Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Luna finally came through and delivered not two or three, but FIVE kittens. Naturally, she had them on top of the kitchen cabinets. She's been hanging out up there a lot, so this morning Ben made her a little nest with cardboard and a torn sheet. I guess that's all she needed because by the time we got home from work, she was nursing five black and white, squirmy little offspring (and looking quite exhausted).

I'm glad she had them before my trip to Canada on Thursday. I'll be gone for two weeks and by the time I get back, they will be SO CUTE. You'll have to ask Ben to take lots of pictures since I won't be here to nag him. Any care tips for newborn kittens (or nursing teenage-mom cats) he should know about?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Why I have not made dinner

Ben will be home from a 3-day trip - to the North, to film 2 microcredit program graduations for Fonkoze - in about half an hour. If I were the person that I wish I could be, I would have dinner on. But since the 1/2 pumpkin in my fridge that I was planning to transform into soup turned out to be moldy because we've had almost no electricity and I have no creative energy (or any kind of energy, for that matter), dinner is not on.

I am tired.

- tired of trying to function in a language that I can't fully speak.
- tired of being stared at and/or talked about everywhere I go.
- tired when I have to communicate with a Haitian coworker that I like and respect and am supposed to work closely with, but with whom I JUST. CAN'T. communicate well.
- tired when the market ladies that I always buy produce from ask me for food distribution cards and here I thought that since I buy my food in the street market and speak enough Creole to shop in the street market and have lived in Haiti for almost two years, these women view me as a person and not another potential white-skinned benefactor.
- tired of being hot when it's still only April.
- tired of my hand-washed clothes being stretched out, of having to wear mosquito repellent at home and of dealing with tadpoles in our water cistern, cockroaches, ant nests and an infestation of baby tarantulas.
- tired of my neighbors dropping by with no warning.
- tired of feeling guilty for all of the above (and for not being a kinder, more compassionate and more patient person).
- tired of people thinking that I am some kind of hero for living and working here.

I grew up in Cameroon [grew up = 18 years]. I have spent 20 out of my 27 years being stared at. I KNOW all about different cultural approaches to money and all about living in a relational culture and a tropical culture and yet it still reduces me to tears when someone in the market asks me for money. I still forget to ask my coworkers everyday how their families are and sometimes forgot to greet every single one of them individually. I still would rather come home at the end of day, lock my gate and not visit with my neighbors. I have not cooked dinner - because cooking dinner requires arguing over prices in the market (something that I usually love to do) in the hot sun and making something from scratch (which I also usually love to do) by lamplight. Most days right now, I have almost no patience and even less energy.

Ben doesn't care that I haven't made dinner. Here's to an amazing, supportive husband who doesn't expect me to have cooked for him when he comes home from a 3-day trip and without whom living in Haiti (or anywhere else!) would be much, much harder.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bicycling Haiti

Everyone needs a way to unwind. Bryan and I put this video together after a couple recent mountain bike rides.

MCC in Haiti

MCC identifies priorities, plans that will guide long-term response in Haiti

Food security, education, economic development and housing are among the priorities that will guide MCC's long-term rebuilding efforts in Haiti.

MCC's long-term rebuilding in Haiti shifts to rural areas
Helping to strengthen infrastructure in rural areas is essential for the successful rebuilding of the country.

Also, click here to download MCC's latest issue of A Common Place, with a 4-page spread of photos and captions by Ben.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Aba blan pepe!"

This slogan, which translates roughly into "Down with used foreign goods!" has been scrawled on walls all over Delmas since shortly after the earthquake. It makes a good point. For years - and especially now, post-earthquake - people have been sending hand-me-downs to Haiti. While well-intended, the reality is that donated goods can actually hurt a place like Haiti more than they help.

[I would like to take a moment to add that there has been some appallingly crappy stuff being sent to Haiti, like expired medicine and rusty medical instruments. Our material resources committee has to sort through daily offers for donations (often from companies that must just want a tax deduction for donating things that they can't sell). 10,000 Crocs, anyone? The Haitians on our team poo-pooed that one. Just because "it's free and they're poor," doesn't mean that Haitians want whatever stuff we're trying to get rid of. Why do we think that Haitians would want things that we are not willing to use?] Sorry, just needed to get that out.

Following a disaster, material aid (which basically means non-food aid) is necessary and appropriate. In the urgent short-term, things like shelter, hygiene kits, kitchen kits, buckets, water filters, soap, medicine and medical care can quickly help meet people's basic needs. I firmly believe that these things have a made a huge difference in the quality of peoples' lives since the earthquake.

We need to be aware, though, that any influx of free stuff can have a long-term damaging affect on the local economy. I write this in part to respond to the many comments that have appeared on this blogpost since the earthquake. So many people have read it that if you google "Shoes for Haiti" it will come up on the first page. Even though I wrote the article in that post at the beginning of December, the earthquake hasn't changed the fact that many Haitians are trying to make a living as cobblers, as tailors, as farmers and by making jam, peanut butter and other value-added products. Many Haitian entrepreneurs and small business owners lost their businesses in the earthquake and are doubly screwed because many of the goods they are competing against are now available for free from NGOs or mission groups.

