Saturday, June 11, 2011

The little things

I will admit that the trauma and the seemingly endless black hole of need coupled with the inefficant and illogical nature of this country, can make me exhasted at times. There are days when it's difficult to get the motivation to go to camp, and sometimes I worry that my heart can't handle witnessing anymore suffering. Yesterday was such a day. The day previous there had been a rainstorm. 27 people had died in Port-au-Prince from mudslides or from collapsed houses that had been weakened by the earthquake. Two of my friends had to drag bodies from out of the mud.
The whole way to camp I distractedly struggled to make small talk in Creole all the while trying to snap out of the fog I found myself in. I was actually dreading going to camp I had been on holiday and was worried about what might have unfolded during my absence. Haiti is unpredictable at the best of times. I was worried at what the rainstorm might have done to the camp. To be honest I feel nauseous every time I think of the hurricane season that we are entering and the effect it's going to have on the IDP camps where there is literally nothing the people can do to protect themselves.
Yet as I arrived my heart leapt at the sight of the camp. As I walked up I was greeted by the customary chime of little voices yelling my name, and quickly both my hands we clasped by tiny fingers as the children now silently lead me to my tent. A ritual that happens every time I arrive and never fails to warm my heart. My fog had instantly evaporated and I forgot that I was tired. As I got closer I saw the women all hunched over with machetes in their hands clearing away all the plants that had sprung up because of the rain. Daniel suddenly remembered that the women had told him they would clean up the tent and get everything ready for me so it would be beautiful for when I got back. Honestly I can not describe the feeling of gratitude that overflowed from my heart. Not only am I impressed that they remembered what day I was coming back, but for all of them who used to be strangers, to come together to make my tent beautiful. It's incredible. I was soon smothered with kisses and hugs from all of them at once and we all giggled and I remembered again why I'm here and how truly lucky and grateful I am to have this experience. Later I learned that they had all met on their own accord last week and I remember how the camp president had told me that "the women live for this day, wednesday is the only day they know". I had brushed off his comment, suspicious that he was just trying to flatter me but I'm getting insight into just how powerful this one little 1.5 hr group is for these women in particular. In this camp I also lead a children's art group, a general group for anyone, a training group, and soon because of multiple requests I'm going to do a men's group (I actually had a man dress like a women as a joke to try and get into the women's group... but I digress). Yes there is a lot of suffering here but like I always say; I get to see the worst but also the best of humanity. Yes it can be difficult and exhausting but, even if I doubt it, it is completely and utterly worth it.
Thank you Haiti.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lack of protein and medicines

Many of the children in the displaced persons camps have copper tinges to their hair colour rather than the normal jet-black and this is one of the signs of malnutrition and lack of protein. Yesterday, at my women's group, one grandmother who is caring for her grand-daughter was distraught because the 4-year girl had a high fever and nothing could be done about it - no asprin, no antitbiotics, no thermometer even. It seemed that the 4-year old might have pneumonia. I also noticed that her right eye, the white part had a blue tinge as well as a blue film over the iris. I don't know what that was, but it didn't look good. There is nothing to deal with even such common things as a fever - it made me want to cry. Everyone of the people in this camp is still grieving over loved ones that they have lost in the earthquake, and are still living with injuries they have sustained. There is a visiting doctor who comes occasionally, but the poor and weak Haitians have no medicines. The awful thing is that medicines cannot be left in the camps because they will likely be confiscated by the strongest.

Monday, May 30, 2011


There are hardly any stores here in Port au Prince - and then not what we in North America call stores! People sell second hand things on a wooden table on the street like shoes or clothing, or they sell food and some very sad looking vegetables. I saw huge packages of wieners for sale in the blazing sun - I guess it is so processed that it doesn't go bad, or else people's intestines are immune. No refrigeration, and therefore very little meat, or any protein for that matter. Peanut butter is the main source of protein, and dehydration is a constant problem. There are huts that are called beauty stores on the main streets, but basically it is someone that cuts your hair (on the street) behind a curtain of sorts.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mail and Garbage

There is no such thing as mail service, and most streets, although they seem to have a name, only the natives know it. You cannot even mail a letter or care-package to people here - there is no service to deliver it. No street signs anywhere, and certainly no such things as traffic signs. The police drive faster than anyone - mostly because they don't have passengers. There no garbage cans to be seen, and things just end up on the street - thrown out food, plastic, papers, clothing etc. I did see a garbage truck yesterday, and what seems to happen is that there are two men who sweep up all the stuff on the street into a huge pile using brooms, and then they shovel it into the truck. I wonder how often it happens.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Getting around in Haiti

