Sunday, November 28, 2010

haiti. {days two and three}

the next morning we woke up and got ready to set out early for the beach. most of the morning beforehand was spent planning and preparing ourselves to do one of the most important things we'll ever do: spread our dad's ashes along the shore. we had very few specifics in mind. we just had vague visions and left the rest up to the moment.

we made our way up and over the mountain, taking plenty of opportunity to take in all that we saw along the way including a grand view down to cap-haitien, and a goat in a tree. yep, a goat sitting in a tree. odd. soon after passing the goat we rounded the corner near the top of the mountain and caught the first sight of the breathtaking coastline. as we were taking it in, wilbert unexpectedly stopped and got out. as we slowly ventured out of the truck, taking pictures, in awe of the beauty we were now surrounded in, wilbert came back exclaiming that this would be the place. it was perfect. the cliff traveled all the way down to the water with a gorgeous view surrounding it. we began the descent down the cliff. it was sharp and jagged, resulting in awkward/tricky positions, and scraped feet, knees and hands. we each made it down to the bottom eventually.

{on top of the mountain, looking down on cap-haitien}

{goat in a tree}

{going down the cliff to the coastline}

{ricky sharing his shoe with ariele to help her get down the cliff}

we sat the box containing the ashes along the shore as we stood a few feet above, huddled together. as reality began to set in with all of us, but particularly my sisters and i, we began to weep. the others said such genuine and inspired words that helped us to feel that we were in the exact company that we wanted to be among in that moment. they spoke of past, present and future. as we stood together weeping and remembering, in awe of where we were, the waves began to crash with an almost violent intensity that felt as if my father was letting us know that it was time--time to set him free. while the waves’ intensity increased, the small box containing the ashes remained still. it was time, but he still wanted us to be the ones to physically let go. we climbed down, and together, my sisters and i, released him into those waters allowing him to finally be put to rest, knowing that part of him will always remain in each of us. it was in that moment that i so strongly felt his impact on my life; both through his life and through his death.

before we began the climb back up the cliff, without even thinking, still in a bit of shock, i struggled to bend down to touch the waters that he now rests in. the journey back up was symbolic; we were eager to help each other, as if we knew we were climbing to a different reality, but felt so much more prepared to face it. a new chapter.

{spreading dad's ashes}

the rest of the day was spent at the beach down the way. it was a nice beach, a very different setting than we had seen so far, and the only other place we saw white people (aside from the airport). we spent lunch chatting and learning a little bit more about each other while sipping particularly refreshing coca-cola, in tall glass bottles with french labels. mid lunch we heard a haitian choir practicing in the near distance. we paused to take it in. beautiful. throughout the week we would hear that quite often. mostly as we woke, early in the mornings.

{eating lunch on the beach}

{haitian choir singing}

on our way back down the mountain we stopped at the market to do a bit of shopping. and apparently a lot more haggling than any of us were expecting. some of us grew to be rather good at it, despite previous mixed emotions and moral indifference's? not naming names. but, we each came away with a few treasures of our own. mostly, wooden pots and figures, colorful paintings, necklaces, various handmade musical instruments, and painted metal designs.

{wilbert breaking out the accordion}

that night, as we did every night, we finished the day with a delicious meal while sitting around telling more stories, and laughing, with a bit of singing on the side. all week we were continuously uncovering strange connections that we each had with one another, common people, stories etc. this night in particular, it was discovered that a song that ricky and ran's parents had taught to them when they were boys, could have been in fact taught to their dad by wilbert himself. this is a song that each of the men, ricky, ran and wilbert still remember every word to.

{ricky and ran singing in church}

sunday morning we all woke up, ate breakfast and headed out to visit one of the many church's living hope missions has helped in some form in the past few years. one of the wise things wilbert and meg have decided is the importance of never getting too involved in any one organization/church/neighborhood. rather, they choose to help start many, and leave the rest up to those they've helped to continue the work. there's a greater sense of accomplishment and responsibility and thus a better success rate. my sisters and i were over prepared in the wardrobe departmen. we could have easily been mistaken for truly conservative stereotypical missionaries, while our male counterparts looked quit dapper in their dress shirts and ties. but we weren't bitter. no.

