Category Archives: Travel

Heading to Haiti: Destruction and Creation

Heading to Haiti: Destruction and Creation

img_4219I grew up with several Haitian bark paintings and pieces of metalwork decorating our home. One was a concave bark painting that depicted a turtle fighting a fish. As a child I asked my father the meaning of that piece. I only wish I could remember his answer. Funny how the image of that fish and turtle remain crisp in my mind while details of conversations with my father, who died when I was thirteen, have mostly faded away. Maybe I’ll find my answer next week when I peek into the Haitian art world, still it strikes me that this is the power of art, of images that stay in our minds long after words fade away.

These days other images from Haiti are being etched into our minds. Last week areas of Haiti faced yet another crippling natural disaster, and although we are bringing what we can to help, we are not going there to view the destruction. We are going to witness creation. Haiti is a nation of Artisans with a rich cultural history of art and craftsmanship and that is the reason for this visit. Though we are not going with the purpose of disaster relief (nor do I have qualifications to go for that reason) Macy’s Heart of Haiti program was initially founded in response to a natural disaster. Our Macy’s Heart of Haiti tour, in partnership with the Artisan Business Network ,was planned before Hurricane Matthew struck. The artists asked that we still come, and we have ensured that our plans will not hinder any critical relief efforts underway. The partnership with Haitian artisans was launched back in 2010 after the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country. It has been working to help provide an outlet for the rich tradition of the arts in Haitian culture and sustainable income opportunities since.

After the earthquake in 2010 the Clinton Foundation had called on private firms to help resurrect the Haitian artisan economy. Macy’s responded by teaming up with Fairwinds Trading, BrandAid, and Haitian artisans to create home goods to be sold at Macy’s stores. The products are made almost entirely from recycled and sustainable materials. The “trade not aid” model of Heart of Haiti has employed 780 artisans since then providing them with an outlet for their work and in turn an opportunity to make a living , feed their families, and send their children to school. The success of the Macy’s program has opened up new opportunities for artists with other vendors as well. A Haitian American named Nathalie Tancrede partnered with Fairwinds Trading, and HAND/EYE Fund to found the Artisans Business Network that works to empower Haiti’s artisan culture to improve community wellbeing.

The Republic of Haiti is named from the indigenous Taíno name for the island, Ayiti, meaning Land of High Mountains.  Haiti occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic.  It was the first independent nation in Latin America, and the first black-led republic in the world after gaining independence in the slave revolution of 1804.  According to the World Bank it is also the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world. More than half of the population lives on less than $2.50 a day. Geographically prone to natural disasters, including the 7.0 in 2010, and after two decades of political turmoil and foreign interference, Haitians are working hard to rebuild and move forward. The World Bank reports progress:

“Six years after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, Haiti has moved from recovery to longer term development as it continues to improve infrastructure and strengthen institutions, work toward increasing access to and quality of education, health and other services, and stimulate investment.” –

In the book The Big Truck That Went By author Jonathan Katz  describes the frustration of developmental aid workers as they “confronted seemingly straightforward issues , only to find that dozens of interrelated problems made solving them alone impossible .” One sure thing that does work to improve quality of life, individual by individual, is employment, sustainable, long-term dignified jobs that provide fair wages.  One by one the individual lives of the talented artisans creating the products sold through Heart of Haiti have improved, and in turn, the lives of their families.

My appreciation for craft is deep and reverent. Growing up our home was filled with art from different cultures, and creating was part of our lives. My mother was a PhD. and my father a Doctor, but they both loved to create. In his basement workshop my father created stained glass and enamel pieces along with his constant woodworking projects. My mother was a painter and ceramic artist who had a second Bachelors degree from Mass Art.  Over the years I’ve enjoyed painting, making pottery, photography, and paper making, and it’s no surprise that my daughter chose the path of art major at her high school. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the artisans in Haiti in their work spaces, to learn more about their country and culture, and to get to see the creative processes that produce the beautiful Heart of Haiti pieces carried at Macy’s.