There is a tension that exists for many development organizations in balancing meeting people's urgent and immediate needs and in contributing to the creation of a sustainable, healthy Haitian economy in the long-term. We're at a crucial point in time in responding to the earthquake in which many organizations, international and Haitian alike, are phasing out their emergency response and looking at ways to create jobs and to provide people with capital or training to restart their businesses. No matter where they're from, most people would rather have a job or a business that allows them to feed their families and build their homes on their own than receive hand-outs.

If you want to help meet people's needs in Haiti, I would ask that you encourage your school, church group or family to think about these issues and consider donating money to an organization that is actively trying to do what will be best and most dignifying for Haitians in the long-run.

If you are part of an organization that is working in Haiti, please encourage your bosses and colleagues to think about these issues as well, and do all that is within your means to support the local economy. When aid agencies purchase services, food and other goods locally (ie. build a house using Haitian labor and supplies purchased in Haiti), this money generates taxable revenues for the Haitian government, creates business opportunities for Haitians, and restores livelihoods by creating jobs and supporting national agricultural production. This approach has the potential to have a more long-lasting impact than just about any short-term development project.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Overdue for an Update

Mostly we've been posting pictures and video lately. Sometimes pictures speaker louder than words and also sometimes we're just too busy to update our blog.

What's keeping us so busy these days?

Classes have resumed at the SKDE seminary and thank God for Sharon because now that she and Bryan are living in Port-Au-Prince, she will be working with Nixon to create a better, more systematized curriculum for our social justice, human rights and advocacy classes. See Sharon's post about our first class since the earthquake.

MCC is moving forward with a well thought-out response to the earthquake that will include income generation to create sustainable livelihoods, projects to strengthen national agricultural production and others, mostly with a focus on decentralization. More on that and things Ben and I have been working on later.

An announcement by President Preval (being spread endlessly on the radio) that we should be expecting another earthquake. A month and a half ago, this unsubstantiated rumor would have had us sleeping in the driveway, which is testimony to how much more normal we are feeling. I was talking to my mom earlier this week and she told me that I sound like myself again. I guess most of our post-earthquake healing has happened so gradually - and less as an effort on our part than as a function of life simply going on - that we haven't even noticed it happen. Our life in Haiti will never be the same and in some ways, we'll never be the same either, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty now that I am well.

Another gas shortage. Remember this one? Once again, it's difficult to find out exactly why there's little gas to be had in Port-Au-Prince but it stands to reason that when all of the gas stations in the country are owned by a small, wealthy group of business owners and the government decides to try to lower the cost of gas so that more people can afford it, said business owners will strike back. This is neoliberal capitalism hard at work, folks.

Waiting for kittens. Every day we rush home to see if Luna has delivered... And every day her mid-section just looks a little bit fatter.

Seeing rubble move. The new hotel catty-corner to our house (we can actually see it through our window when we're lying in bed) is being demolished because it was damaged in the earthquake. In the more visible parts of the city, damaged buildings are being demolished - most by a few manual laborers with sledgehammers - and rubble is being cleared. An ugly thing happening is that both the government and private landowners are beginning to force displaced people to move from many of the camps that spontaneously sprung up in the days following the earthquake. What's being publicized is that with the rainy season beginning, the government and international community have set up five areas on the outskirts of the city and are giving people in IDP camps that are at high risk for flooding and landslides the option and cash incentives to move. What's not being publicized are the other, forcible evictions taking place all over Port-Au-Prince with no resettlement options available for people.

Lastly, The Christian Century published an interview with us that you can see here and Ben has updated the photo slideshow at the bottom of this page.

That's it for now.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The long-tail cargo bike Bryan and I built was featured on the Popular Mechanics website as one of "The 8 Most Ambitious Instructables of 2009"

Living in the Median

Frank Thorpe helped me edit the video
Micheline Fleuron lives with her two boys in the median in Carrefour. Her home, the pile of rubble across the street from where she is now, collapsed during the earthquake and killed her seven year old daughter. Before the earthquake Micheline had a small business selling food items -she lost that in the earthquake. She says food aid has been distributed near where she is but she has not been able to get any of it. She says hunger is difficult and "dust from the street is eating us".


Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community by Wendell Berry
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Seeds a selection of Thomas Merton's writings
Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed edited by Vandana Shiva

I can't do any of these books justice in a short description so I won't try. If you're looking for something to read, check these four out of your local library. The Omnivore's Dilemma took me about a year to read (so this would probably be cheaper to buy than to pay the library fines). Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community and The Manifestos were quick reads and I'm still reading Seeds. I probably shouldn't recommend Seeds since I haven't finished it, so I'll go ahead and just recommend the first half. Start with Wendell Berry then read the other three.

These books have helped me better understand why Haiti and the rest of the world are where they are and and also gave me an idea of how things could be better (which is refreshing when you happen to be living in Port-au-Prince in March 2010. The earthquake was a huge natural disaster but I believe there is also a larger, ongoing man-made disaster that has been killing this island for several hundred years). The common thread: our world is a messed up place but there are ways that we can choose to live in better harmony with creation and with each other that have the potential to heal spiritual, environmental and relational brokenness.

Painting for sale on the street by Louis Murat.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter weekend in Port Salut

We spent a refreshing weekend OUT OF THE CITY and AT THE BEACH with Bryan and Sharon and newly-arrived-in-Haiti college-buddies Ian and Monica. As usual, you can see photos of our weekend on someone else's blog.



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