Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday Morning Breakfast

Thank you, Patisserie Marie Beliard, for the croissants. 
Thank you, Mom, for the crossword puzzles. 
Thank you, Ben, for the beautiful flowers. 
Thank you, Bryan and Sharon, for the strawberry jam.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fault Lines - Haiti: Six months on

"Six months after the earthquake that killed up to 300,000 people, the dust is starting to settle over Port-au-Prince. As it does, the deep wounds that fracture this country are re-emerging, more gaping than even before."

We have found that Al Jazeera English has been one of the few TV networks with a commitment to doing real journalism and telling real stories from Haiti. Six months ago, we posted this documentary done by Al Jazeera with former CBC host Avi Lewis. Earlier this month, they released the six month update posted above. It's hard to watch, but we would encourage you to take the time.

On a very much related note, Ben has been meaning to post the following comment for several days now: If the pictures he posted of displaced Haitians facing flooding moved you, please don't send more money to big NGOs working in Haiti. Billions of dollars of aid have already been pledged and quite honestly, you can see from this short video how that's going. Instead, call the organizations that you have already sent money and ask them to account for it. Put pressure on the NGO's you support and on your governmental representatives to be transparent in the way that money pledged to Haiti gets spent. We've linked to it several times now, but USE this advocacy guide! Or look for ways to support individuals that are doing good things in Haiti or grassroots organizations and movements. Feel free to contact us for suggestions.

This week

  • Lots of heavy rains. Hot days, cool nights. (Comparatively) lots of electricity.
  • We have been too busy to blog. We have also been too busy to cook, clean or hang out. Ben's had a ton of video editing to do (his least favorite kind of work) and I've been working with KPL on a proposal for the Canadian Food Grains Bank, connecting with PAPDA, planning the MCC advocacy delegation that will be here in almost a week and lots of other stuff. Busyness seems to come and go in waves for us, but July has been a tidal wave of activity that shows no signs of letting up. 
  • Luna has been acting crazy - total wild cat. I think it has to do with the full moon. Luna, moon. Makes sense, right?
  • We found out that Karen and Abe will finally be visiting us. Hurrah for amazing sisters and bearded brother-in-laws. October could not possibly come soon enough!
  • I found the most amazing sandals I've ever owned in the street market on Delmas 33. Should I post a picture? I want to. If someone will allay the guilt I feel about putting a picture of my new used shoes on my blog about Haiti, I'll upload one.
  • Ben made hot sauce with peppers from the Indian Firecracker pepper bush in our yard that is now almost as tall as I am.
  • I've been getting nervous about the end of the month, which is also the end of my security as an MCC service worker. Even though Ben and I never made a salary with MCC, we haven't had any financial worries for the past two years - everything from our rent to our food to FULL health insurance has been covered for us. But since I'm switching to a local hire position, I will be making less than was provided for me as a service worker. We've never been in it for the money and I truly do love my job, so I'm trusting that it will all work out.
  • Ben bought the XL200 from MCC. He is now the proud owner of his very own motorcycle.
  • Starting tomorrow we'll be dog sitting again for F&J. I'm not sure if we mentioned anything about our first Olie-sitting experience, but because it resulted in 5 AM wake-ups, puppy poop on our floor and a very traumatized Luna, we're going to stay at their house this time. Good thing he's cute!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal: Reflections After Six Weeks in Haiti

by Jason Myers
The Fund for Theological Education

You learn the basics of any language when you’re going to a foreign country: “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Do you have wireless here?” Well, perhaps the last is not very useful in Haiti, where most things except the internet are wireless, and where my Kreyol (the local spelling of Creole) remained rudimentary to the last. I could tell when people were talking to or about me (“Blan, blan!) and I knew if I heard the word manje it meant we would be eating soon. I learned the generic words for bird and tree, but found most of the expressions people tried to teach me going in one ear and out the other. On one of my last days in Port-au-Prince I rode out to Delmas 75 and met with the good people at the Mennonite Central Committee. They were gracious enough to invite me into their lovely guest house/office, serve me deliciously strong Haitian coffee, and tell me about the work they do in the country. As Alexis Erkert Depp was showing me a video produced by local farmers, she handed me a button. In letters made up from bananas, beans, and other native produce were the words ‘kore pwodiksyon lokal,’ which translates as “support local production.”

