APRIL 15, 2012
Yesterday was yet another day with a week’s worth of experiences. We hiked up to the Citadelle La Ferriere, the largest fortress in the western Hemisphere and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both the Citadelle and San-Souci Palace at the foot of the mountain in the town of Milot (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) were built by Henri Christophe, who was prominent in the Haitian revolution in the late 1700s and became the self-proclaimed president of northern Haiti when the country gained independence from France in 1804.
Christophe patterned his palace on San Souci Palace in Germany. Its expansive buildings were heavily damaged during a great earthquake in 1842, but the grounds and ruins are still quite impressive.
The Citadelle was truly a sight to see. Hiking the five mile or so steep cobblestone path up and down the mountain ensured appreciation for the way the supplies for this giant complex were transported (originally and again more recently for renovations like the 50,000 handmade clay tiles that our guide Michel fired and hand formed in 1985 in his kiln adjacent to our CRUDEM home.) People still live and farm on the side of the trail. We were frequently entertained by local children drumming and playing wooden flutes.
The views and structure atop the mountain were incredible. Too bad Christophe never got to see his mountaintop compound completed. Civil unrest mounted during the early 1800s. Rather than facing a probable revolt, Christophe chose to instead end his own life by shooting himself–either in the palace or the Citadelle, no one quite knows for sure. He remains buried somewhere on the Citadelle grounds.
When we returned from our big hike, a few of us exercised some more and then most people enjoyed a low-key Sunday afternoon off. Nurse Kelly DeWolf, and Teresa Smith (a CRUDEM employee) joined me for an appointment I had across town with Father Tijwa. That little man is just about the cutest guy on Earth. Some people have personalities that are simply universally-appealing. He is one of them. Despite language, cultural, religious and political differences, he plows through everything, melting everyone’s heart along the way. He is a gentle and kind soul. The work he does here for the Milot community, through his school, parish, women’s craft workshop–along with his Catholic leadership regionally in the Archdiocese in Cap Haitien reaches around the world.
Father Tijwa reminds me of my dearly departed “adopted grandma,”Happy Warren. Happy was my first German teacher in junior high. She was the first to take me to Germany and she was largely responsible for carving my deep interests in all languages and cultures (but German specifically), international education, and finding global connections everywhere. I feel like Happy’s spirit is still alive when I meet people like Father Tijwa. The analogy to my favorite German teacher comes full circle tomorrow when I begin tutoring Father Tijwa in German (he speaks ein bisschen alreeady).