sitting in the back of the haitian church we tried to absorb what we could. i think each of us had imagined what that moment would be like. and for most of us, the reality exceeded our expectations. the entire service was in creole, which created a sort of out of body, surreal feeling as we sat listening to words we couldn't understand and simply observing. mid service, wilbert stood up to introduce us. and introduce us he did. he has a way with words that very few people are capable of mastering with such genuineness. my father was also one of these people, perhaps this was one of the many things that connected the two of them. he shared with the congregation in creole as meg translated for us. he explained why we were there in a better way than we ever could have done. he refered to our father as one of his best friends. he painted a picture of the importance of all of us being there in a way that hadn't crossed my mind until that moment. he explained that our parents loved haiti, and showed us that love, and now here we are the same way they were many years ago. further, he explained the impact it could have if we shared our love for haiti with our own children and they too someday were to visit haiti. and what if our children told their children and so on, exemplifying the impact that you can have on your children. thus the impact your children can have on the world. it was pretty powerful.

following that humbling introduction, the boys got up and sang that exact haitian song taught to them by their parents. as they sang in creole, they invited the rest of congregation to sing with them. i couldn't help but tear up at the sight and at the sound. i won't ever forget it. after the service we were greeted and thanked with many hand shakes and many more hugs. just simply for being there.

{outside of church}

throughout the week ricky and ran became pretty good at taking advantage of every moment they had to interact with haitian children, which wasn't always easy due to the language barrier. but we realized all around the world children simply love to play. standing around after church was no different. i loved to watch as the young haitian boys played and commonly were so comfortably affectionate with each other. the three boys below asked me to take their picture. their stoic faces look as if they're posing for their hip band photo contrastly, their little hands are so gently held together.

{playing around}

{band photo?}

later that afternoon we ate lunch at a favorite restaurant of meg and wilberts. coming to haiti i didn't expect to get such diverse perspectives of the country. i feel as if we were able to truly see it from so many different lenses. this restaurant was slightly upper scale. as we sat at our outdoor table we were being watched and waited for by several local haitians, eager to make eye contact long enough to mouth "i am hungry". we talked of this for awhile. the importance of approaching certain situations from all sides, and of meg and wilberts experiences living in haiti where they are faced with such encounters daily. and the ways that they feel, truly bring about the most significant change. doing the best thing in some situations isn't always as easy as it seems. while in others it's more simple than we try to make it.

sunday night was mostly spent on the roof at the living hope missions compound. the roof quickly became a favorite place where one or more of us were often found. from the roof you could see across the city onto many other rooftops, you could more clearly hear the surrounding choirs singing all around, as well as have the best view of the clearest stars i'd seen in ages. not to mention, at night the breeze did a nice job of cooling us off from the humid, tropical air. sunday night, we all sat on the roof reading, dancing, and singing.

{roof time reading}

{roof time dancing}

Sunday, June 13, 2010

haiti. {day one}

my family has been planning this trip for years. a trip to Haiti. the place where my father always talked of the immense joy of a people despite the devastating poverty they live in. a place that would often move my father to tears just to think about. i have a distinct memory of my dad and i sitting at some chain restaurant in Austin, as i complained about wanting, or not having some petty teenage possession. my father sat with his head down almost in tears, disappointed, and reminded me of those who have nothing. literally nothing. he never said this to manipulate, but his heart was so full of love and desire to live for the many he has seen struggle that he wanted to share that desire with everyone around him. my father had always been a compassionate and loyal man, but i think it was after his first trip to Haiti that his world truly shifted. he would spend the rest of his life learning, challenging, and teaching to love fully; to never let him self be too comfortable in his beliefs, in his relationships, and mostly in how he lived out his life.

after my father passed from an unexpected accident on December 18th 2009, my sisters and i, charged with both the responsibility and honor of finding the perfect location to spread his ashes, pictured Haiti. we each knew that in the last few years he had thought of retiring in Haiti, and we could not think of ANYWHERE else that would allow him to rest with the people who gave him so much passion for life and love. we were also compelled by the potential opportunity to take a final trip together as a family to Haiti, the way he had always wanted.

after months and months of preparations, story telling, phone calls, shots, and fundraising--and with thanks to so many who have not only supported us in this but in so much more, we were able to finalize our trip and set our course to put our father to rest in the most special way we could imagine.

in addition to my two sisters {ariele and calla} and i, three others joined us on our journey. i think my sisters and i would agree that among the many wonderful people who made their way to my father’s memorial service in late December {the david gentiles experience}, one of the most memorable interactions we had was was with a man named tim pylate. it was brief, but he held so much genuine love and respect for our dad that it was pretty overwhelming. we came to find out that tim was in my dad's youth group as a teen and accompanied my dad on his first trip to Haiti back in 1988. his experience in Haiti would play a huge role in the path he followed as an adult: he now lives in Ukraine after serving for years with various international aid organizations. a beautiful rabbit hole of conversation after the memorial service brought tim to join us in Haiti; quite frankly, we wouldn't have been able to make it to Haiti if it had not been for tim's knowledge, leadership, and...well, the fact that he was certainly the most responsible among the lot of us.

