Ananda’s #HeartofHaiti Post: Mardi Gras and Masks in Jacmel, Haiti

Photo Credit:
Haitian people wearing masks at Jacmel, Haiti carnival in February 2011

New Orleans is one of my favorite places to visit. It is magical. It is filled with feathered masks, crepes,

Mardi Gras beads, and Vodon spirituality.  I fell in love with the Crescent City during my first visit in 1978.  It was a family vacation attached to my mother’s sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.’s national convention (my sorority too)! N’awlins got underneath my skin and stayed there until I visited again in 1997.  That trip transformed my life. I thought I was there to get my groove on, but NOLA knew better.  Turns out I was summoned by Spirit and the characters in my debut novel Love’s Troubadours – Karma: Book One.  They led me to the Essence Music Festival and dropped me in the middle of the French Quarter with one instruction: be open.  So I walked in and out of shops, made small talk with local folks, followed the NOLA yellow brick broad to various neighborhoods, bookstores, and cafes.   The end results were a collection of Mardi Gras feathered masks and a few pages of dialogue from characters with New Orleans roots.

Ananda posing in her New Orleans Mardi Gras mask as Sapphire, one of her archetypes
Ananda wearing paper mache mask during Jacmel, Haiti Carnival
Ananda wearing a paper mache mask at Jacmel, Haiti Carnival

Fast forward to today where I am thinking about the power of masks in Mardi Gras, the Jacmel, Haiti Carnival, and my own life.   Whenever I see or wear a Mardi Gras mask, I am transported to a mystical, magical, and mysterious place that lets the good times roll all day long!   I am also reminded of how colorful and creative masks can be.  The paper mache masks that I saw and purchased recently during my Heart of Haiti trip in Jacmel, Haiti, were so animated.  They came to life on their own.  They provoked storytelling in my mind. Now that’s a powerful set of masks!

Paper Mache Masks Made in Jacmel, Haiti


Paper mache masks in Jacmel, Haiti



Ananda’s #HeartofHaiti Post: Developing Digital Sisterhood Bonds in Haiti

Nathalie Tancrede, Deana Jirak, Willa Shalit, Sloane Berrent, Ananda, Juliana Um & Johnica Reed

Today is Digital Sisterhood Wednesday on Twitter.  That means the Digital Sisterhood Network is in full force  —

Ananda & Pascal Faublas, Jacmel Director for Fairwinds Trading

celebrating and promoting their digital sisters by tweeting about their businesses, wisdom, creativity, blogs, Facebook pages, causes, videos, and web sites.  I created #DigitalSisterhood Wednesdays during the 2010 Blogalicious Weekend Conference and  launched the weekly Twitter celebration to  give women in social media a weekly opportunity to build and strengthen their communities. Each week women are encouraged to celebrate and promote their digital sisters by using the #FF (Friday Follow) format.  This weekly celebration gave birth to Digital Sisterhood Month and the Digital Sisterhood Network in December.  One of the lessons I learned during Digital Sisterhood Month was that Digital Sisterhood is more than a weekly or month-long celebration. It is a movement that has a life of its own.  It is living and breathing on and offline.

Heather Whaling, Sloane Berrent & Ananda

Did you know Digital Sisterhood traveled with me when I left Washington, DC and landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on February 25?   I had no idea she packed herself in my luggage with plans for developing digital sisterhood bonds with 11 amazing women I met through the Heart of Haiti campaign.  See the list of digital sisters below.  Click here to see more photos of the Heart of Haiti‘s Digital Sisterhood.

Heart of Haiti Digital Sisters

  • Sloane Berrent, Humanitarian, Kiva Fellow, and Founder of The Causemopolitan,
  • Laura Ciocia, Senior Digital Strategist at Everywhere,
  • Pascale Faubas, Jacmel Director, Fairwinds Trading
  • Deana Jirak, Designer and Photographer,
  • Danica Kombol, Managing and Founding Partner at Everywhere,
  • Johnica Reed, Travel Tastemaker, Writer, and Founder of leisureStrategy,
  • Willa Shalit, Artist, Author, Co-Founder of V-Day, CEO of Fairwinds Trading, and Founder of Touch Foundation,
  • Nathalie Tancrede, co-founder of Fondation d’Ayiti Soleil, a Haitian organization that helps educate Haitian girls and women, and the Haiti Country Director for Fairwinds Trading
  • Juliana Um, Creative Director, Fairwinds Trading
  • Heather Whaling, PR/Social Media Expert and President of Geben Communication.
Laura Ciocia, Deana Jirak, Sloane Berrent & Ananda
Johnica Reed, Ananda & Danica Kombol

