A taste of Haiti, right here in DC

Last night, I set out to experience a bit of Haiti, right here in Washington, DC. Two events offered a timely opportunity to immerse myself in the people and culture of Haiti, with just a few weeks until I travel to Haiti myself as part of the Off the Mat, Into the World Bare Witness Tour, the culmination of the 2011 Global Seva Challenge. Great timing!

Photo by Keith Lane, courtesy of Studio Gallery, Washington, DC.

First, we checked out an amazing art exhibition at the Studio Gallery. Two American artists–photographer Keith Lane and graphic artist Jenna Crowder–have created a collaborative project of multimedia art, called Ornamental Foxes, to document their travel experiences in Haiti after the earthquake. Keith and Jenna offered an artists’ talk about how they created this art, out of a desire to connect with Haitian artists and bring back a complete picture of the good and the bad in Haiti. They immersed themselves in the culture and art of Haiti, conducted dozens of interviews, took thousands of photographs, and distilled it all into a poignant representation of the people, the landscape, and the spirit of Haiti. This exhibit will be open for a few more weeks, so check it out if you can!

Haitian artist BelO

Then, we stopped for some nourishment (unfortunately there’s no Haitian food in DC that I know about!) and headed over to Artisphere in Rosslyn, VA, for a concert by Haitian musical ambassador BelO. BelO is an energetic, talented, 32-year-old musician and activist who speaks and sings passionately about his home country. He played everything from reggae covers to traditional Caribbean beats and Haitian pop. Most of his songs were in Creole, but he made a point of translating and telling the stories of the songs for the non-Haitians (although it was clear there were quite a few Haitians in the room!). BelO’s most important message was one of hope–encouraging Haitians to stay connected to Haiti, to help find solutions to the nations’ challenges and tell the stories of positive change that is taking place despite immeasurable hardship. He covered Tracy Chapman’s song “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” with such conviction that you wouldn’t doubt he meant every word.

The string that rang through the whole evening was joy. Haiti has faced what for many nations would be insurmountable struggle. Yet Haitians–those reflected in Keith and Jenna’s artwork, BelO joyfully singing about his home, and the Haitian community dancing to the beats of their history–have so much hope, a fighting spirit. There’s no question in my mind that Haiti will recover. I am beyond inspired to document the passion of this incredible nation myself soon!