the other spots were filled by two dear friends of ours who also happen to be brothers. ricky and ran jackson have played a pretty significant role in our family’s life for the last ten years or so. my father loved them as if they were his own children, and i know that love was mutual. my sisters’ and my connection with the boys would only grow stronger surrounding my fathers accident, as they became a pretty large support for us, along with many others who "showed up" in bigger ways than any of the three of us could have hoped for. and to all of you we are so very grateful.

in the past, we had frequently spoken of the idea of ricky and ran joining us in our family trip to Haiti. for their parents too held a special place for Haiti in their hearts and shared that love with their children as they grew up. so naturally, we felt strongly that if the boys were up to it, we would love for them to join us along this journey as a comfort, but also with the notion that it would hold a different kind of specialness for them as well.

{ariele, dad, ran, calla, ricky, and I at our friends wedding a few years ago}

before we knew it, the time had arrived. early on the morning of May 21st, the five of us found ourselves scrunched in a cab in Ft. Lauderdale with a driver poignantly named Johnny Angel sporting a strong nawlens accent on our way to meet Tim at the airport. a couple hours later we stepped outside to walk down the runway and up the steps of the tiny prop plane that would finally take us to a place we've longed to be for years. i'll just say the flight was part of the experience. amongst our fellow passengers was a rooster that never skipped a beat...or a crow, i should say.

{our boarding pass for the flight to haiti}

we arrived to some of the most beautiful landscape i've ever seen. it was breath-taking. we each talked the night before that we had no idea what to expect; we couldn't even visualize what it would look like. i can honestly say it was more beautiful than i could have imagined. many times we compared it to the scenes in jurassic park. minus the flesh eating dinos, of course.

our first couple hours in Haiti was spent in and out of a large closet-sized "office," answering a series of questions--which was tricky at first, seeing as none of us speak creole. our host Wilbert came to our rescue, and i'm sure spoke some magic words to help speed the process along. i was the lucky one chosen to endure most of the questioning. it was quite an emotional, and a bit stressful, welcome into Haiti, but certainly made us appreciate our journey all the more

{our lovely russian gifts from tim}

our first breath of fresh air onto the other side of the airport was soon met with a gasp at the sites from inside the truck as we drove the 7 minutes it takes to get from the airport to the living hope missions compound where we would spend the next week and a half. the people were more beautiful than i could've imagined, but their surroundings were, quite frankly, shocking to see for the first time. it felt as if we were in the middle of a war zone. piles of trash lined the streets, frequent scrappy cars were broken down along the roads. the bumpy, dusty roads contained no lines or street signs. cars, trucks, vans, and motorcycles weaved and swerved around each other with a fluid motion, rarely ever stopping. the horn was frequently used. it was truly surreal. i'm not sure any of us spoke until we arrived to the compound.

upon arriving at the compound, we first saw Meg, the other half of our hosts. meg and wilbert were old friends of my fathers. they were part of what he loved so much about Haiti. {you can read more about what they do and their story on their website, click here.} we had met them and their children on a couple occasions early in our childhood, and carried vague memories of them, but i couldn't have guessed how instantly familiar they felt upon seeing them again--so warm, genuine, and welcoming. this trip was so special because of them.

{living hope mission compound}

{sisters on top of the roof at the living hope missions compound}

after settling in a bit and eating some lunch, we hopped back in the truck to get out into the town. with the boys and meg in the bed of the truck balancing on tiny wooden chairs, we were off to visit the building that my father, grandfather and tim had helped build 23 years ago in Jolie--a place that wilbert and meg hadn't been back to since. so it was a special journey for all. again, we sat in awe as we tried to take in all that we were seeing around us. the roads we drove through had ditches so deep that ponds/creeks were created after it rained. freckled along the roads were livestock tied with ropes to various patches of green. throughout the trip we saw a plethora of cows, goats, chickens, roosters, pigs, horses, donkeys, and strays dogs roaming the streets. some seemed healthier than others, but for the most part, they appeared skinny and frail. the deeper we drove into rural areas the more stares we got, and the more frequently "blan!" was shouted at us {simply meaning, white}. many a kiss was blown, or a wave pointed in our direction, with the occasional disgruntled face. people seemed very friendly. granted, none of us spoke creole well enough to know exactly what they were saying.

