Wednesday, January 21, 2009

l'Escale

Children slowly creep around me, staring. Mothers look at me while nursing. Teens stop cooking, bathing, whatever they were doing. Some continue, purposely ignoring me as I wander around with my large camera, far more conspicuous than I wish I were. I want to know these people, understand them - so that I may share a real understanding with others... This is one of those times when I realize the impossibility of my self-assigned task.

In order to speak about l'Escale, I must first explain the man that brought me there, Jimmie. It's difficult to explain just exactly who Jimmie is or what he's about, but he gets Haiti in a way few other non-Haitians I've met do. He runs all the behind-the-scenes stuff at HAS. Maintenance, supplies, transportation, security - that's just the beginning. It's safe to say that he's both one of the most important people there and likely one of the least talked about - but not least appreciated - everyone knows who he is and has great respect and appreciation for his work.

Jimmie and I hit it off immediately. We just clicked - had a lot of similar ideas about Haiti, the people, what helps and works and what doesn't, and we are both adventurous and always looking for something new. Because of that I gained a friend for life and that's valuable no matter where in the world you are. The side benefit was that it gave me access to things I wouldn't have had otherwise. One example is l'Escale. Jimmie was going there to test and work on the water system there and invited me to join him.

L'Escale means "The staircase". L'Escale is a staircase. For most it only goes down. L'Escale is a gated village - in the U.S. this is often a good thing. In Haiti it can be as well, but in this case it is the opposite. The people that live in l'Escale are outcasts. L'Escale is an attempt to isolate Tuburculosis to stop it from spreading. Anyone in this town either has TB or has a family member with it - families stick together in Haiti with a dedication we don't see in the U.S.

So what did it feel like? It felt like a town, with good people cooking, washing, living. Aside from the fact that they were slightly more surprised by my presence than other places (everyone is surprised to see me with my big camera), there was really no difference. Even though they are isolated from the rest of society with a disease that's been largely eradicated from societies that can afford the necessary antibiotics, if no one had told me I was walking into a TB camp I wouldn't have known.

And then there was her. Something special about her - so beautiful, pure, simple. She was cooking in the kitchen, an outdoor pavilion probably powered by charcoal. I'm guessing she was 15. She was beautiful and looked into my camera with a power I rarely see. Not angry or mean, not seductive, not even confident - just looking. piercing. direct. unafraid. and beautiful.

That afternoon I printed off a bunch of the photos with the picturemate printer Epson gave me and I walked back to l'Escale. It wasn't a short walk and probably not particularly safe around sunset, but I felt it was important for me to do it this way. It may seem a little backwards to those that haven't been in a dangerous country, but my viewpoint is that by showing them that I trust them and I am not afraid I am actually in a much better position than someone that is shaking in their boots. So far it's worked out all right.

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