Tag Archives: travel

Searching the (he)ART of Haiti

Searching the (he)ART of Haiti
"Home Is Home"

“Lakay Se Lakay” / “Home Is Home”

When I travel to a country for the first time I usually try to do some homework in preparation for my visit. I love the way that travel brings history, geography, and humanity to life, and provides a deeper understanding of the world. Still, sometimes I visit a place like Haiti, that is so enigmatic and full of surprises, that I realize no amount of advance preparation could have fully primed my understanding of the place. I loved the way Haitian Fashion Designer of Rapadou, Marie Therese Hilaire who goes by “Tetes”, expressed it:

“We have a country that has a feeling, se la pu la, You have to be there to understand it“.

It took less than two hours to fly there from Miami, but could not have felt more worlds away.

Packets of fried plantain snacks for sale

Packets of fried plantain snacks for sale

The art of any country always provides insightful cultural cues. In a country like Haiti, which is deeply infused with a visual arts culture, it can be a primer into the ethos of the population.  As a first time visitor to Haiti it was thrilling to meet a varied cross section of artists and artisans who make their living through their craft.   The “studios” of the  Artisan Business Network artists we visited ranged from outdoors spaces on the ground in remote villages to high-end designer studios in the capitol. I was impressed that despite these variances the finished pieces of art produced in each setting were beautiful and polished works. I also noted that even the most high end designer we visited used some repurposed materials with which to create.  I marveled that the rubber from old tires, empty discarded cement bags or metal barrels could be transformed into such amazing objects. Many of the artisans we met create products for the Heart of Haiti line of goods sold on-line and in Macy’s stores in America. Having bought pieces in the past from  Heart of Haiti  that decorate our home made it all the more powerful to meet the artisans actually creating these pieces by hand. Heart of Haiti began it’s partnership with the Artisan Business Network after the 2010 earthquake in an effort to provide sustainable jobs for as many Haitian artisans as possible to aid in economic recovery.  Everywhere you look in Haiti you find art,  from colorful TapTap buses to the murals on the cement walls around the city, color and creation seemed to saturate Haitian life.

A Tap-Tap bus in Port-au-Prince

A Tap-Tap bus in Port-au-Prince

The same artists in the below video about Heart of Haiti that was made a couple of years ago are the ones that we visited during our October trip this year. They are still working today and able to support their families, and send their kids to school because the pieces they create are in demand in the Macy’s stores.

Each region we visited seemed to have a creative specialty, we were often given demonstrations and able to observe the artists process of creation. This was amazing. We visited paper mache artists in Jacmel, stone carvers in Leogane, and metal workers in Croix des Bouquets. We watched the exquisite beadwork of Jean-Baptiste in Croix des Bouquets and the soap making process at a women’s collective in Mirebalaise. Even the embroiderers in Camp Perrin, recently hit hard by Hurricane Matthew, were busy rebuilding, creating, and getting back to work.

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Made for Heart of Haiti by metal workers in Croix Des Bouquets, stone carvers in Leogane, and embroiderers in Les Cayes

Paper Mache by Pierre Edgar Satyr

Paper Mache by Pierre Edgar Satyr

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Beaded bottles by Fougete Cherisme in Les Cayes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Haiti’s visual arts are unmatched in the caribbean. Much of this can be put down to the influence of Voodoo, with its rich visual language of veve symbols and painted temples” –Paul Clammer

I love the widespread use of veve, or religious symbols representing voodoo spirits, in every type of art that we saw. I felt like the pieces decorated with Voodoo symbology were  imbued with a mythical presence, making it more than just a beautiful object, but one with deeper meaning and symbolism. Of course, each piece that is produced for the Artisan Business Network and Heart of Haiti is more than just a beautiful object, to the artisan it is their life blood, their independence, and pride. Each piece represents the opportunity to earn a good wage, in a country that faces many obstacles at the moment to doing so, it is also a chance for Haiti to maintain its rich and unique arts culture that is a gift to the world.  Spoiler alert for friends and family…..I returned home with a huge duffle bag packed with gorgeous gifts for this holiday season, along with some more amazing pieces for our own home! If you are interested in purchasing gifts that give hope from Haiti this season you can find all sorts of wonderful creations, home goods, jewelry, and tastes  of Haiti at Macy’s . Items can also be found for purchase, or to order to carry in your own shop on the Artisan Business Network site. Over the next few weeks I can’t wait to share stories about some of the artisans that we met and the gorgeous items that they make!

Sitting on the mosaic stairs in Jacmel with fellow travel companions

Sitting on the mosaic stairs in Jacmel with fellow travel companions

 

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. It was an incredible experience and as always on this blog, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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.

