Friday, December 26, 2008

Jwaye Nwel: Our first Christmas in Haiti

Click on captions (below) to view captions.

Yes, our tree was a cactus. No, we didn't have turkey. Pumpkin ginger soup and sweet potato biscuits made a great stand-in though. And to give credit where credit is due, German photojournalist Ben Schilling took a few of these photos. (American photojournalist Ben Depp took the rest).

And now, we're pleased to announce that we're off to the Dominican Republic for a week...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tet Chaje!*

*means "What a headache!" or something similar. Learn to learn to use this phrase in Kreyol and you're pretty much set...

As blan with more resources at our disposal than the average Haitian, we are expected to hire someone to work for us. This is not something that either of us was comfortable with but we finally agreed to hire Anne, the woman who works for our landlord. Anne comes for a 1/2 day once a week to clean for us and do a little laundry. After a rocky start to the relationship (someday I should devote an entire blog post this story!) we've grown to really like and trust her. She's 23, unmarried, has a 5-year old daughter, has never been to school and is taking night classes to learn how to read. She's super-spunky and has money invested in a community savings co-op with long-term plans to start her own small business.

Having her work for us has caused some tension between us and our landlord's wife and mother-in-law. They think we pay her too much (because they pay her outrageously too little) and we aren't "strict" enough with her. Racism runs deep in Haitian culture: they are light-skinned and, needless to say, Anne is very black. They yell at her and call her names, won't let her drink their filtered water or touch the children. She works for them everyday (and they call her in most Saturdays, too) from about 8 AM-6 PM for a little over $50 a month. And even though they referred her to us, they've started giving her extra work to do on the days that she cleans for us.

This morning they fired her. They think she is "arrogant" and "impertinent" (part of why we like her so much!) and I think they've been looking for an excuse to let her go. But now they don't want her working for us either. It's taken us a long time to get used to having someone work for us, even if it's only once a week. We've developed a relationship with Anne, we trust her, and she does a good job. We don't want someone else to work for us. But, we also live in the same compound as our landlord and his family and can't afford to destroy that relationship.

Tet chaje!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas came early...

...or Terry and Lori's package came really late. Yesterday we got our first package here. It's amazing how excited we got over this shoebox of goodies, especially given that Haiti is only 700 miles from the Florida coast. Equally amazing was the postmark on the package: August 9th. Four months to go 700 miles!
Special treats: most of these things are available here, but they're beyond what we can afford on our MCC budget (which I might add, is still waaay more than the average Haitian's disposable income). We were so excited for trail mix that we ate it for dessert.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Peace on Earth

While Ben has Uzi-infested dreams of slaughtering our resident rat (see last post), I have spent my week meditating on peace. Peace is the theme for the 2nd week of advent that began on Sunday, peace is the subject of my current read ("Seeking Peace" by Bruderhof-member Johann Christoph Arnold) and peace-building is a fundamental tenant of the Mennonite faith that I am so drawn to.

We're celebrating Advent with a group of friends here. After our most recent service I was sitting on our porch (currently festooned with blinking Christmas lights thanks to our landlord), thinking about peace and listening to gunshots across the valley. I realized that they (the gunshots) don't really startle me anymore. I guess I'm becoming desensitized to hearing them, at least from the relative safety of our porch.

So I'm thinking about advent, peace and gunshots and of the little group of us sharing prayers for peace... Knowing that someday there will be peace on earth, but in the meantime letting our hearts break in solidarity with everyone that is NOT experiencing peace in Port-Au-Prince or peace in Mumbai or in Georgia, Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka....

And yet peace is so much more than simply the absence of war: Shalom implies wholeness, justice and love. It implies that we are more than just physically at peace with one another and with creation. I'm realizing that for any kind of peacebuilding to come out of my life, my own spiritual and inner peace is where I need to start.

I want to share with you the responsive prayer that we read together on Sunday as we lit our 2nd advent candle:
(note: Salaam is the Arabic word for peace)

Reader: Peace, peace they say, and yet there is no peace.

People: True peace is not achieved by building walls and loading guns, but by loving
one another.

Reader: We are called to be peacemakers.

People: Make us channels of your peace, O, Lord. For from you comes true peace.

Reader: We light this candle of peace to remind us that true peace is possible,
because in Jesus we are reconciled to God and to one another.

People: Even in a violent and hurting world we trust in your great love, which is
always stronger than our weaknesses, pride and fear.

Reader: O, Prince of Peace, come and grant the world your peace.

People: Salaam, salaam, salaam. Maranatha!

A rat

Last night while I was sitting on the couch putting together a short film for work, a rat ran along the top of the wall towards our shelves of food. The rat spotted me- we locked eyes for a moment. Then he turned around and walked back across the top of the wall to where he had come from- a hole six inches wide in the wall above the closet in our bedroom. The rat stood outside his hole (out of my reach) until he got bored and went home. The rat was the size of a small cat. I spent a while brainstorming on what to use as a weapon, but couldn’t find anything- no bars, bats or large knives. I really wish I had a gun. I’m not sure what the rat eats, because I know we don’t have enough food in our house for him. I saw him twice more last night before going to bed. After I turned out the light, the place was his. I could hear him stomping around until I fell asleep.
I woke up at 3:30 AM because so many mosquitoes were biting me all at once. One was sucking blood from my face when I smacked it and it fell into my mouth. I turned on the light and was able to kill six mosquitoes, all inside our mosquito net. They were all slow and full of blood. As I fell back asleep, with blood still on my hands, I dreamed of killing the rat. I imagined the rat coming in for dinner, finding some spaghetti or left-over pasta spilled on the counter. He is sitting, hunched over, stuffing his face, when I come out of the bathroom and shoot him with a pistol in the back several times and he collapses into his food.
And then it’s wintertime out side. I carry an Uzi in the house to guard against groups of other rats. People mill around in black clothes. Spring comes quickly and I forget what happened next.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Case Against Styrofoam

This is a canal that runs through downtown Port-Au-Prince. No living organism on earth will eat petroleum-based products, so styrofoam can NEVER fully biodegrade. Take your own to-go containers when you eat out or ask for foil!

-Lexi, of course :)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

You know it's Christmas time in Port-Au-Prince when...

  1. Some of the water trucks that play a synthesized version of the Titanic theme song now play a synthesized medley of Jingle Bells, We Wish you a Merry Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
  2. It's apparently cold enough for used-clothing vendors on the street to replace tank-tops with jackets. (To be fair, I have worn a cardigan a few times recently).
  3. There is a GIANT inflatable Santa Claus on the roof of the Total station in Petion-Ville.
  4. You can buy Christmas trees (read: tree branches painted white and secured into milk powder cans) on the side of Avenue John Brown.
  5. The larger supermarkets have set up real fake Christmas trees.
  6. Crime rates go up, especially pickpocketing and petty theft.
  7. Colored lights are everywhere, including our porch as supplied by our landlord.
  8. The fancy shops in Petion-Ville have Christmas-themed window displays.
  9. The expats with real salaries are preparing to leave for the holidays.
  10. Intricate luminaries made with colored paper are for sale on Bourdon. Vendors light them up at night and the street looks magical.

