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Haiti Visit: January 2012
by David Hinds, Steel Pulse
FEBRUARY 3, 2012 - I guess y’all must be thinking, “Didn’t Steel Pulse perform in Haiti about a week ago? How comes we haven’t heard any comments on that?”
Well, this is my first day since being back from the country. During my stay there was so much to take in with so little time, it’s hard for me to find a place where to start with all this. But I will go on to say that the aftermath of the earthquake has left living conditions far more severe than what I initially imagined or expected. I can also honestly say that Haiti probably has the most resilient conglomerate of people the world has ever known. This conclusion was not hard for me to rationalize considering their 208 years of plight since their independence.
The band and crew arrived on the island in staggered intervals from different parts of the world on the 26th January, only to be confronted at the airport by several people wearing official looking red t-shirts all eager to grab our luggage in return for a buck or two. The word “mayhem” is simply not descriptive enough. Thank God the hotel was not too far away.
Maxwell Marceline, our promoter, had everything under control and in no time we got settled into our rooms and then whisked off to a near by restaurant for some Haitian cuisine. After that there were the immediate talks orchestrated by our tour manager Rich Nesin on the equipment and security aspects of the concerts. Initially, there were suppose to be three shows in all, but by the time we got on the island we were told there were now only going to be two; starting with the first one at Canne a Sucre, a one time sugar cane plantation. The band, whose last performance was some time back in November, thought it was best to get a couple hours rehearsals in before the shows. After all, there were plans to record the performances.
The next day we went down to the venue. It had a lot of character. All the mills and chimneys and grinders that were probably turned by horses and slaves back in the day were still pretty much intact, yet the mind lead you away from what use to happen there 400years ago. The drink bar, touristy souvenir shops and mini museums gave the place a commercial appeal. There was ample space in the venue to accommodate as much as 2500 people, maybe more. During the brief soundcheck we managed to get everything thing ready in regards to the equipment, sound and film crew, who by the way, we were lucky to be hustled from the US into Haiti at the last minute. Yes, on the plantation was going to be a different kind of work done this night. It was a moment that the entire band was looking forward to.
The show started off with Boukman Experience, a local and international Haitian band. I regret not being able to see them. Their performance was said to be outstanding. But I am not one to watch supporting acts prior to our own performance due to me wanting to conserve “my vibes” for the people. By the time we hit the stage the crowd was more than warmed up. Throughout the evening I was mesmerised by the energy the audience had given off. This was our very first time in Haiti, yet they knew all the songs.
The show ended with Blazing Fire. Mr. McKitty was left deflated when he broke a guitar string at the height of his solo. C-Sharp took over and saved the day. The show went on without a hitch, but then….
Well, let’s put it this way; as the day went by we were alerted that the second show, which was to accommodate the poorer class of people, was not going to happen. So much red tape and bureaucracy started to creep in; it was unreal. The ministry of culture and those down at the mayor’s office were asking the promoter for extortionate fees for the place where the show was to be held. We came to perform for the people that we were sure by now, were totally disillusioned by experiences of the past two years. The first concert was for the elite and to cover Maxwell’s expenses on getting us to Haiti in the first place. The second one, with no disrespect to the punters from the night before, was for the real reason why we had grabbed the opportunity to go out there. We came to reach the ones that have been and are still suffering the most from what appears to be a never-ending trauma.
Then as time went by Maxwell was doing his best to make the best out of the situation by trying to get us a slot at a Jazz festival that was happening somewhere else on the island. We saw it as an opportunity to at least express ourselves about how we felt not being able to perform for the people in need. With them not having access to the Internet, it would have been a good move to spread the news about our overseas activities involving them. And with all those pledges that were made and not being fulfilled, we wanted to assure them that there are many still out there rallying around their cause.