The impact of Hurricane Matthew has of course added a new aspect to our trip. Many of the artists within the Artisan Business Network have been impacted by the Hurricane, some with devastating losses.  Our group will be bringing items requested by ABN to do the little bit each of us can to help them get back on their feet.  I will be collecting the below items to bring, so any donations by local friends are greatly appreciated!


Donations can also be made online directly to the ABN through HAND/EYE MAGAZINE or an Amazon wish list where items will be directly shipped to our trip leader Leticia. For more ways to help see Leticia’s blog post listing other trust worthy places to donate.  Edesia in Rhode Island is also accepting donations to help treat and prevent child malnutrition in the most hard hit areas of Haiti.

We will be sharing stories and photos along the way during our trip and you can follow us on Social Media on Twitter Facebook and at #giftsthatgivehope, #Bloggers4Haiti to see the beautiful creation that happens in Haiti and the meet the artists at work. You can also follow the Artisan Business Network  on Facebook and Instagram . Meanwhile, along with stories I will be looking for some new pieces of Haitian art to display in our home for my own children to grow up with.

I received a scholarship from Everywhere to help cover some of my trip expenses to Haiti to visit Artisan Business Network artists who create products for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line.

Eucalyptus In Ethiopia: The Selfish Tree

Eucalyptus In Ethiopia: The Selfish Tree
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Atalay

Eucalyptus Tree scaffolding

One could not help but notice all of the development as you drove through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While there on an International Reporting Project New Media Fellowship in 2014 evidence of the country’s rapid economic growth was displayed by the progress on the roads, buildings, railroads, and homes being built-in, and around the city.  What I noticed most about the “progress”, aside from the Chinese companies working on the roads, were the archaic wooden frames being used as scaffolding on the construction projects. Piles of timber were stacked by the roadside, and carts piled with the thin poles of trees were pulled amidst the traffic often by small boys barely taller than their load.


I was told that the scaffolding was Eucalyptus wood.   Compared to the safety standard steel beams that would typically be used for construction projects in Europe or the USA, the tall slim Eucalyptus trees framing construction projects seemed, well, flimsy, and downright unsafe. The amazing thing is that somehow it works! As cement buildings rise from the dusty streets of the city at a rapid pace, I can imagine this is the way construction has happened for many decades along the way.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Atalay

Eucalyptus Scaffolding

Eucalyptus Scaffolding

The ubiquitous evergreen hardwood Eucalyptus trees used for scaffolding are not indigenous to Ethiopia. In the late 1890’s the ruling Emperor Menelik realized they needed quick-growing resources for construction of the “new city”, Addis Ababa. The Eucalyptus tree, or Gum Tree, which is native to Australia, was known to grow quickly and easily, so Emperor Menelik imported Eucalyptus from Australia to Ethiopia, where it has thrived (in its invasive and selfish way).

Boy transporting wood in Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Atalay

The Eucalyptus tree, it turns out, demands huge amounts of water and tends to obscure other plants nearby. In Ethiopia it has come to be known as “the selfish tree”, taking for itself all the water and land around it. With Ethiopia facing the worst draught it has seen for the past 50 years, I wonder about the impact of this resource being used to help build the country, while at the same time robbing precious water from the ground.


In travel one is constantly reminded that things we take for granted in one area of the world may not exist in others. “Safety precautions” are a big one, a reminder reinforced for me for example while watching a three-year old wield a machete in Borneo. While I stared in horror, mouth agape, the local adults went about their business unfazed. Or in New Zealand where they sent me abseiling down a 100 foot drop to “black water raft” the rapids through caves on an inner tube with a mere 1/2 hour tutorial under my belt.  Again and again in various scenarios around the world I have thought, this would never fly back in the litigious, and bubble wrapped USA.  In most areas in this world you operate at your own risk, and I find myself wondering about all the travel mishaps we’ve never heard about. In Ethiopia I worried for the construction workers working on the tethered timber scaffolding 10 stories off the ground. My hope being that the “selfish tree” will always come through to support them.

