Friday, September 30, 2011

Old News

I am constantly torn between (a) my desire to provide you [reader(s), aka mom] with in-depth, interesting analysis and updates on Haiti and (b) the fact that it's to post pretty pictures. If you come here for the former, please stick around. I bring you "Old News" to encourage you with the fact that we're still posting at all.

What seems like ages ago -  while Ben was still on his way to Perpignan to hobnob with other photographers - I took a fun trip, too. Our friends E & C (who, like everyone we adore, we see far too rarely) are building a house on Île-à-Vache and E needed to check on the progress.

Here's how Lonely Planet describes Île-à-Vache: "...In the 16th century it was a base for the Welsh pirate Henry Morgan as he terrorized Santo Domingo and Columbia. Three centuries later Abraham Lincoln tried to relocate emancipated black American slaves here, but it was a short-lived and ill-provisioned experiment. The island today is scattered with rural houses, plantations, mangroves, the odd Arawak burial ground and some great beaches."

Pirateous intrigue aside, not a fantastic review. It probably helps that I was with E, and that we were staying in her home and not at a resort, but nothing about our trip - from the hour-long boat-taxi (appropriately named "Christ is Capable") ride to the island, to our reception in Kaykok, to beautiful beaches and clear water, to our meals, to the size of the tarantula we discovered, to E's friendly neighbors, to our failed attempt to watch a women's soccer game in the pouring rain, to the sailboat we had to take back to the mainland when we missed the boat-taxi - was short of fantastic.

More than a few photos, to prove my point:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

There and There

I've spent the last month in Paris, Perpignan, Port-Au-Prince, Port Salut, Les Anglais, Bomòn, Pestel, Cap-Haitian, Milot, Limbe, Fondes des Negres, Fondes des Blancs, and have gone to Leogane twice.

Now I'm back home, happy, safe and sound. Traveling in Haiti can be a little unpredictable. The day after flying into Cap-Haitian a local airline's plane crashed and burned trying to land there. The next day we came across a guy just hit and killed in the road. The day after that I saw a teenager get really banged up rolling down the road after falling off a truck, and the following day we ran over a dog - one of the few I've seen in Haiti wearing a collar. (I wasn't driving).

Scarier than traveling in Haiti is the carbon footprint I'm racking up. My round trip flight from Port-au-Prince to Paris produced 5.81 metric tons of CO2. Sorry, Bangladesh. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ben, come home!

Confession: Last night my dinner came out of a box. I came home, dumped the contents of a box into a saucepan and, once it was thoroughly heated, I ate.

Confession Number Two: I ate while watching a seriously stupid movie on my laptop.

Every value and ideal to which I cling revolts against this kind of eating. Which is why I must make Confession Number Three: We keep boxed food on hand for occasions such as this.

Occasions such as – Ben has been traveling for most of the month, I have been working my ass off (though I could not love my work more), we have had a string of houseguests for two months straight and now I find myself alone in my house and it is raining outside.

Two weeks ago I pickled beets and turnips, made sauerkraut and turnip kimchi (turnips are the new trend around here), omelettes, stir fries for the kimchi, and hosted a dinner party for which I made hummus, tabouleh, baba ghanouj and tsatsiki. Last week, I baked bread and made spaghetti sauce and mango chutney and curried lentils. This week, I have subsisted on avocadoes, the rest of that bread, and oily take out from up the street. 

The point being? By gastronomic standards, I clearly need people around me at all times.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Take Two Minutes

And sign this letter: A Call to End Sexual Violence in Haiti. Actually, it'll probably take you more like 30 seconds.

The Haitian women behind this letter - most of them themselves victims of assault - are fearlessly and tirelessly organizing to support victims of sexual violence and to make the world a safer place for their daughters and granddaughters. That, my friends, is something every single one of us should get behind.

The letter supports "the demands of Haitian women for medical and psychological care for rape survivors, increased security and lighting in the camps, and meaningful participation by grassroots women's groups in decisions about combating sexual violence in the camps where they reside."

Use these links to forward it to your Creole, French and Spanish-speaking friends:




Sunday, September 11, 2011


by Edwige Danticat
The New Yorker 9.11.2011

My family in Haiti has been removing rubble from a school that was shattered during the earthquake of January 12, 2010. In the process, they have found bones, human bones. Because they are not scientists or DNA experts, it is impossible for them to trace the bones back to the bodies to which they once belonged: active, lively people who spoke and laughed and danced and loved.

Whose bones are these? they wonder. Do they belong to the bright student who was always first in her class, to a parent with whom a teacher had an appointment? Are they the teacher’s bones?

