Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Creating Christmas


Come in your power
and come in your weakness
in any case
and make all things new.

- from prayer of Walter Brueggemann, 1994

Monday, December 21, 2009

Whatta Month!

So far my tranquil plans for December - meditative reflections on advent, watching the tomatoes and greens grow to the soundtrack of Handel's Messiah, a new flower bed (flowers only - no veggies allowed), Christmas baking, actually going to my yoga class in Pelerin, crafts and some romantic time in the mountains... all, of course, squeezed into our respective work schedules in Port-Au-Prince and the Central Plateau - have been upstaged by:
  • a feral cat that broke into our house 3 nights in a row. The first time it attacked Luna IN OUR BED at 2:00 in the morning, resulting in cat sh** on our sheets, mosquito net and Ben's pillow.
  • a week with stuffy, snotty all-consuming colds followed by:
  • Ben's severe bout of dengue.
  • the rats that have eaten most of the tomato, kale and mustard green seedlings. (Oh well, I lost my copy of Handel's Messiah anyway).
  • fatigue as I try to work full-time, commute by tap tap, care for my sick husband, feed a kitten, feed myself (thankfully for him, Ben hasn't been real hungry this week), keep a litter box clean and water the seedlings that haven't been eaten by rats. Clearly I don't have what it takes to be anything more than one half of one couple with an equal household division of labor! My kudos to all of you amazing men and women out there that juggle so much more.
In spite of the madness, we have both been able to enjoy some pre-Christmas serenity through advent celebrations on hope, peace, joy and love with our MCC community and other friends. We managed to decorate our home with a too-expensive string of lights and a few DIY eucalyptus wreaths (turns out Ben is an amazing wreath-maker). Saturday I spent the day baking Christmas goodies with the Hoffmans while Ben lent moral support from the couch; Sunday I pulled out the trowel and got dirt under my nails while Ben lent moral support from the hammock.

And now, its time to fight the rush-hour masses for a bench seat on a tap tap.

'Tis the Season to Have Dengue

Fa la la la OW. They say dengue fever, also called breakbone fever, occurs in epidemics. A number of friends (Haitians excluded because apparently they have immunity) have had dengue recently including, as you may recall, myself. Now is Ben's turn and he's been in bed for a week now feeling "very ill, weak and miserable". That quote is from this excellent website on dengue (forwarded to us by our new friend Doctor Kim, who has been an incredible source of reassurance over the past week). Not only is there no prophylaxis for dengue, but there's no treatment! There is virtually nothing worse than being ill, weak and miserable with an illness that is untreatable.

We're pretty sure that Ben is currently between stage 2 ("a period of 1 - 3 days of feeling a bit better with or without a low grade fever") and stage 3 ("the fever and symptoms reoccur and a rash develops starting with the bottoms of the feet and palms of the hands. The rash is red and may be very itchy like hives. The rash spreads up the legs and arms to the rest of the body, not the face. The rash may appear like petechia or small hemorrhages in the skin"). No rash yet, but although he was actually up and about Saturday and Sunday, he woke up this morning feeling miserable and with severe pain in his right shoulder. Dengue can cause "pain or soreness everywhere especially in areas where old injuries had occurred" and the bane of Ben's dengue experience has been nauseating pain in the shoulder where he injured his rotator cuff a few years ago.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Shoes for Haiti?

Re-thinking shoes for Haiti this Christmas

There's a cobbler at the end of our street. Lukner Clernier sells beautiful handmade sandals for men, women and children for a little over $7.00. He has five children, two of whom help him cut out, glue and sew together soles and straps. Business has been pretty slow lately - Lukner tells me he has a fraction of the sales he had this time last year.

Part of my job as MCC's advocacy coordinator and educator in Haiti is to analyze how actions and policy in North America affect the lives of Haitians. In order to do that, I read a lot of newspaper articles that reference Haiti. Recently, an increase in the number of North American shoe drives, requests for shoes to shod Haiti's barefoot children, has been bothering me.