Monday, December 1, 2008

How we spent World Aids Day

POHDH helped coordinate a march in downtown Port-Au-Prince advocating rights for people living with HIV/AIDS, specifically things like access to anti-retrovirals and the right to live with dignity and without discrimination.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Helping Haiti?

Here we are, two very Caucasian Americans who have moved to Port-au-Prince for 3 years. Why are we here? Recently we've gotten some messages that have made us uneasy and it seems time to explain what WE think we're doing here.

First of all, we are not here because we think we can help anyone. We don't have anything to offer Haiti that Haitians don't, and don't buy into the idea that as non-Haitians we have the ability to "develop" Haiti. Through the approach that MCC takes to development, Ben and I are both seconded (ie. partnered) with Haitian organizations. We work for and with Haitians that have the desire and capacity to do development work and human rights advocacy without any help from us. (After all, my coworkers are lawyers, human rights specialists and activists - and all far more qualified than I am). We view our work here as more of a partnership. We are here to form relationships, build bridges and work alongside our Haitian coworkers. We are here with the desire to be transformed and learn to view the world in a new and less ethno-centric way.

"Development" in Haiti (as in most parts of the world) is complex. It would be difficult to overestimate how MUCH need there is here. And yet unfortunately much of that is a result of a dependency on North America that we've helped to create here. There's no lack of church groups and organizations here handing out food and blankets and soap. There's a dualism here: Haitians both want what they think "white people" are here to give them, and they resent us for being here at all. A number of people that we've talked to believe that Haiti's proximity to the U.S. (and therefore inevitable mission's trip destination) is one of the reasons that Haiti's economic condition is what it is. There's a difference, even in attitude, between enabling and empowering.

That said, we still think that disaster relief is a very appropriate outlet for giving people things (material aid). In an emergency (say, after the four consecutive hurricanes that hit Haiti this summer), people NEED HELP. Haitians needed (and still need) emergency relief in Gonaives after Hurricanes Fay, Gustave, Hanna and Ike.

We do wonder sometimes if it wouldn't be better for us not to be here. Are we contributing to the dependency that development work has fostered throughout the world: Global North = givers; Global South = receivers? The only justification I have for our presence here - and this doesn't always hold up under my mental scrutiny - is the idea that we are partnering with Haitians in their work for the development of their country. In my mind this is maybe how our mandate as followers of Christ fits into the model of sustainable development.

The last thing I want to do is offend anyone with my comments. I'm just trying to make some space for all of us to think about these complex issues. Thoughts or observations?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Christmas, It's not your birthday

With one thousand dollars you can sponsor one of these families for an 18-month program to ease them out of extreme poverty. click here for more information
I posted this multimedia before, but I just added some pictures and some drumming and thought I'd re-post it. Also I'm not sick anymore.

-Ben from Lexi's account


There is a system here holding 250,000 children in slavery. It happens that parents in the countryside have too many mouths to feed, so they send a child to a distant relative in the city or to a friend or an agent who promises that the children will be taken care of and sent to school. The children provide live-in labor for the families they live with, are not sent to school, are often abused, overworked and treated like animals. These children are called Restaveks.
I met an 8-year old girl recently who had been a Restavek. Her mother wanted to join the Fonkoze program that I work for and Fonkoze required that she and her husband retrieve their daughter from the city in order to join the program.
The mother died and the family is still receiving aid from Fonkoze because the program is 18-months long. This little girl technically inherited the responsibility and assets of her mother's business in the Fonkoze program because she is now the only woman in the family. I met her father recently and he said that his 8-year-old daughter is too much trouble: “she is always wandering away and I don’t know where she is…I can’t handle her.” So when the program is over in December he is sending her back to the city to work.
This is a systemic issue that is rooted in people's economic conditions. It’s really a poverty issue and it's argued that if extreme poverty is alleviated, people will be able to feed their families and stop sending their children away. After slavery ended here, there continued to be a small light-skinned elite that controlled the country's wealth and this is still the case. There is a strong class system in place with poor children very much at the bottom.
The human rights organization that Alexis works for recently moderated a panel discussion on the Restavek system. It was well-publicized, got a lot of media attention (Alexis was even on TV) and was followed on Thursday, Int'l Children Rights Day, by a solidarity march through the city that ended with protests in front of the Prime Minister's office. Haiti's history of political freedom is short and we all know that drawing attention to issues through peaceful protest can be the beginning of lasting change.
It wasn't that long ago that we used children similarly in the US. Check out these photos by Lewis Hine. It is something that can change.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Deadly School Collapse in Haiti"

We've been asked by a number of people at home whether or not we're near (or have seen) the 5-story school that collapsed in Petionville on Friday. Although we don't live nearby, the whole city is grieving. People are really angry about what happened and seem to be trying to decide who to blame. Part of the tragedy is that the school's owner, a protestant preacher, has been ignoring complaints from neighbors for years that the building was unstable. As far as I understand, the UN and Red Cross are still uncovering victims.

Here's a link to an AP story about the collapse:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Finding Life

We went to a young people's art exhibit last week and were struck by Haitian students' perceptions of Haiti and what it means to be Haitian: Images of death, violence, brokenness, environmental degradation, the scales of arbitrary justice, the fist... Haitian young people have a lot to be angry about. In spite of a fierce national pride, most of the young people that we've met don't think that Haiti has anything to offer in terms of a future. The statistics are certainly not in their favor: more than 2/3 of the population is not formally employed, 80% under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty, extensive deforestation and soil erosion, inadequate infrastructure and supplies of potable water, rapidly rising prices of basic commodities... the list goes on and on. You probably see it in the news.
Sometimes it seems like we've successfully pillaged and bled this country until there is almost nothing left. But even while these pieces depict the tragedy of Haiti's history, they are also full of the contrasting images of peace, community, creativity hope and strength: the dove, the mermaid, creation, the human heart and body... Haiti is teaching me to see beyond the hopeless statistics and see LIFE. I am constantly being reminded here that life and beauty overcome, even in the face of some of the most systemic and categorical injustices imaginable.

To see more from this amazing exhibit:

- Lexi from Ben's account

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

juicy piece of gossip

So we thought that we lived next door to the president of the Haitian Red Cross... Although it seemed odd to us that the president of the Haitian RC had guards with shotguns and constant motorcades coming in and out. And also that our landlord mentioned needing to be careful who he rented our apartment to since it overlooks her house. The occasional secret police posted at the end of the street (that won't let anyone by that they don't recognize) and the fancy tinted-windows SUV outside her gate with its motor running at all hours of the night are a few other indicators. WELL, come to find out from our landlady that our neighbor is RP's girlfriend*. I use his initials for the sake of discretion, but you don't have to delve very far into Haitian politics to figure out who "RP" is. That's right! I definitely find myself peering out the window whenever a car pulls up outside now.

