Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

The Textures of Haiti

“Men Anpil, Chay Pa Lou” = “Many Hands Make the Load Light”. Haitian proverb

Haiti is often a misunderstood place. Besides the poverty and squalor, there is beauty to be found amidst its incredible art and culture. When visiting Haiti, one has to keep an open mind in order to comprehend her immense problems and appreciate the good things that this country has to offer the intrepid spirit. I will not lie, travel in Haiti is difficult. However, the rewards for those who seek to visit this place are immense. Alongside the poverty and despair exists a resilience and hope in the future and a beauty that inspires through Haiti’s incredible art.

Take a walk with me and embrace the colorful, vibrant textures of Haiti.

The capital city Port-au-Prince is overcrowded, congested and chaotic yet also home to some of the greatest artisans, artists and designers in the entire country. Croix-des-Bouquets, a community on the outskirts of the capital,  is home to over 1,000 metal artisans with over 60 different shops and studios creating social change and opportunity within the community. It is a magical, happy place filled with energy and life.

Croix-des-Bouquets is also home world-famous beadwork artist and Vodou priest Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph. Some of his beadwork sells in the thousands of dollars to the rich and famous. His studio is a magical, spiritual place filled with so much colorful beadwork and art that it leaves you dizzy with inspiration.

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Pascale Théard Creations

A Step into the World of Haitian Designer Pascale Théard

There is no studio in Haiti as beautiful as that of Haitian designer and community arts activist Pascale Théard. A step inside Pascale’s divine space, Pascale Théard Creations, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti is pure magic. Instantly, a visitor’s eyes are welcomed by a burst of color and emotion that no one besides Pascale could create. It is no wonder that Pascale’s work is world renown and she is one of the most famous designers in Haiti.

The daughter of a Haitian industrialist, a lover of art, and a French mother, heiress of a 200-year-old family tannery, Pascale Théard grew up in Port-au-Prince to the rhythm and beat of Hait’s unique culture. Her childhood was filled with art and creation which eventually became her lifelong passion and career. Pascale left Haiti to study in France where she worked with some of the top luxury leather goods brands in Paris and Milan before returning home to launch her own unique brand, Pascale Théard Creations, the first handmade luxury leather goods brand in Haiti.

It was my second visit to Pascale Théard Creations and despite having toured her studio before, I was still completely mesmerized by the absolute beauty and life of her work.

Pascale Théard Creations

Pascale’s studio

Pascale Théard Creations

Immediately as you open the door, you are invited into a world bursting with color, life and ingenuity. The words painted across the wall reveal Pascale’s utter love and devotion to her country: AYITI NAN KÈ’M (“Haiti is in my heart)”.

Her current theme is based on the incredible, vibrant art found on Haiti’s tap-taps. A tap tap (which literally means “quick quick” is a privately owned vehicle for hire that is usually made from a pick-up truck and has some of the most incredible, painstakingly detailed art imaginable.  Even buses are used as larger tap taps for longer distance rides, and are equally as impressive as the done-up pick-up trucks. Along the streets, tap taps are everywhere painted like a kaleidoscope of colors and imagination. (I did an entire post on the art of Haiti’s tap taps. To read, click here).

This time Pascale was not in town to greet us however her lovely mother was there. We marveled at the gorgeous new products on display in the entryway and shop before heading back to see the artisans and craftsmen and women behind the scenes. I couldn’t resist purchasing a beaded vodou doll for my daughter and a beautiful leather and beaded passport holder for myself. I knew that would be an instant conversation starter while traveling!

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Atelier Calla, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

A Visit with Haitian Bone and Horn Artist Christelle Paul

“Sonje lapli ki leve mayo ou” – Remember the rain that made your corn grow (Haitian proverb)

I had never heard of Horn and Bone art until I first visited Haiti two years ago and met with Haitian Horn and Bone artist Christelle Paul, founder and chief designer of her workshop Atelier Calla“ in Port-au-Prince. Horn and Bone art began within the walls of Haiti’s prisons in the 1950s. To pass the time, the men in prison enjoyed playing games and they ingeniously discovered they could use old horns and bones to make pieces for card games. The art continued to evolve over the years being passed down from generation to generation.

Christelle has always been passionate about art yet she pursed a career in business and worked in the banking industry for many years. One day back in 2006 she was out shopping and noticed that there were a lot of products made out of horn and bone yet none that she really liked. This inspired her to start creating her own horn and bone jewelry based on the designs and ideas she desired. What began as a hobby suddenly grew into a passion. Yet the journey from being a full-time banker to full-time artist was a long one.

