Visiting Leogane the day after the inauguration, we are plunged into the canyon between the promise and its fulfillment. The city, which was the epicenter of the earthquake, is desolate, a combination of “the hour before the shootout” in the Westerns, and a scene from after the Apocalypse. There are empty lots where once there were buildings; rubbish is thrown on top of rubble; motorcycles buzz around, but their riders are solemn.
We stop to buy Haitian CD’s and talk with a 30-ish man whose face looks frozen, who is standing near the rack. “Is this your store?” I ask, of the tiny cabin.
“It is not mine,” he says, “but I built it.”
“What about your house?” I ask.
“My house was destroyed,” he replies.
“Did you lose family?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, and slowly, deliberately, names them. “My brother, my other brother, my sister, my mother.”
Around us, other young men stand like statues. Only when the music from the CD begins does anyone move. The young man who actually owns the store shuffles his feet and smiles a little. A couple of the other guys sing along with Belo.
We know we will be coming back to Leogane and working there.
May 14, 2011 in Port-au-Prince felt like January 20, 2009 in Washington DC: a new president producing unexpected smiles, and tears, too– and in devastated Haiti, a sense of new life.
In one of those happy coincidences—psychiatrist Carl Jung called them “synchronicities”—we found ourselves in Haiti on Inauguration Day and in the precise hotel at which the post-Inauguration reception was taking place. All of our US team—Amy Shinal, our Clinical Director; Lynda Richtsmeier-Cyr, our Senior Supervisor; Lee-Ann Gallarano, our Global Trauma Program Manager; Jesse Harding, our Program Coordinator; JJ Biasucci, our yoga instructor; and I—were amazed that we were where we found ourselves.
As the guests assembled, Linda Métayer and I approached those whom we knew or whom we believed would be interested in our work. Wyclef Jean, whose long time living outside the country had barred him from running for the presidency, was there to celebrate his fellow musician’s election. He gave us his cell phone number and assured us of his support.
Michaelle Jean, the Haitian-born, former Canadian Governor General, lit up the room with her cloud of red hair and her smile. We spent some time with her and arranged to meet again.
There were officials of the Preval government, including Prime Minister Max Bellerive, and some of the clerics who led the inauguration ceremony. Other leading figures from the Haitian diaspora were there, filled with wonder at the hope, after so many years of disappointment, that Michel Martelly’s election had brought to them. As we spoke, all of them recognized the central importance of dealing with psychological trauma to the rebuilding of the country.
President Martelly arrived with his wife and four children, each one energetic and very much an individual: the oldest boy inclined toward his cell phone; the second-oldest boy with a mohawk, gracious and at ease; the youngest boy smiling and well behaved, a beaming little girl. Here too, we are reminded of the Obama family, and of the future for which we all hope.
On the night before his inauguration, Haitian president-elect Michel Martelly came to the Hotel Karibe, where our US team and our Haitian program director Linda Metayer were staying. He sat outdoors among us as the band began to play. There were watchful bodyguards, but also a feeling of welcome, of fraternity.
The people I spoke with were happy, excited; not just the tent-camp organizers who had always been solidly behind “Sweet Micky”, the popular singer, as President Martelly was known, but also wealthy people and the intelligentsia. There had been a shift in the weeks since the election, a sense of possibility that, freed from narrow, self-serving needs—he’d already had plenty of fame, adulation, and devotion, and had made plenty of money—he might really mean what he’d said: about rebuilding the infrastructure and making, for the first time, education available to all.
It felt important to talk to him, to tell him how hopeful we were as well as what we were doing. And so, Linda and I arrived at his table. She explained in Creole—the people’s language here in Haiti—about the Center’s work and our hopes for establishing a National Program of Self-Care and Mutual Help. “Thank you,” he said to us in English, “for everything you are doing for Haiti.” He gave us names and contact information for key advisors and the next Minister of Health, embraced us with a kind of warmth and ease that is rare in politicians.
In the background, the guitarist, Belo, was joined by backup singers and other musicians—two, three, five, ten of them. The music, a kind of joyful Haitian reggae, had us smiling and dancing. I wish you all could’ve been there. The president stayed at his table for awhile, happily greeting supporters, many of whom had returned from the Haitian diaspora, enjoying his evening and everyone’s music.
