Saturday, January 30, 2010

Life in Port-Au-Prince These Days

  • As much as is possible, life has returned to normal. Ti machann (street vendors) are everywhere, tap taps and buses are running and the grocery stores that weren’t irreparably damaged are open with limited hours and heavy security.
  • As much as is possible, our own lives are returning to normal. We’ve cut down from 12-15 to approximately 10-hour work days. We are shopping in the market again, taking public transportation and wondering why the news is reporting a "security situation."
  • Speaking of which, Haiti is now host to 34,000 troops: 20,000 American, 12,000 UN Peacekeeping, 2,000 Canadian (more on that later).
  • We thought traffic would get better because so many cars were smashed under rubble. Unfortunately, traffic is as bad as ever - the problem of too many cars on too few streets being compounded by military trucks, earth- (or in this case, rubble) moving machinery and a superabundance of aid vehicles.
  • Port-Au-Prince is experiencing a massive influx of aid and development workers. They’re everywhere and, as in the past, are doing a lot of good and a lot of harm.
  • This increase of development workers post-earthquake makes me sad on several levels: In the days following the earthquake, many organizations evacuated their personnel that live in Haiti, speak Creole and understand Haitian culture and are now shipping in hundreds of personnel that don't speak the language but can “manage an emergency situation.” It also makes me sad that the thousands of people coming to Haiti for the first time in the context of this earthquake (not only development workers but journalists, too) will only ever know and see Haiti in this context. It feels like Haiti is finally getting tourists, but that they’re here for the body count and rubble. The public parks (Place St. Pierre, Place Canape Vert, Place Boyer and others) have become IDP camps. Port-Au-Prince lost a number of iconic churches and monuments - including the Iron Market and the Saint Trinite and National Cathedrals (see photos below) and I mourn that newcomers to Haiti will never get to see these. Lastly, the services that serve these people and their generally exorbitant salaries (hotels, restaurants, international schools, elite clinics, gyms) will almost certainly be the first ones to be rebuilt; while it will probably be years before the population as a whole has access to many basic services.

More on us:
  • We’re still sleeping outside. Although our house has been officially okay’d by structural engineers (we’re even told that it will withstand a second earthquake), we’re still getting daily tremors that freak us out.
  • Bryan and Sharon have come in from Desarmes to help out and are staying with us, usually along with another friend or two.
  • We are eating enough.
  • We’ve had city water twice since the 12th, but it seems that our main water cistern cracked in the quake so for the time being we’re using our rainwater cistern for water to bathe, do dishes etc.
  • During the earthquake the wall came down between our house and our neighbor’s house. This has facilitated lots of neighborliness and we’re drawing power from their generator every night via an extremely long extension cord. We suspect that it will be months before EDH (Electricite d’Haiti) is functioning again.
  • Luna is doing well and has been an unexpected source of comfort for many of us over the past few weeks. For a viewing, look at her cute, tiny self peering into an empty flowerpot in the photo below.
  • I have lost not one, but TWO phones since the earthquake.
  • We know that we can’t sustain the pace at which we’re working without processing our experience during and following the earthquake. We’re planning to take a two-week stress leave in February to see our families and work through some things.

Damage Assessment

Click on image to enlarge:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Amy Wilentz does it again

If you've read The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier (highly recommended if you haven't...) or any of Amy Willentz's features and articles on Haiti, you'll agree that her perspective is pretty well spot-on.

This article, The Haiti Haters, was published in The Nation on 21 January and is one of the best things I've read since the earthquake. Go Amy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Please Treat Haitians with Dignity

Wall Street Journal

Dear Editor,

Down the street from the house where I have lived in Port-Au-Prince for a year and a half (which thankfully survived the earthquake unscathed, though most of my neighbors homes did not), is an IDP (internally displaced people) camp. As in camps all over the city, residents of this camp began to organize themselves immediately after the earthquake. A residents’ committee is securing food and relief supplies for the 400 people there, digging latrines and building temporary shelters. Food distributions to this camp and hundreds of others like it have been respectful of residents’ dignity. Decision-making is done through community-selected leaders.

