Monday, May 31, 2010

How to Support Haiti's Sovereignty and Independence

Excerpts from Q & A by The Haitian Blogger @

What [can] us non-Haitians who sincerely want to give [do] to add something positive to the situation?

Non-Haitians need to pressure the U.S. government to change their foreign policy towards Haiti. It's clear that the IMF, World Bank, IDB et al's structural readjustment programs haven't worked. It's clear that "free-trade," privatization and other neoliberal measures have devastated local industries and destroyed food production in Haiti.

While some priorities have changed (the top priority is rebuilding) and TPS [Temporary Protected Status] has been granted to Haitian immigrants (for now). The list of priorities from this report by Haitian Lawyer's Leadership Network (HLLN) remains relevant: What Haitian-Americans are asking of the next US president

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Are our voices as important as our house plans?

Non-Haitian voices are best used when raised in support of Haitian voices and Haiti. Although corruption, injustice and other violations of human rights must be addressed and are top priorities, perspective, sensitivity and context would go a long way in assuring Haitians that there is good will and that Haiti's best interest is at heart behind calls for transparency, integrity and accountability.

[It does not] make sense to dispense democracy from behind the butt of a gun. Pointing guns at hungry, dispossessed and destitute people is criminal. Most Haitians don't support the UN military occupation. Abuses by MINUSTAH are growing. MINUSTAH should either put away the tanks and guns for tractors and construction equipment or they must all go home.

Or should we with particular skills that are necessary right now be apolitical?

POLITICS: Haitians have been struggling for autonomy and independence for 200 years. The main issue Haiti has faced vis-a-vis the international community has been a lack of respect for Haiti's sovereignty, Constitution, laws, government and people. There is a paternalistic nature inherent in the "aid" that Haiti receives.

SKILLS: The problem with most NGOs in Haiti is that they're not building permanent, long-lasting structures or institutions. The fact is, permanent structures would put many of them out of business and that's not the plan for most.

Questions for us: Are we building permanent infrastructures and institutions in Haiti? Ones that we would want to live in and be governed by?

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Ride Journal

If you like bicycles and art you'll love The Ride Journal. Issue 4, which is now for sale, has a few of my pictures and a story by Alexis from our ride across the US. It's 13.50 GBP which is expensive but it's also a beautiful thick magazine full of great stories. and bicycles.

Oh Port Au Prince

A woman cleans and does our laundry once or twice a week. I hate having somebody do my laundry and clean my house -- it feels weird and colonial. Although I also don't enjoy hand washing clothes myself. We hired her primarily because it's our responsibility as rich people here (or at least as people with access to more resources) to provide others with jobs.... Most Haitians also have household staff. Anyway, when she is here she talks to herself and sings Christian worship music. It's like a five-hour musical taking place at our house twice a week. She also mumbles about us not buying the proper kinds of soap and not replacing the broom or mop often enough. And since we don't sweep up the leaves that fall on our driveway every day, she thinks we are dirty people.

She just showed up for work much later than normal and told me in passing, "I couldn't find transportation because there was a bunch of shooting downtown." What? I ask if there is a protest taking place and she says yes, but with no mention as to who is protesting what. There are several protests a week here, but most people don't take notice of them unless they destroy lots of stuff or a number of people get killed. Three days ago, university students were protesting downtown near the palace which is next to a huge camp of displaced people. UN soldiers teargassed them and also managed to gas the camp. The camp residents had to ditch their tents and valuables to escape the teargas. Apparently a few children were injured and six people treated at the general hospital with rubber bullet wounds. Following the protest, UN soldiers stormed the university and beat up a few students that had been throwing rocks. The chief of mission publicly apologized on the radio for this incident, saying that the soldiers had not been authorized to enter the university. For a country without a military, militarism and military intervention is still such a challenge for Haiti. Alexis put together a set of talking points on this issue after the earthquake and although it needs to be updated a bit now, it demonstrates the complexity of military aid and the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, which most Haitians we know oppose vehemently.

