Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away,

Come again another day - a day that people are living in houses again. It's been raining or drizzling for more than 48 hours. Before this, Port-Au-Prince was hit by the big storm that Ben mentioned earlier. 

I usually love the rain. I love the sound of rain, I love that the air cools off and that our garden gets watered without me having to do any work... But even while rain is imperative for growing food, it has always posed a challenge for Haiti's urban areas. Due to high levels of erosion and poor drainage in the city, landslides are common and low-lying areas flood on a regular basis. And now, post-earthquake, the impact of rain in Port-Au-Prince is even more distressing.

With tarps and tents damaged in the big storm, thousands of people are without adequate shelter. Even many of the shelters that weren't damaged on Friday have reached the end of their intended lifespan. While the rain continues to fall, 14, 542 families are estimated by the UN to be in need of shelter materials.

Meanwhile, the large-scale reconstruction that would get Haiti's homeless out of tents and into homes is not happening.  Less than 15 percent of the money pledged to reconstruction at the U.N. donor's conference in March has been delivered. The United States, which pledged $1.15 billion for rebuilding, has not delivered any of its funds. Although Congress has allocated the money, an authorization bill to deliver it is currently being held up by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Oh, Shopping

I could spend all day in a thrift store, but put me in a Target or one of those other stores and I feel like I’m five years old. I am so overwhelmed by quantity and choice and a cheapness that can’t possibly reflect the actual cost of production that I want to curl up in a fetal position and cry.

Our flight on Monday left Charlotte at 10 PM, so we had time to run some last minute errands. Ben dropped me off at a Michaels to look for embroidery thread while he went to some electronics super-store to look for a laptop for our neighbor and a microphone. As if 20 minutes in Michaels trying to find the embroidery thread aisle and choosing among hundreds of colors and shades of thread wasn’t bad enough, we went to Best Buy next. After that, we stopped by Radio Shack and Ritz Camera (still in search of a microphone). A final stop at Harris Teeter where none of the sullen employees I asked knew where to find the maple flavoring… When we enter big box stores, we feel confronted by a spirit of consumption. We both wanted to take showers by the time we got back to Ben’s parents’ house.

Here’s what I noticed when we went out to get groceries in our Petion-Ville neighborhood on Tuesday (choosing not to go to the new Giant that opened while we were gone, which was probably wise since I was still reeling from trying to buy thread at Michaels): The market ladies that I buy vegetables from ask if I’ve been traveling because they haven’t seen me in awhile. They ask how my family is. They let me buy on credit when I don’t have enough change and they give me a bunch of green onions as I’m walking away. At the tailor shop where we buy eggs (weird, I know), the tailor gives us three extra eggs and painstakingly wraps them in two halves of an egg carton tied up with red string so that they won’t break on our way home. The security guard at the grocery store greets us and helps us stash our motorcycle helmets and the checkout clerk knows that we’re the freaks that bring our own grocery bags. The owner waves at us from behind his desk. As we ride home, the moto taxi drivers at the end of our street honk and wave to let us know that they know we’re back. Later, Ben takes a few empty beer bottles to the old lady down the street and exchanges them for full ones. She knows us, too.

All of this takes place within walking distance of our house. In Haiti, if feels like we shop as part of a community and that – flights to/from Haiti and some imported foodstuffs notwithstanding - our consumption footprint is much smaller. I even buy most of my clothes from piles of used clothing on the street, from women who know my name and my size. This kind of shopping feels healthy to me in a way that the dominant consumption model in the States never has. In Haiti, there are no box stores to lure me in with cheap prices and I never come home from the grocery store or the street market feeling disgusted with myself. Although I do think that it is possible to shop in a healthy way in the States – to buy directly from farmers, to barter with friends, to frequent locally-owned establishments, etc… in most places it takes a lot more effort and planning than it does here.