I learned so much about these ladies in four days. We talked about many issues as we toured Port-au-Prince.  Stories, insights, reflections, and lessons learned danced in and out of our daily adventures.  Laughter, silent pauses, a reflection and prayer circle, yoga before sunrise, Reiki healing touch sessions, blogging and tweeting in the hotel restaurant, filming video interviews, taking photos everyplace we stopped, late night girl weekend conversations, dancing and eating plantains at Jacmel’s Carnival, and chit chatting at the cafe in Toussaint Louverture International Airport are just a few of the ways Digital Sisterhood created bonds between me and these women.

It’s hard for me to fully describe the Digital Sisterhood bond that happened in Haiti.   I guess I am still basking in the beauty and blessing of connecting with 11 dynamic women.   So I will leave you with two of my favorite Kreyol words and video interviews of Willa Shalit and Heather Whaling.  The Heart of Haiti Digital Sisterhood is “belle bagay” (a Kreyol word that means fabulous)!

Ananda’s #HeartofHaiti Post: Remembering KOFAVIV’s Young Haitian Women on International Women’s Day

Young Haitian women from KOFAVIV

Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  In an effort to honor the 100th anniversary of this powerful day, I took three moments of silence to remember and honor the young Haitian women I met while visiting KOFAVIV, an organization that supports women and girls who have experienced violence. I met these amazing creative young ladies during my Heart of Haiti blogger ambassador trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti on February 26.  A very special digital sisterhood moment happened during my visit.  One of the young Haitian women and I really connected. We had some great conversations about her life and mine.  Before I left, she asked me for my email so we could stay in touch.  I promised her that I would stay in touch.  This week I am planning to write her a short email that includes the photos we took together.  Isn’t digital sisterhood great!

Ananda’s #HeartofHaiti Post: Photos of City Life in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Port-au-Prince is a a busy city that has been deeply impacted by the January 2010 earthquake.  Check out some of the photos I took during my Heart of Haiti blogger ambassador trip below.  Click here to see more photos on Flickr.

Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Ananda’s #HeartofHaiti Post: Witnessing the creative quilting power of Haitian women crafters from the PeaceQuilts in Haiti

Haiitian women quilters with Ananda @ PeaceQuilts in Haiti

I have always adored quilts. My grandmother Dorothy Mae Johnson Gartin crocheted many beautiful quilts that later inspired my own wire sculpture quilts and wall hangings.  While I was in Haiti with the Heart of Haiti Campaign on February 26,  I witnessed the creative quilting power of Haitian women who work with PeaceQuilts, an organization co-founded by Jeanne Staples that teaches Haitian women quilting skills at the College Marie Reine Immaculee, a convent operated by a soulful order of nuns called Les Filles de

Haitian PeaceQuilt member

Reine Marie Immaculee d’Haiti.  PeaceQuilts launched a Haitian national initiative to translate Haiti’s long tradition of  fine needlework into quilting right after the January 2010 earthquake.   Macy’s created a Heart of Haiti partnership with PeaceQuilts to produce a line of handmade quilted pot holders, pillows, and similar items.  Click here to learn more about PeaceQuilts.   Check out more of my Flickr photos here from the convent visit.

Haitian PeaceQuilter


Ananda with a PeaceQuilt

Join #HeartofHaiti Blogger Ambassador Ananda Leeke for 3/5 live chat about her Haiti Trip @8pm ET

Tomorrow evening I am experimenting with a new social media tool (at least for me) called Vokle during my live chat about my Heart of Haiti trip at 8:00 pm ET. Drop by and participate in the the video chat.  You can use the hashtag #HeartofHaiti to follow the conversation.  I will be sharing the books that helped me prepare for the trip, highlights from my trip, showing artwork I purchased from the Heart of Haiti artisans, and answering questions about my Haiti adventures.  Click here to join the live chat.  You can also register for it.  Feel free to watch it live tomorrow on my web site’s home page.

PS: The live chat will not be recorded! Vokle does NOT provide this service:(!  So I guess that means I will have to host a Digital Sisterhood Radio show about my trip and invite the bloggers who attended to be guests later this month.  Stay tuned for the date and time (it will happen!).

