An Update from Ellen LeBow
about the Artists of Matènwa,
Arielle and I got back from Haiti a few weeks ago and I wanted to tell you a little bit about the visit, which, as usual, had its dramas and pleasures.
This was a very short trip, mostly to bring more materials and celebrate with the silk artists who were awarded a very large order from the Fetzer Institute. The organization intends to give the scarves as gifts to participants during their summit meeting in Assisi, Italy.
In support of the artists' on-going grass-roots theater initiative Fetzer also provided them with a travel stipend to take their performances to other parts of Haiti, and a small video camera to film their progress.
Each artisan group has developed their own original music and plays and the Drapo artists already had their first invitation to perform on the main island. They came home proud! The audience was enthusiastic and they were invited back.
One evening we were approached by a group of local neighbors, all men, who wanted to tell us about their organization and its goals. We sat down together, the rose-colored walls of my room, lit by oil lamps, cast everyone in a deep, warm shadow glow. From our long years visiting Matènwa we knew each person well.
They said they were calling themselves "Gason Kouraj" (Courageous Men), a name they took after "Fanm Kouraj," the first women's activist theater group in Matènwa, made up of teachers from the local school.
Fanm Kouraj as well as the artists' theater groups have been sending very clear public messages with their plays: It's unacceptable for men to beat, neglect, abandon, impregnate without protection, or otherwise maltreat their wives and families, especially young, vulnerable girls. And women can't get away with it either.
Sadly, in these plays men have been invariably portrayed as cartoons -- bopping, macho, mercurial, clueless, arrogant, or violent -- while through self-education women take a stand against victimization or suffer the results.
The Gason Kouraj, called together in 2009 by the LKM school principal Abner Sovè, admitted that the theater groups deeply influenced their decision to take action. They told us that because men are responsible for much of the issues, the women's groups depend on men in the audience to hear them. The Gason Kouraj think men will listen to other men easier than to women. They also feel if children aren't taught to act differently they will just do what their parents do, continuing the unthinking cycle.
As a group they are ready to intervene. They would approach any man prone to family abuse and get him to sit with them. They'd explain that they are men who have chosen not to do what he is doing and why. If he refuses them they would turn to the authorities.
They also want to counsel men to take fiscal and physical responsibility for the children they often leave behind. Admitting the government's laws are impossible to enforce, they feel community pressure can be more effective.
They are adamantly against child slavery, a problem in places where parents have children they can't support on their own, and feel that encouraging education is the way to keep children from this brutal fate.
Besides these moral issues the Gason Kouraj are interested in several physical projects. They want to organize men to fix the broken and dangerous roads; something the government ignores. They propose to build composting toilets for families that can eventually be used for gardening. And to start a program that will allow them to bring vulnerable people to the hospital and be their advocates.
We were touched and energized by the courage it takes for this group of men to push against the odds in order to make life better for everyone they know. It's a testimony to the circling-out effect of strong-voiced women, artists and teachers, who have stretched their creative capacities into the future.
A less happy story is Venez's prognosis. Venez Kasimir, one of the most talented of the silk artists, a great mother and long-time friend of ours is dying of what, in the US, would probably be a curable disease.
In spite of our efforts to get her medical help she seems, like many others in poverty, to fall through the cracks in an already overburdened and under-aided hospital system in Port au Prince.
She is weak and in pain, blinded in one eye, unable to to stand and unable to eat. The loss of her will not only affect the entire community but also dissolve the secure center of her family of 8 girls.
The other artists are painting her quota of scarves for her so she can have some money, but it is not enough without their father's help.
Sky Freyss Cole, Lisa Brown and others in Wellfleet have been heroically collecting small donations so we can keep her girls fed until we can figure out what else to do to help them.
It seems no matter how long or short the visit, we always arrive to some things very sad and some things very hopeful happening in Matenwa.
Thank you for continuing to follow our story,
With love and thanks,
Our intrepid board
And all the artists at the Sant Atizana, Matènwa
An Update and Heart-felt Thank You From Ellen LeBow and the Artists of Matènwa, Haiti
On June 19th Chad Williams and Michele Andolina, owner and head chef of the Juice Restaurant in Wellfleet, threw a highly successful dinner to benefit an old friend and her children.
Andolina, who has visited Matenwa, Haiti for several years as part of our artisan collaboration, felt close to many of the artists and their families.
He and Chad have held yearly benefit dinners for the project in Haiti in the past. This year their focus was on one of the artists, Venez Kasimir and her large family. Venez is fighting for her life in a hospital in Port-au-Prince while her 7 daughters back home are struggling to stay fed and cared for without parents at home.
