Feeding the children that turn up at the Sathya Sai Centre each day for their lunch has been an overwhelmingly positive experience… Visiting the children at the various camps the Sathya Sai World Foundation sponsors food to be distributed to, has been an eye opener to their reality.
But how the food gets replenished into the storage room is something I hadn’t really considered… Until Shanti said to me after breakfast; “Kali, get ready… We’re going downtown.”
I was excited to venture into the chaos of down town on an errand with Shanti Paudel– Sai Baba centre coordinator, to buy enough food supplies to feed 2000 children each day for a month. There is a lot of pleasure in feeding the children, however I wanted to get the full experience, and that includes knowing where the food is coming from… Because it doesn’t just land on the kitchen table!
On our checklist included:
50x 25kg sacks of rice, 50x 25kg sacks of maize, 100 packets of spaghetti… And that’s just the dry foods for the storage cupboard!
On average each meal costs just $0.18 cents per child, per day. A small price to pay to stop a child from going hungry. However like any NGO, a lot of work goes into accounts in order to keep the program sustainable.
The visit to the wholesalers warehouse is a chore that has to be done once a month when food supplies start running low. It’s not for the faint hearted to venture into the outskirts of Cité Soleil, one of Port-au-Prince’s notorious neighbourhoods in search of wholesale prices to keep costs low. However despite his Nepalese origin, Paudel is no ‘blanc’ (white person/foreigner). He is able to win the respect of Haitian people wherever he goes. This also includes getting the best prices when buying food in bulk… Paudel is very much Haitian!
The coordinators of the centre, Carlos Suarez and Shanti Paudel, take careful measures to keep costs low, while the quality of meals produced remain high. In the last year and a half costs have been drastically reduced by more than 60%. This benefits both sponsor and children, as it means the food program can run for longer periods, without leaving a whole in the pockets of sponsors worldwide. The whole sellers warehouse is open from 7am each morning. They supply food to all parts of Haiti. Market woman were there in their numbers. They may not wear the suits of western society, but they are very much the business women that contribute to keep the economy running.
It was an eye-opener to see the working conditions of the workers. Manual labour in every sense. Upon seeing the men carry up to five 25kg sacks on their head and shoulders (that’s like carrying five of my suitcases of their heads!), I asked why they don’t use trollies. My answer was coated with an amused laugh and a simple response; “there isn’t enough space for a trolly.” True enough, the allies created between the stacks of rice mounted high, are narrow. Just leaving enough room for the workers to maneuver through.
I spoke to one of the workers who was loading onto the truck. The 53 year old was beaming with sweat. When I admired his hard work, he explained in Kreyol that he is the father of three children and it’s his sole responsibility to provide for them…
Even if that means working a potential back-breaking job, and risking his life by standing on the seal of the truck to prevent theft, while the food is delivered to the Sathya Sai centre.
I couldn’t help but admire him. And his story is duplicate to a thousand others. On first glimpse, the environment seems chaotic. However standing to one side as I took initiative to do, I noticed it was a system that worked. Whether it works in the right way, is another question. I hope in the future to return with a film crew and document the environment of the workers of these huge warehouses. The link between the outside world the food comes from and distribution to the whole country.
Overall, a very productive and insightful day at the wholesalers!
I love my new-found spirituality!
Who would have thought I would find myself in Haiti?!
Learning to appreciate myself, give service whole heartedly, smile freely, laugh freely… Finding happiness within my humble surroundings.
And my surroundings is the spiritual environment of the Sathya Sai Baba centre in Port-au-Prince which provides food for 2000 children living in various camps each day. Volunteering here has been more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined.
However despite finding myself… I’m now finding I’m missing myself!
Perhaps it’s due to the weekend drawing closer that I’m starting to crave the fun-loving Kai… The Kai ‘on a good day‘ (and night come to think of it)!
Can spirituality and social night life go hand in hand?
Since being in Haiti I haven’t had the ‘pleasure’ of exploring the night life. Anyone who knows me will agree this is unlike me! No, finding spirituality hasn’t diminished my urge to hit the town at night… The foundations I typically explore in every city I visit- the dance floor!
However there are many factors that have hindered my chances of exploring the social scene since my arrival from the Dominican Republic almost one month ago.
First is security. It goes without saying that Port-au-Prince isn’t the safest of cities for me to venture around alone at night. So when I got an invite from a female couchsurfer to join her and some friends for drinks, of course I was all up for it! But when she said I should jump on a moto-taxi (at 11pm)?!… Lets just say I cherish my life more than sipping on beers all night! I’m not desperate, so- thanks but no thanks!!
