Monday, November 30, 2009

And we gave thanks for

  • each other
  • you, and having you be a part of our lives
  • being able to spend Thanksgiving Day together (last year Ben was in the Central Plateau for Thanksgiving and almost had to be again this year)
  • not being freezing cold in North America
  • the bounty of Haitian produce available this time of year
  • the new friend(s) that ate our experimental meleton pie (called vegetable pear in English and similarly to green mango can be used to mimic apple pie. Sort of).
  • a great hike in the mountains on Saturday
  • gardening space at our new house
  • LOTS of other stuff
- B & A

How to Build a Cargo Bike in Haiti

How to Build a Longtail Cargo Bike - More DIY How To Projects

Bryan and I recently finished this bike. We've showed it off (in other words, ridden it around) and a lot of people seem to really like it. The idea is to make a couple and hopefully people will replicate them to carry goods to and from the market or whatever else they need to carry (like a half a dozen kids to school).

I just bought a beat up BMX bike to build another type of cargo bike. It's going to be even sweeter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP)

Pull out yer maps 'cuz we went somewhere new! Last week Ben and I ventured way up into the Central Plateau with MCC's environmental education team to visit the Papay Peasant Movement outside of Hinche. They were scouting it out for their annual teacher's excursion (a learning tour of sorts for the teachers that are in the environmental ed program). I tagged along (a) as MCC's advocacy coordinator because MPP is a grassroots organization that is addressing Haiti's food security issue in a practical way (in addition to a number of grassroots coalitions, MPP is connected to the La Via Campesina movement and the International Movement for Catholic Agricutural and Rural Youth) and (b) because I love to garden and to see cool appropriate tech projects in action.

We got a whirlwind tour of MPP's experimental gardens, visited a community irrigation system and bought red worms for our compost pile at home. Since B&S have already blogged about the cool things we saw, I'll refer you over to their blog for more.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How To Candy Grapefruit Peel in Haiti

1 grapefruit tree
1 friend to spend hours slicing and scraping grapefruit peel with you
3 large aluminum pots made from recycled cans
300 gourdes worth of sugar (or one large Digicel bag full)
8 steel cups and plates to keep ants away while the candy dries overnight
Enough electricity to watch two movies while you:

Pick, Slice, Boil, and Dry

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What we have and what we don't

1. Electricity: We don't have it. Or at least not enough to keep our inverter charged and the food in our refrigerator from rotting. We're told - and last year's experience confirms, that EDH (Électricité d’Haiti) starts withholding electricity at about this time of year so that they can provide the city with lights full-time for the week of Christmas and Haitian Independence Day (January 1st).

2. Luna: I never thought that I would own a cat, but our new 5-week old kitten (and future mouser) is just too cute. We have rats. Thankfully they have stayed in our compost pile and out of the house so far, but they're there nonetheless. So, when one of MCC's cats had kittens, only one survived and then happened to be looking for a home - did I mention how darn cute she is? - we gave in and bought a bag of kitty litter. I will post pictures soon so that you check out her insane-looking white eyelashes!

p.s. I am NOT going to become a crazy cat lady like my sister.

3.Work: Work has been a little slow for Ben lately, but that changed when the CLM program got funding for 84 new participants. Remember this? This week I’m in the countryside with him. We’re staying in Desarmes, I’m working from the MCC reforestation program office (where the internet is faster and more reliable than our internet in Port-Au-Prince) and Ben is commuting back and forth to Boukan Kare. A cat-loving friend in Port (and owner of Luna’s mother, Noche) is keeping little Luna for us. Incidentally, today is a holiday but Ben still had to work. It is Fèt Batay Vètyè, in which we honor the final battle of the Haitian Revolution - the Battle of Vertiers. I’m celebrating Fèt Batay Vètyè by making candied grapefruit peel with Sharon (see #6). Do we get extra credit for picking the grapefruit ourselves?

4. Sunshine: Although this may seem like a ridiculous problem to have in sunny Haiti, our new house has too much shade. Our nasturiums won't bloom, our radishes are getting leggy, and our parsley just straight-up rotted in the ground. Also, our laundry is taking two days too long to dry, leaving our towels and jeans with that stinky, took-to-long-to-dry smell. Our landlord will be cutting down one of our trees (whose roots are growing into our water cistern) and hopefully that will help.

5. Intestinal Trouble, which is a nice euphamism for diarrhea. I recently mentioned having spent a week + with dengue fever (read the bit about the rash - I've never itched so much in my life!). Well, no sooner had I recovered from the dengue, the "intestinal trouble" started and has persisted for almost two weeks. I'm open to advice for cures from you medical types (Tim? Caleb?).

6: Festive Spirits: Christmas lights and Santa Claus have already started making an appearance here. The funny thing about these lights and Santas is that most Haitians only celebrate Christmas for what it is: a church holiday that commemorates Jesus’ birth. We don’t have malls and greeting card companies, so Christmas ornamentation is pretty much limited to grocery stores and gas stations. Last year, the Texaco station near where we live now outdid the rest with a G-I-A-N-T inflatable Santa on the roof, not to mention a (fake) tree, lights, greenery and a snowman (also fake. Obviously.)

