I am just back from my grandfather’s homeland, Ayiti, land of mountains and beautiful history. My sister, Naima, catalyzed Ayiti Resurrect, a delegation of 20 powerful artists, healers, and culture workers from Haiti and the African disapora to convene in Cormiers, Leogone around the anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake. She and I travelled to Haiti a week ahead of the delegation to lay the groundwork for the programming. After about 24 hours of disorientation – remembering how to speak Spanish (yes, Spanish) proficiently, acclimating to heat and sun (yes, sun!), and rekindling faith that we would not be killed on the dilapidated, crowded, and recklessly traversed raodways… I was home and in love. I did not anticipate how much my story as a Haitian would be shared by others. We, the children and grandchildren of the Haitian elite whose ancestors fled the island during the dictatorship, are returning and rebuilding.
My particular offering to the community of Cormiers – on the theme of “healing our relationship to Earth” – was a workshop on compost and composting toilet design for soil building and agricultural productivity. In partnership with local farmers, Muriel, Anax, and Wislerson, I designed and built a no cost compost system using sticks woven with dried banana leaves. The toilet we constructed was a design modified from “The Hummanure Handbook” by my 9th grade environmental science students at Tech Valley High School. The materials cost for the toilet was $25. Community members were very excited about the workshop and asked me to commit to returning in a year to witness the promised proliferation of composting systems.
While we were making compost, the other delegates and our local partners were offering workshops ranging from poetry and theatre, to herbal medicine, reiki, dance and drum, women’s health, recycled arts, and stone carving. The unifing thread was the reclamation of our full humanity even and especially in the face of loss and devastation. I was particularly honored and stretched by the opportunity to teach Re-evaluation Co-counseling to a series of support groups. With the help of my beautiful new friend and Haitian Creole translator, Sandrin, I showed people how to offer counselor’s attention and listening to one another so that individuals could process and release their hurtful experiences. It was amazing to see how well the process worked, across language and culture. Especially touching was hearing men reflect after the workshop, how meaningful it was to be listened to well and actually heard and how much they felt they grew from praticing careful listening in return.
As always when I am a guest abroad, I am humbly aware that the gifts I receive outweigh even my most sincere offerings. With gratitude, I acknowledge the close guidance and direction of my ancestors, Samuel C. Smith, Anne Elizabeth Smith, and others who made sure I learned the necessary lessons while in their land. I also thank the local Houngan (Voodoun priest) Miguel who explained to me the spiritual history of our people, “The God of the whites preached love but brought us misery and fear, making us cry all the time. We had to revolt because we were psycologically occupied… Our God showed us that we were human and how to be free and honest.” Many thanks to the incarnations of Hashem for protection on the journey and thanks to our hosts and collaborators, Fritz, Jimmy, Evelyn, Louis, and the rest.
Soul Fire Farm looks forward to a long term collaboration with the Cormiers farmers, especially the Mango Grower’s Association. Until then!Follow soulfirefarm