Another factor is that the city doesn’t have a taxi system! There are NO taxis! It took me a while to notice this, let alone register it… There-are-no-taxis?… My independence is stripped! I am reliant on others to take me out…
And the one time tee-total Shanti Paudel, a journalist and one of the coordinators of the centre, kindly offered to take me out for a drink last sunday, that was when the streets of Pention-ville were uncannyingly silent… There had been a drive-by shooting of a police man just an hour before we arrived. All the pubs and drinking spots were closed… (Though the strip clubs were still running- typical)! So I ended up sitting in the car sipping on my first Prestige beer, in the not so prestige settings of a petrol (gas) station.
“It wasn’t meant to be” Shanti calmly explained.
Of course it wasn’t! What are the chances a cop gets shot on the night I finally hit town?! I’m learning that God’s mysterious ways can also work against my wishes (I can’t always have it my way)!
So for over three weeks since I’ve been here I haven’t experienced the night life. If I wasn’t content with the spiritual experience I am encountering, I would have asked myself; “What am I? A nun?!”
No, I’m not a nun, neither do I want to be one. I’m just a young woman who would like to adapt spirituality into my routine- not just during my travels. To enhance myself in every way possible. Because surely there has to be more to life then just breathing and being!… And there is indeed! I have felt the power of knowing God… Of knowing my worthiness. How do I incorporate this divinity into my everyday life? I’m not trying to change drastically or be confined to a monastery… That would be a lie to myself…
So despite finding myself in Haiti… I’m missing myself elsewhere!
I miss the fun-loving Kai that straps on her high heels and walks tall with confidence…
I miss the Kai who’s first on the dance floor…
The Kai who paints her lips red (and the town to match)
And the girl who can’t say no to an innocent glass of bubbly for good-times sake (always drink responsibly)!
The Kai who ‘flaunts it coz she has it!’
The one you’d better approach with caution… Otherwise don’t approach at all!
The one who attracts like-minded positive people (even on a night out!)
This is partly who I am… And I could never completely get ride of these traits. Nor am I willing to because we are in this wonderful world to indulge in its beauty… To heighten our senses by every sight, every touch, every taste and sound.
I’m not willing to say good-bye to her… My outer ego who twists things up a notch!
With her life is spontaneous…
Life is unpredictable…
Life is good…
And life is fun!
Surely I can still be me and have spirituality?…
Like with Yoga, the balance needs to be right!…
My journey continues!
Share your thoughts in the comment box below please 🙂
The risk starts from the very moment I choose to travel alone. And the added pressure is whether to carry my camera in public to practise another of my passions; photojournalism, or leave my equipment in the safety of a security box…
Depending on the country or city I’m in, a lot of the times I’ve had to make a conscious decision and choose the latter option to be on the safe side… Just one negative incident could tarnish my so-far positive travel experiences. And while in Haiti, the desperate conditions of the people doesn’t make this country an exception. The factors against me of being a foreigner unable to communicate in the language, in possession of equipment that could make someone a quick buck, makes me an easy target.
The streets might be freshly laid since the 2010 earthquake, but they don’t offer a layer of security. The gunshots I hear at night are warning signals of a troubled society. The new constructions are a façade of the staggering mount of social issues that still haven’t been addressed. The country’s social problems have in a sense been swept under the ‘road’.
So with security playing an important role on my conscious, many times I’ve had to adapt and opt for another method of shooting people (no weapons involved). I’m reminded of a phrase I heard coined by Ghanaian photographer Nana Kofi Acquah during the BlogCamp Ghana event in Accra earlier this year; “Drive-by shooting”!
Every corner of Port-au-Prince tells an interesting story. Many of which I saw with my eyes, and tried to capture through the lens of my camera. “Blink and you miss a shot” is literally what happened on many occasions. Be it in the passenger seat of Nepalese journalist Shanti Paudel’s dusty Toyota, or the comfort of the Carib Tours bus, this is a different take on “point and shoot”!
Here is a collection of photos I captured from the safety of a vehicle… Drive-by shooting Haiti (with my camera)! #photographyonthego
As summer draws to an end, and kids prepare to go back to school, it’s about time that I shared a taste of my day with the kids at Summer Camp- Italy!
