Moving to

I'm moving sites!!! It's like moving apartments except I have no boxes or couches to move - how cool :)

Please keep following all my updates over at for the latest and greatest things from the world of Spud. Plus, the new site has lots more other than blog updates, including photos, videos, projects and design work that I've done. Trust me, it's good stuff!

Here's a preview of what you'll find...

Updates from the Music Project

I blog in numerous spots, and wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to read some of my other thoughts over at New Leaf Initiative about the work we are doing in the tent camps with musicians there. Take the time to read through the updates, another one will most likely be coming in the next couple days to recap the end of the trip.

Music in the Tent Camp - Update #1

Music in the Tent Camp - Update #2

If you have enjoyed the blog posts over the past month and are interested in seeing that my work down there continues, please consider donating at

I don't like asking for money one bit and prefer that my posts don't make calls for money, but in that case, I feel it is extremely important. I am currently putting together a promotional video for the project which will hopefully be ready in the next two weeks - stay tuned for that update :) Thank you once again for all your support and encouragement, all the messages and comments mean the world to me!

concrete alleys and passing tires

Devoid of light, the night sky is crisp and smooth. Pinpoints of light in a vast expanse, the stars shine proudly from their heavenly view. The mountains struggle to faintly define their silhouette against the darkness and occasional lights in the homes scattered across the hillside seem to reflect the stars high above like a ripple-free lake.

I stand in perfect stillness, not wanting to interrupt the perfection surrounding me. My heart seems to stop beating out of respect, and not a sound can be heard. Quiet. Complete calm. Perfection.

The birds of the night begin their chorus song, echoing across the valleys and ridge lines.

I struggle to keep unnecessary thoughts out of my head. I want to remember every ounce of these surroundings. The stones that line the earth beneath me, I can feel their every contour under the soles of my shoes. The leaves of an apricot tree sway to the song of the choir, beckoning the moon to shine more light on their dance. I close my eyelids and soak it all in. I no longer feel like I am in Port-au-prince.

Twenty minutes down the mountain road and the congestion, corruption and commotion of a fractured and bustling Caribbean city comes to life. Concrete replaces the trees' canopy and the song birds are muffled by the movement of passing tires.

This is an escape, a reminder of the natural beauty this city has to offer. Trees struggle for their existence in a country that has only 1% of their forests remaining. The soil holding their roots is shallow in comparison to the neighboring country of the Dominican Republic as a result of continued erosion. The rains take their toll on the country and the bonds of poverty become harder and harder to break as the environment continues to fall apart under their feet. Under the concrete and plastic below, the bonds seem too much to break free from, but up here, in the darkness and safety of the trees, the song birds sing a song of hope.

It is with these thoughts that I jump back into our small four-by-four and head back down the mountain. I know what lies ahead, and I feel encouraged and strengthened with my renewed hope for this country. Twenty minutes pass, and the concrete hits with tenacity. The potholes welcome us back and we drive past the tent camps once more. I hate every time that I have to drive by a tent camp in a car, I don't like the thought that I only have to deal with 'that situation' for a mere 5 seconds, the time it takes to veer around a pile of rubble. I want to confront the uncomfortable. I want to delve into the poverty.

Seconds later and the tent camp is out of sight, but I fight to keep it in mind. It is too easy to become numb to the sites and sounds in Port-au-prince and I want to make sure that my time down here doesn't cause me to belittle the severity of everything around me.

Although it doesn't take long for a new site to grasp my focus.

Turning the corner, our car slows down as we move around a few pot-holes. As we near the curb, two girls walk out from the shadows dressed in glittery shirts and with their hair done up. They can't be more than 15. One wears tight black pants while the other has a short skirt on. They try to act confident but their size and age make it impossible to seem anything more than nervous. They start to approach our car.

I had heard about the girls in the tent camp who have no other choice but to sell their bodies at night. With no other way to bring in money for their family, sometimes which they are the head of the household, they turn to the streets at night. For $2-3, they can get just enough to buy rice or spaghetti for the next day. I had read the statistics. I had heard the reasoning for why girls have to make this decision. I had thought I understood the problem.

