Monday, January 26, 2009

Photo Disclaimer

This may seem like a strange thing to post but as most of you know, Ben makes a living taking photos. Here's the disclaimer: It is I (Lexi) not Ben that usually chooses the photos that make onto our blog - Ben's photo a day project not included. My basis for choosing photos usually goes something like this: "Oooh, I want my sister to see what that looks like!" or "No, not that one. My hair looks terrible." More than half of the photos on here aren't pictures that Ben would ever choose to show people (photographers are so picky!), which is why we've elected to not have our blog be publicly searchable (meaning it won't show up if you google us). This post was also my idea.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Photo A Day

Since New Years I've been taking a photo a day. Sometimes work is slow and it's nice to be producing something, even if it's just a snapshot a day. I try to post pictures everyday but sometimes I don't have internet access for a week at a time, sometimes I might miss a day and sometimes I take the weekend off. Sometimes the pictures are good. To view them, scroll to the bottom of this page (past all the old blog posts) and you'll see my little slide show.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Love

Port-Au-Prince was in an Obama frenzy during the elections and again now, on Inauguration Day.

This is not simply because Obama is an African American. In fact, several of our friends here (white guys) have been told that they look *just* like Obama. To Haitians, like people all over the world, Obama represents hope. He represents the potential for CHANGE from a system of neocolonialism and economic slavery that oppresses poor countries around the globe. Haiti has been particularly vulnerable to American foreign and economic policy. We see the unfortunate effects of some of these policies every time we shop in the market or take public transportation.

The following excerpts are from a NY Times article (full article here) that was written after the election:

Mr. Obama’s election offers most non-Americans a sense that the imperial power capable of doing such good and such harm — a country that, they complain, preached justice but tortured its captives, launched a disastrous war in Iraq, turned its back on the environment and greedily dragged the world into economic chaos — saw the errors of its ways over the past eight years and shifted course.

They say the country that weakened democratic forces abroad through a tireless but often ineffective campaign for democracy — dismissing results it found unsavory, cutting deals with dictators it needed as allies in its other battles — was now shining a transformative beacon with its own democratic exercise.

It would be hard to overstate how fervently vast stretches of the globe wanted the election to turn out as it did to repudiate the Bush administration and its policies. Poll after poll in country after country showed only a few — Israel, Georgia, the Philippines — favoring a victory for Senator John McCain...

The world’s view of an Obama presidency presents a paradox. His election embodies what many consider unique about the United States — yet America’s sense of its own specialness, of its destiny and mission, has driven it astray, they say. They want Mr. Obama, the beneficiary and exemplar of American exceptionalism, to act like everyone else, only better, to shift American policy and somehow to project both humility and leadership.

“People feel he is a part of them because he has this multiracial, multiethnic and multinational dimension,” said Philippe Sands, a British international lawyer and author who travels frequently, adding that people find some thread of their own hopes and ideals in Mr. Obama. “He represents, for people in so many different communities and cultures, a personal connection. There is an immigrant component and a minority component.”

Francis Nyamnjoh, a Cameroonian novelist and social scientist, said he saw Mr. Obama less as a black man than “as a successful negotiator of identity margins.”

His ability to inhabit so many categories mirrors the African experience. Mr. Nyamnjoh said that for America to choose as its citizen in chief such a skillful straddler of global identities could not help but transform the nation’s image, making it once again the screen upon which the hopes and ambitions of the world are projected.

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at the People’s University of China, said Mr. Obama’s background, particularly his upbringing in Indonesia, made him suited to understanding the problems facing the world’s poorer nations.

He and others say they hope the next American president will see their place more firmly within the community of nations, engaging in what Jairam Ramesh, junior commerce minister in the Indian government, called “genuine multilateralism and not in muscular unilateralism.”

“We have so many hopes and wishes that he will never be able to fulfill them,” said Susanne Grieshaber, 40, an art adviser in Berlin who was one of 200,000 Germans to attend a speech by Mr. Obama there in July. She cited action to protect the environment, reducing the use of force and helping the less fortunate. In essence, she wants Mr. Obama to make his country more like hers. But she is sober. “I’m preparing myself for the fact that peace and happiness are not going to suddenly break out,” she said.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Rice and Beans Blahs

I'm a rice and beans kind of girl. As a product of a childhood in Cameroon, I have ALWAYS loved rice and beans and so I was thrilled with lunch at my office when I started here (NOTE: Most Haitian places of business feed their employees!). But, I have to admit that I am getting tired of eating the same thing everyday.

Five days a week I eat some combination of the following: diri (rice), diri kole ak pwa (rice and beans), sos pwa (bean sauce), sos awonsol (an oily red sauce flavored with dried herring), legim (a mash of vegetables - usually mostly melaton - with hunks of meat that I have to pick out since as usual I try not to eat meat) and banan (boiled plantains). Once or twice a week (just to stir things up a bit?), we'll have fried fish, mayi moule (cornmeal) instead of rice, banan peze (fried plantain patties) or a watercress salad. When we have watercress, I'm in heaven!

