by Jeane LaRance…..
I will try to pick up where I ended last time telling you more about life and culture in LaVallée, de Jacmel, Haiti.
I was ready to start teaching photography, I finally had all the photo equipment we needed for classes to begin but I still had not figured out how I would pick and choose the first students. I knew I couldn’t do it. So I asked the principals of the schools to do it for me. I couldn’t have handled the disappointment on their faces if they were not picked. I wanted no more than ten students and I wanted them from both the public schools and Catholic schools. I didn’t know that these kids normally did not mix, until our first class and it didn’t take but a few minutes for me to see the separation. I don’t know if it was the parents or social or religion that drew that line but it was there. By the end of that first week they were walking away from our house acting and looking as if they had been best friends from their first breath. It was beautiful to watch that happen. As far as I know nothing was ever said about them hanging out together. When my work in Haiti is all over and done and I have accomplished nothing else but bringing those kids together, I’ll settle for that.
It’s not unusual in Haiti to see adults and young ones walking down the street holding hands or an arm around each other; they’re very expressive that way. So it was a good feeling to see them leaning on each other or with an arm around the shoulder of the person next to them. I think of the first time I saw two men arguing, it was on the way to the hospital and Dr. Arshi saw my concern and said, “Don’t worry about that, next time you see them they will be hugging!” Sure enough and not long after, I was outside of the hospital and there they were, walking down the path each with an arm around the other.
There are several villages within LaVallée and we are in Ridoré. It is the main village and has the largest market on Friday. Most of the villages hold market one day a week, because there is no refrigeration and all food is fresh, meat, vegetables, and eggs. Dr. Nicole, our travel coordinator, says; “Haiti is not for the faint of heart!” and that is very true. But things are changing. They say progress; I say ruination of a culture. If one can just look beyond the adversity and see the beauty of the people and their culture their heart will not feel faint. I remember my first time at market. We made our way to the slaughter area and there was a little crowd around us watching my reaction to the slaughtering of the animals. I had to laugh at that; little did they know I grew up in a family of hunters, so blood and guts was nothing new to me. They all seemed a little disappointed though.
Haitian people are religious; most of them practice both voodoo and the religion of their choice, and I would say 90% are Catholic in LaVallee. It seems most believe Voodoo and Catholicism coexist. I have attended most ceremonies in LaVallée but have not yet been invited to the Voodoo ceremonies and I am looking forward to it.
Sundays are a special day for most of the villagers; they dress in their finest clothes and the family attends church together. They are dressed very nicely with their shoes shined and looking as if they just had their clothes cleaned and pressed, and all of this without running water or electricity! It’s even harder to believe that some of these people walked for miles to get there! Fathers Day is this month June 21st, and that is always a special day. At Saint Jean Baptiste Catholic Church the priest offers a special service for all fathers. Then on June 24th the entire country celebrates the Birthday of Saint Jean Baptiste. There is a special mass that day in honor of St. Jean Baptiste and the people all bring offerings of fresh bread, chickens, fruit, goats, and flowers. In LaVallée it’s a weeklong celebration with lots of music, dancing, food and art.
There was a time when Haiti was known as La Perle des Antilles (The Pearl of the Antilles). Life was good. Jacmel was the artiste’s hot spot; collectors and artistes came from all over Europe and the Americas. Jacmel Bay was easy to sail into and anchor. I have heard stories and read books about that time, and when I’m in Jacmel I can see the remnants of a place much like the French Quarter in New Orleans with French, African cultures and the similarities in its ornate structures, and they all had gardens within their gates. The earthquake in 2010 destroyed a lot of was left of that time. Jacmel is a busy port town with lots of activity going on and a new generation of artists are once again making beautiful art.
Haitian life and culture is strong and resilient and the story is long and beautiful. It is an honor for me to be able to share what I know with so many people. Next time I will tell you more about the village of Ridoré, and how the people moved St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church from Jacmel up into the mountains over one hundred years ago, without vehicles or a road!
See more images at; JLaRance.wordpress.com
All images are property of the photographer, Jeane LaRance and may not be copied or used without permission. More of her work can be viewed on her website.
To see other parts in this series click here.