Sunday, January 30, 2011

Martha's Prints

My sister Martha just finished this awesome painting, titled 'Through the Veil of Tears,' and gave it to Alexis and me. Martha is starting to sell prints of her work from an Etsy store and prints of this painting are the first to be posted in the store. More prints will be posted in coming weeks. Proceeds will go to Arts for Life and Doctors Without Borders.

We've been absent from the blog while we visited with M and other family in North Carolina, but we returned to Haiti today. A power surge this past week fried our fridge and water pump and from the street party that sounds like it's in our living room, it would seem that Port-Au-Prince slipped into carnival season while we were away. Ah, welcome home.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

MCC Action Alert: Stop Haiti Deportations

Action: Send a letter to President Obama saying that now is not the time to deport Haitians.

Background: On January 20, 2011, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it resumed removals of Haitians by deporting 26 Haitians with criminal backgrounds, including one acquitted of all charges. DHS expects to remove 700 Haitians by September of this year. Deportations were suspended following the earthquake that devastated Haiti little more than a year ago.

Today, over a million Haitians are without housing, incidences of rape and domestic violence are rising, and political instability has escalated. Exacerbating the crisis is a cholera epidemic that has claimed over 3000 lives and is expected to kill thousands more. Deportations could divert resources from Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction effort, as well as jeopardize the lives of those returned to the country.

DHS has not explained how conditions in Haiti justify the resumption of deportations, including any agreements reached with the Haitian government regarding preparations for and treatment of those returned.

Action: Click here to send a letter asking the Obama administration to review this policy for the good of the Haitian people.

Alert prepared by Janelle Tupper. Adapted from an alert by Jesuit Refugee Services, an MCC partner in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A pastor prays after baptizing congregants in the bay next to Port-Au-Prince

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Baby Doc?? What?

Word on the street is that Jean Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti tonight. I have no idea why or what this means for Haiti in the coming days. Unfortunately (or maybe very fortunately) neither Ben nor I are actually on the street... I arrived  in DC yesterday to speak at this event tomorrow morning. Eeeks. Ben is in North Carolina visiting Martha and I'll be joining him there at the end of the week. We fly back to Haiti on the 30th.

It feels strange to not be in Haiti right now with something so momentous happening. It feels even stranger that I want to be there, as if I'm afraid of missing out. I don't know what that says about my mental state, but it's probably not so good.

Here is an AP article on Baby Doc's return. I would love to write a bit based on the perspectives my colleagues at POHDH - the Haitian human rights platform where I worked for our first year in Haiti - shared with me about the brutal & oppressive Duvalier regime, the impact of a strong versus weak government on the human rights situation in Haiti, etc. But I should probably go over my presentation for tomorrow instead.

My Anniversary Day (or, "I didn't even get to cry")

What I wanted and planned to do on the 12th was cry. I wanted to cry until I couldn't cry anymore, to remember what happened the night of and weeks following the earthquake and then release all of the grief and frustration of the past year. But despite the nice words that I wrote and posted here on the morning of the 12th, my day was more hectic than it was reflective or mournful.

To begin with, Ben was on a 3-day-long assignment and our house was full of journalists so there was no meaningful time to process the year with my partner. Or maybe to really begin with, the 12th marked our third day in a row with no electricity or water.

Of all of the events planned to commemorate the day, none seemed just right to me. Friends and some of our partner organizations were involved in planning a demonstration march for the morning and a debate in the afternoon, but I didn't want to protest (I do enough protesting everyday) or attend a debate. And, I still have a sprained ankle. I found out that a mass was being held first thing in the morning at the National Cathedral, damaged in the quake, but I missed a ride and didn't want to go alone. I also didn't relish the thought of sharing my time of remembrance with Bill Clinton, who was supposed to be attending the service.

I went to the office, hoping to connect with some of the people that we spent those initial days after the quake with. Instead, I got sucked into a 2-hour strategic planning meeting with our visiting leadership delegation and other MCC Haiti staff. After that, we drove down to Champs Mars for a commemoration event that our protestant church partners had been involved in planning. We didn't stay long. While Ben was there, an American pastor was preaching in English, denouncing vodou and then giving an altar call. While I was there Haitians were preaching, but mostly the hellfire and brimstone kind of stuff that I have very little tolerance for. This was definitely not going to facilitate the emotional release I was looking for (though, a rendition of "We are the World" on the radio on the way there came pretty close). Back at the office, I had to respond to some work-related emails, then there was lunch.

Ben called to say that I should come down to Sacre Coeur, that there was a nice mass being held there. Instead, I thought I would go up to Petionville and attend the 4:55 mass at Cathedrale St. Pierre. We live in Petionville and most of my most vivid memories of that night are there. I also wanted to be doing something meaningful at the exact time that the earthquake took place. I arranged to meet up with E & C. They lived with us for a few weeks after the earthquake and have felt something like family to us ever since.