We had hoped to raise enough to pay for Venez's crucial but expensive medications and to keep sending food money to her family for another month or two.
Once more Wellfleet and its neighbors rose to the occasion.
The restaurant was filled with generous good friends and supporters, Mike's food was sophisticated and delicious, the restaurant was decorated with photos of Venez and her children.
Including a matching grant of $800 from the Piersnik family,
Mike and Chad raised 3 times as much as we'd hoped, which will go to make sure Venez and her family are stable for a long time to come.
Many many thanks to Mike and Chad and their staff, to everyone who volunteered their time and energy, to all who responded to our invitation, and to Wellfleet and friends for their uncommon community strength, love, and spirit.
and the Board of RaRa/Wellfleet
An Update from Ellen LeBow
about the Artists of Matènwa,
Each time I pick up one of the lovely things the artists make in Matènwa I can't help but remember its long and complicated path from there to here.
Those materials they can't get for themselves we bring over, lugging through airport restrictions, 2 or three plane rides, boat rides and truck rides up bone-rattling terrain, then back through it all again with the finished work, never knowing which leg of the trip will break down.
I started writing this in the car. Seth and I had left a manic Port-au-Prince airport in time to arrive in Miami just as Irene closed airports up and down the coast.
Stranded, when American Airlines told us the next available seats were over a week away so we chose to rent a car and drive from Miami to Boston in 2 1/2 days, stopping only to stock up on fireworks in Georgia and score a grinning baby alligator head for the dashboard to keep our spirits up. On the ride we pondered the past 10 days we had spent in Matènwa; a too brief visit with several goals.
1 - to bring materials and bring back finished work for RaRa, the artists' retail store in Wellfleet.
2 - to introduce the artists to two visitors who might be able to bring them a significant grant.
3 - to visit Wana's safe house for 10 little girls whose families can't take care of them.
4 - to complete the last leg of our home repair project started after the earthquake.
5- to see our friends and hug and kiss our god children as much as they'd let us.
The artists were fired up to show us their new work, get the new materials and get the long anticipated pay they'd been waiting for.
Our visitors "got" the beauty of the scene and the women. As they interviewed the artists they formed an insightful picture of their lives and hopes.
Arielle Berrick (in the above photo) stayed behind with the center's building repair committee and is already organizing truckloads of sand and bags of cement to get up the mountain.
Wana's place for girls fared less well. They lost the little house she'd been renting for them to sleep in because she couldn't carry the rent ($25 a month). So she'd moved them all into her own home, half covered by tarps and shared beds against every wall, a few yards from the locked house.
When we visited them (15 girls including 5 of her own) in a rainstorm the water coursed down the rough gullies and all around her crowded home. Wana's mother was in the corrugated tin kitchen frying plantain for the ring of shy little girls standing out of the weather.
Before we left we paid the first 6 months of rent so they could get back into the sturdier building, and 6 months of food, and are looking for donors with vision to keep this gentle and necessary safe house supported with rent, food, tuition and art materials.
Without parental protection these children are particularly at risk to become enforced child servants, physically and sexually abused, and neglected.
In the car to Boston we agreed the artists just get better and better, that the focus and growth of the art center is more rooted than ever, and that we are both haunted by the grim and tragic failure of Port au Prince, a city that, even before the quake, can't rise from its own ashes.
As I've said before, when people ask me, "How's Haiti?" it is a heartfelt question but I might as well ask them, "How's America?"
In order for them to give me an undistorted answer they would have to go right back to the beginning history of our country, our influences both taken and given, our changing political climates, our droughts and floods and wars, our music, art, language, opportunities and fears.
"How's Haiti?" is an overwhelming question that can't in good faith be answered. But we do know how Kalin is, and Andremen and Venez and Josyan and Edens and Ernitte. We know their children, their mates, their friends.
We know they are making work they care about in a place of relative peace and community. We know they hope what they are making matters to people in another country they have never seen except in videos.
Please remember us when you are buying gifts this season. It is the best way to support us. Buying their work is crucial to the artist community's success and survival.
Love and gratitude,
I am back from Haiti after spending a month and a half in Matènwa working with RaRa's artists. We enjoyed developing some new designs and products for this summer as well as perfecting some of their signature images. At the same time Arielle Berrick was working with individual artists on our ambitious new goal, to repair and improve their living conditions.
Although all of the artists are able to enjoy a more secure economic life through sales of their work, they had asked us to help with their homes. Many of their families still live in overcrowded shacks with crumbling floors, badly leaking roofs and walls cracked open from earthquake and neglect. Others not yet able to build their own homes asked us to provide them with the means to begin.
