Tuesday, June 17, 2014

[Travel Journal] Haiti | Day 2

[June 10, Tuesday | 6:55 am]  Been awake for a while.  People, bustle, the road, chickens.  Lots of chickens. And one rooster who I'm sure thinks he holds the responsibility of waking up this side of the planet.  Well done, good and faithful servant.

[2:35 pm]  SWEAT.  Siesta after another delicious meal from Laura.  We ventured out of the gate and headed to the school where the 5 oldest kids go.  Marco would tell me when it was safe to bring out my camera.  We passed a couple churches, even if the main practice is voodoo.  Charles said they originally started at a different orphanage; already established. 
"...things were God-centered until the caretaker planned to heal a sick child by having them drink fresh blood from a dove."  
There's a lot of that; blending of voodoo practices and Christianity.  That's when they started their own orphanage from the ground up.

We walk past all the street vendors under lean-tos and pitched tarps (many are USAID tarps from the earthquake 4 years ago).  Some take shelter from the heat under their display tables.  Occasionally, a moped will speed down the road with a patron on the back—or it'll be a tap-tap (public transport; essentially a pick-up with a brightly painted truck-bed cover and benches.)   And there's a heartbreaking over-population of skinny, mangy dogs. 

We pick our way either to the side, steering clear of the grey water flowing down to wherever.  Sometimes a soul pushes a broken broomstick down the street gutter to gather the trash elsewhere. 

If they don't see white faces often, they most definitely don't frequent Asian ones.  Lots of stares galore from the room window—they obviously have different standards of social propriety.  
"No shame in gathering and holding a mass, minute-long gaze.  
*Awkward turtle*"

We wait in the cage, on display until our kids get on break.  We can't film in the classes; we're too distracting.  We can see crowded benches and uniform colors past dilapidated brown wood for chalkboards, but that's about it.  Maybe a cloth or tarp here and there to divide "classrooms."

All of a sudden my legs get attacked; the kids were on break.  Jasmine had crawled under the table to get to me first, and we were bombarded by the rest just seconds after.  I'm a little taken aback by how quickly the kids ran to me.  Again, much like the Marshallese, it saddens me to think of them getting used to attaching and detaching to inconsistency quickly.  We get the shots we need, and head back.

Interviews were filmed on the back porch—my batteries aren't lasting long.  Marco hooks it up to a deep-cell battery and an inverter.  Resourceful.

We head out of the compound again, this time to Marco's parents' house.  Through some tent dwellings and a labyrinth of concrete and crumbling cinderblock, up a long hill, tripping or sliding into the gutter water (ick), we make it up more stairs to an incredible view of the harbor, contrasted greatly with the residual earthquake damage in the foreground.  

Marco's mom, sick with fever, still smiles and sits up to greet us.  She sits like a royal matriarch in a light peach-walled outdoor hallway, enclosed with blowing white curtains that show glimpses of the ocean.  The breeze is strong enough up here to shrink her space with the windsail-ed curtains, but she doesn't mind, and kisses her greetings to her son.

I'm taken up to the half-finished top floor.  Eventually they want to rent it out for more income, but they ran out of money before it could get done.  We visit on a lower level and I see further into the daily lives of everyday Haitians.  Tarps for a ceiling, held high by a breadfruit and coconut tree.  Phone numbers scrawled on cinderblock to remember.  Plastic chicken buckets pot all sorts of growing plants.

The earthquake was strong everywhere, so a lot of people lived in tents even if their house was still standing out of fear the aftershocks would finish the job.  Marco and his family of 8 were part of that group.

Now it's after lunch; resting during the hottest part of the day. Soooo much sweat!  By the way, I'm starting to learn a couple names.  Franceline is the newest addition.  She's three, a product of rape, and still has yet to make herself at home here.  When I aim the camera at her, she cries and picks up her chair to move away to the corner.  That's enough to deflate an ego, but forgiveness comes easily when you see the amount of medication she's on.  She's still sick; they're trying to figure out a new diet to see if she's got a food allergy.  Crezou is the oldest boy at 11.  Already can see his responsibility.  Schneider is a ball of mischievous trouble and the camera loves him :)

[5:26 pm]  Can eyeballs swell from sweat?  

Something odd's going on with my eyes and they wake up swollen.  And I never thought I could sweat between my fingers just by taking a nap.

[11:38 pm]  Set up shots with the kids and got most of the shot list taken care of.  Supper was fresh french fries.  Apparently they'd made more food for us after supper last night, but we'd already gone to bed.  Haha, I hear it's not the first time this has happened.  They got the generator going so the wifi worked and I could post a picture telling everyone I was alive.  I want to help raise money for a generator.  I think it'd be possible.  

At the school
Marco interview

Franceline showing her distaste of the camera in typical fashion.  Wail. Drag chair. Find corner far away.
 It's not uncommon to see mothers as young as 8 and 9; victims of rape. (Reenactment)

Crezou and Cedric begging reenactment.  It's what they did until they came to the orphanage a year and a half ago.

Working—getting audio at the quietest time: night, in the basement.

All of dear little Franceline's medications.
Crezou, 11.

