mercredi 18 novembre 2015

Haitian Holdout Le Soleil Keeps the 60s Dream Alive

Robert Sietsema reviews Manhattan’s last remaining Haitian café.

by Robert Sietsema, November 17, 2015
owadays, if you went looking for a Haitian restaurant you’d probably try Flatbush, Canarsie, or Marine Park. But in the 1960s, the area around 57th Street on Manhattan’s West Side was a Haitian stronghold. The area was called Bois Verna, after a neighborhood in Port-Au-Prince known for its ancient latticed houses. New York’s Bois Verna once boasted bookstores, churches, cafes, and bodegas called petit magasins. One of the only institutions remaining is Le Soleil ("The Sun"), a restaurant founded in the early 70s by Rolande Bisserth, cook and owner, on a busy stretch of 10th Avenue just north of 57th, where cabbies and limo drivers often double-parked to hurry in for carry-out.
In 2011, a new landlord and rent increase forced the long-running institution to close. But this is the rare restaurant real estate story that has a happy ending, because in 2013, Bisserth triumphantly reopened Le Soleil across the street and down the hill, still on 10th Avenue but now technically in Hell’s Kitchen rather than the Upper West Side. The new premises is far more handsome and well-appointed than the previous one, with peach-colored walls above brown wainscoting, with the same collection of colorful tropical landscapes lining the walls, mainly in the celebrated Haitian Primitive style.
One of the only Haitian institutions remaining is Le Soleil.
The menu at the new place remains pretty much the same as the old one. Divided into two parts, the first lists a core of dishes always available, including the greatest hits of Haitian cuisine; the second offers three to five specials per day that run to Sunday’s beef tongue, Thursday’s guinea hen, and Saturday’s pizzle — bull penis. Approach at your own risk. Not all the specials are available on the days promised, but on any given day you’re likely to find a choice of 10 or so main courses from both parts of the menu, all displaying the same winning mix of French and African elements that characterizes Haitian fare.
Each of these set meals starts with a simple salad of tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers served with French dressing — you know, the orange, gloppy salad condiment that comes in a bottle. There’s nothing really French about it; how the dressing got to Haiti decades ago and was accepted as Gallic is anybody’s guess. Nevertheless, unless you secretly have a bottle of the stuff stashed in your refrigerator, eating a salad slobbered with it is at least an interesting novelty.
As an aside, there’s only one appetizer: accra ($1 each). These elongated fritters are made with mashed malanga (aka cocoyam, yautia, or dasheen), a gnarled tuber of the elephant ear plant often seen in Latin groceries. Mixing malanga with black-eyed peas and scallions, these crisp brown fritters develop a creamy gray interior and taste twice as good if you spoon on the hot sauce called piklis, which sits in a jar on the table. Formulated with vinegar, chopped cabbage, and scotch bonnet peppers, it packs a prodigious wallop.
The national dish of Haiti is lambi, but many Haitian restaurants in Brooklyn no longer serve it due to spiraling costs. Here it remains king among entrees, though at $20 it’s also the priciest. Known in English as conch, and Italian as scungilli, lambi is the horny creature pulled out of the pink-lipped shell that you hold up to your ear to hear the ocean. The thing takes a lot of tenderizing to be palatable, and Haitian cooks are experts at it. At Le Soleil the shellfish is fricasseed in a vinegary pink solution as beautiful as the shell. It’s probably unlike anything you’ve tasted before and a big raw onion ring rides on top.
Legumes turn out to be the most African dish of all: a glorious moosh of leafy vegetables stewed with a few carrots and beans, flavored with chunks of beef.
Other notable entrees include griot ($12), a confit of fatty pork chunks achieved by marinating the meat in sour orange and shallots, boiling them in the marinade until it evaporates, then frying the pork chunks until dark-colored and delicious. The same very French treatment is afforded goat (cabrit), beef (tasso de boeuf), and turkey (tasso dinde) with similar results. Pork is still the best, with turkey second. Love goat? On Wednesday and Sunday, it’s available in an orangish brown gravy (cabrit en sauce, $14).
If you’re really famished, go with the red snapper. Like the lambi, it will set you back $20 for a large specimen. The fish is fried head-on and whole, then strewn with onions. For lovers of plain seafood, it’s spectacularly fresh. On the other hand, vegetable adorers will select a dish with the generic-sounding name of legumes ($12). It turns out to be the most African dish of all: a glorious moosh of leafy vegetables stewed with a few carrots and beans, flavored with chunks of beef. Pour on the piklis.
Entrees come with rice and peas and a whole boiled plantain at lunch. At dinner you get fried plantains instead of boiled, and djon-djon rice colored an alarming shade of black, not in the Italian manner with squid ink but by boiling the grain with tiny, spindly black mushrooms native to Haiti called djon-djon. These impart color and subtle flavor, but the mushrooms themselves are removed after cooking because they’re too damn tough to eat. The djon-djon rice also contains lima beans.
Ultimately, the prime allure of Le Soleil may not be its French or West African elements, but the sheer size and generosity of its app and entrees, and the warmth of the welcome. If you’re a meat and potatoes person who likes plain fare expertly cooked, give the restaurant a try. There’s no way you’ll go away hungry, or much poorer.

 Dinner for two, featuring salads and two main courses, $40, including tax but not tip. Cash only.
Lambi (fricasseed conch), fried chicken, poisson rose (fried or stewed red snapper), accra (malanga and black-eyed-pea fritters), griot (pork confit).
Soft drinks, fruit juices, and Haitian milkshakes are available, but one of the best aspects of Le Soleil is its BYOB policy. A medium-bodied French or Italian red goes nicely with most of the entrées, though maybe bring a rose, festive fizzy white, or riesling for the lambi or red snapper. Lager or pilsner are great, beer-wise.
Though every main comes with an introductory salad and copious sides, you may want to appetize by getting a couple of accra fritters (be forewarned they really fill you up), or by splitting an entrée as a starter. Grito is perfect for this purpose, since you can eat it with your fingers.


■ THE CENTER Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel (COHSI) – an umbrella for 54 Holocaust survivor organizations, which is headed by former diplomat and former Knesset member Colette Avital – recently received the Tikkun Olam award from the Haiti Jewish Refugee Legacy Project. It is not widely known that during the Second World War, Haiti provided a haven for close to 300 Jews fleeing the Holocaust. The project is the brainchild of Bill and Harriet Mohr from the San Francisco Bay Area.
A child Holocaust survivor, Bill Mohr is a retired Hewlett-Packard manager who spent 10 months in Haiti when he was four years old, prior to immigrating to the United States. He became interested in his family’s wartime history when he joined the planning committee for a reunion of people born in, or descendants of Jews from, Furth-Nuremberg.
His interest in reconnecting with his past was enhanced when he saw television coverage of Israelis in Haiti bringing medical aid to the Haitian population following the devastating earthquake. It struck him how interesting it was that Haiti had shown compassion for desperate Jews, and 70 years later Israelis were repaying that kindness.
He and his wife wanted to make people more aware of Haiti’s role during the Holocaust, and thus the Haiti Jewish Refugee Legacy Project was born, and with it the Tikkun Olam prize, which was awarded to Avital, who is also a child Holocaust survivor, and to Avi Rosenthal, the CEO of COHSI.
Last week, on the eve of Kristallnacht, COHSI was also among recipients of Awards of Light citations from the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel which is headed by former culture and sport minister Limor Livnat. The award ceremony at the Knesset was also attended by MK Avi Dichter, the former chairman of the foundation, who is the son of Holocaust survivors.
■ IN THE forefront of Israel’s humanitarian assistance to Haiti was IsraAID, which is hosting a conference on “Can Haiti Grow? Haiti and Israel – Partners in Recovery and Development,” at which speakers will include former prime minister of Haiti Laurent Lamothe and world-acclaimed actor, director and social activist Sean Penn. The conference, to be held at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv on November 30, will address key issues concerning Israeli humanitarian response in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and will examine where Haiti is today.

lundi 16 novembre 2015

Second annual Swim for Haiti a success

Nov. 15 — To the Editor:
The second annual Swim for Haiti was a huge success at the Portsmouth Indoor Pool on Sunday, Nov. 8. Contributions came for the Seacoast area business people, LAPSS clients, family and friends. This year we raised $4500, which was donated to Partners in Development to assist building homes in Haiti.
Donations are still coming in and we hope to make it to $5000! Judy Spiller and I will return to Haiti on Nov. 30 to build again and to help in annual holiday party for 550 children sponsored in the PID program.
I want to thank once again the Kittery Trading Post for its continued support with another generous donation. The raffle item, a $500 gift certificate donated by KTP, was won by an employee at Esse Studio in York.
Another thank you goes to Bob’s Clam Hut and its patrons. They donated over $800 to Partners in Development this year.
I ask all of you not to forget the Haitians. They are wonderful people doing the best they can to survive and raise their children. I am proud of all on the Seacoast for the continued support.
Ann H. Grinnell,
Kittery, Maine

Arts program connects kids to Haitian roots

Tradisyon Lakou Lakay was founded in March 2001
Founders Weiselande César and Myriame Pierre teach the beauty of Haitian culture
Program rooted in the arts at the Little Haiti Cultural Center
César’s dance style borrows from the Caribbean, African and Spanish Folkloric dances that influence Haitian dance — like Rara, a dance performed during Easter Week for Haitian Carnival.
"You guys are starting to get it," César says.
Every Friday night at the Little Haiti Cultural Center’s studio space, César meets with a group of girls to demonstrate the beauty in Haitian folklore. When César, a dance instructor and public school teacher, asked a colleague, Myriame Pierre, at Toussaint L’Ouverture Elementary School about the perception of Haitian culture, she said the two shared the same sentiment: Too many people either had negative views, or a general apathy.
“Everyone is Haitian on Haitian Flag Day, but after that, no ones wants to be called Haitian,” César said. “Too many people get scared and associate our culture with vodou.”
César and Pierre said they started the nonprofit Tradisyon Lakou Lakay to help change the cultural perception — with Haitians and non-Haitians alike.
Since 2004, TLL has offered dance lessons and programming rooted in the arts. The two women later added workshops, lectures, a class on Haitian Creole and a computer literacy course. Every month, TLL instructors hold a youth engagement study circle where students debate topics of concern, like civic engagement, crime, policing and education.
Roxana Barba, a projects administrator at Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural affairs, said that when TLL first applied for the quarterly project grant to fund Spring Fest, a weeklong program for students during spring break, the department’s review panel saw an opportunity to reinvigorate culture in Little Haiti.
The grant, Barba said, “is serving a community that’s learning about its roots.” Since 2103, the county department has awarded TLL $4,000 to $6,000 each year.
“They’re a really good fit for our program,” Barba said.
Sandy Dorsainvil, the center’s managing director, said the center has expanded a lot of programs since the Caribbean Marketplace reopened last year.
She said second-generation parents like herself want their kids to be able to to communicate with grandparents and Creole-speaking relatives.
“As Wynwood continues to get saturated and the Design District continues to expand, we have to be the ones to keep the Haitian footprint alive,” Dorsainvil said. “Although Little Haiti is evolving, Tradisyon Lakou Lakay keeps us grounded in celebrating Haitian art.”
 Dance classes are held at 6 p.m. Fridays at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, 212 NE 59th Terr. Contact Weiselande César at 786-344-4376 or yanui@tllakayinc.com.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/living/helping-others/article45006969.html#storylink=cpy

Bookish Nonprofit Founder Guides Team To Save Young Heart Patients In Haiti

This is the fifth and final post in a series from Haiti.
Owen Robinson made that connection with Haiti that so many I met here have when he was working for the Clinton Foundation in 2010. He got intimately engaged in coordinating earthquake relief on the ground, working closely with Partners in Health and other agencies. When it came time to return to his desk in the U.S., he realized he couldn’t do it.