We bandaged wounds and gave out Tylenol and cold medicine and were able to fund several trips to the hospital for friends and neighbors. (Arielle is still in Matènwa till the end of the month. We will give you a more detailed report on our home repair project when she returns.) We were also able to finish funding an enormous rain-collecting cistern so that a group of local farmers could keep their crops alive.
Whenever I return people always ask,"How is Haiti?" I always have two answers.
On the grand scale Haiti can be overwhelming. The landscape continues to dry up before our eyes, the presidential candidates- in whose hands the future of Haitians rest- go from absurd to more absurd, millions in and around the ruined city of Port au Prince will probably live in jammed tent ghettos for the rest of their lives, and cholera still haunts the nation.
In Matènwa, which is far from the city's strife, life is less stressful, less dangerous, and strengthened by an intimacy only a small and steadfast community can provide.
Although life there is still a daily struggle for food and water there is a strong sense that other things can and must be sustained, the same things that matter to us all: safety, creativity, principles, education, common ground.
For Arielle and I, living in Matènwa with people who are our friends, our family, our godchildren, our fellow artists and future-planners makes all the difference in the world. Together we make mistakes and break promises, get frustrated with each other and hit dead ends, but we also eat and walk and laugh and make decisions together and share in the details of each other's daily lives.
That is the difference between Haiti and Haiti. One is overwhelming, one is intimate. One seems hopeless, one seems all hope.
I want to deeply thank those of you who so generously donate to Matènwa's future. Everyone there knows we can't do it without you.
Another way you can directly support the artists is by remembering their work when you need to buy a gift.
This summer please come and visit RaRa's new bigger and better location at 55 Commercial Street, Wellfleet, right next to Wellfleet Pizza on our beautiful and historic salt marsh.
RaRa will be open by Memorial Day with new hand-painted silk scarves, embroidered, bead and sequined artwork, hand-sewn decorative pillows and placemats, original paintings, hand pulled prints and more. We always have pictures of the artists and their stories.
Through earthquake and aftershocks, the artists of Matènwa kept working.
Through hurricane floods and winds, disease and political turmoil,
the artists of Matènwa keep working.
Their work, they say, is their companionship, satisfaction, and meditation.
And they keep working thanks to your generosity, interest and faith in their progress.
This past April, the artists came to us with a request....
Their homes are in severe need of repair. Many are fissured with earthquake-rendered cracks; daylight breaks through walls like lightning bolts. Other families suffer from gaping holes in their roofs through which rain pours, structural pillars crumbling at their bases, clay walls that come off in their hands, or half-dug water-collecting basins overgrown with dry weeds. Extended families sleep on dirt floors covered with rags and skittering with rats.
They knew they would never be in line for the funding that came flooding into the cities, and asked if we could help them make their homes livable again. We thought, what better use for the rest of the donations we received with such unparalleled generosity after the quake.
This is where some of that funding has already gone:
1) In February, we sent immediate emergency money to each of the 48 artists. This, they told us later, allowed every family to feed not only themselves, but also the avalanche of relatives escaping devastation who landed on their doorsteps. (This gift so moved the artists that they sang a rousing Kreyol/American version of "Stand by Me" for us when we returned in April!)
2) The artists were able to buy materials and labor for a major food garden at the art center. Thanks to donated seeds from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, they were able to feed their families and sell the surplus.
3) We were able to fund the construction of a large water-collecting cistern requested by 36 neighboring farmers to water their crops.
4) We were able to pay rent for another year at RaRa, our store showcasing the artists' latest work.
5) We were able to keep the artists supplied with materials to work through the summer.
6) We gave emergency support to a partnering organization, C.H.A.P.O., serving communities close to the epicenter of the quake.
7) And we began our most important project yet; making the artists' homes livable again.
We decided to use a lottery system to choose whose homes would be repaired first. We would begin with three. If these reconstructions went well, we would choose three more, and three more -- until all the houses' needs were met.
In November, we met with everyone at the artist center to share our idea. The artists decided to modify the plan, asking that we divide the homes into three lottery categories; Red, Yellow and Green. Red homes were those in the most desperate need of repairs, then Yellow, then Green. When we worked though the Reds, they suggested, then we could start with the next category.
The next step was to assess every house with site visits, which meant climbing mountain slopes or walking miles on dusty paths. In most cases we were shocked and dismayed at the conditions families endure.
After Mike Andolina and I left, our colleague Arielle Berrick, long familiar with Matènwa, stayed on to help complete the first houses on the list. Along with the art center's committee, she analyzed and planned, projected costs, hired and paid workers, bought materials, and worked out inherent kinks in any undertaking of this magnitude.
