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Ending (of the Beginning)

As my two and a half weeks in Haiti has come to an end, I've been able to understand more of the problems and situation of this country. Talking with people both of Haitian origin, individuals from the UN and other organizations, I have started to understand just how far deep the plight of this country goes. Improving this country is not going to be easy. There are superficial improvements and superficial aide to help the smaller immediate problems. However, the key for true change runs so much deeper than that. There is an immense lack of money to provide things that are needed - better roads, infrastructure, clean water, proper trash disposal, etc. It's difficult for Haiti to receive money because investors and businesses don't feel bringing their business to Haiti is a sound investment - due to lack of road infrastructure, businesses can't be sure their products will reach the necessary destination. Because of lack of electricity, they can't be sure that their products won't spoil. It's such a catch 22. Haiti needs money to provide education and create sound infrastructure. But they need sound infrastructure to build confidence and gain monetary support from outside countries and businesses.

It wasn't always like this. Back in the 60's Haiti used to be known as the pearl of the Caribbean - a beautiful, exotic and magical destination for honeymooners, nomads and vacationers. But government corruption and constant thirst for power killed that utopia, and since then things have been heading towards a downward spiral.

Alland was also explaining just how much things have worsened since the earthquake for everyone. Before the earthquake, Jacmel used to be known as 'the city of lights.' Since the earthquake oil has become incredibly expensive and people (who can afford it) must pay the government enormous sums of money per month to keep their homes lit. Even still, the government must regulate electricity because of the cost. Therefore, every day in Jacmel, electricity runs for only about 11 of the 24 hours a day. This makes things very difficult for the Haitian population - food constantly spoiling, inability to do important everyday business affairs, etc. It's even worse in other parts of Haiti. The individual I was sitting next to on the plane was saying how Jacmel is lucky to have 11 hours of electricity per day. His family lives in the epicenter of the earthquake and he said since January 2010 he's lucky if they have electricity even four days out of a month. It's astounding to me. So many things we take for granted are a luxury for this country. It's very sad to me, and maybe I have done a little bit to help in someway, but we are barely scratching the surface.

What is amazing to me is how the people of this country are so resilient and still continue to smile and experience life with such joy. They have been through so much, but somehow they hold on to faith so strongly and have hope for a better Haiti.

Yesterday, my student Linia invited me to a service at her church. She wanted me to hear them sing, and offer any advice or suggestions. Haitians have such an incredibly strong sense of faith, and channel this faith through song. I've never been to a church service before, and this service moved me in a way I can't explain. 60-80 young and old people standing up, rejoicing, praising and singing boldly to their God while Linia was belting over them in beautiful gospel song. It was so big and epic, it just moved me to tears. People from the outside were huddled around the open windows, quietly listening and praying. I could feel the hairs on my arm standing up, and my eyes filling with pools of water - in that moment, I had this overwhelming feeling that Linia and her church were giving their community a true hope for a better Haiti, like they were giving their country something to believe in. Even as I write about it now, I am welling up! I am ever so grateful to Linia and her church for inviting me into their faith and allowing me the opportunity to experience such a beautiful celebration of life and faith.

As I sum things up, I will say that this trip hasn't been without its challenges- stolen passport and money and IDs, extreme heat with lack of electricity, the language barrier, etc, but all of that is small in comparison to what this community deals with on a daily basis. All along the way however, they smile, and keep living. Their passion for music, for dance, love of food, extreme generosity and hospitality is inspiring and infectious. Alland, Ailene, and the music school crew took us dancing last night, and I was overtaken by what I experienced - just how much the Haitians embody a profound zest for life despite hard times. I have never sweat so hard on a dance floor before! Afterward, a long night ride under the Haitian sky on motorcycle, the breeze in our faces as we zipped down along the coast, and I just want to keep that memory tucked away forever and ever.

Haitians are so proud of their culture, and I can see why. Even though we have more than them in many ways from a materialistic, there is much we can learn from them. They live with such a positive attitude always. Whenever I ask how someone is, they always reply in this sweet singsong of a voice in creole 'All is well.' And then flash a big smile. This trip allowed me to see all of the extremes in Haiti- the dire poverty, the situation of the majority of the Haitian population, dirty and heavily polluted areas, and absolute serene and stunningly picturesque areas. Although this country may not be all beautiful in the quintessential meaning of the world, to me the people and the culture make it truly vibrant and breathtaking. The people here do what they can to help - Fritz, Alland, Aline, Fabrice, Mignon and others, providing hope and inspiration for the Haitian community through music. This country needs music, they need it to keep hope and instigate change. I'm so happy I could play a little part in that mission, and I hope this is the beginning of long and lasting relationship with an amazing country of people.