Listening in on phone conversations about the bones, I think of fossils dug up thousands and even millions of years after death. There is Lucy, the three-million-year-old Ethiopian; Otzi, the five-thousand-year-old Ice Man; and the casts of entire families buried beneath Pompeii.

It is the burden of the survivors and the curious to decipher final moments, whether they occurred a year, ten years, or a thousand years ago. Do they speak to the reality of a particular time, to the nature of death itself, or to an individual’s final instincts during his or her last moments on earth? In cases where we have a personal connection, we want to know whether our loved ones suffered. Did they have any regrets about things left undone, words unsaid? After two years, after ten years, there are still people around to look back and to remember. However, after a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand years, the bones and images will have to speak for themselves.

The image that lingers most in my mind from September 11, 2001, is that of human beings attempting to fly—men and women catapulted from or fleeing a volcano-like inferno of fuel, fire, heat, and smoke, then cutting across a clear blue sky, down toward the ground. Some were alone. Some were in pairs. Some tried to make parachutes of ordinary things—curtains, clothes. One woman held on to her purse, perhaps thinking that she might need it on the very slight chance that she landed safely on the ground.

Televised tragedies make death—that most private of departures—public, national, global. No deaths were more public on September 11, 2001, than those of the so-called “jumpers,” a word that many have rightfully called a misnomer, because these were certainly not the deaths these people would have chosen for themselves.

We are often told that we must not compare tragedies, but how can we not when we experience them in the same body and with the same mind? Past horrors give us a language with which to define new ones. Worldwide terrors become personalized.

My father, for example, who woke me from a deep sleep in another part of New York, to tell me that the World Trade Center had been destroyed, died four years later, of pulmonary fibrosis—a disease that also struck many 9/11 first responders. He had spent part of that day in downtown Brooklyn, picking up people fleeing Manhattan and chauffeuring them home. That eerie coincidence is one more thing that links September 11th to all the other horrors that my father endured in his life, including a brutal dictatorship.

My father was extremely critical of the television stations that showed the so-called jumpers. Yes, the images were shocking and deeply unsettling, but they also rendered undeniable the true horror of that day, even though, like bones, they mostly tell one story, the final one. The job of reconstructing lives belongs to the living, the memory keepers, which is what all of us became that day, willing or unwilling witnesses, unable to look away.

A few days after September 11th, when I ventured near the still smoky ashes of the World Trade Center, I kept thinking about a clear blue sky that had rained lives. I got on a bus filled with other ordinary New Yorkers whose eyes were still teary and red, and whose mouths and noses were covered with dust masks. Besides the shared sensation of having been shattered, though, there was also a feeling of community: having gone through this with the city, wherever in the world you had been born you were now a lifelong New Yorker. Those of us who were from countries that have always been, in their own ways, terrorized could now be counsellors to our previously sheltered friends, but only barely. For, no matter how much we immerse ourselves in communal grieving, we all carry within ourselves our own private memorials of loss and an increasing fear of future ones.

Watching any disaster, from near or far, makes us aware that memorials are not only places but also experiences. Acts of remembrance can surface out of daily rituals, even interrupted ones. A place setting left unused at a dinner table. An oversized shoe into which we slip a foot. A prayer whispered over unclaimable bones.

Though I occasionally suffer from a fear of flying, during the past ten years getting on an airplane has become for me an act of remembrance. Each necessary surrender to every new, sometimes frustrating security measure is an acknowledgment that I, too, am attempting to glide on wind currents on borrowed wings while also hoping—praying—to land safely on the ground.

Original at //

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Z is for Zaboka

It's avocado season, folks! The two (yes, two) avocado trees in our yard are laden with fruit and Ben has devised a genius device for picking them. The connecting piece is, of course, a bicycle brake lever:
Full disclosure: it's actually been avocado season for awhile - a month at least - and these avocado fiends have already consumed the easy-to-pick fruit. So now Ben has to use his picking device and climb impossibly high into the trees. He's become the hero of every child under ten in our neighborhood.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Port Salut, Numerically Speaking

  • 6 hours to procure 1 rental car 
  • 1 alarm clock set for 4 AM 
  • 2 companions
  • 9 hours of driving
  • 5 gas stations ($100 worth of gas)
  • 1 hour of waiting for anti-MINUSTAH protest to begin
  • 3 hours of interviewing, recording, watching & listening 
  • 1 phone stolen
  • 300 or so protestors
  • 10 PNH officers
  • 1 accidental dropping of a canister of tear gas
  • 1 speech given by notorious drug trafficker and advocate for reviving the Haitian army (who also happens to be a current Senator)
  • 1 lovely lunch by the sea
  • 1 rental car return deadline missed
  • 1 $50 late fee
  • 1 day of unsuccessfully trying to make sense of hidden agendas and complex political motives  
  • 1 aching head

Sunday, September 4, 2011

On Responding

This week it seems that more than the usual number of incidents have taken place in Haiti about which I wish I had the time, skill and understanding to write in a balanced, nuanced way.

