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


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