Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Disaster to Decentralization

Sorry, folks. I embedded the wrong film here yesterday. THIS is the one I intended to post. It'll be worth your time, I promise. Download the study guide and take the film to class or use it in a small group. You can download it for free here.

Disaster to Decentralization study guide [english][french][spanish]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What's a weekend for?

Sleeping in, lounging around...? Not around here! Our weekend was replete with:

Ben, ever the optimist: How long do you think before this styrofoam plate is clogging a canal in Cite Soleil?

Soccer Games
U.S. versus Ghana at Garly's house (Note: place of origin wins out over passport when it comes to who I support in the World Cup. Go Africa! Which at this point in the Cup = Go Ghana!).
Argentina versus Mexico at "Hang"

We planted three more tires with cabbage, arugula, beets and radishes.

Ben took a stab at making pita bread for dinner guests. It was delicious.
And more...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What is True

This article from the LA Times, "Haitians still wait for recovery" has gotten a lot of attention over the past day and 1/2. I first saw it when it came up as the first article on my Haiti google alerts yesterday morning. Later in the day, a family member emailed it to us to ask if what the article says about the situation in Haiti is true. I've since seen it posted and/or linked to on various blogs and facebook.

The article says, "Real reconstruction has yet to begin, while the people suffer in ramshackle housing in overcrowded camps...", that rubble removal has not yet really started and on and on. The article places most of the blame on the Haitian government, citing that "the government in Port-au-Prince has lapsed into the classic pattern of corruption, inefficiency and delay that holds the country hostage."

This is all true - we face these uncomfortable realities everyday as we work for as organization that is trying to provide relief and plan reconstruction work- but it's also not the whole truth.

It's true that based on a recent shelter cluster report only 2,000 transitional shelters have been built by international NGOs and that tarps and tents that were distributed within the first 3 months already need to be replaced - which according to the statistics, leaves 1 million people vulnerable to the rains. But it's also true that Haitians have been building their OWN temporary shelters since just days after the earthquake. They are demolishing their own unsafe houses (see Ben's Portraits of Port-Au-Prince slideshow below) and moving their own rubble.

It's true that the international community is frustrated with and has largely pointed blame towards the Haitian government for the way things are going. But, it's also true that thus far, only 2% of the pledges for aid that have made to Haiti have been delivered. Brazil is the only country that has fulfilled its pledge from the UN donor conference. Without this money, it is unrealistic to expect the weakened Haitian government to be able to meet the world's expectations.

It's also true that from around the world, people are still expressing their solidarity with Haiti. For the past two weeks a group of Mennonites from Paraguay were here to work alongside Haitians doing rubble removal. They were absolutely blown away by how hard the work was and by how much has already been accomplished with the limited equipment and tools available to most Haitians. One told us that when they drove through Port-Au-Prince upon arrival and saw how much rubble litters the city almost six months after the earthquake, they thought that Haitians must be lazy. Now, two weeks later he says he cannot fathom how hard the people of Port-Au-Prince must have worked to have made so much progress.
It is also true that this month people in 23 communities in the Artibonite are planting trees that have been grown by Haitian tree nurseries (see Ben's latest post).

People are living their lives, cooking meals, doing laundry, visiting with neighbors, going to the salon, caring for their children, going to work, attending church... Living in an IDP camp does not keep most Haitians from dressing much nicer than I do every day (I cannot imagine that I would show up at work in heels if I had no home even if wearing nice shoes is culturally very important). People without formal jobs continue to eek out a living selling fruit or sunglasses or used clothes on the street. Children are playing (even in the rain).

Maybe all of this sounds callous - like I don't care that the IDP camps in Port-Au-Prince have swollen to 1.5 million people, that they are "congested beyond imagination," that it's hurricane season and that public toilets are overflowing. It's not that at all. I care deeply about Haiti, which is why I think it's important that we acknowledge the whole truth.

