By Jean H Charles
It is easy to be a prey to bad news coming from Haiti. Its citizens at home and abroad practice the perverse exercise of magnifying for the rest of the world the latest incident coming from that island nation. It is not alone in this hemispheric region caught into the spiral of random violence and chaos. It seems there is a shooting every week in the United States either in a high school, or at one of the universities.
President Barack Obama finds himself a frustrated and impotent leader facing the strength of the NRA that sees the culprit not the gun but the man behind the gun. The news from The Bahamas, Jamaica or Guyana is filled with crime, gross in its explosion, numerous in its multiplication.
Yet Haiti is filled with good stories. There is the story of the mothers holding bags filled with books of their toddlers going and coming back from school. Who says the Haitian mother might the best black mother in the world? (Making the cut
There is the story of the young children fetching water singing and dancing, while potable water or at least close access to water should be a staple provision of the government.
There is the story of the large number of young girls attending school these days. The hiccup is where, twenty years from now, Haiti will find enough men to match these women. Maybe the government will have to visit China and import some men from the province of Hunan, where woman are found wanting because of the policy of female infanticide. With a preference for a male child, the ratio between men and women has been skewed there.
There is the story of the famous patty cordẻ. The ubiquitous breakfast made of fried pasta filled with cheese, one boiled egg, cod fish and cut cabbage. The patty sold for 16 cents is sufficient for a full meal until evening. Enterprising women all over the city capital are engaged in this business. I have been suggesting, with no result so far, to some women to repeat the operation in the evening but this time filled with jam or marmalade, a beignet for a light supper, again for the same 16 cents.
And then, there is Lascahobas, a true oasis in the region called Centre, an area where the bedrock is strong and solid, not vulnerable to earthquakes.
The keen observer will note the difference in the vegetation as soon as you turn the corner from Mirebalais to enter the road towards Lascahobas. Everything is green and lush, mature trees filled with mangoes, avocados, coconuts, baby banana and vast fields of pistachio all the way until you enter the city. Strangely enough, the characterization of an oasis strikes you in earnest as you travel from Lascahobas towards the frontier town of Belladere, the deserted fields that were your companion on your way to Mirebalais the town before, come back as you leave Lascahobas.
Lascahobas is located two hours from the capital city of Port au Prince on a mountain road built with the support of the European Union (EU). The city proper has a population of 41,716 people, while the catchment area with its rural villages of Petit Fond, Juampas and La Hove represent a population of 61,000 people.
The atmosphere in Haiti today is filled with the spirit of election. Amongst the throng of men vying to fill the post of mayor of the city there is a mother (mẻre) seeking to become mayor (maire in French sounds like mẻre, meaning mother) of Lascahobas. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a bias for a woman as mayor. It seems the city is in better hands when it is in the hands of a woman as mayor. The City of Petionville under the leadership of Mayor Ivanka Brutus is going through a renaissance in spite of the demographic explosion of the city.
Lascahobas is graced with a pastor from the Catholic Church, Father Desras, who takes his role of builder of the community with a bulldog sense of achievement. With the support of President Bill Clinton, who was caught by his budding energy, he has built a magnificent secondary school, preventing the children of the town from being nomads in the capital to continue their education. Two years ago, I attended the city fiesta of its patron Saint Gabriel, celebrated on March 25, the day of the Annunciation.
Father Desras asked the Lascahobas Diaspora to help him finish the youth center building. The Diaspora failed to come with the funds one year later. At this year’s celebration, in his sermon he labeled them “Diaspo/rien” (rien in French means null and void of significance) .
Father Desras is a pioneer in rural development. I am advocating with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to follow the model of the Brittany clergy that built the small towns in terms of education and civilization in Haiti.
It should have been the mission of the Creole clergy to reach the rural world to continue the nation building in the hinterland. I was in Lascahobas last Sunday to help the nuns from the Daughters of Marie to celebrate their 40th anniversary in the town and the 100th anniversary in Haiti. One of the nuns, Sister Hugette Victor, who came as a young teacher then, is now the principal of the school. She has provided generations of young men and young women with the bread of education, formation and sophistication.
Lascahobas has its own radio and TV station due to the leadership of Father Desras. It was the Sunday of Pentecost, the feast of the celebration of St Spirit at the Episcopal Church last week. The Catholic TV station was there to broadcast the ceremony live. In fact, the pastor of the Episcopal Church, Father Desravines Jean Jacques, is joining hands with Father Desras of the Catholic Church to build the community of Lascahobas and its rural surroundings.
Lascahobas is also graced with its own community bank. My visit with the founder of the bank, Mr Nourissant Fleurilus struck me like a “eureka” for this essay.
Haiti has 142 small towns, some of them with a population of at least 75,000 people. Very few of them benefit from a banking facility. The reason given by the bankers is the same: there is not enough commercial activity to justify the opening of a branch. Lascahobas took the bull by its horn with its own hands. It has built its own successful bank with the participation of its citizens.
Lascahobas is close to Lake Peligre, the giant manmade lake built on the Artibonite River to produce electricity for the country. It is conducive for the raising of tilapia for home and for export. I will be visiting the city this week end with the president of a government sponsored bank to seek to incubate the association of women entrepreneurs who produce coco oil, jam, liquor and all types of local products. They need foreign access to distribute their products.
An international road is being built from the frontier town of Las Pinas, in the Dominican Republic, to the capital city of Port au Prince. Lascahobas, located at half one hour from the Dominican border, represents a true oasis to stop, rest, and become immersed in the hospitality and the culture of the city. The Haitian government is engaging in a comprehensive renovation of the infrastructure of the city, such as paving streets, potable water, electricity and a public market.
Lascahobas has several hotels. Its future should be targeted towards becoming a setting for international retired citizens. It is close to the largest hospital in the Caribbean, built and run by world-known Dr Paul Farmer. Its pleasant scenery fits well a senior setting Eldorado.
In conclusion, I was pleased to discover Lascahobas. Making that city a weekend getaway has brought to me rejuvenation, uplifting and a belief that a better Haiti is possible!
Pictures credit: Friends of the children of Lascahobas
Lascahobas, Centre, Haiti. Google Maps
Note: Lascahobas can easily be reached through Haiti via scheduled airline to Port au Prince. There is a half-hourly bus departure from the capital city to Lascahobas for the price of $7.50 for a round trip. The journey is a two-hour scenic drive through the mountains. Lascahobas can also be reached through Elias Pina, in the Dominican Republic. It is a half-hour drive from Elias Pina. There is open border policy between the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Monday and Friday.