But on that street corner, sitting idle beside the pothole as the shadows lurch toward my car window, I realize that I have no idea what these girls face day-in and day-out. The girls' face burns in my mind. Her eyes seem to penetrate my own through the car's window and her gaze digs deep into my soul. I can feel it digging, and my soul is like deep soil for her eyes to take root in. Deeper and deeper they go and I do nothing to stop the feeling. Unlike the tent camps, this is a site that will not fade away. I don't have to fight to keep this picture in my mind.

The car picks up speed and as quickly as we turned the corner, we are gone. The girl inches back into the shadows and waits for the next passing car as it slows beside her curb.

Innocence fades into indistinguishable dark shapes, her fate stolen by circumstances outside of her control. Another victim to these concrete alleys and passing tires.

I know from my time down here over the last month that it takes about 15 minutes to get back to the apartment from where we are. I know which buildings are most destroyed and where the best street vendors are along that route. I know the potholes and the speed-bumps. But in these next 15 minutes, all I can think about is that face and those eyes.

I stare outside with a blank glaze, anger swelling within. I try to convince myself that perhaps she was not a child prostitute and I made a false judgement too quickly. Perhaps she still has her innocence. But a 'perhaps' does little to settle the discontent that causes my stomach to flip inside.

The car feels like a prison and I look up into the sky to find escape. The dark night seems to have changed so drastically during our drive.

No longer crisp.
No longer smooth.
No longer perfection.

Clouds of ash and grey swirl in the darkness and conceal the pinpoints of light. Like a renaissance painting which has been run over by a tire caked in grey mud, I try with all I can to focus solely on the beauty beneath. But the smudges of grey are too much and I can't take my eyes off of them. I get frustrated with the clouds, my body begins to tense, my heart is racing and I close my eyes to escape the clouds' presence. They disappear, but the face remains. Burned into the back of my eyelids, I can think of nothing else, and a tear begins to roll down my cheek.

the street below

A stray piece of styrofoam lies downstream from the pack, stranded alone and waiting for a breeze of the wind to carry it back to the group. On these streets, litter huddles together like violent gangs of the inner-city, and their presence is well known to all who walk on by. The dumpsters, designed to contain their entirety, are no match and overflow in all directions. The trash forms streams and moves swiftly onto the street before taken up by a passing tire. Passer-bys walk with their eyes directed elsewhere as they maneuver past, only to be met by a similar gang a few blocks down the road.

One brave, older women ventures into the mess with a small broom, made from nothing more than a tree branch and some straw bunched together, and attempts to clear a small patch where she can set up her shop for the afternoon. All the other spots are taken along the street. She doesn't need much room, just enough space for a bucket to sit on and a place to set a basket of laundry and cleaning supplies.  Twenty feet down the road a younger lady sells the same items, I begin to wonder how so many vendors can sell the same thing.

As I walk on, I come to another trash gang up ahead, this one average in size and only overflowing on two of the four sides. There's movement in the trash and from a distance, i cannot entirely tell what is disrupting the peace. Nearing the pile, I find a family of baby chicks emerging from underneath. The mother hen stands guard along the dumpster wall, watching as her flock of nearly a half dozen children wade through the trash looking for food for the day. The heat of the trash creates a slight haze of fog lifting all around the baby chicks, and they dart in and out of the styrofoam containers and plastic bottles with ease. 

I walk by, inches from the family, yet they seem unaware of my nearness. I stop and smile, and then move on. Up ahead, I pass by another series of street-side vendors, some of which are cooking and selling chicken. The road beneath them is littered in small plastic water bags, much like the ones that milk are served in at elementary school. Like a forest after a gentle snowfall, with occasional patches of white scattered across it's twig-strewn floor, the streets are littered in plastic. The bags do not carry enough importance to join forces with the larger trash gangs, they are simply tossed aside and quickly carried by the breeze. The bags seem to know they are not welcomed in the trash piles, and form a grouping of their own. Their pile is more uniform than the larger trash gangs and they cover a greater distance, although more sparse. The dust from passing vehicles forms a thin layer of earth on top and soon, they begin to fade into the ground, fooling the time nature needs to break down the plastic's synthetic bonds.