*I told a coworker this and she said, "you mean one of his girlfriends."If the president can publicly have multiple girlfriends, it's no wonder that the girl that cleans for us once a week thought that Ben might be interested in a discreet extra-marital affair!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Tuesday, my boss picked me up at home and we drove a couple hours to the town where people catch boats to Lagonav. We were on the dock waiting for a boat by 9:30 AM. There were three boats at the dock: a small World Vision speedboat, a fifty-foot sailboat with two outboard motors and a ferry. At 11:30 the ferry started honking its horn so we bought tickets and boarded. The sailboat left just a few minutes later. At 12:30 we finally started the hour-and-a-half boat ride to the island of Lagonav.
We arrived at biggest port on the island, which consisted of one mob of people unloading a few boats and a small town without roads. We waited for a while and somebody picked us up and took us to the Concern office where we were supposed to take a different truck to our final destination 30 miles away.
We waited. Turns out the truck that was going to take us had left on another trip because we were late. We hired a taxi to take us, which cost $165 U.S. The taxi was a 4-wheel drive toyota from the 1980's with an NRA sticker still on the back window.
This island has no roads. It has rocky dirt trails. After two hours of driving, we got a flat tire. I was relieved to get a break from sitting between my boss and the driver. After the driver and his teenage assistant changed the tire, I decided to try sitting in the back of the truck for more air and space. An hour and a half later I had to retreat back to my place between my boss and the driver because the wooden benches in the back of the truck were unbearable. I'm lying down to write this because my butt is so bruised.We also had to stop and borrow a bar from somebody to use for leverage to tighten the U-bolts on the truck's rear-end.
30 miles and five hours later, I was thanking God that I was still alive. It was 8:30 PM when we finally got to the Fonkoze "base," so the driver and his assistant ate dinner with us and stayed the night. The part of the island that we're on is green with some trees, but mostly just very green brush that's about 6 feet tall. There is no electricity here except for a delco (generator) at the Fonkoze office. And no phone lines or cellular signal, and water only from rain-water collection.
I'm here until Saturday and am already looking forward to being back in Port Au Prince, mostly because I miss Alexis and because I had stale fish and boiled plantains for breakfast and will probably have that every day that I'm here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Haitians use more proverbs than any people we've met! These fun phrases may make Kreyol-learning a little more complicated but certainly spice up a conversation. When blan use proverbs, it has this magic effect on people: they LOVE us for trying (or are immediately convinced of our linguistic fluency and start speedtalking). I like to think that proverbs reveal a lot about Haitian cultural values, too. Here a few that we've learned:

Ti pa ti pa zwazo fe nich li (little by little, the bird builds its nest):
The shortened form of this one is just "ti pa ti pa," and can be used to refer to anything that is done slowly or methodically. Like my ankle is healing ti pa ti pa, or Ben is learning Kreyol ti pa ti pa.

Pale Kreyol tankou rat (speak Kreyol like a rat):
as in, someday Ben and I hope to speak Kreyol like rats. Exactly. What's not to love about a culture in which, linguistically speaking, you dart around like a rat when you are fluent in the language?

M ap bwe yon tas kafe amè avek ou (I drink a bitter cup of coffee with you):
Haitians take coffee with their sugar. According to my coworker Marthe, "drinking coffee without sugar isn't interesting." So to proverbially offer someone a cup of coffee without sugar is to imply that they have made you angry.

Manje ki fet pa gen met (Cooked food has no owner):
Haitians know how to share.

A succinct description of Haiti, both literally and figuratively:
Dye mon, gen mon (Beyond mountains, there are mountians)

Bondye konn bay, men li pa konn separe (God gives, but doesn't share):
That's the Haitian answer to "why God permits misery." It's our fault, not God's. God has given us everything we need and left it up to us to divvy things up. It's the responsibility of people with more to share what they have with people with less. For a great discussion on how this plays our in Haitian culture, see Bryan's latest post.

In reference to hunger:
Sak vid pa kanpe (An empty sack can't stand up)

Lave men ou epi seche yo nan pousye a (washing your hands and drying them in dirt) : is stupid. And so this saying can describe anything that doesn't make sense, although technically it refers more to cause-and-effects. To miss out on the sunset from our porch because I'm writing this blogpost would be like washing my hands and drying them in dirt. So, I think I'll go enjoy the sunset with my husband.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Updates and Observations

I haven't taken a hot shower for 3 months and we have a pink bidet in our bathroom.

I sprained my ankle last Tuesday and spent most of the past week on crutches. Ben is on the island of LaGonave this week. Of the vegetable seeds we've planted so far, tomatoes, cilantro, basil and an unknown squash have come up.

Some things we don't take for granted anymore are cheese, sidewalks and electricity. Two batteries for our inverter does not = enough power to keep our refrigerator running.

Haiti is universally rooting for Obama.

Hurricane season ends in November. It's almost mango season.

It takes me seven minutes to get home from work by motorcycle or 40-60 minutes by car. Also, I recently received this text message from an undisclosed number: Preparez-vous, Jesus revient bientot! (Prepare yourself, Jesus is coming back soon!)

I saw two shooting stars from our porch last night.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Our new digs

First, Gabriela helps Ben paint:

Then we clean, move in and give you a tour:

The Art Show

On Saturday we went to an art show. We paid 200 gourdes at the door and got a coupon for 150 gourdes to use with any vendor and a second coupon for a free drink - in my opinion, an ingenius way to get people to spend money while making them feel like they got a great deal.
The show ran from Friday to Sunday. We went on Saturday and it was so great that we went back again on Sunday. There were more than 200 artists and vendors set up under tents on the lawn in front of the sugarcane museum, selling a variety of artwork, mostly pretty crafty stuff - jewelery, metal work, bead work, carving, furniture, paper mache, pottery...

Our favorite newly acquired piece of artwork:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

World Food Day

Tomorrow is World Food Day. I'm translating a POHDH press release on Haiti's food crisis that calls the Haitian government to reexamine its adherence to neoliberal trade policies, and I am contemplating the billions of people worldwide that will go to bed hungry tonight. It's easy to wonder if, sitting at my computer with French-English dictionary on hand, I am really doing what is required of me. Here is my challenge:
"I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me... I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Chemin Lavi Miyò Multimedia

Push Play. (It still needs some music and maybe a narrator that doesn't sound just like Alexis)

Monday, October 6, 2008

My first day at POHDH

So I kind of thought a degree in sustainable development meant that I would play in the dirt a lot, and might also give some credibility to my firmly-held beliefs in recycling, urban gardening, alternative modes of transportation and my opinion that you shouldn't flush the toilet every time (which, incidentally is not really an option in Haiti and, with each 5- gallon flush, may well become less of an option for you, too).

Given these interests, I was somewhat bewildered to find myself at POHDH today, sharing an office with a woman who has multiple degrees in human rights law and speaks 4 languages. "How exactly did I get this job?", I was asking myself. It's not that I'm not passionate about human rights (for awhile now I've even been considering pursuing a Master's degree in gender-based human rights). But interest aside, my actual experience in this field is limited to a few university courses and a brief stint working on translations and grant proposals for the peace and justice division of CRS in Cameroon.