Speaking of protests, this one actually looks productive.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fancy Feet

I have gotten two pedicures in my life. The first was before my wedding at an all-natural, aromatherepeutic spa in Boone, North Carolina. The second was last Saturday.

It's taken me nearly two years to notice that pretty much every man, woman and child in Port-Au-Prince - except me, and of course Ben - has beautifully painted toenails. Men typically go with a clear coat or a nice subtle pastel shade. (I'm serious). For Haitian women, though, it's no holds barred - red, blue, purple, yellow, rainbows, flowers, stickers, even acrylics! This is why there is a beauty salon on every corner.

Saturday, Sharon and I paid a visit to the Peigne d'Or Studio de Beaute (Golden Comb Beauty Studio) that is conveniently located about 45-seconds from my front door. While we watched Haitian music videos on television, our feet were soaked in green apple scented dish soap and vigorously scrubbed with sandpaper. Then our toenails were trimmed, buffed, primed with a clear coat and painted a glorious, shiny red. All this for about $3.00.

The most amazing thing about this experience is how normal it felt. For about forty minutes we were just two other women at the salon. [Except for some slight awkwardness when we realized that our pedicurists thought we didn't speak Creole]. Also, my nails look great! I am now proudly wearing sandals and waiting for my polish to chip so that I can go back for more.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My 5 Minutes

I came across this blurb on MCC Ottawa's website today. Even after all of the post-earthquake interviews and attention on Haiti, it's still startling when I come across my name in print somewhere. Anyway, since I never posted anything about my nerve-wracking 5 minutes in front of the Canadian government, I thought I'd share. It actually went extremely well. By minute 4, I was no longer nervous and my little segment even got an ovation. Justin Trudeau was there, which according to the Canadians that I know, means that I have met a real celebrity.

MCC Canada hosts "Breakfast on the Hill"

Paul Heidebrecht

On May 4, 2010, the Ottawa Office invited Members of Parliament and Senators to a breakfast at the Parliamentary Restaurant in order to learn more about the work of MCC. Three Senators and ten Members of Parliament from the Conservative, Liberal, and New Democratic Parties attended, along with several of their assistants.

The focus of the gathering was on priorities in post-earthquake Haiti. After greetings from Don Peters, the Executive Director of MCC Canada, Alexis Erkert Depp, a Policy Analyst with MCC Haiti based in Port-au-Prince, provided an overview of MCC's involvement in Haiti prior to, and in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Willie Reimer, the Director of MCC's Food, Disaster, and Material Resources program based in Winnipeg, then outlined MCC's long term development plans in Haiti.

Judging by the questions, MPs and Senators are clearly interested in seeing that the Government of Canada makes a constructive contribution to the earthquake response in Haiti. From MCC's perspective, this was a unique opportunity to connect with policy-makers, and to help them understand our priorities.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

This American Life: Island Time

In March, our next door neighbor's friend Ben Fountain came to visit. Ben is the author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara: Stories, a fascinating book of short stories. Ben was nice enough to sign our copy (which is actually our friend Eliza's copy - sorry, Liza, you're never getting it back now) and we had a great time hanging out with him several times during his visit.

Ben was in Haiti working on a story for our all-time favorite radio show This American Life. The story aired this weekend on NPR as part of this week's feature on Haiti. Click on the link above to listen.

We were nodding our heads as we listened to each segment. Each one captures a different piece of the reality that we see and live in Haiti and this week's show asks a lot of the questions that we ask ourselves every day. The authenticity of it is why we love This American Life so much.

p.s. Ben interviewed Alexis and me, but we didn't make the story (No hard feelings, Ben).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Doin' the Math

Time we've been in Haiti: 2 months shy of 2 years
Time since the earthquake: 4 months, 10 days
Average number of hours I spend working per week: 50
Average amount of daily electricity: 6-7 hours
Average temperature these days: 95 F
Average humidity: 70%
Average number of times I yell/scream/curse or otherwise express excessive amounts of anger or frustration (usually in the privacy of my home) per week: 10
Current number of mosquito bites on my legs: 6
Days until Ben can supposedly - hopefully - walk again: 8
Average time it takes to get money from the bank: 1 hour
Number of tremors this week: 2
Number of days it takes 2 construction workers to build 15 feet of wall: 6 and counting
Number of days until Bryan and Sharon leave: 12
Number of vacations coming up SOON: 1
Days until said vacation: 14

I know I JUST got back from two weeks in Canada, y'all, but as nice of a trip as it was, it was still work. And I was not with Ben. And it has taken less than a week for me to be ready for another break.