Monday, June 16, 2014

[Travel Journal] Haiti | Day 1

[June 9, Monday | 8:48 pm]  I'm writing by iPhone light while I offload footage from today—I'd type, but I'm trying to save my laptop battery purely for dumping files.  Electricity is out at the orphanage and is spotty at best.  They have a generator that has kicked a fan on in my room and it's glorious, but there's no working lightbulbs in my room, so I make do.

On two hours of sleep, I boarded for Haiti.  I'd been warned to have an inconspicuous bag to shove my camera into—what good that did next to my bright blue backpack and tripod, I have no clue, but I conceded out of fear.

"I don't know what I expected...to fly with pirates or ravaged souls staking out passengers for what electronics they have on them..."

But of course, no.  Almost entirely youth groups, humanitarian aid workers, and the like.

Konked out on the plane window and woke up somewhere over the beauty of the Bahamas, and yet I still can't get that article out of my head.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Landed in Port au Prince, passing over corrugated metal shacks and littered brown water, but yet greeted by warmth and the rising notes of a light Caribbean band—stationed right by the gate as travelers deplaned.  Charles (American, co-founder of Relief for Kids in Haiti) landed.  We got his bags and proceeded past all the intense offers to help with bags or to taxi us somewhere.  But Marc (Haitian, orphanage director) greeted us with hugs and smiles, and picked us up.

The driver put me up front so I could take footage; they insisted it was okay to film out the window, but a friend's warning made me much more cautious.  I raised it only a few times, encased in my hoodie (The only use at this point is for the refrigerated plane ride back.  Seriously Delta, you should remedy that.)  Random observation: Traffic laws are mere suggestions.

My room is upstairs—one of the few in the house not shared by kids.  Somehow I landed the privileged room, and I feel a little guilty.  Flip flops shuffle dirt across the clean tiles.  It's bare, save for a mattress, a chair and a fan—oh and a mosquito net that Charles brought today.

Within the compound, I'm safe, though one semi-Jason Bourne-leap would put me at the hands of the rooftop owners next to us.  They've built a fire somewhere within their crumbling walls.  I can see a few flickers of lightning over the water.

The port horizon is visible through a sigh in the building walls that surround us.  There's a constant chatter of random sounds; the road, a horn, a child, a dog, far-off music.  The air is warm and heavy, but the evening wears it down and smells of island and deet.  The weather reminds me so much of Majuro—

"...the familiar layers of sweat on sweat is oddly comforting."

I go with them tomorrow to film at their school.  The kids are adorable—5 boys, 6 girls.  Laura cooked an amazing meal of rice, beans, eggplant and fresh watermelon juice.  I timidly watch Charles and cautiously proceed with the meal as he does—I've heard the horrors of consuming local (albeit, delicious) fresh food.

While we eat, the older kids continue lessons on the back porch.  School only goes for 4 hours usually, because schools can't afford to feed them lunch.  So the kids come back here and continue their school day to catch up as some were on the streets only last year.  They remind me a lot of the kids from Majuro too—really the kids anywhere.
"They love the camera, latch onto you and indulge their fascination with Asian hair."  

Charles had ten of them suction cupped to his arms, legs and lap as soon as he walked in; they all love him and it's so apparent he loves them all too.

The condition of Haiti is frustrating—funds available, but a corrupt government.  Meanwhile, rubble is everywhere.  The congested city of cinderblock, metal and tarps mingle with random trades and/or small items they've scavenged enough to sell.  Street vendors either sit at their shack or carry the spoils on their head.

Underlying all, however, is definitely the sense of pride I read about.  They dress and present themselves well and work hard for even a single Haitian gourde (about 2 US cents), adding up to the national average of $2 a day.

Lovely people so far.  We'll see how tomorrow goes.

[Check out my GOFUNDME Campaign to raise money for a solar power setup for the orphanage]

The backyard—through that tree, you're actually able to see the ocean horizon.

P.S. For those who are curious, you flush and shower with a bucket of water.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Gatlinburg | Samantha & Ryan

What a memorable wedding to kick off the spring season, with a send-off we all won't soon forget ;-) Quite literally on top of a mountain, the Wilderness lodges where this wedding took place was gorgeous; you could see for miles.  A perfect setting for these two to start their journey together.

It's always a pleasure to shoot for a fun-loving wedding party — hope you enjoy them as much as I did!


Note to men — learn how to tie a bowtie ;-)

Keepin' it classy, gentlemen...


"Ryan, do you...?"   ...*HUDDLE*

And now comes our favorite part of the evening — there are few things that are more magical and romantic than floating lanterns (Thank you Tangled).  

"The lanterns would light, the guests would share a final prayer with the couple and then send them on their dreamy way."

However, as the final prayer progressed, suddenly someone shakily encouraged, 

"Uuhhhm.  Pray faster..."  

Come to find out, a lantern had begun to catch fire.  What we hoped was one faulty lantern turned into a full-blown flammable batch.

Though there was a lone survivor...

With some encouragement...

...it headed straight for the cabin.

But a cheer went up as the lantern broke free from the eaves...

...and landed on the tin roof!  No worries however, it did not burn for long, and there was no danger.

What made it the absolute BEST was the attitude of everyone, especially our awesome bride and groom.  

They took it like champs and couldn't stop laughing at the spectacle, exclaiming with pride, "Best wedding fail EVER." 

If even their best-laid plans and dreams for perfection get dashed, judging by this, these two will be more than just fine :)  God bless and best wishes in the years to come!

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