All that to say, I felt way in over my head. My job description isn't THAT terrifying, so I think my jitters are partially because of Kreyol. Don't let Ben fool you when he says that I'm "already fluent." I'm perfectly comfortable negotiating for bananas in the market, but my Kreyol-for-the-professional-setting is still sparse.

POHDH stands for Platforme des Organisations Haitiennes des Droits Humaines and is exactly that - a platform of eight Haitian human rights organizations with the following objectives:

3.1 To actively engage with the population in the struggle for the promotion and defense of human rights,

3.2 To allow its member organizations to exchange their experiences, to share their human and material resources and to consult together regarding human rights problems in Haiti,

3.3 To promote actions responding to the need for training in the field of human rights and the legal assistance problem in Haiti,

3.4 To assure permanent monitoring of the human rights situation in the country (the collection, verification and distribution of information).

Finally, the Platform must become a credible reference in regards to the monitoring of the human rights situation in Haiti, both on national and international level. The organization aspires to promote concrete actions in response to the problem of legal assistance in Haiti.

Note: the POHDH website is in French but has an option at the top to switch to an English version.

p.s. I will still play in the dirt as much as possible

Another note: I do also believe that UNsustainable development, even if its unconsciously unsustainable, like flushing a little bit of pee with 5 gallons of water, and the human rights situation in Haiti ARE very much interrelated, but we can save that discussion for later

Well again, Gras a Dye

I'm totally recovered from my sickness. No more hospitals, needles and drugs for me. I'm in the clear and Alexis and I might have found an apartment, we should know for sure this afternoon.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fine by Sunday

I finished my course of chloroquine on Tuesday. I was feeling better while I was taking it, but by Wednesday I had a killer headache again. Thursday my head still really hurt, I had a fever and vomited the ibuprofen I tried to take, so I went to the hospital and they threw an IV in my arm for no good reason. They took blood, and the nurse who was working on me talked to a doctor over the phone who prescribed me pain medicine for my headache. The pain killers are awesome and totally work. And I saw a real doctor in person today. He says I have a virus that will be gone by Sunday.
In other news, Alexis starts work on Monday!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

We'll take it! Or not...

Our hunt for the perfect - or at least a decent - house continues. Given the amount of time that it's taking us to find a place to live, we hope to find an apartment that we can see ourselves living in for (gulp) three years. Under very limited circumstances would we want to repeat this house-hunting fun again next year. Yesterday we visited two potential homes. Garly, the MCC Haiti interim director, said of one of them: "This is not even an apartment. This is is a box. You can't live here." Thank God, because we were wondering if we should take it, in spite of its consisting of two small, triangular rooms and looking like public housing in the former Soviet Union. We visited two more today, neither of which we were crazy about.

So far, believe it or not, this is the apartment that we like the most:

The problem being (as you can see) that it still very much under construction and the landlord needs an advance on the rent in order to finish it. He claims that it can be done in 20 days. We're still looking.

-b & l

Monday, September 29, 2008

Creation care

When Ben read my post about MCC's reforestion program, he was reminded of something he'd just read in The Cry for Suffering, the advocacy journal of Word Made Flesh, and asked if I would mind posting it.

Because we believe that God has created all and that which was created is good, we believe in loving stewardship of the physical world:

As images of Christ, we are co-creators with Him, taking care of that which has been given to us, being active in creating and forming instead of consuming and destroying. The world is connected, no matter how much we try to separate it. All that we have comes from the earth. And so we learn to see the connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving. Life is sacred, revealing its beauty, pointing us to Christ and His Kingdom that is growing around us and in us.

As followers of Christ, we enter into the world and see its beauty, wanting to conserve and create more of the beauty of the world for those who come after us. This stewardship might mean driving less. It might mean not using air conditioning or turning down the heat. It might mean buying less and having a smaller variety of foods. It might mean planting a garden or taking fewer showers. It might be political or economic involvement that struggles for conservation. Those things are not an end in themselves but are a testimony to our hope of redemption.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I'm tropically ill

I started feeling sick last night. Nausea, fever and a headache. This morning my brain hurt, my eye sockets hurt and my knees hurt. This afternoon I went to get tested for malaria at the hospital. We walked several laps around the hospital before ending up in the lab for a blood test. The lab tech drew my blood and I blacked out. I always hate hypodermic needles, but blacking out was a new experience for me. I was leaning back in my chair so I wouldn't fall and I was fighting to stay conscious, coming in and out for about ten seconds, and then I threw up in the trashcan. I tested negative on the malaria test, but I'm really sick and since malaria doesn't always show up on tests, I've started a 3-day course of chloroquine anyway.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

peace, love and reforestation

MCC Haiti in brief: peace, love and reforestation... (also upholding and monitoring human rights, empowering the poor and marginalized, facilitating mutually transformative relationships, and so on)

While most of MCC's goals here are hard to measure, my visit to Desarmes and the MCC forestry program was exciting and demonstrative of one of the things MCC does in Haiti: Trees! MCC has helped set up and supports 23 community-run tree nurseries (pepinyè) throughout the Dezam area. The nurseries contract and sell trees to other organizations with forestry programs ie. IOM, and also sell trees at a minimal cost to community members. MCC provides technical and organizational training, some financial assistance and helps to find buyers for the trees, but the nurseries are otherwise run on their own. The goal is obviously that they be self-sustainable. Collectively this year, the pepinyè grew and sold 450,000 trees!

The program also supports privately-owned ti forè, or little forests, which has proven to be the fastest way to carry out reforestation. Individuals receive training (on soil conservation, sustainable harvesting, interplanting trees with corn and sorghum etc) from MCC, purchase tree seedlings and plant forests of their own. The ecological, social and economic (trees are scarce in Haiti and sustainable tree harvesting provides a major economic boost to the owner of a ti forè) impact of these ti forè is notable!

And finally, MCC Dezam has an environmental education program in 14 schools in the area. The MCC team trains teachers, who in turn teach their students about environmental appreciation and protection, the difference between trash and compost, and, with the cooperation of the community pepinyè, how to plant and care for tree seedlings.

I want to end this post with the lyrics to a fun little song that we learned in Dezam:

Piti piti na rive (little by little we'll arrive)
Piti piti si n mache (little by little if we walk)
Yon jou na rive (one day we will arrive)

Friday, September 26, 2008


I miss home. Not that I know where that is, exactly. For me "home" is a pretty abstract collection of places, experiences and people: 18 years growing up in sunnyhumidhot Cameroon, the mountains of North Carolina (where I almost felt like I did have a home), Ben's parents' basement and whole wheat waffles and our vegetable garden, my sister, my bicycle and our tent (4 months is, after all, almost as long as I've lived anywhere else since college), my parents' couch in Waxhaw, a beat-up 1990 Toyota Corolla plus bumper stickers (whose ownership has been transferred to Laura). Home is Ben, too. But he's working and traveling and I still haven't started my job. So far home is not Haiti.
My solution to this is: We need to find an apartment! I need to unpack my suitcases and start growing things on a windowsill and be able to hang out in my underwear. I need to learn my way around what will be our neighborhood: to meet neighbors and make friends and figure out how to get to the market. I need to feel like somehow I belong here. Because right now it would be easier to buy a ticket to North Carolina and my parents' couch than to spend another homeless jobless week in Port Au Prince.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Timkatec on NPR

Listen to an interview with Father Joseph Simon that was featured on NPR this morning. Father Simon runs one of our partner organizations, Timkatec, that ministers to street kids in Port Au Prince through an orphanage, school and skills training facility.