Highrise in Ethiopia with Eucalyptus scaffolding

Looking Back on 2015

Looking Back on 2015

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As the first week of 2016 comes to a close I wanted to take a quick look back to savor the fantastic year that was 2015 before moving on. Last year flew by, full of family, work, and travel, and as excited as I am for upcoming 2016 plans, I want to make sure to take the time to pause and savor the highlights, and small successes of the past year before forging ahead.

2015 was an exciting year of travel. Skiing in Aspen. The Nantucket Book Festival. Yoga in Bali.  It will be tough to top! On our family trip we explored a glacier lake in Iceland and climbed crumbling castles in Ireland.  2016 does have a few exciting destinations on the horizon so far, so we will see!

This past year work fulfilled me and helped me grow. I challenged myself by agreeing to do a “media day” of television and radio interviews at the National Press Club in Washington, DC for the United Nations Foundation. As a Shot@Life Champion advocating for global vaccines I was paired up with Dr. Mkope a Tanzanian Pediatrician to do 22 TV and radio interview with stations from across the USA to highlight World Pneumonia Day. In 2015 I continued to work with local non-profit Edesia, the world’s 2nd largest producer of Plumpy’Nut, an amazing product used to treat malnourished children around the globe, and save the lives of nearly a million kids a year. Some of my photography and writing was included in a book put together by that went to the US Congressional representatives to support the Electrify Africa Act which was ultimately passed by congress. As a United Nations 2015 Social Good Fellow I attended the Social Good Summit in New York City for the launch of the new Sustainable Development Goals. As Managing Editor of World Moms Blog I attended the United Nations Correspondents Association Award Gala at Cipriani with Founder Jennifer Burden to accept Senior Editor Purnima Ramakrishnan’s UNCA Award for journalism covering a UN topic on her behalf.

As wonderful as the travel and work accomplishments were this year, the moments with family and close friends are my most cherished every year, and there is nothing like being home, especially after an adventure away. I am so grateful to my husband and the supportive women in my life who cheered me on, and provided the incredible opportunities of the past year, and  I’m excited to see what the New Year brings!

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Celebrating 10 Years of the Rwanda Path to Peace Program

Celebrating 10 Years of the Rwanda Path to Peace Program

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 4.20.53 PMThe style of our home décor leans toward Nomadic with pieces we have collected  from around the world on our travels that represent a meaningful trip or story. The beautiful hand-woven Rwandan baskets are no different, in them I see the history of an area of the world that I’ve been to and loved, woven with the hope and Path to Peace that each basket represents for the women of Rwanda.

In 1991 I spent six months living out of a backpack as I traveled overland through 16 African countries from Morocco down to Botswana. We camped in tents along the way, shopped for our food at village markets, and made our fire to cook over each night. As you can imagine it was a transformative experience. When people find out that my travels have taken me to over 60 countries around the globe they often ask which one was my favorite. An impossible question in this diverse and magnificent world of ours, rich with its variety of cultures and topography. When I am pressed to choose just one area, Central Africa is the region that pops into my mind each time. We went Gorilla Trekking on the border of Uganda and Rwanda, a phenomenal experience in itself, and it was just one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen. It was not just the picturesque stepped farms carved into verdant mountains, and the surrounding lush landscape. It was the people, the villages, their arts, and culture that captured some part of me.

I was heart-broken and horrified just a few years later when I heard about the tribal massacres that swept Rwanda in a brutal killing spree that took the lives of almost a million people over the course of just three months. It seemed impossible that an area that had been so warm and inviting, had felt so safe, could erupt in such a violent way. I mourned for Rwanda and volunteered to go back to help, but they really only needed medical volunteers.  This left me feeling useless and frustrated at my lack of valuable skills that could help in any recovery.  The tribal hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis had turned into an ethnic slaughter where neighbor killed neighbor in one of the worst genocides in human history.

The violence left many Rwandan women as the sole providers for their families. Husbands, fathers and sons had been killed or jailed for committing unspeakable atrocities. In the aftermath of such horror I am always amazed by the resilience of the human spirit, that of women in particular. Despite fresh wounds, both mental and physical, the women of Rwanda began to come together through the tradition of weaving as a way to rebuild and reconcile.

