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Posts Tagged ‘Clinton Bush Haiti Fund’

Carnival in Jacmel

In Danica's Heart of Haiti Adventures on March 6, 2011 at 2:29 am

You travel to Haiti, this country that is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. A country without a stable government and has just experienced a natural disaster of unspeakable proportions.  The last thing you expect to find is a place thriving with art, culture and joyful exuberance.   Such is the case in Jacmel.

Yesterday, we left Port-au-Prince and traveled over the Karate Mountain range.  We only had two close calls, one where we almost hit a tap tap (a brightly colored passenger bus with travelers mounted on the roof) and another, where we narrowly missed a dog darting across the narrow road.  Our driver, Robert, deserves an induction in the Indy Hall of Fame.

We arrived in Jacmel, typically a lazy tourist city by the sea on the south side of the island of Haiti, to witness a torrent of activity in preparation for Carnival.  This is the first carnival to be held in Haiti since the Earthquake.  While most relief efforts were focused on Port-au-Prince, Jacmel suffered greatly during the earthquake, sustaining a tremor that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale. The devastation in this seaside villa is profound.  Rubble and burned out cars line the street.  Rose colored New Orleans style buildings have huge chunks where their facades have crumbled.  There are tent cities here too, just not as vast as Port-au-Prince.  Despite all of this, it’s carnival time and the artists who live in this city have been hard at work for months on end preparing elaborate huge papier-mâché masks and puppet-like structures to feature in the parade.  When I say artists in Jacmel, think nearly everyone you meet. Every neighborhood and every street has an artisan who specializes in making papier-mâché creatures, bowls and masks.  It’s as if everybody who lives in Jacmel is an “artist in residence.”

Our guide for the next few days is Pascale Faublas, an acclaimed papier-mâché artist who lives in Jacmel and helps manage the collective of artisans for Fairwinds Trading, the organization behind the Heart of Haiti program.  Pascale is boho style stunning and completely game  to show us how to get the most out of carnival and meet her fellow artist friends.

We first visited the studio of Bezelle Osnel.  He’s an amazing artist who makes trays out of papier-mâché for sale at Macys.com.  During the earthquake, Osnel’s studio completely collapsed.  He had no place to work, no place to earn a living.  Nothing.  The Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund stepped forward and provided funding so he could rebuild his studio specifically so he could continue making products for sale at Macy’s.  It was like old home week with the Fairwinds Trading team with hugs and kisses all around.  We stayed only briefly as the drums were beginning to beat, commotion all around as everyone in Jacmel was getting ready for carnival.

We visited the ateliers of a few more artisans. Willa and the design team led by Juliana Um of Fairwinds Trading, admiring the work and products being prepared for shipment to Macy’s. Everywhere we went we saw huge masks, giant puppet like structures of animals, sea creatures, devils, and two-headed humans — hundreds and hundreds of giant masks.

We rushed ahead to the main street of Jacmel, which Pascale explained would soon be impassable once the parade begins.  Think the Haiti version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  The sun was beating down on us, the crowds were beginning to gather, little children darted up to us wearing masks both fun and freaky, encouraging us to take their photos.  We had to get undercover and find a spot to watch the parade.  And we had to get there fast.

Pascale led us to a venue that might best be described as a “pop-up restaurant.”  A clever entrepreneur, a Haitian-American, we came to know as “Dady” recently returned to Haiti and literally as we arrived was putting the finishing nails into the deck on his storefront.  We paid a cover charge of $12, clamored up the rickety stairs as his grown kids and wife carted up tables, put together a make-ship bar and penciled the menu on a torn piece of cardboard.   Within half an hour, the place was packed and the rum and platters of conch were flowing.  The “poulet grillé” sold out before we even had a chance to order.  Over the next hour, we heard workers below putting finishing touches on the deck, adding a beam here and a nail there as more people arrived. We prayed for our lives and accepted our fate. After all, this was Haiti, Jacmel and carnival and the worst that could happen is that we plunged into the throngs of people below. Surely the papier-mâché masks would cushion our fall.

The parade was a wild loud, extraordinary combination of brightly colored costumes, music, and elation. Not exactly what you’d expect from a country that is still in serious recovery mode after the earthquake.  Somebody told me that one in four people in Haiti considers themselves an artist.  Nowhere is this truer than in Jacmel.  Despite the crushing poverty, every child, every grandmother and nearly every person on the street was either clad in a mask, dancing or adding some creative element to the parade.  I would hesitate to guess that as many people participated in the parade as actually “watched” the parade.

At various times, we’d venture out into the street with our flipcams and cameras.  One didn’t dare venture far, lest you got swept away by the crowds pulsing forward, each wave of people and masks more elaborate and packed together than before.  I’ve been to parades before and when the parade finishes, typically the crowds disperse. Not so in Jacmel.  When the groups of masks ended, it was simply replaced by crowds of people dancing in the street.  Such may be the nature of Haiti…one wildly extraordinary experience, followed by another.

A blogger friend remarked, “This is the Haiti they don’t show you on TV.”  Indeed, we scanned the crowds for a glimpse of a news crew. Surely some news outlet would want to cover the jubilation and communal hope of one of Haiti’s major cities.  Aside from an aid worker here or there, we appeared to be the only foreigners in the place.  Later, two members of our blogging team posted CNN ireports. At least, in addition to spending a spectacular day in Haiti, we were able to share a story you don’t normally see or hear about carnival, post-earthquake style.

