Sunday, October 31, 2010

Luna is One

Luna's first birthday was sometime this month. Don't worry, we're not dorky enough to celebrate.

A year ago, we moved into this house and quickly discovered that the yard was overrun by rats. Seriously big ones. At the same time, MCC's cat Noche had a surprise litter of kittens and little Luna was the only survivor. Adamant non-pet-owners (we're busy, we travel a lot, we don't want the responsibility, etc, etc), we finally caved. This is what did it:

Well, her irresistible adorableness and the giant, gross rats.

Being that we're not super responsible cat parents, Luna was preggers by the time she was 5 months old. I maintain that the fact that there were no vets open for several months after the earthquake absolves us of some of the blame for this.

In May, she had FIVE kittens.

Luna's had a rough first year, what with getting pregnant, nursing 5 (and then 4) kittens while she was still a kitten herself and dealing with the trauma of us stealing her children to give them away. Then there was the rogue tomcat (baby daddy??) that was sneaking in and eating her food every night for months. We have finally resolved that situation and she is now approaching a healthy one-year-old-cat weight.

We have no rats, none of the geckos in our house have tails and, bonus for me, it's super cute to watch her cuddle up to Ben.

Tomas; ETA: Thursday

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cholera Update: Linking You

Indignation is appropriate. People bathe in this water, drink it, cook with it, wash with it and are now contracting cholera from it:

A tanker truck deposits excrement from the Nepali UN base
River contamination from Nepalese base (video)

Years of structural violence create the foundation for the spread of a disease like cholera. Poverty, poor infrastructure, privatized health care and education systems stemming from Structural Adjustment Policies in the '80's, and IDB loans for the development of a public water supply in the Artibonite that were blocked for political reasons during Aristide's presidency are a few examples of the economic, social and political factors at play:

PIH: Another Disease of Poverty in a Traumatized Land
WSJ on access to clean water

There's still lots of conflicting news circulating about whether or not the outbreak has reached Port-Au-Prince. Though there have been now been confirmed cases of patients contracting the disease in Port, officials continue to deny it. It would/will be a political nightmare and the government doesn't seem to want to jeopardize the upcoming elections. The UN and Ministry of Health have also made statements that it doesn't matter where the cholera originated and won't be investigating it further.

Prayer for Peace

Dear God,

For all who dream of peace
For all who long for justice
Bend your ear to listen and your arm to save

For all who faint from hunger
For all who thirst for mercy
Give bread and grant freedom from all that binds and oppresses

For all whose lives are intertwined with systems that harm
-systems that violate, exploit, exclude, objectify, and dominate
Inspire a longing for justice and the courage to break free from the powers that oppress

Set our feet on the paths of peace
And move our hands to do the work of justice
May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


Written by Titus Peachey, director of peace education for MCC U.S. 
Woodcuts by South African artist, Dina Cormick 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More and More Cholera

Cholera Spreads in Haiti images - Images by Ben Depp

The news is reporting that the epidemic has been contained. I hope that's true. Rumor here has it that somebody in Cite Soleil has cholera and contracted it in Port-Au-Prince, not in the Artibonite. Apparently 75-80% of people with cholera never exhibit symptoms but are carriers nonetheless.

Yesterday I woke up at 5am to meet a reporter for the Times of London. We stopped by the cemetery in Saint Marc 15 minutes before a funeral procession arrived to bury the body of a cholera victim. He was an 18 year old highschool student who had been working in rice fields during a school break and had drunk water from the Artibonite river. He had started exhibiting symptoms, diarrhea and vomiting, at 4 PM on Tuesday a week ago, and he died at midnight the same day. He was one of the first cholera victims so nobody knew what it was yet.

Then we drove up the road and stopped and talked to a farmer. He is scared of cholera in his community and he knows a lot of sick people and a lot of people that have died from cholera. These cases probably won't have figured in to the official numbers.