Partners in Health created a position for him and he stayed in Haiti in a new capacity. One day while working at Partners in Health, he came encountered a girl, Samantha Cadet, who desperately needed heart surgery. She had a 5.5 centimeter hole in her heart called an atrial septal defect that impaired her general health, prevented her from growing at a healthy rate and threatened her life.
Moved by this, Robinson got on the internet, did a quick web search for the head of the Syracuse Children’s Hospital in his home town, found his email and sent him a note with a picture of the girl and photos of her medical charts. He caught David Smith on a train reading his email; he quickly agreed to have the procedure performed at his hospital at no charge.

Though Smith was later terminated in a scandal, Robinson will always remember him for his immediate, life-changing response. Robinson notes that not only did that response save Cadet, it gave him the false impression that finding someone in the states to perform these critical surgeries would be easy. Over the next year or so, he found about a dozen kids needing heart surgery and found opportunities for them to be treated, though none so easily as the first.
As the list of candidates grew outside the Partners in Health geography on the central plateau of Haiti, they and Robinson realized that this effort needed its own organization. So, he began the work of fundraising to create an organization that would organize his growing database tracking every child in Haiti with a heart problem and the Haiti Cardiac Alliance was born.

On Friday, I caught up with Robinson at St. Damien’s hospital in Port-au-Prince where he had organized a week of screenings and surgeries. It took hours of watching for me to appreciate that this quiet, bookish, white man from the United States with his laptop, cell phone and a local aid was really running the show. In the best tradition of Harvard, Robinson was reticent to admit that he had two degrees from the Ivy League school. He doesn’t need to boast or shout; he’s simply got the goods.
At least a dozen people were there to support, many with exuberant personalities and enthusiasm for the work. It was the magic in the laptop, however, that was the key. Robinson knew every child and had pre-screened them with local doctors so they could come in for a final screening with Dr. Peter Morelli, who is an Associate Professor at Columbia University.

Morelli took a short break for lunch and I had a chance to visit with him about his experiences in Haiti. This was his second visit doing echocardiograms to screen patients for surgery; his first trip was in 2008. He explained that the differences between 2008 and 2015 were not dramatic, but as he ticked them off, most of the improvement could be attributed to Robinson’s work.

He noted that this time, all of the patients had been better screened before his arrival. As before, he would see nearly 100 patients. This time, however, he felt confident that all who needed surgery would get it. On his prior visit, he saw 99 patients, about half of whom needed surgery. Although efforts were made, many had not received surgery when the quake hit 18 months later and they lost track of many of the patients as a result.

Morelli came to Haiti with an organization called Gift of Life International or GOLI, which grew out of an effort by Rotary Clubs around the world partnering to provide heart surgeries of the sort that Haiti Cardiac Alliance coordinates.

Rob Raylman, the CEO of GOLI travels about 300 days per year, accompanying the teams of volunteer doctors, nurses, surgeons, biomeds and Rotarians who volunteer to support them, was at St. Damien’s on Friday and he spent a few minutes with me describing their work and their history.
GOLI was born in 1975 when a Rotarian in Uganda reached out to a Rotarian in New York asking for emergency help in obtaining surgery for a little girl who had been mauled by a hyena. Robert Donno, the New York Rotarian, went to work. By the time he found help, the girl had already been helped by a Rotary Club in Australia, but the Ugandan said he had a little girl who needed heart surgery. Donno arranged it and the club began an annual tradition of bringing kids from Uganda to the U.S. for surgery, typically three or four per year.

The organization continues bringing children to the states for complicated surgeries, but also sends teams like the one I met, to developing countries around the world to perform surgeries there. With an annual budget of about $4.5 million, GOLI is helping about 1,000 children per year.
There have been two major inflection points along the way, explains Rotary volunteer George Solomon. In the early 1980s, GOLI identified two children in South Korea needing surgery. President and Nancy Reagan brought them to the U.S. on Air Force One. The media attention dramatically accelerated the growth of the organization.

The second inflection point was hiring Raylman, Solomon says. GOLI arranged 10,000 heart surgeries between 1975 and 2009. In the six years since, it has done another 9,000 he boasts. Solomon himself has made 32 trips as a Rotary volunteer helping with hundreds of cases in Haiti over the years, having just finished his tenure on the GOLI Board.

The GOLI volunteer team includes a surgeon from France, Francoi Lacour-Gayet, who will perform two surgeries per day for six straight days at St. Damien’s. The team also includes nurses from Boston Children’s Hospital and from Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. Dr. Morelli is also a part of the team. Solomon and Florence Marc-Charles, a Haitian American, both come as Rotary volunteers.
Marc-Charles related a painful story that helped illustrate her role as a volunteer. Though she is an RN, she doesn’t provide nursing support. She provides whatever help is necessary to support the children and their mothers. (Morelli screened nearly 20 children; none came with their fathers.) On one recent mission, the mother got some tragic news. Her child’s heart disease was too advanced and could not be repaired surgically; her child would soon pass away. The woman “lost it.” She left her child, ran screaming from the room and threatened to kill herself. Marc-Charles scrambled to calm her, to have someone care for the child and then to make arrangements for family to care for the mother until she could come to terms with the diagnosis. Marc-Charles followed up later and confirmed the mother had not harmed herself or her child.

Robinson’s Haiti Cardiac Alliance is tracking that child and every child it can find with heart disease, whether or not they are candidates for surgery or not. Some will never need surgery. Robinson will also track those who have had surgery, following up to ensure that they get all of the follow up care they need to prosper.

One of the special challenges for Robinson is the Coumadin program. Patients who receive mechanical heart valves require daily doses of the blood thinner. The dose, however, varies from time to time based on blood tests. All the patients on the program, there are a dozen now, must check their blood daily and report it to a nurse who guides them on tweaking their Coumadin dosing. Before the Haiti Cardiac Alliance was formed, doctors considered it unethical to give patients the mechanical heart valves, despite the fact that they are good for life but the pig valves used as an alternative may need to be replaced after ten years. The thinking was that poor patients in Haiti couldn’t be counted on to manage their Coumadin. Robinson has made it possible.

Robinson concedes, however, that he’s just getting the “tip of the iceberg,” explaining that he estimates that there are about 10 times as many kids who have heart disease as he’s tracking. He thinks he has about 95 percent of those who have been diagnosed by anyone in the country’s fragile healthcare system, but recognizes that most poor Haitians never encounter any healthcare. He remains focused on ensuring that no child diagnosed with heart disease is ever turned away. Whenever he hears of a case, he follows up with the provider who turned the child away to make clear that Haiti Cardiac Alliance is there to support them.

The Rotary Club de Port-au-Prince was also there to support the GOLI team. Several club members turned out, include Brigitte Hudicourt, an ophthalmologist. She explained that Akron Children’s hospital is another key partner, providing teams to do follow up care after the GOLI team leaves.
Solomon, a member of the Rotary Club of Freeport-Merrick, proudly gave me a tour of the temporary cardiac ICU set up to care for the kids following their surgeries. The Rotary Foundation funded the purchase of much of the required equipment for the hospital. He also pointed noted that GOLI gave his Rotary Club a reason to be in Haiti, but it isn’t the only work they do. In partnership the Port-au-Prince Club, they have done water projects, solar projects and school projects in some of the neediest places in the country. Because they work with the local club, they are genuinely building local capacity.

Everyone involved agreed that one of the key goals is to increase local capacity. There is not a single pediatric cardiologist in the country and no cardiac surgeons. Training a surgeon is a ten year process and no one sees that happening any time soon. Alexandra Noisette is a local pediatrician who has agreed to train to become a pediatric cardiologist. She sat with Dr. Morelli as he did his screenings. He noted that she seems fully capable of the rigors required, but added that she’ll need to spend several years in residency in the U.S. in order to acquire the necessary skills. Ultimately, having that capacity in Haiti will be a game changer.

St. Damien’s CEO, Jacqueline Gautier, said of her work with GOLI and Rotary, “It’s a wonderful partnership.” She went on to describe the U.S. training program that Rotary funded by the Rotary Foundation through its Vocational Training Teams (VTT) program. Designed to build capacity in Haiti, the VTT will train the pediatric intensive care team at St. Damiens, providing them with six weeks at Akron Children’s Hospital. The training will include pediatricians, biomed techs, pharmacists and nurses. As a bonus, two Haitian children were flown to Akron for treatment, enabling the Haitians to participate in the care, getting valuable hands-on training that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise as the Haitian team is not licensed to practice in the U.S.

One point of hope for building capacity is Thierry Jussome, a local medical school student who volunteers to support the effort driving and providing other help as needed. He’s even had the opportunity to assist in some surgeries. Jussome himself was a GOLI patient. He had an atrial septal defect himself and GOLI fixed it 11 years ago. He’s completed three years of medical school at Quisqueya University Medical School in Port-au-Prince.

