Danielle Desulme was born in Jamaica and is the daughter of the late Yvon Desulme – a highly influential Haitian and the former Honorary Consul of the Republic of Haiti to Jamaica. Nearly 10 years ago she took a bold leap of faith to leave her birthplace and make Haiti home.
Despite its heartbreaking realities, Danielle says Haiti has an allure that conjures a love and devotion, with a rationale that’s hard to describe. She also says that the country is overflowing with a plethora of endless opportunities.
It’s that boundless landscape that opened the door for Danielle to become a major yoga success in Haiti.
Here Danielle chats with writer Nicanor Gordon about her journey to Haiti.
Tell us about your connection between Haiti and Jamaica, and how you ended up living in Haiti.
Danielle: Until today, the family name still holds a lot of recognition. During the Magloire era, my grandfather, Thomas Desulme had made a name for himself as an industrialist and senator.
He was then put into political exile from the Duvalier regime and left with his wife and younger children for Washington D.C. The older children later joined.
The family was encouraged to move to Jamaica, where they founded a large plastic manufacturing enterprise. It was then my Dad met my Mom, who was the Company Secretary for all of the family businesses. They diversified into real estate by acquiring Eaton Hall Hotel & Villas on the north coast of the island and other various real estate properties.
Immediately after the exile of Baby Doc Duvalier, my grandfather moved back. My family visited on numerous occasions. I knew right away I wanted to be there. One of my aunts reminded me of the tantrum I threw when it was time to return to Jamaica, after my first visit. Haiti captured my heart. I always told my Dad that I would eventually live there at some point in my life.
I landed in Haiti in 2012 and my beloved father died in 2013. It was so bittersweet, but I was glad he got to see me move here.
Career-wise, what do you do?
Danielle: I’m what I call a yoga-preneur.
I had just gotten my yoga certification at the end of 2012, and got the opportunity to move to Haiti to open the first yoga studio there, Project Zen, with partners based in Haiti.
Unfortunately, I shortly parted ways with the studio before it closed the following year. One of the teachers I hired was so saddened by my leaving that he went to the gym right next door without my knowledge and arranged for me to meet the owner where I started offering weekly yoga classes on their class schedule.
Funnily enough, I later met with the person that was my predecessor at Project Zen. I remember returning back to Haiti after the funeral of my beloved Dad in Jamaica. She had also parted ways with the studio, and we had this marathon of a meeting on our first encounter.
We decided to create a class schedule offering classes around the Port-au-Prince area. Shortly after we started offering yoga retreats and one-day events. It was a first for yoga classes to be offered and available on a wider scale with classes and retreats.
Eventually, my partner left Haiti and returned to her hometown, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I continued to offer classes and events under the name Ayiti (Haiti) Yoga.
Working in Haiti has allowed me to do new and creative events that were not available before. In 2017, I launched my monthly “Yoga Brunch” event, partnering with hotels and restaurants for a morning of yoga followed by a plant-based brunch. It allowed the hotel or restaurant to experiment with their menu and promote their services. It was a win-win!
How did you get into yoga?
Danielle: My first experience was not the best! I was so used to working out at the gym, the slow pace of the class, combined with meditation and breathing exercises, was completely out of my comfort zone. Needless to say, it wasn’t until later on that I learnt of the other styles like Power, Hot and Ashtanga Yoga!
A few months later, I was speaking with a girlfriend of mine and she told me that she was doing yoga. Suffering from an autoimmune disease, she said it helped her with balance, strength and peace of mind. After some coaxing, I joined her for a class, and I was hooked!
I even returned to the same studio where I had my first class. I was on my mat, religiously 5-6 days a week.
In 2012, I received an email with the subject saying “Do You Want to Be a Yoga Teacher?” My reply was a resounding, “Yes!”
How was your transition from Jamaica to Haiti – both with work and personally?
Let me be very honest with you, when I landed in Haiti and the doors opened and I stepped outside, and said, “What the f*ck did I just do?”
When the family returned to Haiti after being exiled for so many years, my grandfather was like a king and his family returning home. It was a celebration with parties, meeting of family and friends and learning about the family history. Shortly after, he ran for president with the hopes of giving back to his homeland.
However, after the 2010 earthquake and everything the country had gone through, Haiti was different from when we would visit when I was a young teenager. The Jamaican proverb comes to mind: ” Si mi and cum live with mi a two different ting!” (LOL)
For me the biggest challenge is driving! With hardly any stop lights, road signs and monster traffic jams, I still haven’t mustered the courage to drive. And although I still don’t speak Creole fluently, I have come a long way baby…I’m working on it!
There’s an idea that Haiti is backward, filled with poverty and a traumatic place to visit for foreigners. What would you say to outsiders who have this impression?
Danielle: Like I’ve said, there’s something about this country that pulls you in. Its beauty is underrated, the culture is rich, there is a rawness of life that is somewhat alluring. And, of course, my father’s presence is omnipresent.
Danielle: After teaching for almost ten years with a consistent open class schedule, which also includes private, group and corporate clients, I love creating events as I’m always looking to keep my work interesting and varied in my offerings. But I’m a bit of a free spirit, and open to learning and doing new things. I have ideas… but as they say “Everything in divine timing!”