A mile and a half down a random dirt road until it came to an end. We stopped and asked a woman if anybody in that area was sick with cholera and she pointed to a guy 50' away who was puking into a bucket.

He had begun vomiting and having diarhea in the morning and now at 1 PM couldn't walk. He said he hadn't gone to the hospital because he didn't have money to pay a motorcycle taxi. I think he was already too far gone to be thinking clearly. It only cost 50 gourdes ($1.25) for a motorcycle taxi driver to take him to the hospital where a Cuban volunteer doctor stuck an IV in him, which is all he needed to live.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More Cholera

The good thing about cholera is that if you get treatment soon enough, you'll live.  The treatment process is simple. Patients basically just need to be kept clean and they need an IV or re-hydration fluids.

One of the really bad things about cholera is how easily it can spread and if it gets into Port-Au-Prince's tent cities, it will spread like fire. This tent has six people living in it. They sleep on two narrow beds and on the ground. They also use the tent to cook and package the fried plantain chips that they sell on the street by the thousands. This is just one tent in a camp that has 50,000 residents.

If you want to donate money to organizations we trust that are responding:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Haitian Amputees Find Hope in Soccer

I didn't come up with the title I have a pet peeve about Haiti news stories and NGOs using the word "hope" in their title. I shot the video and the Time reporter here put it together. You can watch it larger on the Time website.  It was fun shooting the story and I'm happy with how it came together.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Pierre Belizaire is being treated for cholera. He believes he contracted cholera from drinking water from the Artibonite river. Belizaire has been in public hospital in Verettes for one day and feels like his health is improving. 194 people are dead and 2,364 are confirmed to have cholera in the Artibonite and Central departments in Haiti. This strain of cholera is the most deadly and some victims have died within 3 or 4 hours of exhibiting symptoms. There are unconfirmed reports of cases in and around Port Au Prince. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Extra, Extra!

Things are looking spectacularly bad in Haiti this week. If you've been following the Haiti-related news, you'll know that after the UN's controversial peacekeeping mandate (MINUSTAH) was renewed, UN peacekeepers clashed with a peaceful protest a day or so before a prison riot in Port-Au-Prince left 3 inmates and 7 hostages dead. You'll know that 12 were reported dead and 3 missing due to flooding and landslides and you'll have seen reports that the upcoming presidential elections are marred with corruption and controversy (more on this sometime). And even if you're not following the news closely, you'll probably have heard that a cholera outbreak that began in the Artibonite has affected more than 2,000 and is spreading.

In our MCC team meeting this morning, one of my Haitian coworkers said, "First the earthquake, then storms and flooding and now cholera... I don't know what to think about what's happening to my country, but I think it's only going to get worse. We need to pray but not just for Haiti, for the world."

Not just for Haiti, for the world... See, the thing is that Haiti is not just an isolated island floating out here in the Caribbean. Our histories, our lifestyles and our political and economic systems are intrinsically tied up with Haiti's. To quote Adrienne, "for five centuries, Haiti has experienced the destructive impacts of the [world's] major developments: colonialism, racism, environmental exploitation, unequal economic growth, and, most recently, devastating natural disasters exacerbated by poverty."

How do we respond?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's Complicated

In this picture, the girl on the left is crying and shivering in the rain and the boy in the center is asking her what's wrong. She says her parents are not home, her tent is dark, she doesn't have any matches and is afraid of the dark.

Most of the problems in the camps are not this easy to solve. A friend's NGO was working with a camp in her community and after distributing items they did a follow up survey and found that of 110 families registered as living in the camp, only 10 families actually live there. The other 100 have homes nearby, though many are probably damaged, and keep tents in the tent camp so that they benefit from distributions. With unemployment and the lack of opportunity what it is, this is pretty understandable but it makes providing shelter to those most in need very tricky. Many NGOs and the government are using this phenomenon as an excuse for not improving conditions in the camps. And they don't want to make the camps so nice that people would rather live in camps (many are on land of somewhat high value) than in the collapsed slums where they were before. To add to the complexity, many people in the camps were renting houses that have collapsed and other rentals (along with the means to rent) are now unavailable.

