From Haiti, Day One

November 30, 2011 in Bamboo Flooring

The following post is from Dan Smith, the President and CEO of Smith & Fong Co., the makers of Plyboo.

11/28/11

Photo taken by Sue Rooks. Please click to view her Flickr Photo Stream.

Haiti gets a bad rap. I have to say that. With as much hardship as Haiti now experiences, it is a greatly hopeful country with some of the world’s most inspiring minds within Haiti and around the world imagining the possibilities for positive change. I have been cohort to Haiti by Alice an inspired, big-hearted creative from Parsons design school in New York. “Haiti needs bamboo, you need to come, she says.” And so I am…. happily here. The “Invest in Haiti Forum hosted jointly by the Inter-American Development Bank, the Clinton Foundation and the Haitian Government is running and I am here to listen and learn.

I arrive in Port au Prince from Miami at 1pm in the afternoon. It is hot and the airport is casual. Flying in over the Haitian landscape I was curious to see the terrain. I had read that Haiti has lost most of its native forests. I see a mountainous landscape only sparely covered in green and imagine a time when lush tropical forests might have covered the hills and ravines that I now see. And then, what it would take to return it to a verdant landscape.

We are met by a Haitian five-piece band and after claiming my luggage and being processed, we are bussed to our lodging. The drive from the airport to our hotel on the hill, the El Rancho, tells the story of today’s Haiti. The roads are wrecked and at time uncertain. Trucks, buses, cars and foot traffic compete to get to their destinations. Large and small groups of people line the streets sharing space with makeshift stands, selling food, cloths and essentials. Buildings in various states of collapse, construction or reconstruction compete with tent villages labeled by the organizations that provided them.

When we finally arrive at the hotel it is more of the same. The hotel was badly damaged during the earthquake some years back and is still only half back to its former glory. The swimming pool is broken and contains only a small amount of rain fall, a sign of the ongoing draught. It is clean though and the staff pleasant. A heliport graces the lot just above us over the wall. The streets are narrow and stonewalls are very much part of the landscape. From poolside the ram-shackled sprawl that is port au prince stretches to the left and right below with more mountains in the far distance.

I am anxious to make contact with Alice and Maryline who are my unofficial hosts here in Haiti. Maryline is Haitian, bubbly, fun and dedicated to everything that Haiti can be. We drive to the karibe where the forum will be held the following day. I meet Alice face to face for the first time. We all fall into conversation on what is going on, what can be done, what needs to be done, who is doing it, who needs to meet and connect with who. Wonderful people join us in conversation. Everyone is involved in something, so many are interconnected and everyone absolutely everyone is infected with infinite possibility.

Throughout this magical evening I meet and shake hands with Bill Clinton, have a warm exchange with Donna Karen and hear Michel Martelly the President of Haiti
talk about the Haiti to come. I finish my evening in the company of my hosts, a mangrove restorationist, a PhD. in aquaculture, goat stew and the stars that blanket the night skies in this Caribbean country unlike any other.

Tomorrow is the first day of the forum.