A series of setbacks such as the devastating 2010 earthquake stopped Christelle from following her dreams. A inspiring meeting with world renown designer Donna Karan was the final push Christelle needed to leave banking and pursue her passion for Bone and Horn art full-time. Her workshop Atelier Calla“ was opened in October of 2011 and today her team employs a handful of artisans within the community who were once unemployed. Her mission is to provide fair wages and work opportunities to help young, unemployed people find a fulfilling, sustainable career in the arts. She is a remarkable woman.

The last time I was in Haiti in 2015, I had visited Christelle’s studio to learn more about this unique kind of art and also hear how her studio and workshop have helped other Haitians pursue a career in Horn and Bone art. Since my past visit two years ago, Christelle has moved to a new location in the center of Port-au-Prince in her mother’s home that was abandoned after the 2010 earthquake. Christelle is in the process of rebuilding the house as her studio and workshop. The roof fell down and walls have crumbled leaving a big part of the house in ruins. However, Christelle is determined to rebuild and get her new studio and workshop all fixed up. She has done it before seven years ago after the earthquake struck and she lost everything. She had to start all over again, working seven days a week while raising three young children yet succeeded. She attributes her strong resilience to simply being Haitian. The path is never easy but with hard work, perseverance and resilience I am certain Christelle will succeed.

Driving from our hotel to Christelle’s studio. Conditions in Port-au-Prince are still very difficult and the infrastructure throughout the country significantly needs to be improved. This is a challenge for entrepreneurs as it makes getting their products to the market difficult. 

Caribbean CULTURE Haiti
Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

A Step Inside the Studio of Vodou Priest and Artist Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph

“Kay koule tronpe soley, men li pa tronpe lapli” – Haitian proverb meaning “A leaky house can fool the sun but it can’t fool the rain”. 

No visit to Croix-des-Bouquets is complete without a stop at the studio of world-famous vodou artist and priest, Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph. Jean Baptiste’s Isidor Gallery has been receiving customers from all over the world for years and some of his most impressive pieces sell for thousands of dollars. Yet despite his fame and notoriety, like many of the other highly successful artists of Croix-des-Bouquets Jean Baptiste has decided to stay in Haiti and continue his work and mentorship to other aspiring artists. This is what makes Croix-des-Bouquets so special.

Stepping into the Isidor Gallery feels like stepping into a dream. The scent of incense flavors the air and the walls are filled with a riot of colorful, imaginative vodou flags intricately designed and handcrafted. The lights are low or even off, and the hot, humid heat of Haiti adds to a slightly dizzying effect. To be inside Jean Baptiste’s studio and to see his work, gives one a true sense of Haiti’s rich, intricate culture and religion. It feels like magic.

Croix-des-Bouquet Haiti

Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph was born in 1967 in La Vallé Bainet and was raised in Croix-des-Bouquets, a community known for its metal artisans in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At a young age Jean Baptiste became passionate for folk art and textiles. Following his dream and passion for beadwork, he worked in a small factory where he honed his skills by sewing pearls and beads onto wedding dresses. Then in 1991, thanks to the receipt of a small loan from a friend, Jean Baptiste opened Isidor Gallery in Croix-des-Bouquets.

Caribbean CULTURE Haiti

A Visit to Meet the Metal Artisans in Croix-des-Bouquets

No trip to Haiti is complete without a visit to Croix-des-Bouquets. Croix-des-Bouquets is a unique artist community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince that has grown into one of the largest, sustainable metal art communities in Haiti. It all began in the 1950s by a local blacksmith named Georges Liautaud who began using recycled oil drums to create amazing freestanding sculptures of art known as “fer découpé”. Liautaud mentored and inspired many metal artisans within the growing community of Croix-des-Bouquets and although he passed away in 1992, his most celebrated apprentice Serge Jolimeau continues to be a moving force within the community. Known as the godfather of Croix-des-Bouquets, Jolimeau opened up his land to the artisans so they have a place to work for free and learn the trade through apprenticeships.

Today, Croix-des-Bouquets has over 1,000 metal artisans with over 60 different shops and studios creating social change and opportunity within the community. It is a magical, happy place filled with energy and life. Although Jolimeau travels the world with his art, he continues to reside in Croix-des-Bouquets where he supposedly never even bothers to lock his door. It is that kind of close-knit community; a sharp contrast to some of the neighboring slums.

Croix-des-Bouquets is located on the edge of Port-au-Prince in the district of Noailles. You can tell you have arrived in the right place by the non-stop clanking of the hammers on metal. Beautiful handmade metal signs hang outside each workshop and the entire place is alive with the sounds of creativity. I felt like a kid in a candy shop looking at row after row of artwork with each piece being more spectacular than the last. My camera in hand and notebook ready, we began our tour of Croix-des-Bouquets and I was thankful it was not my first visit. Taking it all in for the first time can be quite overwhelming.

