Monday, August 30, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

10 Things We Did This Weekend

  1. Slept in.
  2. Went on a walk.
  3. Listened to NPR podcasts.
  4. Made chana masaledar.
  5. Read the May 2010 issue of The Sun. It has a beautiful cover of carrots being harvested + a great interview with Sandor Katz on fermented foods.
  6. Went to "Sinema Anba Zetwal" - Cinema under the Stars - to see our friends' awesome racine band and Clowns Without Borders. There were also break dancers, mimes, fire jugglers, PSA's and other terrific musical acts.
  7. Attended Mirlonde's wedding (deserving of a full post if I get the time).
  8. Had brunch with 13 old and new friends squeezed into our house.
  9. Family cuddle time, which was Luna's favorite part of the weekend.
  10. Finished taking in a pair of Ben's shorts that were falling off of him. He clearly needs more chana masaledar!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rad Lokal

"Rad" means clothes in Creole, and in English is an especially fitting adjective to describe Magniola David's handmade and painted creations:

I met Magniola through Junya, Margaret and Bernithe. I work once a week at KPL's office and after months of being given a hard time for helping them with a "support local production" campaign while wearing non-local (although mostly secondhand) clothes, I finally consented to go with them to a tailor.
First of all, her name: Magniola makes me think of magnolias which make me think of my sister and that is a sweet association. In addition to being an extremely talented seamstress and a creative artist, Magniola exudes self-confidence. She is fiercely proud of who she is and where she comes from and the minute I met her I wanted to soak in her energy. Skeptical before we went, I ended up ordering 3 tops over several visits.

For this one, she copied a store-bought blouse of Junya's and added the awesome hand-painted flowers:
I have thing for veggies, so I'm tickled with this one:
This one's my favorite (a bit wrinkled here):
Because she lost her shop in the earthquake, I'd love to help drum up more business for Magniola. I'm taking pictures of things as she makes them for an album that she can show to clients, as well as posting this blogger-tisement. If you're a Haiti reader and think her work is as rad as I do, let me know and I'd be happy to put you in touch. She can pretty much make or paint anything!

-posted by Lexi from Ben's account. How do I keep doing this?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thank you St. Anthony

Exodus 29
You dont know me
Don't talk about me
Thank you St. Anthony
Oke Frenchie

Thursday, August 26, 2010

God in the Spaces

God who sees all spaces,
you see the space between
what we need and what we get,
the space between the hunger
and the nourishment provided,
the space between our hopes
and what actually happens.
You see the cracks in our life
out of which tears flow.
Help us live through these spaces
with courage in the face of emptiness,
laying our hearts open to your mercy.
God of space and God of glory,
on your people pour your power!
Crown our story with your love,
giving your holy presence in wide spaces
that we do not seek,
that we cannot avoid.

-by Carol Penner

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What's Wrong with Wyclef

 Journalists wait for Haiti's provisional electoral council (CEP) to announce which candidates qualify to run in the November election.

Wyclef Jean (formerly of the Fugees for those of you who don't know your hip-hop) made quite the splash last month when he announced that he would be running for president in Haiti's November elections. On Friday, Haiti's provisional electoral council (the CEP) released its list of approved presidential candidates. Rumor has it that Wyclef will be appealing the CEP's decision to disqualify him, in spite of another rumor that the ruling cannot be appealed.

You're entitled to your own opinion (everyone's got 'em!), but here's how I see and hear it:

1. In this interview Wyclef actually says, Haitians "don't need a local president." I disagree, based not only on my own view of the multinationals-that-are-taking-over-the-world, of economics and of development, but because the Haitians that I work with and for whom I have the utmost respect, believe that the only way to ensure a sustainable future for Haiti is to build a local, bottom-up economy. This is a basic tenant of sustainable development the world-over. My colleagues believe that the solutions Wyclef champions for Haiti's development will only further establish the current social and economic system which so clearly does not work for most Haitians. I'm not saying that any of the other candidates will be different, but at least most of them would give lip service to local agricultural development.

2. Wyclef does not meet the constitutional requirements to be Haiti's next president, so his posing as a candidate does not reflect much respect for the Haitian constitution. Not such a great attribute in a president.

3. It's true that having Wyclef as a candidate has put an international spotlight on the elections, but it bothers me that the story has become about Wyclef. There's a whole historically oppressed and conflicted nation of people here that will be electing themselves a new president in November. No-one cares unless a famous hip-hop artist who happens to have been born in Haiti decides to run. And when he is no longer a candidate, there's no more story. Are we really that star-struck?

