Winnie taugt us that rocks are unnatural here. Well, they are natural enough. But far underground. The reason why the rocks populate the landscape of the high mountains of Haiti is because the good soil has long ago run off and descended into the lean valleys and fallen out to the seas. These rocks were uncovered because the trees were removed. Used to be these fields were covered with broad leafed trees and rich, red soil. These are the bones of the island we see here now. Like the ribs of skinny dogs.
At the edge of the Seguin National Park in southeastern Haiti is a vast wasteland of deforestation. What a word: deforestation. It sounds sexy. The NGOs love it. It speaks of fundraising. But for Winnie and the Haiti he has been serving for a lifetime, the word deforestation defines the erasing of the hope of an entire nation. Without trees there is no soil. Without soil there is no cultivating of food crops. Haiti needs trees to preserve the ability to grow food.
Winnie’s father showed him these lands. A lifetime ago. When Winnie was in his 2os he visited these lands with his father. He never left. After one visit he told his father: “Go home. I have found my own home.” And that is when Winnie began to save the trees and soil of his homeland. Because he saw the future that if his countrymen did not learn a way to protect the trees that protect the country’s soil, it would soon look like these photographs: bald, depleted of nutrients. A moonscape. Deforestation is not an “issue.” It is a fact of life… and death.
Some people start organizations. These organizations rarely last.
Some people live lives that inspire organizations in order to keep their life activities alive. This is the case with Winnie and Foundation Seguin. The man preceded the cause. Oh to be a man like Winnie where actions inspire the formulation of a model for service. Anything else is doomed to a short life. But anything born of a single vision is almost always destined for survival.
Winnie points into the deep valley. There is a small village there. One can see that the deforested mountain has collapsed before. Winnie says he had tried to convince the people to not settle there. A landslide is immanent. So Winnie and his crews devise a plan.
Last year Winnie and his crew from Foundation Seguin built these rock walls to prevent soil erosion. Ten men spent 12 months constructing these primitive fortifications. Imagine, Winnie says, if people around the country would do the same.
It is not an easy job. Because hungry people can’t stop their work of feeding themselves for some vision of future soil stability. There is always a deep struggle between immediate needs and long term investments. Imagine the difficulty a politician has in convincing a city of a tax for infrastructure. It is the same in Haiti. How do you mobilize people to resist their need to cut trees for charcoal and terrace mountainous land for food crops? When you live on a moonscape where even moving a stubborn horse across a rock road is difficult how can you convince people to suffer for a long term national vision?
Reforestation seems far removed from the immediate need for food and security. But when Winnie shows you the connection between food security and trees it is frighteningly apparent. It is not just about soil erosion. It is also about cash crops.
Haiti was once one of the world’s top producers of the finest coffee. It is the wildly unique combination of altitude and climate. Haiti’s story isn’t finished yet, however. Not according to Winnie–and the world commodities markets who are courting Haiti’s top coffee producers and investing heavily in coffee production chain infrastructure. Haiti has not sung it’s last song yet for this “black gold.”
Winnie told us that the coffee grown on the lush mountainsides of Haiti is an artwork. He took us to a peasant house where we witnessed the unique artisanal roasting of the “natural” coffee Haiti is still known for. Though simple, its production is an art and born of hard work. And it is delicious.
Later at the guest house for Foundation Seguin Winnie brought some fresh green coffee beans to roast for our nextday’s breakfast. This was yet another example of the artisanal roasting (below performed by our friend Dualuafate) of these fine, simple beans.
Winnie showed us his preferred fire-top coffee machine. A Monix. It is just like the traditional Haitian expresso machines found in almost every home. The Monix machine has the very best gaskets according to Winnie.
Like everything in Haiti, nothing is a one act show. There is always another dimension to be revealed.
Winnie treated us to a stay in his Foundation Sequin lodge that he and Philip Leone constructed with their own minds and hands. He showed us his art collection by some of Haiti’s masters–including art by his own son (the first one below). All of this spoke deeply about the whole process of the environment that is Haiti. It will never be fair to judge a place or people just by some of their short comings.
The art of Haiti is directly connected to the spiritual life of Haiti. Whether voodou or Christian, it doesn’t matter. The fact is that the unseen world plays a direct part in the influence and character both of hope and negligence. To fail to see the deeply spiritual influence on people and land cultivation and destruction is to fail to see the most basic arithmetic of an entire nation and culture.
In the end the agricultural life in Haiti is also very simple. People in Haiti want to farm so they can feed themselves and improve the lives of their children.
Coffee is important. It is a cash crop. It is a great way to feed your family.
And, for the record, the coffee in Haiti is spectacular.
It is a lush landscape. Winnie showed us how they cultivate figs and peaches, broadleaves and many other types of trees and plants. It makes the coffee better. It makes life better. It replenishes Haiti.