Monday, October 31, 2011

Natural Medecine

I was way out in the countryside a few days ago and I met this doktè fèy, leaf doctor. I bought a small bottle of her medicine after this amazing sales pitch: "It's cold medicine. It works great on children. It's also good for any type of pain you have. The ingredients are sugar cane liquor, honey, and all of the leaves that make good pain killers." I took a capful and it numbed me for the following few hours I spent bouncing down dirt roads. I just tasted it again to remember what it tastes like and it made me not want to type anymore...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Spotlight on Ben Depp" at The Image, Deconstructed

"BEN: Try to be a human before being a photographer - if you have the chance to save somebody's life, do it. Walking away from a malnourished child on the edge of death or a cholera victim that needs transport stays with you."

An interview with Ben about taking this picture and on shooting cholera in Haiti is featured over on Ross Taylor's The Image Deconstructed today:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I ♥ Haitian Art

(Detail shot from a Martial painting)
This is a tèt zetwal, the head (or face) of a star. Isn't that a lovely image?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Around Here

It is getting dark now at 5:30. Even at summer solstice it is only light until 6:30 or so. Still, an hour makes such a difference in our hectic lives.

No matter how hard we try to create space, things never seem to slow down.

Today, Ben is off to the North for three days. He's taking pictures of agricultural work supported by Groundswell International. Check them out. We are increasingly critical - on our worst days acrimonious, even - of the international humanitarian aid and development world, but there are still plenty of organizations out there that humble and re-inspire us. Groundswell is one.

The manuscript for the book that I have spent the last four months helping to edit, research and fact-check is due on October 30th. Let's just say I'm a wee bit stressed out.

Thankfully, Saturday and the annual Artisanat en Fête provided a nice break from my computer and a chance for me to acquire yet more Haitian art (eeps).

Now that the mayor of Pétion-ville is repressively cracking down on street vendors, some of my favorite market ladies - think pumpkins, piles of gleaming shallots and vine-ripened tomatoes, sour oranges and bunches of chard - have been pushed from their usual spaces to a spot approximately 500 feet from our front door. Are we spoiled or what? 

Meanwhile, Luna's new favorite napping spot is among the bright orange impatiens that I planted last week. She spends her days looking like she's posing for a cat calender. It's seriously too cute.

Now, it's back to fact-checking I go!

almost too beautiful to eat

almost. #thelightreallywasfunkyorangelikethat

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Looks like it's cholera!"

Kids in Desarmes, in the Artibonite valley, have made up a song that they sing to the tune of Shakira's "Waka Waka":

Diri ak sos pwa, // Rice with bean sauce,
mayi moulen ak pwa, // cornmeal with beans,
yon sache dlo, de ji dola // one bag of water, two ice pops,
landan legliz la. // in church.*
Ou fin manje, // You finish eating,
ou kouche, // you lay down,
gen diyare // have diarrhea,
ou leve. // you get up.
Vwazen mwen, sa w gen la? // My neighbor, what you do have?
Vwazen mwen, sa w gen la? // My neighbor, what you do have?
Vwazen mwen, sa w gen la-a-a? // My neighbor, what you do ha-a-ave?
Genlè se kolera! // Looks like it's cholera!

*It's unclear why they are eating the rice, cornmeal and ice pops in church.

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the introduction of cholera into Haiti. As of the beginning of October, 465,293 cases have been reported and 6,559 deaths. Ben - who has spent a fair bit of time photographing cholera in the countryside - thinks that in reality there have probably been four times that many deaths.

Although it was tapering off, cholera has spiked again with heavy rains that began in August. Doctors without Borders (MSF) reported that in Port au Prince in the last month, cases in their clinics have increased from less than 300 admissions a week to more than 850, while "resources for adequately preventing the disease remain rudimentary and at the mercy of the uncertainties of life in the country." Resources remain "rudimentary" in part because many NGOs withdrew from the cholera response shortly before the rainy season. [See this excellent August report from the Center for Economic Policy Research explaining why Haiti's cholera epidemic is the worst in the world despite the outrageous number of NGOs working here.]

Haitian and international human rights groups are calling on the United Nations to acknowledge that the epidemic was brought to Haiti by peacekeeping troops, a fact that has been corroborated by multiple experts and researchers, and asking that the UN pay restitution to Haiti. As one Haitian social activist put it, "The irony is not lost on us that a Chapter VII peacekeeping mission [which are often deployed in response to crimes against humanity], is refusing to acknowledge their complicity in the deaths of so many people. Cholera is a crime against humanity in Haiti."