Mark Silverberg is a welcome guest blogger. He is an Ohio businessman who read about our work in Gaza (in the NY Times) and got in touch. “I want to volunteer and help,” he said. “I can take pictures.” He came with us to Haiti–we saw the pictures, felt Mark’s heart, and now he is a dear part of our team. He sent us this account of his time in the tent camps.
Enjoy his story.
We hiked to three tent camps on the side of a mountain today, Thursday morning. Hot as heck. What I saw cannot be described– 13,000 people live in one camp alone. The pictures and videos only begin to tell the story. We were given a tour through the camps by the residents who are elected to help coordinate running the camps, so a school and homes were opened to us. The camp organizers kept introducing us to people and children with problems and asking us how they can help them. We suggested they apply to take the CMBM training. [Note: if this is your first time to the blog, you can read other postsabout CMBM’s Haiti trainings to help Haitian caregivers help these kids & families].The visit was a very humbling experience.
An extraordinary experience on Friday morning. I went to the Champ de Mars tent camp across the street from where the CMBM training program was held at to take printed pictures to the kids and families I photographed during the CMBM training in December 2010. Laurent Sheineder helped me find all of the kids and adults in the pictures. They were very surprised to see their pictures and of course posed for many more! They told Laurent and I that of all of the people who had taken their pictures I am the only one to bring them copies. I think they must feel invisible.
Then at lunchtime the organizers of another nonprofit, Zanmi Lakay (ZM) from Oakland, CA picked me up and we went to Cite Soleil. It’s the worst slum in the poorest city in the hemisphere. And we weren’t in the BAD part of the slum. This was big time scary.
ZM organizes basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education) for homeless children in Port au Prince. Before the earthquake they had a home and facilities for many children, but the earthquake destroyed the house so the kids are spread out in three clusters in Cite Soleil and Jacmel. The kids also receive documentary photography cameras and training in their care so they can document their lives, tell their stories and express their hopes and aspirations. There have been 5 gallery shows across the US (SF, NYC, DC, Florida) to raise awareness and funds. The kids’ pictures are sold to benefit the organization that helps care for them.
So I was able to be at the first gallery show in Port au Prince, at a cyber cafe in Cite Soleil today. Forget what you think about a cyber cafe. Small, dark, a few folding chairs – but still a space for their pictures, which were taped to the wall with packaging tape. The original location where the show was to open had too many shootings, so it had to move to this new location.
The kids got to see their pictures on the wall, to hear about the gallery shows in the US and the great reviews they got, received certificates for completion of their photography training–I donated items and foodstuffs from CMBM faculty and staff. They asked me to speak, and I told them about teaching photography to kids their age in a poor inner-city Cleveland neighborhood nearly 40 years ago. I encouraged them to continue using photography to express themselves and to clarify their dream, since their dream will keep them going through hard times. It was a gift to be present for the recognition of their struggles and accomplishments.
After leaving Haiti the memories of those two days kept echoing in my mind. I recalled that when I was leaving the school in the mountainside tent camp on Thursday, one of the kids said repeatedly, “We are waiting for you,”–meaning, “waiting for you to return.” On the following day when I brought the pictures to the kids and families in the Champ de Mars tent camp, their reaction was often puzzlement. I later realized it was because their expectation was for people to not come back, to not remember them or be touched by what they saw; to return to their normal lives, unmoved and unchanged.
Yesterday I told you about James (from the National Police), Ty Rose (an anesthesiologist and teacher), and Marilyn (a pediatrician). (Here is the link, if you missed it.) Now, here is Mercedes’ story.
We go around the circle to “check in” about our emotions and what’s happening right now, this moment. It is Mercedes’ time to ‘partager,’ or share. “Most of you,” she begins, “have seen how I was last time,” and I remember – and imagine that all the others remember as well – how at the very first training, in December, she sat erect in clothes that hung like armor, her face as immobile and solemn as the great statues on Easter Island, speaking occasionally and telegraphically about the death of her husband and her daughters, and her own despair.