MCC Peacemaking Dialogue

*Please keep this opportunity for dialogue in your thoughts and prayers.

September 23, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is co-sponsoring a dialogue with international political and religious leaders that is intended to build peace and understanding between societies that are often divided by animosity.

The dialogue is scheduled to take place on Sept. 25 in New York and will include Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and political and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions, in addition to leaders from other faiths.

The theme of the dialogue is "Has not one God created us? The significance of religious contributions to peace."

MCC is co-sponsoring this dialogue out of a commitment to follow Jesus Christ's way of peace, according to Arli Klassen, MCC's executive director.

"As Christians, we take Jesus' Sermon on the Mount very seriously and say 'Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you,'" Klassen said. "Right now the U.S. and Iran are defining each other as enemies and so, as Christians, we are trying to promote dialogue, understanding and bridge-building, rather than leading to war."

The dialogue is co-sponsored by American Friends Service Committee, MCC, Quaker United Nations Office, Religions for Peace and World Council of Churches in consultation with the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations.

This event will be MCC's fourth encounter with the Iranian president since 2006. Previous meetings have focused on barriers to peace between Iran and the West, including mutual suspicion and hostile rhetoric.

"Many persons around the world have interpreted your public rhetoric as a threat to destroy the state of Israel," said Ron Flaming, MCC's director of international programs, in a September 2007 meeting with President Ahmadinejad.

"This does not match what some of us have heard you say privately, where you stated that there is not a military solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," Flaming said. "If it is not your intention to destroy Israel, for the sake of understanding, for the sake of peace, for the sake of a bridge, we urge you to clearly and publicly say so."

MCC is facing some public criticism for co-sponsoring the Sept. 25 dialogue out of a misconception that it is meant to honor President Ahmadinejad. The dialogue is intended to be a respectful conversation about the need for religious involvement in peacemaking, and it is not intended to honor the president or any other individual, Klassen said.

"It doesn't mean that we agree or support everything or anything that the person does, but it does mean that we recognize their humanity, and that God has created us all, and that we need to find ways to live together," Klassen said.

MCC is an 88-year-old relief, development and peace-building agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in the United States and Canada. These denominations are part of the historic peace church tradition that emphasizes nonviolent conflict resolution as an integral part of Christian faith.

More information about the dialogue will be posted at after the event.

For Questions & Answers, go to

Monday, September 22, 2008

Marie Therese Jean Paul

This is a sample of my work this week for Fonkoze. My profiles of program participants are for fund raising in the US. This particular Fonkoze program works with the poorest of the rural poor in Haiti, with the goal of improving the quality of life for 150 families. The program will be expanded to 1,000 families in 2009.

9/19/2008, Boucan Carre, Haiti

My name is Marie Therese Jean Paul and I am 51 years old. My husband and I are separated. I have five children and three grandchildren. Three of my children and two grandchildren live with me. The grandchildren's mother left them when their father died.

I began the Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program in May 2007. Before I was in CLM, the wind blew off my roof. Fonkoze gave me tin for my roof, and also gave me cement to make the walls of my house stronger. My life was not good before I started the CLM program. In order to eat, I used to go to my neighbors and help them with whatever they were doing so that they would give me food. Now I'm growing my own vegetables and can cook my own food. I couldn't afford cement, but now I have cement walls and a roof. I have a child in school now, which is only possible because of the program.

With the 1,500 gourds (almost $40) that Fonkoze gave me when I started CLM, I was able to lease a piece of land on which to grow rice. I bought seeds and paid people to help me plant the field. All of my money is invested in my crops, so when I need money for food, I harvest okra to sell. After I make some money from my fields, I'll start up my small commerce again. I'll work in the fields early in the morning, then go to the market to buy sugar in bulk. I resell the sugar to people who have small shops.

I currently spend all of my time in the field. I spend one week in the rice field, pulling weeds and cleaning up the field. Then I spend the next week in my sweet potato field doing the same thing. On an average day I start working at three o'clock in the morning. Around noon I return home and make something to eat. I sleep in the afternoon and work around the house or in my garden. When I'm working I eat one meal, but if I'm not working in the field, I'll make soup in the morning and eat vegetables and rice later in the day.

The sweet potatoes that I planted this month will be ready to harvest in December. I'm not going to harvest them until March because I can sell them then for a higher price. Someone gave me the sweet potato vines. They were growing on the other side of the river, so I wrapped them up and carried them back here on my head.

My rice plants were on leased land next to the river, but the flood from Hurricane Hanna washed them away. I not only lost the plants and my investment in the land, but also still had to feed the people who helped me plant the rice. I need more rice, so I plan to help people in their fields in exchange for plants. When the flood water recedes, I'll replant the leased land next to the river with okra.

I couldn't have afforded to buy any animals before I began the CLM program, but Fonkoze gave me three goats. I've been breeding them and now I have eight. I also had chickens, but people would steal them so I don't keep chickens anymore. I have two pigs and with whatever money is left over after I harvest my rice and sweet potatoes, I plan to buy a cow.

Because of Chemen Lavi Miyò, I am becoming self-sufficient. I am proud to be able to provide for myself and my family.

-transcribed by Ben Depp

sketchy river crossing!

This is the point at which we drove through the river to get back to Port Au Prince on Sunday. To quote Bryan because this is simply so well put: "Haiti: where the impossible is possible, I guess. Who needs bridges to cross rivers?"

Disclaimer: obviously because we were in our truck, the vehicle pictured here is not MCC's...

Port Slideshow

What we've seen and done in Port Au Prince. Not pictured: house-hunting and chasing down our Haitian driver's licenses.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

MCC's response to the storms

There is currently a team from our office distributing food, medicine and other supplies to flood victims in Gonaives. Last week MCC posted a press release detailing what we hope is a preliminary response to the disaster here. You can also view a photo gallery from the MCC website that includes a few of the photos Ben took last week.

Please continue to pray for the people that were affected by these storms. Even here in the Dezam area many have lost their gardens to flooding, entire villages are cut off from access to markets and still it continues to rain daily. Just yesterday Jean-Remy, who manages the reforestation project, received word that one of his fields flooded. For people who grow cash crops on leased land, a flooded field can mean the loss of more than a year's income.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the road

As of Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, I am in Desarmes to visit MCC's reforestion project and Ben is working in Mirebalais and Boucan Carre. The plan was for both of us to accompany Bryan and Sharon as they move to Desarmes, then spend a week here learning about the program. But when we went to visit FONKOZE, the organization that Ben will be working for as photographer and field reporter, they requested that he start work immediately. They are trying to raise funds for a new project and are making preparations for the Haiti Solidarity Conference in Miami at the beginning of next month.