In protest, some of the organizations that we collaborate with marched yesterday from Fort National to the National Cemetery. We met up with them at the cemetery, arriving just in time to join the protestors as they rushed into the graveyard with exuberant ra ra instruments, a spray-painted goat [a popular nickname for UN soldiers here is "volè kabrit," or goat thieves, after a soldier stole a goat a couple years back], and a miniature wooden casket to symbolize the peacekeeping mission.
The casket is painted with the words, "Down with MINUSTAH: goat thieves, fags." (Even among activists, homophobia is so strong in Haiti that is more of an insult to call soldiers "fags" than it is to call them rapists. This, of course, is in reference to the incident in Port Salut in September.)
After speeches, someone threw spray paint cans into the casket, poured kerosene in and lit it on fire. Amid much cheering, the casket exploded. And as the crowd disbursed I heard someone yell, "MINUSTAH is finished!"

On the contrary, the mission's mandate has just been extended for another year. It doesn't seem like the UN will be taking responsibility for Haiti's cholera epidemic anytime soon. [In fact, last week when Ben was in Mirebalais taking pictures outside of the UN base that was the point of origin, he was detained and, as he puts it, "diplomatically threatened" not to publish the pictures in any stories related to cholera].

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fun Times with EDH (Electricite d'Haiti)

  • We haven't had electricity at home for four days. This morning I finally got around to wiring a generator straight to our water pump so we could have running water again. An hour later there was a guy climbing the power pole in front of our house to hook up a line. I told him we didn't have any power so he used his pliers to shake our power line, and our lights came on immediately.
  • A week ago a woman was electrocuted a few houses down from ours in a yard where they do a lot of welding.
  • If you plug in any Mac Book Pro at our house and touch it while barefoot you get shocked. I have to put my feet on a wooden table or lie on the couch if I want to use my computer without shoes on.
  • Apparently only 200,000 people pay for electricity in Haiti. Meanwhile, power lines are a tangled mess of cut and spliced wires threading to people's homes.
  • We are not part of the 200,000. Though we are officially connected to EDH (and get regular visits from the meter men), we've lived in this house for two years without paying a power bill. There was an outstanding bill of three years when we moved in to this house that the landlord needs to pay before we can pay for the rest (which we do intend to do). EDH is not organized enough to know whether or not we are paying.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I'm starting to ask myself more and more why it's "better to give than to receive." In North American culture, giving is more comfortable. There's an awful lot of power inherent in being a giver. Receiving, on the other hand, can be humbling, sometimes even shaming.

And, well, aren't most foreigners, even those of us that want to believe otherwise, in Haiti out of some [often misguided] sense of altruism? Whether of money, time, resources, expertise, even solidarity... we're here to be givers and, without meaning to, we reinforce the power dynamics that have been created by our very presence here as givers.

Paradoxically, one of the things Haiti is teaching me over and over again is how to receive. Like with these beautiful tart seriz (barbados cherries) from the garden of an extremely resource-poor friend, seriz he went expressly to Léogâne to pick so that he could gift them to us... I swallowed my pride (and the feeling that I should be giving something to him instead) and used them to make delicious cherry juice.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ten Things to Love, October Edition

Lest you think I am the eternally cheerful optimist that Ben claims I am, you should know I came this close to drafting a Ten Things to Hate list today. From my sprained ankle to Martelly's plan to reinstate the army to my theory that the NatCom (the end result of privatizing the state telecommunications company) is sabotaging Digicel, our current cell phone provider, so that almost every call I try to make these days gets dropped... it would have taken me far less time to spew onto screen the myraid of things currently upsetting or aggravating me. It seemed like a better exercise in positivity to come up with Ten Things to Love. Right now I am loving:
  1. Snuggly kitten on rainy days.
  2. Snuggly husband on rainy nights. (I recently told a friend that I have come to measure weather by a cuddle index. October, finally, brings temps that do not send us to far and opposite ends of our bed.)
  3. Marigolds, recently planted in garden.
  4. Pumpkin milkshakes. (Oven roast a pumpkin. Add to hand-crank blender with vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, allspice and cardamom. Crank until arm is sore. Savor. Of course if you don't live in Haiti, you can use a regular blender and enjoy your milkshake without a sore arm.)
  5. 572. The first emergency response system dedicated to sexual violence in Haiti has recently been launched.
  6. Kurt and Wilda's wedding on Saturday.
  7. My sister's hilarious chronicles of maintaining a backyard farm, though most of her time seems to be spent admiring adorable bunny rabbits:
  8. Fresh local carrot juice, discovered recently in a restaurant near Champs Mars.
  9. Today, Columbus Day, has the web busting with thoughtful posts and commentary acknowledging the pitfalls of HISstory. My personal favorites are the e-card that says, "Let's celebrate Columbus Day by walking into someone's house and telling them we live there now" and the #OccupyColumbusDay twitter hashtag.
  10. Other Worlds most recent publication, "Birthing Justice: Women Creating Economic and Social Alternatives." Downloadable here.