Earlier this summer, when I flew to Rodallo in northern Italy for thier annual ‘Fiesta del Pesce’, I accompanied Alu and Gena (“my niece and nephew”) to spend a day at their summer camp in neighboring village, Vallo (Caluso).
I didn’t expect to be such a hit with the kids! They enthusiastically sought my interest by giving me a geography lesson on the map of Italy… In english!
Now you know why I keep going back to one of my favourite European countries! Each visit is always unique!
Little did I know that this would be the theme for the rest of my summer… “Down with the kids!”
It occurred to me that there are a string of significant events and coincidences that took place during the month of august that are somehow in twined with Tabom history, and as a descendant; this is directly relevant to me. Also today, the 23rd August, is the International Day for the remembrance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade on its abolition… Nothing is just a coincidence in August!
I am currently in Haiti, the first Black Republic in history. The island Hispaniola, mother to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was the first island to be discovered in the West Indies by Christopher Columbus 1492. The island would become the gateway to the New World. A turning point in World History would be marked by the Transatlantic slave trade… The beginnings of the African diaspora in the Americas.
On the 22nd of August 1791 a revolt was staged by slaves in the French colony of the island, Saint-Dominique, which would not only spark the beginnings of the Haitian Revolution, but inspire a wave of revolts throughout Latin America. The oppressed would fight the oppressor in a bid to gain freedom.
The news of the Haitian Revolution would reach the shores of Salvador Bahia and beyond. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I am in Haiti on the anniversary of a significant revolt which took place 222 ago! My Tabom heritage may not exist had the slaves in Bahia not heard news of a colony of ex-slaves ruling themselves as a freed Republic!
I’m even more so convinced that it wasn’t by coincidence either that on the 24th of January this year, I was reading about a group of African muslim slaves who were conducting an important meeting, not so far from where I sat reading in Salvador, on the same date in 1835. The revolt they planned started prematurely hours later, on the 25th January 1835. This revolt would mark a significant part of Brazil’s history… And my own story…
It was in the month of August that the (second) group of Afro-Brazilians arrived on the shores of Ghana (then Gold Coast) on or around the 8th August 1836. The revolt of 1835 played a key role in them being expelled or winning /buying their freedom. Needless to stay, they left the oppression Brazil in search of freedom. And they would find it in Accra and become known as known as Tabom.
Coincidently muslims celebrated Eid all over the world on this date just a few weeks ago, 8th August. It mustn’t be forgotten that the Tabom returnees were muslim. Their faith played a key role in their struggle for freedom in the Malê (reference to the African muslim slaves of Bahia, said to be of Hausa origin from Nigeria) revolt of 1835.
I would like to think that this strength of my ancestors has been passed onto me as I continue my research which took me to Brazil and now Haiti. My research has gone beyond tracing my ancestry to Brazil (which I have done; next stage is tracing the origins in Nigeria)… It is now about discovering the strengths and traits of who I am, and why I am (here).
This month also saw the celebration of my favourite Ghanaian festival Homowo. The Ga tribe of Greater Accra celebrate the end of the a plentiful harvest, paying homage to a time long ago when our ancestors experienced a great famine across the lands belonging to the Ga people. When the heavens finally opened up, they reaped their crops so plentiful, they “hooted at hunger”. This is also the start of our New Year. We say “Afi oo Afi” wishing each other a happy new year.
So with these significant events interlinked and their dates occurring in August across various countries and centuries, I think that makes this month rather special for me as a Tabom descendant!
It was also my Aunty Marian’s birthday last week- she is my talking Tabom reference book! So this is in fact a month of celebration! I’m grateful and thankful to have an aunt who I have a strong bond with. She tirelessly answers any of my questions regarding my family history and African history in general. She is proof that our history begins with speaking with our elders and recording their information. We cannot wait for until our elders pass then it becomes HiStory. It is ours- not ‘his’, first and foremost. Thank you Aunty Marian and many of my tabom family who have contributed.
I’ll end with a few supporting extracts from the book (latest edition is being prepared) “Eles Voltaram (/They returned)” by Alcione Amos which she was kind enough to send me personally. It was largely due to the writings of Mrs Amos that I was able to place together the missing piece of my Tabom ancestor.
