Stumping for Haitian Art: Gorgeous Gardens in Port-au-Prince


I had a close encounter with garden art last week—

An unexpected one at that.

Regular readers of my blog know that I’m a visual artist—of sorts—self-taught, poor, and living in exile on a Caribbean island, where electricity is in short supply, political stability is even harder to come by, and cholera is spreading like good gossip in a gaggle of girls.  I’ve shared my work in previous posts.  I love art, support art, enjoy it in all its incarnations, shapes, and sizes.

But it surprised even me last week, when an artistic enterprise unfolded in my own Port-au-Prince back yard—one uninitiated by me.

Ever since last spring when Sara moved into our house on a hill—Morne Calvaire (where we’re told a new neighbor is Baby Doc Duvalier), the land-lady has promised a garden, and last week she delivered, arriving with a landscape artist who installed a stunning rock garden near our front door.

We were happy.  We were actually thrilled.  However, we were not prepared for act two, which unfolded the following day.

It was morning; the sky was clear, blue bold enough to brighten even the most bored of bloggers.  I was writing, enjoying light that angled through my wall of windows.  While I was working, however, the dogs alerted me to a noise outside, one I might have otherwise ignored. Thank God for canine clamor.

There on the hillside that slants down and away from our house, three men, our landscape artist included, pushed and pulled, grunted and groaned the most massive of stumps toward a wall and fence that border the back of our garden.

I couldn’t imagine why.  What was the purpose behind this effort?  Why had Sisyphus himself shown up on my Haitian hillside?

What concerned me most, however, from my interpretation of signs and signals being gestured below, was an apparent plan to heave the stump over the wall and through the fence cemented into it.  I watched and wondered, watched and wondered some more till I was sure the plan indeed involved such fence bull-dozing, before running out to get our security guard to intervene and interrupt this planned assault.  Within seconds Sonny came running, riffle gesturing the men away from ruining our fence.

It was soon discovered via a phone call to our landlady that, having forgotten the fence was attached to the top it, she had asked the men to remove the stump by pushing it over the top of the wall.  Our stump-movers extraordinaire interpreted her instructions quite literally, intending to force the tree through the fence in an effort to accomplish the task.  So much for common sense.

Stump removal ceased for the day.

The men then returned the following morning, removing a section of fence, forcing their burden over the top of the wall, lowering it with ropes into the back of a truck on the other side, and replacing the offending section of fence, before departing—

I assumed forever.

However, the following morning, while I was again writing, a horn honked outside our gate, the dogs barked like insane caricatures of canine companionship, and I soon heard the shouting of what turned out to be seven men.  Within minutes massive crashing commenced on the deck above, more shouting, still more housing-rattling crashes, shouting and crashing, shouting and crashing, until I simply had to investigate.

The stump had returned.

It was now living on our patio, puzzling me, puzzling indeed.  I like trees as much at the next semi-green ex-pat on the island, but REALLY, did we want this stump on our patio?

Over the next several days, however, Dicton Gaston, our new gardener guy answered that question for me, proving more and more a sculpting savant, as the stump morphed from this:

Into this:

Dicton Gaston is a gardening genius.

Dicton Gaston proves art emerges from even the most unlikely places.

Dicton Gaston proves that in Port-au-Prince, though ex-dictators may show up unannounced at airports, though they’ll be arrested and released and move onto the mountain where you live, art can come from equally surprising places, in delightfully surprising packages.

So, this week, as long as the ex-dictator can maintain his EX-dictator status, as long as protesters don’t take to the streets and shut down the city, as long as posts can go as planned, this week I’ll bring you a series on Haitian art, hoping to remind you—

Port-au-Prince may be leveled, reduced to a dead stump of its former self, discarded on a hillside, in ruin.  Haiti may be broken, lost, and nearly forgotten, but still, like Dicton’s stump, it can occupy a prominent place, a patio blooming, green, and living once again.

A work of genuine genius.

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24 thoughts on “Stumping for Haitian Art: Gorgeous Gardens in Port-au-Prince

  1. I love everything about this post! The story, the photos, your new garden and Dicton Gaston’s garden art. So creative!

    Did your Internet connection get better, or did you struggle to load the photos?

    Enjoy your garden!

    • Thanks, Lisa. Dicton has tons of talent!

      Yes, my internet connection is better, inasfar as I was able to get the photos uploaded, but it took about 2 hours. But it IS BETTER. Several months ago this kind of post would have been impossible. Now it’s tedious and time-consuming, but something worth fighting for. So glad you enjoyed the post, Lisa! Thank you.

    • Thanks so much, Renee. I want more than anything to write a book about our experience here. I also want to do a memoir or maybe find a way to do both at the same time, to anchor a book in the present and use this expereince to interpret the past. This comment has fed my SOUL, my writers’s soul! Thank you!

  2. Oh, yes, I agree with lifeintheboomerlane. I could have read that post forever. Thanks for the beautiful story and the ever-necessary reminder that even though a place may be utterly ransacked and broken down, it’s still valuable and artful. I look forward to more posts with these reminders! :) They’re the posts that give me hope for Haiti.

    • Can’t tell you how pleased I am that this post has been meaningful for folks! I always believe in hope–am optimistic down to the bone. I think it’s so important in the midst of so much negativity and anger and confusion to locate and shine a light on the little pockets of hope and loveliness!

  3. I too am enjoying your posts as we lived in Haiti for several years and it is very near and dear to our hearts. We too struggled with flower beds. Many many trips to the Baptist Mission with beautiful flowers and plants only to see them shrivel and die at the lower elevation where we lived. But hope springs anew and every time we came we planted again and again. Hope is what keeps Haiti going but surely there are some practical solutions!

    • Thanks so much for this comment. I love knowing that you are reading. It’s good to hear about your ongoing love for Haiti and its incredible beauty. Surely there are practical solutions. I truly don’t know what they are. I only hope to shine my little light on what I see blooming all around me despite the chaos and corruption. Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing. It’s great to know you’re along for the ride!

  4. Haha, just when you think somebody’s trying to dump a stump on your porch, something nice comes from it! Dicton is really clever! Tell him next time he finds himself in West Tennessee, I’ve got a yard that could use his brilliant greenthumb :)

  5. Holy Smokes! That is beautiful!
    what a story…and glad you shared it.
    Metamorphosis is The Sauce. Unless you are Gregor Samsa.
    har. ;)
    jane

    • If only Kafka had had a bit more imagination! But, thanks–glad you enjoyed Dicton’s work and the story, as well. It was a crazy week of transformation and not in a creepy-crawly insect kind of way!

  6. I laughed and laughed at this post! Sorry Kathryn. How hilarious? And in the end- the sticky stump turned into a masterpiece! Could Dicton work the same magic on our old truck?

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