Mercedes now opens her hands and, amazingly, grins. “I have found calm,” she begins, “doing the deep breathing and the shaking and dancing every day,” (she is emphasizing now). “And I have found much more as well.”
“On the anniversary, January 12th, my daughter and I and our whole community were in Church. And everyone was so sad, but tense also and unable to express the sadness. And I let myself cry. And then my daughter was able to cry too. And in my crying I found strength. And I asked myself ‘what have I learned in the Mind-Body program and how can I use it to help everyone in this Church?’ And I began to sing a song – I have never done this before. And my voice grew stronger, and I asked everyone to lift their arms and glorify God. And they all began to sing and lift their arms, and cry. And I sang three songs and then we opened our eyes and we were all calm.”
She concludes, “you know I work as a teacher. But my students no longer call me teacher,” she says, wagging her finger and pausing with what I cannot help but think is a mischievous grin. “now,” she goes on, “they call me ‘mommy’.”
Thank you for reading my accounts of CMBM’s trainings in Haiti, and these stories from our trainees. I hope you are finding the people as amazing and their stories as touching as I do.
Now that the first 120 Haitian professionals have completed our Initial and Advanced Trainings in Mind-Body Medicine, they will begin to offer Mind-Body Skills Groups to their family, friends, community, and at their institutions, and I will be sharing more of their stories here as they teach and share with others, and learn and grow themselves.
Two months after gunfire and bonfires in the streets interrupted our first Haiti Professional Training Program our participants are back – with stories of how they have used what they learned from us and what they have taught to others.
Their faces are eloquent with change as we sit together in the circle of our small group. Marilyn the pediatrician, looking almost as young as her twenty something daughter, is laughing as she greets us. James, the head of psychology for the National Police, has put on ten much needed pounds. And Ty Rose the anesthesiologist looks as content as she says she is.
“I am teaching the nurses to give anesthesia.” Ti Rose begins, after we have done our opening “soft belly” meditation. “And of course there is never enough equipment and much that we have doesn’t work. But I am somehow easier in my mind. I breathe deeply and do my best and teach my students to do the same, and it is going very well indeed.”
“Police work,” James says, “is an at risk job.We lost many colleagues in the earthquake and many more of us are still living in the streets. There is great stress. But I am doing the CMBM techniques and teaching them. And I am these last two months usually calm – and even calmer now after breathing together.”
The next morning the riskiness of his profession will be brought home once again. “I woke to learn that two of my colleagues were killed, but the soft belly I did at home and here, and this morning’s yoga helped so much. You know how here in Haiti we put coffee in a sock and drip the water through and afterwards the coffee is just lying there – very even, but also full of energy. That I believe is how I am.”
Marilyn has begun to move through the melancholia that engulfed her in the year after the earthquake, beyond the deaths of her brother in the quake and her husband in the political violence that has followed it. “I remember my loss and I cry, but then I use the guided imagery and the deep breathing and dance like I did when I was a teenager and I watch my mood change, and the insomnia has gone. And I am sharing what I am learning with my patients and in my church.”
The next day she will discover in her genogram – her family tree – another source of strength: “My father’s brother disappeared in the Duvalier regime and my auntie raised six children on her own. Many in my family have faced difficult situations” - she laughs now – “and I am finding strength from them as I look at this genogram, and from God too – I think he is all over this genogram – and the love he still has for me.”
And Mercedes, who has metamorphosed from impassive to expressive, cannot wait to “partager,” to share what has happened to her.
Continued–to read about Mercedes’ transformation, click here
I’m not quite sure when or even how it happened but Haiti is starting to feel like home. Not in the sense that I have my family with me, or know where to do grocery shopping, or can lay my hands on the books I love most.
It’s something else, an ease with people, a sense of words and actions contributing to something really good - right now and for the future -- a welcome, even an embrace that keeps expanding. It swells from the team around me, and from the 120 people -- doctors, psychologists, nurses, midwives, teachers, priests and nuns and voudoun healers -- who come to our training with great fidelity and teach the techniques they are learning from us to friends, family, and patients as soon as it is humanly possible. "In order to keep the training inside me always, I have to share it with others," one young teacher announced this morning.