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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 ONE.org 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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Nantucket Book Festival #ACKBookFestival

Nantucket Book Festival #ACKBookFestival

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My sixteen year old went to a three day concert festival earlier this month, and I imagine our girl’s weekend at the Nantucket Book Festival was to the six of us book lovers, what being in proximity to the rock stars were to my teen daughter. If it were socially acceptable I’m sure we too would have stood up and screamed as some of our idols took the stage, but in the subdued Nantucket Athaneum we surely would have been sternly escorted out out by a gentleman in a navy blazer.

That’s not to say that we didn’t have our wild moments of dancing to random bands in a dive bar…. or……ok, so maybe that was the one wild moment of the weekend….. but it was a thrilling weekend full of books and authors, great food, and friends, wild in the stories we got to explore .   The point is, if you are a book lover, a reader or a writer, or a lover of stories and those who tell them, then you should have been there too. The amazing storytellers who spoke had us in awe, throughout the weekend we were on the emotional rollercoaster that comes with the close study of human nature as told through narrative.

It all started with our gracious host, an island homeowner who had attended every Nantucket Book Festival since it’s inception four years ago and been raving to us about it ever since. Her wonderful blog CreativeWhimzy highlights the type of creative, thoughtful and energetic person our gracious host Jo is. We arrived to welcome gifts, mugs she had designed for all of us, each with a handmade tag, to enjoy our morning coffee in!IMG_8946

We were up bright and early on Friday morning for breakfast with Anita Diamant, best selling author of The Red Tent, who gave a talk about her recently released novel The Boston Girl, and her craft. I have found that writers are often great speakers, as natural storytellers they often know how to keep their audience humored and enthralled.

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Anita Diamant

 

Following Anita Diamant, author of A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah spoke to us about his journey from child soldier in Sierra Leone to best selling author in New York City. He introduced his new novel The Radiance of Tomorrow and discussed his transition from memoir to fiction and his role in providing “the lost boys” of the war in  Sierra Leone a human face and insight to the rest of the world .

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posing with Ishmael Beah

 

Leaving the athenaeum with our emotions piqued by the amazing authors we had just heard, we discovered the Typewriter Rodeo in the courtyard outside. We each got a poem typed out for us by the rodeo based on a word we gave. By then we were all practically in tears of overwhelmed emotions and the festival had only just begun!

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authors

Authors L to R: LaShonda Katrice Barnett, Bret Anthony Johnston, Belinda McKeon, Scott Turow, Azar Nafisi

 

What we have discovered is that authors are great story tellers, and each author captivated us with the behind the scenes of the stories they told. Breakfast with Jodi Picoult and Alice Hoffman was up close and personal, it was such a treat to get a glimpse of each of them outside of their writing, and the view from the Dreamland theatre event space could not be beat.

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up close and personal with Jodi Picoult and Alice Hoffman

 

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Our final morning of the Nantucket Book festival was magic despite the deluge. The White Elephant is impeccable, the event space, the brunch, and the service was amazing. Ishmael Beah was amazing as well. How he can infuse such heartbreak yet inspiration in one delivery is the true magic. His wisdom and insight into human nature are treasures, mined only as someone who has seen humanity at its worst and best could do.

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The weekend at The Nantucket Book Festival felt like a dream. One where fairy tales and nightmares haunt your consciousness and leaves you on the other side of something intangible. It felt like gift that can be held and turned over in my mind for a long time to come.

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Of Wanderlust And Coming Home

Of Wanderlust And Coming Home

Elizabeth AtalayI try to keep a cool adult demeanor as I open the tiny package at my seat. In it I find a pair of socks, a diminutive set with toothpaste and toothbrush, and a sleep-mask. I want to turn to the older gentleman in the plane seat next to mine as I pull out each item to show him with bright eyes and exclaim “Look how cute this toothbrush set is!” but I manage to keep my cool.

Wanderlust ;  a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world.

Wanderlust is my favorite word.  Aside from being fun to say, it most aptly captures my enthusiastic desire to discover new places.   The more I traveled, the more I learned about new places I’d love to see. Put me on an airplane and I am as giddy as a child. I love to travel, and it’s not just about the destination. The journey itself thrills me as well. That sense of excitement and adventure as a trip launches. The forced stretches of time on the trip to read, write, or watch as many movies as I can fit in.  I love the diminutive compartments of the meals, accompanied by tiny bottles of wine.   I enjoy conversations struck up with other travelers, slices of lives in transit. Where we are, where we are going, and where we’ve been.  I’m excited by the anticipation of a new place, and of entering the unexpected.

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