The international community gauges the situation in Haiti based on the numbers of shelters and temporary schools and clinics they themselves build, the tonnes of food aid distributed, the number of water filters... But what Haitians are doing for themselves to carry on with their own lives, the food that Haitian farmers are growing that is being sold in the market, the work of Haitian human rights organizations and Haitian development organizations and community associations are carrying out- all this doesn't figure into the official reports. Shouldn't it, though? Shouldn't this be the most important part of the equation? Long after the relief organizations pull out, Haitians will still be here doing what they've always done to survive the past 200 years of internal conflict, natural disasters, external interventions, structural adjustment policies (and let's face it, the work of well-meaning aid agencies). And they'll be singing, dancing, dressing well, producing some of the world's most compelling art, watching soccer games, drinking rum and playing dominoes along the way.
-Alexis from Ben's account

Friday, June 25, 2010

MCC tree distribution

Two weekends ago we went to Desarmes for livrezon, the annual distribution of trees grown in MCC-supported community nurseries. To learn more about this program, check out this old blogpost from Alexis.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dear God

Dear god, I'm trying hard to reach you
Dear god, I see your face in all I do
Sometimes it’s so hard to believe in
Good god I know you have your reasons

- Monsters of Folk
Several ancient spiritual traditions use prayer flags as a means of communicating with God, blessing others and blessing the earth. We have a lot on our hearts right now, so this week Ben and I made prayer flags out of scraps of fabric I had laying around.
For one set, we decorated each flag to symbolize specific prayers. The other set we left blank to represent our unvoiced prayers.

It was good for us to take the time to do this project - to give voice to the things that have been weighing on us and then to let them go...
Dear god I see you move the mountains
Dear god I see you moving trees
Sometimes it’s nothing to believe in
Sometimes it’s everything I see

- (MOF again)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Eating on the Wild Side

Since pests and heavy rains have been inundating our garden of late, we've been looking for a cheap (and fun) way to get the green goodness that we generally eat in the form of homegrown collards, swiss chard, mustard greens and kale. So on a hike in Kenscoff this morning, I picked some dandelions.

You're supposed to pick dandelion greens before the plants have flowered, but I didn't find any of those. To get the bitterness out of the leaves, I had to blanch them. Even so, they were good. My only regret is that I didn't pick more. The French make cream of dandelion soup, which we'll definitely have to try the next time we have a chance to go hiking-and-dandelion-picking.

A little PSA for ya: The next time you're mowing your lawn, try to think of the dandelion as more than just a weed. You can saute or steam dandelion greens the same way you would use any other green. It's way fun to gather your own food and dandelions a're full of vitamins and anti-oxidants (unless you use Roundup).

We had ours sauteed with turnips over wild rice:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Telling the same kind of story about Haiti

A supplemental funding bill for Haiti is stalling in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, our governmental representatives are hearing great things about the situation in Haiti. In a Senate hearing at the end of May, the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti and USAID staff reported that because things here were always so bad, the situation is now more or less the same as it was before the earthquake.

Ben and I often struggle with how we represent Haiti on this blog. We want to tell "a different kind of story about Haiti" to counteract the negative narratives that people see and read in the mainstream news. Lately, though, we've been having a tough go of it. It's quite easy for us to disregard the stress that the earthquake has had on us and we start wondering why we're discouraged... Hmmm. Although I would like to tell you otherwise, the situation here is NOT more or less the same as it was before the earthquake.

Two weeks ago I visited a small camp on Rue Perchotte in an area in Delmas 75 called Puit Blain. MCC is aware of this camp because we have an employee that lives in the neighborhood, but the approximately 70 families living in this community have not received aid from anyone else. They have had to purchase the NGO tarps that they are living under on the black market. Large, sturdy tarps – the kind that NGOs have been distributing in preparation of the rainy season - sell for 1,500 gourdes, almost $40.00 US, apiece.
Maranatha Medna, a young single mother of a 3-year old son that lost her home and small business in the earthquake, says that she and several friends responded to a government call to register as victims. They went downtown and put their names on a list, assuming that someone would contact them with assistance, but no one ever did. “We had hope,” she says.

Marie-Carole Bellande is in her 60s. She lost her home in the earthquake – “kraze nèt (totally destroyed).” It took her ten years to build her home and although she is still running the small commerce she had before the earthquake, at this rate it will take her at least another ten years to build it again. It’s been four months since the earthquake and she has still not had the means to start clearing away the rubble. Marie-Carole has two teenage girls and with no place to live, she worries about not being able to protect them at night.

When asked about the cessation of direct food aid, she replies, “God created food before he created us. We need food to survive, but food is not everything. I can’t build a house with food. I need a place to sleep.” She adds that necessity prompted the food aid that they have received, but that Haitians would be more satisfied with having the means to buy food for themselves.