4. When news articles refer to the massive amounts of support that Wyclef has generated in Port-Au-Prince, I am skeptical. It's true that the mean age in Haiti is 20.5, that many young people do view him as the only  "new" option on the political horizon and only option for changing the status quo. But it's also true that most of his supporters (and all of that oft-refered to graffiti now spoiling every wall in the city) has been paid for by Wyclef. I know this - we have a friend here who is a political mobilizer.

5. Wyclef's foundation, Yele Haiti, has done some great work in Haiti. Yele has also been accused of fraud and corruption time and again. Here the New York Times levels some pretty serious allegations against Wyclef's philanthropic work.

Now you have my two (or five) cents.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Go Fry a Banana

It was lunch time when I went into the kitchen to dig up something edible. I was finishing my second mango when I saw a lone banana next to stove. That is the moment that I thought to fry it. So I googled "fry banana, butter" and apparently Mexicans have been holding onto this secret for a long time now. I fried the banana, sprinkled it with brown sugar and ate it with coffee and a grilled peanut butter and honey sandwich.

It was amazing. I was so taken by this experience that I googled "fried banana history." I didn't find any good history on this. I imagine the idea was given by God directly to the Aztecs or Mayans in Mexico. On google I did find that people suffering from mild frostbite can find immediate relief by placing the inside of a banana peal directly against the effected area.

If I were a preacher I would end every service with the benediction "God is good, eat a fried banana" and all of my congregants would die quickly but happily from heart disease.

Monday, August 23, 2010

FAO Tire Garden

I happened across this tire garden at Camp Corail just outside of Port Au Prince. It is a FAO project. I'm really curious to see whether or not people living in Corail start their own tire gardens.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Latest amazing Haitian handicraft find: Papier-mâché zebra wearing an outfit.
Latest homecooked feast: Wheat tortillas, guacamole, mango salsa, red beans. 

Latest kitty drama: Poop on the spare mattress. 

Latest craft project: Newspaper pots for seedlings.

Latest garden woes: Blossom end rot and dead rosemary.

Latest hullabaloo: After some delay, the CEP (Provisional Electoral Council) finally announced the list of approved presidential candidates last night. Wyclef Jean was not among them.

- posted by Alexis from Ben's account (he didn't want to take credit for these pictures. Why ever not?)

There were these seashells, too

In the midst of the insanity of the past few weeks, we found ourselves taking a walk on a beautiful beach as the sun was setting.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How to Write about Haiti

Independent journalist in Haiti, Ansel Hertz, whom we know and respect, wrote this great piece of satire a few weeks ago. It reflects many of our frustrations with the common narrative about Haiti, not limited to but certainly magnified by the post-earthquake context.

Actor Sean Penn, who is helping manage a camp of displaced earthquake victims in Haiti, is making pointed criticisms of journalists for dropping the ball on coverage of Haiti. He’s wrong. I’ve been on the ground in Port-au-Prince working as an independent journalist for the past ten months. I’m an earthquake survivor who’s seen the big-time reporters come and go. They’re doing such a stellar job and I want to help out, so I’ve written this handy guide for when they come back on the one-year anniversary of the January quake! (Cross-published on the Huffington Post, inspired by this piece in Granta.)

For starters, always use the phrase ‘the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.’ Your audience must be reminded again of Haiti’s exceptional poverty. It’s doubtful that other articles have mentioned this fact.

You are struck by the ‘resilience’ of the Haitian people. They will survive no matter how poor they are. They are stoic, they rarely complain, and so they are admirable. The best poor person is one who suffers quietly. A two-sentence quote about their misery fitting neatly into your story is all that’s needed.

On your last visit you became enchanted with Haiti. You are in love with its colorful culture and feel compelled to return. You care so much about these hard-working people. You are here to help them. You are their voice. They cannot speak for themselves.

Don’t listen if the Haitians speak loudly or become unruly. You might be in danger, get out of there. Protests are not to be taken seriously. The participants were probably all paid to be there. All Haitian politicians are corrupt or incompetent. Find a foreign authority on Haiti to talk in stern terms about how they must shape up or cede power to incorruptible outsiders.

