A place with deep beauty.
A place where unspeakable scars flow like water.
A place where resilient youth defy.
A place where its very history is based on oppression, slavery and the dark.
A place where its very history is based on uprising, freedom and the light.
A place that strips away the layers of a man’s exterior and bares their soul.
When you stop and stare at Haiti, Haiti stares right back at you.
I have struggled to write this blog post for a couple of weeks now. For most of that time, I even avoided going through the photographs I took while I was in Haiti. I have had the opportunity to travel a decent amount in my life. Travel for me is not a resume of destinations but rather a haphazard collage of adventures. In span of 2 days in March I went from the lap of luxury in Mexico to the streets of Haiti. I lounged in my own personal pool on the ground floor of an all-inclusive resort that catered to my every whim. Hours later I was walking broken, garbage filled streets. I have been to Haiti before. I have walked Haiti’s streets before. I knew its strengths. I knew its pains. I knew how desperately Haiti wanted change, yet how desperately Haiti rejected that very change. I took those experiences, I took those previous adventures, I took some of my closest friends, I took a brand new friend, I met up with some old friends… I bundled all those things together and once fully prepared, I headed back to Haiti ready to make difference.
I was woefully unprepared for what Haiti had prepared for me.
Much like my collage of adventures, this post is going to be a collage of my thoughts. I tried to think my way into making this cohesive post with a flow and storyline. I tried to make it something where you could walk along with me and my friends as I flipped my PowerPoint slide show presentation of a perfect adventure. In short, I spent too much effort making it something it was not. Haiti will always be a well worn scrapbook and never a novel with pristine dust jacket…. much like my life story.
I spend almost everyday trying to find more idiots and surround myself with as many of them as I can find. For those of you smiling right now, I don’t need to explain this. For those of you wondering why I called my friends idiots, let me help you a little with this. If you shun the things that world says you must have only to spend that money and time on something that has no tangible value, some people will call you an idiot. If you openly admit how weak you really are and that you desperately need key people in your life to help achieve your goals, sometimes you will be labeled an idiot. If you gleefully throw caution to the wind, put your hands in the dirt and be unfancy, you are the opposite of the cool people on Instagram…. So an idiot. Sidenote, if you are an idiot, please send me message and say hi!
After I came back from Haiti in 2014, I had quite a few people reach out to me and say that if I ever went back, they would like for me to let them know. This second trip was not really planned out very far in advance and just organically formed. Which in a way, forced the hands of people and those who really wanted to go. Along with me was Elizabeth, my direct competitor and business partner. Taylor, the world traveling, just about to be a college grad who makes sure I have bread at weddings. Jordan, who, well is #justaDJ. Jane, my hippie friend from my first trip to Haiti who lives in Pennsylvania and then Connor. Jane’s amazing 13 year old son who asked that his 13th birthday present was a trip to Haiti.
I watched them all have different experiences throughout the trip and process out what they saw and felt in their own very different ways. I watched friendships form. I watched friendships grow deeper. I hugged them when some cried. I laughed uncontrollably with every single one of them at some point. I clearly verified and explained how we disposed of toilet paper with one of them. I spent quiet mornings with them. I spent loud nights playfully arguing semantics of words with them. These people. Every one of them are idiots.
[[drags out soapbox to stand on and brag]]
Here is one of the biggest idiots I have ever met. Miss Jessica Drogosz. I met her on my first trip to Haiti in 2014. Haiti strips away our exterior and bares our soul. When Jessica had her soul laid bare by her first trip to Haiti, she threw caution to the wind and decided to get her hands dirty. She left her comfy Chicago condo, left her family that all still takes family vacations together, left her ridiculously successful Chicago Wedding Photography business… she left it because she had to.
She brought her real, authentic experiences in life to Haiti to pour into a handful of women. She used all her strengths AND her scars to create something from nothing. A common term used in this situation is “Passion”. Truly, I hate that word. I hate it with a
passion every fiber of me. Passion burns hot but burns quick. Those who rely on pursuing things they only have a passion for, are a shooting star in the moment. What Jessica has done requires more than just passion. It requires a deep commitment to others and also to yourself.
SaVoix was founded around one core principle: “When given the permission to be heard, we gain the power to grow.” SaVoix exists to help young women to find their voice. We do this by fostering creativity, cultivating community, equipping holistically, and speaking tangibly.