Looking forward, Robinson notes that he hopes to facilitate 150 heart surgeries in 2016, up from 36 during the first year of operations and 72 during the second. Out of the nearly 100 surgeries performed so far, they’ve lost only three patients he says. Tragic as that is, he says it is in line with the mortality rate in the U.S., he says.
Robinson also noted that the partnership with Rotary seems apropos. In High School, he had the opportunity to participate in a Rotary Exchange student program that allowed him to spend a year in Argentina, where he learned his second of four languages, including Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole.
As I reflect on my day with the team, I think perhaps Dr. Morelli put his finger on heart of the matter when he said, commenting on the work of caring for the Haitian children, “God asked us to help others of all kinds. Everyone is our brothers and sisters.”

mercredi 11 novembre 2015


Hip-hop is the number-one exported culture in the United States," DJ EFN claims. "It can connect us and bring down any barriers in between."
"It's like Anthony Bourdain for hip-hop."
As a vet of the 305 rap scene who, along with fellow local rapper Garcia and the Crazy Hood Film Academy, has documented the underground hip-hop scene in Cuba, Peru, and most recently Haiti through his award-winning series, Coming Home — which landed him and his crew a sweet deal with Revolt TV — EFN knows a thing or two about the genre.
"When we do films, we tend to go into shady areas," he explains. "I'm trying to prove hip-hop is a common language and we're like a light that brings people together."
What began as a simple curiosity has taken the Cuban-American DJ on a hip-hop journey around the globe. And it all began with a visit to the motherland.
"For a very long time, even growing up, I wanted to go to Cuba," he admits. "What my family and parents saw — I felt I needed to go now. That was in 2012. I met another person who was also Cuban-American. I had never really been into the Spanish side of things, but he had already gone twice and told me about the hip-hop artists and vibrant scene down there.
"So I was like, if I went to Cuba, I wanted to have a cultural, like-minded exchange," he says. "I told Garcia: 'Hey, let's go and record our experience.' I told my friends, who weren't even Cuban, and they were like, 'Yeah, let's go.' It was all very amateur stuff."
Just like that, Coming Home: Cuba was born. Upon his return to the Magic City, EFN and his boys put the film together and screened it locally. Soon enough, EFN's debut production was showcased at film festivals — where it won several awards — before being picked up by Revolt, the television network owned by rapper and entrepreneur Sean Combs (AKA Diddy).
"It really went in a direction I didn't expect. People who weren't Cuban started gravitating towards the film. It's like Anthony Bourdain for hip-hop," he laughs.
Much like Bourdain, EFN brings people to unlikely places, exposing them to different cultures, but in this case through the eyes of hip-hop rather than food.
Although EFN wandered through the "shady" areas of Cuba and Peru, his familiarity with the language made it easier to navigate through those countries. In Haiti, though, the language barrier — which EFN says was "the biggest difference for [him and his crew] as filmmakers" — was real.
But the greatest struggle wasn't communicating — it was finding a way to get into Cité Soleil, Haiti's most dangerous city, which EFN says is completely self-governed.
"When we got [to Haiti], people were telling us not to go, that it wouldn't be safe," he recalls. "But we just had to do certain things differently. We had to meet the neighborhood gangster, and we had to promise that we would only film the artists and not venture into anything else.
"The first day or two [of the filming process] are really slow," he explains. "People are hesitant because they're used to people filming them and exploiting them, but we're not going in as filmmakers. I'm a DJ. Garcia is a rapper. We're going as artists."
Though EFN admits his guard was up when he arrived in Haiti, he's learned to just "submit to the moment."
"Let's just be genuine with these people," EFN says is his mentality, "so that they see we're here just to interact with them and have a cultural exchange."
And in doing so, EFN and the Crazy Hood crew have been able to see firsthand the impact hip-hop has had worldwide.
"One thing I found in Haiti is that they really are trying to carve an identity for themselves," he says. "They're infusing their culture and talking about their stuff and want people to be proud of Kreyol rap. That's what I found fascinating: They're not just taking on American hip-hop — they're taking it and making it their own."
And, sure, hip-hop was born in the United States, but in many ways, Haiti's use of the genre is more authentic than our own, according to EFN.
“[Haitians are] using hip-hop a lot for what hip-hop was used for in the ‘80s and ‘90s here,” EFN compares. “They’re not doing it for the money, so they really are using it as a way to express themselves. They told us we in the U.S. lost the essence of hip-hop. We no longer live the hip-hop culture. It’s just a business now. For them, it’s just art and a creative platform, and they’re looking at us like, ‘You guys lost it.'”
EFN isn't stopping with Coming Home: Haiti. The music junkie is already mapping out his next film, Coming Home: Vietnam. While hip-hop certainly isn’t the first thought that comes to mind when one thinks of Vietnam, the film, which is set to be released sometime next year, focuses more on the B-boy and B-girl aspect of Vietnam's culture.
“I wanna show people in the U.S. that hip-hop is a global phenomenon,” EFN says. “It’s our number-one exported culture. I want to ask people, ‘Should we be responsible for making sure we get the right message out to the world or should we not?’"
Coming Home: Haiti, airing on Revolt TV. Check revolt.tv for listings. The complete Coming Home series can be purchased at crazyhood.bigcartel.com.

U.S. Political Intervention in Haiti Has Caused Instability and Aid Efforts Have Largely Failed

Mark Weisbrot
Co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, D.C.
When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, killing more than 200,000 people, former President Bill Clinton said that the reconstruction would provide an opportunity to "build back better." Some $9.6 billion was pledged by the international community, including the U.S. government. But nearly six years later, although about $7.6 billion has been disbursed, there is not much to show for it.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians displaced by the earthquake remain without adequate shelter. USAID, the U.S. State Department's development agency, pledged to build 15,000 homes but has so far only delivered 900. Most U.S. taxpayers' money, it seems, didn't get outside of the Beltway. Of USAID contracts, for example, more than 50 percent of payments went to contractors in the Washington, D.C. area, while only 1 percent went directly to Haitian companies or organizations. Everyone worries about money being potentially lost to corruption in the Haitian government, and so just a small fraction of the billions pledged went to desperately needed budget support. But the large-scale corruption, fed by lack of accountability, is much closer to home.
Haiti needs a government that can collect taxes, especially from the rich elite and companies that can pay them, and provide necessary services. This should have been the target of "building back better," rather than foreign contractors. But the U.S government has never shown much interest in building a democratic, legitimate government in Haiti; quite the opposite in fact. In 1991, Haiti's first democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown in a military coup. It was later determined that leaders of the coup had been paid by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. In 2004, Aristide was deposed again through a multi-year effort by Washington, who took him out of the country and into forced exile for seven years.
In 2011, Washington intervened once again by arranging for the Organization of American States (OAS) to reverse the first round results of Haiti's presidential elections. This was done without a recount or even a statistical test of the sample of ballots examined, and independent research showed that there was no statistical basis for the decision.
Now we are witnessing a potential repeat of the 2010-2011 elections. The legislative elections in August were plagued by fraud and violence, with only 18 percent of eligible voters participating and more than 20 percent of the ballots lost.
On October 25, the first round of presidential elections was held, and although the violence was limited and voter turnout marginally higher, observers have raised serious questions about whether massive fraud occurred. Over 900,000 party monitors were given credentials that may have allowed them to vote at multiple voting centers. A black market in these passes was created, and with only an estimated 1.6 million total votes cast, it is easy to imagine the election being bought by the party with the biggest bankroll.
The votes are still being counted, and it remains to be seen if the authorities will try or even be able to screen for fraud. And will the U.S. and its allies, who are paying for the elections, simply accept the result - as in the past - if their side wins?
In 1995, members of Congress led by the Congressional Black Caucus forced President Clinton to reverse the military coup that his predecessor's administration had sponsored, temporarily returning democracy to Haiti. Members of the current Congress have written numerous letters to President Obama and lobbied the administration, even passing legislation, demanding accountability and a change of course that will allow for Haiti to have democratic, clean elections for a legitimate, functioning government. They will have to step up the pressure, as they did in the early 1990s, if they are to have an impact.
This article was distributed by Tribune Content Agency on November 5, 2015 and published by the Miami Herald and other newspapers.

