Monday, August 27, 2012

Weathering Isaac

Sunday, August 26

The sun is finally out.

On the main streets of Petionville, you can’t even tell there was a storm. The streets have been swept - are cleaner than usual, in fact. Shoe and second-hand clothes vendors are out, the tap-tap station is bumping, that annoying moto taxi driver on Rue Faubert that always whistles at me… The street market is bustling and supermarkets and restaurants are open.

That post-storm, post-disaster greeting of neighbors and acquaintances: “Nou pa gen anyen?” (roughly: “Is anything wrong?” meaning, of course, “Did anything happen to you, your family, your house…?” ). Everyone is fine. Everything is fine. 

I’m looking for an extension cord, candles and a replacement globe for our kerosene lamp – the only lasting impact of Isaac at our house is that we still don’t have electricity. (Then again, we could be without electricity here on any given day).

It took me about an hour to clean up our yard today, and our ‘debris’ looked like pretty parade confetti:

Friday night was long, though. Even with windows shut tight against 60-mph winds, I couldn’t sleep. Howling, slashing, shredding winds and a little rain, that by early morning turned into a lot of rain. I stayed glued to the news, to twitter, to try to find out what was happening out there. Of course the people being most affected weren’t tweeting about it.

Ben spent the night in Canaran, the sprawling tent camp slum that has mushroomed up on Route National One since the earthquake – in the past year, really – as people evicted from camps in the city or simply looking for space, for land, of their own move outwards to this publicly-owned desert that they have appropriated. If government acknowledged its existence, it would be the third largest city in Haiti.

At 1:30 am, the strongest wind yet. The roof blew off of the friend’s tarp shelter where Ben was staying. By morning, half of the tents around them had shredded.

The devastation of tent camps: this is the impact of Isaac. For the most part, the impact has been on those that already may as well be invisible.

Poor people made invisible by proclamations like the one made by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance on Saturday, that the US Ambassador and USAID disaster experts had observed "no grave humanitarian conditions" after the storm.

Poor people made invisible by the allocation of reconstruction funds – 5 star hotels instead of public housing; by the government’s relocation program, pushing them out of visible camps, out of sight; by the re-imaging of the country as a hot tourist destination, never mind the fact that most ‘locals’ can’t afford a $5 meal, much less a $50 meal.

Except in Haiti, poverty can never truly be out of sight. And a storm like this – when pictures of flooded tent camps are broadcast around the world (even if only for a few hours before they’re replaced by concern about the Republican National Convention) serve as a reminder that those people exist, and that they’re living in desperate and vulnerable conditions.

In Cite Soleil and other low-laying areas, camps flooded – some with waist-high water. So far, seven people have been reported killed in the storm. Mostly, though, people all over the city lost the tarps and tent material that have been their shelter since the earthquake two and a half years ago.  

Channels simply do not exist for the majority of people to talk to the government, to express what they want and need or to ask for help. 9 members of Camp Avik (near the old Teleco building) that tried to block the street in front of their camp, tried to make some noise to get attention and, ultimately, assistance were arrested on Saturday. The guys at Camp Avik are members of a housing rights coalition. They're organized and active in trying to claim access to what they know is their right to safe and affordable housing. They still haven’t been released.

As much as you or I, their families deserve to have roofs to shelter them from rain and windows that they can shut against 60 mph winds.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A storm in SMS

These are the unsolicited SMS messages I received from Digicel, our local (Irish) cell phone provider over the past three days:

Friday 6:53 am: "Tropical Depression Isaac could become a category 1 hurricane. Please send the word cycone to 4636 for weather information."

Friday 7:08 pm: "Tropical Depression Isaac could become a category 1 hurricane. Please send the word cycone to 4636 for weather information."

Saturday 12:40 pm: "You would still like to know the results of the bòlet (lottery) drawing. To read the results, send RLOTTO to 4636. Price: 3 gourdes."

Saturday 8:11 pm: "Isaac is continuing toward the Gulf of La Gonave. We ask that everyone continues to take precaution as there could still be heavy winds and rain for the next 12 to 24 hours."

Sunday 1:00 pm: "We hope that you and our family are okay. Thank you for using Digicel. Send the word cyclone to 4636 for weather information."

Sunday 3:00 pm: "Remember to ask your friends and family overseas to put minutes on your phone for you. Thank you for choosing Digicel."

Note: messages translated from Creole

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Battening down the hatches (Those of us that have hatches, that is)

The National Hurricane Center's Atlantic Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook is at the top of my list of bookmarks this time o' year, and the 'Outlook' this week is not so good. Tropical Storm Isaac is scheduled to become a hurricane by Friday, and hit Haiti by Saturday.

See the US Embassy emergency message here

At the risk of sounding like a broken record: have you signed this petition yet? 390,000 people in Port-au-Prince do not have houses to protect them from this impending storm. Thousands more have been evicted from tent camps in recent months and remain without access to safe, affordable housing.

Please call on the Haitian government and international community to resolve this urgent crisis.

(If you remain in any way skeptical, check out the front page story of the New York Times from Thursday).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

6 years

of (mostly) wedded bliss.

1 marriage proposal in India
14 jobs
10 countries
1 tent, 1 basement, 2 apartments, many guestrooms and hostels, 1 house
9 tropical diseases 
2 bicycle trips
4 years in Haiti
1 earthquake
1 incarceration
1 unusual cat
1 bazillion wonderful, loving and fun friends and family members

...and so so much more. Our life together has been quite the adventure, and we're grateful for it all.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dear so-and-so

Dear American Airlines,

It would have been nice if you had brought Ben Depp home today, like you were supposed to. And no travel voucher to compensate?! C'mon.

Dear Ed'H (Electricité d'Haiti),

I haven't had power in two days. Everything in my fridge is rotting, my water pump needs you, it's pretty hard to keep the mosquitoes off without a fan and my whole house vibrates with the sound of my neighbor's oversized generator.

Anything you can do would be much appreciated.

Until next time,
Dear avocado season,

I heart you a lot. 

Dear man in green shirt,

I apologize for yelling at you on the street today -- I do try to treat everyone with respect, but you were way out of line. Would you want a stranger talking to your sister like that?


Dear neighborhood mango vendors,

I don't want to begrudge you the space in front of my gate where you come when the mayor's agents chase you off of the street. It's terrible that you have to hide to avoid being beaten by batons and having your mangos stolen! 

The thing is, when you leave trash, the neighbors get annoyed at me for not keeping my section of the street clean. And the dried banana leaves that you use as packing for the mangos (and then discard right there) seem to be attracting all of the neighborhood rats.

Best wishes,
Dear Luna,

About those rats...



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