I turn the next corner and can see my apartment up at the top of the hill. I dodge an open sewer hole in which a trash gang has made it's home within. A small plant seems to grow from within and for a second, I begin to hope that maybe the trash has the ability to produce and harbor life, but as my gaze looks up once more, I see a pile of trash being burned and the smell quickly changes my mind. Plumes of grey smoke slowly billow out of the pile, and a faint flame can be seen underneath the great mound. Plastic bottles melt into pools of bubbling chemicals and the speckles of color are charred into a dull grey. A layer of mud seems to clothe the pile and the pockets of air find their way to the surface and escape into the shuffling crowd. 

I join the crowd myself and lifting my eyes toward the horizon, i avoid the stares from the trash below. You learn to become numb to it's presence beneath your feet, and i find my mind racing to other thoughts and concerns.


The dust kicks up from the trucks traveling north and I veer to the side to shield my eyes. A snake of vehicles meanders down the mountain and loose stones roll precariously down the middle of the road. The trees lining the road offer little shade as the sun beats down from high above and scorches the land below. Every inch of shade is preciously guarded by those who sell goods along the street and they watch with keen interest as i walk on by. 

For as much of an effort that i make to avoid staring at the people and sites I walk by, the courtesy is not always returned and I can feel the eyes beating down on me from both sides of the street. I can't blame them, it's doubtful that they ever see a white person walking these streets by themselves, if at all. They most likely know I am lost, but i doubt they realize it is done on intention. During my time here, i have yet to see one other white person walking the streets of port-au-prince. They are always in some form of vehicle and most often in groups driving to the comfort of their next stop ahead. 

I continue walking and come across a vehicle full of what i assume to be missionaries from America. They try not to stare but it is clear that they are watching my steps and wondering what I'm doing outside on my own. I seem to be more fascinating to them than the crowds of people and crumbling buildings behind me.

Perhaps its my inability to speak the language - a skill I am forever envious of others who are able to pick up languages with such ease - and I find that my best way to get to know the culture is to simoly walk their streets and sit in their guarded patches of shade. It is my feeble attempt to show that I want to learn from them and simply be with them. I may not be able to communicate, but by placing myself where they are, I hope that i can bridge a path to friendship.

Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher, talks about how we have two choices in life; we can look around and see people as objects, as 'its', or we can choose to enter into their lives, into their humanity, and view them as a 'thou.' Sometimes it feels that the thin piece of glass wedged in a car window is enough to separate an 'it' from a 'thou.' for now, I'll place myself on the other side of the glass and out on the streets.

I don't want to judge those driving in the cars though, i understand the potential safety risks, the logistics of having a large group of travelers, and the difficulty in navigating the streets of a foreign country - not everyone can simply go wandering for hours and intentionally get lost.

But I do get concerned when our prescribed priorities in life place us in positions where we are forced to simply stare out from our comfort zones at the world around us. Whether it's the safety of our homes, cars, schools, or careers - we are masters at building up invisible walls around our lives. I am guilty of this. Even in Haiti, I find the desire to at times simply stay within the comfort of my cool apartment and read and write (kind of like I'm doing right now) rather than go out in the sun and let the sweat and dirt mix as they run down the back of my calves. 

I like to think that god sends me little hints and nudges to go out though. Small signs, like the fact that our stove ran out of propane and is taking awhile to refill so I have to go out to get food. Or how the internet will randomly go down and I have no excuse to stay inside and 'do research' on something that is rarely of top priority.

So as the cars continue to pass by, and as the sidewalk disappears and i find myself walking on the road, i am at peace knowing that the heat which beats down on me is the same as that which beats down on this country each day. I join in the walks of the school children as they file out of school in search for a tap-tap to take them back home. The stares don't stop, but as the crowd's age becomes younger, more smiles are shared alongside the stares. Kids have an ability to break down walls of separation and division, and I strangely find comfort in their stares. I smile back and they laugh as they turn to join the rest of their classmates. 