{rural haiti}

arriving at the building was a pretty special moment. as we got out of the truck and walked up to the building that was surrounded by haitian children playing, i couldn't help but picture my father standing there. tim showed us exactly the work they did, the bricks they made in the street and stacked, the way dad played his guitar and sang for the surrounding haitian children as my grandfather directed each of them with the most efficient plan. it was powerful and beautiful.

{the building my dad, grandfather and tim helped build}

{iphone magic}

the rest of the afternoon was spent driving in and around cap-haitien, trying to gain a better picture of haiti and its people. we saw many things, some more shocking than others, but we certainly each gained a world of knowledge just from getting the chance to see it for ourselves, though we knew that we had so much more to see and to learn.

{downtown cap-haitian}

{shocking river filled with trash

that many haitians swim and bathe in}

{tap tap. public transportation.

hop on, tap the side twice when you want to stop}


{over the next few days i will be posting our trip in a few different sections. stay tuned...}

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Bonjour. I got much practice in pronouncing this french greeting. put simply, i managed to fully plan a trip to paris, tell everyone i know about it, spend a couple hours packing perfectly, take a stress free non stop train from bangor to london (very rare), walk the few minutes it takes to get down to the eurostar station from euston station (train from london to paris), take my time having lunch, get in line to go through security (giving myself an hour and a half cushion), only to see the person in front of me in what seemed like slow motion pull out their passport in preparation to go through customs. this was the very first time i'd even considered needing my passport to of course get across the country line to france. bullocks. the next series of events involved my talking to official after official person who all very kindly led me to the next individual in charge. in the end i had to make the trip back to bangor and then back again to london in order to obtain my passport. fortunately, the kind people at eurostar allowed me to simply switch seats onto a train leaving the next day. however, i did have to pay an arm and a leg to buy tickets last minute to get to bangor and back. i barely caught a train and began the journey to a place i had so recently come from. this time dissapointed, tired and with a bit of a headache. i walked straight to my room, briefly explained the situation to my flatmates, who couldn't understand why anyone would return from paris so quickly. went straight to sleep, woke up bright and early the next day, and did it all again. this time with a passport.

after the excitement of a now second stamp in my passport, i arrived in paris wearing my cowboy boots in honor of visiting my childhood friend, Jenica. and she in return was wearing a black and white striped shirt, and holding a croissant poignantly welcoming me to this great city she now takes residence in. she is the first familiar face i've seen in almost three months. it was good.

{river seine}

my first night in paris, Jenica introduced me to the brilliance that is crepes. i opted for the traditional egg, cheese, ham, lettuce, and tomato. made to perfection as i watched from the street. we walked as i consumed both the delicious crepe and all that was around me on my first stroll through paris. we talked of the differences in french men and woman, cultural norms, the general feel, all under the thousands of lights that decorate the city. we further had a glass of wine in one of paris's oldest cafe's. for some reason the waiters each looked like classier versions of mario and luigi, sporting white overalls and matching hats.

{overall wearin' french waiters}

the following day i awoke to fresh croissants and espresso. (as i did everyday). the first part of this day would be spent exploring paris on my own as my lovely host had classes to attend. she escorted my to the metro, where we parted and i with a list full of basic french words began my journey through paris. i've explored many a city on my own before, however never have i ventured into a place that's official language is not one that i speak or understand. i managed to make it to the infamous sacre couer. or le steps as i like to call it. after making it up the long secession of stairs to the top, i spent the majority of my time staring out onto the miles and miles i could now see over paris. it was mesmerizing. i thought about how not long ago i thought i might never have a chance to be where i was standing. and yet there i was. i watched as the other newbies, fully embraced the moment in their own individual ways. some with loved ones, some alone, and some in large groups of people all carrying unusually large smiles.

{sacre couer}

positioned all along "le steps" are working african men either with the intent to stop you as you walk by or with a blanket of various typical parisian souvenirs to sell. i dodged my way around the individuals on my journey up to the top. however, coming back down was a bit of a different story. out of nowhere i found my finger being used as a base for what was quickly becoming a braided bracelet in the patriotic colors of france (britain and america as well for that matter). finding myself caught, and slightly embarrassed, as my fellow tourists were flooding passed me with their appendages free to do as they pleased. i began to share with this man that i would not be paying for this bracelet. he assured me that it would be okay by saying "we're friends" and "not to worry about it". he with ease led a conversation about where we were both from, claiming to "love america" and frequently exclaimed "hakuna matata" a phrase from his home country. one that factually can make any person smile, if only to think about timon and pumba. he quickly finished, and tied the bracelet around my wrist before i could mutter a word. clipping the ends with tiny clippers he kept in his pocket. as quickly as he tied the knot his attitude made a complete shift.

