Friday, February 25, 2011

It's That Time of Year Again

The U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince issued the following Warden Message on February 22, 2011:

"The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti is issuing this Warden Message to inform that this year’s Carnival celebrations are officially scheduled to take place in Port-au-Prince from March 5 – 8. As part of these celebrations Ra-Ra Bands will be out in the streets, with increased frequency on Sunday afternoons and evenings leading up to Carnival. Bands generally remain non-violent, but band members may crowd around vehicles, blocking them in, banging on windows, cracking bull whips, twirling knives and machetes, and making a lot of noise. It can be a potentially dangerous situation."

Should you get caught in a ra-ra*, "Keep windows rolled up and the doors locked. Put the car in park until the band passes. You will be in the most danger if you attempt to drive through the crowd."
 ( This of course assumes that you will be trying to drive through the crowd as opposed to dancing in the street with the crowd.

Indeed, Haiti is full on into Kanaval season, which starts on the second Sunday of January and gains intensity each week until the 3 official Kanaval days culminate on Fat Tuesday. Jacmel's Kanaval celebration - famous for its characterization of Haitian history and culture with elaborate paper mache costumes and street theater (check out our pics from 2009) - is always the weekend before the celebration in Port-au-Prince. That makes it... this weekend. We'll be there, wearing lots of sunscreen and close-toed shoes so that we can dance without getting stepped on. I can't wait!

* Not to be picky, but technically ra-ras are only thus called after Ash Wednesday, when ra-ra season coincides with Lent. Until then, they are simply bandapye (literally, foot bands). Ra-ra music is played on wooden drums, whistles, horns made out of sheet metal (each of which only play a single note) and bamboo flutes. It's a totally distinctive sound with a complex religious, political and social significance.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Where the Bodies Go

In Haiti, parents sometimes threaten their misbehaved children with abandonment in Titanyen. A place where the dead outnumber the living, Titanyen is a settlement on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince sandwiched between the mountains and the ocean. Past dictators and presidents including the Duvaliers and Aristide used Titanyen as a dumping ground to disappear the bodies of political dissidents. While those buried Titanyen used to be victims of political violence, today they are victims of economic violence, be it poor construction on unstable hillsides or lack of access to clean water and medical services. Thousands of victims of the January 12th, 2010 earthquake were buried here in mass graves and every day, cholera victims are dumped unceremoniously at the same sites.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Manman Doudou

Warning: this song will get stuck in your head.

This is KPL (Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal/Support Local Production)'s latest TV promotional:

The Ministry of Agriculture provided production support and posted the spot on their youtube channel in December. Two months later and the French and Creole versions have a combined total of 16,511 viewers.

And this is what energizes me to do what I do. In a country where 2/3s of the population struggles to make a living in the agricultural sector while 70% of the nation's food is imported, and where traditional local staples like sorghum and tubers are denigrated in the cities as "peasant food" while imported American rice is consumed by the boatload... it's exciting that when this song comes on the radio, people start singing along. It suddenly justifies the long hours I spend in front of my computer working on funding proposals and evaluating monitoring data and all of the time I and others have spent working with KPL on quote unquote capacity building. [As an aside, I dislike using the phrase "capacity building," because it implies that all of the learning flows in one direction, and seriously, check out this video. I just have the boring job of taking the vision and fitting it into the boxes that make Western organizations interested in providing funding. BTW, among many of the things I've learned from KPL -- how to slaughter a chicken Haitian-style.]

Lyrics translation:

Mama darling
Papa dear
Give us local food to eat
Mama darling
Papa dear
We want to eat local food

Monday, what we want : Corn and beans, vegetables
Tuesday, what we want : Manioc, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, yams and sauce
Wednesay, what we want : Sorghum, beans, meat sauce and fresh juice
Thursday, what we want : Tonm tonm [a dish made with okra], uncle tonm tonm…
Friday, what we want : White corn, fish and avocado
Saturday, what we want : Soup with goat meat, black beans, dumplings and crab
And Sunday? Local rice, local chicken, plantains… yes!