Leaving North Carolina and our families this time ‘round was harder, partly because of Martha’s cancer and because most of our closest friends in Haiti have moved away this year. But, the contrast between our shopping experiences on Monday and Tuesday reminded me of one of things that I most appreciate about living here and that we have, however unintentionally, become part of the community of our neighborhood.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reading & Storm

I spent all day Friday editing a short video and while my computer was processing the edits I read almost the whole Henri Nouwen book: The Wounded Healer. This book is about what it means to be a healer in our modern world. I finished the book this morning and it's the best Nouwen book I've read. I found myself in his description of my generation which was a bit of disappointment as I had hoped I was deviant enough to not fit those descriptions. I like Nouwen's writing because he writes simply and most of his books are only 100 pages long, which makes them just conquerable for my attention span. 

Friday, there was a tropical storm here and wind for about 25 minutes that blew down trees, billboards, walls and all sorts of things all over the city. The tent cities I checked out fared amazingly well with maybe only one in ten tents collapsed. People seem to have gotten pretty good at securing their tents. The UN report says five people died - they were crushed under falling trees - and 2000 tents and shelters were destroyed. 

A few highlights from our trip

Karen and Abe's muscadines
Caleb grocery shopping
 Martha and Alexis

 Jody's baby shower
  Jody's baby shower
 Alexis and Sharon
Charlotte area farm tour with the Erkerts
Martha and my mom

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What We Did

Martha (Ben's sister) has the most amazing tattoos. 
8 days (for Ben, 12 days) was not enough to see everyone and do everything we would have liked to see and do while we were in Waxhaw, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Asheville and Nashville. But, we did such a great job making the most of our time home that we came back to Haiti yesterday more exhausted than when we left.

p.s. If you are a friend in or near one of those places, our apologies for not getting in touch! Our trip was short and was packed with family time and also some unpredicted excitement like missed flights, last minute mammogram, etc. More pictures are coming soon.

Back to North Carolina

Moving from one environment to another so dramatically different in the space of a couple hours is a strange experience. When did flying become cease to be enjoyable? The bright spot in this trip for me is Dunkin Doughnuts in the Fort Lauderdale airport.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Support a Development Plan for Haiti

Urge your representative to co-sponsor the Haiti Empowerment, Assistance and Rebuilding (HEAR) Act (H.R. 6021).

Background: Eight months have passed since the devastating earthquake in Haiti and progress toward development and reconstruction remains slow. More than 1.5 million people are still living in camps and makeshift shelters in and around Port-au-Prince. U.S. development efforts in Haiti need a plan and a framework that promotes sustainable long term development.

The Haiti Empowerment, Assistance and Rebuilding (HEAR) Act has been introduced in the Senate by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Robert Corker (R-TN) and in the House by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). The HEAR Act articulates U.S. priorities for aid to Haiti and sets up benchmarks for success. It also includes a transparent reporting and accountability system so both U.S. taxpayers and Haitians can see where money is going and whether or not it is achieving the desired impact. The bill also includes provisions for strengthening Haitian civil society voices and for ensuring that the Haitian government and the people of Haiti are at the center of development efforts.

The Senate version was marked up and passed by the Foreign Relations Committee but the bill in the House needs more co-sponsors.

Click here for a summary of the HEAR Act.

Faith Reflection: Scripture calls us to live in genuine respect and love for our neighbors (Matthew 22:39). On a recent trip to Haiti, MCC staff from Washington, New York and Ottawa heard from MCC partners that they desire a mutual relationship with the U.S. and the rest of the world even though past history has been one of colonialism and meddling in Haitian affairs. Love for our neighbors in Haiti includes a genuine plan and framework for long term U.S. development efforts.

Action: Urge your representative to co-sponsor the HEAR Act (H.R. 6021). Click to send a message to your representative.

Sign up for more MCC Action alerts here
Alert prepared by Theo Sitther, Legislative Associate for International Affairs. 

