Sunday, June 28, 2009

How does your Garden Grow?

Per popular request, here are photos of the terrace container garden that keeps us sane here in Port-Au-Prince. We hope that this vine to the right will eventually bear us loads of passion fruit.

the tomatoes:
herbs and the pepper/parsley patch:

greens and beans:

And our new square-foot garden bed, courtesy of Matt and Esther (thanks guys!):

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More pictures from visit with T & A


I have a PC laptop that was murdered by a Spanish-speaking virus last month. MS-13 connections, maybe? I was running the free version of AVG anti-virus software, which clearly does not speak Spanish. I've spent the last two weeks trying to download Ubuntu and was finally able to download it yesterday afternoon at nice hotel. This was not a small feat considering that it's 699 megabytes and internet in Haiti is usually only crawling. It took me four hours and $16 in overpriced snacks. So I now have Ubuntu and it's really sweet. My advice: if you're still using Windows, you should (1) write a letter to Microsoft about their terrible operating system and (2) switch to Ubuntu. My only problem now is trying to get Adobe Lightroom to run on Ubuntu.

I'm slammed with work now. I'm spending these hot, humid rainy season weeks hiking through the mountains of the Central Plateau visiting CLM clients, collecting baseline information and writing individual profiles on each one for our donors. An average day has me out the door by 6:45 AM, crossing a river by canoe at 7:30, visiting program participants until 3:30 in the afternoon, trying to beat the rain back to Sodo (4:15ish) or Desarmes if Alexis is there (5:00ish). Then I shower, have dinner and try to stay awake long enough to get some writing in before I crash around 8:00. Breakfast: bread, jam and coffee. Lunch: not usually. Dinner: rice, beans, vegetable sauce and, if I'm lucky, a piece of chicken. On weekends which seem much too short, I'm back in Port hanging out with Alexis, trying to catch up sleep and get a little more work done.

The latest update on my bicycle is that it's still awesome. I may have hit some single-track in the Artibonite a little too hard, though. The area we went riding in was flooded and I sort of fell into a four-foot deep stream. Later, while riding/pushing my bike though mud I managed to break my chain and trash my rear derailier. I had to push my bike back to the MCC office where I converted into a single-speed. I've always wanted a single-speed, but have never had the will-power to remove gears from a bike (and thus create a more painful riding experience for myself). I like to think that in spite of the pain, my single speed makes riding simpler and more zen-like. To say the bike is rigid is an understatement- the rocky sections of trail I hit are brain-jarring, and my vision blurs when I clamp on the brakes and try to stay upright. I'm going to put a riser handlebar on it when I get chance, which should help a little.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Please Read and Act:

Write to urge your representative to sign on as an original co-sponsor
to the TRADE Act: <>


Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) is set to reintroduce the Trade Reform,
Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act. The TRADE Act
was first introduced last year as a way to offer an alternative to
current U.S. trade policy. Rep. Michaud is asking his colleagues to
sign on as an original co-sponsor.


U.S. trade policy is often guided by narrow national self-interest,
which translates into seeking the interests of U.S.-based capital,
corporations and agribusinesses. This has had a detrimental impact on
poor communities all over the world. Millions of family farmers have
lost their livelihoods, their lands and have been forced to migrate.
Trade policies must work to advance the common good rather than the
interests of a few.

The TRADE Act is a step in the right direction. If passed it would:

Evaluate existing free trade agreements (FTAs). The Act would require
a public report assessing the impacts of the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement
(CAFTA) on signatory countries' employment and wage levels, access to
health care and water, cost of essential medicines, and compliance
with labor and environmental standards, among other criteria.

Renegotiate existing FTAs. The texts of NAFTA and CAFTA would have to
be transformed so as to meet explicitly outlined requirements. Among
other changes, the renegotiated FTAs would have to:

* Allow all signatory governments to take measures against
agricultural dumping so as to ensure income stability for small-scale
* Require signatory governments to actually enforce core labor,
environmental, and human rights standards
* Revamp any intellectual property provisions that tend to
increase the cost of essential medicines in signatory countries
* Delete all requirements to privatize or deregulate key services
such as health care, education, or water
* Eliminate the investor-state dispute resolution process in which
corporations can sue governments for laws construed as barriers to
trade (i.e. NAFTA's Chapter 11)

Impose a moratorium on future FTAs. The Act would require that the
President submit to Congress a plan to renegotiate existing FTAs at
least three months before the negotiation or implementation of any new
FTA. This prerequisite of renegotiation spells an effective
moratorium on further FTAs.

Abolish Fast Track. The Act would discard the anti-democratic Fast
Track provisions that currently restrict Congressional debate and
amendments on trade agreements. In its place, the Act prescribes a
more democratic process that would bolster Congressional oversight of
any future trade deals.