Articles like Gina Chon’s “UN Faces Mobs at Food Aid Sites” not only do not reflect the greater reality of what is currently happening in Haiti, but stereotype victims of this mind-numbing tragedy as criminals. Food distributions that do not respect local and communal structures rob disaster victims of their dignity and incite the kind of sporadic violence that the media portrays as the norm.

It’s unfortunate that images of looting, fighting at food distributions and reports of violence make for sexier news than people helping each other survive. This kind of reporting insinuates that the situation in Haiti is somehow the fault of Haitians. On the contrary, Haiti has long been subjected to external interventions such as international trade policies, food dumping, military interventions and paternalistic charity that have perpetuated the nation’s structural poverty.

We have never seen such a staggering outpouring of solidarity as we have over the last two weeks.Our neighbors rescued each other, comfort each other and share with one another. Most of the Haitians that have been rescued from damaged buildings, received food aid and been given shelter have been helped by other Haitians. I would ask that in your coverage of this catastrophe, The Wall Street Journal tell these stories. Please do not cast Haitians as criminals. Instead represent them fairly and tell their stories with the dignity they deserve.


Alexis Erkert Depp

Mennonite Central Committee Haiti

Monday, January 25, 2010

there are still flowers

On Sunday Ben and I went hiking in Kenscoff. We haven't spent any time alone together since the earthquake so it was the first chance we've had to process together how we're doing. It felt so good to be out of Port-Au-Prince, to talk and rest and really cry for the first time.

Seeing flowers instead of rubble and IDP camps, smelling eucalyptus and pine needles instead of cement dust and smoke we were reminded that there IS still beauty in Haiti. It was incredibly healing to be able to see and feel the presence of the divine around us in ways that have been much more difficult in Port-Au-Prince since the earthquake.

media coverage

A good article on the earthquake coverage. There is great reporting happening here, but unfortunately the bad reporting is definitely outweighing the good.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010


After seeing and experiencing the magnitude of the earthquake's affects here, we've found ourselves angrily asking God, "why?" over and over again. It's hard not to question a faith that claims that everything happens for a reason when that 'thing' is something so horrific. In my memory of the actual earthquake, the sound that accompanies those of buildings crashing and neighbors screaming is Ben crying and yelling over and over again, "God, have mercy on this country, have mercy on this country!" Tuesday night, it felt like there was no mercy.

But in the days that followed, we have heard unending stories that can only be described as miracles. A friend doing translation in a medical facility tells us that the 6.4 aftershock on Thursday shifted buildings so that hundreds of people trapped alive were able to get out (they are now receiving medical attention). That is a miracle. 10 days after the earthquake, people are still being rescued alive from the rubble. That is a miracle. And in country that is stratified by social and economic class, skin color and language: we are daily seeing the miracle of solidarity being lived out. It also occurs to us that it is a miracle that we are alive and that out of everyone Ben and I know and love in Haiti, all but one are alive. This then begs the question, why us and why the people we know when so many other lives have been lost... but nevertheless, here we are questioning and being awed all at once.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sites to See

Ben and I are still very busy, but hope to update in more detail in the next few days.

In the meantime keep checking for information and updates, including podcasts from our team here.

And the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the "Flash Appeal" and daily situation reports and press releases.