Other members of the Puit Blan community agree. They want jobs. Coeury Sonel, 37, is a mason but has been unable to find work since the earthquake. He hopes that when reconstruction officially begins he will have plenty of work, but in the meantime he, his wife and their five children (ages 12, 9, 6, 3 and 18 months) are living under scraps of corrugated tin and a tarp. He says that life wasn’t easy before the earthquake, but now his family is "not living.” “We are in the mud, exposed to the sun and the rain.” He says he doesn’t dare to hope that he’ll ever be able to rebuild his home.

It has rained hard every day this week, and for several days, it has rained all day long. When Maranatha shows me the inside of the makeshift shelter where she and her family are living, I can see the indentations in the dirt made by water running through when it rains. I ask her about privacy and she says that this is a problem. She and the other women in the camp have to seek out private spaces to bathe. Shady places where they can hang out during the day to escape the heat that gets trapped in their shelters are also limited.

No one in the immediate vicinity of the camp owns a water reservoir, so they buy and haul 5-gallon buckets of water for 5 gourdes apiece (about 12 cents). 5 gallons of drinking water costs almost $1.00.

Most Haitians put their life’s savings into building their homes and in Puit Blain, most of those homes are destroyed. None of the people I spoke to are formally employed. As is the case for most Haitians, they sell items in small quantities or do odd jobs, scraping by however they can.

Because many members of this community owned their own homes before the earthquake, they are not as vulnerable as many other displaced people in Port-Au-Prince. They are still living among their neighbors in a community structure that provides a higher level of safety and accountability. Nevertheless, the challenges that face them are overwhelming. With the world’s aid and attention slowly dwindling, it seems hard to imagine that the situation will improve anytime soon.

This may not be the kind of story that I like to tell, but it's still an important part of Haiti's story.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Did you miss us?

We returned Saturday from an outstanding vacation in the Dominican Republic. It got off to a rocky start when we missed the UN flight to Santo Domingo on Monday morning and Ben, who is deathly allergic to bee stings, got stung by a bee. But not only were we able to reschedule for a Tuesday flight, we also ran into and got to spend the day with Matt, Esther, Gabriela and Niko.

On our vacation we explored Santo Domingo, then bussed 4 hours east to Punta Cana where we stayed one night in El Cortecito and one night with Caleb and Jody, who let us crash their 5-year anniversary vacation. As I walked and Ben hobbled around Santo Domingo (try the Colonial District - it's amazing!), we were shocked yet again at the difference between the two halves of this island. How is it that Santo Domingo has public trash cans, park benches, a subway, sidewalks, photography exhibits and theaters and yet everything there (food, hotel, transportation) is cheaper than in Port-Au-Prince? Punta Cana was basically one all-inclusive resort after another, but the beach was beautiful and the company was fantastic.

We were both pretty bummed when our vacation came to an end. It's been hard to come back to Haiti lately. While we were in Santo Domingo, Ben asked me jokingly, "What is it about being out of Haiti that reduces your crazy factor so much?" Maybe the better question is, what is it about being in Haiti that is making me so crazy these days?

Driving home we noticed that the city is awash with green, yellow, white and blue. There are painted bottles strung over the streets and flags and jerseys for sale everywhere. Port-Au-Prince has World Cup fever. For the most part, Haitians are Argentina fans (white and blue) or Brazil fans (green and yellow) and apparently die hard fanatiks can get quite rowdy, even violent during matches.

Yesterday we fought off our post-vacation blues with some serious gardening and kitten-cuddling. Two kittens down, two to go...

And this afternoon we are headed to Desarmes for a tree distribution. Meanwhile, Hurricane Alex is headed our way.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ode to the Waks

Two years ago (take a month or so) we met Bryan and Sharon Thompsonowak at the American Airlines terminal in the Miami airport. We were all on our way to Haiti to work for MCC. Ben and I got to the departure gate first and made a game out of guessing which couple approaching the gate might be them.