This phrase took on a talismanic power for me. I pinned the button to my bag and have been showing it off at any chance I get. Kore pwodiksyon lokal, kore pwodiksyon lokal – the words slip around in my head, my mouth, they’ve become a rosary. I’m not a Catholic, but my first week in Haiti when I was riding on the back of a motorcycle on crater-pocked roads, convinced of my imminent death, I said “Hail Mary, full of grace” at least a thousand times. Prayer in this manner can be solipsistic – I was saying the words to protect my own life, to take my mind off the terrible condition of the road. But my new rosary, kore pwodiksyon lokal, has become my dream for the world, for Haiti.

One of the many dismaying things about the current state of Haiti is the lack of support for local agriculture. This is not because people don’t want to farm, or that the climate is inhospitable to local agriculture – though the extraordinary Dr. Paul Farmer has an acerbic joke, “Haiti is the only country where a farmer can die from falling out of his farm,” a reference to the mountainous terrain that many in the country inhabit. Part of the problem has to do with American policy – we’ve strong-armed Haiti into accepting trade agreements that will ensure its continuing poverty. Among the most heinous of these is the reduction of tariffs on imported goods to 3 % - most countries have 35 %! Rice from America is cheaper than rice from Haiti, which helps put Haitian farmers out of business. Kore pwodiksyon lokal! I can imagine Amos or Jeremiah exclaiming similar words.

I hope to learn more Kreyol when I return to Haiti, but I already have my three favorite words. When I think about supporting local agriculture, the words of Deuteronomy 11:11-12 come to mind, for Haiti “is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for, the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.” So if you’re looking for words to write on the doorframes of your houses and your gates, might I suggest “Kore prodiksyon lokal.” And if you’re able, support these wonderful organizations:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pilgrims seek miracles at Saut-d'Eau festival

Click on the picture to see more of my photos from the festival.

Haitian pilgrims gather at the waterfall at Saut d'Eau on July 16th, the anniversary of the 1983 sighting of the Virgin Mary, alternately identified as the Vodou loa, or spirit, of Erzulie Freda, the Goddess of Love. The waterfall at Saut d'Eau is the site of the largest Vodou and Catholic pilgrimage in Haiti. A second sighting of the Virgin was reported during the American occupation. Each year, thousands of Haitian pilgrims make their way to Saut d'Eau to bathe in the sacred water and revel in the presence of the loa, particularly Erzulie and Damballah the Serpent, father of all life and keeper of spiritual wisdom, who is said to live in the falls. The water is believed to be curative and many women come to Saut d'Eau seeking fertility.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Posts We Never Posted #1

Tour de l'Artibonite
A mere three days before the earthquake, the MCC ladies rode from Mirebalais to Desarmes on a variety of bicycles (most of which were provided by Ben from the fast-breeding brood in our storage room). For a 25-mile ride, it was totally epic. I can say this: the Artibonite Valley was definitely not prepared to be stormed by six blan women on mostly crappy bikes.
On January 12th, I started writing a blogpost about the ride, intending to upload the pictures after I got home. Before I got a chance, there was an earthquake.
Pancha is leaving Haiti next week, so now of all of the strong and amazing women that I rode to Desarmes with that day, only Margot is still here. Next year's Tour will either be very small (read: two) or will have to be composed of new friends and colleagues.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What to Blog?

Today is the 6 month anniversary of the earthquake. I feel like I should have something insightful to write about the situation in Haiti, perhaps an advocacy piece that will provoke impassioned action on the part of all of you readers out there to change things for Haitians. My colleague at MCC's DC office wrote this article for the Third Way Cafe. It quotes me, from a letter I wrote to the LA Times last week (based somewhat loosely on this blogpost/tirade). My colleague at MCC's Ottawa Office took the same letter, improved upon it greatly and had me send it in to the Globe and Mail as an Op ed. So, I guess I feel like my words are out there. Sometimes I think there's only so much you can say and only so many times.

I'm not even sure if I'm going to read the articles that came up in my Haiti google alerts today. I opened the digest email, greeted by the following headlines: Six months after Haitian quake, many barriers to recovery; Half a year later, Haiti is still in need; Haiti Six Months After the Quake; Haiti recovery stalled by aid and land issues, etc.

I often feel guilty for writing blogposts about our cat, what we eat, hikes we take and weekend activities when six months ago today, it felt like the world had come to an end. For so many Haitians, the world is irrevocably changed. Basic, human rights are being violated on an unimaginable scale. So, when I get work emails on Friday night, I feel sorta guilty knowing that I will be spending the weekend making sauerkraut and watching soccer.