You can also check out The Washington Memo:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

7 days later

Alexis and are grateful for all your emails over the last week. We haven't responded to many but are grateful for receiving them. Alexis and I have been really busy and have felt a huge urgency to our work. When I'm out on the street so many people are hungry and thirsty. There is still a small amount of food for sale but most people don't have any money to buy food or water. Some of the large camps have water tanks that have been set up by the Red Cross and others. Alexis is busy working for IOM today helping them build a database of IDP camp locations. Everybody else is busy, some with food distributions other's trying to coordinate medical supplies and food shipments and fuel from the Dominican Republic.
Something to remember when sending money is that this is going take Haitians years to rebuild so yes there is an urgent urgent need on the ground right now for basic survival items but in a few months people will need work, help rebuilding, and stronger local agriculture to meet their food needs...
I've visited a ton of IDP camps and a good number of them have had no contact with NGOs but have already formed committees and have organized leadership to control security, build temporary shelters, designate bathroom areas... Some of the these camps are really impressive. It's cool to see this, it's something to remember that even though we're doing emergency relief we also need to be doing development.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

If you're still in Haiti: An urgent way you can help

I am currently working on a database for IOM of the camps of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) that are springing up around with city so that those can be matched with the aid that is coming in. This is for the coordinated international relief effort - which we think is very important to be plugged into, more on that later (UN, WPF, IOM, Red Cross etc). One of the problems here is that these major organizations have security restrictions right now and can't be moving around the city without a military escort. Since we don't have those restrictions, I'm looking for volunteers that can email us a basic needs assessment of some of the IDP camps that might be near you. This is extremely important work since as I'm sure you're aware, people WON'T receive aid until these agencies know where they're located.

Here's the information we need:
Name of camp
Address (GPS coordinates as well if that's an option for you)
Communal Section
Population in camp
Population in general area
shelter condition (improvised tents/covers etc?)
the structural safety of the area
Organization that did the Assessment
Contact point for organization
contact for representative at camp
Is there a water source?
Is it accessible by vehicle?
And anything else that you think might be relevant or important to know

Email to with "new needs assessment" or "new camp" as subject as also ask to be added to the contact list.

Email the address above to request a preliminary spreadsheet of IDP locations. If you have any information about the sites that are listed as unassessed, or are willing to travel around and check them out for us, please do.

If you are trying to coordinate relief in your community for a significant number of people and need supplies, please also email that information (or send it as a needs assessment).

PLEASE FORWARD to anyone else that might be able to help.

Thanks and be careful,

the latest from Ben

From an email Ben sent to family:

Thanks for your payers, there is in fact a lot of work. My MCC interview ( the first time I broke down since the earthquake but it sounds like a lot of people were moved by it, so thats okay. The violence has been isolated and if you have a big distribution that is not done right it's going to go badly, so far that's been blown out of proportion by the media. There is a lot of solidarity among everyone here that is not been captured by the news. Most of the rescues that have happened have been by Haitians pulling their neighbors out of the rubble, the outside emergency is helping in factories and big places that had a lot of people.

Last night I came across a group that had just found a kid that was stuck but they didn't have flash light or a hacksaw so I was able to help them with those and they got a live 6 year old kid out who was weak but okay. A lot of the people who have been working don't have simple things like hammers, saws and picks but they've pulled a lot of people out alive. Right now we only have a little food to give away that we were able to score from the countryside and we've been distributing food to only a hundred people. We're carrying it in backpacks and doing it all secretly. We're trying to buy and secure more food to distribute from the D.R. and the countryside.

Today Alexis is working for IOM processing information about the IDP (internally displaced people) camps that are springing up all over the city.

We just set up internet and a solar panel at our house, about 12 or 15 MCC and other volunteers are sleeping in our yard. We've also had several chances to evacuate but feel safe here and so far are okay. It would be really easy for us to get to the embassy and they are keeping people there who want to evac. People are also driving to the DR to get out.

Peace, Ben

I would add to what Ben said about the media that we all need to make sure that we're not criminalizing or demonizing the victims of this tragedy. People will do what it takes to be able to feed their families and when they're truly desperate, those actions might become violent. However, that doesn't make them any less human or any less deserving of our sympathy and aid. Ben is right that we've seen an astounding amount of love and solidarity in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Also, our MCC people made it in today.