Monday, September 13, 2010


Note: I wrote most of this post on September 8th. I have since missed two flights - one to Fort Lauderdale and one to Charlotte, purchased 2 brand new tickets to get to North Carolina, spent one incredibly stressful day flying stand-by to Charlotte, been informed that my return flights to Haiti have also been canceled (this is not yet completely resolved), seen my family and part of Ben's, been reunited with our '80 diesel rabbit, gone out for breakfast with Ben, hiked in the woods, gone to the eye doctor, picked figs and muscadine grapes from my sister's garden and enjoyed my mother-in-law's eggplant lasagna.

In this picture, I am giving a seminar on advocacy (in Creole, eek) to 30-some pastors in Cap Haitian:
This is a similar seminar for 20-some pastors in Ounaminthe:
This is a nice picture of the cathedral in Cap-Haitian, taken by Margot:
For the past week I've been traveling with one of MCC's partner organizations, Défi Micheé, the Haitian branch of Micah Challenge International. In brief, “Micah Challenge is a global Christian campaign. Our aims are to deepen our engagement with impoverished and marginalized communities; and to challenge international leaders, and leaders of rich and poor countries, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and so halve absolute global poverty by 2015.”

Skepticism about the world's ability to achieve the MDGs aside, the past week has further convinced me of the importance of engaging in advocacy. Our political, social and economic systems are broken the world-over, but nowhere does this seem more evident than in Haiti. During the seminars, we spent a lot of time trying to see beyond the manifestations of poverty (issues ranging from high infant mortality rates to a lack of electricity) and figuring out who and how we can advocate for structural change.

The hardest part of the Defi Miche seminars seems to be trying to encourage participants to find and commit to realistic solutions to address poverty in Haiti. I noticed that participants - not too unlike many Americans, actually - were quick to blame the government for all of their problems. On the one hand, they're right - the Haitian state is weak and corrupt and does not provide the majority with most of the basic social services that they deserve as human beings. On the other hand, most do not participate in their government (for exactly the reasons I just listed) and are not holding their government accountable to anyone or anything. Most don't plan to vote in the upcoming elections. There may not be any candidates that they believe have their best interests in mind... but that's precisely a function of a system that each and every citizen is a part of and responsible for.

I believe in participative democracy and also believe that the church - the protestant church represents at least 40% of the Haitian population - has a responsibility to speak out and act against social injustice. But as a foreigner (who can go to North Carolina to visit family whenever I want, for example), it feels really difficult to tell Haitian church and community leaders that they should be trying to change a system for the long-term benefit of their country when they all have congregants who don't know where their next meal will come from. That is my internal dilemma when I'm standing in front of a flip chart talking about when God asked Moses to advocate for the Israelites, demonstrating how to do a problem tree analysis and explaining the steps in the advocacy cycle.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I know that most of this blog's readership has been waiting for the day that I post a picture of Pamela Anderson, so I won't let you down. This week I was in the IDP camp where Sean Penn works and saw a blond woman in what looked like pajamas. Because she was wearing pajamas in public, I guessed that she was famous and I took a few pictures. A large security guard then intimidated me into deleting the pictures. I went home and used image recovery software to bring them back just for you. The funny thing that I didn't get a picture of was a Haitian woman who had hiked up her skirt and was doing a Pamela Anderson impression for her friends.

This is a sweet and slightly depressing book I've been reading this week: Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. Jared Diamond takes a look at how societies like the Anasazis', Vikings' and modern Montanans' abuse of their environment brought on collapse and how some societies took measures that kept them from collapsing. Haiti and the Dominican Republic are a couple of the examples in the book.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hurricane Earl

Sounds like it should be a bluegrass band, which we would love, but is actually a Category 4 hurricane, which we do not love, especially with 1.5 million people in Port-Au-Prince living under deteriorating tents and tarps. Thankfully we haven't gotten more rain or wind here than usual. The hurricane itself seems to be headed to our other home, North Carolina.

Incidentally, we will be following ol' Earl to North Carolina next week. Ben leaves on the 7th and I on the 11th to spend some time with our families, especially Martha.


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