In the meantime I went home. I tried to think of something reflective and meditative to do, but my messy house distracted me and I ended up cleaning instead. When E, C & I got to the cathedral, it was locked up. I'm not sure where we were for the 35 seconds that followed 4:55 PM (and during which all of the bells in the city were supposed to ring, but didn't). The clock on the cathedral had a different time from my cell phone, which was different from the car. Where we too early? Too late? A woman was being interviewed in English behind us. A few others were waiting around outside of the gate, but no-one knew why the mass had been canceled.

Finally, we decided to just go get a beer. People were dancing in the street in front of Muncheez to worship music blasting from speakers. We couldn't hear each other. My ankle was throbbing. Ben sent a text to say he had a flat tire. I went to the bathroom to try to hear him on the phone but couldn't get through. When I came out, it was just getting dark and a long procession was making its way down the street. Each member of the procession held a candle and wore a white t-shirt with the names of the people they lost to the earthquake written on the back. Vendors appeared selling candles and the crowd swelled as more and more people joined in. For the next hour, we held our own candles and sang and prayed with hundreds of others. Mostly, it felt celebratory. At one point someone called out, "Who is thankful to be alive today?" and everyone lifted their candles into the air. Then the procession moved on down the street, the speakers pumped up again and we went back to Muncheez for french fries and pizza.

I think that no matter what had happened, it would have been impossible to do justice to such a momentous day. The fact that nothing went the way I wanted it to, that the day was mostly frustrating and that yet at the end I was still able to participate in something meaningful and beautiful is so reflective of what living in Haiti is like. Perhaps it was a more appropriate way to commemorate the 12th than the day I envisioned.

When I finally got home, the electricity was on and I was able to pump water. Finally I felt what I'd been looking for all day - relief. In the end, maybe all I needed was to take a real shower, drink a cup of tea and read a book with the lights on. Because life goes on, after all, and our life experiences build on themselves. I never got my chance to cry, but I did realize that as much as I often want to, I can't erase this past year without changing an important part of who I've become. And I certainly can't erase what grieves me and saddens me about this place, but I can try to focus on the things that give me hope.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Perspective: How Haiti can rise from the rubble

Antonal Mortimé
January 12, 2011

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Antonal Mortimé is the executive secretary of the Platform of Haitian Organizations for the Defense of Human Rights (POHDH), a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner in Haiti since 2005. Advocacy was a primary focus of MCC’s work in Haiti before the earthquake and it continues now as MCC encourages its constituents to speak to the governments of Canada and the U.S. on behalf of basic human rights — food, housing, education and healthcare — for Haitians.

MCC also supports POHDH in its efforts to teach Haitians about the rights afforded them by Haitian law and to monitor national reconstruction plans to make sure they respect international human rights laws. MCC Haiti invited Mortimé to share his perspective about the situation in Haiti one year after the earthquake.

In January 1804 Haiti claimed its independence from French colonizers to become the first black republic in history. For this, we view Haiti as the mother of liberty. Many human rights activists use Haiti as a reference point for the concept of universal rights because the enslaved people of this land defended their rights with courage and determination to live as free human beings.

On Jan. 12, 2011, Haiti faces many difficulties. Haiti has long been known as the poorest country in the Americas, but one year ago, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, the country was made even more vulnerable.

We have to look at 20 years of history to set the context of Haiti’s vulnerability. The earthquake wasn’t a catastrophe. It is normal for the earth to shake, and so it wasn’t an earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. The last 20 years of Haitian government policies, which have caused degraded social-economic conditions, are to blame.

In spite of poor governance, the Haitian government has received the backing of the international community, so the failure of the Haitian state is also the failure of the international community. Many international policies, trade agreements and even plans for Haiti’s reconstruction benefit the countries of the Global North more than they benefit Haiti.

Now, a year later, Haitians live in more fragile conditions than ever before. Nevertheless, I believe that change is possible in this country, real change that represents the interests of all of Haiti’s children.
I have hope and a vision that Haiti will rise up from under the rubble, not just the rubble from the earthquake, but the rubble of colonialism, the rubble of neocolonialist policies (the economic and social policies that countries use indirectly to maintain their influence over other countries), and the rubble of poor governance. I have hope that we’ll rise up from the rubble of violated social rights, the rubble of exclusion in all of its forms.

This hope is drawn from the strength and energy with which Haitian men and women claimed our freedom in 1804 and with which we have persevered during this difficult year.

For more than a week before international help arrived, we, Haitian men and women, mobilized on our own to save the lives of family members, neighbors and even strangers trapped under rubble. We had no heavy equipment, but we did this with our bare hands.

We are not passive.