I was talking to a woman today who has 7 children. Her husband died in the earthquake and their home collapsed. Because she has no resources or way to earn money, she now depends on handouts from her extended family. She is receiving a shelter from an NGO and this shelter really is going to improve her family's life. They still won't have very much food to eat or enough money to take her sick 1-year old daughter to the doctor... But, it's good for me to be reminded that despite how complicated aid is, some people's lives are being improved by it.

More than an Earthquake: Conversations with Haitians

This article was written by Adrienne Wiebe, MCC Policy Analyst for Latin America and the Caribbean, after she participated in the advocacy delegation I hosted in August. In it, she does a much better job than I ever have of introducing you to some of the people and organizations that MCC has the privilege of supporting and to the vision of Haiti they are working towards.

“We are working for life against forces of death.” “Planting trees is giving life.” “Change happens as we heal from our slave past, and restore dignity and pride in ourselves.”

More than a month after a visit to Haiti with an MCC Advocacy Delegation in August this year, I can still hear the voices of the people I met.

Haiti has been at the centre of world news because of the devastating earthquake that struck the capital city, Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010, killing 230,000 people, leaving one-million people homeless, and destroying much of the city’s infrastructure and economy. The primary purpose of the trip was to explore the advocacy issues in the aftermath of the earthquake. However, I got a glimpse of a country that is much more than the most recent political or natural disaster that we hear about on the news.

“Beyond the mountains are more mountains” is a well-known Haitian proverb describing a country that is seemingly more mountainous than Switzerland. This lush, tropical island was known as the “Pearl of the Antilles” during the 1700s; the richest French territory in the New World. Sugar and coffee were produced by a brutally efficient economy based on slaves imported from Africa after the indigenous population had been exterminated. Yet by the 1980s, this bountiful land was environmentally ravaged; 98% of the land has been deforested as a result of an impoverished population in need of cooking fuel and land to cultivate for food. Deforestation has caused severe loss of topsoil, declining agricultural productivity, and increased flooding and landslides.

Jean Remy Azor, Reforestation Program Coordinator of a project that MCC has supported since 1983, is working to change this situation, one tree at a time.

“We all have an obligation, especially Christians, to repair the destruction that we have brought about in God’s creation. Birds and animals live on the earth and haven’t damaged it; we humans have done the damage. So in this sense, planting trees is giving life. ” The 22 communities involved in the program Remy coordinates now produce and plant approximately 450,000 years per year. This part of the Artibonite Valley has become a delicious green oasis in contrast to the surrounding barren hills.

Nixon Boumba, an energetic advocacy worker with MCC and a university student, told me about Haiti’s powerful history. His determination to continue to work for change is evident despite the fact that he lost hundreds of classmates in the earthquake as university buildings collapsed, and his family still lives in a makeshift shelter with no running water seven months after the disaster.

Boumba situates Haiti’s current situation within a broader historical context. “The whole history of Haiti is a confrontation with imperialism – Spanish colonialism, French colonialism, slavery, racism, American occupation [1915-1934] and now neo-liberal economic and political systems...The slave rebellion against France and becoming the first black independent country [1804] was of extraordinary significance on the world stage,” says Boumba. He points out that Haiti set the stage for the independence movements of other Latin American countries in the early 1800s and was a critical influence in dismantling slavery in the United States.

More recently, Haiti set a precedent in Latin America as the only country that had the audacity to twice elect a former priest with a liberation theology perspective, President (Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 and 2001). He advocated a "preferential option for the poor" and his government strove to move Haiti from "from absolute misery to a dignified poverty." Aristide was also twice removed violently from office (1994, 2004), a common fate of Latin American leaders who attempt to change the status quo. Despite setbacks, Boumba believes that: “We Haitians [need to] continue working for life against forces of death.”