We take a tap-tap everywhere - so called, because there are no buses or bus stops in Port au Prince, and you bang twice on the truck when you want it to stop. These are small trucks, like a Toyota, or Nissan etc, and are about 30 years old. People pile into the back of the truck which has two plain wooden benches put in. If there is room in the back, these small trucks pick up anyone, anywhere, and just stop in the middle of the street to do this. I have been in many of them and all of them have big cracks across the windshields, likely from all of the potholes in the road. They have a cover over the back, and people try to get seats in the shade if they can, but it is just as hot inside especially when you are crammed in between other people. You get into the tap-taps by climbing over the bumper, and as many as 10-12 people are crammed in it, with some people just hanging on to the frame. There does seem to be an internal city grid system, because the tap-taps are area specific. If you want to go to another part of the city, you get off, pay the driver, and then find another one at the next meeting point.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"it's Haiti"

My newest catch phrase is “it’s Haiti” this is my explanation for anything and everything that goes wrong.  Many of you have heard me say it when Skype intermittently shuts down, or as a response to your inquiry as to what that strange and deafeningly loud sound is in the background. It’s often the answer I give when people ask how much I’ve accomplished in a day. But nothing has been as much of an “it’s Haiti” day then today.
Today was the first day trying out my new translator. First I should explain that my translators nickname as I found out on the way back is “Sex” yep, Sex, that is just one inkling of what a character he is. Additionally me being trusting (no not gullible, trusting) I believed him when he said he was good at driving a moto. In his defense he is quite good, although that is by Haitian standards. Also in his defense he rented a crap motorbike and so we were bound to have some issues. Mom and Dad please stop reading here.
The day started with a five minute endeavor to get the thing started. I should have seen the foreshadowing in that but like I said I’m trusting. We did get it started and yes it did stall a few times but usually it would start back up again within ten to twenty tries. However getting it started wasn’t the only problem. Balancing also seemed to be a bit of a challenge, as was navigating the hundreds of potholes (if you can call them that, some made ponds in the middle of the road). Add to that Haitian traffic and already you have a heart stopper. We weaved in and out of oncoming traffic, narrowly missing trucks that where literally barreling towards us. Seriously I’ve never clenched my thighs so hard for fear of my knees getting clipped by either trucks coming towards us or trucks that we were passing. Sex AKA Daniel, kept telling me to “hold him tighter” which I was reluctant to do, at which he laughed and said he thought I was being shy because of my boyfriend (yes I told him I had a boyfriend) to which I agreed. However after the first five near death experiences I began to be more comfortable clutching to him for sweet, dear, life (no I wasn’t wearing a helmet…).  Throughout the ride he found me endlessly entertaining, declaring that I “really was a girl” (something I have entirely no problem being). He would vacillate between laughing at me, swearing at the moto, and waving and yelling at people we passed that he knew (which is EVERYONE in the city of port-au-prince).
I don’t mind his popularity, in fact it’s actually quite nice because it opens up a lot of doors for me and has facilitated a pretty genuine peek into local Haitian culture thus far. But the fact of the matter, is that when he waves and shouts at people, he simultaneously looks back at whoever he’s yelling at and is therefore not looking at the road ahead of us. Add to that the fact that he inadvertently swerves in the direction of his wave and the inevitability of this then causing us to hit a pothole head on giving my bum a couple seconds of free throw.
Then we ran out of gas.
Thankfully his popularity secured us some gas that was sold out of a dirty old cooking oil container from an equally dirty street vendor. Although it still cost us 4 times the amount then what it’s sold at the gas station, but hey “it’s Haiti”. We then proceeded to precariously make our way to the camp only to find that the people I was meeting were running an hour late.
Yesterday I had been quite excited that a random person had called me. He was from Canaan 1 and had gotten my number from a local psychologist (yes I’m getting famous too) he wanted me to come and meet him so that I could do work with his camp as well. Seeing as Canaan 1 is right beside Canaan 2 I thought it would be nice to walk there. However because my first meeting was delayed by an hour our stroll ended up being situated right under the midday sun.
Two MOUNTAINS later we finally made it to a quick five minute introduction between me and the director. We had to rush back so that I could be in time for my Creole lesson, although looking back I laugh at my naivety.
The Haitians, bless their soul are for the most part very helpful people. So on our way back when we got lost the first time there were some very kind people that willingly walked us towards the “correct” direction. Thank goodness when I travel my sense of direction is at it’s best so it only took me an hour to realize that we had gone quite awry. Enter the second batch of “helpful” Haitians. This time it only took me 30 min to spot that again we were quite a bit off our target destination. Being “clever” as Daniel calls me, I decided to not to follow anymore Haitians and finally, with me leading the way, made it back to Canaan 2. The hike was actually quite nice and Daniel (who is amongst other things also a famous rapper) played a bunch of songs on his phone and gave me a mini introduction to Haitian hip hop so that often our steps were light and accentuated with raising-the-roof motions. We miraculously arrived at Canaan 2 with enough time for me to get to my Creole lesson, but not enough time for me to lead a group. That was until someone pointed out that the tire was flat on the moto.
It only took a couple of minutes for the repair guy to get the tire off. This led to the discovery that the hole was not a new one and had been previously repaired by simply tying, with string, the segment of the tire into a bunch, so that the hole resembled a deflated balloon. It did take them an hour to try and melt some rubber over the hole to seal it and then give up and resort to returning the tire to it’s previous condition albeit with more air. This then gave us a limited amount of time for us to go home before I assumed the flat tire would return. That added pressure (pun intended) to the fact that the moto wouldn’t start. At first I was laughing at the site of Daniel on the bike and two guys pushing it running as fast as they could. But after another two hours the joke got a little old even for me. Then Daniel disappeared for about and hour, my phone died, his ran out of minutes, and I had long given up my hope of making my appointment and instead was trying to stay optimistic about getting home before dark. Finally after what felt like hours and hours Daniel and co got the bike started again. The tire was still functioning but we were both all to aware of the perils of stopping lest the bike would never start again. Off we went on our journey home, which was again filled with the chaotic-too-horrific-for-a-videogame way home. Seriously there was a point in which a truck (which never would have passed aircare in a million years) blew out this giant billow of totally black smoke so that there was definitely a few seconds were we couldn’t see anything and other cars therefore could not see us coming. But we managed to get through. Eventually when I stop feeling the need to clutch on for dear life I will take a video of it from my perspective. Really it’s beyond words.
And then we hit a dog.
Now, now people it is only a dog, there are thousands of people starving and dying of cholera here – but I did look back to see it safely stumble to the side of the road.
Needless to say I made it home, and Daniel has just called me to let me know that he made it home too and that he misses me. Really what more can I say then hey, “it’s Haiti”.
P.S. election results got delayed so all’s well here, I’m also heading to the DR for a couple of weeks tomorrow so I don’t think I’ll be updating this thing… xoxo

