to distinguish it, anyone can determine whether a child’s swollen belly is caused by either malnutrition or worms by the sound the belly makes when you thump it. One is hollow, the other is a thud.
Bord Mer LaSalle was a tiny fishing village situated just off the beach and in the shadow of a long dormant volcano. No more than a few dozen people lived there. They had a few wooden boats and the houses were really just shacks made from salvaged materials, mud and wood. Roofs were thatch, cloth or sheet metal. Smoke hung densely in the hot, humid air as the villagers tended to a number of small open fires. There was a distinct odor. Most of the children were naked, the adults wore mostly rags. Its hard to describe the place and not slip into some pejorative, colonialist cliche, but it really was just like one of those Sally Struthers Christian Children’s Fund commercials.
As the nurse carried out her thumping duties, I wandered around the village, closely trailed by half a dozen little naked boys, most of whom you see repeatedly in the outside edges of the photographs. I met villagers, fishermen. A widow invited me into her home and asked me to pray for her. She was old and frail and sick, and half of her house had burned a few weeks before my arrival. I didn’t know what to pray, but I did my best. As my pathetic attempt was translated into Creole by the nurse, the old woman rose up and put her hand on my head. As she stood there she swayed back and forth and repeated “Merci, Jesi, merci, Jesi,” over and over. Running out of things to say I abruptly shoved in an, “Amen” and she immediately took me by the hand and led me to the burned out portion of her home – it wasn’t any larger than 5×8′ – and in Creole said, “Now, pray for my house!”
How does a 21 year old kid with a camera (who happened to be going through a crisis of faith at the time) intercede for a half-burned mud house? As best as you can, I suppose…and with a little boost from a poor, sick and widowed woman whose faith seemed to be in abundance.
I wonder about that widow now. If she is still alive, still in Bord Mer LaSalle, or whatever is left of it. The children with the bloated bellies we thumped that afternoon have adult bellies now. They probably have children of their own. I wonder about them too, and how all of them in that tiny fishing village off the Leogone Plain, situated within 10 miles of the recent earthquake’s epicenter, has faired.
I guess all I can do is offer up my best attempt of a prayer again.
What a throng of people in front of the White House tonight. In one moment, it felt special – a raw, emotional outpouring of thousands of young people exuberant upon their victory, jubilant in seeing that they had successfully made their mark on history and democracy. At another moment, it felt like a complete fabrication and spectacle, all of us looking around at each other wondering if the reality of the moment actually matched what we’ve come to expect from TV scripts. And then there was the threat of debauchery, that herd behavior that brings out the most base of actions – a girl is hoisted up, and for a moment, just a moment, everyone forgets that they are supposed to be celebrating a hopeful new zeitgeist in front of the People’s House and instead expects her to lift her shirt and stick out her tongue. But she doesn’t, and the random stranger next to you looks over and theres something in the air that just makes you want to hug him, or at least smile and laugh, acknowledging that whatever it is thats happening is actually something special, something real, and something worth celebrating.
After a short hiatus on the Shepard Fairey hunt, I was able to meet up with a friend for an afternoon search that turned up a few results:
A few more Fairey’s from today on 14th St. NW, right outside Irvine, where I saw the show again and picked up a limited edition print. Both the show and the print are fantastic.
I went back out today and found a few more Fairey’s. The whole search made for a great weekend. Click on the individual images to get address info.