Friday, March 25, 2011


My sister Martha passed away yesterday after her two year struggle with ovarian cancer. Her death is very sad for us, but a relief for her given her physical condition.

A friend said yesterday, "part of me is smiling knowing she's already planted a garden and painted a masterpiece in heaven" and it reminded me of the page in her sketchbook with a drawing of her dream house in heaven. The house is two thirds studio space and most of the rest is a greenhouse...  She has had a very rough past few weeks and knowing that she is in a better place is a comfort. She is already sorely missed, though.

I put together the video posted above a few weeks ago. Editing it created meaningful time for me to remember her and process her dying. She was able to see an unfinished version and was happy with it, which was really cool.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Meanwhile, heading out of Haiti...

We are not likely to be here for any of the drama looming on Haiti's horizon (not even for election monitoring this round). Ben left for North Carolina on Friday and I have a ticket on hold for Wednesday. Martha is at the end of her earthly life, which we know is a relief for her, but it's a pretty sad time for us and the rest of Ben's family so we'd appreciate whatever prayers, thoughts or energy you're willing to send up for us.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Also heading back to Haiti...

My last post mentions deportations that will be resuming (again) to Haiti after a temporary review in February. There's been some great press on this issue (and of course, if you agree that current conditions in Haiti are such that deportations should remain suspended, please contact your policymakers to let them know):
    Also heading back to Haiti... Yesterday the AP reported that Aristide's return was "imminent" (ie. before the second round of the elections, which will be on March 20th) and his lawyer told CNN as much today.

    MCC Haiti Opposes Deportations

    Letter sent on March 10, 2011 to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in response to ICE's proposed Policy for Resumed Removals to Haiti.

    "Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Haiti believes that no one should be deported to Haiti at this time.

    In 2008-2009 MCC Haiti, through our partner organizations, sat on the National Consultation Panel for Deportee Issues, hosted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and funded in part by U.S. government funding. Although no longer active, the panel produced concrete policy recommendations for the re-integration of deportees to Haiti, which the Haitian government has yet to implement. At that time, Haitian deportees were subjected to horrific detention conditions once they arrived in Haiti. Those conditions have only been exacerbated by the January 2010 earthquake and ongoing cholera epidemic.

    Haiti does not currently possess the economic capacity to absorb deportees and has no system in place for reintegrating deportees into Haitian society. Until comprehensive immigration reform can take place and Haiti’s economic situation improves, deportation will continue to be a destabilizing factor for Haiti.

    In addition, deportations to Haiti violate international human rights standards such as the right to life, the right to family integrity and the right to fair and due process.

    Conditions in Haiti are dire; 1 million Haitians remain homeless and living in tents or under tarps in and around Port au Prince. Lack of food, water, and other necessities is an ongoing crisis throughout Haiti. The cholera epidemic has infected more than 231,000 people and claimed approximately 4,500 lives, so far. No one should be deported into these conditions. Cholera is widely present in Haitian police station holding facilities and lack of functioning toilets, crowded conditions and other factors make contracting cholera more likely. These conditions led to the tragic death of Wildrick Guerrier, who was deported by the US on January 20, 2011.

    ICE’s characterization of deportees is at odds with the testimonies given by deportees, in the media and elsewhere. Some of the deportees are convicted of minor drug offenses or misdemeanors; others did not even receive jail time in the US. ICE’s claim that it needed to resume deportations because it could no longer legally hold these men and women in detention is also misleading. Most of those currently facing deportation were Haitians who had served their time years ago and were living law abiding lives in their communities as legal residents in the US and who were suddenly and unexpectedly rounded up before the holidays in December.

    ICE has rounded up many Haitians who had served their time years ago and were living as legal residents in the US.

    Many of those awaiting deportation have family members, including dependent children, who are US citizens in the US. Many deportees lack family or any loved ones in Haiti. Deportees who have spent a significant amount of time in the United States face intense culture shock upon returning to Haiti. They tend to speak little Creole and no French. They also face considerable stigmatization in Haiti, are labeled as criminals and are regularly discriminated against and often violently mistreated by the Haitian National Police.

    Until conditions in Haiti are improved and there are sufficient policies and programs in place to assist deportees in reintegrating, it is this organization's opinion that ICE should not continue with plans to resume deportations to Haiti."

    You can contact President Obama regarding this issue here

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    What's in Your Wallet?

    A Port-au-Prince man shows me the 4 images he carries with him at all times: Images 1 and 3 - Jean Bertrand Aristide; Image 2 - a rooster, symbolic of Fanmi Lavalas; Image 4 - a combo of Jesus Christ and Aristide.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Thinking of Myriam

    My coworker Myriam is 25 weeks pregnant.

    Early on Wednesday morning, Myriam's water broke. After an incredibly frustrating morning of trying to get any medical attention whatsoever (even from her own doctor), she was finally told that she had lost her mucus plug, but that her amniotic sac was still intact. Due to fibrous cysts, it's been a high risk pregnancy and since she's a legal resident of California (most of her family is there), Myriam had been planning to travel to the U.S. to deliver. She couldn't wait any longer to travel, though, so Margot accompanied her to Miami on Thursday. Upon arrival, Myriam began having contractions, learned that her water did break and that there was no fluid left in her amniotic sac.

    Baby Clarens is still alive and Myriam is currently hospitalized at Jackson Memorial in a specialty clinic for premature births and is intermittently on an IV. Clarens is being given antibiotics to guard against infection as the doctors don't want him coming out any sooner than need be. In the meantime, Myriam's husband Gary (who has already been denied a visa once) is applying for a visa to be able to be with her.