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Friendship Jazz

Today was another really long day, and my mood experienced many swings throughout the day, but ending on a very high note. I taught 6 lessons today, 1 hour in the morning, and 5 hours in the afternoon, back to back. Only one of the students in the afternoon spoke English (the amazingly talented miss Linia), so it was incredibly taxing- much like my first day of lessons on Saturday. By my fifth lesson of trying to work with broken English, French, Spanish, hand gestures, and seeking out my colleagues to do some basic translating, I couldn't see straight. I wanted to collapse. I wanted to cry. Teaching under heat and with a language barrier is absolutely exhausting! Poor Paul Auguste, my last lesson of the day, he got the short end of the stick - No Energy Neha!

I did have some wonderful lessons throughout the day though. Before I got exhausted, I realized that I am getting used to figuring out ways to communicate with the students that cannot speak English. It is definitely getting a little easier, and I also picking up some small French words important for teaching singing like high, low, loud, soft, head voice, etc. I know, really exciting words to learn in such a beautiful language, but they are necessary!

At some point during the day JD wanted to get some footage of us all playing together for his documentary. So we sight- read through the Cole Porter score of Body and Soul. It was really fun to sing behind a trio of beautiful string players! We definitely needed some rehearsal, but JD and his kids were so encouraging and it was really awesome to have them film us and be a part of their mission over this past year in some small way.

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We don't usually have dinner at Mila's, but we were told that it was going to be good tonight. However, it was quite quite different from what we expected- just a sweet porridge with bread. We weren't even able to stomach two bites and just had to bolt out of there. Even Heidi, the Haitian native, couldn't stomach the dinner, so we didn't feel too bad. Here's the lady who sells bananas every day right outside Mila's home.

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Side note, we are already running out of clean clothes and between the deet, sweat, sunblock, etc etc, a 'load' of laundry needs to be done ASAP. Here's our version of 'throwing in a load.'

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After one failed dinner (at Mila's) and one great dinner (at chandelier's) we headed to the school to watch the band 'Friendship Jazz' rehearse. One of the members of Friendship jazz, a chubby older man with the most mischievous yet warmest smile, had invited me earlier that day to come sing with them and listen.

When I arrived, the group immediately made me feel at ease. They were just the friendliest people ever, and something about their smiles immediately make me feel like they are old friends. They ask me to sit out for a bit while they work on some instrumental pieces. They played 'I Can't Get Started With You,' 'Besame Mucho,' (and when they played this song, you knew what they were saying even though they weren't saying it), some salsa tunes, and a few other tunes. I was blown away by the potential and the talent. Haitians just have music and dance in their blood. I will probably never be able to swing as hard as they do. I was in awe of their humility, and I just wished so much they could even have a fraction of the opportunities we do- with even a little bit of guidance and proper instruction, they would really just kill it so hard.

Here are three of the woodwind/ horn players (the two on either end are brothers)

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They have so much sass when they play, maybe they don't have as much educational knowledge about jazz, but I feel like they bring something to the music that just can't be taught. I hope that I can figure out a way to build a partnership between NEC and this school in Jacmel, as so many people could benefit and flourish from a bit of teaching from our peers and colleagues in Boston. Its been such a tremendous experience, and also an inspiring exchange between both of our cultures. I feel like this trip has been so expansive for me in so many ways already!

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They asked if I would sing with them- so incredibly welcoming and nonjudgmental- just ever so happy to make music! So I sang Misty and Autumn Leaves. They invited me to perform with them in a concert on Thursday too, which I am really looking forward to. This is why they said the named their group 'Friendship Jazz'- because it's an open community where friends of music can come and share and play together.

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Here's the whole group:

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And the band leader:

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Here's the most absurdly killing sax player, there is something about the way he plays and phrases - you just can't stop listening to him! He's also the man who invited me to come sing (but I forget his name!) I want to put him in my pocket and take him back to America, but he wouldn't fit.

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As I was leaving the school, I happened to see the group of old men from the other day, sitting outside in the twilight Haitian sky, enjoying a game of cards. It is tough here in Haiti sometimes, but Haitians love their country and have a tremendous sense of pride for their heritage. I hope to have some of Haiti permanently rub off on me when I go back - Haitian people really really know how to make the most put of everything, and they truly seem to have a zest for life that is inspiring and fulfilling.

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