I'm used to more variety in my diet. With the exception of eating leftovers, Ben and I cook something different every night of the week. And now that I eat rice for lunch at work everyday, we NEVER cook with it at home anymore. The more I think about this and compare Haitian and North American diets, though, the more I wonder if Ben and I were just lucky to grow up with moms that are conscious of what they feed their families. After all, poor diet quality and lack of dietary diversity in North America is causing a climbing obesity rate and lots of other health concerns. At least I know that my diri kole and my legim aren't replete with preservatives, transfats, high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified vegetables and factory-farmed beef, right?

On the upside, fresh fruit juice is a major component of any Haitian meal and our cook at POHDH, Jaqueline, makes it without sugar for me. I love experiencing the changing fruit seasons in Haiti. The season for citrus (orange, ruby red grapefruit - which we got to pick from the tree in Desarmes - see photo, and chadek) is coming to an end and I look forward to seeing what fruits will appear next in the market and in my juice at lunchtime.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Update on the gas situation

It's not that there isn't any, it's just still not available to the general public. Ben and I have had to switch out the efficient and easy-to-get-around-on moto that we usually ride for a huge diesel truck. Driving it around town (especially past UN tanks and jeeps full of armed soldiers) makes me feel like an extra in a war movie.

The following article (courtesy of our friend Matt) is the only English news piece we've been able to find on the gas "shortage," which has been going on for more than two weeks now:

Haiti's Gas Gang
Port-Au-Prince is Grinding to a Halt


The streets of Port-au-Prince are empty. Public transportation is at a trickle. Students aren't going to school. The economy of Port-au-Prince has come to a grinding halt. Haiti's biggest gang, the Gang of Eleven, has struck. In essence, they're saying, "If we don't like the prices, no one gets gas".

For over a week now, the only gas you can buy is diesel fuel unless you buy black market gas in gallon containers at double price. Most shockingly, this isn't even front page news in the local press. The Miami Herald has yet to run a story. It will be interesting to see if anyone goes to jail for subverting a nation.

If it was the street gangs blocking the sale of gas, the UN troops would have a mandate to restore stability, they would have a mandate to restore public order, they would have a mandate to shoot if necessary. Unfortunately the UN doesn't have a mandate to address office gangs, the business elite, the economic monopolies.

When the population eventually rises up and puts an end to Haiti's archaic economic system, controlled by the Gang of Eleven, controlled by "Friends of the Embassy", people will scream that the poor are unjustly attacking the rich.

They will have forgotten how the Gang of Eleven decided to import rice and sugar, instead of producing it locally. They will have forgotten how, when their personal and economic interests were questioned, the Gang of Eleven used the Haitian army to wipe out thousands of less fortunate Haitians. They will have forgotten how in 2009, workers couldn't get to their jobs, children couldn't go to school, because the Gang of Eleven didn't like the lowering of the public gas price.

There were no complaints about windfall profits when the price went up, but the reversal of fortune is unacceptable to the Gang of Eleven.

Richard Morse runs the Oloffson Hotel Port-au-Prince Haiti and the leads the Haitian band RAM.

Friday, January 9, 2009

pa gen gaz

I'm working from home today because we can't get gas for our motorcycle. Here's the situation as I understand it (ie. pieced together from sources of varying reliability):
The government regulates the price of gas and about a week ago, increased the state's gas subsidies. This lowered the price of gas dramatically enough that all of the gas stations would have had to sell their gas at a loss. So they went on strike and stopped selling gas. Now we're all waiting for a new shipment of gas to come in at the lower price. The latest rumor, though, is that the boat en route to Haiti with gas is anpàn (broken down).

Gas is available at certain stations at certain times of day. The lines at these stations are hundreds of people long. People can't get to work and can't run their generators but even so, this seems to happen often enough that no-one is overly upset by it.

NOTE: It is unclear to me what the stations will do with their old, more expensive gas when the the new, cheaper gas comes in... And if they plan to sell it (because what else would they do with it?), why not just sell it now?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Out of this world.

We were mentally unprepared for our visit to the other half of this island: beautiful paved roads, electricity, a metro, grass... Not to mention Burger King, Pizza Hut and Baskin Robbins (not that we miss fast food in Haiti). Even though the Dominican Republic is considered a middle-income country, we felt like we'd been dropped on another planet: What is this amazing place with sidewalks and public trash cans?!

After Santo Domingo, we bussed North to touristy Cabarete for a few days on the beach. Caberete is a hot windsurfing, kitesurfing and regular surfing destination, but we so desperately needed to relax that picnics, reading and walks on the beach is all we could manage. It's worth noting that at our hotel in Cabarete we were able to take our first hot showers since July 2008. Ah!


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