PR-tinis and Port au Prince

In Danica's Heart of Haiti Adventures on March 6, 2011 at 1:46 am

Here’s what I love the most about social media. It connects you with people whom you really are destined to meet but simply never would. We become intertwined in new and unusual ways and build unique bonds but often never meet.  Such is the case with PRtini. Like many of my social media friends, I know her best by her twitter handle. PRtini is Heather Whaling, a PR pro, blogger and host of a twitter show on all things social and PR.  I’ve long admired PRtini, er Heather.  Who wouldn’t adore someone with the wickedly clever impulse to secure the name PRtini!  She writes and blogs eloquently about a subject I’m passionate about, the convergence of social media with public relations.

Nearly a year ago, Heather blogged, quite unprompted, about one of my clients, PGi.  (Confession: writing a nice blog post about ANY of my clients immediately puts you on my radar and makes you a fast friend!)  Of course, I commented on her blog, tweeted her out multiple times and thus began our twitter friendship.

Little did I know that I’d someday find myself on an American Airlines flight headed to Haiti with a woman who’s twitter profile is named after one of my favorite cocktails.  (Truth any one of the “tinis” are my favorite drink!)  Such is the case of social connectivity.

Was it one of Heather’s tweets or mine that led us to actually pick up the phone?  An old fashioned conference call was scheduled sometime around the holiday season and my team got on the phone with Heather to explore synchronicities and ways we might work together.  We do a tremendous amount of blogger relations and blogger outreach at Everywhere so we explored that as a possibility. We talked about her twitter show and then somehow we began to talk about Heart of Haiti and the social media outreach we do for Macy’s.  I might have non-chalantly said, ‘You should come to Haiti with us.”  I do remember friending her on Facebook during the call and realizing, “Wait, you are friends with Sarah Evans?”  Well, a lot of folks are friends with Sarah Evans but Heather is really really a friend. So much so that she drove all the way from Columbus, Ohio to Chicago to attend Sarah’s 30th birthday party. (An event I missed but was well represented by my business partner, Tamara Knechtel).  With Sarah as a mutual friend, the bond was forged. Right there on that phone call. Suddenly, my blithe suggestion that she come to Haiti with us was taken up by Heather and next thing I know, she’s on the same flight to Port au Prince with me.  Now if only they had that favorite cocktail on this flight!

Erzulie & Ananda

In Danica's Heart of Haiti Adventures on February 27, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Dateline:  Miami  I haven’t been to Miami since Blogalicious, my all-time favorite blogging conference celebrating the diversity of women bloggers.  For Blogalicious, I shacked up at the glam Ritz Carlton on South Beach.  This time I’m in Miami headed to Haiti.  Back in October, I was in Miami, at Blogalicious with my client Macy’s.  I had coordinated a sponsorship for their Heart of Haiti initiative.  Heart of Haiti is a “Trade not Aid” program where artisans in this earthquake devastated country make crafts for sale at Macy’s stores. It’s an initiative inspired in part by the Clinton Bush Haiti fund to bring much needed income to the region.  The Blogalicious organizers arranged for us to have 15 solid minutes of stage time in front of a room full of influential conference attendees. We were sandwiched between major bigger sponsors like Kellogg’s cereal and McDonald’s and their new line of smoothies.  The Haitian artisans took the stage. They explained how vital this program is to their communities.   Pascal, a Haitian papiere mache artist told the audience, “We want to work. We need to feed our families.  Every purchase at Macy’s makes a difference.” The metal artisan, Serge confessed, “When you talk about art in Haiti you have to talk about voodoo.” The audience was spellbound.  For once, conference attendees stopped milling about, took their eyes away from their iphones and blackberries and just listened.  A pin could drop. After the presentation, an intensely pretty, petite women marched right up to and blurted, “Do you know Erzulie?  She’s the Haitian Goddess of love and healing and femininity.  I know all about her. I think she brought these Haitian artists here today.  I need to talk to you.” And talk we did.

That petite woman was Ananda Leeke and little did I know that five short months later, we’d be headed to Haiti together to see the Heart of Haiti program first hand.  Ananda kept in touch with me via twitter, posted a video about Heart of Haiti and inducted me into her “digital sisterhood.”  Last November, she signed on with my firm, Everywhere,  to become an “Ambassador Blogger” for Heart of Haiti. Our Ambassador bloggers agreed to take on Heart of Haiti as a cause.  Ananda, along with 11 other bloggers, wrote frequent and heartfelt blog posts, they agreed to use their blogging voice to educate their readers about how Heart of Haiti is making a huge difference.  In turn, we agreed to sponsor one Ambassador blogger to go to Haiti on a voyage with us.  Ananda was chosen, by a panel of judges, as that blogger.   Want to know what I think? Maybe the panel did choose Ananda, but I really think it was Erzulie!

Haiti Tripsters

In Danica's Heart of Haiti Adventures on February 23, 2011 at 8:11 pm

I know this blog is called “Beirut or Bust” but as part of my life adventures I am headed to Haiti.  I’ll be going there with my phenomenal soul sister Willa Shalit and the Macy’s Heart of Haiti program. Stay tuned here for more adventures from my travels!