Madame Edline Pierre's Papaya Tree. Saut Mathurin, Haiti March,

Madame Edline Pierre’s Papaya Tree. Saut Mathurin, Haiti. March, 2007

Wandering around on my host’s rooftop became a habit and I frequently spent time up there to reflect and process my experiences in Saut Mathurin. Somehow, the relative bareness of the roof helped me draw out imaginary frameworks and relationships around and between Haiti’s complex of problems. But the vantage and perspective was also a visual one, and I loved watching pedestrians clamber along the single road, the vegetation, the children… and this papaya tree in particular as its fruit swelled, seemingly, almost by the hour.

Edline and Willio Pierre, both with degrees in agronomy and at the heart of Saut Mathurin’s renaissance, were my host family during all the visits to this mountainous region of southern Haiti. Their house seemed to represent the larger vision of the Organization for the Rehabilitation of the Environment (ORE): “to protect the environment and increase local farmers’ income”. The property was small, but tightly packed with fruit and vegetable plantings, small irrigation experiments, a rooftop trickle-feed water tank that provided (rare for this region) running water. Papaya trees were planted around the perimeter.

Of course, they also had mango trees, and banana (the same ones that Manuelita was photographed in). During a three-day visit with Sewanee students and colleagues, we were deeply moved by the energy and commitment of the farmers and their families. Upon returning to Sewanee, I was once more moved, and amazed, by how our students mobilized and within three months raised over $5,000 to send back to Saut Mathurin to help complete the building of a fruit sorting structure. A mango house. The funds were raised from sales of photographs and this book, produced jointly by students from a human health and environment biology class (taught by my dear friend and colleague Professor Deborah McGrath) and a documentary photography class that I was teaching.

I still think back to that trip and the students’ follow-up as one of the most precious of experiences. And it serves as a really good instance of embedded learning (what I consider to be a form of community engaged learning): a way of looking out from within, a way of adding substance to the frameworks of academe.

Hasselblad 500C/M, 80mm Planar lens, Fuji P400 film