Arielle is due back in the U.S. this week. She will be bringing before-and-after pictures of 10 secure, waterproof, upgraded homes, of the families who live in them, and the workmen and women employed by the project.
We still have about 38 buildings to go and will begin work again this winter.
We need your help to keep going; you make us Able.
A donation of $1000-$2000 repairs a house for a family of 6 - and employs hardworking people in the community who in turn support many others.
In addition, our Wellfleet store, RaRa, will be moving to a larger storefront on Commercial Street, formerly home to the Sandpiper Gallery. We hope and expect that our new home will lead to better sales and support for our artists, but our rent will increase somewhat. We're hoping to raise $8000 this year to offset those expenses.
And so our fundraising goal for the new year is $50,000.
That seems like a lot of money, but given how much great good help that money can create, it doesn't seem like all that much at all.
And given your generosity and support, I know it's a goal we can reach.
Soon we'll be sending you news about our Winter Benefit Merci Davans Dance party and photos of our spiffed-up Matènwa homes.
Thank you so much for your ongoing trust and support.
Ellen LeBow, Lisa Brown, Valerie Bell, Mike Andolina, Arielle Berrick and all of the Artists of Matènwa, Haiti.
News from Matenwa
Stay in touch with the Women Artists of Matènwa by visiting us on Facebook.
Our April Trip to Matènwa, Haiti - What We Did, What We Saw
Walking down the dust road in Matènwa this April we passed the guys who play dominoes every afternoon, rain or shine. A new caution kept them from crowding onto the concrete porch where they traditionally play. Now they pounded their dominoes down on a rocky rise beneath a blue tarp between two skinny trees. The wind was high and as we passed it lifted the tarp, snapping it with the sound of a sharp gunshot. The players flew from their chairs, one crashing down the slope with a terrified shriek. In an instant they were all laughing the embarrassed laugh of people whose trauma is still alive and well just below the surface of "life goes on".
As everyone knows Haiti was changed forever on January 12 by an earthquake heard 'round the world. Images of apocalyptic devastation burned into our collective memories and Haitians now mark time by before and after the "Trembleman De Tè a" - The Trembling of the Earth.
Our annual fundraiser on Cape Cod drew an epic crowd generous beyond description, letting people in Matènwa rest assured they were not forgotten. On an immediate level it enabled us to send every member of the arts center enough cash to live on when food was dangerously scarce and expensive.
In Matènwa it became our habit to ask people where they were when the earthquake hit. We heard story after story of interweaving terror, wonder, grief and love. One minute you're sitting on your porch shelling peas they'd say, or taking a bath, or coming home from school. The next you can't stand up from the lurching, your walls are splitting in front of your eyes; you don't know where your children are. Then the news comes from Port au Prince and you're sure everyone you know there is dead.
People showed us lean-tos where families slept outside. Wolan, Venez and their eight children, like so many others, made room for twenty-one friends and relatives fleeing the city, supporting them for weeks until supplies ran out. People had camped out in the Art Center's courtyard and under its open-air stage. The money enabled everyone to feed and house this rush of refugees as well as their own families and the deep gratitude expressed for that unexpected gift overwhelmed us. Kalin told, with poignant joy, how every night the neighbors came together to eat, sing, pray, share memories of the madness and the relief that they'd hadn't had to move to Port au Prince.
When we arrived in Matènwa we knew our time was short and our goals long. Lisa Brown came with two of her Nauset High School students and the plan to revive the music program she had been cultivating in the local school. As a Nauset biology teacher, Valerie Bell had prepared a lesson for teachers on how earthquakes happen. Mike Andolina and I, two Wellfleet artists, came with a new printmaking technique, new project ideas and suitcases of long awaited art materials. The hope was to return home with a body of work to sell at RaRa, the Matènwa artists' new Wellfleet storefront.
Everyone was waiting for us, restless to begin working, to move on, to reconnect. We helped the artists come up with images expressing their emotional reaction to the disaster and talked with the art center's committee about new projects the artists and their neighbors wanted to fund.
A local entrepreneur named Jet got help to re-construct her little roadside restaurant with better building materials and a group of farmers secured funds to dig a water collecting cistern in their fields.
We sat in as the committee decided what criteria to use to disseminate to local gardeners a whole suitcase of vegetable seeds donated by students at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. They made plans to fence in and prepare the art center's land for the artists' own food growing initiative.
The women's main concern this time was the condition of their houses. Almost everyone's home had suffered structural damage and their biggest request was to help them reconstruct before another earthquake hit.
