[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

#2607: Haitian Times: Bicycling in Haiti (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>

Fulfilling a Childhood Dream

French cyclist on world bike tour meets with Haitian children

By Jennifer Bauduy Haitian Times Staff PORT-AU-PRINCE -
Twenty-five-year-old French cyclist Patrice Ponza was a little nervous 
when he biked across the Jimani border from the Dominican Republic into 
Malpasse, Haiti three weeks ago. "Everyone kept telling me to watch my 
things and be careful," said Ponza. Instead, as Ponza, who is on a
two-year bike tour of French-speaking countries, pedaled through the
provinces on his way to Port-au-Prince, he was offered food and taken
into the homes of locals all along the way. "People don't have much to 
eat, yet they have been very generous with me, either sharing a plate of 
rice or setting me up in their house," he said. "Honestly, for me it is 
not more dangerous than the United States or France... On the contrary, 
there is a solidarity here that you don't find elsewhere."

Five months ago, Ponza packed toiletries, a tent, first-aid kit, art
suplies, clothes and other essential items into a waterproof white mini 
trailer hooked onto his bicycle and set-out from his mountain village in 
southeast France on a biking tour to meet children around the world.
>From the French lower Alps, Ponza has biked through six countries since 
last September, spending two to three weeks in each, and stopping in
elementary schools along the way. He has 22 countries more to go if he 
is to reach his destination -- Beirut, Lebanon in September 2001.

"The idea was to live out a childhood dream to go discover the world,
but to do so while sharing the journey with children," said Ponza, who 
had no training as a cyclist prior to his trip. Ponza, who is a poet,
sculpture, and painter, and has degrees in communications, began
planning his journey to meet children around the world nearly three
years ago. He founded an association called Parlons Francophone to
sponsor his project of collecting poems about freedom by children as
well as paintings of their homes in the countries he visited. Ponza has 
visited 34 schools since his journey began.

"What I would like is for Francophone children of the world to give
another picture of freedom today. Freedom is a concept, which has always 
been described by adults," said Ponza, who wore a white baseball cap
with the signatures of children he has met scribbled in different
colors. With funding from former U.N. Secretary General Boutros-Boutros 
Ghali's Inter-governmental Agency of La Francophonie, Ponza launched his 
trip from Moncton, Canada on Sept. 5.

He plans to end his journey at the opening ceremony of the Summit of
Francophone countries in Beirut. When he leaves Haiti, Ponza will fly to 
Morocco, and bike through Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast,
Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Central Africa, the Congo,
Madagascar, the Comoros Islands, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Bulgaria,
Romania, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland before reaching Beirut. So 
far Ponza has visited Canada and French-speaking schools in Philadelphia 
and New Orleans, before biking to villages in Mexico where descendants 
from his hometown, Barcelonnette, have settled. From Mexico, Ponza
transited through the Dominican Republic where he biked to Haiti, which 
Ponza said, in spite of the extreme poverty, had been the highlight thus 
far. "Though people are struggling on a daily basis to survive, I was
greeted with a very warm welcome," he said. But Ponza said he was
shocked when a Haitian government official walked into the classroom of 
one of the schools and confiscated some of the children's poems about

"They censored me," Ponza said his eyes wide in surprise. "The man said 
those poems weren't good for the image of the country." The official,
who was from the Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation, was
again present when Ponza was at St. Trinity's, an Episcopal school, the 
next day but he did not take away more poems. In a small auditorium at 
St. Trinity's, in downtown Port-au-Prince, some 40 girls and boys in
school uniforms scribbled intently, writing poems about freedom. "I am 
writing this poem for children who are not free. It's for children like 
us who need freedom to live, to go to school, to play with their
parents, their brothers and sisters, to learn..." wrote 11-year-old
Amanda Izmera Delva in French. In Francophone countries like Haiti,
where the first language is other than French, Ponza encouraged children 
to write in whatever language they were comfortable.

"The soul of this country is in Creole, not in French," he said. Creole, 
which has its roots in African languages, is the language spoken by the 
majority of Haitians, while French is spoken by an educated minority.
Ponza said he set out to meet children in Francophone countries because 
there was no language barrier. He chose the nine through 11-year-old age 
group because of a connection formed with children of those ages the
year he spent recovering from a serious car accident in a hospital
children's ward in 1993. "I found children of that age to be fantastic 
-- their spirits are very open. Their spirits are open enough to
understand life, and at the same time they are still young enough to
listen to life," Ponza said. "Children have a heart, which very often is 
bigger than those of adults, and they have a spirit that allows them to 
be free.

Children will speak to adults. I think they will explain some things to 
them," he said. The children's poems will be published in 2002 in a book 
titled Parlons Francophone. All proceeds will go to help poor children 
around the world, Ponza said. The paintings will be displayed in an
exposition in France. "When I explain the book to the children, when I 
explain that their activity is going to help other children, they
immediately want to know what to do. I think it's super," Ponza said.

Despite his first bicycle getting stolen in Montreal, and a bout of
loneliness early on during his travels through the United States, Ponza 
said his trip has been free of mishaps. "The best part is going into the 
schools. Going into a school reminds me why I am doing this trip, why I 
get back on my bike. If I didn't have the children I wouldn't do the
trip, I'm sure," Ponza said.


The Haitian Times
610 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn New York, 11238 718-230-8700
Send Questions and Comments to info@haitiantimes.com