The US Embassy and United Nations always issue warnings that demonstrations are security threats. It is all social unrest. If protesters are beaten, gassed, or shot at by UN peacekeepers, they probably deserved it for getting out of control. Do not investigate their constant claims of being abused.

It was so violent right after the January 2010 earthquake. ‘Looters’ fought over goods ‘stolen’ from collapsed stores. Escaped prisoners were causing mayhem. It wasn’t necessary to be clear about how many people were actually hurt or died in fighting. The point is that it was scary.

Now many of those looters are ‘squatters’ in ‘squalid’ camps. Their tent cities are ‘teeming’ with people, like anthills. You saw your colleagues use these words over and over in their reports, so you should too. You do not have time to check a thesaurus before deadline.

Point out that Port-au-Prince is overcrowded. Do not mention large empty plots of green land around the city. Of course, it is not possible to explain that occupying US Marines forcibly initiated Haiti’s shift from distributed, rural growth to centralized governance in the capital city. It will not fit within your word count. Besides, it is ancient history.

If you must mention Haiti’s history, refer vaguely to Haiti’s long line of power-hungry, corrupt rulers. The ‘iron-fisted’ Duvaliers, for example. Don’t mention 35 years of US support for that dictatorship. The slave revolt on which Haiti was founded was ‘bloody’ and ‘brutal.’ These words do not apply to modern American offensives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today, Cite Soleil is the most dangerous slum in the world. There is no need to back up this claim with evidence. It is ‘sprawling.’ Again, there’s no time for the thesaurus. Talk about ruthless gangs, bullet holes, pigs and trash. Filth everywhere. Desperate people are eating cookies made of dirt and mud! That always grabs the reader’s attention.

Stick close to your hired security or embed yourself with UN troops. You can’t walk out on your own to profile generous, regular folk living in tight-knit neighborhoods. They are helpless victims, grabbing whatever aid they can. You haven’t seen them calmly dividing food amongst themselves, even though it’s common practice.

Better to report on groups that periodically enter from outside to deliver food to starving kids (take photos!). Don’t talk to the youth of Cite Soleil about how proud they are of where they come from. Probably gang members. Almost everyone here supports ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But their views aren’t relevant. There is no need to bring politics into your story.

You can’t forget to do another story about restaveks. Child slaves. It’s so shocking. There is little new information about restaveks, so just recycle old statistics. Present it as a uniquely Haitian phenomenon. Enslaved Haitian farmworkers in southern Florida, for example, aren’t nearly as interesting.

When you come back here in six months, there will still be a lot of desperate poor people who have received little to no help. There are many big, inefficient foreign NGOs in Haiti. Clearly something is wrong. Breathless outrage is the appropriate tone.

But do not try to get to the bottom of the issue. Be sure to mention that aid workers are doing the best they can. Their positive intentions matter more than the results. Don’t name names of individuals or groups who are performing poorly. Reports about food stocks sitting idly in individual warehouses are good. Investigations into why NGOs are failing to effect progress in Haiti are boring and too difficult. Do not explore Haitian-led alternatives to foreign development schemes. There are none. Basically, don’t do any reporting that could change the system.

On the other hand, everyone here loves Bill Clinton and Wyclef Jean. There are no dissenting views on this point. Never mind that neither lives here. Never mind that Clinton admitted to destroying Haiti’s domestic rice economy in the ’90s. Never mind that Jean’s organization has repeatedly mismanaged relief funds. That’s all in the past. They represent Haiti’s best hope for the future. Their voices matter, which means the media must pay close attention to them, which means their voices matter, which means the media must …

Finally, when you visit Haiti again: Stay in the same expensive hotels. Don’t live close to the people. Produce lots of stories and make money. Pull up in your rented SUV to a camp of people who lost their homes, still living under the wind and rain. Step out into the mud with your waterproof boots. Fresh notepad in hand. That ragged-looking woman is yelling at you that she needs help, not another foreigner taking her photo. Her 3-year-old boy is standing there, clinging to her leg. Her arms are raised, mouth agape, and you can’t understand her because you don’t speak Haitian Creole.

Remove the lens cap and snap away. And when you’ve captured enough of Haiti’s drama, fly away back home.

Ansel's website here

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Listening and Learning

So my advocacy delegation has come and gone. Staff from MCC's offices in Ottawa, New York, Washington, our Communications department and policy analyst for Latin America came here to learn from our partners so that they can better advocate for social, economic and political justice in Haiti.