“A second group of Afro-Brazilians arrived around August 8, 1836 from Bahia. This group included about 200 men, women and children. They were identified as “liberated slaves,” and their arrival date seems to indicate that they either were expelled from Bahia in the wake of the Malê revolt of 1835, or decided to leave because of the harsh living conditions imposed on blacks after the revolt. They were well received by Ankrah, but not by the Dutch authorities…”
“The Tabon were the first to introduce the Muslim faith in the Accra area. Johann Zimmermann, a Basel Mission missionary, reported in 1851 the existence of a Muslim school in Accra. He visited the school on January 2 of that year and found out that the teacher had copies of the Koran and the New Testament in Arabic. It is very possible that this was a school run by an Afro-Brazilian returnee, although there is no way to verify the assumption. In fact another major influx of Muslims into the area would not take place until decades later in the 1870s, this time with the coming of Hausa soldiers brought in by the British…”
Enjoy the rest of this magnificent month!
The first thing I noticed about Carlos Suarez when we first met in the Dominican Republic less than a month ago, was his height.
Standing past 6″ it would be easy to feel intimidated judging by his stature alone, had I not already communicated with him through emails. Each message confirmed a friendliness about him, always signing off with “be happy my friend!” This is not the type of person to feel intimidated by! So when I met Carlos that hot afternoon in Gazcue, Santo Domingo, as soon as he opened his mouth and kind words flowed out laced with his soft Mexican accent, I warmed towards him immediately. I joined Carlos for lunch at Ananda vegetarian restaurant to discuss my volunteer role at the Sathya Sai centre in Haiti.
It wouldn’t be long before I discover traits of Carlos Suarez that make him an ideal humanitarian: kind-hearted, softly spoken, generous and dutiful (and an ability to add a sprinkling of humour to any situation!) If I didn’t already know he was a Sai Baba follower, his actions spoke louder than words. I was intrigued to know more about the teachings of Sai Baba. Himself who was a humanitarian, encouraging love, peace and unity as well as respect for all religions. My opportunity for discovery started when I arrived in Haiti…
When I told my New-York-born Haitian friend Guylene that I was considering to volunteer in her country of origin this summer, she immediately recommended I contact her friend Carlos. We were introduced informally via Facebook and kept in touch weeks before I would know my exact plans of coming Haiti. Carlos was my first introduction to to Sathya Sai Baba, in a spiritual sense. Before he sent he the videos about the organisation, I admit, I didn’t know who Sai Baba was. I had heard of his name, but whether he was a religion, a cult, an organisation? I wasn’t sure.
And despite this unsurity not once was I asked if I was a Sai Baba follower.
Not once was I asked to write a formal letter stating why I wanted to help.
And not once was I asked for a penny to volunteer at the centre, as many organisations demand.
My eagerness and willingness to help was enough (and I’m sure having the reference of a mutual friend helped) and for that I am grateful for this unique opportunity. It is ironic that I came to help children, but I also opened my mind to the teachings of love and service, prayer and worship which would help myself, thanks to Carlos Suarez and his fellow coordinator Shanti Paudel. The two individuals, on surface, couldn’t be more different. But like ying and yang they are a complete package! Their personalities go side by side as do their work ethics and energy. It has been a pleasure to be in the presence of these two extraordinary men.
Carlos was kind enough to share with me his story during our various conversations. It is a truly inspirational one. Taking on such responsibility despite the language and cultural barriers. As supervisor of the feeding program his role is to foresee everything that goes into providing 2000 meals a day (except rest day sunday) for children living in various camps across Port-au-Prince. This service guarantees a child at least one nutritious meal for the day.
I witnessed the living conditions of the camp sites personally. These children literally have nothing. The limelight of the devastating hurricane which brought plentiful aid has faded. The media have turned away their cameras and the children are no doubt reluctant to smile for any camera which promises them nothing…
But seeing their faces light up as they spotted the Sathya Sai Baba vehicle was priceless. Their excitement expressed in seeing Shanti ‘Paudel’, who played a key role in sourcing accommodation for many of these children’s families when they were left homeless after the hurricane of 2010. They chanted;
It took me a while to realise that it was Shanti they were calling! I captured pictures of their faces as they ran to greet Carlos while we drove up in the car. When I look back at the images I captured, I understand why Carlos gains so much satisfaction from his work. It would be a loss if the smiles were wiped from these children’s faces.
When Carlos embarked on this voluntary mission, leaving the tranquil settings of his home in Cancun Mexico, for the poverty-struck environment of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, he expected to stay for just a month or so. A year and nine months later, he is still here carrying on his dutiful mission. It has been a pleasure to listen to Carlos speak about his love for the children, “my children” he often refers to them as.
And I don’t doubt that each one has a special place in his big heart… All 2000 of them!