Last year was our first Christmas in Haiti. On Christmas Eve we put some candles on a cactus and on Christmas Day had a nice, low-key time with other friends that weren’t able to be with their families. But this year - and please keep in mind that it’s only November 18th - I am already sorting through Christmas cookie recipes and trying to figure out where to score a pine tree branch (I couldn’t possibly justify using an entire pine tree in Haiti, could I?). The reason? MY PARENTS ARE COMING TO VISIT! Ben and I have only spent two of the last five or six Christmases with family.* But, as Christmas in the Erkert tradition (along with birthdays, Easter, Mother’s Day and any other excuse to eat a lot and give and receive gifts**) is a really big deal, just knowing that we’ll be with my folks on Christmas makes me want to do it up right. CHRISTMAS 2009, WOOOT!

* It caused great alarm among Erkerts that Ben does not appreciate Christmas music.

** So as not to offend any family, I should add that the Erkerts have many meaningful family traditions surrounding these and other holidays. (We sure do love holidays).

Friday, November 13, 2009

National Immigration Call, November 18th

U.S. immigration policy often has an untoward affect on Haiti, so I would encourage you to participate in this event. It's an issue relevant to my work (I just finished writing a briefing paper for MCC's Washington advocacy office on the destabilizing affect that the deportation of Haitians living in the States has here, especially as Haiti attempts to recover from last year's hurricanes) and relevant to our belief that as Christians, we should be welcoming of strangers. If you're interested, click here to view MCC's Immigration Policy Principles and here for MCC's immigration reform guide (view the "detention and deportation" part which refers specifically to Haiti).

On Wednesday, November 18th, at 8 PM Eastern for English speakers (and 9 PM Eastern for Spanish speakers), the Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign will host a national call for thousands of community leaders across the nation to build the base and strength necessary to press forward in the struggle for just and humane immigration reform. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force, and the Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign will share information about next steps for reform as we build toward the critical early months of 2010. Click here to register for the call.

Background: Reform Immigration For America works towards policy changes that acknowledge the wide scope of benefits that are to be derived from comprehensive immigration reform. This means a common sense approach to healing our broken immigration system, restoring equality under the Rule of Law, and providing dignity and respect for hardworking immigrants; this means moving all Americans forward, together. This reform works towards whole, united families, fairer and better wages, less exploitation in the workplace, greater economic and workplace stability, and safer borders.

Action: On Wednesday, November 18th, at 8 PM Eastern for English speakers and 9 PM Eastern for Spanish speakers, the Reform Immigration FOR America Campaign will host a national call for thousands of community leaders across the nation to build the base and strength necessary to press forward in the struggle for just and humane immigration reform. Click here to register for the call. Click here to register a house party in your community.

The following related excerpt from a Third Way Cafe article titled "Welcoming the Stranger" challenges and encourages me when I think about immigration policy:

"When Jesus was asked about the commandment to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’, he chose to illustrate his point with a parable about a Samaritan - a despised and feared foreigner. This story probably shocked Jesus’ listeners, but it evoked the scriptural call to welcome strangers and treat them with respect. The theme of hospitality and tolerance is central to the biblical vision of justice, and is reflected in God’s command for authorities to “treat [resident foreigners] as well as you treat citizens” (Leviticus 19:34).

As we consider how our country will deal with immigration issues, we must keep this biblical perspective in mind. Are we mistreating migrant workers when we label them as criminals and deny them the means to a legal livelihood? Is it just to separate families through deportations and bureaucratic barriers?

Using dehumanizing language, walling off border communities, and separating families will create division and fear, not security. Instead, we need creative policies that support family unity, create pathways for citizenship, address the root causes of immigration, strengthen local communities, and protect workers’ rights. We need solutions built upon hope and mutual respect."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Playing Fall

We may miss fall, but this month we've had the pleasure of spending TWO weekends in Kenscoff where, complete with cold weather and pumpkin pie, we got to pretend that we weren't missing out on our favorite season.

Our friends M and E rent this great house in the mountains above the city (at almost 5,000 ft), and have generously invited us to stay there when we want to:

Two weekends ago, Ben and I went up for a night:
And met up with friends for one of the best Haitian meals we've ever had (more sauteed swiss chard and watercress, please!)
This weekend MCC gave us Friday off, so Ben, Bryan, Sharon and I headed back into the mountains for a perfect long weekend. Ben and Bryan went biking and Sharon and I went to the market and worked on a craft project. We explored Janey Wynn's magical garden. We wore jeans and long sleeves and baked bread, made pie, drank hot chocolate and watched movies and I (mostly) recovered from a week at home with dengue fever. Ah, fall.

Le House

p.s. We have a bed in our guestroom now...


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