    Please join us in praying for Myriam, Gary and Clarens.
    Myriam and Gary, May 2010

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Time for Two

    As you climb the road into the mountains above Petionville, packed-together houses and bumper-to-bumper traffic slowly gives way to the smell of pine trees, to wild impatiens and nasturtiums, mountain views and of course, stone walls and impenetrable gates guarding the fancy houses behind them.
    I'm enjoying a 5-day weekend for Carnival. It was great to spend the day together on Saturday sleeping in, working in our garden, cooking and watching movies, but Ben and I still felt the need to get away (mostly from the eternal time-suck that is our email). We're seriously not used to spending as little time together as our busy schedules here allow. Even though we took a six-day road trip at the end of December, it felt like ages since we had intentional alone time, so Sunday morning we decided to head for the mountains.
    We wanted to spend the night here. The first time we went, Ti Kay Kreyol charmed us with its gardens, Haitian art, bright Creole colors, and locally-produced menu. Unable to reach anyone by phone beforehand, we showed up on a holiday weekend to a locked gate. Since we weren't willing to turn around and head for home, we continued on to the Lodge in Furcy. I kid you not, we spent more last night than we have ever spent for a hotel room in our lives (wait for upcoming post on why we don't travel much in Haiti). The price might not seem unreasonable to many of you, but we tend to be more camping-for-free-under-bridges kind of folk.

    We've only ever heard amazing things about the Lodge - its lush grounds, nearby hiking trails, great restaurant.... So, we figured we'd splurge a bit. Maybe we're hard to please (in fact, I know we are), but we weren't overly impressed with our overcooked dinner, staff that pretended not to speak Creole and having Jean-Claude Duvalier dining at a nearby table.
    We spent the afternoon hiking around, albeit with a small crowd in tow trying to sell us everything from cut flowers to horseback rides. More than anywhere we've been in Haiti, we felt like the fact that we'd parked our motorcycle at the Lodge before we set off marked us as wealthy intruders, part of a social and economic elite that we're uncomfortable being associated with. The reception we received walking through the village, especially when we didn't purchase anything, was markedly hostile.

    But - and maybe this is ultimately what made us uncomfortable - we can afford to spend a night at the Lodge. And did. We can afford to eat dinner there, in such close proximity to a former dictator. We went hiking on the steep mountain paths that surround the Lodge for fun, not out of necessity.

    And to be fair, we loved getting a chance to go hiking. We loved seeing the stars come out from the Lodge's balcony as it got dark. At 6,000 feet, Furcy is cold and we loved being able to sleep under a heavy quilt. We loved falling asleep to the tinkling of those little frogs that sound like bells. Mostly, we loved having nothing to do but spend time together.
     There are no deer in Haiti, which may beg the question, Was this the last one?

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    "Carnival is dead. Long live Kanaval."

    For all of its pumping music, beautiful dancing women, advertising, free t-shirts and fantastic paper mache artistry, Jacmel's Kanaval is intrinsically political.

    The characters and costume partially betray their roots in medieval European carnival, but the Jacmellian masquerades are also a fusion of clandestine Vodou, ancestral memory, political satire and personal relevation. The lives of the indigenous Taino Indians, the slaves' revolt and more recently state corruption are all played out using drama and costume on Jacmel's streets... [Haitian culture] is a vibrant, living avatar for not only Haitian history, but for all our histories. - Leah Gordon
    Smeared from head to toe with a vile concoction of cane syrup and powdered charcoal, they dart at the crowd, snarling like wild, rabid animals... They swing long hemp whips through the air in whistling arcs. Adorned with Beelzebub's horns, these demonic metaphors for the experience of slavery... are the [lanse kòd], the "rope-throwers" - Richard Fleming
    These are the chaloska, "thick-lipped snaggletoothed personifications of dictatorship and torture," named after brutal military commander Charles Oscar, whose significance during kanaval changes each year according to popular perception of Haiti's political situation and its central players.
    The form these characters will take each year; the emergence of new actors, and the messages they will spread might seem sublteties lost in the apparent chaos of the streets, but the political history of Haiti is always inscribed in its Carnivals... The masked theatre of Jacmel's kanaval is an annual opportunity to discuss the country's latest political skullduggery, its economic woes and environmental catastrophes, and the many military incursions it has suffered. - Fleming
    Endyen, or Indians, represent the island's indigenous inhabitants, the Taino, exterminated by Spanish colonists at the beginning of this island's recorded history.
    The Zel Mathurin (Wings of Mathurin), are winged devils that act out the battle between good and evil (pictured here with 3 paste, or pastors). They terrify children as caricatures of the demons that fight with the archangel St. Micheal (in blue).

    Other revolving characters that make up the cast of Jacmel's kanaval are the lwa (vodou spirits), the ancestors, zombis, Yahweh (a savage beast that lives in the woods and gets whipped as he makes his way through the kanaval parade), trannies (traditionally to mock effeminate French colonial lords), prophets and saints, birds, animals and fantastical creatures of the imagination, traditional dancers, the comedic Jwif Eran (Wandering Jew), the members of a courtroom (judge, jury, prosecutor and defense and accused), the heroes of the Haitian revolution, caricatures and parodies of poverty, illness (this year, cholera), imperialism and current social issues, and last but not least... making their debut in 2011, heads advertising the local driving school:
     Death by cholera
     "Down with Violence"
     According to the artist, these masks juxtapose misery with peace
    Foreign imperialism

    There have been many times [2010 notwithstanding] that the future of Jacmel's Carnival has appeared unstable, but it continues to struggle and survive.... Carnival is dead, long live Kanaval. 

    Kanaval is not dead. -Gordon

    All italicized quotes in this post are from Leah Gordon's book of photography and oral history, Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti


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