The blogpost yesterday was written in a fog of tropical heat, a long days tiredness and weak internet. I woke up with a very clear mind this morning with the conversation from the dinner party still working on me.
It was an inspirational evening, of course with some more formal moments of being introduced to the government representatives and receiving gifts from the ministry of tourism, basically a full carnival outfit that would make us a hit of the evening if introduced to the streets of Port-au-Prince.
But it was much more than the formal moments. We had a conversation about a small national YMCA and its potential role in the international family. We talked about the distance between the levels of YMCAs and how much it means to meet face to face. We cannot change the world via e-mails!
The annual meetings of National General Secretaries have changed the feeling of ownership to the international YMCA identity for many smaller YMCAs, hopefully also for the bigger ones! We need to make the choir of the YMCA sound deeper and wider and better, by adding all the voices from all different corners of the world, so that the story of the YMCA can be told with more authenticity and local colors.
The communication staff was there and made it very clear that Haiti YMCA has a big need for more publicity and public recognition. The need to attach oneself to a wider brand process of YMCA was expressed.
We talked about the potential results of the One Million Voices Research, in which Haiti is very actively participating, and the World Challenge. With the reference to football this will be a good opportunity for Haiti.
There was a question about our relationship with YWCA and all the feminist issues. We discussed the Change Agents and the experiences from Estes Park. All the YMCAs we have visited so far have expressed a real interest to participate in the Change Agent programme.
This is the room in Oloffsons Hotel where Graham Greene wrote “The Dictator” about Papa Duc Duvalier.
Gwenael shares how difficult it can be to explain why they are investing in a new community centre when the finances are weak. But we agree that investment in the future often is a better way than saving for the past to feel safe. The concept of “Container YMCAs” is praised, and we all see potential to spread this idea to other parts of the world, as a genuine gift to the international YMCA from Haiti.
The historical bar in Olofssons Hotel
After breakfast we are picked up and continue the conversation from yesterday as we are exploring the activities outside the national Office, where the YMCA children Carnival is being prepared with flowers and music and dancing children. We explore the city centre and see rubble and destroyed buildings everywhere.
They have cleaned up a lot of the rubble from the earthquake, but there is still enough left for more work. In-between the rubble and ruins an active market place is developing where you can buy avocados and water melons and oranges and bananas of a freshness and quality unknown to a Geneva experience.
Daily life is developing amongst rubble and ruins, and people get used to the ruins and destructions. But for a newcomer it is again and again a shock, and it reminds me somehow of my visit to Christchurch after the earthquake there.
Oloffsons Hotel in Haiti must be one of the famous hotels of the world, and a lunch there is in itself an experience. We walk around the old wooden building and enjoy the ambience of the 20s and 30s. The hotel was originally a mansion owned by the Sam family, the President of Haiti. In 1915 the Americans made an invasion in Haiti and the mansion became a hospital. In 1935 after the withdrawal of the Americans the Sam family rented the building to Mr Oloffson of Sweden, who made it into a hotel, and it has carried his name since then.
The owner today is a famous musician, Richard Morse, traditional Haiti Roots music. By chance Mr Morse was there at the time, and I had a brief conversation with him where he told me the history of the hotel. The doors had the names of famous people who had lived in the rooms, and those included anybody from Elisabeth Taylor to Bill Clinton.
The reception in Olofssons Hotel
I am fascinated by hotels like this, hotels with great stories attached to them and full of secrets and memories from a time lost.
All trucks and taxis and busses in Port-au-Prince has Religious slogans painted on them, and so has the Oloffson truck. Religion is intertwined here with elements from Africa and the Roman Catholic faith, and Voodoo becomes the result. The market we visited today was full of voodoo dolls and paintings and sculptures of quite frightening quality!
The view from the impressive veranda in Hotel Oloffson is impressive, the Atlantic Ocean is stretching all the way back to Scandinavia.
I believe Bill and Hillary were sitting here from time to time discussing life in general and maybe from time to time a few political issues as well? Clintons had their honeymoon in Haiti and have kept a fascination and affection for the country and visits regularly.
John Barrymore was singing here. If that had any positive or negative impact on Leon Gordon, the story does not tell. I do not know if they shared this room, but if so I guess the singing may have been a problem, long term.
Above you see Richard Morse, the musician and the owner of the hotel.
The sun is setting over Port-au Prince and this lady is carrying her left overs from the market home and waves goodbye to visiting tourists and other loose elements in the streets of Port-au-Prince. We are preparing for the evening party at the home of Gwenael and his wife together with Board Members and staff. We have been promised delicious things from the Creole kitchen and we are looking forward to it, walking slowly under the shining stars in the tropical night.