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

CULTURE Haiti TRAVEL BY REGION
Cap-Haitien, Haiti

Ayiti Nan Kè-m: Haiti is in my heart

“Dèyè mòn gen mòn” – Haitian proverb meaning “beyond the mountains, more mountains.”

At the heart of rush hour, 4.53 pm, on January 12, 2010 the earth shook with a ferociously and cruelty like never before. In 35 terrifying seconds, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck near the town of Léogâne, only 16 miles west of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince flattening hundreds of thousands of buildings, hospitals and clinics, and killing over an estimated 200,000 while injuring and displacing hundreds of thousands more. The catastrophic earthquake and its aftermath was the worst urban disaster in the world with an unimaginable loss of life and destruction of a nation that for hundreds of years has hovered slightly above the brink of collapse.

If the death and destruction of the earthquake was unfathomable, the resulting desperation, suffering and attempts to rebuild the country was even worse revealing just how fragile the social, political and economic systems in Haiti truly are. A cholera outbreak introduced by UN peacekeepers killed thousands more. The lack of social services in rural communities brought even more poor rural migrants into the already overwhelmed Port-au-Prince to live in tents or as squatters. Meanwhile corruption, greed, and a gross mishandling of funds made the rebuilding of Haiti even harder. Billions in promised aid was never delivered. People were displaced and living in horrible conditions in tent communities. And the list goes on.

But slowly over time, Haiti was rebuilt. The rubble was removed, the roads were repaired, and hospitals, clinics, schools, and buildings were reconstructed. Then came Hurricane Mathew this past fall bringing Haiti down to her knees once again. The damage was immense- estimated to be over a billion dollars – and the country is still trying to rebuild once again. Against this backdrop, I went to Haiti.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The sun sets over Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

“Ayiti Nan Kè-m” – Creole meaning “Haiti is in my heart”

I will not sugarcoat it. A week in Haiti was perhaps one of the most intensely emotional travel experiences of my life. However, if you are able to look beyond the potholed roads, the piles of trash, the unforgiving, overbearing poverty and the desperation in people’s eyes, then you will able to see something truly unique. Beauty and hope.

Cap-Haitien, Haiti

View from our hotel overlooking Cap-Haitien.

Juxtaposed against the stark ugliness is a beautiful resilience and strength in the Haitian people and their land. An extraordinary magical culture of music, art, food and religion. A stunning rural countryside with mountain after mountain- a sea of green against the aqua blue waters and white sandy beaches that make up coastal Haiti. A place that despite its complicated history and immense challenges, offers an outsider something extraordinarily life-changing and unique.  A week in Haiti was perhaps one of the most moving trips of my life, and that says a lot given how much I have already seen throughout the developing world.

CULTURE Haiti TRAVEL BY REGION
Manuel Antonio Park Costa Rica

Sunsets of Costa Rica: A Reflective Photoblog

“Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away”. – unknown

We did it. Our first real epic family adventure and it was absolutely amazing. I confess that my expectations were a bit guarded when we finally agreed to do a big international trip with the kids. It is not that they are unruly kids. But they are kids. I have traveled for many years all over the place going to some of the furthest reaches of the earth but I have never brought the kids.

So this time we did. We waited many years, doing various family trips around the US and when they finally reached the age where we thought we could give it a try we did. We packed our bags, boarded a plane and headed south of the border to Costs Rica. And it was marvelous.

We didn’t stay at an all-inclusive resort on the beach but drove all over the place having quite the adventure for our first land trip out of the country. It was the best family trip we have ever been on, hands down. There were no meltdowns, no drama, no sibling bickering or bell bottom tears. Instead, it was nothing but laughing, smiling, enjoying each others’ company and getting out of our comfort zones to try new, daring things. 

I came back from this trip with a new lease on life. On a personal level, the past few months have been emotionally challenging for me. I was often overwhelmed, stressed and feeling like I was losing control. I realized that I had not been feeling at ease for months –quite frankly since the election. My world and everything that I have cared so deeply about was unraveling and falling apart. I was in a constant panic about the crumbling of human rights, the dismantling of the climate and environmental policies, the loss of dignity and the utter hatred, violence and cruelty surrounding the world.

I was constantly on the phone with my senators fighting, begging, and pleading to protect international foreign aid, to make sure mothers would have clean water for their children and that my friends in the community wouldn’t be deported and sent back. It was consuming my life to a point that I was constantly on edge, anxious and filled with dread and despair. I felt like a heavy weight was pushing me down and I was losing my breath.