A canceled flight, overnight in Miami and six intense weeks of orientation and language learning later, we were inseparable (except that they lived in Desarmes and we lived in Port-Au-Prince, which necessitated a fair bit of back-and-forth travel). They love to garden. We love to garden. They have ridden bicycles cross-country. We have ridden bicycles cross-country. They love to travel. We love to travel. The list goes on and on. We have never shared such a similar combination of values and interests with another couple before: travels, books, magazines, movies, music, theology, ideology, hobbies, food... Sometimes it was downright weird.
Now this post is going to degenerate into a blubbery cliched account of our friendship that will probably make me cry as I write it. We have traveled all over Haiti and through the Dominican Republic together. While Ben and Bryan built cargo bikes and went mountain biking together, Sharon and I shopped in the market (she likes to buy 2nd hand clothes and alter them and, what do you know, I also like to buy 2nd hand clothes and alter them - although she's a better seamstress than I) and did amazing cooking and craft projects together:
When Bryan and Sharon left Desarmes and moved to Port-Au-Prince after the earthquake, we lived together for awhile. When they moved into their own place, we still worked in the same office (more precisely, in the same 5x10 ft of office space), ate at least 4 dinners a week together and spent weekends hanging out. Incidentally, we discovered that you don't actually need more than 4 people for a dance party.
Yesterday, we took Bryan and Sharon back to the airport. It has come time for them to move on to other amazing things - Sharon is off to Vanderbilt Divinity School where she will be studying ethics and society as a precursor to her PhD. Bryan will be doing a one-year internship at the end of which he'll be a certified arboriculturalist. (See how cool they are?!). Saying goodbye to them yesterday was one of the hardest things we've done in a long time. They have been our community here, our family. And as predicted, I'm crying now...

Bryan, Sharon, here's to 2 years in Haiti full of adventures, difficulties, fun times (and boring and inbetween times) and to our many years of friendship to come. We are so glad that you're who showed up at the Miami airport on July 29th, 2008.

p.s. I fully expect to be made fun of for the corniness of this post, but at least I didn't break out into the lyrics of "Friends are friends forever."
at the airport, sad

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

La Réserve de la Forêt des Pins

Over the weekend we discovered a Haitian paradise. Ben and I are mountain people. We love love love the outdoors and love trees and cool air and mist and everything that comes along with mountain forests. Although we hike regularly in Kenscoff and from time to time make the trek to Seguin, we just haven't quite been getting our being-outdoors-in-the-mountains fix. Until now. A short three hours southeast from Port-Au-Prince is la Réserve de la Forêt des Pins (the Pine Forest reserve) - elevation almost 6,000 feet. The Ministry of the Environment maintains at least 13 wooden cabins (we saw 13, anyway) in the forest that date from the 1940's. Trees, trails, amazing flora, and barely anyone around... clearly heaven in Haiti.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Stop Forced Evictions of Haiti's Earthquake Victims

Make your voice heard by signing this petition.

Many residents of Port-Au-Prince that lost their homes in the earthquake are being systematically displaced by the government and private landowners from the spaces where they have set up temporary shelters.

At the end of April, Ben received a call that CNE (the construction company that the government and private landowners are using to evict displaced people from a number of spaces) bulldozers were preparing to raze temporary shelters in a camp called Camp Canaan. Ben and I went to check it out and found that the camp, which is on a hillside, was being leveled by the government so that they could relocate several thousand people living in another camp at high-risk for flooding.
The woman pictured above is Violene Gedeon, 49. She has six children. In mid-April, she lost everything that she managed to salvage in the earthquake except a pair of bedsheets when the Haitian National Police arrived at Camp Canaan with heavy machinery. They told camp residents to leave because their shelters were about to be demolished. According to Gedeon, they received no advance warning, no opportunity to dismantle their temporary homes and no information as to where they should move to. She has an injury which she says she received from falling on a nail as she tried to run from the bulldozers. When they moved to a spot several hundred feet away, they were forcibly displaced a second time as the new site also needed to be leveled. There are approximately 50 families at Camp Canaan in this situation, none of which, according to Gedeon, set up shelters a third time. They are sleeping with friends and in other family members' shelters.
This points to a grave disregard for the dignity and rights of IDPs (Internally Displaced Peoples), as well as a lack of coordination amongst the various sectors of the Haitian government and international community that are handling relocation. The parties that are responsible for making decision about the relocation of IDPs include the Coordinating Support Committee (CSC - formed following a request by the Government of Haiti for enhanced coordination measures, this committee is made up of representatives of the government of Haiti, senior UN staff and donors), the Department of Civil Protection (DPC), which is part of the Ministry of the Interior, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. MINUSTAH's human rights section and the OCHA protection cluster have the responsibility to ensure that all actions that concern IDPs conform to international human rights standards.

By signing the petition at, you can send a letter to these folks, as well as to President Rene Preval, Bill Clinton and others that have the power to protect the rights of displaced Haitians.


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