Category Archives: Sounds of Haiti

A Long Tuesday

My alarm went off at 4:00 AM. Not that I had to get up. Byton had taken it, and set it. I’m not sure why. He didn’t need to leave until 6:00. It is very loud – an old-fashion wind-up model – but it’s not able to wake Byton quickly. He seems to sleep very, very soundly. What’s more, he puts it all the way across his room, rather than next to his bed, so even when it wakes him, it takes him some time to turn it off.

In other words, long before the noise was over, I was awake enough to know that I wasn’t going to be able to doze off again. Not awake enough, however, to overcome my exaggerated resentment. That came later.

So I lit a candle, and put a pot of coffee on the propane stove. My laptop was out off charge, so there was no question of working. I grab a book and sat down to read. I’m within two hundred pages of the end of a novel called //The Man without Qualities//, so I don’t lack for something to do. I didn’t need to be out the door until 6:30. I had a full schedule planned for the day, but nothing was starting very early.

My first meeting was in Petyonvil. The meeting is part of a contract that Frémy arranged with an NGO called Concern Worldwide. (See: It seems to be an interesting organization. Concern works in three different regions of Haiti, with programs in microfinance, health, education, food security, and disaster relief.

Frémy arranged for our team to lead Wonn Refleksyon and Open Space training for Concern’s staff at all three of its locations. Concern’s goal is to improve communication, both within its staff and with its partners, the community organizations it works through. The work at the office on Lagonav is being led by Abner Sauveur and Millienne Angervil, two teachers from Matènwa. I’ll join them whenever I visit their school. There is a group in Sodo, a town on the Central Plateau, and we are working with its staff by visiting for a couple of days’ intensive work each month.

But the main group is at Concern’s central office in downtown Petyonvil, about an hour’s walk downhill from Ka Glo. Tuesday was the seventh meeting. I had missed the last two, so I was anxious to see the progress the group had made.

The group at Concern is big enough that we decided to separate into two sections. This was good for us, because it offered Frémy and me the chance to work with two less-experienced colleagues. It’s a great opportunity to strengthen our team. Frémy leads one section together with Kerline, a woman whom we know through the Kofaviv group. I lead the other with Abélard, Frémy’s next-door neighbor and friend for over thirty years. Abélard decided to run our discussion on Tuesday.

Our room meets in cramped, but comfortable quarters. It’s the second biggest space Concern has available, but it’s just a little too small for the 22 of us that were there on Tuesday. We squeezed in as best we could. I sat on the floor in front of someone, and Abélard sat on a stairway.

The group includes some of Concern’s leading program consultants, a couple of administrators, but also a couple of members of the cleaning staff and a driver. It is, thus, a pretty mixed group, and the fact that its members represent different steps on Concern’s hierarchy can make for interesting tensions. From the very start, our conversations have been dominated by a couple of very strong women.

The activity Abélard was leading was designed to begin to address such and imbalance. It involved a conventional Wonn Refleksyon discussion. After that, however, there was a short evaluation when each group member chooses from a short list of virtues of a good group member, explaining which they see as their strengths an which they see as there weaknesses. The list includes things like: listening well, encouraging others, helping others clarify their thoughts, and speaking clearly. The group took to the evaluation well. For example, Joanne, the most dominant of the women, said, quite correctly I think, that she was good at the work in small groups, but that in the large group discussion she talks much too much. It will be interesting to how that realization plays out in the weeks to come.

From Petyonvil, I had to get down to Pòtoprens quickly. So I took a motorcycle. It’s expensive, but a good driver can avoid traffic, so it’s fast. I had learned from Kerline that the Kofaviv women would be meeting – I had thought they were planning to restart the following week – and I was very anxious to see them because I hadn’t met with them since the beginning of December.

In addition, I had a specific question for them. The guys in Cité Soleil had told me something I could scarcely believe. They had said that violence against women had pretty much stopped in Cité Soleil because the heads of the gangs had said they would execute any rapists.

When I got to the Kofaviv office, I looked for Suzette. She lives and works in Cité Soleil, in a neighborhood called Dwiya. She said that what they had told me was partly true. In the guys’ neighborhood and the ones surrounding it, the head of the gangs had done just that. Since no one doubts his word in such a matter, he was able, with such a threat, to eliminate at least some types of violence against women.

But he is not the only gang leader in Cité Soleil, though he has influence in more neighborhoods than just his own. One of the others is a man of quite different inclinations, who still permits members of his gang very wide latitude. Where Suzette lives, there are still some dangers, and the neighborhood below hers is as bad as it’s ever been. This apart from the violence against women and others – intended and unintended – connected with the presence of the UN’s military mission.

The women’s discussion on Tuesday was to be led by Edith and Adjanie. The group’s members take turns, and they had volunteered. It was an interesting day, because for the first time they were going to by talking about a picture rather than a text. The one in our book is a print by Kathë Kollwitz called “Prisoners Listening to Music.”

