Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Letter to APJ.

Haiti Today.

As I reflect on 6 months later it is in the individual stories that I keep the hope for the future and get the strength to continue to work tirelessly amid the darkness and destruction to find the light and love all around. These are a few of their stories.

The Lake.

Located an hour outside of Port au Prince sits a small sleepy village on the edge of Haiti’s largest lake. APJ brings a mobile clinic to the village twice a week to care for newborns and the sick. Each visit we bring food, water, clothes, TOMs shoes and medicine and music for the entire village. When we arrived the children in the village were without exaggeration stark naked and dirty. Now they have clothes medicine and a renewed sense of community and hope. Next month we will rebuild the roof of every house in the village. Although these acts may seem temporary the gift of love and compassion by just showing up will last and resonate a long time.


My friend and PA Nicole called me and told me a 13-year-old girl she became friends with in a tent city in Pettionville had been abandoned and was homeless begging on the street. She asked for help. I met Nanoue and immediately fell in love with her spirit sense of humor and intelligence. She told me her father had died and her mother ran off, she had been severely beaten and sexually assaulted in the camp numerous times. I asked Alfonso who runs our orphanage if we could help, without flinching he said yes, we sent social workers to her and the next day brought her to our new orphanage where she attends school, takes care of abandoned babies and is thriving. She is safe today and has a future tomorrow because of our deep commitment to turn no child away.


My best friend in Haiti, Raphael works at the hospital. He lives outside of Croix De Bouquet in a crumbling house. He told me the whole village had to walk an hour for clean water and asked if I could help. The next day with the generous help of Operation Blessing we repaired an old well and set up a large water filter that gives 10,000 gallons of clean water a day. Raphael runs a pipe outside his gate and gives clean fresh water to the whole village for free everyday.

Miguel and Nadia

Miguel and Nadia are both schoolteachers who live in a tent city behind the US Embassy. Miguel has become one of my closest friends and my Creole teacher, he is a great singer and guitar player he is also the community leader of the tent city. His wife Nadia teaches in a little one-room schoolhouse made of rusted corrugate steel walls. Through our friendship, we have brought 20 tons of food, new tents, and clothes for all the children many of whom were naked before and TOMs shoes for the whole village. Nadia is now pregnant and we are providing prenatal care for her although Miguel told me the greatest contribution to his life was my guitar I gave him so he can sing lullaby’s to his wife to teach his unborn child a love of music in the womb. I begin work this week on rebuilding Nadia’s school into a place she can be proud of and can match her skills as an incredible teacher.


Maurice came to the hospital three months ago and we became fast friends. Long suffering from Hepatitis he is mischievous, funny as hell and loves little cars. Maurice lives with his grandmother in a tent on the outskirts of town. Through our generous donations his grandmother and him have moved into an apartment and out of a tent. He received top-notch medical care and attention at St Damien’s hospital and I visit him regularly at his new home. Maurice also greatly benefits from the love and prayers of his adopted sister Olivia Wilde.


Buried for three days in the rubble, Davidson lost all family members and three fingers when his house collapsed. Alone at the hospital for the last six months he has gained a new family of a staff that cares for him as their own. I put him to sleep every night by reading to him take him to our rehab center for rehabilitation; he calls me Papa. Through tedious paperwork and endless negotiations including bribes Davidson is now a week away from getting a passport and heading off to the States where his hand will be reconstructed in the best hand hospital in the US. He will move into a loving home in St. Louis and will be a part of APJ the rest of his life.


Augustnel at the hospital and help runs the St Luc program. He grew up in the orphanage and has a special place in his heart for giving kids a second chance. Augustnel started a program called “Hot Plate” which brings 300 abandoned street kids from Pettionville together for lunch time to eat a hot meal and learn a small lesson everyday about health, social issues and basic reading and writing. Augustnel asked if we could help the school, we brought another water filter to the school and for the last three months have provided the hot food for all the children in the program and now in the school next door as well.

Wilson and Jason

Two street kids Wilson and Jason have been out of school for 2 years due to lack of money for clothes, books and without parents to support them. They beg outside the gate of the hospital and have become fixtures in my day. One day Wilson said to me in perfect English “If you don’t go to school you can’t get a job, and I want to go to school, can you help?” We have given generously to these bright young boys gifts of clothes, new shoes, school supplies and money and have enrolled them in the Angels of Light school behind the hospital where they and doing well and thank me everyday when I visit them. We have put them on the right path and I’m proud of their schoolwork.

Other Projects.

APJ has made it possible for all the St Luc schools to feed 8000 kids a hot meal and snack every day, we have brought 40,000 gallons of clean water everyday to the people and provided dozens of large tents to teach school under and with our partnership with TOMs shoes have given out thousands of shoes to kids in need. We bring our medical clinic out every other day and bring music, dancing and movies to countless tent cities and communities otherwise forgotten. It may be dramatic to say we have saved lives but it is accurate to say that because of our work in Haiti, we have made many lives brighter and fuller. As Artists we have brought our unique light, love, laughter, music, art, dance, joy and compassion to our brothers and sisters in Haiti and will continue to do so for a long, long time.



Artists for Peace and Justice

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Werewolves at the Orphanage Gate and the Curse on Junior Jean.