Until I just simply couldn’t take it anymore. I could no longer obsess and be miserable over things that were out of my control and I couldn’t change. I stopped reading my friends posts on Facebook, stopped getting worked up about every little thing (that albeit in my opinion is terrible yet I can’t really change), and now I skim the newspaper. Slowly but surely the suffocating blanket of anxiety lifted and I could breathe.

I brought my focus back to the things I can change. I can continue to use my voice, I can be kind and good-hearted, I can give back to others and I can give myself some slack. I can live in the moment, and be grateful for the things I do have. Yes, there are millions upon millions of people in this world who are suffering but I can’t let my soul die to save them. I also know that my problems are “first-world” problems or even problems associated with living in the liberal middle class. Not everyone can go on a week trip to Costa Rica! But I’m human and like every single human being on the planet, we all have issues, worries and concerns whether it be health, economic or simply survival.

So I’ve turned over a new leaf. I’m practicing mindfulness and living more in the moment. I’m committed to enjoying what I have, my life, my family and as always to giving back and making a difference. That is what one week in Costa Rica with my family did. It brought me back to the now. To being alive, happy and free.

Manuel Antonio Park Costa Rica

“Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing Anyway”. – Emory Austin

Manuel Antonio Park Costa Rica

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A Return to Glow: One Women’s Quest to Hike the Historic Via Francigena

“Life always waits for some crisis to occur before revealing itself at its most brilliant.” ~ Paulo Coelho

In her early forties, historian and world traveler Chandi Wyant’s world is at the edge of falling apart. Her spirit is broken, her body is weak and her glowing love of life seems to have disappeared.

After a near death experience in Italy and in the midst of finalizing her divorce, she had an epiphany. Why not return to Italy – a place that remains close to her heart – and do a pilgrimage. She knew that it was a crazy idea. Not only was she still weak from her illness, she was on a tight budget and only would have three weeks to plan a major physical adventure. Yet she was determined to follow her heart and set off on Italy’s historic pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, to walk for forty days to Rome.

Many days were difficult due to the throbbing pain from Plantar Fasciitis, the exhaustion and sometimes the loneliness. But Chandi never stopped and persevered arriving at the end of the pilgrimage exhausted, in pain yet finally at peace with her past. The pilgrimage brought about a complete emotional and spiritual surrender that enabled Chandi to let go of the past and find a return to glow.

Her new memoir, Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy beautifully chronicles this journey that is both profoundly spiritual and ruggedly adventurous. As Chandi traverses this ancient pilgrim’s route, she rediscovers awe in the splendor of the Italian countryside and finds sustenance and comfort from surprising sources. Drawing on her profession as a college history instructor, she gracefully weaves in relevant anecdotes, melding past and present in this odyssey toward her soul.

Strada Bianca

Pellegrinaggio 09 - 120

Cwyant11Her beautiful memoir, Return to Glow: A Pilgrimage of Transformation in Italy was released on April 2nd and won third place in the 2015 National Association of Memoir contest.

This delightful, transporting tale awakens the senses while inviting readers to discover their own inner glow by letting go of fixed expectations, choosing courage over comfort, and following their heart.

After reading Return to Glow, I had the opportunity to speak with Chandi over the phone to learn more about her life-changing trip and what inspired her to write the book. Here is what she had to say.

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Mount Kilimanjaro

Atop a Mountain is Where I Long to Be

“The mountains are calling and I must go” – . John Muir

I have always loved mountains. Perhaps it is their breathtaking beauty or their earthy mystique or even the challenge of getting from the ground on up atop a mountain that lures me to love them so much. I’m not sure what it is about mountains but I long to be near them, in them and a part of them. I love to hike them, climb them, ski them and just see them. If I could pick one place to be, I’d be in the mountains.

Unfortunately we don’t really have mountains in Minnesota. The highest peak, Eagle Mountain, in Northern Minnesota is only a meager 2,301 feet (701 m) tall. So when the mountains are calling, I must board a plane and fly to them. I am beginning to get those itchy feet again, longing for lacing up my hiking boots, throwing on my pack and heading to the mountains. I’m not sure which ones are calling me now. There are the Himalayas in Bhutan and India that I long to see but don’t have the two-three weeks available to climb them. There are the unknown peaks of the Peruvian Andes. And there are even those beautiful Canadian Rockies that call my name thanks to all those Alberta bloggers and Instagrammers I follow.

There are no immediate plans to go to the mountains so instead I will reflect on some of my most favorite mountains I’ve had the luxury of being atop of.