The group has a lot of experience in Wonn Refleksyon discussions by now. They even have a fair amount of experience at leading their discussions themselves. They talk comfortably and seriously with one another, whether they are in small groups or are sitting in the large circle. What’s more, in working with the second volume f texts that we use here, they’ve show flexibility and imagination in working out the lessons plans they follow each week. Adjanie’s leadership when we were discussion Newton’s Laws of Motion was just one example. Generally, they show a willingness to mix the standard strategies they have learned from Frémy and me over the last year or so with other group leadership practices – liking singing and playing games – to create a constructive environment that everyone enjoys.

But as I watched Edith and Adjanie work with the group on the Kollwitz drawing, I had to admit that I felt there was something missing. They gave good instructions for each step of the process. They even had lots of interesting things to say about the drawing and the issues that it raised. In fact, they were the two most vocal contributors to the conversation. But they didn’t really work on drawing out their fellow members’ thoughts. They didn’t ask for further explanations. They neither pressed anyone nor encouraged anyone.

It’s not as though the group needs a lot of leadership. Its members do pretty well. At this point, they would be able to accomplish a lot if a leader just suggested a topic and said, “Go.” But it’s always wrong to be satisfied with a group’s progress. A group’s leader has a special charge to keeping pushing a group’s members to new heights. I spent a few minutes after the meeting sharing my feedback with Edith and Adjanie. I’ll be with the group again in two weeks, and I hope I’ll be able to make the point again for everyone.

From the Kofaviv office, I went to Fonkoze. The organization has been invited to submit a small number of very large funding proposals. I have slid into a role as the one who write initial rough drafts of many of the proposal that Fonkoze submits, so I had a lot of work to do to get a set of drafts out quickly. What’s more, the proposals are more closely connected to the financial aspects of Fonkoze’s work than to the educational ones, so I writing a little bit out of my element.

I spent the afternoon writing, but it was crucial that I have the chance to go over the drafts with Fonkoze’s director, Anne Hastings. She’s the one who can be really clear about what the proposals need to say. So I needed to meet with her whenever she became available. We finally got together a little after 4:00, and worked hard until at little after 5:30.

This presented a problem. This time of the year, Pòtoprens is starting to get dark by then, and my plan was to head from Fonkoze to Cité Soleil. That was where my last meeting of the day was scheduled to be, and that was where I planned to sleep. But it’s not customary to enter Cité Soleil after dark.

Anne arranged for a Fonkoze driver to drop me of at the Gonayiv bus station, at the edge of Cité Soleil. There was no question of asking him to bring me all the way in. Instead, I arranged with the folks in Cité Soleil to meet me at the station and go in with me.

Getting to the Gonayiv station after dark is spooky. During the day, it is one of the liveliest, most crowded intersections I know of. In Haiti or elsewhere. What I discovered on Tuesday is that, after dusk, it is entirely empty. It becomes, as they say, “a vast wasteland.” No signs of the vehicles and people that fill it during the day except the rubbish they leave. Because there are no streetlights, it’s also dark. I was grateful that I saw Farid running up to meet me almost as soon as I got out of the pick-up truck. We walked quickly into the Cité. Héguel, who leads the group with me and whose apartment-mate I have become the once or twice a week I stay there, was just behind him. He said he sent Farid, who’s much younger, running ahead, because he realized the intersection would be empty and knew that I’d be nervous until I met up with a familiar face.

When I arrived, I was thoroughly scolded by everyone for arriving so late. I promised that I wouldn’t do it again, and I won’t. Then we got to work.

We decided to work on English. The last couple of times I’ve met with them, I’ve taught them songs. I’ve felt that, especially when they learn English songs that are already familiar to them, it will help them get words down. It will help their feel for the language.

And even if I’m wrong, what’s already clear is how much they enjoy singing together in English. It creates a wonderful environment. It brings them together. The song we worked on Tuesday was “How great Thou Art.” They are all devout Christians, and there’s hardly a Haitian who doesn’t know the song well in French – even among those who speak only Creole. So I figured that learning it in English would be easy enough.

Here they are, the kids of Belekou: WS_30121

After we taped that, they wanted to work on the song we had learned last week. It’s a duet that came out last summer by Haitian hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean and Colombian singer Shakira. They spent the next hour and a half singing and dancing:


By the time they left Héguel and me to our piece, it was late, at least by my standards here. Héguel when off to bed. I lit a candle and read for awhile before I did the same.

Here’s a picture of my room in Belekou. It has all the comforts of home. Or, to be more exact, both the comforts. It has a mattress, hand-sewn by one of the members of the Belekou group, a young guy named Ewol. He used to have a business making mattresses, but lost the space he was making them in, so had to stop. It also has a candleholder, courtesy of Zach Rasmuson, one of the premier pinot noir makers in America, and a wonderful long-time friend.


Waiting in a Bus

I made this recording as I sat in a bus in Leogane, waiting for it to fill up for the trip to Port au Prince. What you hear are the snack venders. They carry their wares on the heads, across their shoulders, or on the back and they shout as they try to make sales.

Most are selling beverages, especially now that the hot season is underway, but all sorts of other stuffis for sale, too.