he then quite aggressively requested "paper money". in euro's paper money can mean no less than 5 euros. which is translated to about 8 dollars. in that moment i felt a bit of fear, as his mood was quite serious, and such disappointment. i muttered a few phrases of disappointment, trying to trigger some sort of guilt complex in him. attempting to make eye contact, as he looked quickly from side to side as if we were making a drug deal. i managed to walk away with all of my money minus 50 pence. however, i felt so cheated, and quite angry. on my way down i heard another man say, as he held yet another finger captive, "hakuna matata", and somewhat aggressively showed another the new garment that now hangs on my wrist as he approached me with more string, as if my saying "i've already been tricked".

i tell this story not to further the what i would soon learn is a massive amount of racism in france. but because that experience began the mindset and lens by which i would then view paris. not angrily, or dissapointed but through the answers to the series of questions i would then ask myself and my friend jenica who's spent a few years in this country. questions about how quickly i could shift my feelings from almost peacefully floating across the beautiful views of paris, to the realities that exist here even in paris. in no way did my new bracelet ruin the nostalgia of paris, but it did and does still represent the heaviness of inequality and truth that exists between the cracks. or even on the way down from one of the prettiest views in the world. thoughts that began to develop after walking away involved strong feelings of wanting to understand what would make someone have to choose those methods of manipulation to make a living. {if they even make enough to live off of } i guess many choose this path everyday, but it's in less obvious ways through various businesses and politics. how, unfortunately this path has lead many to not only see them in hatred and fear, but view anyone who looks like them the same way. i don't think it's fair that man used fear and manipulation to gain my measly 50 pence. period. but i also have to wonder what his motivation is. i get to walk away, he's probably standing at one of the many tourist attractions in paris as i type holding the finger of another tourist, perhaps wishing he could just walk away. i guess i can't know for sure.

{french kiddos holding hands outside the louvre}

i then walked around the montmartre full of thoughts and wonder. i ended up at the entrance to the louvre, where i for a moment sat with the dozens of art students sitting and sketching as hundreds of people swiftly passed by.


later i met up with Jenica again and we headed to a favorite cafe of hers. it was quaint and almost exactly how i could've imagined it. (mostly because i've seen the many attempts made in the states to mimic it). but it's better in person. we drank espresso. occasionally with my pinky out. ya know, to look like a local. we ate delicious pastries. and talked further of france and people and the world. from the cafe we headed to a pub where jenica and a friend meet with a favorite professor over a few pints. a british professor. we chated a bit about wales, and then were off again, this time to the eiffel tower.

{ze eiffel tower}

other than the odd disco type light show that happened at one point while gazing upon the ze eiffel tower, it was magnificent. i devoured my second crepe in paris. this time filled with nutella and bananas. yum.

{near the modern art museum}

my last full day in paris was spent following Jenica around as she showed some of her favorite parts of paris. it's always best to visit a city with a local. we started by seeing the red light district in paris, complete with running into a vary scantily clad lady of the night (during the day). this wasn't one of her favorite places just happened to be where a store she needed was. ha. other than the french hooker, we saw many other classic french scenery. My favorite being an area of town that is occupied simultaneously with both the jewish population and the gay population. quite the combo. basically a lot of great shops and bakeries. (i know, stereotypes, but also truth).

{inside the notre dame}

i also crossed the bridge over the river seine to the notre dame, passing the hôtel de ville. after taking a slow stroll through the cathedral i then crossed again the river tyne over unto the ile saint louis. next we spent a bit of time inside the infamous bookstore, shakespeare and company. unfortunately, i missed the weekly tea party that is held within it's walls. we ended the night eating the most delicious food at a senegalese restaurant. yum. then briefly watched some television dubbed over in french while snacking on chocolate covered waffles.

{ile saint louis}


i hope to someday return to paris for a longer visit. if you'd like to get a good picture of life and love in paris i strongly recommend the film paris j'taime. it is a compilation of 12 short films made by different directors from around the world displaying a variety of love. your guaranteed to love at least one.

{the owner of shakespeare and company- green frame}

{shakespeare and company}

one week left in this country. crazy. the next week will be spent, traveling in dublin, having a christmas meal with my flatmates, finishing papers, meticulously packing, spending a couple days in london and trying to bring some closure to my experience here.
until next time.
au revoir.

{for more photos you can go here}