We all were able to spend time supporting both Jessica AND what she has created. Elizabeth and I spent one afternoon photographing the ladies SaVoix is empowering and the products they are creating. Check some of the great things they are creating and doing at https://sa-voix.myshopify.com/
The Raw Truth.
I have REALLY struggled on this section. In order to truthfully tell the story of Haiti, I have to include these photographs. When I am photographing weddings, I spent so much my efforts to capture and create photographs that give couples memories they want to share and cherish. When I am forced to document the pains, the shortcomings and raw despair that parts of Haiti do have, it does not sit right with me. Not because I should not photograph it, I fully embrace the ethics and responsibility of what being a photographer is at its core but more of being acutely aware of the emotions my photographs will pull out of the viewer. Haiti currently runs at roughly 80% unemployment and a with 56% of the population being under 25. Combine that with corruption at all political levels, lack of infrastructure, no real sustained exports and there really is a humanitarian crisis in Haiti. I do not know if crisis is this best word because this is something that has been happening for much longer than a moment. This is not a natural disaster crisis or political uprising crisis. This is a socioeconomic epidemic that took decades to be at this point. When you view some of these photos you will run through a gauntlet of emotions. Let them flow.
I want to caution you on knee jerk reaction though. Throwing resources at a problem is not always a solution and in many parts of the world, not just Haiti, this actually makes the problem worse. In extreme cases people and corporations use Haiti to as opportunity to increase their bottom line at the very expense of the population. This is Croix-des-Bossales, which translates to “The Slave Market”. I do not need to explain what/where/how the origins of this location earned its name. Currently this where literally tons of unregulated, tariff free, imported 2nd hand clothing is, for lack of a better term, is dumped. Due to the lack of regulation, it is tough to really know the exact reason why US corporations choose to flood this country with clothing in this way. I can say from personal experience, you do not something over and over unless it is beneficial to you.
This has universally devalued the textile industry within Haiti, one of its few exports. Local Haitian companies struggle to employ people to create clothing that can compete with the large volumes of gently used 2nd hand clothing. With the clothes not being distributed in any way through the country and the lack of infrastructure, Haitians have found it more profitable to take the clothing from the market into the country and resell to the locals in the streets. So to recap, the clothes come into Haiti at best unregulated, at worst through bribery. Then rather be distributed to the people in need throughout the country, the clothes are dumped and then picked through and the leftovers pile up in the raw elements. The physically able and resource strong people, take the best clothing for themselves and sell the other clothing inland, all the while avoiding adding any true value to the economy because of lack of taxation. Slaves are no longer sold in Croix-des-Bossales but this market is still enslaving people to the rest of the world.
The Raw Beauty.
If I tell you to close your eyes and think of the Dominican Republic, most Americans will think of sandy beaches, lush tropical vegetation and drinks with umbrellas. Most Americans do not realize that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island. There is a geographic line which separates many different things from the countries. Natural beauty does not adhere to man-made lines on a map.
I was texting Jane the other day and I told her “Haiti always strips away layers and in the moment, we don’t always enjoy it.”. I went to Haiti with the experience of being there before, I went as a pseudo leader of a few people, I went with grand and ideal expectations and within a day being there I had all my ideas of what this trip would be completely invalidated. Haiti’s culture is going through changes and the best way handle the population, especially the children, from an American influence has dramatically changed. Sometimes I agreed with these changes, sometimes I deeply disagreed with them. My disagreements come from a place personal experience growing up, not from any sort of formal education or data driven thesis. I found myself almost wandering through the first few days there. I was torn somewhere between, what should I do/what can I do/what am I allowed to do.
I had my layer of knowing what to expect stripped away. I had my leadership tendencies stripped away because I had no answers. I had my compassion stripped away and replaced with anger after going though Croix-des-Bossales. I found myself at the mercy of having my soul bared for Haiti and my friends there to see. When you are forced to look into the mirror and you are not allowed to hold up your mask of what you think you or what you want yourself to be, it delivers an uppercut of perspective to your exposed chin of life.
The perspective I gained by this trip is immeasurable. It was not until the plane ride home until I was finally able to start to form what that perspective really was. In the few weeks since I made it home and both deeply explaining my thoughts to a few and dodging deeply explaining my thoughts to many, I have started to wrap my head around the entire trip. My adventure is one that would be different than yours and I know it was different than those on my team. It was one of laughter, dusty shoes, cold showers, tears, happiness, compassion, anger, lots of onions and some relationships I will forever cherish. I went to Haiti to make a difference. The moment I landed, Haiti looked into my soul and you are the one is who going to be different.