Desarmes (Dezam in Kreyol) is in the rice-producing Artibonite Valley. To get here an MCC staff member drove us to Mori, where the bridge we needed to cross was destroyed by the recent hurricane(s). The bridge is on Route National 1 which, as its name suggests, is Haiti's main north-south highway. Buses are lined up on both sides of the river, where passengers and livestock disembark and cargo is ferried across the broken bridge in wheelbarrows and on motorcycles. It's total chaos. It took two trips, three wheelbarrows and a motorcycle taxi to get all of us, our luggage and supplies for Dezam across the river.

So far, I've been getting to know the MCC team in Dezam, visiting the pepinye (tree nurseries) and ti fore (little forests) in the surrounding area and enjoying the much slower pace of life in the countryside.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricane damage

Yesterday I went to Gonaives, the city most affected by the recent hurricanes. It's incredible how much water is still flooding the city. It's been six days since the last hurricane but rivers are running through the center of the town. People are drying out their belongings on their rooftops and cleaning up. In many places where there isn't water, there is mud. Somebody told me yesterday that it took three years for the mud to dry out after Hurricane Jean in 2004.

I went with three other people. We drove a truck for two hours until we came to a bridge partially falling down due to flood damage. Then we rode in the back of a pickup truck taxi for an hour. After that, we paid a taxi to take us to Gonaives, and this leg of the trip took two hours. We rode in Toyota minivan identical to my old one but with 4-wheel drive. Because of the flooding the normal road is now a lake and there is a new road that is still under construction. Our driver was awesome. The new road had puddles fifty feet long and some were two feet deep. At one point, we hit something really big under water and the spare tire fell off. When we were almost to the city, we came to a puddle that was probably a quarter of a mile long and waist deep. A tall dump truck ferried us across with others that could afford to ride. Everybody else was wading across.

We spent an hour and half in Gonaives and only saw a small part of the tragedy that has occurred there. The headline on BBC right now says "One million homeless in Haiti" the report also says 550 died.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

20 of our favorite things

So, the deal on our amazing apartment fell through - the landlord decided that we should sign a two year lease and pay in full, up front. That, in addition to our foiled plans for the week has left us feeling pretty bummed out about Haiti. Someone helpfully suggested that we make a list of the things we LIKE so far about being here and we thought we should share what we came up with:
  1. that people greet each another with a kiss on the cheek
  2. avocados
  3. the murals and advertisements painted on walls all over Port-au-Prince
  4. tap-taps (we promise to post pictures soon)
  5. water trucks that play a synthesized version of the Titanic theme song from speakers mounted on the roof. Also with horns that sound like fake police sirens.
  6. the French bakery up the street
  7. Haitian hot chocolate - made with dark, bitter, locally produced chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, nutmeg and lemon peel
  8. mountains
  9. beaches
  10. honking the horn. Maybe it's a function of having learned to drive in Cameroon, but I LOVE being able to honk the truck horn with no restraint as I squeeze between two vehicles on a road clearly not designed for multiple lanes
  11. KPL
  12. shopping in crowded street markets
  13. mayi moule (so much like grits!)
  14. the MCC library (read: hundreds of books that we can check out for free)
  15. riding a dirt bike in the city
  16. that Kreyol is written completely phonetically
  17. the tree on the road in Petionville with faces carved into its trunk
  18. Wyclef Jean's song "President" from the Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101 album
  19. oil drums recycled into metal sculptures
  20. spicy peanut butter

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When the possible proves impossible

In a previous post, Ben mentioned this comment made by our Kreyol teacher: Haiti is a place where the possible is impossible, but the impossible is possible. We're thinking about that as our simple plans for the week become unfeasible.

We were supposed to leave Port Au Prince on Saturday to spend a final week of orientation visiting MCC's reforestation project in Desarmes. This changed when Hanna washed out several major bridges between here and the Artibonite valley. It's not possible to travel there overland (which, incidently, is making it difficult for the UN and other relief NGOs to access the severely flooded area in and around Gonaives).

We thought that instead we'd spend the week moving into our apartment, or maybe even start work. As it turns out, my office is moving and not ready for me to start work for at least another week. Ben's boss is attending a conference in the States. And negotiations for our apartment were complicated when the landlord - who lives in Miami - decided to rent out the aparment below ours, and so has no place to move his oversized furniture. A few solutions have been presented, including - and I'm still not clear on how this would solve the furniture issue - sharing our bathroom with the person that would live in the shed that the landord intended to build on our terrace. What?! Needless to say, negotiations are still in process...

We're still at the MCC guesthouse in Port Au Prince. We're taking two hours of Kreyol everyday, doing our own grocery shopping and cooking, dealing with the crashed hard drive on our laptop, getting accustomed to hearing gunshots at night and learning our way around the city. We've gotten cell phones and opened bank accounts. Tomorrow we apply for our residence permits.

Haitians like to tell a joke about hurricanes that goes something like this: When hurricanes come, they see Haiti, say, "Oh I've already been here" and turn around to leave. But unfortunately, the devastated state of the Haitian coast did not deter Hurricane Ike. Sunday was just another rainy day here in Port. But Ike hit hard in the same area that was affected by Hanna. Here's a fairly sensational description of Ike, as per the Associated Press:

"In flooded Haiti, Ike made an already grim situation abysmal.

At least 58 people died as Ike's winds and rain swept the impoverished Caribbean nation Sunday. Officials also found three more bodies from a previous storm, raising Haiti's death toll from four tropical storms in less than a month to 319...

Haiti's coastal town of Cabaret was particularly hard hit — 21 victims were stacked in a mud-caked pile in a funeral home there, including two pregnant women, one with a dead girl still in her arms."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A shameless plug for mail

Several people have written recently to ask about our mailing address here. MCC has a courier service from Fort Lauderdale and it seems to be fairly reliable. In fact, we've already received two letters. So, write to us!

Ben and Alexis Depp
MCC Haiti, c/o Lynx Air
PO Box 407139
Ft Lauderdale, FL 33340

Ben's first impressions of Haiti

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More on the weather

Pray that it stops raining in Haiti. We are getting acquainted with the National Hurricane Center's website these days: Port Au Prince doesn't get much fall out from storms, but parts of the country are being devastated by floods. Relief efforts are complicated by the fact that it's still raining. To make matters worse, category four hurricane Ike is forecasted for Saturday.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hurricanes with a death toll/ Reducing poverty through the church

Today I (Ben) drove an MCC truck to the Baptist Mission above Port-Au-Prince with a few other people. It was nice to get a chance to drive. When we left the city it was raining lightly, but as we gained altitude the wind increased. There were trees down on the road. And at one point, we came to a telephone poll that had fallen across the road. A group of guys with machetes would move it when passing vehicles gave them money, then drag it back across the road. I scraped under and drove over a lot of down power lines. At one fallen tree we had to wait half an hour while guys cut it up with axes and machetes.