We have endured a year of living in displaced peoples’ camps — during hurricane season and in the midst of a cholera epidemic. And now, in the current political crisis, the right of Haitians to choose their next leader is being threatened.

The right of self-determination of peoples is a fundamental principle of international law. According to this principle,the Haitian people have the right to participate in the democratic process of governance and to influence our political, social and cultural future. We have the right to make decisions that are not imposed on us by Canada, the United States and other countries that make up the international community.

Currently this right is not a reality. Foreign governments and financial institutions are in control of the reconstruction process and are not taking into account the opinions of Haitians. International money promised to Haiti after the earthquake has strings attached so that foreign companies benefit more than the Haitian people. Our country, once again, is being bound to external debt, so that it cannot address the needs of its people.

My vision for Haiti is to see us, as Haitians, govern ourselves. The only way for this hope to become a reality is for the majority of the Haitian population to become principal actors in the struggle for social and economic change. The nongovernmental organizations that work in Haiti, the Haitian government and the international community must empower the people living in tents to become active participants in the decisions affecting their country.

We ask, therefore, that the worldwide declarations of solidarity, of kinship and of sympathy that were expressed for Haiti a year ago be realized. We ask that citizens of other nations put pressure on their governments to work with financial institutions to annul Haiti’s external debt and to revise the international policies that have negative consequences on the Haitian people. And we ask that citizens of other nations put pressure on nongovernmental organizations that they support to make sure they are empowering Haitians to direct their own recovery.

We ask everyone to respect this nation’s sovereignty — a historical symbol of freedom, the mother of liberty. In this way, Haiti will finally be able to rise out of the rubble.

Antonal Mortimé is the executive secretary of the Platform of Haitian Organizations for the Defense of Human Rights.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

January 12

One year ago today, at 4:55 PM, we heard a deafening sound and our house started to shake violently. For the next 35 seconds, we struggled to stay standing as it seemed like the world was collapsing around us.

Today, we mourn the hundreds of thousands that were killed in the earthquake, the millions displaced, the loss of massive amounts infrastructure, of schools and hospitals and government buildings. We mourn the ongoing tragedy of an inefficient response, mired in bureaucracy and corruption and exploitation. We mourn that 1 million people are still living in tents, that foreign companies are benefiting more from reconstruction contracts than Haitians. We mourn that such a devastating disaster did little to uproot the social, economic and political structures that oppress the majority of Haitians.

The city feels as though it's wrapped in a shroud. This morning the streets are empty, but churches are overflowing with Haitians wearing white and black, the colors of mourning. The government is launching a registry to identify the dead, as well as those that are still missing. A ceremony is taking place at the National Cemetery, masses being held at cathedrals around the city. We grieve.

But we also celebrate. We celebrate life, our lives and the lives of the people around us that are active and engaged in trying to shape Haiti’s future. We celebrate a vision for how things could be different for this country. We celebrate what has been done, the rubble that has been moved, the houses that have been repaired, the small businesses that have been rebuilt. In the midst of the mourning, I can also hear people singing.

Please pray for this country today. Pray that today Haiti will recapture the sense of solidarity that was so prevalent in those first weeks after the earthquake and, along with that, the energy to move forward towards healing and real, just and participative reconstruction.

January 2010

January 12 in photos

People gathering at places like collapsed schools and mass graves to remember loved ones lost in the earthquake:

Pierre Rigaud comes to the National Cemetery to remember his two children ages 8 and 10 and his parents who he lost in the January 12th earthquake.

 People come to a pray at a small church in the National Cemetery

This is a video I shot a couple of weeks ago. I haven't watched it all yet because my internet is too slow. (I didn't do the reporting or editing).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Year and a Day

by Edwidge Danticat, published in The New Yorker

In the Haitian vodou tradition, it is believed by some that the souls of the newly dead slip into rivers and streams and remain there, under the water, for a year and a day. Then, lured by ritual prayer and song, the souls emerge from the water and the spirits are reborn. These reincarnated spirits go on to occupy trees, and, if you listen closely, you may hear their hushed whispers in the wind. The spirits can also hover over mountain ranges, or in grottoes, or caves, where familiar voices echo our own when we call out their names. The year-and-a-day commemoration is seen, in families that believe in it and practice it, as a tremendous obligation, an honorable duty, in part because it assures a transcendental continuity of the kind that has kept us Haitians, no matter where we live, linked to our ancestors for generations.

By this interpretation of death, one of many in Haiti, more than two hundred thousand souls went anba dlo—under the water—after the earthquake last January 12th. Their bodies, however, were elsewhere. Many were never removed from the rubble of their homes, schools, offices, churches, or beauty parlors. Many were picked up by earthmovers on roadsides and dumped into mass graves. Many were burned, like kindling, in bonfires, for fear that they might infect the living.