Love to you all!

Friday, January 15, 2010

in response to caleb's ?: still gridlock at the airport.


I find that I'm still unable to write in any detail about the earthquake so Ben suggested that I post a few more pictures instead. He was interviewed yesterday by someone at MCC in Akron : I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet.

Here is how MCC is responding thus far:

Please consider giving here:

Our area director and the couple in charge of disaster relief were supposed to arrive on an MAF charter flight today, but I just heard that not even the charter flights are getting in. I have spent most of the day today at the UN logbase, the staging ground for relief efforts. I'm with a friend, Elizabeth Sipple, who happened to be near our house during the earthquake. We're trying to access some of the material aid that has managed to get here (tents, food, water, medical supplies) to help the people in our community. Ben, Pancha and Elizabeth's fiancee, Carlito, are doing an assessment in Narette to figure out what is most needed as well as how many people still missing and triage wounded victims. I think they'll also be setting up our yard for the growing number of people that are living with us right now - Bryan and Sharon will be driving in from Desarmes with as many supplies as they can round up and it will be a relief to see them.

Here at the base, I am able to access the internet (and eat an omelete - amazing!) and for the first time was able to read all of your wonderful and encouraging messages. Thank you and please keep them coming. One of these days we'll need to process our own experience, but until that happens your messages are a reminder to us that we've survived something horrible and that an emotional response is healthy. We're trying to take care of ourselves. Elizabeth, Pancha and I spent about an hour doing yoga before we crashed last night. I keep my phone on and with me with the (unrealistic?) hope that I'll suddenly get a signal and can call my family.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to Help

Many of you have asked what you can do to help or where you should send money. MCC is collecting money (see the website) and has also released a policy action alert on TPS. We're still trying to figure out here what's going on relief-wise but are trying to plug into the UN's effort to coordinate all relief agencies and will let you know the most appropriate way to help as soon as we can. Thank you for your concern and support!

a couple things

I've heard there was only a little bit of damage in the South where Kway and the Karaka are. I bet they are fine. The phones are down and they don't even have a phone, they were borrowing somebody else's phone when I talked to Kway last weekend. I have a friend in Lakay, which is nearby and he reported only a little damage. Phones are still not working, it could be a while before you hear from them, if I were them I'd have already left for Cuba.

barefootRhys- I found this update online about the orphanage you asked about-

And everybody else keep praying for a decent emergency response, right now a lot of people are without drinking water and food and everybody is sleeping under the stars for fear of more tremors. Pray it does not rain. The only response I've seen so far on the ground has been by individuals and some limited medical response from Doctors Without Borders and some local hospitals.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


these photos were taken in Nerettes, the "zone" where we live in Petionville that has been virtually destroyed


We just wanted to let everyone know that we're okay. We're definitely in shock and can't begin to describe what the last day and 1/2 have been like here. We're also shocked right now to be seeing the headlines about the extensive international aid response in Port-Au-Prince because as of yet, we have not seen a single organized response on the ground (unless you count Ben with a pick).

Please especially pray for a few friends and acquaintances that we haven't received word of yet and for our coworkers Joel and Rachel, who are currently at the American embassy waiting to be evacuated on a flight to Santo Domingo tomorrow:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hi Ho Hi Ho,

it’s BACK to work we go.

On our way to the airport to drop off my parents, my mom asked what I’ll be working on when I go back to work (as of last Wednesday we are in the office again after a somewhat lengthy Christmas vacation). I realize that we tend to blog more about our playtime than we do our jobs. Though it may seem that our lives in Haiti are all beaches, kittens and gardening, we actually spend most of our time here trying to do something like this with them.

It’s not as easy to write interesting posts full of pretty pictures on our work (which often feels vague and unmeasurable) as it is on a hike in the mountains or a great pot of soup on New Years day. If we mostly talked about our jobs, you probably wouldn’t still be reading this blog. (That said, you might not want to continue reading this post).