We spent a lot of time listening. We listened to MCC staff in what became a moving group processing of the night of the earthquake. We listened to MCC partners and friends. We visited and listened to displaced people living in a camp. We spent a night with families in Desarmes and listened to their stories. We even listened to the UN - to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to the FAO and to MINUSTAH.

We learned a lot from all of this listening.

In the middle of our week together, Linda Espenshade (MCC Communications) wrote the following reflection:

The situation in Haiti seems simple enough. You have people with need after the massive earthquake and people who can give. You put them together and the problem is solved, right?

Underlying the obvious earthquake needs are all the other needs Haiti has had for a very long time:  A secure supply of food, education, health, stable government, human rights, safe housing and much more.

For years, other governments, nongovernmental organizations and faith-based groups have responded to the need. So much money has been poured into Haiti by well-meaning and not-so-well meaning groups that the issues here should have been solved.

So why are the living conditions in Haiti still desperate?  Certainly you can point to the earthquake, but Haitians have told us repeatedly that the earthquake has only exacerbated the problems that have always been here.

A big part of the problem, they say, is that well-intentioned groups come to Haiti and provide the solutions that seem logical to them, without listening to what Haitians in that particular community think will work.

If I could write a refrain to a song for Haiti, it would be something like this:   Listen, listen to the voices of the Haitian people.  Listen, we are talking. We are thinking. We know our people. We are planning.  We can act. Can you listen?

Since Sunday, we met with at least five or six leaders of Haitian partners who advocate for the neediest and their refrain is the same. The United Nations comes in with its plans. The big NGOs come in with their plans. The Haitian government has its plans. They decide what the Haitian populace needs and wants, without ever consulting them.

I try to imagine what I would feel like if I was in their shoes. How would I feel having people come into my country after a disaster and telling me what to eat, where to live and what work to do?  How would I feel watching people who had never been in my country before decide what’s best for me and my neighborhood, when they don’t even speak the same language I speak.

How would I feel having tanks patrol my streets or truckloads of soldiers from other countries with guns at the ready driving through my neighborhood.

As one MCC partner, Antonal Mortime of The Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations said: “The United States sent 22,000 troops (after the earthquake). There is no war here. We could have maybe used 20,000 trauma therapists…we maybe could have used that many civil engineers, like MCC did. They had people come and evaluate people’s homes…We could have used people who were architects or geologists to give us advice…”

Instead the U.S. government sent them soldiers.

But who asked? Who listened?

Friday, August 13, 2010


Created with 20,000 photographs and a haunting soundtrack, Airsick plays out like an unsettling dream. Photographer Lucas Oleniuk examines our addiction to fossil fuel - and its consequences. See the project at

Airsick is exactly how I often feel breathing in the diesel smoke pouring from all of the cars and trucks here. Knowing that all of our electricity in Haiti comes from power plants that burn low grade diesel makes me question what development really looks like. Even my laptop runs on diesel here. (Diesel powers alternating current powers batteries powers inverter powers laptop powers me posting videos about pollution on my blog).

Speaking of oil, at 11:45 last night Luna ran into the house looking like one of those dead ducks from the BP oil spill. She must have chased something or been chased into a sewer. The sewer is where everybody here dumps their waste motor oil. We tried washing her and although the electricity wasn't on and we ran out of water, we were able to wash off about 50 percent of the oil (and everything else that you might find in a sewer in Port-Au-Prince). We decided that if she dies from licking the oil off, at least she'll cremate well. But seriously, it's disgusting. And there is no waste oil disposal system or recycling center so even the waste oil from NGOs doing environmental conservation will eventually end up in the sewers.

I've been working on an idea for a mango dryer that uses waste motor oil, but that's for another post. Meanwhile, we have oily paw prints everywhere and an oily cat that hates taking baths.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Monday through Saturday

Another week has flown by. This week included our two-year anniversary of moving to Haiti (which incidentally is the longest I've lived in one place since high school) and my birthday. Here's a bit of a breakdown for you:

Monday drove back from Desarmes, picked up AW - MCC's new policy analyst for Latin America and the Caribbean at the airport. Tuesday meetings with AW and some MCC partner organizations, visit to UN logistics base, etc. Wednesday cheesecake for my birthday during the 7+ hour drive on horrendous roads to Cap Haitian, rum punch for my birthday on a lovely terrace overlooking the ocean and dinner at the Hotel Roi Christophe, built in 1724. Thursday drive to Ounaminthe on the border to visit the free trade zone, meet with factory workers and with Batay Ouvriye (this will receive a post of its own when I get the chance), quick stop off in Milot to ride horses up to the Citadel, back to eclectic hotel in Cap with disassociated cement body parts as garden sculptures. Friday drive from Cap to Montrouis. 