Junior Jean was 22 years old when he accidentally killed himself from drinking a potion to protect from the werewolves that were coming after him. A bright kid with a lazy eye and an uneasy smile, he grew up in the orphanage in Kenscoff and was my friend. Kenscoff is high in the mountains above Port au Prince; it’s a sprawling compound of six-story buildings that house 400 orphans. Its cold there, so cold you can see your breath it’s a place of gray Soviet block apartments where it rains everyday and dense fog hovers stubbornly. The surrounding town of Kenscoff is the seat of Voodoo in Haiti and its presence is heavy. Juniors death sent a chill down the spine of all of us working in the orphanage and at his funeral Father Rick reads from his journals. In his last days he wrote obsessively many times a day, he was terrified and convinced that a curse had been put on him and his time was coming to an end. At night, he wrote, owls sat outside his windows and he saw werewolves dart hungrily between the shadows of the tall evergreen trees that surround the orphanage. We carried his coffin to the cemetery and buried him last Friday. Father Rick was shaken, in town we stopped to sit with the local Voodoo priest who told us that in the coming fortnight nine other children will die and there is no way to stop it. He told us that the curse was put on the kids because there has been a lot of aid money coming to Haiti but none has reached the people, the kids death will change it and the money will flow. I went back down the hill to Port au Prince troubled, sleeping uneasy with dreams of people who shift shapes and become monsters.

The news was reporting a hurricane sitting off the shore-threatening landfall. In the morning as I sat in the little chapel, rain slammed hard against the stained glass windows, Father Rick sighed and told us a tornado hit Kenscoff the night before and three children died “There is a lot of good out there but there is also darkness and there is also evil so be vigilant.”

I tried to put the whole thing out of my head; there was more work than I knew how to handle. I spent the week unloading endless containers, and fighting for my land deal to be finished. On Wednesday I got a call that a cow had fell in a hole on my land left open from soil testing. I rushed over and ran up to my friend Salomon who was standing on the lip of a 20-foot deep hole peering down. I nervously looked in and saw a small calf crying at the bottom, her mother pacing angrily around us. “We need to get the cow out before Jaco comes back.” I trembled and he took the words out of my mouth. Jaco is the cow herder, a wild-eyed old man built like a fortress, always shirtless, funny as hell but heavy into Voodoo. We have become close in the last 6 months but I don’t want to take any chances: he carries a sharp machete. I climbed down into the hole and began to tie a rope around the kicking calf. A large tarantula ran over my shoe, I yelped then squished it; I was sweating and filthy. After a few hours we finally pulled it out shaken but unharmed. When I finally climbed out of the hole Jaco stood above me blocking out the sun. He was shaking his head; we took a walk. He could see I was sorry that the hole was left dangerously open, he calmed me down and I asked him if I could make it better. Jaco shrugged his huge shoulders, I reached in my pocket and handed him a wrinkled 20-dollar bill. Jaco lit up and became excited and happy he danced a little jig and patted me on the back, thanked me then headed off to the closest bar: curse averted thanks Andrew Jackson.

The next morning more bad news from Kenscoff two more children had mysteriously died bringing the total to 6; we were halfway through the prophecy and had 5 days to go. Father Rick and I went to the morgue again and as we filled coffins with babies bodies, he reminded me of a prophecy my dad had said to him. Someone had told my dad that Haiti was 50 years in the past and my dad had disagreed and said that "This is not the past this is the future, if we are not careful this is where we are all heading. Oil spills, greed, exploitation and intolerance we are on the wrong track." Father Rick had thought about it a lot and knew it was true, he also gave me hope. “A prophecy is a warning but it’s not too late right now to change the outcome.”

That night I went drinking to my friend Anna’s bar in Pettionville. Anna is a drop dead gorgeous girl from Kosovo, she’s a badass who doesn’t even pretend to speak French or Creole; her bar CafĂ© Des Arts is my local. Filled with UN, NGOs and young Haitian elite, Copa bands play cover songs and everyone’s lips are tinted red from the fresh Raspberry Rum cocktails. I have a stool at the bar that everyone knows is mine. I like it there; it’s a band of misfits and lost souls. Mercenaries trade stories of Lebanon, Somalia and prostitutes, NGO’s trade stories of orgies at UN camps in Sudan and in the end we all get bleary eyed and Rummy and talk about beautiful women we’ve loved and lost. In the morning I wake up next to Anna who makes me pancakes and ginger tea, she wears only a T-shirt, which reads, “This was supposed to be the future.”

In the morning Father Rick is loading up the truck to go back to the orphanage another orphan has died, we have a funeral for him, 2 in one week is too much. At the mass in Kenscoff the kids are scared, none of them participate in the service. Father Rick tries to use the tragedy as a learning lesson about fear and light and love but the words drift unheard into the valley below. That night as we move huge containers around a field which is to become a new orphanage lightning hits the ground next to Father Rick, all the hair on his arm is singed off, the guys stop laughing and tremble.

Four Americans are killed at the airport, I’m glad my family made it out of here safe. The embassy has placed a travel warning on Haiti; people are hungry and angry. 3 billion dollars donated and 10 billion pledged yet only 2% spent so far. I’m incredibly frustrated with all the NGO fancy cars and big rented houses and boards of directors back home and money being wasted or not spent while people starve. I can’t sleep at night. I’ve been so hungry recently since there is little food that I’ve gone back to my Peace Corps habit of keeping a bottle of vinegar by my cot in my tent to drink from to quell the hunger pangs.

I travel to a lake outside of the city and organize a mobile clinic and food distribution. The villagers are grateful and kind. All of the kids in the village are stark naked and dusty; we bring clothes and water. The people there have to walk 2 hours for fresh water and school; they have nothing. We do our best there, treat some wounds and I give a dental clinic about brushing teeth, we laugh with them as we pass out tooth brushes and mouthwash. On the ride home I’m silent thinking about fancy parties in LA and fundraisers in Rome and nice cars and private jets and oil spills and wasted food and iPads and politicians. I look out the window and see devastation, hunger, thirst, dirty clinics and tarps for homes next to broken schools and I’m sick.

“This was supposed to be the future.” Sigh.