Social Entrepreneurs Risk Lives For Charcoal In Haiti

Devin Thorpe
To tell the story of the social venture Carbon Roots, we have to go back to the Haiti earthquake.
Lyle Sorensen is an orthopedic surgeon who came to Haiti to volunteer for a month immediately following the January 12, 2010 earthquake.
While here, he was a presented with a rare case of tuberculosis of the spine, something he could not treat in Haiti. He reached out to colleagues and friends in the U.S. for help and Julia Helstrom Coupet, whose husband Mendel Coupet is Haitian, made arrangements to treat the boy, Netus Madiode, in Philadelphia. He had two major surgeries and was essentially cured. Once a paraplegic, the boy was able to play soccer again. While the boy was being treated, Lyle visited Philadelphia from Seattle and his son, Eric Sorensen, who was living in New York joined them.
The younger Sorensen had been doing some research on “biochar” a sort of soil amendment made from charcoal made from agricultural waste. Coupet was very excited about the implications of using biochar in Haiti and invited Eric to come down and visit his family in a remote village in the central part of Haiti.
Sorensen and his partners Hannah Erickson, who last year also became his wife, and Ryan Delaney, went to Haiti later that year for their first visit. They were successful in producing some biochar and even in showing the locals that the biochar increased crop yields. They set up a nonprofit entity to help fund their work and continued working with regular visits to get Haitians to use the charcoal as a soil amendment.
Following the earthquake, a cholera epidemic broke out. Approximately 700,000 people got cholera and 9,000 people died. Sorensen got sick while visiting a remote village in central Haiti. After five days of severe diarrhea, he and Delaney hiked out, got back in their car and drove to Port-au-Prince to a hospital where he was diagnosed with cholera and treated.
Delaney, reflecting on nearly six years of work in Haiti, told me yesterday that the biggest lesson he’s learned is to “learn to think like a Haitian.” He’s referring to the insights that the founders were slow to accept.
The locals kept asking if they couldn’t burn the charcoal made from the agricultural waste instead of using it as a fertilizer. For many months, the trio persisted in their efforts to get Haitians excited about this plentiful fertilizer that would also be carbon negative.
Ultimately, they saw the light. They began to appreciate that the vast majority of Haitians cooked with charcoal, meaning that this is a huge business. So, with a pivot as big as the market, the three founders shifted from producing biochar to producing charcoal made from agricultural waste.
To get excited about this, the trio of founders began to appreciate some significant environmental benefits to their charcoal. First and foremost, they wouldn’t be cutting down trees. Deforestation in Haiti is such a problem that making charcoal from wood is illegal, despite the fact that the entire country uses wood-based charcoal to cook every meal.
Deforestation isn’t an abstract concept in Haiti, they tell me. Given that deforestation contributes to landslides that kill people, Haitians view deforestation as real and present danger.
By using agricultural waste, they realized they could do a lot to protect the most critical aspect of Haiti’s environment.
They moved the base of operations from the agricultural region in the more remote center of the country, to Cap Haitien, the largest city on the northern coast of Haiti and formed the company, Carbon Roots. Delaney moved permanently to Haiti at this point. Sorensen continues to spend about 25 percent of his time in Haiti.
Shortly after the move, Delaney was invited by a social enterprise in Cusco, Peru to come do some consulting. Although he realized he was not feeling well when he got on the plane, he left Cap Haitien for Port-au-Prince bound for Miami, then on to Lima and finally to Cusco. By the time he arrived, he was delirious with fever. He checked into his hotel but quickly recognized he would need some medication.
He stumbled into a hospital hoping to get some medication for malaria, thinking that was what he had. They quickly diagnosed him with Typhoid and admitted him with a fever of 104.5. Before he recovered, he developed pneumonia and spent five days in the hospital there, for which he was charged $400, after being told, it would be “kind of expensive,” he says. He noted that he’s glad he went to Cusco because he’s sure he got better treatment there than he could have received in Haiti.
In Cap Haitien, they began making charcoal at scale. Today, the company produces five tons of charcoal every day in 200 small kilns, converted barrels. They are the largest producer of charcoal in the country and likely the only one producing legal charcoal. They sell the product under the brand name Chabon Boul,
Customers tell them that their charcoal is better than other charcoal on the market, that it lights faster, lasts longer and burns more evenly.
Last year, MIT did in-home testing of their charcoal and noted that it is much cleaner burning, with 29 percent less CO2 and 39 percent less particulate matter than wood-based charcoal. They, too, noted that it is more thermally efficient.
It also works well in modern, clean-burning cookstoves.
To date, Carbon Roots has survived almost entirely off grants. They received early, small grants from Arizona State University where Delaney earned a master’s degree in sustainability. The also received a grant from Halloran Philanthropies.
Much of their money has come from US AID’s DIV program for Development Innovation Ventures. The program provides grants in three stages up to $150,000, $1.5 million and $15 million respectively.
Sorensen and Delaney would like to quickly triple their capacity. To do so, they want to buy and install some much more sophisticated and expensive production equipment. They say they need $800,000 to $900,000 for the equipment, which will come from Viet Nam.
The new technology would have significantly lower emissions than their current production process. To create charcoal you create a controlled burn of the material, carefully managing the oxygen to prevent a full burn. The partially burned material, which can be burned again, is charcoal. The fully burned material is ash, they explained.
The new equipment will capture and use the waste heat to dry the raw agricultural waste before it is burned and then will essentially bake the briquettes to harden them, a process that takes days on drying racks today. The new process will also allow them to produce some electricity that will power some of their equipment.
One of the goals the founders have is to create employment for Haitians. They now have 50 permanent employees on working on production. In addition, they employee about 45 workers as day laborers. Finally, they have about 30 women engaged in their new retail distribution system.
Sorensen reminded me, however, that while their goal is to create employment, “this isn’t a jobs program. We have to be efficient.” They are serious about creating jobs for locals. The two are the only expats on the team; all of the other employees are local hires.
Their new retail distribution model will help them employ more people. The model will create what they will call boutiques where women will come in the morning to get charcoal to sell. They will take the charcoal on consignment and will borrow a wheel barrow from the boutique. They will leave their national ID card as collateral. Some women work a route, delivering the charcoal. Others stake out a spot in their neighborhood where passersby will purchase the charcoal. In either case, they return the wheel barrow to the shop at the end of the day and pay for the charcoal they took in the morning. Typically, the women will pocket $13 for a day’s work. With about 70 percent of Haitians living on less than $2 and 50 percent living on less than $1, the profit represents good wages—especially given that they don’t need to buy any inventory up front.
Carbon Roots was selected as part of the Global Social Benefit Institute (BSBI) at Santa Clara University I’ve written about here. Sorensen credits the experience with helping them to put the final pieces together.
Within eight years, the founders hope to have about 25 percent of the charcoal market in Haiti, a market of about $300 million annually. They are excited about the environmental impact that will have on the countryside.
These guys exemplify a “do whatever it takes” attitude. Given the risks they’ve taken, the sacrifices they’ve made in their personal situations, the opportunity costs they refuse to think about, I must say, Delaney and Sorensen are some of the most impressive entrepreneurs I’ve ever met.

AP PHOTOS: Cockfighting Is Popular Pastime in Poor Haiti

Cockfighting lives on in Haiti, where weekly fights draw crowds of men, hungry for the drama and the promise of a big payout.
The centuries-old sport, pitting two roosters against each other in a fight often to the death, is vilified in the U.S., where it is illegal. But it's a popular pastime for Haitians, especially in the slums and rural areas of the hemisphere's poorest nation.
Aficionados defend it as part of the island's culture.
At the Route Freres cockfighting arena in Petionville, makeshift rooster cages have signs in French: "If you need people's respect, you first need to respect yourself."
At the Morne Hercule arena men shout out bets and flash cash as roosters prepare to fight.
Cockfighting fits into a gambling culture that includes fighting bulls and "borlettes," gaudily painted outlets that play on New York State Lottery numbers. For people living on less than $2 dollars a day, as most Haitians do, the chance to win money betting on cockfights or the lottery is one of the main attractions.

The Real Deal: How the U.S. broke Haiti

There is very little debate that the United States of America is the military and economic juggernaut of the world. In order to achieve that status, the U.S. has had to exploit many smaller nations. One nation that has suffered severely from U.S. intervention is the tiny Caribbean state of Haiti. You may remember hearing about Haiti recently as a massive earthquake killed thousands back in 2010. You may have asked back then, why are the people of Haiti suffering so much? Why are they so poor? Well, the United States is partially to blame.
It is hard to sum up the history of Haiti, so I will try my best to keep it short. Haiti first became an independent nation from France in 1804 after a brutal 13 year civil war. It was the second republic in the Western Hemisphere (after the U.S.) and was the world’s only successful slave rebellion. Due to the fact that the country was run by former slaves, it became ostracized in the international community which was dominated by Europeans. Haiti fell under the control of a number of crooked presidents and government overthrows were a semi-common occurrence. In 1915 the U.S. occupied Haiti and essentially installed a puppet government. The U.S. occupation ended in 1934, and left the nation in shambles. In 1957 Francois Duvalier took control of Haiti and initiated the most brutal dictatorship the country had ever seen. He and his successor, his son Jean-Claude, were responsible of thousands of murders carried out by a secret police unit. The Duvalier regime had complete U.S. backing, due to its anti-communist stance.
After the Duvalier’s were overthrown, the people of Haiti were finally free to have their first democratic election. 63% of the Haitian people supported political new comer Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a priest who promised reform and to help the countries poor. Unfortunately Aristide was not liked by the U.S., since he sought to increase the wages and living standards of everyday Haitians. This clashed with the interest of U.S. business which ran a number of sweat shops in Haiti. The U.S. would overthrow him not just once, but twice. Each time he was elected by an overwhelming majority of Haitians, and each time thousands of Haitians were slaughtered by forces that were financially supported by the U.S.
This massacre of innocents is a huge kick in the gut for those who truly believe in democracy. Each time Haitians voted for Aristide, the U.S. stood in the way. Now the U.S. is interfering again, and we could see more violence as a result.
Back in the 2010 presidential election in Haiti, the U.S. backed now President Michel Martelly. Martelly has picked a successor, Jovenel Moise. As of when this article was written Moise now stands against Jude Celestin, a politician under Aristide and an overall Aristide supporter. Martelly and Moise’s party, the Haitian Tèt Kale Party, has promised outright violence if Moise does not win. Martelly has also been using the Haitian police to assault voters who might support Celestin. Will the U.S. back Moise and his reign of violence, just has it has done before? Only time will tell, and it is our job to hold the U.S. accountable for fighting against popular democracy.

