Expo Haïti-Cherie – The beautiful side never makes it in the news

narrator -noun:
the narrator of “The Arabian Nights”: storyteller, teller of tales, relater, chronicler, raconteur, anecdotalist. ANTONYMS listener, audience.

the film’s narrator: voice-over, commentator, speaker

From October 2011 to the end of following January, a gorgeous little 1890s house in downtown Bucharest hosted an event about the beautiful side of Haiti.

The beatiful house at 24, Batistei str.

I had just come back from a trip that had filled my heart with a hundred thousand smiles – and found everybody asking about the poverty and the horrors I must have experienced in Haiti.

There was so much to be said and shown. The gap between what we think about Haiti and what I saw is enormous – it reminded me of the many things Western Europeans assume about Romania under the communist regime.

I do not think one can ever claim to be objective. So I decided the exhibition was going to tell my narrative: I’d fill the ancient house with pictures that would not confirm your usual stereotypes and invite people to come over and hear the story of «Haiti Chérie» – the beautiful side of Haiti.

I’d be their guide through the 6 rooms filled with more than 180 photographs and artefacts I had brought along with me.

There would be music and rum-tasting and creole food and I’d tell them my story to it all.

I lived in the house the exhibition took place for those four months. People would come and walk through the rooms, try Haitian rum, ask lots of questions and buy copies of pictures they loved.

At first, one entered the «Roadtrip» room. Because Haitians are on the road every day for several hours, on their feet, in tap-taps (private 14-people cabs), on motorbikes, on trucks.

The next room was «Dwellings and people»: a map of Port-au-Prince on the table and many books from Haiti laid out next to it. Pictures of «gingerbread houses», of marketplaces and celebrations, of furniture and clothing being sold in the streets, of fruit and juice-vendors, portraits of kids coming home from schools.

In a corner «Nunuta» – the tailor mannequin – all dressed in white like Haitians would on elegant occasions. And a huge basket full of fruit for everyone to try: bananas, limes, passion fruit, pineapple, papaya and mangoes especially.

Then onto «Traditions» – the room with the story of how slaves fought for their freedom and became the first colony to turn into an independent state. The story of how the red and blue flag with «L’union fait la force» written on it came to replace the French tricolore. Carnival processions and the waterfall of Saut d’Eau. Students preparing for their exams and humming songs at the roots of the 300 year old justice tree in front of King Christophe’s ruined palace.

Candles would light the beautiful carvings done out of old oil-barrels from Croix-de-Bouquets.

Trying to explain that a machete is a tool, not a weapon

The «Sea» room – with its turquoise rimmed beaches and smiling kids around a hammock where you actually could lie in and see a photograph with the sun up in a palm tree over your head.

A picture of the mapou-tree with orchids growing on every branch – the only tree Haitians will never cut down, because spirits descend on it from the sky.Boats of fishermen floating in the waters around the islands, bringing ashore meter-long fish and the largest lobsters I’ve ever seen. Paradise.

The «Mosaic» room was about Haitian buildings and sceneries: Citadelle Laferrière, the UNESCO monument with its 286 cannons, Cap Haitien alleys lined with overburdened mango trees, goats on Ile-A-Vache, pics from a traditional thursday evening concert with the local band RAM at the Oloffson hotel in Port-au-Prince. «Hall of horrors» – After the narrative ended, at the back of the house, people could see pictures closer to what one sees in the news: shelter camps, collapsed streets, a rice paddy where the cholera epidemic had started – not really a part of the exhibition, nor the house – but still part of reality.

Initially, «Haiti Chérie» was to be shown for two months. I didn’t think a subject that far away from everyday life would find enough visitors, nor would I find enough strength to tell the stories again and again. Depending on the public the narrative would reveal different details and windings along the way. Some guests even returned to be a part of it several times.

The house felt like it had 180 windows through which one could see different sides of Haiti. It was kept open four months until the end of January, when I left for India.

But that is another story.