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“After the genocide, which tore the ethnic communities of Rwanda apart, the country was looking for a positive symbol that all sides could endorse. Beautiful baskets had been part of Rwanda’s culture for centuries. Their craft and artistry were celebrated by all sides and across the ethnic divide. When the Rwanda Path to Peace program began, the basket became the symbol that all Rwandans could embrace. And as women from formerly warring tribes came together to weave, the Path to Peace program became a vital tool to foster reconciliation.”

In 2005 Macy’s launched the Path to Peace Program. Willa Shalit, an American Artist, Activist and Social Entrepreneur, had introduced Macy’s executives to the beautiful hand-woven Rwandan baskets. Macy’s Partnered with the women of Rwanda in one of the very first “trade not aid” programs where all parties in the business model would benefit from its success.

This week Macy’s will celebrate 10 years of the Rwanda Path to Peace program. It is the longest running program of this kind, and over the years has transformed thousands of women’s lives, and in turn, those of their families and communities. I have come to realize that there are ways to help despite my lack of medical knowledge, and one of those is through my purchasing power. By choosing to spend my consumer dollars on products that I know come from socially responsible sources and are beneficial to others and our world. The hand-woven Rwandan baskets from the Macy’s Path to Peace program represent that idea that sometimes simple actions can collectively make a big impact in the lives of others.

Join me at the 10 year celebration tomorrow in New York!

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 11.04.42 AMI am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere has provided me with compensation for this post. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

The Origin Of Coffee

The Origin Of Coffee

 The Origin of Coffee


SAMSUNG CSCBefore my trip to Ethiopia last summer with the International Reporting Project I’d had no idea where coffee had originated. Imagine my thrill upon discovering that I was heading to the very birthplace of my favorite morning elixir.   Coffee, called Buna in Ethiopia, is central to the Ethiopian culture, and much to my delight, its intricate ritual of preparation takes place throughout the day in every possible setting.

The legend is that back around 800AD a young goat herder named Kaldi noticed his goats had increased energy and would begin jumping around the field every time they had eaten from a certain tree.  Kaldi gathered the tiny fruits from one of the trees and brought them to the village elders. The elders tossed them in the fire due to the bitter taste of the fruits, dismissing the young Shepard and his claims, but when the smell of the coffee roasting in the fire wafted out, their interest was piqued. The roasted seeds left behind were taken out of the fire and placed into water to cool, creating the first drink of coffee.  Now we grind the roasted seeds from inside the fruits, which are what we refer to as the coffee beans, and millions of people worldwide consume coffee each day in all sorts of permutations.


Look familiar?

“When you drink a cup of coffee ideas come marching in like an army”- Balzac

I fell madly in love with thick rich Ethiopian coffee while on our trip, and became enchanted by the ritual coffee preparation that I witnessed in factories, restaurants, homes, or on the sidewalk throughout our days.

North of Addis Ababa, exploring the islands of Lake Tana in Bahir Dar we passed wild coffee trees with branches of coffee fruit lining the paths, and again south of Addis, in the fields of Yetebon, coffee trees lines the fields. Ethiopia produces more coffee than any other African country, and coffee is its largest export. The climate is ideal for coffee growth, and most of the major coffee producing countries of the world lie in that same swath of tropical latitude.

Coffee beans growing in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Coffee beans growing in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

The seeds, or fresh coffee beans are hand roasted over hot coals, and or fire, in wide flat roasting pans called baret metad, with what I perceived as a cathartic patience, until they are perfectly done.


Trying my hand at roasting the beans

The coffee beans are crushed and then added to the hot water in the traditional Ethiopian clay coffee pot called a Jebena. IMG_2879

Once the coffee boils up the long neck of the Jebena it is done. Popcorn is the traditional coffee ceremony snack accompaniment when the coffee is served.

SAMSUNG CSCI travelled to Ethiopia as a New Media Fellow with the International Reporting Project to report on Newborn Health.