Haiti’s election: Hardly a victory for democracy

By Lauren Carasik
Haiti’s Oct. 25 election was largely free of the violence and chaos that marred the Aug. 9 first-round vote for legislative seats. Many international observers and the U.S. State Department have signaled satisfaction with the process, but the low voter turnout and mounting claims of fraud shows that the election was hardly a victory for democracy.
Just over a quarter of the country’s 5.8 million registered voters cast ballots, a dismal figure for a high-stakes election. That low was surpassed only by Haiti’s chaotic and widely boycotted 2010 election, when only 23 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. In 2006, turnout was nearly 60 percent, in 2000 it was almost 80 percent, and more than half of voters cast a ballot in 1990. Many residents feared a repeat of the August election’s rampant violence and fraud they believed would render their trip to the polls futile at best and dangerous at worst. In that round, 13 percent of the centers suspended voting due to violence, voter intimidation and other procedural inconsistencies, which was widely attributed to incumbent president Michel Martelly’s ruling party and its allies.
With all the misery in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake, the enduring harm to its flawed democracy has received scant attention. In the election held less than a year after the earthquake, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped orchestrate an intervention by the Organization of American States that arbitrarily overturned the election results, placing now President Michel Martelly in the runoff instead of the candidate backed by outgoing President Rene Preval. Since winning the second round election in 2011 with less than 17 percent of the electorate, Martelly has consolidated his power, ruling by decree since the legislature was dissolved in January 2015, after his administration failed to schedule long overdue elections. Yet he continues to enjoy Washington’s unconditional support, despite a lack of democratic checks and balances that would never be tolerated at home. Unsurprisingly, Martelly’s hand-picked successor Jovenel Moise topped the preliminary count announced on November 5, and will enter a runoff election with the runner up Jude Célestin on December 27.
Washington is invested in the election’s outcome this time around as well, both politically and financially. It has contributed $30 million to the current cycle, supposedly to maintain stability, and the State Department seems intent on painting an upbeat picture of the election. But almost immediately, groups of observers decried “systematic, massive fraud,” including vote buying and ballot stuffing. The Caribbean Community electoral observation mission identified procedural impediments to a fair outcome, including improper conditions at polling stations that compromised voter privacy, irregularities in procedures, and inadequate legislative directives.
Among the most damaging charges is that many of the more than 916,000 accreditation cards issued to political party monitors were sold for between $3 and $30. With 128 political parties backing candidates, a number of which critics say serve as proxies for the administration, smaller parties were unlikely to have the capacity to turn out monitors at each of the country’s 13,000-plus polling stations, making those credentials readily available for sale. Parties with a greater resource advantage were also in a better position to purchase the monitor cards. Given the turnout, more than half the votes may have been cast by either a party monitor or an election observer. Critics worry about the integrity of the vote tabulation process as well.
Whoever wins the presidency will face the daunting task of strengthening the country’s economy and civil society institutions. Haiti is still reeling from the earthquake, and the cholera epidemic brought to Haiti by UN troops ten months later. Searing exposes from ProPublica and NPR revealed gross mismanagement in the American Red Cross’s relief efforts, but it was hardly alone in squandering desperately needed resources donors intended to help rebuild the country: Many other post-quake international aid failures, including those overseen by Washington, have been well-documented by the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog.
Haiti’s post-earthquake instability has been exacerbated by the fragility of its democracy. That this election went forward without mayhem is progress. But the last thing Haiti needs is another president whose legitimacy is in doubt. Haiti’s past troubles should not condemn it to low expectations: it deserves a robust democracy based on clean, credible and transparent elections that inspires confidence and represents the full participation of its voters, not just the absence of violence and electoral chaos. Washington should support nothing less.
Carasik is a clinical professor of law and the director of the international human rights clinic at the Western New England University School of Law.


Haiti: US interference wins elections

By Kevin Moran and Azadeh Shahshahani Haiti’s sham election on Aug. 9, 2015 was characterized by extremely low voter turnout, with just 18 percent of registered voters going to the polls. Additionally, 23 percent of all votes were never counted, due to fraud and violence on Election Day. By comparison, in the deeply flawed 2010 election, the number of uncounted tally sheets was 12 percent. The Martelly government, his PHTK party, and the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) nevertheless declared the electoral process to be broadly satisfactory and minimized the extent of irregularities. The West, led by the U.S., also blessed this outcome. ADVERTISEMENT In the opinion of the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Pamela Ann White, results of the first round of legislative elections were acceptable, even if there was violence and irregularities. The widespread knowledge that the U.S. and the West would put their stamp of approval on the process, no matter how flawed, opened the door to the irregularities that plagued Election Day. According to a published report: “A Haitian observation mission led by a network of human rights organizations (RNDDH), which had more than 15 times the number of observers as the OAS and the EU, denounced the process as an assault on democracy…."Be wary of anyone saying that everything went well," the group warned.” The security lapses, violence, disorganization, and irregularities of the August 9 Haitian elections had been preordained by the U.S. subversion of these long overdue elections. The result has been further destabilization of Haiti.
The history of Haiti is marked by the heavy-handed intervention of the U.S. This includes the 19-year occupation of the country by U.S. Marines in the early 20th century and the U.S.-backed coup in 2004 that overthrew Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president. Haiti has been occupied by U.S.-backed U.N. soldiers for more than a decade.
The Haitian government has been further destabilized by U.S. political interference. After Jean Bertrand Aristide was re-elected President in 2000 (by 90 percent of the vote), the U.S. imposed a development assistance embargo on Haiti, holding up over $200,000,000 in aid. The U.S. government financed Haitian organizations that were working to undermine and overthrow the Haitian government. On February 29, 2004, Aristide was forcibly removed and sent to exile in Africa on a U.S. government plane. The U.S. replaced the constitutional government with an unelected prime minister flown in from Florida.
The U.S. undermined Haiti’s democracy by providing political and financial support to unlawful parliamentary elections in Haiti held in April and June 2009. The 2009 elections illegally excluded several political parties, including Haiti’s largest political party, Fanmi Lavalas. The impact was equivalent to holding a U.S. election without either the Republican or Democrat party participating.
Illegitimate elections in 2010, contaminated by a corrupt electoral council, illegal exclusion of political parties, ballot-stuffing, and an arbitrary revision of the results set Haiti on its way to its current political crisis. A month before the 2010 elections, 45 members of the U.S. Congress warned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that supporting flawed elections “will come back to haunt the international community” by generating unrest and threatening the implementation of earthquake reconstruction projects.
The U.S. government ignored these warnings and provided the majority of the funding for those elections, directly contributing to the current crisis.
Ricardo Seitenfus, a respected Brazilian professor of international relations, had been working as a special representative of the OAS in Haiti since 2008. After observing the 2010 electoral process, Seitenfus criticized international meddling in Haiti. He was abruptly ousted on Christmas Day 2010.
Seitenfus takes a long view of the electoral crisis that he witnessed in 2010. In his account, Haiti’s tragedy began over two centuries ago in 1804, when the country committed what Seitenfus terms its “original sin,” an unpardonable act of lèse-majesté: it became the first (and only) independent nation to emerge from a slave rebellion. “The Haitian revolutionary model scared the colonialists and racist Great Powers,” Seitenfus writes. “France demanded heavy financial compensation from the new republic as a condition of its honoring Haiti’s nationhood. Haiti has been isolated and manipulated on the international scene ever since.”
The U.S. State Department affirmed its continued support for Martelly earlier this year. A day before the Jan. 12, 2015 deadline to extend the terms of the legislators until new elections are held, the U.S. Embassy released a statement indicating the U.S. would work with Martelly, even if he ruled by decree. Hours before the legislative branch shut down, White appeared in Parliament. Many saw that as interference in favor of Martelly and encouraged opposition senators not to show up.
Progress in earthquake reconstruction, stabilizing Haiti’s democracy, and ending poverty will only be possible if the upcoming elections in Haiti are fair, inclusive, and conducted without U.S. and Western interference.
To overcome the mistakes of the past, the U.S. also must adopt a human rights-based response to the Haitian people and stop interfering in their struggling democracy. It will also have to reckon with this question: is the United States’ disregard for the human rights of the people of Haiti influenced by a lingering racist reaction to the first and only formation of a nation by former African slaves?
Moran is a human rights activist based in Atlanta and chair of a U.S. Human Rights Network working group. Shahshahani is a human rights attorney based in Atlanta and president of the National Lawyers Guild. The authors went to Haiti in July 2015 on a human rights delegation.

Making A Family: South Windsor Teacher Adopts Haitian Siblings Including Soccer Standout

SOUTH WINDSOR — At the orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where South Windsor junior Daniel Eddy and his sisters Edeline and Shelove lived, the electricity came and went. On Barbara Eddy's final night at the orphanage during a mission trip in 2010, the lights stayed on.
"You could never count on there being electricity, but there was electricity that night," Eddy, a high school English teacher, said Saturday, remembering the night her life and the lives of the three siblings would change forever.
"Edeline came out and she threw her arm around me, and I started to cry, because there was electricity, and I could see her. In the dark, I was just looking at this girl, thinking, 'Who would ever adopt teenage girls?' In the light, she came out, threw her arms around me and I started to cry because I knew I was supposed to adopt [Daniel and his sisters]."
Eddy, who had visited the orphanage with her church, spent the next three years trying to adopt Daniel, Shelove and Edeline — three teenagers who had spent the previous decade in two orphanages in Haiti.
It was an exhaustive process that included three lawyers, countless hours and money, and the ultimate decision to add more three more children at the age of 51. But on Aug. 26, 2013, the four arrived in America together.
I just wanted them to have a better life, and they got it. It was a long, hard fight.
- Barbara Eddy
"My life is so much richer now," Eddy said. "Single woman, high school teacher pay, I can't provide them a lot. My goal was to give them opportunities that they would never have if they stayed in Haiti. I knew if they got here they could get an education and have a much better chance in life."
Eddy, who also has two biological children, ages 31 and 30, had lived in New Britain but bought a house and moved to South Windsor, where she teaches English at the high school. Edeline, 17, attends the Gengras Center School. Shelove, 14, is a freshman at South Windsor High.
Getting the children here was not without its hurdles. Among other things, she had to prove that their parents had sent them to the first orphanage and that meant tracking down the orphanage director. She finally did.
"I just wanted them to have a better life, and they got it," Eddy said."It was a long, hard fight."
In just one season of varsity soccer, which also is his last because of CIAC rules (although he's a junior, Daniel is 19 and can't play past that age), he has emerged as a crucial figure in the Bobcats' bid to win their first state title since 1979. He has three goals; the team is 14-3-1.
"He just wants to be successful," South Windsor coach Pete Lepak said. "Daniel is a resilient person, you can see it on the soccer field, you can see it with his studies, you can see it with how much he cares about everything he does."
He is typically one of the first players to come into the game off the bench and gives star forwards Dexter Tenn and Nick Heckt crucial rests. Last season he played junior varsity.
The organized soccer fields of Connecticut are far from the stone-ridden fields of Daniel's youth. As a young boy, he made soccer balls any way he could, taping together whatever he could find to form what loosely could be called a ball.
"It is a great game, it is part of the culture," he said. "We'd pretty much organize our own games and play for fun."
His passion for the game shows on the high school fields. He often is one of the fastest and he plays with flair and creativity.
A Tough Road
When he was 7, Daniel was moved with his sisters from his home in rural Haiti, where his mother and father are farmers, to a nearby orphanage. An older brother had already been sent to the orphanage, he said. There were eight children in the family and an orphanage gave Daniel and his siblings a chance at a better life.
"When I was with my family, I didn't go to school," said Daniel. "I wanted an education. … My parents didn't know how to read and write."
One of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti's long-standing issues are poverty, hunger and lack of education.
At the orphanage, the children were able to get food and study. If they had stayed at home, they likely never would have learned to read or write.
At the orphanage, Daniel became one of the first in his family to learn both. He also learned how to play drums.
"It was tough, but I'd see my parents every Friday," he said. "It would take three or four hours to walk to [my home]."
The orphanage had its challenges, too.
"Sometime I got whipped, but I said I wanted to leave that orphanage only when God gave me what I needed," Daniel said. "I thought education was great. Without education, you are nothing. I had faith in God and I was praying. And that's how I got through it."
About a month after an earthquake struck on Jan. 12, 2010, killing more than 160,000 and displacing close to 1.5 million people, Daniel and his sisters were moved from the first orphanage to the second in Port-au-Prince. Daniel said he had been cooking food in the first orphanage when the earthquake occurred. He felt nothing where he was, but saw people running and talking in the village, and word had spread quickly about what happened.
Six months later, Eddy arrived in Haiti for the first time. She said she had no plans of adopting. But that quickly changed.
"I was definitely called to adopt," she said. "Most people might not understand that, but I truly feel like I was."
In the beginning, Daniel never smiled at Barbara because his teeth were in such rough shape. She said he smiled with his eyes, but since he's been to the dentist and now wears braces, she said, he smiles often.
"She gave me my smile," he said.