Fear of another disaster runs in people's blood. Artists spoke of sleeping with doors unlocked for a quick getaway. There were rumors of floods that could sink the whole island and a new morbid curiosity about asteroids and volcanoes. Little understanding of what an earthquake was fed a dread of the unknown and of a God that could do such a thing again. A few local evangelical pastors were using this lack of knowledge to foster the idea that people's own sinful ways were the cause.
One of the most powerful moments was watching Valerie Bell demonstrate how earthquakes happen in nature. She had brought two things: a model of the earth split in half to reveal its thin top crust, vast molten core and magnetic stone heart, and a map showing the fault lines that snake over the whole world, cut into puzzle pieces. With these she acted out how the mammoth plates continue to move beneath us, pressing up mountain ranges and making room for oceans. As teachers and neighbors watched they understood that a vengeful God did not single out Haiti. They saw that earthquakes are part of the natural order happening all the time, and how the Caribbean happens to ride a long fault line. They grasped that after movement comes relief of pressure and life does go on.
We continue to come to the village of Matènwa in order to participate in life going on. After the earthquake is the same as before the earthquake: like us, Haitians need secure jobs and continuing education if they are to thrive.
We work to relieve the artists' most ongoing concerns: "Will we continue? Can we count on our teachers to keep teaching and our work to support us, no matter what?"
Thank you for your heartfelt interest that keeps us going.
With love and respect,
Ellen LeBow, Lisa Brown, Val Bell, Mike Andolina
NOTE: This letter will be published in the summer issue of Cape Women Online as part of its ongoing Haiti Awareness page.
I've had the sudden opportunity to go to Port au Prince with Seth Rolbein and a small group from Boston University two days after our terrifically successful fundraiser.
Here we have been able to move through the astonishing, permanently life changing devastation and witness first hand some of the plans the government is scrambling to implement at a time when speed, human awareness and thinking outside the box is crucial to Haiti's regeneration.
I had the opportunity to give President Préval and is wife Elizabeth one of our scarves from the Artists of Matènwa (which she loved and immediately put on!) as a reminder that Haiti is large.
Right now all of the focus is on Port au Prince and its surrounds which redoubles my conviction that our own focus must be Lagonav which I already see can easily remain left out of the aid loop.
More about what we've witnessed here and the results of our own fundraiser when I get back next week.
EARTHQUAKE IN HAITI: Matènwa needs us now more than ever!
Thank you for your concern. We are shattered by the disaster and the future chronic hardships this is bound to create, just when Haiti was feeling the first tastes of a possible comeback.
We still do not know who we have lost in Port au Prince or what yet happened in Matènwa, but because Lagonav is so dependent on supplies coming from the city we anticipate - if nothing else - a severe lack of food and supplies for a long time to come. There are villages like ours all over Haiti whose losses will not benefit from the aid that necessarily concentrates on the city.
We are committed more than ever to any local relief we can offer our Matenwa community AND to keeping our programs there intact so people can continue their education and means to make a living--- they cannot lose that too.
By donating through us you can be sure that the money will be going to where it is most needed. While our focus is on Matènwa, we will be dedicating a portion of all donations specifically to earthquake relief and rehabilitation.Thank you for helping us to rebuild the lives of our friends on Lagonav and ensure Matènwa's future survival.
Remarks by Ellen LeBow on the Night of the
8th Annual Merci D’Avance Dance Fundraiser for Matènwa, Haiti
We are overwhelmed by the sheer generosity of spirit that brought so many of you out to be part of this most crucial of fundraisers. It had been planned as a joyful event, a thank you, a newsletter of sorts, celebrating a dozen years of progressive growth and creative opportunity in the small, feisty village of Matènwa.
One of our longstanding goals has been to generate enough educational, environmental and economic security to keep people from migrating to the hellish dead end of a Port au Prince slum. There are many small groups all over Haiti with that same goal in mind. We on Cape Cod know better than most that strong community feeds and sustains life.
But nothing happens in a vacuum.
President Bill Clinton, now the new special envoy to Haiti, had drawn together investors, politicians, and philanthropists from all over with the idea of turning Haiti around. They were poised to finally give the Haitian people the un-exploitive hand they deserve after centuries of use and neglect.
The irony of tonight is, had the world all along recognized Haiti’s worth, had poured peace money into Haiti’s infrastructure, Cité Soleil, Cité Karton and the crowded slums that rise up the hillsides above Port au Prince would not have existed and would not have buried tens of thousands under its physical, and spiritual, rubble.
We still do not know whom we have lost in Port au Prince, or the extent of what happened in Matènwa. Homes have cracked and fallen; they are still feeling aftershocks. Everyone there has people dear to them who have perished in the city.
But there is something else: because the island of Lagonav is completely dependent on supplies they can’t make themselves coming out of Port au Prince we anticipate severe repercussions for a long time to come.