From a car, the streets of Haiti may appear to be nothing more than a series of potholes which separate one series of crumbled buildings from another. But from outside the car, these streets are alive with energy and beauty. I find myself at ease as I flow in the crowds around the trash piles and broken-down vehicles much like a school of fish swim in uniform around the intricacies of a coral reef. Such a beautiful mess.

lost in the beauty

Today was one of those days. I'm learning that my favorite way to get to know a city is to simply get lost. Last week, I went for a walk and shortly after got entirely lost. 5 hours later and i made it to my originally intended destination, and with a lot more knowledge and understanding of the place i call home for the next few weeks. Today was another one of those days.

Around lunch, i took the nearby tap-tap to meet a good friend of mine 20 mins down the road. From there, we grabbed a motorcycle and took off for the other side of town where we were meeting with some locals who would take us into the tent camps of cite solei. After hitchhiking on the back of a few pickup trucks (which I found to be quite the efficient means of getting aroun) and a few more tap-taps, we made it to the settlement. 

Inside we were greeted by the president of the tent camp and began to talk about life in the camp and the role in which music could play. Not having any understanding of French or creole turned out to be a slight hindrance (who would have thought) and instead of translating much of the conversation, i just let everyone else talk abut the project. Although not intended, I think this turned out to b a neat way to interact, because it let the haitians take ownership of the project and determine how it would best work and help the community.

After a few minutes, the children's curiosity began to get the best of them and we were joined by two dozen kids interested more in the color of our skin and snacks in our bag than the conversation being had. Who can blame them, cookies nearly always trump everything else. So we decided to take a walk around the camp (with 5 or 6 ds hanging off of each of us) and see the way life was run here. It was all so organized and for the most part, well kept. Each tent seemed to have it's own garden attached and the trails were relatively clean of trash (compared to the rest of Haiti). Mothers sat outside their homes sewing clothing or cooking dinner and the kids darted in and out of the plastic forts. As we walked, i talked with one of the residents who acted as our translator and we began to discuss the details of the music project in more depth. He told me how engaged the kids were to go to school and how instruments would be a tremendous asset to the school. I started to learn the value in developing close friendships and relationships with key people within the community who could then properly represent the project to the rest of the community. This allows the project to live beyond me and new leaf, we can help get it started and initiate a few key pieces, but ultimately the direction and energy will come from the haitians.

After walking around for awhile, the children's radar seemed to narrow in on the packs of cookies we carried with us and once we were with a manageable group, we distributed them to the group. Instant smiles all around. We said our goodbyes to the group and thank them for their generosity and carried on down the road.

Then the getting lost part started to happen.

At the intersection, we split from the rest of the group and dora and I continued on in a different direction. With a mix of over-confidence and eagerness to see a new part of the city we jumped on a tap-tap heading in the direction we thought to be towards our home. But within seconds we veered off the main road and were heading in the complete opposite direction of what we intended. As we traveled deeper and deeper into the city and down a maze of roads, we lost site of the sea and began to doubt our ability to get back. 

But seconds later, we turned a corner and came directly in front of the palace in port-au-prince. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity and jumped off to take a few pictures. As soon as the cameras were out of our bags, the art dealers were upon us. We walked past the first few but then one man approached us and the vibe in the air changed. There was something different about him, something which made us stop and listen to his story. The paintings lay on the sidewalk and for awhile, we stopped talking about art focused rather on his family. We learned about family members he lost in the earthquake and the struggles he faced trying to provide for those that were fortunate enough to be spared. I have heard the stories of pain and loss, but this time was different. This time I couldn't keep walking, i couldn't speed on to my safe apartment at the top of the street. This time i stopped. This time I listened. 

It doesn't take long to make a friend, and soon one friend leads to many others. As we crossed the street away from the palace and into the tent camps located directly across from the main gate, we were introduced to many of the musicians within the plastic-tarped village. We chatted about the work we were doing and how we could work together. We were invited into the tents and sat down to talk more and listen to some of our new friends sing. 