Elders agree? Yes!
Even children agree? Yes!
Farmers agree? Yes!
The government agrees? Yes!
Haiti, stand up! Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeees!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On a Personal Note

We have had quite the busy, busy past 2 weeks. Among other things (ie. full time jobs) we:
  • Renewed registration paperwork for the motorcycle (Ben)
  • Worked 4 days for the German Red Cross (Ben)
  • Read more than 300 emails (me)
  • Went to the dentist once (Ben) and twice (me) 
  • Set up an etsy shop for Martha's prints, still in progress (Ben)
  • Got our water pump replaced
  • Got our fridge repaired
  • Got our leaky kitchen pipes repaired*
  • Spent an entire night at the CEP waiting for election results (Ben)
  • Had a bonfire on our driveway
  • Made pickled turnips and radishes and sprouted sprouts
  • Taught 6 classes at the gym (me)
  • Welcomed new MCC colleagues
  • Attended 9 meetings, which is not the most amazing part of my job (me)
  • Kept our garden weeded and watered
  • Tried - and failed - to watch the Super Bowl
  • Decided to leave Haiti for a few months beginning in June 
  • Spent a weekend in the Foret des Pins (photo above)
  • Made some awesome new friends
  • Stayed up all night to finish a video project (Ben) and a funding proposal for a partner organization (me)
Whew. Now you know why you haven't heard much from us lately.

*sigh, but they're leaking again...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Just Sayin'

New elections would only cost the equivalent of 12 1/2 days of MINUSTAH's operations in Haiti.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Score: Protestors and OAS 1 - The Electoral Process and President Preval 0

I spent Wednesday night at the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) office waiting for them to announce which two presidential candidates will be in the runoff election on March 20th. The announcement was supposed to be made around 7 PM. I gave up and went home at 5:30 AM Thursday morning and they announced the results a little before 8 AM. Rumor has it that the CEP was split for most of the night between Michel Martelly and Preval's pick, Jude Celestin. Before all the tire burning and rock throwing last month, and before they were under serious pressure from the OAS and United States government, they announced Mirlande Manigat and Celestin to be the leading candidates.

Although it's nice to see that people are pleased with the new results (ie. cheering instead of burning tires) that will send Martelly and Manigat to the runoff election, it's disappointing how clearly manufactured they are. Instead of being the clear outcome of ballots cast, these results are the product of negotiations between political factions and the international community. In the days before the results were announced, calls were increasing for the elections to be reheld, including a statement from the Congressional Black Caucus. CEPR conducted an analysis of the OAS report and found "serious flaws" and "unsupported conclusions," not to mention that they recommended a change in the election results without conducting a full ballot recount. It's kind of sad that it doesn't matter anymore that these weren't actually real elections.

The above poster made by the CEP with the slogan "28 November we'll be voting!" also features a scantily clad cartoon woman in the top left, dilapidated ginger bread house in the top right corner with a huge solar panel and little pine trees photoshopped onto it and below that, a cityscape of what looks like Paris. Questions anyone? 
This is me trying to sleep. Photo by Frank
Martelly talks to the press after the announcement. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Haiti Deportations are a Death Sentence

Action: Send another letter to President Obama and the Administration urging him to stop the deportation of Haitians

Background: A week after the United States deported 27 Haitians, deportee Wildrick Guerrier has died. After being placed in a Haitian jail, Guerrier, 34, a long-time U.S. resident, began to suffer from cholera-like symptoms, including extreme vomiting and uncontrollable diarrhea. He died shortly thereafter, leaving family in the U.S. to mourn his loss. At least one other Haitian detainee shows similar symptoms.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resumed deportations of Haitians with criminal backgrounds on January 20th, despite Haiti’s continuing crisis. Just over a year ago, a devastating earthquake set off a chain of events that has caused well over 200,000 deaths. Homelessness and political instability are on the rise while access to social services is declining. Exacerbating the situation is a cholera epidemic that has claimed 4,000 lives and is expected to kill thousands more.

Mr. Guerrier’s untimely death indicates that Haiti is unable to provide for the safe and dignified reintegration of deportees. Not only are the lives of deported Haitians at risk, deportations could divert critical resources from Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction effort.

Faith Reflection: In Proverbs 31, the Bible calls us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” We must remember that dignity, respect and compassion are core values of Jesus' teaching, irrespective of nationality or background. As we consider our Haitian brothers and sisters, let us remember that our treatment of the least among us is our treatment of Jesus himself.

Action: Urge President Obama to review this policy for the good of our brothers and sisters in Haiti.

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


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