From Matènwa we hear: “The biggest issue will be one of finding food and other resources. People here are already hungry. It is very difficult to find cooking oil and other necessities as the merchants who travel back and forth have stopped. The already poor infrastructure leading to the island was shattered, and people are afraid to leave. It is unclear when or how it will be resolved.”
Chris Low, the local school’s director writes: “The world will be contributing to the major rescue organizations and as usual the people here in the bay, on Lagonav, will be forgotten and suffering without the media to send out their call. Our staff on the ground will get your donation to the neediest people here to rebuild and keep them from starvation in the coming weeks and months.”
Most of Haiti is made up of villages like ours whose losses will not benefit from the aid that concentrates on the epicenter alone. We can’t imagine now what it will take to make an immediate dent in this human disaster. But as you see here tonight we have always been and will continue to be in it for the long haul.
We are committed more than ever to any local relief we can offer our Matènwa community AND ALSO to keeping our programs there intact so people can continue their education and means to make a living--- after all this, they CANNOT lose that too. For almost a decade the sole focus of this event has been to create another year of educational and economic security for Matènwa.
All around you see the results of our collaboration in our photos and in the beautiful artisan work for sale made by the mothers of Matènwa.
We bring High School students for a life-changing experience, encourage social change through teacher training, grassroots theater, local entrepreneurship, and support the efforts of local food growing farmers. If we abandon that, we undermine the healthiest part of Matènwa’s will to live. We can’t allow an earthquake to shake the foundation of what keeps a community vital.
There is disaster and there is rebuilding. There is life after earthquake.
Relief means not just saving life but keeping life going.
In the days to come you won’t hear about a place like Matènwa. In the months to come people are going to forget about Haiti, they’ll get sick of hearing the word on the news, or a new disaster will come along in a new place.
Our forgetting doesn’t diminish the need or the suffering. On the other hand I have seen for myself it doesn’t diminish the Haitian people’s capacity to rise from their own ashes.
They have done so for 300 years with no help at all. Try to imagine what they can do WITH real ---sustaining ---global help.
The donations you so freely make tonight makes the connection between the ongoing health of Matènwa and the ongoing health of Haiti itself.
This community IS the hope. If villages like this one, which make up most of Haiti, can stay strong even through this, then the people who survive the next disaster will be those who were able to stay put, root deep into their rural community and hold on.
- Ellen LeBow
RaRa: A rousing, month-long, Vodou celebration honoring the gods of life's deepest forces. RaRa is unique to Haiti, with its own fiery music, rhythms and dance.
This summer the artists of Matenwa opened their first storefront, "RaRa" in Wellfleet, Cape Cod Massachusetts showcasing their extraordinary silk, sequin, silkscreened and embroidered artwork.
RaRa is located at 6 Commercial Street next to "The Juice" one of Wellfleet's most popular restaurants. The head chef at "The Juice," Mike Andolina, is an artist who teaches printmaking at the Arts Center in Matenwa.
RaRa is tiny but packed with glittering life!
Come visit, eat great food, learn more about the project and buy gifts for everyone you know. Your support ensures the artists' -- and their families-- future.
Come visit us next summer!
On Wednesday, June 10th we celebrated the new season of The Juice restaurant and the opening of RaRa, the Women Artists of Matenwa's first storefront, located right next to The Juice.
Our trip to Haiti seemed too brief, yet a lot got condensed into that time.
We hadn't been in Matenwa for two hours before a rowdy, traveling RaRa procession descended on our house, demanding cash for blessings. It was RaRa season, what I consider the seminal heart of the Haitian countryside, when Vodou traditionalists gather into animated rival processions in honor of the gods of sex and death. With thrusting music and percussion, songs, rum, costumes and lascivious dance steps, RaRa is one of many places where Ancestral Africa meets Haitian descendants. The loud, glittering crowd glides through hills and valleys by sun and moonlight, pooling in yards and crossroads for a performance and handout before moving on.
A few days later we discovered a baby hawk ("GriGri" in Creole) "acquired" by some schoolboys and left dangling by a cord in a tree. With rescue in mind, we bought it for a few cents and took it home, hoping Val Bell, our arriving biology teacher, would know what to do with it.
The GriGri, with enormous, gold-rimmed eyes and elegant markings, became our tame mascot and beloved obsession. We paid the same boys who once tormented her to bring lizards and cockroaches that she swallowed with the ease of an Anaconda. How often, we marveled, does one get a chance to pet a hawk? Day after day she would sit on our hands, shoulders, heads, content to watch it all. Then, one morning right before we were to return to the States, while our backs were turned, she disappeared.
