UC Professor reacts to Haiti tragedy

By Stefano DiPietrantonio – bio |email

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX10) - A University Of Cincinnati professor left Haiti just days before Christmas. She has spent the better part of the last decade studying Haitian and Haitian-American culture.

She lost two friends in that devastating earthquake.

Faculty Chair Jana Braziel of the Taft Research Center at UC last saw Haiti with poinsettias adorning the Palais Nationale and a huge Christmas tree gleaming in the Caribbean sunshine. It only a few weeks ago.

"The Palais Nationale was a beautiful beautiful building," Braziel said. "So bright white it was almost surreal."

Today it is a sad, gray shadow of it's formerly grand self.

"When I saw the images of the Palais Nationale and it had crumbled, I was beginning to imagine the devastation in the hillsides and all of the small houses that were ill-constructed," Braziel said.

The Haitians have only small parcels of land to build on.

"There's a tendency to build up several floors high," Braziel said. "There's a tendency to build and add on, so a house that starts out as a concrete cinder-block house one-story could end-up being added-on and upward."

Braziel went to Haiti on this trip, as part of a grant she received to work with an art collective.

"The group is called 'Artist Resistance,' which is a group that's working in the Grand Rue," Braziel said. "The 'Grand Rue' is the major boulevard, Jean Jacques Desline, which runs north and south through the city and it's a very poor area."

There is a street gallery set-up adjacent to the downtown auto district.

"They're recycling auto parts spare scrap metal, rubber, manifolds, engines," Braziel said. "And using it to make very large beautiful sculptures."

And all that unusual art catches the attention of art dealers and buyers from all over the world.

"For those of us who love Haiti and love the Haitian people," Braziel said. "Just thinking of that many people lying dead in the streets is just devastating."

And in landfills where scores of bodies will soon be buried, there are two economies working. There are those who work the bulldozes and bury the trash and debris. Then there are also those, who see art or value in what can be recycled.

Braziel said she is amazed by the ingenuity of the human spirit there.

"One of the artists who died was Lo Que, who was a friend of mine, and we are all mourning his death," Braziel said. "I've talked on the phone with a friend of mine who's 18 and really could almost not stop crying inconsolably while I was on the phone with him."

Copyright 2010 WXIX-TV and Raycom Media. All Rights Reserved.