The Five Senses, plus one

The Heroes of Independence, where the Haitian Revolution was won.

The city of Cap-Haitien is Haiti’s second largest city and is home to over 800,000 people. Since the January 12th earthquake over 40,000 survivors have relocated here. Driving through Cap-Haitien for the first time was slightly jarring. Everyone seemed to be moving in some direction, where I’m not sure. The unemployment rate is at 95%. The only place I can compare it to is East St. Louis, Illinois. There African Americans face a similar plight with 90% + unemployment rates, poor housing, along with high poverty and disease rates. East St. Louis does not however have the same historical significance as Cap-Haitien, the Haitian Revolution started here. This is King Henri Christophes town. I am surrounded with great Haitian history. But I am also surrounded with the legacy of colonialism, political corruption and deep poverty.

Tuesday morning we went to visit a brother and sister Gaby knew in the largest hospital in North Haiti. The claim to “largest” is not what you would typically think. Words can not express the despair and sickness I saw there. When we entered the compound there were people milling around. Walking up to the surgery ward I saw a small dog laying in the middle of the steps surrounded by people who paid it no attention. The dog looked half dead. The structure is unlike what most Americans think of when they think of hospitals. There was an emergency ward, a surgery ward and separate wards for women and men. However, you will find no receptionist to tell you where to go. You will find no halls and no separate patient rooms. The room held about 25-30 beds all with patients who looked like they were at deaths door. Any patient who stays here must bring their own linens, their own food and basically fend for themselves. I still cannot remove the stench of sickness from my mind. I will never forget the smell of pending death. Now you may ask why I am designating these people to death, I’m not. I did not see one person in the recovery phase. There we flies open air bed pans and an extreme lack of sanitation. The emaciated look of these human beings was stark and it would take nothing short of a proper medical facility to improve their quality of life.

Imagine receiving a blood transfusion in a gas station bathroom. Think of that and you might be close to the reality these patients face on a daily basis.

With most things there is a silver lining. While walking through the different wards we did see several groups of young women being trained to be community health aides. They are being trained to go out into their communities and promote positive health. Basic things we take for granted in the States are not common knowledge or practice for many living in absolute poverty. Just as many of us learned to wash our hands, not to cross contaminate and how to care for cuts, the people in this city must learn too. These things are not just organically learned!

Once we left the hospital we headed to visit with the members the of local womens group, The Association of Valiant Women of Limonade (RAFAVAL). These women are a stark contrast of those we saw in the hospital. They are working to build power for themselves. I had the opportunity to talk to the women and learn more about the issues they face in Limonade. Domestic violence, family planning and assertion of women’s rights were among the greatest. I took some video footage of them singing a song about strength and power, the internet connection isn’t fast enough for me to load. I WILL load it once I get back to the states.

This is my work, to fight for our women- Ernise, RAFAVAL Coordinator (Pictured Right)

These were not women who sit idly by waiting for someone to save them. RAFAVAL boasts a membership of over 500 women from the 3 sections of Limonade. The women meet once a month. They organized THEMSELVES. Sonje Ayiti partners with them to produce and sell Cocoa d’Haiti. I’ve tasted hot chocolate made from this cocoa and it is WONDERFUL. The proceeds go back into the Koud-a-Koud project to help fund more micro-loans. I purchased some of the cocoa today and plan to share once I get back.

We are who we are because of what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. What we become is because of our vision.

My next post will focus on the concept of vision. I’ve seen the fruit of Sonje Ayiti’s vision and will share more examples. I’m headed to Port-au-Prince tomorrow. I’m not sure what I’ll see there, but I’m sure that it will leave one of the many everlasting impressions I have of Haiti. I am staying at the Haiti Response Coalition house and hope to shadow some of their organizers working with communities living in tent cities. Until next time…Peace

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Slow Down Baby You’re Going Too Fast

The past couple of weeks have gone by so quickly. Planning my trip to Haiti has consumed my thoughts and time since the idea first entered my my mind. Consumed in a good way. I had to book tickets, figure out where I was going to stay and who I was going to visit with. Fortunately the good folks over at Sonje Ayiti, the Cap-Haitien Health Network, TransAfrica Forum and Haiti 2015 have been SO helpful.

So how has this affected my personal life? Well that’s been interesting. My friends and family have been amazing. The outpouring of financial, spiritual and moral support has been invaluable. I talked their ears off, pestered them with details and shared my fears about this whole journey. They helped me raise over $1,600 and counting….

Without the support of so many people, this entire trip would not be possible.

The day I left for Miami was not so hot. My day at work was mentally intense. I was stressed out and ready to go. I even went a bit dramatic on a special someone. Luckily he confirmed that, no, he doesn’t think I’m crazy. He said that I just need to SLOW down. By the time I walked out of the office at 4:30pm…I felt a release. I felt the weight of the stress caused by my job slowly lift off of my shoulders. This trip is apart of a larger need for freedom.