Meanwhile our goals were pressing. Mike Andolina and I were teaching three students the art of silk screening. Our hope was that, as they learn the process, they will seek out printing jobs from schools and other local organizations as well as make work we can sell here. Our first project was printing a logo on 60 t-shirts, one for each artist at the Sant Atizana.
Down the road at the Matenwa Community Learning Center, Lisa and Val were organizing teacher trainings, Lisa concentrating on how the learning mind works, Val evaluating their knowledge of basic science.
The Nauset High School students grappled with the language, hanging with their host families, taking part in cultural eye-openers like pounding coffee and lugging water, helping out at the school's new computer room.
As usual, we attended many meetings assessing the artists' new work and grappling with the fact that the worth of Haitian money is falling as the cost of food rises.
A local activist, Wol Kalixte, asked us to help 37 neighbors build a cistern so they could keep their community food garden alive. We looked out over the hills, desert-dry though it was "rainy season," and tried to figure out how to help.
Jet, a hard working entrepreneur, asked us to help her restart her little outdoor roadside restaurant to which we used to make pilgrimages, sitting within woven palm frond walls to eat rice and stewed goat from mismatched bowls. This year Jet had been robbed of everything - money, food, pots and pans, even chairs and table - but was ready to resurrect her business with more security in place if we could lend support.
Each visit includes magical moments outside of economic worry:
• The sight of our little goddaughters in a wedding procession, dressed like mini-virgin brides in white tulle trains and seed pearls.
• The dancing King of RaRa swirling with satin scarves and sweat.
• Teaching the artists to sing a rousing group version of "Stand By Me" in Creole and English.
We came home with many plans. The well-being of the artists' families depends more than ever on increased sales of their work. Our hope is to find an affordable storefront in Wellfleet to sell to the summer crowd.
Our ideas for this year's fundraising dance bash are underway, as well as a progress report/video presentation at the Wellfleet Public Library this September. Mike, head chef at Wellfleet's popular restaurant "The Juice," is planning to open with a Haiti Night dinner event to help raise money for, among other things, Jet's new restaurant.
We'll get back to you soon with dates, and thank you for standing by us.
With love and respect,
Ellen LeBow, Lisa Brown, Valerie Bell, and Mike Andolina
WE ARE waiting to hear from four young students who have taken themselves to Matenwa.
Now freshmen in college, Peter and Maria first went to Matenwa last year when they were Lisa’s students at Nauset High School. Arielle, also one of Lisa’s former students, will make this her third visit, Mike his fourth.
Their past experience in Matenwa was so personal and transforming that they vowed to return on their own if necessary, confident in their ability to do it without Lisa or me.
With a mix of longing (to accompany them) and pride in their desire and independence, we are waiting for their stories of reunion and what the community is up to in our absence.
Because of some family “issues” in both of our lives that absorbed some of our winter focus Lisa and I made the decision to move our traditional February stay in Matenwa to April. This will leave us more time to “prep” the two new Nauset students coming with us and make clearer plans for new projects at the school and art center.
We also decided for the first time to move our crucial fundraiser bash, the famous “Merci D”Avance Dance” (“Thanks in Advance Dance”) to the spring. This way we will be back fresh with new stories about the progress of music and art in the community as well as all the new work from the artists.
Nonetheless, be on the lookout for our 2008 progress report arriving soon.
When the economy seizes up all over the world Haiti gets hit with a 7 on the seismic charts.
But the small, focused, good things that are happening in Haiti, things that depend on steady community drive, patience, imagination and good will as much as they do on money, do not crumble in the quake.
Many people have been asking us about our place in Haiti since the devastation caused by the hurricanes. Until today we were unable to get any news. Because Matenwa is in the mountains we thought there probably was not much flooding, but we have been in too many homes of families whose roofs, even during regular rainstorms, pour unrelenting water to the point where you feel there is no escape between inside and out.
Today we just heard that 39 homes in our tiny village were destroyed, not because their roofs were torn off, but the battering winds and rain caved in their flimsy walls. The local school has mounted an emergency plea asking people for funding to help rebuild the homes of families who have no means to do so on their own.
Never ones to tempt fate with certainty, Haitians won't say anything definitive about the future without the addition of "si Dye vle"-- If God wants. On Sept. 18th Seth Rolbein and I will go to Haiti for a short 5 days -- si Dye vle -- to meet with some of the Matenwa artists in Port au Prince. The plan -- made pre-hurricane -- is to bring much needed materials donated by the new and innovative Mangrove Fund and artist Patti Bradley, so the artists can continue their work.