Hurricane Hanna is currently pounding Haiti. The city of Gonaives, a few hours north, is flooding and it’s very likely that a lot of people are dying right now. Gonaives is in a flood prone area, where 2,800 people died from flooding after hurricane Jeanne in 2004. Relief organizations are on their way out there now but it’s still raining. There are also two more hurricanes heading this way, Ike and Josephine.

We are in Port-Au-Prince now studying Creole a few hours a day. Our teacher is really good and passes on cultural insights when he thinks of them. One thing he said recently was,“Haiti is a place where the impossible is possible and the possible is impossible”.

We visited one of MCC's partner organizations today that is working through the church to reach the UN’s millennium development goals. Here in Haiti they are raising awareness about what the church's role should be in eliminating poverty and promoting social justice and environmental stewardship... It's very impressive, I think Jesus would dig it. The “Micah Challenge is a global Christian campaign. Our aims are to deepen our engagement with impoverished and marginalized communities; and to challenge international leaders, and leaders of rich and poor countries, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and so halve absolute global poverty by 2015.”

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal

One of our fellow MCCers made this TV commercial as a means of advocating local consumption. MCC initially paid for the commercial to run on national television, but the station has taken ownership of the ad and now airs it regularly for free.
Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal (Support Local Production) is one of our awesome Haitian partner organizations, shares an office with MCC and works closely with members of our team.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

gettin' soaked by Gustave

Tropical Storm Gustave seems to have just ended. It's been raining with varying degrees of intensity for the past 48+ hours. Even though Gwo Jan isn't close enough to the coast to suffer much damage from siklon yo (tropical storms/hurricanes), there are still heavy winds here and lots and lots of rain. We've learned that when it rains hard in Haiti, all activity ceases. No one goes to work, banks close, parliament shuts down. Our host families have been in their pajamas since Monday afternoon and we've been entertaining ourselves with multiple games of Scrabble.

Friday, August 22, 2008

to market to market

This morning at 5:30 AM Sharon and I went to the market in Petionville with Ari and Junya. When Ben and Bryan asked if they could go, too, Ari said no. He explained that it's not a problem for white women to do marketing. "White women are just women." But Haitians in general don't see any reason for a white man to be in a market. Women here do the marketing - both the selling and the buying. So a white man in a market in Haiti is considered to be military personnel (abhorred here because of the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934... more on that later), CIA or a photographer (sorry, Ben!).

The market is muddy and teeming with people all shoving their way through narrow aisles of produce. It was awesome. I got a chance to see what kinds of fresh foods are available here and get an idea of what they cost. Ari warned us that when we're shopping on our own, though, we'll be expected to pay the pri blan, or white man's price. On the one hand this feels unfair, but it's true that even on our meager MCC salary, we have more far resources available to us than most Haitians do. We CAN pay more.

I can't wait to move into our own place and be able to cook with fresh, locally-grown eggplant, sweet potatoes, squash and chard. Please share if you know anything about cracked wheat or yellow rice. Yellow rice is grown here and if it has any nutritional value, I would be perfectly content to never eat white rice again. Cracked wheat is imported, but sold fairly inexpensively in the market. We'll be making an effort to eat as few imported items as possible, but cracked wheat may be the only whole grain we can get here.

We're beginning to tire of our rice and white bread diet here in Gwo Jan. Haitians eat three meals a day, but breakfast and dinner are light. Breakfast is bread and sometimes fruit. Occasionally, we're served spaghetti for breakfast, though we've never been served spaghetti for lunch or dinner. This is the source of quite some mystery to us. For dinner we usually have bread and spicy Haitian peanut butter with something hot to drink (lemongrass and ginger tea or a sweet, thick drink made with spices and grated plantains or cornflour). The same combination of spices - cinnamon, cloves, star anise and bergamot - are used for just about everything sweet. Lunch is our gwo manje (large meal), usually around 2 or 3:00. For lunch we almost always eat rice, but sometimes have cornmeal or sorghum, with a black bean sauce ("sos pwa") and a sauce made with meat or smoked herring. We eat avocados with every meal. We also have freshly squeezed juice, ji, with most meals. Passion fruit is my favorite, but lemon and orange are good, too. When we can make our own juice, we'll use a quarter the amount of sugar. If you come to Haiti, my advice would be to steer clear of papaya juice.

I want to go fully vegetarian here, since meat production has the same kind of sustainability issues in Haiti as it does in the States. And here where people have so little, land and resource stewardship seems like an especially pressing issue. We told our homestay family that we don't eat meat, which also makes it cheaper for them to feed us. For the most part, it's easy to avoid meat, but every once in awhile I realize that what I've just swallowed couldn't possibly have been a piece of potato.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I (Lexi) woke up with diarrhea this morning, which made our seven-hour drive back from Cap-Haitien in the north pretty miserable. A dose of Loperamide and some Haitian buyi (flour, sugar and spices mixed into tea) seems to have done the trick for now. Ben and Brian were sick yesterday in Okap.

Okap is the Kreyol name for Cap Haitien. It’s a much smaller city than Port and quieter. It has narrow streets and colonial-style buildings painted pink, blue, yellow and teal.

Our trip was a history lesson. We visited the town of Fort Liberte where the first African slaves were brought into Haiti during French colonial rule. On the edge of town, Fort St. Joseph is crumbling into the sea. We waded in the water and found starfish and sea urchins. The water was warm and crystal clear. It was the first time since we arrived that I feel as though I’ve moved to the Caribbean.

We drove east to the Dominican border where we watched people crossing the river to avoid paying customs fees. Trucks, tap taps and moto taxis were full of Dominican goods that will be sold in Haiti – produce, toilet paper, chickens. UN soldiers guard the bridge that is the official border crossing.

It was raining when we drove to Milo to visit the Sans Souci (“No Worry”) Palace, built by Henri Christophe, former slave and Haiti’s 2nd king after independence. We hiked up a cobblestone path to the Citadelle. It was cool and windy and the view was spectacular. An artist tried to sell us paintings of the Citadelle: “cheaper than K-Mart” and a flutist followed us playing Auld Lang Syne (looking for tips?). Work on the Citadelle was begun in 1805, the year after Haiti successfully overthrew the French.

It wasn’t until we got back to Gwo Jan and checked our email that we heard about Tropical Storm Fay. We had 4 or 5 emails from friends and family wondering about the hurricane that apparently hit Haiti two days ago.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Driving through Port Au Prince


Today we went into Port-Au-Prince to see an apartment that's available. We love the apartment. Or, to be more accurate, love the apartment's terrace, which wraps 3/4 of the way around the apartment and has a view over the city and the Bay of Port Au Prince. The landlord lives in Miami, so we told the caretaker that we'd take it, but have no idea when exactly we'll be moving in. We have almost a month left of orientation anyway.