Take #HeartofHaiti Blogger Ambassador Ananda Leeke’s Video Tour of Artwork at the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Voodoo Flag featuring Haitian goddes of love Erzulie's veve at Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

When I checked into the Hotel Oloffson with my fellow Heart of Haiti “tripsters” in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on February 25, 2011, I was mesmerized by the beautiful artwork in the main hotel and my hotel room.  Check out the videos below.  Click here to see Flickr photos of the artwork.

#HeartofHaiti Blogger Ambassador Ananda Leeke’s Visit to Haitian Voodoo Flag Shop in Croix-des-Bouquets

Ananda standing with Voodoo flag artist Jean Paul Baptiste


One of the highlights of my Heart of Haiti trip was a visit to Voodoo flag artist Jean Paul Baptiste’s shop in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti on February 26, 2011. The video above features many Voodoo flags.  I was in heaven when I saw the flags with the Haitian goddess of love Erzulie and La Sirene, a Haitian goddess of the seas who appears as a mermaid.  Click here to see all of the photos on Flickr.







Ananda’s First Carnival Experience in Jacmel, Haiti

Ananda wearing a butterfly mask at the Jacmel Carnival in Haiti

My first carnival experience happened during my Heart of Haiti trip on February 27 in Jacmel, Haiti. It was “belle bagay” (a Kreyol word that means fabulous, fantastic, it was cool etc.).  The papermache artwork and masks, music, food, and lively crowds of people filled with “joie de vivre” (joy of living) made it a special experience.  Watch my videos and see photos below. Click here to see all of my photos from the Jacmel Carnival.


Jacmel Carnival life size masks
Jacmel Carnival Celebration
Jacmel Carnival Celebration
Carnival Mask

Ananda’s Heart of Haiti Visit to Metal Artisans in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti

Serge Jolimeau’s Metal Artwork

Today, I am remembering my Heart of Haiti visit to Haitian metal artisan Serge Jolimeau’s atelier on February 26, 2011, in Croix des Bouquets, a town located outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  See the video above.  At first glance, I fell in love with Jolimeau’s artwork featuring La Sirene, a beautiful African-inspired mermaid and Haitian loa who rules the seas with her husband Agwe.  La Sirene brings luck and money from the ocean’s depth were she makes her own music.  She adores objects of beauty, jewelry, gold and diamonds.  She is also a seductress like Haitian loa Erzulie Freda and dangerously fierce like Haitian loa Erzulie Dantor.  Erzulie is the goddess of love and one of my all time favorite Haitian goddesses. Mermaids have always been some of my favorites (on my first night in Port-au-Prince, I purchased two paintings featuring La Sirene – see photo).  La Sirene and Erzulie show up in my own paintings, wire sculptures and books!

La Sirene paintings from an art gallery in Port-au-Prince

Did you know that Jolimeau’s  metal artwork is made from oil cans?  What a powerful way to recycle and recreate beauty!

Oil can used by metal artisans to create metal artwork

His artwork reflects his family’s farming background, fertile imagination, and passion for Haitian Voodoo and folklore, the human body, animals, and figures from mythology.  It is featured and sold in the Heart of Haiti collection at Macy’s.

About Serge Jolimeau:

Serge Jolimeau’s metal artwork

Jolimeau, a native of Croix des Bouquets, was born in 1952. Croix des Bouquets is the home of several great Haitian sculptors including the late Georges Liautaud and Murat Brierre, the brothers Louisjuste, and Gabriel Bien-Aimé. As a child, he as inspired by the blacksmiths in his village. After he completed high school, he worked as an apprentice under metal sculptor Serisier Louisjuste.  His work has been published in Where Art is Joy (Rodman, 1988), Forgerons duVodou/ Voodoo Blacksmiths (Foubert, 1990), and A Haitian Celebration: Art and Culture (Stebich, 1992). He has shown his work at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, LACITA in Biarritz, France, and in Germany, Haiti, and Mexico. Currently, he serves as a community leader for the Association of Artists and Artisans of Croix des Bouquets. To learn more about Jolimeau, visit the links below.






About the Heart of Haiti:

The Heart of Haiti campaign is a partnership between Fairwinds Trading, Macy’s, and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. It was created to provide sustainable income to Haitian artisans impacted by the January 2010 earthquake. Through the partnership, the artisans create artwork that is sold as the Heart of Haiti collection in Macy’s stores. The sales from these hand-made products including quilts, metalwork, paper måché, painting and jewelry generate the sustainable income and provide trade instead of aid to the Haitian artisans.