Haiti has a predominantly Black population, and the dynamics of racism and social class that exist throughout Latin America are intensified here. A social hierarchy continues to exist in Haiti that privileges light skin over dark skin, and foreign over local. For example, Haitian Creole is based on 18th Century French mixed with African and Ameri-Indian languages, Arabic, and Spanish. It is spoken by 90% of Haitians. Yet until about 20 years ago, French was the only official language and was used in the educational system, the media, and the government. French is still viewed widely as the only language of status, though only a small percentage of Haitians speak French fluently.

This social history continues to impact Haiti today, according to Ari Nicolas, Coordinator of MCC partner organization, Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal/Support Local Production, (KPL). Nicolas thinks that Haitians have internalized a sense of inferiority. “Haitians are raised to believe that they are inferior. This is a product of being slaves. For 500 years we have been taught this. Whatever comes from outside is better. For example, our hair is not good because it is black and curly, not blond and straight. There is a lack of self-confidence and pride.” Nicolas works to promote the consumption of local food and goods, as a means of rebuilding a sustainable local economy, but also as a means of “creating a new mentality [and] a new society.”

Walking through a noisy street market with Junya Eugene and Margaret Baron, also staff members of KPL, they explain how Haiti has gone from being basically self-sufficient in food production to dependent on imported food in just twenty years. This is partly because trade liberalization imposed by international financial institutions has made imported (and subsidized) American food cheaper than locally grown food, putting farmers out of business. Two live chickens that will eventually be our lunch dangle upside-down from my fingers as we check out rice prices: locally produced rice costs 1.5 times more than imported American rice.

Haitian lack of self-confidence and pride is part of the problem, according to KPL staff. Imported American rice and other foods are widely viewed as superior to Haitian rice and traditional foods. For example, Haitians say they do not eat corn, but they love eating Corn Flakes. In response, KPL has produced a dramatic series of videos filmed in the market that are regularly aired on national television to demonstrate the importance of purchasing local goods and services (available for viewing on the web).

Haiti has the unenviable distinction of being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. An estimated 80% of Haitians live on less than $2 per day. Health indicators are the poorest in Latin America. Life expectancy is 61 years in Haiti compared to 82 years in Canada and 78 in the USA. Over 12% of children die before the age of 5 years old, compared to less than 2% in Canada and the USA. Adult literacy is 53%, and parents struggle to pay private school fees because of destruction of the public education system due cuts to government spending on service imposed by the international financial institutions in the 1990s.

“The earthquake exacerbated the pre-existing problems of housing, security, and food,” according to Antonal Mortime, Executive Secretary of POHDH (Plat-forme des Organisations Haitiennes des Droits Humains/Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations). Haitian activists, like Mortime, have an integrated view of human rights that includes political rights as well as social rights, such as the right to food, education, and housing. For Mortime post-earthquake reconstruction is an opportunity to build a more equitable society. ”Our priority is now to advocate internationally regarding social rights, such as education and food, and to create a base to launch a new Haiti.”

Rosy Auguste and Vilès Alizar, at RNDDH (Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains/National Human Rights Defense Network) also emphasized the need for profound change in the reconstruction process. According to Alizar, “The word ‘reconstruction’ for Haitians, is not about rebuilding the National Palace and individual houses, rather it is about building a new Haiti with everything, services, schools, and so on… what would redeem the earthquake would be to construct a new society. The priority now is decentralization and participation.”

Many Haitian civil society organizations stressed the need for decentralization in the reconstruction process because all services tend to be concentrated in Port-au-Prince. Haitians must come to the city for everything: schooling beyond elementary levels, documentation (i.e. land titles, driver’s licences), other government services and jobs. As a result, thousands of people have migrated to the city, though the urban infrastructure cannot support the current population. The earthquake’s impact was all the more devastating because of over-crowding and lack of quality building construction.