lundi 9 novembre 2015

Grandchamps Welcomes You to Haiti, via Bedford-Stuyvesant

In a photograph on the wall of Grandchamps, a Haitian restaurant near the eastern edge of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a woman in a sundress and long earrings carries a plate of seemingly just-gathered string beans. The image is bucolic and sternly glamorous at once, a reminder to the chef, Shawn Brockman (who happens to be the woman’s son-in-law) that she has trusted him with her recipes and he had better watch what he’s doing.
Mr. Brockman grew up in Indiana, of German, Dutch and Scottish stock; his wife, Sabrina, has roots in Cap-Haïtien, a port city in northern Haiti. (The woman in the photograph is her mother, Françoise Grandchamps.) They live a few blocks from the restaurant, which they opened in June.
“I never cooked Haitian food,” Ms. Brockman said. “I could never be as good as my mother.” So the task fell to her husband, who dutifully trailed his mother-in-law in the kitchen and learned her ways.
This may explain the generous maternal quality of his dishes. His griot is as fattening as it should be: hunks of pork shoulder inscribed with Scotch bonnets and lime, braised until near collapse and then tossed in a frying pan for a crackly veneer.
Other plates speak of patience, like stewed chicken bright with tomato, underscored by needles of thyme; and legume, a meld of chayote squash, eggplant and a crowd of supporting vegetables, cooked and then mashed with a pilon (pestle) until their borders disappear.
“When we go to Haiti, I’m always looking over the shoulders of the women who are cooking,” Mr. Brockman said. They would be proud of his excellent pikliz, a hash of cabbage, carrots and jumpy Scotch bonnets, bathed in lime and vinegar long enough to give off a hum of heat without losing crunch.
Akra, plump fingers of fritters with creamy interiors, are made with malanga, a taro-like root vegetable, and stoked by Scotch bonnets. Ragged rounds of unripe plantains are fried, flattened and fried again to make crispy banan peze, whose pique comes from a dunk, between bouts of frying, in Tabasco. Rice is cooked in liquid left over from boiling dried djon-djon mushrooms and emerges almost ashy in color, its loamy flavor like a conflagration of balsamic vinegar, soy and truffles.
The Brockmans want to evangelize on behalf of Haitian food, but also serve the neighborhood. So in the morning there are croissants and bagels. Later in the day, Mr. Brockman repurposes a few Haitian classics as sandwiches: stewed chicken tucked into a pita with watercress and herb mayo; griot boosted by rémoulade; salt fish tempered by avocado.
For dessert, there’s a play on bananas Foster with sweet plantains swapped in, inflamed with rum and then mollified by vanilla ice cream from Lady Moo-Moo, a shop nearby. This is lovely, but the revelation is pain mais, a wedge of not-quite cake or pudding, bound by faintly sweet corn flour, dense with coconut milk and condensed milk and haloed with a ring of canned pineapple, overlaid by a long-stemmed maraschino cherry. (The recipe comes from Florette Denasty, a line cook.)
The broad, high dining room is trimmed in sunny yellow tile and topped with a white pressed-tin ceiling. Above, a light fixture of pipes and Edison bulbs suggests an inverted menorah. In a corner leans a domino table, the tile racks framing images from Jalousie, a shantytown in Port-au-Prince. At the back, a row of shelves stands under the banner “Archie’s Grocery” — the name of the previous tenant, whose history the Brockmans honor by stocking not artisanal exotics but basics (Cheerios, Barilla pasta, sriracha).
Service is unhasty, peaceable and somewhat do-it-yourself: Customers place orders at a counter and fetch drinks, like candy-toned Cola Lacaye, from the freezer. But the cashier, doubling as waiter and at times the only one on the floor, ferries food to tables and hands out sheaves of cutlery, each secured with the tiniest of strings, tied in a bow.
One evening, when I handed him a tip, he looked taken aback and tried to refuse it. When I insisted, he waved toward the kitchen and said, “I’m going to share this with everyone.”

Vodou is elusive and endangered, but it remains the soul of Haitian people

Far from B-movie cliches, vodou is spiritual system and a way of life but even in Haiti, where it became an official religion, it faces prejudice and hostility

Saturday 7 November 2015 13.30 GMT Last modified on Saturday 7 November 2015 17.33 GMT

Haiti, the saying goes, is “70% Catholic, 30% Protestant, and 100% Vodou”. Vodou is everywhere in the Caribbean nation, a spiritual system infusing everything from medicine and agriculture to cosmology and arts. Yet it is almost nowhere to be seen: ceremonies are not just expensive, but targets of hate crime. Nowadays, some say, Vodou is in danger.
In the heart of remote Île-à-Vache of Haiti’s southern coast, however, the religion is alive and well. Completely off the grid, the island has only two medical clinics for 14,000 residents and so Jeom Frichenel Sisius, the island’s principal Vodou priest, is a spiritual leader, doctor and midwife all at once.
His remedies, which he claims can fix everything from diseases and haunted houses to career and love problems, are kept in a carefully locked shed in a room adorned with skulls and an nzambi (zombie) painted on the walls.
“If someone has a headache and the doctors cannot heal it, I can,” he explains, taking swigs of herbal rum from a gigantic bottle as he speaks. “The only things Vodou can’t do are radiography and mammography.” Vodou is necessary, he stresses, and the only people who fail to understand that are the Christians.

