Adventure in Haiti


We don't always know the ripples our actions set in motion.  Sometimes we find out about those ripples sooner than later.  Sometimes we never find out about those ripples.  Would a trip to Haiti cause a ripple effect on my life or someone else's life?  Would something I say or do in the classroom make a difference?  Would a volunteer assignment in Haiti that I did decades ago make a difference for anyone?  My ripple met me face to face on this return trip to Haiti.

When I graduated from college, I spent the summer in Haiti teaching art classes.  I taught all over the country from the Island of La Gonave to the mountains of Thiotte.  And, I took my two star students with me wherever I went.  Joel, then only fourteen, was so very talented.  It was a joy to work with him, but I never knew what happened to him after I finished my summer in the Caribbean.

There was good reason for losing contact.  I didn't have the best luck while in Haiti.  My name was on the list of wanted criminals and I was arrested in a case with two people sharing the same name.  Later there was a wreck involving public transportation, a voodoo priestess and a policeman with a gun.  I swore I'd never go back to the place.  People who knew my stories couldn't believe I'd even consider a return trip.  Well, never say never!  My mind changed when the earthquake happened.  It was time to return to Haiti and a mural project brought me back.

When I finally returned to Port-au-Prince, I thought about Joel as I strolled through an exhibition of Haitian artists at the National Museum.  I thought it couldn't hurt to ask, so I spoke to the curator about him.  As it turned out, Joel was well known in Haiti as an artist and singer.  Did the curator know how to contact my friend?  No.

All hope was not lost. 

In small countries like Haiti, the social circles are much smaller than in America.  I could never connect you to anyone famous in the United States.  The country is so huge and most famous people don't tend to live in Ohio.  So if you come to the U.S.A. and want to meet the president, I will be of no use to you.  But in Haiti, most famous people live in Port-au-Prince.  People know people and Joel, my long lost friend, was two phone calls away.

Of course, we met up as soon as possible and that's when I learned about the ripples.  The year after I worked with Joel, he won a national art competition.  This eventually led to a university scholarship for him.  My Joel did well!

As impossible as it is for even me to believe, when Joel was fourteen, all of my conversations with him were totally in Haitian Creole.  I learned a lot that summer, which of course, I have long forgotten.  But since I last saw him, Joel learned to speak English and holds a cultural position with the United States embassy.  It's a position that brings him lots of opportunities.  Joel is one to use those opportunities for the good of others.  He said that since we are now reconnected, it is time to put the connection back to work.  He hopes to arrange a return trip to Haiti, again with no prison experience, where I can teach art to more Haitian students. 

It appears that the ripples will continue.

Copyright 2013 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.