For Lukner’s sake, I am asking you not to send shoes to Haiti. Here's why: sending your used shoes (or, alternatively, new shoes mass-produced by cheap labor in a country like Haiti) makes it really hard for Haitians like Lukner to stay in business.

Although well intended, this kind of international assistance works a lot like food dumping. When subsidized agricultural goods produced in North America are “dumped” on overseas markets they disrupt local markets, depress crop prices, and discourage local food production. In this case, shoes are being sent to Haiti for free and Lukner can't begin to compete with free. Many donated shoes also end up being resold on the street at prices that, compared to the cost of Lukner’s materials and labor, may as well be free.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be trying to put shoes on the feet of Haiti's barefoot children and I'm not trying to single anyone out for criticism. I know that the intentions behind shoe drives are loving and good and the children on the receiving end of these shoes are ecstatic to receive them. It’s just that when I talk to Lukner, I realize how desperately we need to rethink the way we do aid, not only on a macro level but on a personal, church and/or community level. When people send anything free to Haiti - shoes, blankets, soap - that Haitians are trying to produce for themselves, it doesn't address the deeper, structural reasons for the fact that many Haitians don't have shoes, blankets and soap. What it does do is constantly put Haiti on the receiving end of our leftovers and cheaply produced goods. Instead, let's encourage entrepreneurial and visionary Haitians like Lukner who in turn will reinvest the profit from his business into his local economy.

Especially now at Christmastime, if you're thinking about ways to give shoes to children in Haiti, I challenge you to go about it in a new way: raise money, get in touch with someone here that can order locally-made shoes from a Haitian cobbler with a business to run and a family to feed and know that you'll be making a creative and sustainable difference in someone’s life.

Alexis Erkert Depp is the Advocacy Coordinator for MCC Haiti and is based in Port-Au-Prince.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Program I Swear I Don't Run

Phone rings.

Me: Allo?
Stranger: Allo. [Waiting for me to offer to help him]
Me: Allo? [Waiting for stranger to state purpose in calling me]
Stranger: Allo?
Me: (Sigh) Can I help you?*
Stranger: May I speak to Alexis [garbling my last name beyond recognition] Depp ?
Me: Speaking.
Stranger: Hi, I'm calling about the deportee program.
Me: What deportee program?
Stranger: The program that you run for deportees.
Me: I don't run a program for deportees.
Stranger: Yes you do. The one where you give financial assistance to deportees.
Me: I have no idea what you're talking about. I don't run a program for deportees.
Stranger: Is this Alexis Depp?
Me: Yes.
Stranger: Where do you work?
Me: I work for a small organization called the Mennonite Central Committee and I coordinate MCC's advocacy efforts. I did carry out research on the effects of US deportation policy towards Haiti, but I don't run a program for deportees.
Stranger: So what do you do to help deportees?
Me: Um. [Thinking: should I try to explain the long-term benefits to deportees of advocacy for structural change? Decision: No. I am wasting this guy's phone credit]. Nothing. I don't run a program for deportees and I don't have any money available to help you. I'm sorry. I hope you have a nice day.
Stranger: [Hangs up, usually without saying anything].

*this conversation has been translated into English for your benefit. Since many deportees speak far worse Creole than I do, they would probably get the point faster if I did switch to English.

So, the first time I received a call like this (about 2 weeks ago), I thought, "That's funny. I wonder where they got my number." Finally yesterday, after receiving calls from deportees looking for money or assistance on an almost daily basis, I finally asked the voice on the other end of the line where they got my number. His response? The DCPJ. (Central Headquarters of the Judicial Police). This only leaves me with more questions.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Loony Luna

Um, what is that thing you're pointing at me?

A camera? Well, hello world!

Don't be fooled by my cuddly looks. I'm a ferocious puma. And I bite.

Okay, go away now.


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