On top of this knowledge and divine healing powers, Sisius also happens to throw the best parties.
Here, Vodou defies cliches of zombies, pins in dolls and black magic. There are none of the cornflour drawings, animal sacrifices or rattles that characterize orthodox Haitian Vodou ceremonies: just a lot of dancing and ecstasy fuelled by rum, drums and divine presence. It’s almost full moon, and lured by the music and beauty of it all, the spirits – lwas – begin to arrive.
Only weeks after Sisius’s ceremony, a great mapou tree fell. Not literally, of course. In local folklore, the sacred species (silk-cotton tree in English) is the embodiment of someone heroic and Haiti was mourning the death of Max Gesner Beauvoir, the supreme chief of Vodou.
Beauvoir, who stumbled into spiritualism after 15 years as a biochemist in the US, worked tirelessly to protect vodouisants from defamation and persecution. At his home in Mariani, he drank coffee with scholars, seekers, journalists and even Christians, patiently explaining what Vodou was (“the soul of Haitian people and a way of life”) – and what it was not.
At a time when Haiti still had tourism, he held spectacles of entranced women, legs akimbo and biting heads of chickens, even staging a honeymoon ceremony for the Clintons.
While perhaps creating some stereotypes of his own, few did more than Beauvoir in battling distorted horror-flick cliches still associated with Haitian Vodou.
“The most popular Haitian word in the world is zombie,” explains Richard Morse, a musician and owner of Port-au-Prince’s Hotel Oloffson (who insists he never met an undead creature). “And that’s a reflection of the world more than it is of Haiti.”
At a time when “world music” was all the rage, Morse came to Haiti in 1987 for musical inspiration. Growing up in suburban Connecticut to a Haitian mother and American father, Morse never expected to get into Vodou beyond the glimpses of folklore he’d seen at home. In 2001, he was officially initiated.
“I only came for the rhythms initially,” he recalls, seated on the veranda of the hotel that became his livelihood and permanent home. “Then I found out that the rhythms don’t walk alone. The rhythms walk with dance steps, with colors, with spirits, with prayer. The rhythms walk with God.”
Every Thursday for the past 23 years, Morse’s 13-member roots band – which includes his wife and son – plays fiery, upbeat interpretations of traditional Vodou prayers. Aid workers dance next to local hipsters, elderly couples next to a local LGBT chapter. This is his part in dispelling myths about the practice.
“Most Americans don’t know that they don’t know what Vodou really is,” explains Elizabeth McAlister, scholar of religion at Wesleyan University, specializing in Haitian Vodou. They think Vodou is about sorcery, maybe love magic, usually some sort of sinister practice.”
The 1920s and 1930s cinema – the heyday of B-films like White Zombie and pulp fiction – helped reinforce caricatures of Africans as hypersexualized, superstitious and demonic.
“The best thing that ever happened to racism is Vodou,” explains Ira Lowenthal, an anthropologist, Vodou arts collector and former aid worker originally from New Jersey, who has lived in Haiti for over 40 years. “They made up their stories about it and their stories confirmed every prejudice of every white person in the world. It tells that person from Ohio that they’re right about black people as scary and dangerous … you can actually see on a screen your own racist beliefs justified.”
The west’s romance with a misguided understanding of Haitian folklore just happened to coincide with the US occupation of the country – which set out to modernize Haiti, while attempting to systematically erase Vodou.
The religion was born with institutional slavery. Ripped from homelands and heritage, thousands of those who would become Haitians were shipped across the Atlantic to an island, where the indigenous population had already been wiped out, for backbreaking labor in cane plantations.
“They were treated as cattle. As animals to be bought and sold; worth nothing more than a cow. Often less,” says Lowenthal.
“Vodou is the response to that. Vodou says ‘no, I’m not a cow. Cows cannot dance, cows do not sing. Cows cannot become God. Not only am I a human being – I’m considerably more human than you. Watch me create divinity in this world you have given me that is so ugly and so hard. Watch me become God in front of your eyes.’”
And so Vodou, unlike eastern spirituality which is often focused on the mind, begins in the human flesh: Haitians dance, rather than think, their way to ecstasy; a transcendence into a more beautiful reality.
Divine possessions are reserved for Haitians, who inherit their spirits through bloodlines, explains Lowenthal, who attended countless rituals in mountain villages during his research. Foreigners can never be vehicles – chwals (“horses”) – to be ridden by the divine.
“That power is stunning. It’s not scary. It’s stunning. It shows you what a human being can do. And what we can’t do. White people lost their spirits centuries ago. We lost it all. The Haitians believe we used to have spirits, but we were too stupid to keep them.”
Without the lwas, Haiti might never have become a nation at all.
On the night of 14 August 1791, slaves from nearby plantations gathered deep in the woods of Bois Caïman, of what was then the French colony of Saint-Domingue. By the fire, a young woman possessed by Ezili Dantor, the warrior-mother lwah often iconized as Black Madonna, slit the throat of a large black creole pig and distributed its blood to the revolutionaries, who swore to kill the blancs – white settlers – as they drank it.
With otherworldly strength, the legend goes, the world’s richest colony was overthrown and the first black republic proclaimed. Haitian Vodou became a religion with rebellion and freedom at its heart.
Perhaps these are the roots of the west’s fear of Vodou, Lowenthal speculates: it is an unbreakable revolutionary spirit threatening to inspire other black Caribbean republics – or, God forbid, the United States itself.
“These people will never be conquered again,” Lowenthal emphasizes. “They will be exploited, they will be downtrodden, they will be impoverished – but you can tell not a single Haitian walks around with his head down … They’re more human than the people who enslaved them. They were better than their masters, able to live in another realm. There’s no other more articulate response to oppression than that. And that’s why Vodou is here – because Vodou is the soul of Haitian people.”
*** Ricardo Marie Dadoune (known to friends and worshippers as “Bébé”) has known he was homosexual since he was eight years old. He’s now 26 and has a boyfriend, though he doesn’t broadcast it: several gay men he knows have already been killed. In a bustling neighborhood in Port-au-Price, his peristyle (vodou temple) is tucked away between colorful barbershops and vendors hawking barbecued chicken. On a table in a windowless room, plaster saint statuettes are lined up next to African dolls, perfume bottles, candles and a ram’s skull, horns still attached. Ricardo shakes a beaded rattle in all four directions and then pours rum on the cement floor three times: first to his left, then to his right and finally right in front of his orange flip-flops.
“This is a safe place,” he explains. “When we have a ceremony here, nothing happens. People like us here, so we’re not afraid to come and enjoy.”
He may be in a Justin Bieber T-shirt and jeans now, but the peristyle is the only place Ricardo can dress the way he really prefers: with lipstick, earrings, a cloth on his head the way women do in the countryside, and a dress.
While homosexuality in Haiti is not illegal, it is not socially acceptable. To avoid discrimination, violence and even murder, many gays and lesbians lead double lives.
“In other countries the gays are free,” he says. “They can wear what they want to wear, but not here in Haiti. After the ceremony I have to take off the clothes because I can’t walk the street dressed like a woman here.” Today, peristyles across Haiti have become makeshift religious gay clubs, safe havens where the LGBT community isn’t just tolerated but actively welcomed.
The lwas, much like the Haitian ancestors themselves, travel far: underwater, from the heart of Africa all the way to Hispaniola.
While Haitians too worship an almighty God – Bondye in Creole – he is believed to stand above petty human matters. The lwas, not so much. Each with its own area of expertise, lwas have individual tastes: some like champagne and perfume, others five-star Barbancourt rum and animal sacrifices. Spirits only choose those they love, and some prefer to occupy non-straight chwals.
“Many, many gays and lesbians are valued members of Vodou societies,” explains McAlister, who has devoted years to researching LGBT in Haitian religion. “There is an idea that Vodou spirits that are thought to be gay ‘adopt’ and protect young adults who then become gay.”
“Vodou ‘does gender’ totally differently than the Christian tradition,” McAlister explains. After all, Vodou has gender fluidity at the core: men might become mediums for female spirits, women for male spirits. “But Christians, especially evangelicals, have zero flexibility for this; they see homosexuality as a sin, period.”
Stigmatized as a primitive, or even wicked religion, Vodou is inherently progressive and inclusive, McAlister continues.
“Vodou tends to be radically unjudgmental,” she explains. “The alcoholic, the thief, the homeless, the mentally ill, all of these people are welcomed into a Vodou temple and given respect.”
In reality, McAlister emphasizes, Vodou is far more similar to a close-knit church community than most Americans could ever imagine. Or as Morse puts it: with food-centered rituals to please spirits, it’s sort of like Thanksgiving – just several times a year. And it’s feminist too, advocating equal status for male and female priests.
For missionaries and churches already hell-bent on demonizing Vodou, the religion’s progressive outlook may be just another nail in the coffin. Throughout history, Christians have often identified Vodou as the root of all Haiti’s problems.
As 2010’s earthquake killed perhaps 230,000 and displaced 1.5 million people, US reverend Pat Robertson asserted that Haiti had brought it upon itself through a “pact with the devil”, referring to Bois Caïman’s uprising. The subsequent cholera epidemic, most likely caused by leaked sewage from a UN camp, was also blamed by some on vodouisants, triggering mobs to murder dozens across the country.
It is perhaps not surprising that a religion born out of colonial subjugation and the trauma of slavery would irk Christians – who also happened to be the slave-masters. On arrival, slaves had eight days to convert – though their native faith was often later on blended with Catholic practices, resulting in today’s wildly eclectic pantheon of African spirits alongside Catholic saints “creolized” to walk among them.
In fear of a rival power base, the church repressing Vodou became a recurring theme in Haitian history, McAlister explains.
“The Christians humiliate us by saying that Vodou is evil,” Ricardo says. “It’s not true. Vodou is not a bad thing. They have their faith, we have ours.”
Two days earlier, evangelicals came to his temple and interrupted his ceremony to preach the gospel. They told him he must embrace Jesus as his personal savior, as he continued to perform his rituals, unfazed. This time, it didn’t turn violent.
For a long time, even Haiti itself shied away from a religion so quintessential to its national identity. While President Michel Martelly described Beauvoir’s passing as a “great loss for the country”, the government itself wasn’t always so sympathetic, with Vodou officially outlawed until 1934. Even though it became an official religion in 2003, no one knows how many vodouisants Haiti has today.
Vodou is still something many Haitians, including the diaspora, keep underground. Peristyles, even sacred mapou trees, are regularly targets for vandalism and arson. Worshippers risk harassment and violence, with lynchings not unheard of.
Countless attacks against it have forged a newfound solidarity among priests and worshippers as they carve out a political voice. And slowly, things are changing: a new statute is allowing Vodou leaders to perform funerals and weddings, and university courses are now researching the religion. While Beauvoir’s successor is yet to be announced, his legacy may be only the beginning.
Ricardo is cautiously optimistic: one day, Vodou may be a catalyst for a more inclusive Haiti. He’s waiting to go abroad – anywhere – where he can open about who he is (“This is my life, this is who I am and I will be gay forever”).
But until then, he’ll be in the peristyle. “There is a lot of love inside the Vodou: it is our heart and blood. So we will not back down. We have an important and strong force with us. Without it, we could not exist today.”

U.S. needs strict Haitian pledge of accountability

Historically, United States has underut democratic efforts in Haiti
Congress lobbies Obama for policies that allow clean elections there

Tribune News Service
When an earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, killing more than 200,000 people, former President Bill Clinton said that the reconstruction would provide an opportunity to “build back better.”
Some $9.6 billion was pledged by the international community, including the U.S. government. But nearly six years later, although about $7.6 billion has been disbursed, there is not much to show for it.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians displaced by the earthquake remain without adequate shelter. USAID, the U.S. State Department’s development agency, pledged to build 15,000 homes but has so far only delivered 900.
Most of U.S. taxpayers’ money, it seems, didn’t get outside the Beltway. Of USAID contracts, for example, more than 50 percent of payments went to contractors in the Washington, D.C., area, while only 1 percent went directly to Haitian companies or organizations.
Everyone worries about money being potentially lost to corruption in the Haitian government, so just a small fraction of the billions pledged went to desperately needed budget support. But the large-scale corruption, fed by lack of accountability, is much closer to home.Haiti needs a government that can collect taxes, especially from the rich elite and companies that can pay them, and provide services. This should have been the target of “building back better,” rather than foreign contractors. But the U.S. government has never shown much interest in building a democratic, legitimate government in Haiti.
Haiti needs a government that can collect taxes, especially from the rich elite and companies that can pay them, and provide services. This should have been the target of “building back better,” rather than foreign contractors. But the U.S. government has never shown much interest in building a democratic, legitimate government in Haiti.
In 1991, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown in a military coup. It was later determined that leaders of the coup had been paid by the CIA.
In 2004, Aristide was deposed again through a multi-year effort by Washington, which took him into forced exile for seven years. In 2011, Washington intervened once again by arranging for the Organization of American States (OAS) to reverse the first round results of Haiti’s presidential elections.
This was done without a recount or even a statistical test of the sample of ballots examined, and independent research showed that there was no statistical basis for the decision.
Now we are witnessing a potential repeat of the 2010-11 elections. The legislative elections in August were plagued by fraud and violence, with only 18 percent of eligible voters participating and more than 20 percent of the ballots lost.
On Oct. 25, the first round of presidential elections was held, and although the violence was limited and voter turnout marginally higher, observers have raised serious questions about whether massive fraud occurred.
Over 900,000 party monitors were given credentials that may have allowed them to vote at multiple voting centers. A black market in these passes was created, and with only an estimated 1.6 million total votes cast, it is easy to imagine the election being bought by the party with the biggest bankroll.
[Last week, second-place presidential candidate Jude Celestin challenged the results, calling the elections “undemocratic.”] It remains to be seen if the authorities tried or were even able to screen for fraud. Will the United States and its allies, who are paying for the elections, simply accept the result — as in the past, if their side wins?
In 1995, members of Congress, led by the Congressional Black Caucus, forced President Clinton to reverse the military coup that his predecessor’s administration had sponsored, temporarily returning democracy to Haiti.
Members of the current Congress have written numerous letters to President Obama and lobbied the administration, even passing legislation, demanding accountability and a change of course that will allow for Haiti to have democratic, clean elections for a legitimate, functioning government.
They will have to step up the pressure, as they did in the early 1990s, if they are to have an impact.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article43667814.html#storylink=cpy

Why Haiti deserves visitors

 Long before I arrive in Haiti I get a sense of what the name itself conjures up. There are no direct flights from the UK, so I’ve flown in via the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s conjoined twin on the island of Hispaniola. The tourists on my flight cannot understand why anyone would risk Haiti: “I hope you survive!”; “Will you have armed guards?” and, perhaps the key question, “Why?” But tour operators like the one I’m travelling with, Wild Frontiers, feel that Haiti’s time has finally come, especially with Cuba looking more visitor-crowded and less adventurous than before. There is also a sense that responsible tourism to Haiti could put money where it is really needed.

