“Did you dress up for Paul Farmer?” “Yeah, is that creepy?”
So began Abby and my trip to the UCLA Fowler Museum for their conference: Haiti Stories/Istwa Ayiti. And it only got better. The speakers included some of the most fascinating and inspiring people from all walks of life: poets, writers, journalists, photographers, academics, doctors, human rights activists, anthropologists, film makers, and the list goes on. I was honestly star struck.
Damon Winters, a photojournalist with the New York Times, opened with some amazing pictures from Haiti that brought people to tears. I was truly sad when he ran out of time, since it seemed he had a lot more pictures to share.
Right after Damon, Don Cosentino gave an interesting presentation on Haitian vodoo. He shared some great pictures and stories, but most impressive was something that Abby pointed out as he was getting on stage: his cane was black, with red flames coming up from the bottom. Now here is a man I want to buy a drink for, and just hear story after story…
Next up was anthropologist Catherine Maternowska, co-founder of Lambi Fund of Haiti. Her story brought me to tears. She spoke of a baby who had oral and anal gonorrhea after a man cut through her tent, tied up her pregnant mother, and orally and anally raped her. But she also spoke of the compassionate US military personnel who helped her obtain much needed supplies to provide care for these victimes by reporting the materials “lost in transit, unaccounted for.” It’s insane that she had to rely on conspiring humanists to provide basic materials, since the release of aid materials was/is surrounded by red tape and basically bullshit. But at least she found someone who was willing to look the other way.
Then there was the LA Times writer, Joe Mozingo, who spoke of the increasing responsibility of the media to portray Haiti in its entirety, not only the ghastly stories that create headlines because they’re horrific and shocking to us. He called for a focus on the bigger picture, not just the horror of Haiti. I loved his honesty and clarity.
Here’s a cool piece another presenter, Maggie Steber, worked on, which are photographs of a whole boulevard in Haiti, kinda cool.
David Belle gave a presentation about the only film school in Haiti, located in Jacmel, which allows Haitian students to learn how to make films and commercials. They just received a contract worth millions of dollars to make commercials for an energy drink in Haiti! He showed several clips of the work Haitian students have done, most impressively a documentary that was presented at the Amsterdam Film Festival. You can check out the trailer here. Please check it out. I’m going to do some research to find out where the whole movie is available…
Claudine Michel is a professor of black studies at UCSB, and she used an interesting phrase in her presentation: “how many cups of revolution…” She used this phrase repeatedly, as in: how many cups of revolution until the little girl in the camps doesn’t have to wear a whistle to prevent her from being raped when she goes to the restroom at night? How many cups of revolution until….etc. I might have heard wrong, because I don’t know exactly what “cups of revolution” means, maybe someone can enlighten me, but I liked it nonetheless.
I wish Paul Farmer had talked more, but he did have some good thoughts about foreign assistance; basically: good intentions go astray. He mentioned how much rhetoric has been centered around building Haiti “better,” and he said we need to build back foreign assistance better also, because there are so many flaws in how it’s done. “Good intentions are not enough, actions are what matter.” Personal hero.
Bob Maguire, a professor of international affairs and director of the Trinity Haiti program, also had a good quote: “development is not a matter of changing things, but changing people.” I think I could write my thoughts about that for a while, but I’m growing sleepy and I’m sure readers are growing weary…
Amy Wilentz, the moderator for the event and author of The Rainy Season, mentioned she was reading a book by Erica James. I believe I have found it on Amazon, and it will probably be my next read once I finish The White Man’s Burden, which is proving to be a slow read for me.
This is basically a regurgitation of my notes from the event of stuff I wanted to check out or follow up on; hopefully they’re helpful to someone other than just myself.
On a semi-sidenote: when people are given the privilege to address amazing individuals at a conference during the q&a session, they need to save everyone’s time and just ask the question so the panel will have the time to fully discuss and answer it, rather than spend five minutes trying to impress the panel with what they’ve done with their lives and who they are. I’m sorry, but it’s true :)