Yesterday in our team meeting, a visitor gave us a 5-minute lecture on compassion fatigue and stress, which came pretty close to precipitating a bump in this week's crying average. The thing is, why have someone come in to tell us that we're stressed? I know I'm stressed. I already spend as much time as possible engaged in the activities that are my de-stressors and I'm still this close to losing it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Flamingo Watching

While Ben stayed home and kept his knee elevated, I celebrated Fèt Drapo by paying some flamingos a visit in Trou Caiman. That first picture is of the leaky, unsteady boats that took us across a choppy lake. Though the boat ride was nothing short of scary, seeing these gorgeous birds in flight was well worthwhile. The Caiman Flamingo is supposed to be distinctive from other flamingos, but I'm not exactly sure how. See Sharon's account of our trip (slightly more descriptive than mine) here.

Status of the Greater Flamingo in Haiti

Although flamingos in Haiti can still be found in most areas of their historical range, survey results indicate that numbers have declined drastically over the last 50 years. The coastal mangrove lagoons between Grand Saline and Gonaives, the inland lakes of Etang Saumatre and Trou Caiman, and Ile de la Gonave have been, and remained, the major areas used by flamingos. The species has been extripated from areas with high human population densities (Ile a Vache, Les Cayes, and Cap-Haitien). No evidence of breeding activity was obtained. The last nesting colony known to occur in Haiti was reported in 1928. Available data suggest that Haiti is mostly utilized by flamingos for feeding and roosting during non-breeding, winter dispersal from Great Inagua, and perhaps Cuba. Flamingo numbers in Haiti are estimated at about 900 (+-600) birds. Population trends in Haiti are likely declining due to increasing human disturbance, habitat degradation, and exploitation for food and trade.

Full article here.

Jose A. Ottenwalder, Charles A. Woods, Galen B. Rathburn, John B. Thorbjarnarson. Colonial Waterbirds, Vol. 13, No. 2 (1990).

-posted by Lexi

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Haiti's future depends on it's own sustainability, aid worker tells local volunteers

May 10, 2010
By Liz Monteiro, Record staff

KITCHENER — Haiti’s future depends on Haitians controlling their own destiny and the outside world recognizing the sovereignty of the Haitian government, said a Mennonite Central Committee worker living in Haiti.

“We have to support democracy in Haiti,’’ said Alexis Erkert Depp, who’s in Waterloo Region this week speaking to local MCC volunteers about the work being done in the Caribbean nation.

“We can’t let institutions (non-governmental organizations) do this because they are not accountable to the Haitian people,’’ said the 26-year-old North Carolina native who’s been working in Haiti since July 2008. Today, there are about 9,000 non-governmental organizations working in Haiti, she said.

Erkert Depp and her husband Ben were in Haiti when the massive earthquake hit the island nation on Jan. 12. The pair wants to continue to work in Haiti and return there next week.

Erkert Depp said she’s hopeful for Haitians because the Christian organization she works for is committed to empowering Haitians to lead and direct their own lives. Such programs include reforestation and sustainable farming.

“It’s exciting to work with Haitians who have a vision for a different Haiti,’’ she said.

But Erkert Depp acknowledges the impoverished nation needs help from the international community. The Haitian government must be encouraged to legislate agricultural subsidies for its farmers and regulate food imports.

For example, American rice is imported to Haiti and sold there cheaper than Haitian farmers can grow and sell it because tariffs are so low, she said. Also, 70 per cent of all food eaten in Haiti comes from elsewhere, she added.

