The Haitian student photographers ranged in age from 14 to their mid-30s, and they’d come from all parts of the country and from all backgrounds. Their mandate was so simple it verged on radical: To show the world Haiti as it is rarely seen—as they saw it. Not just a country of disasters, shocks, and aftershocks but also a place shot through with sunlight and glittering sea, a place stunned into focus by a child in an impeccable school uniform, rollicked by music and the seemingly spontaneous eruption of dancers blowing on bamboo trumpets through the haze of a street party. A place of pride and possibility.
“That’s good, because Haitians are tired of seeing stories in foreign papers about how helpless we are,” said Junior St. Vil, my translator and a travel consultant who has also embarked on a law degree. “There is so much beauty here, so much power.” St. Vil suggested I visit a Vodou priest, or houngan, in Arcahaie, a coastal town about 25 miles from Port-au-Prince. “He has the most elaborate temple in all of Haiti. And I think he is a very impressive man,” St. Vil said.
I arrived at the temple on a sweltering mid-August afternoon. Dogs roused themselves from the shade of banana trees and barked apologetically. An assistant hurried out to hush them. He explained that the priest was tired, that he’d been up much of the night performing telepathic services for a client in Miami. Nevertheless the venerated man, who asked me not to give his name, emerged from an inner room of the temple in a black wool beret, a polyester leopard-print T-shirt, black surfing shorts, and a gold chain. He reminded me of a Hollywood depiction of a minor African dictator on vacation.