Monday, August 29, 2011


I am parked in front of my laptop making up for 3 glorious internet-free days.

Hoping to skype with my globe-trotting husband, who by last accounts has bruised feet from walking around Paris, a stomach full of filet mignon, rabbit, cheese and wine; and is now camping with gypsies in Perpignan.

Tonight I am also:
  • Unpacking my smelly, damp weekend bag -- a result of hastily packing my still-wet bathing suit and towel this morning on Ile à Vache (while my fears of missing the morning's motor boat taxi run were being realized), said wet bathing suit and towel permeating the rest of the bag on an hour-long sailboat ride back to the mainland (main island?), and finally, wet bathing suit, towel and rest of damp bag fermenting on top of a bus for the 6 hours it took me to get back to Port-au-Prince.
  • Applying aloe.
  • Alternately charging my laptop and plugging in the internet, since I don’t have enough power to do both.
  • Scrounging up dinner that doesn’t require cooking, since I’m out of propane.
  • Cursing my anti-paper napkin snobbery, since I’m out of toilet paper.
  • Changing sheets and preparing guest room for tomorrow’s arrival of our fifth house-guest in a month.
  • Going to bed early since (a) I am exhausted by the day's travels, and (b) I will spend tomorrow morning translating for an MCC group visiting TIMKATEC (Timoun Kap Teke Chans), a homeless shelter and trade school for youth, followed by a working lunch with a friend that I need to interview and then two back-to-back meetings downtown. At some point I'll also need to get our propane bottle filled. Oh, and buy toilet paper. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Birthdays and Anniversaries, Oh My!

Another post late in coming. My birthday and our anniversary are both in the first week of August and, sandwiched in-between the busyness of our respective jobs, it was fun to spend a full week celebrating. Since Tropical Storm Emily was threatening us on the 4th, I had a quiet birthday at home and we went hiking over the weekend. For our anniversary on the 11th, we took advantage of a long weekend and took the motorcycle to Jacmel.

My Mom sent a sweet email last week saying how much she loves it when we post pictures of ourselves. So, this picture-heavy post is for you, Mom!

 In-Between Days:
Anniversary Days:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Daily Minutae

Our weekdays have been replete with lotsa work and a steady stream of houseguests, not to mention gifts from Luna (on Friday alone: a snake, a mouse and a giant green lizard) which tend to necessitate a fair bit of chasing around the house.
Recently, Ben seems to be providing the entire city and its environs with composting worms. Today we went up to Kenscoff to deliver a batch of worms, pick wildflowers and visit J's fledgling strawberry farm. Who can't wait for December and strawberries (fertilized with compost à la Ben)? Me! Me!

Among other destinations, Ben's worms have also made their way to Cité Soleil -- to fertilize a Pax Christi urban gardening program. Oh, and remember the Kabrit? The Kabrit has also found a happy home in Cité Soleil:
(The banner above the bike reads "Another Haiti is Possible: look further")
Coming soon: Ben will be spending 2 weeks in southern France at a photography festival. And even sooner: We're hoping that we will dodge Tropical Storm Irene just like we did TS Emily. The National Hurricane Center advisory isn't looking too good for tomorrow. Boy, does hurricane season have us perpetually on edge around here.

Today we are also grieving the death of Ben's uncle Fred, who passed away yesterday. Fred Fay became quadriplegic in an accident at the age of 16 and was a leader in the Disability Rights Movement. A PBS documentary, A Life Worth Living, showcasing his life will air on October 27th. Fred's death has us thinking a lot about Martha today, too.


Last weekend we finally made it to Bassin-Bleu, about 40 minutes (+ a deep-ish river crossing) into the mountains above Jacmel. I won't bother with any more words since it is obvious from Ben's photos how incredibly worth the trip it was:
p.s. Apparently the pools are usually much, much bluer!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Better to Buy Local

A perfect example of when good intentions are not always enough, or, as a friend put it: good intentions + desire to help + lack of engagement with the people you decide to help = Church to send more than 20,000 jars of peanut butter to Haiti.

And, I quote: ""What we are hoping to do is send about 28,000 jars of peanut butter to Haiti. The children there just don't have a good source of protein. Peanut butter is a wonderful source..." says the church's associate minister, Mike Cohoon."

It's true that many children in Haiti are malnourished - in fact, according to UNICEF, up to half of child deaths in Haiti are caused by malnutrition. But, peanut butter? There is peanut butter produced in Haiti. I know a beautiful woman in the mountains above Port-au-Prince that struggles to support her family making the most delicious peanut butter, called mamba (sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet, with your choice of added ginger or sesame). Imagine what a boon it would be to peanut butter makers like her if the Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie would contract 28,000 jars locally. Imagine how much it undercuts the living she and others are trying to make when peanut butter is sent to Haiti by well-meaning but oblivious donors. We also know folks in Northern Haiti that work for Meds & Foods for Kids making medika mamba, a nutrient-enriched peanut butter designed specifically to treat malnutrition.

