Friday, February 27, 2009

Meet MCC Haiti!

It's about time we officially introduce the rest of the fabulous MCC team here. In early February the 12 of us in Port-Au-Prince went to Desarmes for our tri-yearly konbit ("collective") (which is less romantic than it sounds):
Above: the Peace Program staff (Port-Au-Prince), Reforestation and Environmental Education Programs staff (Desarmes) and support staff from both places

Left: Garly, Jean-Remy and Bryan make music while Guylene, Myriam and Francklin dance along. Garly has been our interim country rep, Jean-Remy heads up the reforestation program, and Bryan is the reforestation program's capacity coordinator. Guylene does conflict resolution training and trauma counseling for partners, Miriam is our new administrative assistant and Francklin is reforestation program staff.

From left to right: Garly, Joseph (accounting and admin), Fritzner (environmental education), Jean-Remy, Francklin, Michelet (also reforestation staff); and center: Kurt's hat. Kurt has been in a job similar to mine, but recently became our new and amazing country representive.

above left: Pancha (connecting peoples coordinator) getting in fully clothed!, Sharon (environmental education) and I take a dip in the river. above right: Kurt, Margot (seconded to the Micah Challenge), Bryan, Sharon, Melek (Desarmes admin), me, Myriam, Guylene and Francklin... all getting distracted?

* the couple with the baby in the team picture at the top are our advocacy folks, Josh and Marylynn Steckley. Their baby is Hayden Jwasiys Steckley. Nahomie and Frantzo (both in environmental education) are also missing.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Writing a page

Recently quoted to us: Spend a week in Haiti and you can write a book. Spend a year in Haiti and you can't even write a page.

I'm not sure if it was actually "a week" and "a year", but you get the idea. Basically, the longer people are here, the less they feel they know and understand this complex country. You've probably noticed that we're posting on our blog less. This is partly because six months into our time here, I feel less and less like I have any ability to analyze Haitian life, culture, history and politics. That's not to say that I'm going to stop trying (and of course we can still tell you all about OUR life here), so don't give up on us yet!

In the meantime, a brief update: a few days after an amazing Kanaval weekend in Jacmel (photos coming soon and I PROMISE they will tell you more about the event that I ever could), Ben left for North Carolina to visit his family. Two weeks is the longest that we've ever been apart and it hasn't been fun, but he's getting good family time in. Sadly, he missed out on 3 days of Kanaval (Haitian Mardi Gras) in Port-Au-Prince. Since our friend Rebecca, with whom I danced Sunday night away, has already done a great job of describing what it's about, you can check her blog for details and pictures. We managed to tickets from a friend of a friend to get on the T-Vice float. T-Vice is one of Haiti's most popular bands and we spent six hours in the parade, dancing with the largest crowds of people I have ever seen in my life.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Take Action to Cancel Haiti's Debt

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) have written a letter to World Bank President Robert Zoellick, urging him to suspend all further debt service payments from Haiti and grant the nation complete debt cancellation. Rep. Waters is asking her colleagues in the House of Representatives to join her by signing the letter. The more Representatives who sign on to the letter, the stronger the message to World Bank President Zoellick – cancel Haiti’s debt and allow the Haitian government to focus on the needs of its people.

Read the letter:

The Washington Post reported on February 7:
Haitian President René Préval said yesterday that his impoverished country is in desperate need of economic assistance and is seeking as much as $100 million to fill a budget gap that he said could send Haiti back into anarchy.

"I believe we are at a very serious turning point," Préval said in an interview. "We can either win or lose." He argued that his long-troubled country was on its way to normalcy when rising food prices, the economic crisis and a series of devastating hurricanes left it reeling.

Préval spoke through an interpreter, but when asked when Haiti needed the money, he broke into English and simply declared, "Now."

You can help Haiti now - by calling on the World Bank to cancel Haiti's debt immediately.

More background information on Haiti –"

Faith Reflection:
Haiti’s accumulated debt is illegitimate and unjust. Throughout Scripture, from the books of the Law to the Prophets to the Gospels, we are called to celebrate Jubilee, cancel debts and restore economic equality (see Leviticus 25, Amos 5:11-15 and Matthew 18:23-35).

"Let us proclaim Jubilee by helping to cancel the debt for Haiti, which suffers this unjust burden. Let us be part of God’s justice in a broken world.

Please call your U.S. Representative TODAY and urge him/her to sign on to the Congressional letter to World Bank President Zoellick calling for immediate debt cancellation for Haiti. The deadline for signatures is 5pm on Wednesday, February 18.

1. Dial the Capitol Switchboard – 202-224- 3121. Ask to be connected with your Representative’s office. (Go to "" to find your Representative).