Friday, December 17, 2010

day and the life

So the last couple of days have been pretty non descript, either that or I’m getting used to life here. We went to the camp we’ve been working in called Canaan 2. This is the camp where the pastor got attacked and we’ve been trying to do some conflict resolution. However this day we were trying to do an assessment, which is what a lot of time here is spent doing. Trying to get truth in this country seems like almost an impossible task and the more research you do the more variety of answers you get. Our main concern is whether or not the 20 thousand people are going to be able to stay in this area or if they will be eventually kicked out. It’s difficult to create safety and security if you don’t know if this is actually going to be your home or not! We talked to some UN officials there from Mozambique who were wonderful, and also got a tour of many of the homes by some of the residents. But we still haven’t gotten any closer to our answer. I then led another group which was so incredible. One man opened up in front of everyone (around 45 adults!) that he was suicidal and that he had no hope anymore because all of his family was killed in the earthquake. His vulnerability just dropped the group into a way deeper level of healing and made people more open to the necessity of what I describe as “calming the mind and healing the heart”. I am just constantly amazed at the strength and yet vulnerability of these people!
The next day we met with Fonkoze to try and follow up with the micro-financing plans. They were incredible, so friendly so informative and really seem like they have the interests of the poor at heart. However it doesn’t look like our original plan is going to work and that we are going to have to move at a slower pace, which is a little disheartening but I know it’s necessary. We then met with the group of 50, which was very intense. I know I’m using that word a lot but these women are living in tents that are literally spilling onto one of the busiest roads. Their camp is in the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince and during the manifestations they get tear gas in their homes, and have stray bullets going into their camp, not to mention the constant yelling and gunshot noises as well as the violence and theft inside the camp and of course the cholera. Yet they file into our cramped meeting space cheerfully their throats gurgling with laughter every five minutes, even if they’re talking about how they haven’t eaten in two days. Really how am I so lucky to know these people exist?