For more on Carlos Antonio Suárez Pérez, visit: http://sailoveinaction.org/project/haitiCarlos
Also see the videos of the feeding program produced by Shanti Paudel
“Narayana Seva Haiti Carlos Charley”
Tropical Storm ISAAC Sai Service Narayana Seva Haiti
The Sathya Sai World Foundation Haiti plans to continue the feeding program until the end of 2013. After which, it is unsure how these children who rely solely on one meal a day, will survive.
If you would be interested in helping in some way, please contact the coordinators directly firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Sathya Sai Organisation.
A short video interview with Carlos Suarez from Mexico, who left his Cancun home to volunteer at the Sathya Sai Centre, Haiti.
For the full story click below:
Filmed and edited on my ipad 🙂
I’m on yet another journey towards finding myself… This time in Haiti!
And I’ve also found other skills along the way; like editing videos on my phone!
So bare with me while I work on the full edits… In the mean time, hop on board my tap-tap and join me on my journey in Haiti!!
Look out for more videos coming soon:
-Journey to Haiti… Pt 2 video blog of my journey on the island of Hispaniola
-Finding myself in Haiti… Finding myself on a spiritual journey working at the Sathya Sai Baba Centre which provides food for 2000 children living in various camp sites.
-Knowing Shanti Paudel… The Nepalese born journalist who has adopted Haiti as his home (and I’ve adopted as my big brother and mentor!). Also one of the Sai Baba coordinators, a talented musician (tabla), DJ, photographer, director, campaigner, humanitarian… What’s next for the man who’s done it all before the age of 35?… President?!
My journey continues… Travelmaking me!
“Afi o Afi!”- Happy New Year!
Today in my family home in Osu, Accra, they are celebrating the start of a New Year after a successful harvest… The Homowo festival!
As my father is from Osu, traditionally I celebrate Homowo in this part of Accra. However this is a celebration of gratitude and sharing food so everyone’s doors are opened welcoming guests to join in the feast. I always head to my Grandmother’s side of Accra; James Town and Kole Gono, to sample the kpekple (the traditional food made from maize) served with generous helpings of palm soup with fish, in different relatives houses.
This song by Nat Brew will be playing through the sound systems for sure! Unfortunately, this year I am not in Ghana to experience my favourite festival. One that carries so much meaning to me. But I can still dance to this song and thank my ancestors for going through their trials and tribulations to arrive at the land they finally settled in, Greater Accra… Ghana. I’m so thankful that their strength has been passed down onto me, as I’m now on my own personal journey in Haiti.
“We’re come from far” indeed! Here’s my history in a song! Thank you Nat Brew for this song. It gets me on my feet every time!
An extract about Homowo from Reverend Peter E. Adotey Addo:
THE HOMOWO FESTIVAL
The word “Homowo” actually means ‘making fun of hunger.” Our traditional oral history describes a time long ago when the rains stopped and the sea closed its gates. A deadly famine spread throughout the southern Accra Plains, the home of the Ga people. When the harvest finally arrived and food became plentiful, the people were so happy that they celebrated with a festival that ridiculed hunger.
The Homowo festival starts with the planting of crops before the May rainy season and continues through August. The actual time for the August celebration is determined by the Chief Priests after they consult with the Lagoon Oracles.
Sometime in June there is a total ban on noise throughout the State, and fishing is limited to certain days. In early August the celebrations begin with a special Yam festival in honor of the Spirits, the eternal protectors of the Ga people.
For the full article please check out the website:
God’s remembrance… Remembering where we are from…
I’ll end with a statement from a very dear friend about his experience of the Homowo festival. Cássio Eduardo Rodgriges Serafim is a Brazilian living and working in Ghana. He is the Portuguese language professor at Ghana Institute of Languages (GIL). I met him in 2010 and he has since become not only a supporter of my “Tabom” afro-brazilian heritage research, but a true friend. He leaves his post this academic year to head back to Brazil. Cássio you will be dearly missed by myself, your students and the Tabom community. Thank you for your contribution!
“I do like the Ga Festival. I first witnessed the Homowo in 2010, and I was looking forward to seeing it before leaving Ghana. Through Homowo, I can see some similarities between Ghana and Brazil..
I managed to catch Shanti Paudel, one of the coordinators of the Sathya Sai centre in Port au Prince, in action as he prayed over an offering of the freshly prepared food ready for distribution to children in various camps… Just in time for lunch! Accompanied by a local child who’s a regular at the centre.
Check out Shanti’s tabla skills… wow!