Erkert Depp said it’s also important that Western nations recognize their role in Haiti’s cycle of debt.

“Our responsibility lies in acknowledging that our lifestyle and government policies have led to further inequality and poverty in Haiti,’’ she said.

In addition, Erkert Depp said the Canadian government must help Haitians who are already here with their temporary immigrant status, stop deporting Haitians and welcome Haitian refugees.

Within hours of the earthquake, the United States sent 20,000 troops to Haiti, Canada about 2,000 soldiers, plus the 8,000 United Nations soldiers already there.

“Haitians were deeply offended that the response was militaristic. It actually slowed aid by putting so much effort on security,’’ she said.

“Haitians felt criminalized. They didn’t feel like victims of a natural disaster but they were treated as criminals,’’ Erkert Depp said.

Erkert Depp and her husband were at home in a suburb of Port-au-Prince known as Petionville when the earthquake struck.

“We heard it before we felt it,’’ said Erkert Depp, who didn’t know she was experiencing an earthquake until her husband told her they should go outside.

Erkert Depp said their house remained standing, but many houses in her neighbourhood crumbled.

“We spent the whole night digging people out of the rubble,’’ she said. “We administered first aid and gave away all our towels and blankets.’’

Erkert Depp said the hours and days after the earthquake are still emotional for her as she recounts those days.

“It was horrible the consistent aftershocks. There was lots of fear,’’ she said.

Erkert Depp recalls how her husband couldn’t sleep until he found another MCC couple who lived in a five-storey apartment building. When they arrived at the apartment, the building was a foot and half of rubble, she said.

“It was absolute chaos,’’ said Erkert Depp, who later found her friends safe in a clinic.

Erkert Depp said she experienced plenty of guilt because so many people were seriously injured but couldn’t get the help they needed. However, non-Haitians living there, who were white, all received medical care.

“I was really angry that it happened,’’ she said. “I was unable to reconcile my ideas of a just and loving God.’’

Erkert Depp said she was able to cope by witnessing the reaction of Haitians who couldn’t imagine why she was mad.

“It was inconceivable to the Haitians I know that I was angry. They were still able to praise God even in face of so much destruction and poverty,’’ she said.

Erkert Depp remained in Haiti after the earthquake and left for two weeks on a stress leave to spend time with family in North Carolina in February.

While in the region this week, Erkert Depp thanked volunteers for their work in putting together the relief kits that went to Haiti.

Erkert Depp said the response from Waterloo Region to Haiti was incredible with the money donated plus the 5,000 relief kits of personal hygiene items collected in the region.

“Haiti sees how much the world cares,’’ she said.

Welcome Home to Me

A few days of being back in Haiti has covered the gamut of the highs and lows that make up our life here:

At the airport, I am treated like a minor celebrity when it becomes clear that I speak Creole and am recognized by several porters. Seeing Ben after a long two weeks (a high in case you were wondering), muggy heat, and driving home through insane bumper-to-bumper traffic that gave me plenty of time to see how little seems to have changed in Port-Au-Prince in two weeks... We hear gunshots nearby while I'm unpacking. The electricity comes on and, mercifully, we don't run out of water. Luna's kittens are adorable and there are cockroaches all over the kitchen. It's great to be in my own bed again, until Ben wakes me up to ask if I just felt two tremors.

We are literally stuck in traffic for hours trying to get out of Port-Au-Prince and to Jacmel where Ben and Sharon will be interviewing and photographing artisans that contract to Comite Artisinal Haitien (CAH), which in turn sells its fair trade products to Ten Thousand Villages (an MCC venture). We get to Jacmel much later than intended, have trouble finding a hotel with two rooms available (reservations just weren't possible with Jacmel's phone network down), but we have about an hour to hang at the beach before dark. Ben dislocates his kneecap riding his bicycle on the beach, relocates it himself and throws-up fifteen minutes later from shock. We haggle with a guy for some mediocre fish. It's cool and windy on the beach after dark. A wedding reception is taking place at our hotel when we return.