July 2015 – Mount Kilimanjaro

Me in front of the mighty beast, Mount Kilimanjaro

Base Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Base Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro TanzaniaBase Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro TanzaniaBase Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro TanzaniaBase Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

On top of Uhuru Peak Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

On top of Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro July 2015


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Traditional Sugar Cane Milling in Costa Rica

The Art of Traditional Sugar Cane Milling at Trapiche Don Carmen

After our gold mining tour and delightful lunch with Juan and his family at Finca Las Minas de Oro, we got back in the car and headed to our next adventure, a tour of a traditional sugar cane mill. Sugarcane grows easily throughout most of Costa Rica given its plentiful amount of rain, warm sunshine and rich fertile soil. It also is one of the top agricultural products in the country after bananas, pineapples and coffee. However, traditional sugarcane milling is on its way out as more sugar is being processed by machines and not by hand.

I had never visited a sugar mill before and honestly had no idea how sugar was processed or that it could make so many different kinds of products. Our afternoon tour of the Trapiche Don Carmen in Rancho Quemado would be another fascinating experience into an art and tradition that may not be around in another ten or twenty years.

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The air was thick with humidity and the dark clouds of a potential rain shower were rolling in. So far the weather had been hot and humid yet without rain and I was hoping my luck would last for the rest of my visit.
We arrived at Trapiche Don Carmen a little after three to thick, bellowing smoke snaking up into the sky. There was a burning sweetness to the air which I would soon discover was the brewing sugarcane juice. Eytan introduced me to Johnny Rodriguez and his wife Noemy who were tending a large caldron of sugarcane juice. It had been brewing for over three hours now and was almost ready to be processed. We had arrived just in time!

raditional Sugar Cane Milling in Costa Rica

Johnny tends to the the sugarcane juice which is boiling hard

Central America Costa Rica CULTURE TRAVEL BY REGION

Six Years of Blogging and Leaving Behind a Shadow of Me

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow”. –  Helen Keller

When I started my blog on a whim back in January 2011, I honestly had no idea what on earth I was doing. As a stay-at-home mom of two young children, I was desperately looking for a little piece of me. An outlet. A voice. A way of doing something different than changing diapers and playing with legos and dolls. I had done a lot of traveling and had kept my stories in a series of hard-covered journals stuffed in a dusty box in the back of the closet.

Yet a life-changing trip to Nepal in November 2010 was the defining moment that pushed me into action and prompted me to put away my pen and paper and do something more daring. To share my stories online for anyone to read. I typed up my first series of posts (which looking back now admittedly are not very good but I can’t delete them for nostalgic reasons) and have never stopped writing since.

Fast forward six years and my blog has become an enormous part of my life. I have shared over 1,200 stories and thousands of pictures documenting the highs and lows, adventures and misadventures of my life. I have made amazing connections with new friends from all over the world, and have experienced new opportunities that never would have come my way without my blog. It has opened doors and also has opened my own mind and heart to some of the injustices in the world.

My blog has literally changed my life in so many profound ways, and in an essence my blog has become a shadow of me.

“When walking through a valley of shadows, remember that shadows are cast by a light.” – H.K Barclay

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Traveling to India in the spring of 2013 as part of Mom Bloggers for Social Good where I visited slums and saw light, darkness, pain and hope.  Seeing hope and light within the dark shadows changed my life. I continued to explore this avenue of social good and advocacy work by visiting Haiti, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Tanzania. And I hope to do more!

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The Solitude of a Minnesota Winter

“Solitude is the soul’s holiday, an opportunity to stop doing for others and to surprise and delight ourselves instead”. – Katrina Kenison

As I opened my inbox this morning and saw that the topic for the Weekly Photo Challenge was solitude, I could hardly believe my eyes. Ironically, solitude is something I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about the past couple of weeks as the depths of winter carries on.

As I run around my favorite urban lake or walk the dog upon its frozen ice, I am aware of how alone I am as Minnesotans go into their traditional winter hibernation. Only the real diehards like me are out every single day in the cold, and at times it feels bittersweet.

A morning walk on the frozen ice of Lake Harriet with our aptly named dog, Winter.

A morning walk on the frozen ice of Lake Harriet with our aptly named dog, Winter.

Winter is our dog Winter's favorite season. The colder the better!

Winter is our dog Winter’s favorite season. The colder the better!

I miss the movement of people, the voices, and the noise. At times I feel lonely wishing more people would be out like they are on a beautiful summer day. But then I snap out of it and realize there is beauty and strength in solitude. I just need to embrace it. I remember my favorite quote and think of winter solitude differently.

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer”. –  Albert Camus

The bench Lake Harriet

The bench overlooking the lake on a sunny day.

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