Friday, October 7, 2011


My ankle is sprained. (Yes, because I tripped over a pothole. Yes, again). Today, two lovely friends came by to check on me and brought fèy, leaves, which they massaged onto my ankle to make the swelling go down.

In contrast to conventional ankle-sprain-wisdom chez nous, I've been told repeatedly by Haitians NOT to put anything cold on the sprain. (Ice, anyone?) And because everyone here - from my neighbor to the MCC cook to my housing activist colleague - has prescribed that I rub on lwil masketi (castor oil), I did a little poking around on the web and what do you know, Lance Armstrong concurs.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"We are Tired of Living under Tents"

Originally published at Daily Kos, October 6, 2011
By Alexis Erkert, Another Haiti is Possible Co-Coordinator, Other Worlds

On Monday morning, October 3, ten women stood across the street from the Ministry of Social Affairs, waving their arms, wailing and chanting. They were calling on Osany, of the pantheon of vodou lwa, or spirits, for assistance. The lyrics of their chant, repeated over and again, were patently simple:

Stop stealing this country’s money
This country’s money belongs to the poor.

The Creole word for “poor,” malerè, also means miserable. And the litany of the women’s sources of misery is overwhelming: aging tents, shredding tarps, heat, rain, wind, high blood pressure, colds, body aches, cholera, rats, cockroaches, raw sewage, no potable water, no privacy, no security. One is a single mom with a 2-month old. And they are all facing eviction from Vilaj Fratènite, Brotherhood Village, the displacement camp where they have lived since the earthquake.

Monday was World Habitat Day, established by the UN in 1986. The month of October is annually one in which movements and organizations around the world mobilize for housing rights and in opposition to evictions.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 595,000 Haitians are still living in camps – half of the total number displaced by the earthquake 21 months ago. And, despite last year's ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the Haitian government impose a moratorium on all evictions, the government has not stepped in to keep private landowners and local government officials from forcing displaced people off both public and private land. IOM reported that the number of camps under threat of eviction increased by 400% per cent between July 2010 and July 2011.

Although conditions in the camps are abominable, residents that remain in the camps - facing the challenges that the women from Brotherhood Village enumerated above - do so simply because they have no better options. Summed up one member of the group, “That’s how we live now. But where will we go when we are evicted? We have nowhere to go.”

Homeless people and their allies have begun to vocally insist on their democratic right to participate in planning the reconstruction of their homes, communities, and nations. It is acknowledged in the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement that displaced people should be able to participate in the “in the planning and management of their return or resettlement.” Yet the government has consistently excluded the vast majority, including those directly impacted. Although various housing plans are being drafted by the government and international agencies, human rights lawyer Patrice Florvilus says, “If it’s decided without us, it won’t help us.”

President Michel Martelly’s housing plan, referred to as “sixteen-six,” includes provisions for the relocation of six larger, more visible camps to sixteen rehabilitated neighborhoods. As for how those ten women calling out to Osany might benefit, there may as well be no plan. The same goes for residents of the 184 other displacement camps that are not addressed by Martelly’s program.

Patrice went on to point out that the housing repair projects being led by many international agencies throughout earthquake-damaged areas benefit those who were homeowners before the earthquake. While this is helpful, it does not address the needs of the renters and homeless, who are the most vulnerable. “What housing projects are targeting the people that need housing the most?” he asked.

In response, the Force for Reflection and Action on Housing (FRAKKA), a collective of 30-some committees and associations from displacement camps, formed to advocate for secure and dignifying housing for all, as well as to combat forced evictions. More recently, a group called the Housing Rights Collective, which includes FRAKKA and other organizations, have been attempting to create possibilities for camp residents to organize, collectively determine their needs and priorities, and form strategies to achieve them.