The jazz event didn’t happen either. So we decided to make the most of our stay by visiting the monuments of all the National heroes throughout Haiti’s tumultuous history. There were at least five of them, but the one that impressed me the most so happens to be not as well known as Toussaint L’ouverture. He was the lieutenant of Toussaint, Jean Jacques Dessalines. He was the one that literally defeated the French and liberated Haiti.
Haiti’s independence has been so symbolic for me. It has set the precedent for downtrodden masses to rise up, worldwide. Haiti went on to play an integral role in liberating Bolivia, South America, for example. But that’s another story.
On day three we were all gathered to embark on a journey about 3 hours out side the capital, Port Au Prince. This was a visit to one of the hospitals spearheaded by Partners In Health (PIH) that had solar electric panels installed by the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), the organization that we have been raising funds for with our Hold on [4 Haiti] project. The roads were perfect through the mountains and dusty terrains until the last half hour of the journey.
Then the road drastically changed to miles and miles of cobblestones. That became an immediate problem for us. On route we teamed up with one the workers of the hospital, Jean Baptiste. He became their representative. Paul Farmer, the chief organizer of PIH was not on the island. In any event Mr Baptiste advised us that the sun would be setting in a few hours, not allowing us much time to absorb all the activities that were taking place at the hospital. He was more concerned about us reaching back before nightfall. There was a particular strip of road that was plagued with desperados who are usually active just after sunset.
On hearing that a decision was quickly obligated. If the entire band and crew went ahead and continued with the journey to the hospital, there would not have been enough time allotted to cater for all the purposes of going there in the first place. Plus some were beginning to feel hungry. So in the end it was Amlak and I (along with the film crew) who continued with the journey, keeping an eye on every minute. The rest headed back to the hotel.
Like I said, the last half hour to the hospital was like driving in a bumping car at the fairgrounds. On slowing down and with more dust than ever before, we decided to close the windows until the journey was completed.
We were greeted by Kate and Dr. Jedsen (I’m guessing the spelling here). They were quite welcoming and informative about the activities at the hospital. They showed us around the grounds including a climb on the roof where the SELF solar panels were installed.
It was a joy to learn how pleased they were to be saving both energy and lives at the same time, as well as being able to teach the locals how to install the panels and maintaining the products. We hope that will be an avenue for employment for many, especially in such remote areas as Boucan Carre.
After we scrambled down from a primitively made ladder, we went on to be introduced to a little boy aged 12 suffering from HIV and Tuberculosis. His mother, from whom he contracted the disease, died not too long ago. This enabled him to get immediate medical attention, travelling all the way from up in the mountains.
The story of this little boy was so touching that I had to run back to our vehicle and grab my acoustic guitar. There, I gave him a rendition of Hold On 4 Haiti. We took photos. The boy went on to say in his native language that it was the first time that he had ever touched a guitar.
I am sorry to be referring to him as “the boy.” Believe it or not, he has been one of the reasons why this blog wasn’t written sooner…. and I’m still waiting for someone to send me his name. The good news is that the hospital had made his situation less life threatening. Having both diseases was problematic for him in regards to him taking his medicine.
Time was running out and we said our quick goodbyes and headed back along the path from which we came. Jean Baptiste quickly pointed at a fish farm that they were planning to kit out with solar energy, etc., but there was no time to persevere that experience. It was either photos of lots of fish and then greeting the desperadoes, or saying, “should a, could a, would a’ while tucked safely in our beds at the hotel. You know which decision we chose.
The fourth day was a speedily done photo shoot with Selwyn and I down at the sugar cane plantation. There were some interesting artifacts around, including a train that looked as if it came from out of one those classic western movies. After the shoot, Selwyn along with the rest of the band and crew had flights to return home. So that left myself along with the film crew. I had already planned to stay an extra couple of days. I knew there would not have been enough time to do the shows and see the place in its entirety. There were talks about venturing back to the hospital and be more hands on getting to know the patients and the locals, but the journey would have taken up too much of the day. Besides, we were constantly trying to get back in touch with Jean Baptiste to make sure he would be there to assist us, but to no avail.