Nevertheless, I am still enjoying my new job. I feel that as a foreigner working in Haiti, advocacy is one of the most appropriate things I can be doing. I’m working for MCC’s North American advocacy offices on projects mostly related to immigration, food sovereignty and militarization; working in various capacities with KPL (also hopefully getting around to updating their blog sometime), with Defi Miche (the Micah Challenge campaign in Haiti) on an advocacy campaign to encourage voter turnout and engage election candidates in debates surrounding the Millenium Development Goals, PAPDA (Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development) on an urban gardening and youth advocacy training project, SKDE (Christian Center for Integrated Development) on a curriculum for teaching social justice, human rights and advocacy in their seminary; working with our Connecting Peoples Facilitator to plan and receive learning tours; and working on a few projects of my own. At some point in the year, I’ll visit MCC’s advocacy offices in Washington D.C. and Ottawa and will possibly meet with legislators in both places to act as a voice for our Haitian partners on the effects of American and Canadian policy. Basically, I have a lot to do, even more to learn and am honored to be able to work with so many dynamic, local organizations.

Due to working in the field + illness + vacation, Ben has been absent from the blogosphere for awhile. Now that he’s fully recovered, he’s planning to go to North Carolina soon to spend some time with his sister Martha. According to him, what he’s been doing work-wise recently is neither exciting nor interesting. He’ll write about it when something happens that is worthy of putting on the world wide web.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Meet My Parents

For 10 days beginning on Christmas we had the JOY of hosting my parents (known to everyone else as Paul and Nanci). Since they've spent 20 + years in Cameroon, they're fluent both in French and in the peculiarities of living in a developing country. They also couldn't seem to get enough of washing our dishes and helping to prepare meals which, let's be honest, made them the perfect guests.

On the itinerary:
  • eating (in addition to emptying her kitchen cupboards into her suitcase, Mom brought us a full Christmas dinner!); we managed to eat our way from Port to Jacmel and the Artibonite and back
  • hiking with friends from Kenscoff to Furcy (for lunch here in keeping with our strict eating regime) and back
  • exploring Jacmel, lounging (and eating) on the beach in Ti Mouillage (Mom's suitcase was accidently left behind in Port-Au-Prince so it's a good thing that she looks better in my clothes than I do)
  • a night at the lodge in Seguin (thwarted because the road above Peridot turned out to be impassable)
  • extensive touring of Port-Au-Prince
  • RAM on New Years Eve (thwarted because the lead singer ate rotten fish). I must say I was impressed that my parents were up for a show that doesn't even get started until 11:00 PM. Unfortunately, the massive quantities of coffee consumed prior to 11 PM kept Mom and me up until 3:00 in spite of there having been no show.
  • cuddles with Luna (she slept with them every night and threw a massive temper tantrum when they left. They disturbingly refer to her as their "grandkit")
  • building of a 2nd cargo bike (Ben and Dad)
  • swimming in the waterfall in Saut d'Eau
  • shopping for a piece of Haitian art for the 'rents dining room. This was also accidently left behind in Port-Au-Prince, so our next visitors may find themselves carrying 4 10x35" panels of cut-out steel back to the States...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Soup Joumou

Along with Haitians around the world, we celebrated New Years Day with a big pot of soup joumou (pumpkin soup).

January 1st is Haitian Independence Day. After a 13-year revolution, Haiti achieved independence from the French on January 1, 1804. Tradition has it that on that day, newly freed slaves in Gonaives made a huge kettle of pumpkin soup and served a bowl to everyone present. The soup is still eaten as a form of remembrance and is also supposed to ensure good luck for the coming year.

Since my parents were here to purchase an adorably illustrated Haitian cookbook for us (and more importantly, to help us do the cooking and cleaning!) we decided to make an as close to authentic version as we could at home.

May you enjoy many pumpkins in 2010!


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