Nou bouke viv anba tant, We are tired of living under tents, was the slogan for three days of events, from October 1-3, planned by the Housing Rights Collective to mark World Habitat Day. Events included a forum, skits and cultural activities in Camp Corail-Cesselesse, and a rally in front of the Ministry of Social Affairs. Allies from the International Alliance of Inhabitants, the Zero Evictions Movement, COOPHABITAT in the Dominican Republic, and housing cooperative movements in Puerto Rico and Cuba came to Haiti to lend support, reminding displaced Haitians that they are not isolated in their struggle. They also shared strategies from their own successes in winning housing.

Forum participants included approximately 120 camp residents and members of camp committees or associations. An emphasis in the discussion was on evictions. Testimonies from camp residents who have already experienced forcible and often violent evictions resonated deeply with others in attendance. With no clear housing strategy in place, most expressed fear that they will eventually be forced to leave the camps without being provided alternative places to live.

“We have rights! Just like everyone else, we have the right to see our children live like other children. We have the right to sleep like other people, without rats crawling over us or rain dripping on us,” Marie-Helene Moïse, 32 years old and with two children, who has been living in Camp Kid since the earthquake, stood up and said. “When you say you live in a camp, people look at you like you’re inferior. We suffer and our people are not standing up for us. Morning, noon, night… it’s not possible to live well in the camps. The Haitian government needs to remove us from these conditions because we can’t keep going. My friends, this is why World Habitat Day should be so significant to those of us living in tents. Today, we’re reflecting, but there will be action to come.”

During the rally, some of that action was visible in front of the Ministry. Spirited protestors, mostly women, including the group from Brotherhood Village, waved hand-written signs:

“We are not made to live under the rain.”

“There is no liberty without well-being. There is no well-being without adequate housing for all. Housing without discrimination.”

“January 12 took most of what we own. We won’t let rain and hurricanes wash us away with the little that is left.”

“We are people. We want homes.”

“Ministry of Social Affairs, fulfill your responsibility.”

As for solutions? A letter drafted by camp committees and other grassroots groups and delivered during the protests requested that the Ministry: help to apply the Inter-American Human Rights Commission ruling to stop forced evictions; take leadership in creating a national housing plan, complete with zoning regulations; begin public housing projects for earthquake survivors; ensure that a housing fund be part of the national budget; and, finally, give the Public Office for Public Housing Promotion (EPPLS by its French acronym) the means and the power to execute a public housing plan.

More advocacy initiatives are being planned, including meetings with the parliament and chamber of deputies to discuss budgeting for public housing initiatives, and meetings with local magistrates to request their assistance in curbing forced evictions. FRAKKA and the newly formed pro-bono legal office started by Patrice Florvilus, Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), are joining forces to provide legal training to camp residents. The International Lawyers Office (BAI) is carrying out similar work, conducting advocacy for housing rights and fighting forced evictions.

Today the Haitian popular movement (the succession of grassroots groups and progressive non-profit organizations that have led movements for alternative social, economic and political systems) is small and faces numerous challenges. The movement still bears the scars of past political divisions and for many, the risk of being outspoken is great. Despite relative civil liberty in Haiti today, ongoing beatings and arrests of activists at anti-eviction demonstrations have been a reminder of that risk. Progress is also often obstructed by lack of resources.

Given the size and desperation of Haiti’s displaced population, right to housing and anti-evictions work is necessarily one of the main foci of the popular movement. As time passes without adequate solutions from the government and international agencies, camp residents are growing increasingly exasperated.

In her introduction to Saturday’s forum, Lisane André of GARR reminded participants of the proverb, Se kolòn ki bat, It is a column that wins. She explained: “When we are faced with a struggle and we separate, each working individually, it will take a long time to achieve results, if they’re achieved at all. Instead, if we all come together, if we create a chain, if we stick together, if we form a column… We can achieve victory despite the odds.”

“We are a collective,” she cried, her voice ringing out, “And we invite everyone to join us in the movement for housing.”

Click here to participate in calling for an end to forced evictions.

For a more in-depth look at the current housing situation, see the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s new report, “Haiti’s Housing Crisis.”

Alexis Erkert is the Another Haiti is Possible Co-Coordinator for Other Worlds. She has worked in advocacy and with the Haitian social movement for the past three years. You can access all of Other Worlds’ past articles regarding post-earthquake Haiti here.

Copyleft Other Worlds. You may reprint this article in whole or in part. Please credit any text or original research you use to Other Worlds.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...