Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pending Political & Parliamentary Pandemonium?

Yesterday the Miami Herald ran the following headline: "Haiti's Prime Minister Targeted for Ouster by Lawmakers". It's ironic that it was via my google news alerts that I learned that the Haitian government may disintegrate this week (although to my credit - or discredit- I've been attending a Tear Fund seminar on advocacy and haven't bothered to turn the car radio on on the way). There is apparently a small group of senators calling for Prime Minister Michelle Pierre-Louis to resign because she "has moved too slowly to solve Haiti's problems." She has been summoned to appear before parliament this week, which is usually indicative of a no-confidence vote. that It's a tricky (or maybe calculated) time for this kind of political maneuvering with hundreds of foreign investors set to invest in the country's burgeoning textile industry and Bill Clinton touting the wonders of Haiti's tourist attractions. See Matt's note here.

p.s. Parallel to Haiti's political system, my digestive system is experiencing upheaval after I ordered lambi (conch) at the Hotel Oloffson for dinner last night. After thoroughly emptying my stomach in the middle of the night, I burned my thigh on a kerosene lamp and fell asleep on the bathroom floor. I'll leave the political analogy at that.

Monday, October 26, 2009

in the car

I spent most of the last week driving the width and breadth of Haiti and I came back with a few blurry photos, four pineapples, a huge pumpkin, tangerines, avocados, and a bag of oranges.

Martha's blog

My sister Martha has ovarian cancer and has just started a blog about what she is dealing with.

Friday, October 23, 2009


you prey on us when we sleep
you chase after the tired, the poor, the weak
you know you mean only harm
you reach out with your long arm
but oppression
I won't let you near me...

you may have the dollar on your side
from the gospel truth you cannot hide
and oppression
I won't let you near me, oh no no
you shall learn to fear me, yes you will -Ben Harper

When we were home in August a number of people asked us about the spiritual oppression in Haiti, about vodou. Before we moved here we heard Christians say you can cross the border from the Dominican Republic into Haiti and literally feel the spiritual oppressiveness of this place. Not too long ago, I overheard a missionary telling a group of highschool students on a mission trip that the country of Haiti has actually been consecrated to Satan. This perception of Haiti, especially by people who live here, makes me really uncomfortable. I grew up in Africa and very much believe in the presence of spirits (or whatever you want to call the forces of good and evil). And while I believe that Haiti IS oppressed, I think that we too easily confuse spiritual and economic oppression. To say that the situation in Haiti is a result of some relationship that the country has with Satan (when by the way, virtually every Haitian I know considers themselves to be a Christian) lets us ignore the role that we play in keeping Haitians economically oppressed.

In the context of this discussion it’s also interesting to look a little bit at Haiti’s history. The Haitian revolution took place in 1804, a time when the development and wealth of the United States and Europe was very much dependent on slave labor. The Haitian revolution provided hope for slaves throughout the Americas, which in turn scared the poo out of plantation owners and slave masters. Because it was (and is still) rumored that the revolution was sparked by a vodou ceremony, many argue that those trying to suppress slave uprisings in the States intentionally used the word “voodoo” as a pejorative word associated with worshiping the devil and other derogatory images. In his essay, “Haiti’s Impact on the United States,” Greg Dunkel writes: “The historical context of [the word voodoo’s] introduction into US society was the uprising that began in the French colony of St. Domingue… The US, which was in large part a slavocracy, was completely shocked that the enslaved Africans of Haiti could organize themselves, rise up, smash the old order, kill their masters, and set up a new state that was able to maintain its independence. This rebellion was such a threat to the existence of the slavocracy if its example spread, and so inconceivable in a politccal framework totally saturated with racism and the denigration of people whose ancestors came from Africa, that the only explanation that they could see for enslaved people participating in it was that they were ‘deluded.’”

A Haitian activist friend of ours (a Christian) believes that vodou is a cultural tradition that stems from exclusion. Because slaves and after them, the poor majority, were excluded from church because they didn’t speak French and from access to social services because they didn’t have money, the combination of their traditional understanding of herbal medicine and African cultural backgrounds became vodou. He argues that vodou was above all a way for the majority to valorize themselves as people.

Regardless of whether or not there’s any truth to his theory, it’s actually amazing to me that so many Haitians have been able to embrace the God of their ancestor’s colonial masters. My experience here is that Haitians believe more openly and more fully than we do. We wake up every morning (or did before we moved) to the sound of hundreds of people participating in a 4 AM prayer service (whereas my own faith is admittedly not activated until about 7 AM); and knowledge that God is in control seems to underlie almost everything about Haitian culture.