Monday shot pictures for a university magazine of a visiting trauma therapist doing debriefs in an IDP camp and his new camera arrived (the Canon 5D Mark II). Tuesday worked on a story on forced evictions of earthquake victims with new freelance writer friend. Wednesday captioned and sorted pictures, evening visit to an IDP camp and more work on evictions story. Thursday met and took pictures of the Minister of Tourism, then on the way to take pictures of Bill Clinton meeting with Haitian businessmen, distracted by raras campaigning for Wyclef Jean. Took pictures of Wyclef outside of the controversial CEP (provisional electoral council) where he was registering as a presidential candidate. Friday slept in until 7:30 when a friend bringing us a bucket of cherries banged on the gate. Discovered that the avocados are ripe on one of our avocado trees, then a 2-hour motorcycle trip to Montrouis. 

We both caught the tail end of the MCC's annual retreat at the beach on Friday and on Saturday, attended the beach wedding of our MCC coworker Kettelie (marrying her common law husband of 24 years) and fell into bed exhausted when we finally got home.

Today the rest of my advocacy delegation arrives. We have another fun and all too busy week ahead.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Wyclef Jean came and registered as a presidential candidate and a lot of people (most of whom were paid) came out to support him, young people and a lot of Aristide supporters. I actually think he has a chance here.

Wyclef aside, with all of the rebuilding contracts about to be awarded I'm guessing that whoever becomes president will have the opportunity to make a ton of money.

I didn't really want to go take pictures of Wyclef because there are something like 50 presidential candidates and hardly any of the foreign news reports mention more than just Wyclef. I went ahead and shot the pictures because they might sell and I figure that it doesn't actually matter what the rest of the world knows about Haiti's presidential candidates because the election will hopefully be decided by the people here. It is too bad that there is so much Wyclef coverage because that space could be used to tell worthwhile stories. And this blog post is one more example of that. I went where the money is.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Me and Not My Dog

Olie and I took an adventure this weekend. I needed to go to Desarmes on Sunday to meet with the families in whose homes my advocacy delegation will be doing homestays. Since Ben was working on a freelance story and had an assignment on Monday, Olie and I decided to go just the two of us. It's a 3-hour drive to Desarmes, was Olie's longest roadtrip ever and my first time staying in Desarmes alone. We both did quite well, considering. (I was also quickly reminded that in the countryside, you're never alone for long).

When I decided to take Olie with me, I imagined that he would sit quietly on the passenger seat, perhaps with his head out hanging out the window, ears flapping in the wind. Olie turned out to be more of an air conditioning than windows-down kind of pup. He also preferred to sit curled up on my lap, wedged between me and the steering wheel or on my lap, pressed up against my chest. Neither of these positions facilitates driving a Landcruiser on steep, windy Haitian roads, but we managed to get to Desarmes without hitting any pedestrians, bicycles or livestock.
I think we also filled a lot of bystanders' entertainment quota for the day. Staring at white people is always entertaining in the countryside, and really, what could be more amusing than a white woman driving through Haiti with a labrador retriever sitting on her lap? Or better yet, a white woman that pulls over, gets out with said dog on a leash so that he can poop and then gives him water in a collapsible doggy dish?! Day made.

It turns out Olie and I have more in common than I realized. We both love to rock out to the Dixie Chicks, Old Crow Medicine Show and Hank Williams on the road. We both hate stop and go traffic, obnoxious truck horns, oncoming traffic in OUR lane, Haitian speed bumps ("bump" does not begin to describe their size) and potholes.

Olie thoroughly enjoyed Desarmes. On our way in, we stopped at the river to play and he got us both soaking wet.
He loved the smells and noises and commotion at the market, loved taking multiple walks to visit people, loved chasing chickens and adored the constant attention he received. He made friends everywhere we went and suddenly everyone wants to know when I'll be back in town. I kept having to tell people that he is NOT my dog. Also, "No, I'm sorry, I can't give him to you."

As requested:

label: Famolare, Made in Italy (and there is an old fashioned bicycle on the label!)

Amazing, no?


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