December 12, 2005 - Vol 1 #4
Meet Jacqui Labrom
Who is Jacqui Labrom?
Jacqui Labrom is an Englishwoman who has adopted Haiti as her country. I lived here during the epoch of Papa Doc and Jean Claude, down in the South, in Aux Cayes and grew to love the country and the people. I was lucky with my job as a missionary, that I could travel all over the south and get to know the different parts of Haiti. I learned Creole by living with a Haitian pastor and his family and everyone helped me to learn the language. I speak it fluently but am still learning the new words that are entering into the Creole vocabulary. I love the language and talk to myself in Creole and dream in Creole. I have problems sometimes speaking good English, as I tend to translate directly from Creole into English. One day I said to someone ‘little Jeep mine' meaning My little jeep, but in my head I was saying “ti jeep mwen”!!
Where did you grow up for the most part? Where do you live now for the most part?
I grew up in England, born in Bristol, in the West of England and then moved when I was out of school to London, the capital of England. I now live ‘net' in Haiti. I bought a house here 3 years ago and unless the politics really go bad then I'm here for good. I live in Delmas 75 which is a nice quiet neighbourhood and a good central location for doing my work as a Tour Guide.
How do your youth experiences relate to your life as an adult?
My youth experiences, certainly as a young missionary in Haiti relate very well to my life now in Haiti. I learned so much about Haitian life and culture and about the people, that I can now use those experiences and enjoy my life because of them. I made many Haitian friends when I was here before, mainly 5 families, and they are still my friends – their kids have grown up and become friends too.
Are you the person that you wanted to be as you grew up?
Am I the person I wanted to be – that's a very deep question and I'm not sure that I thought about what kind of person I wanted to be. The only thing I can say is that I've been very blessed in that I've had 3 wonderful careers in my life. My job as a missionary was wonderful – although I have to admit I was a bit of a rebel missionary. I liked the Haitian people too much for the mission's liking! But I got to know so much about this wonderful country and enjoyed myself, working myself out of a job in order that Haitian girls could take over from me. Which they did and my program of Les Lumières d'Haiti is still going on 30 years later, which is very satisfying. My second career was in London as a Recruitment specialist, finding jobs for people, and people for companies. Again it was a people orientated position and I loved getting the ‘right job' for someone. Now in my 3rd career I am showing people Haiti and this is something I adore. Imagine getting paid for what you like to do best – talk about Haiti. It's my passion and I love it, and enjoy giving work to Haitians either as a guide, a chauffeur or in other ways.
Tell us about your activities in general and your special interests.
I love to play Bridge and we have a good group of people who meet weekly. [Members come and go, and] I get to meet lots of people from all over the world.
I'm very much involved with the International Women's assn whose assn have 3 aims. One - to help each other out in a new country. Two - to learn as much as we can about Haitian culture, and Three, the most important, to raise funds for charities involved with women and children. I have been on the Executive committee for 6 years, two years as President and it's a pleasure to introduce new foreign women to Haiti. I'm also the Librarian at the Colony Club, which is an old Lending Library situated at the Petion-Ville club. You don't have to be a member of the PV club to join and actually it predates the PV Club, having been started in 1924. We have a big selection of books in English, either fiction, non fiction, biographies and books about Haiti or written by Haitian authors. We are a very mixed group, Haitians and ‘blancs' alike who love reading. Every other week one of the members does a Tea and this brings lots of the members together in a social situation.
I'm Manager of a young men's a capella singing group, called the Union Brothers Singers and I was able to organise a Tour for them this year in the States. All 10 of them went to 5 different States over a 3 week period and had a wonderful time. The churches and groups who received them were thrilled and it was a wonderful time for all of them. They all came back, enriched with their experiences. We are due to make a new CD (their 3rd) with Christmas songs. They sing mostly Christian songs but also classic Haitian songs and they sing in Creole, French, English and African.
I have just started to work with the new Director of the MUPANAH museum to start an Association of Friends of the Museum so we can help to raise its profile, and also raise funds for this wonderful little museum. Apart from that I enjoy going to the beach, going out for dinner. I'm currently teaching English conversational classes to MINUSTAH staff, both Military and civilians and that's fun. Some of the MINUSTAH support staff have become good friends, and they're my new clients as well. So I am trying to get them to see as much of Haiti as I can before they leave.