It's quite a drive to get from Gwo Jan to our future apartment. The roads in Haiti are in terrible shape, especially in the city where traffic is heavy. But even so, the city is less chaotic than I expected given the bad press on Haiti. We pass street cleaners, wearing yellow and funded by USAID, and markets where vendors are selling produce, used clothing, plastic sandals, rum, electronics and motor oil. We pass Belvil, a pretentious looking gated community (one of many in Port Au Prince). Advertisements are painted in bright colors on concrete walls and storefronts: soft drinks, Prestige Beer, soap, Barbancourt Rum and the ever present yellow Pante (Panther) condom ads. Everywhere are red and white Digicel banners, t-shirts and hats. We pass hardware stores, barber shops, beauty salons and borlettes - small scale lotteries. We pass God Power Auto Parts, Good Taste Restaurant, Body Perfect Gym and Grace Divine Truck Service. There are a lot of vehicles on the road, mostly trucks, SUVS, used school buses from the U.S. and motorcycles. It's easy to pick out the United Nations' shiny white Nissan SUVs, with UN in big block letters on the hood and side. Closer to downtown, UN peacekeepers patrol the city with assault rifles from the back of jeeps and flatbed pickups. For public transportation, there are tap taps. Tap Taps are pickup trucks with a fiberglass cap over the truck bed and bench seats. With their bright colors and intricate designs, tap taps are a tribute to Haitian artistry. Each is decorated with a name: Chicago, Merci Bon Dieu, Jesus Revient, Yes Manman, I Love You Jenny, God Before All, One Love Baby.

link to Thompsonowak's blog

Last week I tried unsuccessfully to post a link to Sharon and Bryan Thompsonowak's blog. Here is the REAL link:

Bryan and Sharon are the couple that are being 'oriented' with us right now. They'll be living in Desarmes, working with MCC's reforestation program.

We've also chosen to remove the news headlines on Haiti from the left-hand side of our blog. The more news we read about Haiti from the outside, the more disgusted we are with the way this country is portrayed in the media. We don't want to be contributing to any misperceptions of Haiti.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Week One

Gwo Jan


We're still in Gwo Jan, still trying to learn Kreyol and still adjusting to life in Haiti. Gwo Jan sits on a mountain about 10 miles and a 40 minute drive from Port Au Prince (which spills into the 'suburbs' of Delmas and Petionville). We are supposed to be taking daily walks through the village with the language tutors that have been assigned to us from the community. We see goats, scrawny chickens and a few cows, of which we've been told there aren't many in Haiti, fruit trees: mango, avocado, banana, plantain, jackfruit, breadfruit, orange, grapefruit, kenap and papaya. There's a baobab tree next to the spring where people come to bathe, do dishes and laundry and get water. It's easy to forget that we're on an island, but when it's clear we can see over the capital city to the ocean. Haiti's climate doesn't feel very tropical, either. This is the rainy season, but it hasn't rained often or much.

Ben and I are staying with Ari Nichols and his wife, Nicole. Ari has partnered many times with MCC in the activism, human rights work, and promotion of locally produced products that he is in involved in. Ari and his coworker Carla are giving us our orientation here. Carla and her husband, Ron, have lived in Haiti for 23 years.

Most of our orientation thus far has been cultural and we feel like we're in desperate need of official language lessons. We attended the wake and funeral of the elder that passed away on our first day here. Ben has learned how to play dominoes Haitian-style. Twice, We've hand washed our clothes until my knuckles bled. We've done some cooking - my hands burned for more than 30 hours after chopping and grinding piman pike (hot peppers). We've driven around Port-Au-Prince a few times on various errands, including a visit to a woodworkers' cooperative. We went to church yesterday - Legliz de Dye here in Gwo Jan. As visitors, we were invited to sit in the front row and introduce ourselves in our limited Kreyol. Someone translated for us in even more limited English. We tried to go to a soccer game, but arrived as the match ended.

Friday, August 8, 2008

9:43 PM I’m listening to a combination of Haitian drumming and rain on our tin roof. This is the latest we’ve been up all week. I’ve been waking up between 5:30 and 6:00 without an alarm clock every morning since we arrived.

Our Kreyol homework assignment two days ago was to write a letter listing what we’ve done so far in Haiti. My letter goes something like this:

M te ann Ayiti depi yon semen. I have been in Haiti for one week. Depi mwen vini isit, map abite nan Gwo Jan nan kay Ari. Since coming here I have been living in Gwo Jan at Ari’s house. Samedi me tem ache a Seguin avek lot moun MCC, kote a me te gade mon bel yo. Saturday I hiked to Seguin with other MCC people, where I saw beautiful mountains. Lapli te tombe anpil. It rained a lot. M te manje Ayisyen epi m te aprenn fe manje Ayisyen. I’ve eaten Haitian food and have learned to cook Haitian food. M te fe konesans avek nouvo zami Ayisyen anpil yo. I have made many new Haitian friends. M te lave rad mwen epi m te mete yon nan soley. I handwashed my clothes and put them in the sun to dry. M te passe yon jounen nan Port Au Prince. I spent a day in Port Au Prince. Map komans aprenn kilti Ayisen ak m te deja aprenn ase Kreyol pou ekri let sa. I am starting to learn Haitian culture and have already learned enough Kreyol to write this letter. M genyen bon eksperyans yo icit en Ayiti. I am having good experiences here in Haiti.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

MCC konbit

We've had such limited access to the internet in Gwo Jan that we haven't been able to update our blog since the 1st. As soon as we can, we'll catch you up on everything that we've been doing in Gwo Jan. It's been a busy week.

Today we're in Port Au Prince sitting in on one of the quarterly MCC konbit (which literally means 'collective'). There are 19 of us, including Mark Epp who is the MCC Associate Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. Most of the MCC staff here is Haitian, which was one of the main reasons that we were interested in working for this organization. Thankfully Mark doesn't speak Kreyol, so everything is being translated into English. I'm trying to listen and Ben is writing a short story in broken Kreyol about hunting monkeys.

Part of our conversation this morning and one of the key issues here has been food security. You may have seen Haiti in the news in April when riots broke out due to rising food prices. MCC is trying to address this problem by supporting local food production and reevaluating the organization's use of material aid.

That's all the updating I have time for at the moment.

Pita! ("Later")

Friday, August 1, 2008

submersion in Haiti

It wasn't easy getting here. In Charlotte, American Airlines informs us upon check-in that they have an embargo twice a year on boxes and we can't take our plastic trunk. My Dad drives to Walmart to buy us a suitcase and we repack at the airport. In Miami we meet up with Bryan and Sharon Thompsonowack, also beginning a 3-year assignment with MCC in Haiti. 2 hours on the tarmac before we're told that we need to disembark due to mechanical error. 2 hours sitting in the departure lounge and we are given meal and hotel vouchers and told to be back at our gate at 6:30 the next morning.

But, we're thrilled to have finally arrived. We're in Gwo Jan, on a mountain outside of Port-Au-Prince, where we'll be living with a Haitian family for a month. It's supposed to be total immersion into Creole and Haitian culture. Right now it feels more like drowning, but we're starting to get the hang of things: cornmeal, beans, plantains and avocados, rain, roosters, kerosene lamps, cold showers, hearing Creole, studying Creole and attempting to speak in Creole.

This morning an elder in this community died and we walked to his house where family members were wailing and throwing themselves on the ground. Having grown up in Cameroon, this seems to me a very appropriate expression of grief. There are so many similarities between Haiti and Africa that I feel like I'm home.


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