Our goal also is to meet with a Haitian-American, Jean Magloire, who has promised to help us move raw materials and finished artwork between Haiti and the US on a more regular basis so that the economic advancement the artists have achieved can stop being so dependent on our visits. As some of you know, Lisa Brown's annual trip to Matenwa with Nauset High School students and teachers was forced to cancel last April when protesters, frustrated with impossibly high food prices, staged angry demonstrations in the country's major city of Port au Prince. (See "When the Hand to Mouth is Empty" in the September issue of the Cape Cod Voice). The group was to bring us all of the materials the artists in the Sant Atizana needed to keep working through the spring and summer.
We look forward to the brief rendezvous with our friends, but the strife brought on by three consecutive hurricanes (and the inability of the government to help those whose homes and communities have been wrenched away from them in a matter of hours) will add a grim sorrow to our visit and urgency to our intention. We need to help -- immediately by rebuilding and, in the long run, by keeping their means to making a living intact.
Wish we had better news. I will write with more positive stories ---si Dye vle--- when we return. Thanks as always for your interest and support for the community of Matenwa, its musicians, and its artists.
Ellen LeBow and Lisa Brown
April 17, 2008
Greetings from Haiti!
Although where I am in the mountains things are quiet as everyday life continues, I know the news is full of violence in the Haitian streets. As you may know by now, it was not violence for the sake of chaos, but a desperate and frustrated reaction to a worldwide suspicion that the poor are being screwed out of food. It is something most of us can't conceive of. Imagine feeling the necessity to storm the White House because a dozen eggs suddenly costs $85 at Star Market. Not a good example, as we have a lot more food alternatives than Haitians do.
Today a group of neighbors asked to use the Art Center to call a meeting of several local groups - from the carpenters to the farmers to the artists - to discuss the possibility of opening their own store. The thought was, if each group put in a little money each week they would try to eliminate some middlemen and make rice and other staples more affordable to themselves and the surrounding villages.
It's a complicated thing to try to do here, and the forces that made this happen are so much bigger than they are. But it was heartening to see a small group of people trying to be creative and constructive about their very real dilemma.
Thanks for your support!
April 25, 2008
Greetings from Haiti!
I thought we were here for the rainy season but, as the I CHING says, "dense clouds, no rain."
Mikey is learning to cook Haitian style. Franselya, one of the scarf artists, has been giving him lessons. She's tied up a beautiful rooster next to our charcoal stove, a regal boy doomed to the knife tomorrow for a few shreds of his meat in the "Mayi Moulin." Friday she is going to show us how to cook goat's balls, but she said we have to get to the Friday market early because they sell out even as they are slaughtering. "Memorable with hot sauce", she says.
We're not eating a lot - not by American standards - and a lot of people in the village are sick. Certainly rice is not around much. Mostly we are eating a rough-cut yellow corn "polenta' called Mayi Moulin with a dose of a thin black bean sauce and some cooked down vegetables for our one main meal with Wolan's family. Otherwise it's a few spoonfuls of Franselya's scotch bonnet spiked peanut butter and many cups of coffee that has been grilled over the fire with burnt sugar. It's mostly our fault. Not domestic enough.
Not much food in the market though, some roots, cabbage, and bread. The rest is cheap Chinese plastic buckets and used clothes.
We went down to look at Wolan's job at the water source. It has always been a spring flowing from single broken piece of PVC pipe thrust into a rock wall - sometimes only a trickle - which three towns compete to stick their buckets under. But with a big influx of outside money - some of it yours - and some serious planning, an enormous cement cistern is being built by Wolan and about 10 of his masons crew (first they had to build a road to the water to get cement in, which is all still mixed by hand). It will change things for everyone when done, with separate areas to water animals, wash clothes and collect drinkable water that hopefully will not run out.
The Wellfleet Library allowed me to take some DVD's to watch on my laptop. The neighbors gather around at night. We watched "Cast Away" with Tom Hanks because most of it has no words-blew them away-and 'Jean de Florette" because it was in French which they hardly understand, but it was of particular interest to them because it's about a very hard working French farmer whose crops and dreams are destroyed for lack of water and the loss of a single spring source.
The animals here are not as exotic as South Africa's, but have their own excitement. The other night Mikey (they call him "Nike") woke up to a tarantula taking a nap on his arm and I found one in the towel I was seconds away from wrapping around my body ( 3 rules of world class travelers: piss when you see a bathroom, drink when you see water -- or a bar, shake out towels before using).
Mike also woke one night to a rat at the table eating a mango. Last night there were two rats. He decided not to tell Arielle, who still hasn't forgotten the hefty cockroach traversing her face a few nights ago as she slept. But they don't hurt anybody.