Haiti or Egypt? The Answer Is Yes.

Today I’m struggling with a decision: Do I go to Egypt this spring, or put it off? Venturing there to learn and scout for a TV show won’t really help my business directly. I could spend the time being much more conventionally productive in Europe — and there’s plenty that needs doing there. But I want to connect with the Arab Spring and walk through all the dust that rises in the streets when people earn change and progress. On the other hand, I don’t want to be reckless.

In an ADD moment, I browsed over to my niece’s blog (which I link to on our website because I find her such an inspiration and want to share her experiences). Nicolina was recently in Cuba, then Haiti. Her report, recounting the fear, exhilaration, and ultimately relief she experienced landing in the poorest country in our hemisphere, reminded me of the last time I landed in Cairo. Within two days, she was surrounded by children in the vast slum of Cité Soleil. She wrote this:

These kids own less than any children I have ever met. One of the boys was playing with part of a ripped power cord as a toy, a girl was playing with a rubberband. I marvel at their joy within the confines of their poverty. Even before they knew we were going to paint they were full of happiness. These children possess something special.

When I first moved to NY from Seattle I worked as a nanny for a wealthy family on 5th avenue. They had three boys ages 13, 11, and 7, who I would pick up from school in the afternoon and watch until around 9 p.m., and then put to bed. Their mother would come from who-knows-where each night after they were sleeping. Their father worked overtime as an investment banker and had his own babysitter for them on the weekends. They had been raised by nannies. These kids had all the toys a child could dream of. They had a small basketball court on the second level of their penthouse suite. They had a mini toy castle to play in, a micro-corvette to in which to cruise around the huge apartment, and all of the latest technology and video games. They fought with each other bitterly and treated their mother and me with utter disrespect. Some days I would pick them up from school and the oldest boy just wouldn’t speak. He refused to talk with anyone for any reason. Not me, not his teachers, or even his brothers. He was mute with pain. If he absolutely had to say something he would go as far as to write it down on a piece of paper. I would take him to his therapist who told me he’d been that way for years.

What’s better? To have all the things in the world, but no love? Or to have nothing, not even enough food or fresh water but to have love, parents who are there, the emotional support of community and many friends? It’s easy to see who’s happier.

Finally the palettes are full with color and I ask my little friends in Haiti, “Are you ready to paint?!” in French, and they all shout “Ouiiiiii!!!!” We pass out the paint and they go for it, attacking the panels with gusto. After they finish I notice right away a different kind of style in their work. There always is. In Japan many kids painted manga and pop-culture icons, in Mexico most of the children painted elements of nature, in NYC the hearts tended to include a lot of material things like phones, money and clothes.

A child in Haiti holding her exuberantly painted heart.

After reading of Nicolina’s rich experience, earned by getting out of her comfort zone, I decide: “Yes, I’m going to Egypt.” Thanks, Nicki! She’s in Brazil now and finished reporting on Haiti. Click on over and travel for just a few minutes with abandon…as my niece, the globetrotting street artist, shares her adventure.