There is no water in our hotel room. Since Ben can't walk, I have to take all of the artisans' pictures (and I did a fine job, too). It takes us all day to find, interview and photograph the ten artisans on our list, but Jacmel is beautiful, everyone is friendly and eager to show us their work and we get to check out cool Jacmelien handicrafts. If you own Haitian placemats, brightly painted wooden figurines or anything in paper mache, chances are good that they were produced in Jacmel.

I have to admit that after interviewing the 10th artisan, a lot of the handicrafts were starting to look the same. Nevertheless, I am still and will always be a huge fan of the paper mache that comes out of Jacmel. If you haven't already, you should look at these pictures from carnival 2009 in Jacmel.

Jacmel was hit hard by the earthquake. Overall the situation seems much better than in Port-Au-Prince, but a number of the folks that we visited lost homes, workshops, significant stock and tools in the quake:

There were about twenty minutes left of daylight - just enough for a dip in the ocean - by the time we find another hotel that has two rooms available.

We enjoy our complimentary breakfast and a view over the ocean before we drive home from Jacmel. Our yard is full of construction workers (they're finally repairing the wall that was damaged in the earthquake) and I'm slapping at mosquitoes while I try to catch up on emails that have been accumulating for two weeks. Ben sees a doctor that drains blood from his knee and tells him to keep off of it for the next two weeks. Dinner with a dear friend. Tomorrow (Tuesday) is Fèt Drapo - Flag Day - and a national holiday.

Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds

Click here to read about Monsanto's seed donations in Haiti. Click here to read a NY Times story about Monsanto/Roundup's new super weeds threatening food production in the US.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Trees in Haiti

PhotoShelter Member Since 2006 - Join & Save!
Decent organizations doing reforestation in Haiti are Floresta, IOM, MCC

Scratch that

Today I went downtown with my friend Bryan to try and exchange the cargo bike we built. Our plan was to trade it for pretty much any decent, intact bike in order to build another cargo bike. We built it thinking that we had in fact just converted a nearly useless Walmart BMX bike into a fully functional cargo-carrying monster capable of hauling sacks of rice, coolers full of cold sodas to sell or delivering school children to school. Our idea was to build just a few before the idea spread quickly as people copied our simple design. Within a few years, the cities and countryside would lose the hovering cloud of exhaust because Haitians would be moving primarily on bicycles. NGOs would quickly pull out and take their diesel blowing SUVs with them because the quality of life in Haiti would be improving at such a rapid pace. Haitian government officials on bicycles would be thinking clearer and corruption and issues of bad governance would vanish. The cargo bikes would be an integral part of rebuilding Haiti's agricultural production as people would use them to collect organic matter for composting and to carry their harvests to the local market. The economy would be so boosted that nobody would take jobs in the clothing factories that are about to be built thanks to an extension of the HOPE Act. Everybody would scrap their Chinese motorcycles - the metal would go back to China and be used to build more bicycles. All the children in Haiti would be carried to their local clinics on cargo bikes for their vaccinations and regular checkups. The US would be so impressed by Haiti's bike scene that they would stop dumping food and promoting oppressive trade policies in Haiti and...

We arrived at the bicycle market area downtown where about 20 guys sell bicycles and parts. The bikes are mostly second hand Walmart bikes. Today an old Cannondale touring bike and a Specialized Stumpjumper full suspension brightened the market area.

I had poached the front wheel off our cargo bike for another bike project but expected the bike vendors to immediately realize this bike's full potential. Five guys rushed us before I could even dismount from where I was half pinned, awkwardly trying to hold the cargo bike on the back of my friend's motorcycle (the cargo bike had hit two vehicles on our way downtown - one truck had bumped the bike and we hit the other one) and wanted to know if we needed the bike repaired or if we needed to buy a front wheel. I declined and declared our mission to exchange the bike for a complete BMX bike (this isn't asking much - it doesn't cover the materials or weekend we spent converting it). A few people were interested for a few minutes. One guy suggested we trade our cargo bike and some money to get a different bike. Another guy offered me 250 gourdes or $6.25 US. The same guy asked me for 300 gourdes or $7.50 US a few minutes later when I tried to buy a pair of old caliper brakes. After buying a pair of new crappy brakes made in China, we lingered around hoping somebody would approach us to make a trade. After a while I climbed on the back of my friend's motorcycle, lifted the one-wheeled-reject-cargo-bike onto my lap, somebody asked me to give them the bicycle as a gift, and we left.