Inside the tent, a picture of the new president hung and a tv and fan sat in the corner. A few sheets hung over the window opening and a small rug laid at the foot of the mattress sitting on the ground. This was a luxury tent. The owner was blessed to have family back in the states who sent money down for him and as a result, his tent stood above the rest. Sadly, the vast majority of his tent camp neighbors were not as fortunate and their homes consist of mostly plastic walls, a floor mat and a few cooking utensils. A mattress is a luxury, and electricity is unheard of. 

We continued to laugh, share stories of our lives to that point, and how our dreams for the future could coincide. But as the sun began to set, we packed up our stuff and ventured back out to the road. They escorted us back to the tap-tap station and soon we were on our way to our original destination. I am quite grateful for unexpected detours in life. Haiti always teaches me patience and I am so grateful that I was able to not worry about what I needed today and instead, take the time to make some new friends. Next week, I hope to head back and film some video recordings of the musicians and hear more stories of life in the tent camp. Rumor has it that we may have a choir of 300 kids singing for us next week, oh boy...

another day in Haiti

The blood covers my foot and I can no longer tell what parts of my leg are covered in flesh, blood and soil. I try not to look long at the numerous wounds on the lower half of my body, not wanting to think about the cleanup work i will have to do when i get home, and quickly assess the rest of the situation. Shock sets in and as the crowds start staring and slowly moving in, I jump off the ground and smile back. Confused at my over-excitement about the situation, the locals aren't quite sure how to respond. One man offers a hand but I turn my attention towards the driver laying on the ground instead. Unsure if I offended the man offering help, my mind wrestles with the decision and distracts itself from the wreck around me. Reality hits as soon as the driver gets up and looks to see if I am alright. 

Seconds earlier, the two of us were traveling down The mountain on a motorcycle. With unusual caution, for the first time in Haiti I actually felt completely safe on the back of a bike. The pounding monsoon rains from the night before left parts of the road overflowing in mud and broken trees and my eyes scanned the horizon at the various landslides that had deformed the terrain around me. As the other motorcycles quickly darted in and out of the rubble, my driver and I remained in line with the rest of the cars. With a growing amount of confidence in my driver, I reach for my bag and pull out my camera to take pictures of the mudslides below. The ride couldn't have been going better, until the first turn ahead started to approach. As if seeing into the futue, I looked ahead and saw the patch of slick rocks and rubble up ahead, in direct path of our route. Like a tattoo on the earth, the mudslides and torrential rain from the night before had left their mark on the road ahead of us. 

The next seconds went too quickly to remember and soon I found myself sliding horizontal through the mud and rocks with a bike laying on my side. Everything suddenly went by quite slowly and I looked up to see the tent camp ahead of me and artisans lining the other side of the road. Pain didn't even cross my mind and the seriousness of what had happened faded to the back of my mind. That all soon changed when I looked up to be greeted by the front end of a giant water trucker.

The truck darts past us and in avoiding the pothole in the center of the road, runs over the glass which was at one point in-tact on our motorcycle seconds earlier. Glass shards shatter and are thrown in our direction. I lower my shoulder and shield my face as the truck drives by unaware of our situation below. I pick up my things off the ground and am impressed as i realize i instinctly protected my camera during the fall. I take a few seconds to decide whether to get back onto the bike or stay stranded in the middle of a section of portauprince i know nothing about. I decided to straddle the bike and the crowd gives me an unassuring nod back. The bike is silent and no kick or flp of a switch seems to wake the giant. As if it is aware of the fall it just took, the bike stubbornly sits along the side of the road and refuses to budge. With some help from the man who offered his hand and after some twisting of wires, the bike purs to life again and we slowly move in our original direction of travel.

As we drive on, eyes gravitate in our direction. My leg is covered in blood and the sandal is torn apart. With extreme caution, we drift towards my apartment at the bottom of the hill. Minutes later we arrive safely and I jump off the bike and hand the driver a few goudes. Shocked that I was still willing to pay, the driver smiles and apologizes once again in a mix of English and creole. We smile and I turn to head inside and begin the cleanup process. Just another day in Haiti...

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