Hispaniola is shaped like a large canine tooth extracted from the gob of Mexico and thrown into the centre of the Caribbean Sea. Haiti is the western third of it, and I’m arriving on a small plane from the east of the island, gazing out at the mountainous terrain and totting up reasons for Haiti’s unsavoury reputation. So far I’ve got deadly earthquakes, dire poverty, the brutal Tontons Macoutes, the tyrant Papa Doc Duvalier, plus, of course, the zombies – mustn’t forget the zombies. On the plus side, I scribble “fresh fruit”. Then, out of the aeroplane window, the verdure of the Dominican Republic is giving way abruptly to something eroded and bone-like. Over Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, we enter a pall of dust, and the plane bounces and sways before landing. I cross out fresh fruit.
It was not always this way. Expectations of this land were high when Columbus touched down in 1492, noting the extreme fertility, the abundance of food and clean water, the gold, and the handsome, happy people. “With 50 men,” he noted ominously, “we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we wanted.” And that is what the conquistadores did, shipping in fresh workers from west Africa when the locals died. By 1660, the western third of Hispaniola was French, the other part Spanish, and in all but name, the two countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic were established. They both had wars of independence, years of American occupation, and brutal dictators, but Dom Rep, as everyone now refers to it, somehow emerged as a place where you can buy a pizza 24 hours a day and visit shopping malls. But what about Haiti?

The first thing I notice in Port-au-Prince is the people: they are all out on the street. Men and women carrying their goods on their heads: bananas to sell, water, a roll of naif paintings to hang up outside a hotel. There are horses, mules and donkeys amid a tangle of good-natured, slow-moving traffic. And behind all this frenetic activity, rising above the heads, is a mixture of ruins and new buildings. It is five years since one of the most devastating earthquakes in human history razed huge areas of the city, killing up to 220,000 people. Finally, Port-au-Prince is being rebuilt, and very attractively too, judging by what’s been done already.

I visit the reconstructed Marché de Fer, the bustling central market, where a stately rastaman called Dominic shows me around (for $1 – this is a place where you need lots of small dollar bills). After spices, vegetables and beauty products, we enter an area selling flouncy blue dresses and sinister-looking dolls. I tackle the voodoo question head on.

“Is voodoo scary?”
Dominic chuckles gently: “No way. It’s our religion.”
He shows me some veve, intricately beaded flags that carry the symbols of certain spirits.
“This one is Ayida Weddo, the rainbow snake.”
Voodoo is a polytheistic faith that came to the island with slaves from west Africa, and took on a camouflage veneer of Roman Catholicism. Its importance to Haiti was firmly established when, in 1791, a voodoo ceremony triggered the only slave revolt which has led to the founding of a state. Ever since, the religion has prospered, often in the teeth of official disapproval. Western attitudes have sometimes been fearful, and frequently condescending: “proper” religions have gods and miracles; voodoo has spirits and mumbo jumbo. Unfortunately, Papa Doc, dictator during the 1960s, further tarnished the religion’s image by encouraging the belief that he was Baron Samedi, the spirit of the dead.

At the refurbished National Museum I get to see Papa Doc’s bowler hat, cane and evil little machine gun, plus photos of Haiti’s many other presidents. It is a wonderful little museum – from the slave torture devices to the inscribed names of early rebels (Hyacinthe and Chickenshit included); from the ostentatiously Napoleonic insignias of the first black leaders to the earlier simplicity of Taino Indian stone carvings (the Tainos were all but wiped out within a century of Columbus’s arrival). There is even an anchor that claims to be from Columbus’s ship, the Santa María, wrecked on the north coast.
After a night at the Montana Hotel, elegantly rebuilt from the ruins of the quake, I meet Serge, my local guide, who takes me to the highlands behind Port-au-Prince.

 He’s a fascinating character: having grown up in an orphanage, he had a successful career as a dancer, then worked as a researcher on almost every film project in Haiti for the past decade. We leave the car and walk around Wynne Farm, a project encouraging farmers to plant trees and work sustainably. Hummingbirds thrum past and we spot two nests, one with a pair of tiny chicks inside, neither of them larger than the tip of my little finger. Serge’s conversation runs through modern slavery, voodoo, cuisine, art, music and the iniquities of Minustah, the UN stabilisation mission that still exerts a powerful influence in the country. Over the treetops we enjoy vast panoramas of green hills, heavily farmed. Haiti has a severe deforestation problem.

We head downhill, to the home of Janey Wynne, the owner of Wynne Farm, and a plant enthusiast. Her current obsession is bamboo. “It could save Haiti’s poor farmers,” she says. Some of her poor neighbours just sold a bundle of canes for US$200 – a small fortune. We drink herbal tea, eat mango cake and then tour the garden, which is magical: there’s macadamia, ginger, naranjilla, datura, and several strange fruits I’ve never seen before.

Serge finally drags me away: he wants us to visit Croix-des-Bouquets, a village on the east side of Port-au-Prince, where a tradition of metal-working has developed. As we drive, I note that Janey’s enthusiasm has worked: Serge is clutching a handful of seeds and some cuttings for his garden.
En route, we stop at an upmarket art gallery, a chance to orientate myself. Haitian art is complex and colourful, incorporating various schools and traditions, and long since “discovered” by collectors. Top names, such as Prospere Pierre-Louis, command substantial prices, but there is always the chance of finding an emerging talent.

When we reach Croix-des-Bouquets, Serge introduces me to Jacques Eugene, who makes mask-like pieces, punctured and perforated, adorned with twisted cutlery and car parts. His inspiration comes in dreams, from a voodoo spirit called Ezili Danto.

Down the road we pass dozens of workshops and shops. At one we meet Serge Jolimeau, one of the stars of Haitian art, whose work hangs all around us: huge, textured heads surging with vitality. In Jolimeau’s hands the metal becomes fluid and magical. The trouble is, once I’ve seen what I can’t afford, I don’t want the cheap stuff.

We drive north-west along the coast, stopping at simple fishing villages such as Luly, where the people are sitting in the shade, weaving fish traps. The beach is something of a curate’s egg: gorgeous pink conch shells mixed with plastic bottles in one great fascinating mess, like the country itself. At Montrouis I tour the Museum Ogier-Fombrun, part of the delightfully laid-back Moulin-sur-Mer beach hotel. At this former French plantation, 600 slaves eked out miserable lives to help create what was France’s richest colony. Now the place is home to a superb collection of artefacts, and tranquil gardens filled with semi-tame birds.

The visitors here seem to be mainly Haitian emigres from the US. The few European tourists tend to head south – to Jacmel, and a few well-kept beach resorts. Haiti, however, has a lot more to offer. Up in the north is the city of Cap Haïtien, a crumbling masterpiece of colonial-era architecture: brightly painted, well-kept houses mixed with the dilapidated and ruined. Like everywhere in Haiti, I find the people friendly but not effusive: smiles are not freely given, they have to be elicited. I stay at Habitacion Jouissant, a much-extended, shady bungalow on a patio high above the sea, where at dawn, wooden sailing boats can be spotted heading off to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Cap Haïtien has some great markets and, nearby, good beaches and a potentially world-class attraction in La Citadelle Laferrière, an imposing fortification that sits on a high ridge above the village of Milot, where it’s worth seeking out Maurice Etienne, owner of a guesthouse-cum-cultural centre. Maurice’s great-great-grandfather was a soldier in La Citadelle, and Maurice has turned himself into an expert on the place. When I arrive, two American archaeologists are picking his brains.

Built by Haiti’s first post-slavery president, Henri Christophe, between 1805-1820, La Citadelle was both a warning to France and a bold statement that the former slaves were capable of great achievements. As the latter it was a success, but sadly the French did return, blockading the ports and demanding reparations for their lost, slave-driven businesses. Haiti capitulated, embarking on a withering series of debt repayments that would sap its strength for generations to come.

After our visit, Maurice and I have lunch on his patio. He’s optimistic about Haiti’s future now, and with La Citadelle, he knows Milot has a real winner. We eat fresh fruit – yes, there’s plenty of it – and he talks of Haiti’s unique culture, more strongly African than anywhere else in the Caribbean.
“Once, a government delegation came here from west Africa and we entertained them with voodoo drummers.” He laughs. “When it ended, we found the head of the group was in a deep trance.”
I’m beginning to feel a similar trance-like state coming on.

Back in Port-au-Prince, I meet up with Serge again, and ask him a question that’s been bothering me: do zombies exist? He is perfectly sure they do, but there is nothing supernatural about them. He found some when researching a film years ago. “They are people who get drugged, then buried alive and dug up at midnight. After that they are kept as drugged slaves, working in bad conditions.”
“And people are really afraid of it – being made into zombies?”

“It’s like a cultural memory of slavery, really – a fear that it could return, to you personally.”
In a few words, Serge has blown away all the nonsense that is talked about zombies, and revealed something deeper and very real. And then, a few minutes later, I’m heading into the airport to leave, and I’m thinking, I’ve barely scratched the surface here. This place deserves time, and it deserves visitors who want more than a beach.

• The trip was provided by Wild Frontiers, 020 7736 3968, which offers 11-day, small-group tours to Haiti, visiting sights such as Bassin Bleu and La Citadelle; with whale- and dolphin-watching, walking in the Central Plateau, and overnights in homestays. Departures in March and December 2016, from £2,450 full board (on a twin-share basis), including entry to attractions, and the services of local guides and a tour leader. Single supplement: £270. Flights with American Airlines start from approximately £950 and require an overnight in Miami on the outbound sector. Local excursions and tours available with Voyages Lumiere