This is a line that we've had to draw. Knowing that we plan to live here for awhile yet, we have to nurture patience, creativity, emotional and spiritual well-being, friendships and love for this country, which we cannot do if we don't consciously set time aside to rest and to play. We're both blessed to have jobs that we are passionate about and that (usually) provide us with a sense of fulfillment. But, we also live here and for us, living is a choice that includes trying to experience Haiti on a level beyond what we can bring to or do for...

So, in order to work towards confronting the injustices faced by Haiti this week, the week of the 6 month anniversary of the earthquake, my weekend looked a lot like this:

World Cup distraction

Shalanda Cesar, age 10, watches the final World Cup match. Shalanda and nine family members live in this one room shelter made from tin. Their home collapsed in the January earthquake and they lost all of their possessions. Shalanda's mother, Natasha Adrien, worked moving rubble to save up to buy their TV in order to watch the World Cup games. Adrien says, "having the TV to watch World Cup games takes our stress away."

I had fun today hanging out with people watching the World Cup. I had an assignment from a  French magazine that had photographers shoot people watching the final match of the World Cup in twenty countries.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Week's Eats

While I was in Canada I spoke to a group of highschool students about the earthquake and about Haiti in general. They were super engaged and asked a lot of questions including, "What is Haitian food like and what do you eat?" Also, my mom mentioned recently that she worries we don't eat enough greens. So, this post is for you, Mom, and for anyone else that wonders what we, spoiled North Americans living in Haiti, eat on a day-to-day basis.

As a side note, we actually find it somewhat harder to eat according to our food values here. We love food and when we spend more time preparing our food, we can eat cheaper and better. Unfortunately we're usually very busy and we don't have consistent refrigeration. But, we do do lots of shopping in the market and try to eat as locally as possible (though after keeping track of what we've eaten for a week, I'm pretty shocked at the quantity of imported food that makes it into these here bellies!). Also, as a disclaimer I think I may have got some days mixed up 'cuz my "tracking" was on the back of an envelope.

  • Breakfast: running late, egg sandwich at Epi Dor (basically a greasy omelet on baguette, with bacon if you swing that way, though I usually don't. Their eggs are almost certainly imported)
  • Lunch at MCC: sandwiches (bread, sliced American, lettuce, tomato, mustard)
  • Dinner: curried lentils with yogurt (before Haiti, we used to make our own yogurt. Now, I'm lucky if I remember to pick it up at the grocery store! Lentils do not grow here, nor do the various components of curry powder, but parsley came from our garden and tomatoes from the market)
  • Breakfast: fried egg (local) on toast (locally made, but with imported wheat) with homemade mango jam
  • Lunch at MCC: rice and goat sauce and salad, fresh passion fruit juice (all local I think)
  • Dinner: eggplant coconut lime soup (local eggplant and lime, imported coconut milk - we do have a coconut tree in our yard, but making coconut milk is a laborious process, lemon grass from our garden)
  • Breakfast: homemade granola (imported oats, flaxseed & cracked wheat, local honey, local almonds) with yogurt (local)
  • Lunch at KPL: rice and beans, fish sauce, steamed carrots, fresh key lime juice (all local since that is KPL's - Support Local Production's - mantra and mission!)
  • Dinner: homemade pizza (all ingredients for the dough imported, homemade tomato sauce with local tomatoes and oregano, thyme, basil and rosemary from our garden, imported mozzarella - before Haiti we used to make our own, but no time/source of fresh milk here, local green peppers, amaranth greens from our garden)
  • Breakfast: french toast (bread made in the Dominican Republic - can't buy whole wheat bread that's locally made, sliced bananas, Ben's homemade syrup)
  • Lunch: Ben's wonder pasta satay with garden greens (spaghetti made locally of imported ingredients, local peanut butter, greens and hot pepper from our garden, imported sesame oil)
  • Dinner: potato and turnip soup (everything local except for imported milk powder)
  • Breakfast: oatmeal (imported) with bananas and local almonds
  • Lunch at MCC: tchaka (the most delicious Haitian soup of all made with red and black beans, pumpkin, scallions, cloves, garlic, green peppers, carrots, potatoes and corn)
  • Dinner: homemade hummus (all imported ingredients except for onion), baba ghanoush (local eggplant, shallots and onion, parsley from our garden, imported tahini and olive oil), locally made pita bread (Haiti has a minority of folks of Lebanese descent)
  • Breakfast: crepes with fruit salad of pineapple, papaya, mango, mint and banana (imported ingredients except for the eggs, local fruit, mint from garden)
  • Lunch: crepes with arugula and parmesan (arugula from our garden, imported parmesan)
  • Dinner: leftover hummus etc. This time Ben made the pita bread.
  • Breakfast: dutch puff (local eggs, everything else imported), leftover fruit salad, local key lime, imported powdered sugar
  • Lunch: tuna melts with watercress (bread imported from the DR, tuna imported,watercress and tomato from market, imported cheese)
  • Dinner: Carrot ginger soup (local carrot and onion, imported ginger and garlic, imported milk powder)
So, there you have it. I kind of wish we had pictures of some of these meals or at least a picture of the market to show you, but you'll have to use your imagination.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Starting Over