I put on tours and weekends for all expats and Haitians during the year, and the highlight is my Jacmel Carnival tour which goes from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening. I organise the whole thing, transport, hotels, dinners, tours etc. It's hard work but a lot of fun and everyone adores the Carnival there. I also teach foreigners Creole – the language which I love, so that's fun.
What is your perception of the community or communities in which you are currently engaged - or - that you wish to belong to, on a long term basis?
The community I live in is Delmas 75 and through my house staff I have got to know lots of different people. I take their photos and help them out with my vehicle when there is a wedding etc. Also when I have a surplus of water in my reservoir I make sure that the community share in it.
What would you consider the biggest challenge to the development or betterment of your community/communities?
I would like to get the road fixed where I live. Many of the houses on my street are in the process of being built, so people are not yet living in them. But I get on very well with my next door neighbours and we are going to set up a Neighbourhood Watch scheme when everyone in the street are all settled in.
What are your persistent hopes and most frequent fears?
My hopes at the moment are for free and fair elections. I would love to be and have asked to be an election observer. I pray that they will be non violent and that they will be so fair that they will be uncontested, therefore enabling us to go forward with a proper Democratic government. My hope is that those in government, and let's speak frankly, the whole country, will put their heads together for the good of the country. I often say that if I were rich I would love to have ‘banderoles' all over the country saying ‘Ask not what the country can do for you, but what YOU can do for the country', the famous words of John F Kennedy. This is my saddest view of Haiti – the people worked together in war against the French, why can't they work together for peace!! Why can't people put the needs of the people first before the thought of trying to make money out of the country!!
My fear is that the gangs and the anarchical section of the country will continue to create a feeling of fear and insecurity.
What is your most cherished dream?
The dream I have most is to have a stable government, one that looks after the needs of the people, especially the poor people. Creating jobs, creating security, creating an infra structure which would bring back tourists. Tourism is my biggest dream for this country – all the tourists I've ever had have absolutely loved the country – love the natural state, the people, the beauty of the historical sites, etc. If we had lots of tourists here everyone would eat – from the top down; and interestingly enough, the poorer people here understand that better than the government seems to.
One of my other dreams is to have a bunch of Japanese tourists here and take them to Croix de Bouquets to the Metal Village. I know they would buy the place out and I could then die happy, as the people at CdB would be able to sell all their beautiful handcraft work!!
Now suppose, just suppose, that we grant you ten million dollars for doing this interview, with the stipulation that you must spend it in 24 hours or less, what would you do?
Wow what a question. OK off the top of my head:
Invite several hundred businessmen/women from all over the world to come and start businesses here. Give them tax breaks and break up any red tape.
Invite 100 or more tour operators and foreign travel journalists to spend a week here getting to know Haiti so they would then send tourists.
Fix the main roads – work out a way to widen or create a new road up the mountain (Laboule etc) – perhaps create a tunnel in the mountains.
Clear up all the rubbish in Port-au-Prince and the provinces
Establish ‘soup kitchens' until such time as jobs were established and people could afford to feed themselves
Sort out the electricity problem
Try to work on the drainage and water problems
Establish a permanent program to train teachers in schools
Train a group of totally honest Tax Inspectors who would then demand that all the business, middle and upper classes pay the correct tax.
Establish covered accessible markets all over the country and work out a way for people to pay a little ‘tax'.
Those are some of the things off the top of my head. I've probably gone over the 10 million dollar range!!
Now suppose, just suppose, that you knew for certain that you had one week (7 days) to live, how would you spend your time?
One week. See as many of my friends and family as I could.
Is there a world leader (past or present) in any field (arts, science, rights, political, spiritual, etc) that you most admire?
Not particularly – perhaps some traits in some person and other traits in other people. I've always admired Henry Christophe as he did so many positive things. Etablishing schools, organising work groups, establishing an Art School etc. etc.
Leave us a parting word.
Think of others before yourself.
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