I am honored to be at Linda’s daughter Yehlie’s first communion – surprised at first, quickly engaged, and soon moved.
The church turns out to be a metal shed, spacious, vaulted, open on one side, doing duty on other days as classroom, auditorium and gymnasium. There are permanent concrete bleachers against the long wall, and for today worn wooden pews imported, in stately rows facing the altar and lectern that are even now being carried in. The communicants’ chairs are arranged in several rows of nested crescents. Yellow flowers overflow the basketball hoops at either end of the floor.
Parents, siblings and friends fill the pews and bleachers, smiles breaking out in greetings, cameras at hand. Sweet music pours from surprisingly faithful speakers. Nine and ten year old girls in strawberry jumpers sit opposite me, close to the altar – the choir – looking expectantly toward where the younger children will enter as they take their place in the church and with their God. Such gentle order in the midst of Haiti’s general chaos.
100 or 120 little girls in white dresses with wide fluttering skirts and white crowns of linen flowers enter -walking, skipping a little, so pleased and proud. During the course of the morning’s service I notice that each one has a different hairstyle, curls and braids, straight and natural, falling in cascades or caught up in geysers, billowing toward every point of Nature’s compass, saying, I imagine: “This is how I like it” or “This is how my mom and I like it”. Some are obvious leaders, engaged from moment one, with the girls in the next chairs, or eyes bright with ones across the way. Others are more internal, sitting with some poise or fidgeting for a comfortable place.
I count only a few boys, heads shaved, in white dress shirts and grey pants, bow ties like red blossoms under their chins.
Linda’s family and friends make sure I am comfortable, out of direct sunlight, able to follow the service. I am bathed in their kindness, the little girls’ pleasure and anticipation, the sweet yearning of the choir’s voices and the words of the hymns calling, crooning, praising: “Ton amour nous appelle” (Your love calls us); “Merci mon dieu pour ton amour, pour le don de la vie.” (Thank you god for your love, for the gift of life.”) My heart cracks and I cry with appreciation for these girls and their parents and the priest, and the joy and hope they – and now I – feel.
When it is time for the “kiss of peace” everyone is thrilled to share and receive the love. I am too.
On our first night in Port-au-Prince, while Lee Ann and I are going over the next day’s schedule, Father Fredy appears at our table on the Plaza Hotel’s terrace.
Fredy is whippet-thin and angled slightly forward, a living emblem of his eagerness to share what he has been learning and doing even before the CMBM training begins on Tuesday. “The children who have lost their homes and parents are the ones I work with most. I have them breathe deeply to relax and then draw their biggest problem and imagine its solution – a new home, people who care for them. And then we sing together, and I ask them to imagine that place they have created.”
He has also worked with parents who, displaced and frantic since the earthquake, have been abusing their children – having them do dialogues with their “problem” (the abuse), and the unending frustration that seems to compel them to it. For the first time they are able to talk about what shames them, to gain a little perspective.
“They thank me,” Father Fredy says, a huge smile opening his face.
“On the anniversary of the earthquake,” he goes on, “I used an image of a river. I told our whole congregation to imagine they were on its banks, that the river was helping to take away the memories and the sorrow. They were so happy. ‘It’s just like we are there’, they said.”
Father Fredy is still fresh but Lee Ann and I are getting tired. We do a ”dialogue with a symptom” and he realizes something that is just below the surface of his consciousness. “I know I should be tired too. I want to help, but it is too much – seven days a week, long, long hours. I am awake when I should be asleep and then I fall asleep during the day when I should be awake. My Inner Guide says I have to change that,” he says, laughing.
“You have planted a seed,” he tells us, before we all go off to bed. “Other ways, like medication and just talking, weren’t working or were too difficult, or even if good, like prayer, were not enough. But this seed is now becoming a tree and it is bearing fruit.”
We are in Port-au-Prince this week doing an Advanced Training in Mind-Body Medicine with 120 Haitian health, mental health and education professionals and caregivers.Please look for more posts in the days to come. More info on our Global Trauma Relief program in Haiti can be found here.