While in Miami, I’m staying with two friends who are daring and hopeful beyond belief. In fact their 1,500 mile walk from Miami to Washington, DC inspired me to dare to DREAM. Juan Rodriguez and Felipe Matos are two of the four Trail of Dreams Walkers. I first met Felipe and Juan in 2009 during a Youth Organizing Training for Immigration Reform. The two young activists/organizers left an impression on my life and how I viewed my role in the social justice movement. Last night we talked about the broader immigrant rights movement with them and other members of Students Working for Equal Rights (SWEAR). The conversation re-energized my mind and spirit.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the day. I’ve never seen Miami this way, through the eyes of two DREAMers in the neighborhood of Little Havana. Miami is so much more than clubs and beaches. It’s helping to slow down and get my mind right for what will be one of the most significant trips in my life.

Freedom Matters

free•dom [free-duhm] noun-

1.  the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without; autonomy; self-determination.

2. the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without.

3. civil liberty, as opposed to subjection to an arbitrary or despotic government.

I don’t feel free.

As an African-American woman living in the United States of America, I don’t feel free.

As an African-American woman who identifies as a traveler, intellectual and food enthusiast; I don’t feel free.

As an African-American woman who is socially radical, spiritually developing and financially burdened; I don’t feel free.

As a human being living in 2010 where low-income folks, people of color, women and queer folk are unfree; I don’t feel free.

But I want my freedom…and like some say, “Freedom isn’t Free.” Like the roots in the image above, I want to be able to grow without physical or mental barriers. I want to feel free to make choices, I want power and I want self-determination.

So how will I get my freedom? Good question…right? I’ve been thinking A LOT about my freedom and how to get more of it. Until recently I didn’t think about my freedom very much. Why would I? My thinking was: Black folks are no longer enslaved, women can vote and hey I have a couple of fancy degrees.

Makes sense at first glance. Upon further reflection I realized that I felt powerless, I was not exercising self-determination and was just plain miserable. I was finding very little joy in my paid gig and constantly finding other ways to stay engaged in “the movement.” I would go to every protest, rally, meeting that I could. I taught at a local University. Worked with local youth fighting for the DREAM ACT. I maintained relationships with my former colleagues at one of the largest non-profits focusing on grassroots organizing in the country. I found family amongst those fighting for the most basic human rights across the country. I had amazing opportunities to sit in meetings and soak up MAD knowledge with some of the most prolific leaders in the larger social justice movement. My mentors in D.C. were mentored by Dr. Dorothy Height. I’ve been blessed.

But I still didn’t feel free.

So I made a decision.

Don’t talk about BE about it.

Next month I am headed to Haiti to connect with local people and organizations engaged in the long-term re-building of Haiti. I’m a social worker/organizer educator, why not go where my skills can be used? Why not go somewhere where my ancestors were once left in bondage? Why not go somewhere where there is much resiliency but also vulnerability? WHY NOT? I will spend a week traveling to Cap-Haitien and Port-Au-Prince, Haiti meeting with local organizations working toward re-building a stronger and freer Haiti. After that, I’ll come back and plan for a 6-9 month stay. What good is freedom when others are not free?

Where did I get this idea?

Like many folks I watched the images of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti. I weeped at my desk looking at pictures of dead children. I was angry that such a thing could happen in a country already facing a number of political, economical and physical challenges. I texted YELE! I think I even texted the Red Cross. I tweeted, gchatted and facebooked until my fingers were tired and my heart was too heavy. In the process I forgot about the lack of coordination amongst NGO’s. (Non-Governmental Organizations). I forgot that the Red Cross left Hurricane Katrina survivors dry. I forgot that money can’t and has never solved all problems.

What does THIS have to do with freedom?

This journey is pretty much 50/50 for me. 50% of my decision to relocate to Haiti has to do with my own freedom. I need a work environment where I can use my skills, learn new things, develop as an organizer/educator and just do what I’m most passionate about. What am I most passionate about? Well that’s the other 50%, I am most passionate about helping others empower themselves through education and positive self-development. I can’t give the Haitian people their freedom, no one can. Only they can attain that for themselves. My journey to and through Haiti will not be glamorous, cute or easy. I will most likely set high expectations and not meet them all, but that’s OK.

I turned 25 years “old” today. I am a QUARTER of a CENTURY! This just feels right. It feels right on time. I prayed about it and received confirmation. MOST of my friends weren’t even surprised that I would cook up something crazy like this. I refuse to spend my 25th year not actually using what I’ve learned and also learning things I’ve never even fathomed. I refuse to find myself crying out of frustration because I know I can do more and should do more. Beliefs should be turned into actions. I believe in human dignity and I believe that I have a role in achieving it for us all.

I believe in Freedom…Love and Justice. In fact, I might die still seeking all three.

I’ve been avoiding the whole blog thing because of the commitment and self-exposure. I guess it was finally time. I started the Freedom Pages to express my thoughts about the world as it is and the world as it should be. The Freedom Pages will expose my views on politics, culture, food, activism, organizing and traveling. I am in the pursuit of freedom, love and justice, I welcome you to come with me as I evolve. I hope you enjoy what you read, and promise only to be as honest as possible. Hopefully I’ll even agitate you to find your own freedom.

At the end of the day…I just want to serve and be free.

Want to help me get to Haiti?

Please visit my donation page at http://nvrcomfortable.chipin.com/1st-trip-to-haiti. All donations will support flights, housing, food and supplies for this trip. No amount is too small!