We have money available to set up a bike project to convert bicycles into cargo bikes, but it doesn't make sense to set up one more development project to give junk away (as valuable as we might think that junk is) and further develop the free junk mentality. My next little bit of research may be to try and sell a tire garden for cheap and then I might scratch that project as well. I sure hope my waste-oil-heater-fruit-dryer idea sticks, though.

You Can Support Immediate Assistance for Haiti

Urge your members of Congress to move quickly to pass a supplemental funding bill for Haiti.

Background: On March 24, President Obama sent his request to Congress for a supplemental spending bill to support relief and reconstruction efforts in Haiti for the remainder of 2010. Given the extent of the devastation and more than 3 million people affected by the January 12 earthquake, it is vital that Congress votes to support this funding.

With more than 230,000 people killed, 300,000 people injured, and at least 1.7 million forced from their homes by the earthquake, Haiti will require ongoing support throughout 2010 to address emergency needs in health, nutrition, shelter, sanitation, rural livelihood and food. The rainy season, which has already started, and hurricane season, anticipated for later this year, will only exacerbate this situation.

Faith Reflection: As the situation in Haiti becomes more desperate with the start of the rainy season and due to uncoordinated aid delivery, Christians in the United States can respond to the urgent need. The biblical vision from Micah 4:1-5 implies access to basic human rights, such as food, health care, meaningful employment, security and education, as central to the establishment of God's Kingdom. It also illustrates how necessary justice is to the fulfillment of a vision of peace. Empowering Haitians helps to assure that they will experience healing after the earthquake accompanied by meaningful development that allows them to access those basic rights.

Action: Urge your representative and your senators to move quickly to pass a supplemental funding bill for Haiti. Click here to send a message to Congress.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why I am in Canada

It's not just to
  • see tulips and daffodils blooming
  • eat sushi
  • eat Lebanese
  • eat Indian
  • eat strawberries
  • visit a bike-friendly city with a functioning bus system
  • go to a thrift store
  • buy maple syrup
  • attend question period
  • plug in my MP3 player and walk for MILES going nowhere on SIDEWALKS in complete anonymity (ie. with no one yelling "blan," asking me for money or trying to grab my a@$)
  • be cold enough to wear a sweater
  • drink fair trade coffee
  • stay at the YMCA and wake up to the fire alarm at midnight then spend half an hour outside until the firemen say it's safe to go back in - all the while imagining my computer, all of my work notes and my fabulous thrift-store finds going up in flames
  • meet great other MCCers.
Although most of those would be reason enough to be in Canada, I'm actually here ("here" being Ottawa) to give a presentation on MCC's work in Haiti to the Canadian Parliament. Our Ottawa office is hosting a breakfast reception tomorrow morning to which 21 members of the Canadian government have RSVP'd. Give me 8 hours and I will be a nervous wreck. In the next couple of days, I am also supposed to be meeting with representatives from the Canadian International Development Agency (Canada's equivalent to USAID) and the Department of Foreign Affairs, though it's unclear whether or not those meetings will actually take place.

I've already had the privilege of talking to several Mennonite congregations about what MCC is doing in Haiti and from here I'll be headed to the Toronto-Kitchener-Waterloo areas to do more speaking.

As you can probably gather from the list above (and from my recent hey,Ifeellikeatrainwreck post), it's been nice to be out of Haiti for a little while. Unfortunately, I kind of suck at traveling without Ben. Everything fun just seems like it would only be funner if he were here, too. I've been pretty good at getting out - mostly going on looong walks - when I haven't been working, but I'm glad that I don't have to travel alone much as part of my job.


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