Sorry, the title of this post is lame, but I am starting over in Haiti. I've left my job at MCC and will be working as a freelance photographer from here on out.

Work has been slow for for a while and that's what prompted the change. Since I left MCC, though, I've been busy working for a few development organizations and shooting stories on my own. The photo agency that used to represent me, Polaris Images, has taken me back and has already contacted with an assignment. It's been good so far and I'll still volunteer some of my time to shoot for MCC.

I'm really excited to be freelancing again. A writer friend wrote me recently on the subject of being self employed - "Many congrats on busting out. It comes with all kinds of complications, as you and I both know, but for certain people (stubborn? willful? maladjusted?), working for other people is just a beatdown." I think I probably fit into the maladjusted category myself.

I've set up a new website - so far only of Haiti stuff. Check it out:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

6 months old

Daphene Aristène, 6 months, was born in Santo on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince during the earthquake on January 12th.

Her mother, Gracieuse Jean, went into labor at 4 PM on the 12th. She ran outside when her house started shaking and while her house collapsed completely, she gave birth to Aristène at 6 PM in the street. Gracieuse also has two boys, aged 4 and 5. Her husband has been out of work since the earthquake and the whole family has been staying in a shelter made from tarps. Daphene Aristène's nickname is "Goudou Goudou" which is a Haitian Creole slang term for earthquake.

Wondering what YOU can do for Haiti?

Advocacy Guide for the United States

Advocacy Guide for Canada

The widespread devastation caused by the earthquake was only possible as a result of economic injustice. Haiti has long been subjected to external interventions such as unjust international trade policies, onerous debt payments on debt acquired by the Duvalier dictatorships, military interventions and paternalistic charity that have perpetuated the nation’s structural poverty. Beginning in the 1980’s, structural adjustment policies imposed on Haiti by international financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF and food dumping by the United States weakened national agricultural production and exacerbated the poverty in rural Haiti, resulting in mass urban migration that made Port-Au-Prince especially vulnerable to this earthquake.

The MCC Haiti advocacy program is seeking to address these issues both by engaging constituents and policymakers in the US and Canada and by working through local partner organizations that are committed to social and economic justice. Political advocacy is a form of public witness and a tangible way of loving our neighbor.

This guide is intended to be a tool to help you become an advocate for structural changes that help create the conditions for a more sovereign and dignified Haiti than the one that existed before January 12th, 2010.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Christmas in July

We got an AMAZING package from the Thompsonowaks today! How well they know us -- among other things they sent a ceramic salt shaker in the shape of a carrot, locally made strawberry jam and basil soap, dark chocolate, an "I heart my bike" button and a beautiful clay bird.

We also got PART of an amazing package from my mom and Karen, the rest of which we anticipate eagerly (as apparently it is still sitting in Akron, PA, waiting for someone from MCC to handcarry it to Haiti). My mom does the cutest thing. For as long as Ben and I have lived and/or been traveling overseas, she clips crossword puzzles, quirky or Haiti-related articles and funny comic strips from the Charlotte Observer to save up and send to us. Getting crosswords and Lio comics from her has become this ritual thing that we love. Also, espresso coffee. Mmmm. It's nice to treat our taste buds to some different kinds of coffee from time to time.

But mostly it's nice to feel so loved...

(Speaking of coffee, it took us about a year and 1/2 here to decide to fork out a little more for our coffee, at which time we discovered that Haitian coffee is really quite good. It turns out that the brand we had been buying (Li Pi Bon - literally, It's Better) was NOT in fact better. )


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