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.


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