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Documenting Haiti

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Documenting Haiti

November 01, 2001

About a year ago, I was sitting at the breakfast table in Wall's International Guest House when I saw a chuckling, energetic group of people hop into a white pickup truck with padded blue seats and head off into the controlled chaos that is Port-au-Prince. I shook my head. "In the back of a pickup truck," I muttered. "Are they mad?"

This was my first experience of a FIDA Haiti Adventure Tour-one that (unbeknownst to me) included FIDA staff Peri Seifert, Glen Radke and Betsy Wall. At the end of October, I too hopped into the back of a pickup truck. And no, they weren't mad. The trip is far more interesting from the back of a pickup truck. This time, this tour, was just a bit different.

This is a 'media trip' as well as a Haiti Adventure Tour. Our media were Stephen Edgar, a Toronto-based photographer with a yen for Haiti, and Urie Bender, a Baden based wiriter. The purpose of this trip-if we can put so fine a point on it-was to document.

Document. What does that mean? Witness. I think of it as witnessing. Witness FIDA/pcH's projects. Witness the impact.

The impact is tremendous. I am still processing it all. Images stick in my head. Walking along the muddy roads in Fond Baptiste early in the morning, we visit a literacy centre. Approaching the first centre, women's voices sing a welcome song that rises into the morning. By the time we make it down to the centre (a ten minute walk and they are still singing), they are dancing, smiling and waving their arms to us.

Or walking out to a cabbage field (owned by the president of the cooperative) to see a konbit (work group) weeding the field. We pass homes, through yards (a woman with her three month old son), past donkeys laden with baskets of produce, down to the field where men and women scythe weeds in rows of cabbages. Steve is in action: his camera quietly clicking, snapping in a roll, reloading, snapping. Collecting images.

The next afternoon, Urie sits with Cassandre Jerome, the Coordinator of pcH's Agriculture Programme, and performs an in-depth interview. Collecting words. Curious cooperative members are on the porch watching the proceedings. As we play Casino, a popular Haitian game, they ask:

"What is he asking her?"

"It is an interview. He's asking her what he wants to know,"

"Has he been to Haiti before?"

"Yes, around twenty years ago."

"Twenty years! You're kidding."

"No. And now he's back."

"What does he think about Haiti now?"

"I don't know yet. We'll find out."

Yes, we will find out. The film will be developed; the words will come together. The collection of words and images will come together. The collection of words and images will percolate into a documentary of Haiti through the eyes of cooperation and respect. This will be yet another means of bringing the story of Haiti to Canadians: Haiti beyond the pictures of bloated children with watery eyes; this story will be the Haiti of the cooperatives; the Haiti of the konbits and schools of singing women; the Haiti that is poor, yet strong; the Haiti that has so much to tell us. May we listen.

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