“The earthquake not only shook the earth, but also the hearts and minds of people… not only on January 12, but they are still shaking,” says Jean Valéry Vital-Herne, the National Coordinator for Defi Miche/Micah Challenge, another MCC partner organization. “If the church would stand strong for six months, we would have a social earthquake.” Vital-Herne recognizes the challenges for Protestants, Catholics and spiritualists, practitioners of Vodou, to work together. Vodou is a belief system based on a syncretism of the African culture brought by slaves and historic Catholicism. Catholicism has been the official religion of the country since 1860, and Protestant churches have been established in Haiti for about 100 years. Vital-Herne thinks that, “The church is Haiti has been a conformist church… but it needs to be an alternative; be the light of the world, and salt of the earth.” Most importantly for me as a foreigner, Vital-Herne asked that, “the global church stand in solidarity with Haiti and respect the Haitian vision.”

What sticks with me, weeks after my visit, is that for five centuries, Haiti has experienced the destructive impacts of the major global developments: colonialism, racism, environmental exploitation, unequal economic growth, and, most recently, devastating natural disasters exacerbated by poverty. Despite all this, I discovered that there is much more to Haiti than just the latest crisis, and there are many, many Haitians who are working to build a more life-giving society . I hope that we as North Americans listen to what they are telling us, learn from them, and walk with them as they continue to work “for life against the forces of death.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Moving at a Snail's Pace

Whoever coined this phrase obviously didn’t have a garden that was being devoured by snails. I don’t know if it’s the damp weather or if they just happen to be attracted to what we’re trying to grow, but our lakou has become a snail breeding grounds. Snails are eating our peppers, zinnias, collards, mustard greens, squash, nasturtiums, beans, cilantro, tomatoes, basil, arugula, chives, citronella, ginger, begonias, impatiens and hastas. We read that mint is supposed to repel snails. Not Haitian snails. They’re even eating our mint. So far the only things they seem to be ignoring are amaranth greens, fennel, oregano and rosemary.
some of the damage
Forget our pacifist values - this is war. Since we’re not into putting chemicals on our food, here’s what we’ve tried: ground up eggshells, coffee grounds, spraying strong coffee on the plants, yeast and honey traps, upside down pots as daytime traps and beer traps. They ignore the traps, cross the eggshells, and eat around the coffee grounds. Our latest course of action has been to go out at night with flashlights, pick them off by hand and squash them underfoot. I can’t bring myself to squash the really big ones, so I throw those over the wall or try to drown them. The dead snails are piling up and starting to smell. Meanwhile, the ones we invariably miss keep eating and breeding.

We’ve started sprouting seedlings indoors to give them a break for the first few weeks of their lives. But now there seem to be itty-bitty snails living in the sand we mix with worm castings to make potting soil… Aak!
Suggestions, anyone?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Churches Week of Action on Food

Take Action: Participate in the Churches Week of Action on Food.

Background: Connect with thousands of people and churches around the world in a movement to lift up the voices of small-scale food producers. In doing this, we support them in having choices as to what crops to grow, how they can grow these crops, and in ensuring that all people have access to affordable, healthy and culturally appropriate food. Many U.S. policies, such as agricultural subsidies, undercut farmers in low-income countries, especially small-scale food producers.

The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act (HR 3012), was introduced to Congress last year by Rep. Michael Michaud [D-ME] in an effort to reshape U.S. trade policy to support small scale producers' livelihoods and aid in sustainable food production. In supporting this, we hope that it would bring people access to affordable and healthy food and support local food producers.

Faith Reflection: Over 1 billion people in the world live in hunger while many in the U.S. have more food than we need. As Christians, we are called not only to feed the hungry, but also to work toward a just global economic system in which all have access to abundant and healthy food.

Action: Support this cause of lifting up the voices of small-scale food producers, and ensuring that all have access to affordable food.


