“Dèyè mòn gen mòn” (beyond the mountains, more mountains) – Haitian Proverb
I would be lying if I said I was good at taking photographs in motion. Learning how to operate my camera off the auto feature has been something I’ve just begun learning. In fact, I went to my first ever photography class just this past weekend SLR I where I finally learned the mysteries behind the terms f-stop, shutter speed and ISO. I have yet to play around with these features in real life but I’ve made a promise to myself that I will learn how to operate my camera off the auto setting. Why? Simply because it is the only way I can truly discover the real art of photography while simultaneously making my pictures better.
Learning how to use shutter speed effectively is high on my list because I love to take pictures from a moving car. Whether I am in a big urban city like Delhi or in the countryside of Ethiopia and most recently Haiti, my favorite thing to do is to document the trip on film. Sadly, many of my pictures do not turn out. The ones that do turn out are due to pure luck which is why I’ve decided to invest my time in learning how to correctly use my camera.
A few months ago, I was in Haiti to see the work of Heart of Haiti’s artisans. We spent the first two days in the country’s capital Port-au-Prince, and then headed south to a small seaside town of Jacmel. We rose early since we would most likely have a 3-4 hour drive depending on traffic. Driving in Haiti can be absolutely crazy and even getting around Port-au-Prince can take hours. There are way too many vehicles for the countries’ narrow, over-crowded streets and way too many broken-down vehicles that can stall traffic for hours.
I knew in order to get pictures in motion along the way, I’d have to be seated up front right next to the driver. I also tend to get rather carsick on bumpy roads. Thankfully none of the other ladies cared and I was rewarded the front seat of the van on the way there and back.
I am a huge map person as I like to see the route and know where I’m going. One thing that truly surprised me about our drive to Jacmel was how mountainous it was. In fact, Haiti is a nation of mountains and its name Hayti (the Indian name for the country) means “land of the mountains.” Some of the mountain peaks reach over 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) and sadly many mountainsides have been denuded and deforested which has caused several disastrous mudslides and flooding, killing many. Haiti is also quite prone to hurricanes and earthquakes given its location, making this small nation a highly vulnerable place to natural disasters.
As we left the hustle and bustle of Port-au-Prince and got out into the countryside, I smiled. For this is the place I love to be!
It was a gorgeous February day. The brilliant blue sky was dotted with puffy white clouds and the colors of Haiti were so vibrant it hurt my winter weary eyes. While the back of the van was deep in conversation, I remained quiet and focused on the road ahead trying to capture as much of everyday life as I could.
Trying to meander around the different stopped buses, broken down cars, slow-moving old cars, bicycles and pedestrians proved a real challenge. Thank goodness we had a well-practiced, patient driver behind the wheel!
After an hour, we were past the outlying suburbs of Port-au-Prince and into the rural villages and countryside. I was amazed by how tropical it was. Everything was an electric green and quite different from what I’d imagined. Images of past hurricanes, mudslides and the big earthquake had tainted my perception. Rural Haiti is quite beautiful.
The further we got away from Port-au-Prince, the quainter the villages and towns became. Rural life in Haiti is one of hardship and poverty. There are not many jobs or opportunities outside of farming. Critical services such as education, health care and basic infrastructure – are sparse. This has caused a mass exodus of rural Haitians into the slums of Port-au-Prince, a city that was precariously built right on top of a fault line. The devastating earthquake of 2010 proved how dangerous this kind of migration can be. Hundreds of thousands of people died instantly as the ground opened up, shook like hell and the poorly built shacks and homes came crumbling down, crushing everything and everyone within its path.
Not too long after our drive, we reached the mountains which Haiti is known for. I took a quick dramamine, hoped for the best and continued to snap away trying to capture the nostalgic beauty of the Haitian countryside.
The villages were getting fewer and further apart. It was a Saturday so all the markets were up and running, making for some gorgeous photo opportunities, if only we could have stopped!
Finally, after much begging, we made a quick stop at a village market where our van of foreigners were met with curious eyes. We purchased a bunch of sweet tasting bananas and shot a few quick shots of the produce on the stands.
The further up we went, the more deforested the mountains became. Sadly, all the beautiful green trees were stripped bare to be used for charcoal. Although it is illegal, there is simply no enforcement and no choice. Without cooking fuel, how would the rural people survive?
It really wasn’t very pretty and it made me sad thinking about all the damage deforestation has caused. All the lives that have been lost yet the lack of alternatives to stop it. The villages themselves became just as barren as the landscape the further outside of Port-au-Prince we drove.
Then, we noticed the huge baskets sitting alongside the road. I asked our driver what it was and he said it is produce from the farmers. They leave it there to be picked up via truck and brought into the cities.
The housing became more interesting as well. Many small homes colored in pastels were alongside the main road.
The drive was fascinating. It is only by paying attention and watching out the window, that you truly get a sense of place. That is why I never nap or talk much during a long car trip. I’d miss half the scenery!
A few hours later, we knew we were getting close to our destination. We saw the gleaming blue sea in the horizon. I knew I was going to like this place.
This post is part of a series on my recent trip to Haiti as part of Heart of Haiti’s #Bloggers4Haiti trip. To read more in this series, click here.
This post was also inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Motion. To view more entries, click here.