Not totally being satisfied with my accomplishments we went on to badger Maxwell about the various things we still intended on achieving including meeting the people that have been living in wooden boxes and tents for the past two years. Maxwell went on to say he would accommodate us on those issues but also advised us be very mindful of the people because they are now beginning to think they were just mere spectacles for news media fodder and nothing else. I totally identified with their feelings. With all that world attention, it was obvious that so little has been done to make shift the situation. So he gave us time to reflect on our intentions and offered us a night out to a festival. Not the jazz festival but a festival with masquerades, music, dance food; you name it. Despite the setbacks the Haitians still found time to be merry; snake charmers, the lot. So far everything about Haiti reminded me of Africa, even down to the odours in the air. It is by far the most Afrocentric of all the Caribbean islands, even more than Jamaica.
The only set back for me was that I never saw one coconut being chopped to be devoured; a commodity that is very much striving in other parts of the Caribbean. Strange. It could be good revenue right there, if you are a Haitian reading this.
Day five. This day was a very busy day. I paid my homage to all the martyrs they had around Port Au Prince. The most touching of all was the statues of Toussaint and Dessalines. Both statues were surrounded by hundreds of tents only yards away below. As you stand on the podium of the statues you look out and wonder how they (the heroes), would have dealt with the situation if they were alive today. It is because of these two individuals why Haiti was set as an example to other countries who had the audacity to even have the notion of independence. Toussaint’s statue appeared to be powerful and statesman like, yet when you search the net, it’s the bust of Toussaint you will find…. situated in Cuba.
Maxwell, along with his wife organised a situation where we were to meet the President of Haiti at a newly opened school for cooking. We attended the opening but later learned that the President, Michel Martelly, a former musician/singer, was not going to be present but will try and link with us later. I was really looking forward to meeting him. The word is that he has been the first of all the Haitian presidents to have free EDUCATION at the top of his list of priorities. In the meantime we went on to carry out our plan to see the people living in various parts of the capital. Maxwell found a suitable place for us to go. Bingo! This was it for me. If we couldn’t get a place for the people to come and watch the show, then the next best step was to go to the people at their homes.
Along the way we met up with a Haitian rastaman called Ras Peebo. He spoke English well and I asked him to explain to the people our purpose for being there. The people were hospitable. As I strummed my guitar they slowly gathered around and eventually participated in what I was doing. After a few songs of my own, my guitar was taken away from me and strummed by the locals that lived in the tents. They each took turns in singing what sounded like their own traditional folk music. That moment was captured on camera. We might place it in our well overdue documentary. Nous allons voir.
Evening was coming back down on us before any of us realised. The lighting for shooting anything else was no longer suitable. Despite that, I felt I was one step closer to what the band came to do in Haiti.
Day six. It was time for the rest of us to leave. It was a wonderful experience, full of hope and aspirations. I met so much positive energy including a contractor named Reed Walker, of Intermodal Structures, from San Francisco whose company donated a classroom for the children of Montfort Institute, situated about an hour’s drive outside the capital. It was good to know that there are still selections of people that have not lost the plot when it comes to being humanitarian. Our next move is to return by June of this year and to be a lot more prepared this time. We are more eager than ever before to help in anyway we can. But we can’t do it without the help of our fans. It is as simple as that!
Maxwell, we thank you for being a terrific host and your tremendous effort on inviting us to Haiti. We honour you for not giving up on your quest.
I would also like to thank the band, crew and film crew for all the sacrifices you’d made to make thinks work in light of the negative propaganda prior to flying out to the island.
Haiti…we praise you for your fortitude and resilience. You are Toussaint L’ouverture’s investment. You can’t afford to be redundant.
GUITARS 4 Haiti
for a limited time, Steel Pulse is
selling signed editions of the
Squier Bullet Strat w/Tremolo
(second item on store page)
Net proceeds benefit Hold On [4 Haiti]
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