1) Share this information with as many as you can as a way to educate others about the injustice in the distribution of food and how U.S. trade policy might help turn that around.

2) Write to your congressperson to support the TRADE ACT to bolster the food security of impoverished countries.

3) Use these stories to use as bulletin inserts to bring awareness to food issues, available at:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rubble removal

So far only 2% of the rubble has been removed from Port-Au-Prince.

A Case of the Mondays

It's shaping up to be one of those days. You know, the kind of day where you wake up at 5:30 to the dog barking (we're dog-sitting). Then the tire is flat on the Land Rover that I drove home on Friday (no lug wrench = pumping up the enormous tire with a bicycle pump). After slamming my thumb in the truck door, it takes me more than an hour to drive 2 miles to work since today is the first day of school. While I'm stuck in traffic, a bus in the on-coming lane is being chauffeured by a misogynistic jerk who harasses me in broken English. Part of me wants to slug him, the other part wants to correct his grammar. Then I get to the office and find this in my google alerts.

Lord God, give me the patience to get through the rest of this day/week/year.

This afternoon, I start an intensive 30-hour advanced Creole class. I'm a little nervous. Ben has been sick all weekend (although he suddenly felt okay enough to make homemade pasta last night :)) and we've had virtually no electricity for the past week and 1/2.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mil Mèsi (1,000 Thanks) probably not enough. We are creeping up on NINE months since the earthquake and still haven't properly thanked all of you for the many kind & loving messages we've received this year through this blog, facebook, email, skype, phone calls. We have been overwhelmed by your interest and support and yet, embarrassingly, have failed to respond to most of your messages. We're not super great communicators, which makes it that much more amazing that we manage to update this blog on a regular basis. But we love you and love receiving your comments and messages. I'm slowly trying to go through many of them to respond, but quite frankly, the past nine months aren't ones that we want to relive. So if I don't get to you, please know how much your words have meant to us.  

In Kenscoff this weekend:

Monday, October 4, 2010

FOURTEEN hours to Jérémie

I went to Jérémie with Defi Miche last week for the last of the advocacy seminars. After Aux Cayes, Route National #7 winds up into the mountains. This road sign seems innocuous enough ("How nice of them to warn us," I think): 
 (Attention: collision possible)
Soon, we start seeing these:
(Attention: big machinery at work)
 (Rocks on the road; Slow down)
And these:
Still, we remain blissfully unaware of what is in store for us...
Explosions? Sure enough, an hour outside of Jérémie we come to a line of stopped traffic (meaning 2 tap-taps, a Medecins Sans Frontieres vehicle and a white pick-up truck). It is 3:00.
At 5:00, we start moving again. Less than a mile later, we are across the valley from this:
Almost two hours and 3 bulldozers later, we are back on the road! It's dark and the road is totally sketchy, but Margot's unassailable driving skills get us safely to our hotel.

It only took us 12 1/2 hours to drive back to Port-Au-Prince after:
  • a 1-hour wait for the road to be cleared (no dynamite this time) near Camp Perrin
  • a brief delay due to a flooded detour in Grand Goave so that traffic had to cross a dubious-looking bridge instead
  • an inexplicable traffic jam in Mariani
The good news is that road to Jérémie is being fixed. Also, the department of Grand Anse is a beautiful place to be stuck for hours:

Friday, October 1, 2010

the grass is always greener (or purpler) on the other side

My sister Martha paints a mural on my niece's bedroom wall in Asheville, NC

I often find myself dreaming about the quiet, green, peaceful mountains of North Carolina. Basically, I dream of the opposite of the over-populated, de-forested and often stressful mountains of Haiti. And then I mosey over to craigslist to see if there are any deals on land (not that I have the money for mountain land) where Alexis and I could chill, build a tiny house and live off the grid and off of the land. After an hour or so, I come back to reality and get back to work on whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing.


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