Write to urge your representative to sign on as an original co-sponsor
to the TRADE Act:

Monday, June 15, 2009

When the Beajours try to keep up with the Joneses

...they use plastic. Plastic bags, plastic packaging, plastic soda bottles, plastic silverware, plastic cups (and styrofoam takeout containers, too).

When we're in the countryside, it's easy to take my own bag or bottle to the market and get it filled with sugar, cooking oil, laundry detergent, flour, rice, beans, cracked wheat or cornmeal. In Port-Au-Prince, where everyone that can afford to be is image-conscious and prefers the grocery store to the street market, all of these items come in plastic. In this age of global food crisis, 75% of Haiti's food is imported. Wholesale companies import bulk rice, beans, wheat, oats, corn and more and nicely repackage it into plastic to stock the shelves at Public's, Eagle, Caribbean, Big Star, Twins, Express, Royal and Olympic Markets.

But not just imported foods come in plastic. In the stores frequented by wealthier Haitians, produce and eggs are wrapped in plastic to give the illusion of cleanliness (as if they didn't come out of the ground, much less out of a chicken's rear-end). Here is a list of purchases that I passed up today in the grocery store, ALL locally produced and ALL wrapped, packaged or bottled in plastic (I'm sure looking forward to the end of June when we can eat again):

Bread (pita bread, gingerbread, sliced bread and unsliced bread)
Dish soap
Peanut butter

Why so much plastic in Haiti?

Worldwide, choosing the environmentally friendly (or "good stewardship") option is usually a function of privilege. How many struggling single parents can afford to choose Whole Foods or the local farmer's market over McDonald's and the paper, styrofoam and plastic waste that comes with it? Excess waste and environmental degradation are the results of a far more systematic problem than we like to admit.

In Haiti, though, plastic use often seems more a function of image than privilege. For one thing, eco-consciousness is not trendy among wealthy Haitians yet. It's not gauche to litter. It IS gauche to use a djakout (traditional handmade basket) instead of a plastic bag or a kwi (traditional calabash bowl) instead of a styrofoam plate. City-dwellers don't use kwi, lest they be labeled a peasant, backwards and uneducated. Similarly, most prefer imported rice to locally grown, more nutritious and less expensive sorghum. It's all about the image.

Being able to afford plastic is, in it's own way, a status symbol. And so ironically, the poorer you are in Haiti, the less plastic waste you generate. Produce, eggs and meat in the street market are far cheaper than their styrofoam and plastic-wrapped cousins in the supermarket. It's cheaper to buy soda in glass bottles, which are eventually returned to the brewery and reused. It's more expensive and convenient to buy soda in a plastic bottle, which doesn't have to be returned to the vendor and can instead be chucked out the car window with no thought as where it will still be in 1,000 years.

Do we, as excessively-trash producing Americans (in case you were wondering, google analytics has informed me that 70% of our readers live in the USA, which produces the highly quoted statistic of 50% of the world's trash), play a role in the waste production of the rest of the world? As a country that is quote unquote developed, we have a disproportionate amount of power and influence when it comes to our global brothers and sisters. What message are we sending that encourages Haitians, who are currently more connected to the food that they eat than we Americans are (whether by growing it themselves, purchasing it in a basket that was made their neighbor from straw grown by their cousin, or eating it out of a kwi that grew on a tree in their backyard) to aspire to shrink wrapped veggies bought in a supermarket?

Check in on other Plastic Challenge takers:

Sharon's thoughts at Confessions of a Hitherto Unknown Plasti-holic

Karen discusses plastic use and alternatives in North Carolina

-posted by Lexi on Ben's account

Sunday, June 14, 2009

CLM Participants Begin New Lives

Text and Photos by Ben Depp

On June 11th, 120 women gather in a small cinderblock church in Boukan Kare. The mood is animated and expectant as they sing songs and are officially introduced to the case managers that will be training and encouraging them for the next 18 months. Most of the new program participants have not yet learned to write their names, so they sign their CLM contracts with an ink thumbprint. By promising to follow program rules and not sell the assets given to them by Fonkoze, they officially enter the Chemin Lavi Miyo program.

Disenfranchised by extreme poverty, most of these mothers have never given birth in a clinic or been able to take sick children to a doctor, much less see a doctor themselves. Today, each woman receives an ID card that will provide them and their families with access to free healthcare through Partners in Health, the healthcare system established by Paul Farmer in Haiti’s Central Plateau.

After the Asset Transfer ceremony, Manise Oxena is excited as she and the other CLM women who have each received three goats tie them in baskets on the backs of borrowed donkeys and horses. For many of the women, this is the first time they have owned anything as valuable as a goat.

Each has already chosen two of the three income-generating activities: goat rearing, chicken rearing, or a small commerce. Manise originally chose goat rearing and a small commerce as her CLM enterprises. When she realized that she is pregnant with her third child, though, she switched to goats and chickens. Pregnant, she won’t be able to cross the river and walk to the market to buy and sell merchandise. In six months, after her baby is born, she intends to buy and sell chickens in the market with the profit from her goat rearing. Manise will receive her chickens as soon as the cages are built to house them.