Perhaps the most significant has been the circulation of a fuzzy cell phone video of Uruguayan peacekeepers perpetrating an alleged sexual assault in Port Salut. The boy's and his family's claims that he was assaulted have been corroborated by a medical examination, revealing a nauseating and evil abuse of power in which armed soldiers violated of the body, dignity and future of an 18-year old boy. It is further infuriating that per a UN agreement with the Haitian government (called a Status of Forces Agreement), the perpetrators cannot be legally tried or prosecuted in Haiti. 

Disappointingly, though, I find that much of the dialogue surrounding this incident has itself been vitriolic and hate-mongering -- similar, in fact, to much of that which has been written concerning the UN's refusal to take responsibility for the introduction of cholera [yet another conclusive study here], other incidences of physical or sexual abuse carried out by soldiers, and indeed of the Peacekeepers' presence here in general.

I often ask myself where this kind of journalism and/or activism will get us? Who (other than the people who already agree that MINUSTAH should have withdrawn yesterday) will read some of these pieces - which often carelessly throw around the "-isms" that we on the left (myself included) so love to use - neoliberalism, imperialism, neocolonialism, class-ism, elitism  - and be convinced that perhaps the "occupation" is unjustified, oppressive and a gross misuse of resources? How many of the diplomats and policymakers who have the power to make decisions regarding MINUSTAH's future in Haiti will get beyond the first paragraph of a letter that decries them as imperialistic, exploitative technocrats in order to learn more about the real issues at stake?

And, indeed, are these responses - when the line between journalism and activism gets blurred and journalists are inciting protests or shaping people's responses to fit within the dictates of their own social and political views - not imperialistic in and of themselves? As an advocate/activist married to a journalist, I am especially sensitive to (and ofttimes culpable of) this. How often do I pressure Ben to go take pictures of some protest or event because I want coverage of it to seep into the mainstream media (especially that one picture that sort of makes it look like there might have been more people there than there really were). Only a slight manipulation or exaggeration, but for a good cause, right? You should all be thankful that Ben is too thoughtful and careful to fall for my cunning.

This morning I listened to Krista Tippet interview Richard Mouw on the APM radio show On Being.
A fierce proponent of what he calls "restoring political civility," Mouw said a number of things that struck me in the context of Haiti activism - especially a comment regarding the temptation to distort the truth about those we see as enemies. Although he spoke specifically of the need to bridge theological and religious divides with "gentleness and reverence," I believe that social activism that has any hope of changing what is most broken in our societies must be carried out in the same way. I do not believe that violence can effectively be countered with violence (even if that only takes the form of violent language). And, of course, the same goes for manipulating the truth in any way whatsoever.

Mouw says, "Every human being is a work of art... Even in expressing our disagreements (and this can be a very complicated thing), we're dealing with people who are precious works of divine art." And yes, that even extends to the soldiers that make up the Peacekeeping Mission.

Let's do just be clear, though. Rape, attempted rape and even simulated rape are NEVER, ever okay, nor is it okay that this Chapter VII Peacekeeping Mission (which authorizes the use of force) exists in violation of Haiti's constitution and operates in legal disregard of the nation's justice system. [Perhaps it should also be noted here that several weeks ago a community association in Port Salut wrote a press release charging that Uruguayan soldiers were exchanging food for sex with underage girls].

I guess what I am trying to say in such a long, roundabout way is that the way we respond to these incidents matters. The way we respond to the people we disagree with matters. And unless we're careful, those responses (a) are not likely to help us achieve the end goal that we seek (in this case, MINUSTAH's withdrawal) and (b) may not be so far removed from the systemic abuses of power that we are fighting against. 

Tomorrow morning there is supposed to be a protest in Port Salut, in which the residents of that community will ostensibly demonstrate against the presence of soldiers who are violating [instead of protecting] their children and will demand legal restitution from the UN. My hope is that the protest will be an example of how collective action can shed positive light on abuse (and I hope to be there myself).

[Note: As I was about to publish this post, I learned that the Uruguayan naval chief was fired and 5 soldiers have been detained. Score for the good guys! *wink, wink*]


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