2. You will be connected with the receptionist. Ask to speak to the staff person who handles international issues.

3. Whether you speak to the staffer in person, or just leave a message on his/her voicemail, here’s what to say:
“My name is ___________ and I am a constituent from __(your city)___. I am calling to ask that Representative ___________ sign Rep Waters’ letter calling on World Bank President Zoellick (pronounced “sell – lick”) to cancel Haiti’s debt. Haiti should be freed to use its resources for education and health care rather than debt repayment. To sign the letter, contact Kathleen Sengstock in Rep. Waters office”

4. If you are speaking to the staff person be sure to thank them for their time and ask whether they think that the Representative will sign the letter.

5. Let us know the results of your call, by emailing

The deadline for signatures is 5pm on Wednesday, February 18th, so please act now!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On the Political Front:

Haiti's next senatorial elections are on April 19th and last week the Provisional Electoral Council banned 40 candidates, including all 17 members of Fanmi Lavalas, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's political party. Guy Phillipe, who led the armed revolt that ousted Aristide in 2004, has also been disqualified.

The OAS, the UN, and the American and Canadian Embassies have all issued statements expressing concern over this and calling for an inclusive election. But, it's a bit more complicated than it seems. In fact, the candidates were banned from the election after RNDDH (one of Haiti's leading human rights organizations, an MCC partner and a member of the platform where I work) published a list of the drug trafficking and human rights violations charges leveled against each candidate. For example, in addition to leading a bloody coup d'etat in 2004, Guy Phillipe was indicted in Miami on drug trafficking charges and has been wanted in the US since 2005.

Aristide is currently in exile in South Africa but has a lot of support in Haiti, especially among the urban poor. Fanmi Lavalas boycotted the 2006 election, and is now openly campaigning for 12 of Haiti's 30 senate positions. It's rumored that more Lavalas members are running under different party names. One of the Lavalas candidates is Aristide's former Minister of the Interior, who was jailed by the interim government.

So far and much to everyone's surprise, there haven't been any widespread protests about this. It sounds like after the intervention of the U.S., UN and OAS, the disqualified candidates will be given a chance to appeal. I'm not sure whether or not that's a good thing. Lavalas does have a violent reputation, so n ap tann ("we're waiting") to see what will happen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Eliza Comes to Haiti (And Why We Haven't Updated Our Blog in So Long)

Eliza and I have been friends since 5th grade and her week-long visit was a GREAT way for me to see and re-appreciate Haiti through fresh eyes. Here are a few highlights of our time together:

1. Desarmes
Eliza arrived on Monday. On Tuesday, we
whisked her off to the Artibonite Valley for a few days. On our way we stopped at the Public Beach on the Cote des Arcadins to dip our feet in the ocean and eat coconuts.
In Desarmes, Eliza met Bryan and Sharon and the MCC reforestation team. We took walks, went to the market where I stocked up on the produce that is waaay cheaper here than in Port-au-Prince, and visited with lots more friendly folks.

2. Saut d'Eau

This waterfall between Mirebalais and Desarmes is the site of Haiti's largest Catholic and Vodou pilgrimmages (June-July). We had to pay a few slightly aggressive locals to let us get down to the water, but HOW worth it! Unfortunately, we didn't get a good picture of the tree where supplicants tie their undies for good luck. I got the impression that while I was swimming, our unwanted tour guides were anxious to see if I would add mine to the growing collection.

3. Hiking up the river gorge near Valere

4. Croix-des-Bouquets the village on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince that produces my favorite Haitian art form: metal work. Pieces like this are made from steel shipping drums sawed in half, flattened and cut out with chisels.

5. Cooler air
In the mountains above Port-Au-Prince, we stopped at Boutilliers for a view of the city,
visited Fort Jacques (built after Haiti's independence in 1804) and had lunch at the Baptist Mission in Fermanthe. Up here it's breezy, cool and green even in the dry season.

6. Petionville the suburb up the mountain from Port-Au-Prince. Here we visited Nader art gallery, the open air "art gallery" along Place Saint-Pierre, restaurants and MCC friends.

8. RAM and the Hotel Oloffson
The crumbling Hotel Oloffson is an institution in Port-Au-Prince. It's one of the best examples of Haiti's gingerbread architecture (lacy wooden latticework, high ceilings, balconies) and is immortalized as the Hotel Trianon in Graham Greene's book The Comedians. The Oloffson's house band, RAM plays every Thursday night from about 11:30 PM. RAM plays racines ("roots") music that is a blend of African rhythms, rara horns, and political lyrics with a decidedly punkrock influence.

6. Champs Mars
A Sunday tour of Champs Mars (a series of parks that make up the largest public space in the Caribbean) to see the National Palace and memorial statues to the heroes of the revolution culminated with our first chance to join a rara. Raras are street bands that roam the city by way of song and dance on the Sundays between Christmas and Karnival. This rara drew more and more of a crowd until we were dancing in a throng of several hundred people.

Pre-kanaval festivities in Petion-Ville


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...