“In Haiti, people never really die,” my grandmothers said when I was a child, which seemed strange, because in Haiti people were always dying. They died in disasters both natural and man-made. They died from political violence. They died of infections that would have been easily treated elsewhere. They even died of chagrin, of broken hearts. But what I didn’t fully understand was that in Haiti people’s spirits never really die. This has been proved true in the stories we have seen and read during the past year, of boundless suffering endured with grace and dignity: mothers have spent nights standing knee-deep in mud, cradling their babies in their arms, while rain pounded the tarpaulin above their heads; amputees have learned to walk, and even dance, on their new prostheses within hours of getting them; rape victims have created organizations to protect other rape victims; people have tried, in any way they could, to reclaim a shadow of their past lives.

My grandmothers were also talking about souls, which never really die, even when the visual and verbal manifestations of their transition—the tombstones and mausoleums, the elaborate wakes and church services, the desounen prayers that encourage the body to surrender the spirit, the mourning rituals of all religions—become a luxury, like so much else in Haiti, like a home, like bread, like clean water.

In the year since the earthquake, Haiti has lost some thirty-five hundred people to cholera, an epidemic that is born out of water. The epidemic could potentially take more lives than the earthquake itself. And with the contagion of cholera comes a stigma that follows one even in death. People cannot touch a loved one who has died of cholera. No ritual bath is possible, no last dressing of the body. There are only more mass graves.

In the emerging lore and reality of cholera, water, this fragile veil between life and death for so many Haitians, has become a feared poison. Even as the election stalemate lingers, the rice farmers in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley—the country’s breadbasket—are refusing to step into the bacteria-infected waters of their paddies, setting the stage for potential food shortages and more possible death ahead, this time from hunger. In the precarious dance for survival, in which we long to honor the dead while still harboring the fear of joining them, will our rivers and streams even be trusted to shelter and then return souls?

A year ago, watching the crumbled buildings and crushed bodies that were shown around the clock on American television, I thought that I was witnessing the darkest moment in the history of the country where I was born and where most of my family members still live. Then I heard one of the survivors say, either on radio or on television, that during the earthquake it was as if the earth had become liquid, like water. That’s when I began to imagine them, all these thousands and thousands of souls, slipping into the country’s rivers and streams, then waiting out their year and a day before reëmerging and reclaiming their places among us. And, briefly, I was hopeful.

My hope came not only from the possibility of their and our communal rebirth but from the extra day that would follow the close of what has certainly been a terrible year. That extra day guarantees nothing, except that it will lead us into the following year, and the one after that, and the one after that.

Read more

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Despite hours in front of my laptop with a sprained ankle, I've been lacking words lately (which is a bit uncharacteristic of me, I know). Currently: sitting on my couch with my ankle elevated, perusing schedules of events to commemorate the 12th, the itinerary for next week's meetings with MCC's leadership delegation, a political analysis of the election situation (no results yet but lots of rumors about when they'll be released and what they will be), the flurry of news articles decrying the situation in Haiti, and the rejoining reports and articles from NGOs about the progress they've made or to justify their lack of progress.

In the midst of all that's being announced, denounced and defended, I am trying not to lose sight of what this week commemorates, of the earthquake that shook Haiti (and us) on January 12, 2010.

Reposted from February 2, 2010:

A moment of silence please,
A time of reflection on
The casual destruction
And near immolation
Of much that we love.

Whenever the reason please,
Cease from absconding with
The mutual horror
And engorging on murder
Of much that we love.

I planted a tree please,
And watered the roots for
Many long months
Hoping for mangos
The kind that I love

It was gone in a moment please,
Flattened by debris from
Nearby explosions.
It died in the earthquake
Like much that we love.

So a moment of silence please,
A time of reflection on
The abs/presence of Deity
And responsibility
For much that we love.

- Will Fitzgerald

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hold on, Folks

The findings of the OAS recount team will supposedly be shared with President Preval on Sunday morning. Apparently an official OAS press conference is being planned for Monday. However, it is likely that the contents of the report will be leaked shortly after the President is briefed. We're on the edges of our seats here... and a trip to the grocery store for some non-perishable food might be in order.

Sign of the Times

This was the amazing front cover of Le Matin, a bi-weekly Haitian newspaper, on Monday. ONG is the French acronym for NGO. Below the collapsed presidential palace is Sarokozy, whose visit to Haiti after the earthquake was highly publicized and politicized. Below him is flooding from hurricane season. In the center are Bill Clinton and the Haitian Prime Minister, Jean Max Bellerive, who co-chair the ineffective and controversial Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (CIRH). Center right, a UN soldier is pooping cholera into a tent city. And, along the bottom are the president, Provisional Electoral Council and leading presidential candidates.


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