A week later Manise says, “I’m happy with my goats. I built a shelter to
keep them out of the rain. When the goats have enough babies, the first thing I’ll do is sell a couple to have money to send my children to school. When they reproduce enough, I’ll be able to buy a cow and start raising cows. The small stipend I’m receiving from CLM is also really helping me. I’m able to feed my children twice a day.”

For the next six months, each CLM participant will receive a weekly stipend of 200 gourdes ($5 US) from her case manager. This money will allow the women to feed their families without using the capital intended to start up their micro enterprises. In six months, these small businesses should be generating enough income for participants to feed their families on their own.

With the help of this small stipend, Oddette Jevain's family is eating every day for the first time. Oddette is a mother of six, but can only afford to send two of her children to school. Her husband works as a day laborer and Oddette buys and resells charcoal in the market twice a week. She earns a very small profit, the equivalent of 60 cents US, because she doesn’t have the capital to buy in large quantities.

Like Manise, Oddette chose goats as one of her enterprises. She believes that with the profit from raising goats, she’ll have a chance to send the rest of her children to school. After that, she intends to buy a horse: “With a horse I will be able to carry larger amounts of charcoal to the market and will be able to travel to markets further away to increase my business.”

Above, Lounna Etienne, age 14, receives her ID card. Her mother, who passed away before the program started, had been on the list to join CLM so Lounna took her mother's place. Louanna chose chickens and goats for her enterprises because she doesn’t have time to run a vending business. She attends school and cares for her two sisters, one of whom is mentally ill.

Below, Rosalie Fleurimond after the Asset Transfer with two of her three new goats. Rosalie, a single mother with five children, still lives with her own mother. After raising and selling these goats, she plans to buy land of her own and send her children to school. Soon she will begin vending in the market, her second CLM enterprise.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Plastic Plastic Everywhere

If you've been paying attention, you know that Ben and I (along with a few fellow MCCers) are trying to go plastic-less for the month of June. Never did we imagine how difficult this would be. Even when we're being conscientious, plastic seems to be unavoidably pervasive in our lives.

Take, for example, the bleach and laundry detergent I purchased yesterday. It took Ben several "um, are you sure you want to buy that?"'s for me to notice that the bleach bottle and detergent bag were both plastic, by which time, I had already purchased them. My defense: we CAN'T not do laundry for an entire month.

Nor can we go without drinking water. When we got our 5-gallon Culligan bottles (plastic, but refillable!) filled last week, we realized that they get resealed with a new plastic lid.

Our only other oopsies so far: 2 plastic bags. To avoid the plastic packaging on cheese, we bought some at the deli counter and asked that it be wrapped in paper instead of plastic. Before we could stop him, the deli-counter-man then put our paper-wrapped cheese into a plastic bag and slapped a price sticker on it. Nooooo! The 2nd bag was entirely, though inadvertently, my fault.

There's a plastics-related question (read: mounting concern) eating away at me. Even in non plastic-less months, we ignore funny looks at the check-out counter and take cloth bags or the traditional Haitian djakout (basket) with us for groceries. Of course, we still sometimes end up with plastic grocery bags and these become our garbage bags. A whole month of NO plastic bags means NO garbage bags.... With my second to last garbage bag already full, I'm wondering how we should dispose of the non-food (we compost) and non-plastic waste that we generate this month? Any ideas?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Take the Plastic Challenge

Litter is a problem in many countries, and Haiti is no exception. There’s little waste management infrastructure in our area, and often the best you can do is sweep your trash (plastic, metal, paper, whatever) into a small pile and burn it. As you can imagine, this presents its own challenges. A better strategy here is to either recycle your own consumer byproducts (using cans and bottles as planting containers, refilling the same bag of flour in the market) or avoiding waste altogether (choosing a refillable glass soda bottle over a plastic one). I know trash management is a large and complex issue, but becoming aware of how much we participate in the problem is an important step in finding a creative solution.

We were talking about this with a few of our fellow MCCers, and decided to step it up a notch. The challenge is simple:

No new plastic for one month.

No wrappers, no bottles, no lids. No see-through windows in cardboard boxes. No plastic buttons on clothing. No new flip-flops. I don’t even know if this will be possible, but trying will at least help us become aware of how much plastic we have in our day-to-day lives.

Why plastic? Even those advertised as “biodegradable” often don’t break down for decades, making our temporary containers a rather permanent part of our environment. Anybody for a vacation to the Pacific Trash Vortex?

Since I assume you’re all already doing things like foregoing Styrofoam, recycling, and using cloth shopping bags, I invite you to participate in No-Plastic June. You can keep the plastic you already have around the house, but don't purchase any new plastic for one month.

Then tell us about it! We’ll be posting here about our attempts to be plastic-free, so please feel free to leave comments about your own challenges and successes.

(text by Sharon T)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...