I am not making the claim that vodou is never used as an oppressive force or used to exploit people. I do, however, believe that it’s no more spiritually oppressive than the worship of materialism. Before we judge the syncretism in other cultures, I think we need to look hard at the syncretism in our own. To be honest, I feel more spiritually uncomfortable in a shopping mall in North Carolina than I do when I hear vodou drums beating in the night or see a clay pot tied to a tree. I know that I’m not exempt from any kind of idolatry and I believe it’s important for me to think about the ways in which my lifestyle, built on centuries-old systems of colonialism and neocolonialism, might be an agent of oppression in other parts of the globe (and in the United States, too).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Is being rich your good luck?

Because of the grinding poverty here and because of my relative wealth, I've been thinking about this. In a bible study the other day it came up how blessed we are compared to many of our Haitian neighbors... And it made me wonder, is this really just how the world works or does God actually choose who can eat everyday and who cannot? I think it's probably just luck. I put "why god makes some people poor and some rich" (maybe the wrong question) into google and came up with an interesting thread that doesn't have any good answers.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I wish I had discovered this website a few years ago. Hopefully in the future I will have the good fortune to live in a van once again.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Go Figure

Somehow our blogspot user accounts got switched, so that all of the posts I (Lexi) have written over the course of this blog's life now say that they were posted by Ben and vice versa. We hope that this won't cause too much confusion.

Here's a general rule of thumb for trying to figure this out: If the blogpost (a) mentions bicycles (b) talks about being in the Central Plateau (c) is funny or (d) features stunning photography, it was posted by Ben. If the blogpost (a) is a political, social or religious tirade (b) displays mediocre pictures the likes of which Ben would never post (c) links to others people's blogs or (d) quotes extensively from other people and/or articles, it was unfortunately posted by me.

Sorry, folks.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Things

Lots of changes around here. Not only am I still settling into my new job, which by the way I absolutely love, but we're also enjoying all sorts of other new things:

1. New House
Pictures coming soon...

2. New MCCers
September brought more diversity to our MCC team here with Joel and Rachel Colbourne-Hoffman. Joel will be working at RNDDH, one of MCC's human rights partner organizations. Rachel, who is Australian and wowing us with her awesome accent and Aussie slang, will be working part-time at RNDDH and part-time in my former position at POHDH.

3. New Niko
Congratulations to Matt, Esther and Gabriela De Groot - Van Geest for a new addition to their family! Most of those congratulations, though, go to Esther who gave birth at home over the weekend to 9-lb Niko Dieufèl. (Dieufèl means "God made him" in Kreyol). If you think you're tough, read Esther's blogpost on The Birth and think again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When in North Carolina,

Bike Maintenance, Haiti style

I pack car grease into the bearing race and one by one push the bearings into the grease until they disappear beneath the black mess. A bearing slips out of my fingers, bounces off my toe and is gone forever. I crawl around for fifteen minutes before giving up the search. My front wheel had 20 ball bearings in it. Now I’m one bearing short of a good wheel but it still spins decently.

Disassemble the bottom bracket and find lots of loose metal debris, rust, and no grease. The piece that holds the ball bearings in place has been mostly ground away because it’s probably been without grease for the last 30 years. I clean it, pack it with grease, reassemble it and it spins great.

I add a link to the chain, which allows me to loosen the rear wheel and slide it forward to move the chain onto a larger cog giving me an easier gear for climbing mountains. Now I have a two-speed! I had broken the rear derailleur mountain biking, which encouraged the bike’s transition into a single speed. Tonight my knees are grateful that it has re-evolved into a two-speed.

A couple weeks ago, my brother Matt gave me a mountain bike handle bar so I put that on to give me a more upright posture for more comfort and control. I pulled a set of brake levers out of my parent’s garage while we were in North Carolina. When I put them on I figured out I was missing a plastic washer so a friend and I made a washer out of the cap of a specimen bottle. We also rigged the brake cables because they aren’t the proper cables for these levers.

There was a L-shaped bracket on the stem for holding a reflector that I bent horizontally and now it works as a camera mount. The bolt that formerly held a reflector is the perfect size to screw into the bottom of my camera - a minor sort of miracle.

Gerry rigging reminds of a proverb that we often hear, degaje pa peche (“to get by is not a sin”). I’ve mostly heard this expression used in reference to someone sleeping around or stealing to survive. As I type this, Alexis is sleeping on the couch and I hope she doesn’t wake up to see the rat that is eating a pile of rat poison on the other side of the room. A larger rat runs out and attacks it, then they both run in opposite directions. Now the smaller rat is back. I hope my brakes stay together.

-posted by Ben from Lexi's account


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