I wrote the following article in December 2009, not about peanut butter, but about shoes. Shoes are another popularly donated item that risk undercutting local entrepreneurs.

Re-thinking shoes for Haiti this Christmas

There's a cobbler at the end of our street. Lukner Clernier sells beautiful handmade sandals for men, women and children for a little over $7.00. He has five children, two of whom help him cut out, glue and sew together soles and straps. Business has been pretty slow lately - Lukner tells me he has a fraction of the sales he had this time last year.

Part of my job as MCC's advocacy coordinator and educator in Haiti is to analyze how actions and policy in North America affect the lives of Haitians. In order to do that, I read a lot of newspaper articles that reference Haiti. Recently, an increase in the number of North American shoe drives, requests for shoes to shod Haiti's barefoot children, has been bothering me.

For Lukner’s sake, I am asking you not to send shoes to Haiti. Here's why: sending your used shoes (or, alternatively, new shoes mass-produced by cheap labor in a country like Haiti) makes it really hard for Haitians like Lukner to stay in business.

Although well intended, this kind of international assistance works a lot like food dumping. When subsidized agricultural goods produced in North America are “dumped” on overseas markets they disrupt local markets, depress crop prices, and discourage local food production. In this case, shoes are being sent to Haiti for free and Lukner can't begin to compete with free. Many donated shoes also end up being resold on the street at prices that, compared to the cost of Lukner’s materials and labor, may as well be free.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be trying to put shoes on the feet of Haiti's barefoot children and I'm not trying to single anyone out for criticism. I know that the intentions behind shoe drives are loving and good and the children on the receiving end of these shoes are ecstatic to receive them. It’s just that when I talk to Lukner, I realize how desperately we need to rethink the way we do aid, not only on a macro level but on a personal, church and/or community level. When people send anything free to Haiti - shoes, blankets, soap - that Haitians are trying to produce for themselves, it doesn't address the deeper, structural reasons for the fact that many Haitians don't have shoes, blankets and soap. What it does do is constantly put Haiti on the receiving end of our leftovers and cheaply produced goods. Instead, let's encourage entrepreneurial and visionary Haitians like Lukner who in turn will reinvest the profit from his business into his local economy.

Especially now at Christmastime, if you're thinking about ways to give shoes to children in Haiti, I challenge you to go about it in a new way: raise money, get in touch with someone here that can order locally-made shoes from a Haitian cobbler with a business to run and a family to feed and know that you'll be making a creative and sustainable difference in someone’s life.


In my mind, the same principles most definitely apply to peanut butter. If you're interested in delving deeper into this issue, Pooja Bhatia wrote a fantastic article last June, A Tremor for Haiti's Aid Industry, about the ways that outside organizations are threatening Haiti's production of medika mamba.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Keep Spraying

I keep telling Alexis it will take more than just graffiti to become president. But I could be wrong.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Evictions Continue

We're a little behind the game on this post, but, still, the forced evictions of already-displaced people from camps is an ongoing issue and one that we need to make sure isn't dropped from public discourse.

A week ago the residents of Camp Django, on Delmas 17, were facing eviction. So, with the solidarity of 4 other displacements camps from around the city, they protested:

They laid on one side of Route Delmas, singing and effectively blocking off traffic for several hours with signs that read, "Justice for people in tents," "We ask for justice," and simply, "Justice."

Later that night, the landowner came anyway, with thugs and machetes, forcing people off of the property with threats of violence. UN officers stationed nearby, theoretically to protect camp residents, claimed not to have known that the eviction was occurring. Al Jazeera produced this short film* with footage that was shot by Bri Kouri:
Today there are still more than 600,000 people living in displacement camps. It's been 18 months since the earthquake. Conditions in the camps are abysmal and residents have had to cope with security issues, including high incidences of rape and violence against women and children, a cholera epidemic, lack of access to basic services such as latrines and potable water, and are now in the midst of their second hurricane season. 

A recent survey conducted by IOM finally refuted the all-too-popular theory that many people are choosing to live in camps. A summary states, "The Intentions Survey found that 94 per cent of people living in camps would leave if they had alternative accommodation. Most of those surveyed said if they had to depart immediately, they would not have the means to pay rent or the resources to repair or replace their damaged or destroyed homes."

Although the government is implementing a plan to relocate residents of six of the most visible camps (one of which was Sylvio Cator...), there is still no plan in place to provide housing for all IDPs. So far, the amount of money being given to families to relocate does not come close to enough to allow them to pay rent somewhere or to repair or replace a damaged home. So when they are evicted, where will they go?

For more about the eviction of Camp Django, and the exclusion of displaced people, read
Inactions Speaking Louder than Words: Hurricane Emily's Near-Miss Too Close for Haiti's IDPs by Mark Schuller and Mark Synder. 

* In the film, Mark Snyder of International Action Ties is erroneously depicted as Mayor Wilson Jeudy, the mayor of Delmas

Friday, August 5, 2011


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