Thursday, August 12, 2010

Black August: Haiti Six Months after the Quake

I was there today at the peaceful, yet powerful demonstrations for justice held by the many women and men and children who are being evicted from tent encampments. It gets so crazy that one camp site is evicted to make room for another evicted campsite where these dwellers -- all earthquake victims, have more sonority. Can one imagine such?! This is history made in Haiti, that's for sure.

Called by Force for Reflec­tion and Action on the Hous­ing Cause (FRAKKA), Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­na­tionaux (BAI), Batay Ouvrière (B.O), KOOTK, OVS, COSEM, Immac­ulé, Deplace, CUSLG, Camp Mezyan, Babankou and other Inter­nally dis­placed peo­ple under threat of expul­sion, I read the press release later, so I wasn't aware of the multiple agencies present at the palace this morning into the afternoon. It was really cool being at a protest rally in Haiti. I have heard so many reports, thanks to Kevin Pina's reporting on Flash Points (KPFA 94.1 FM). Most of the time, what one hears are wails and cries as the people's resistance is met with brutality. This time, the police were observing at a distance in a jeep, while uniformed police with riot type face masks stood on the other side of the gate which blocked off the palace which is earthquake damaged.

I got so caught up in interviewing folks that I lost sight of Mr. Mario Joseph, civil rights attorney and director of BAI. But I'd made a friend, Mr. Harold Valentine, also a prominent member of the BAI team and after no one came back for us, we walked through the neighborhood back to the organization site, where I am camping out.

Night one was difficult. Sleeping on concrete is hard, plus somebody was playing their music really loud--the only consolation was that it was good music. Re: the concrete mattress--I can't imagine how it must be for those who have had to endure this for the past eight months. I walked past many such families as I went to get breakfast this morning--an egg and some bananas.

The stores in Haiti, look just like those in Senegal and East West and any neighborhood black-Oakland (maybe San Francisco Bay Area...maybe America)--Lebanese or Arabs run them. Black people just work there. How is this? When did disenfranchisement become a global issue? Well I guess it always was, we just didn't know it. If there are global franchises, then certainly there are global monopolies, but why do black people stand for it?

Haitian money is another trip. 39-40 gouds to one US $1: $10,000 US is $400, 000 Haitian. Okay so the quick lesson is $250 Haitian is $25 US. 5 gouds is $1 Haitian dollars. In tips, $2 US is $10 Haitian dollars. If you feel like giving more fine, don't feel pressured. I didn't, despite the looks. I'm like, I am not a rich American. My money has to last me, so I can give away more to grassroots organizations not that it's much: $200 is the most, the range is closer to $100 and in-kind like a $80 tent, three sleeping bags, 20 leather work gloves, the soon to be mentioned --keep reading... art supplies and clothes.

There are a lot of people (NGOs, non-profits and individuals) posturing hope--but Allah says in the Qur'an that one wants to give so the recipient keeps his or her dignity. Black people are still underrepresented in the giving, and it sometimes shows in the reception. Black people here and elsewhere in the diaspora and I'm speaking US as in New Orleans post Katrina and in Senegal.

As a first responder organization, Common Ground Relief--founded by a black couple with volunteers from around the country and the world, one would think, but no, at least not in Rufisque.

Here as well. It seems as if my hosts, not all of them, don't know what to make of me and don't ask any getting to know you kinds of questions. There was a report back kind of meeting this afternoon with all of the women organizers and it would have been great to be a part of it like a fly on the wall, but I wasn't invited to sit in. Yet, tomorrow I am going to meet the women who were just here, one on one. We could have saved valuable time. In Senegal I was put in the mix with the women leaders. They invited me to dance and sing with the woman being healed. When I didn't know a word, they gave it to me and then repeated themselves. I'm not in Senegal, but there is more alike between New Orleans and Senegal and Ayiti than difference regarding African culture. (Even the bathrooms are the same--completely tiled here and in Senegal.)

You can read about the two organizers at "Violence Against Women" (the report just came out

It feels like the persons I was dealing with today want the stuff, but are not interested in the persons donating the stuff. My friend Richard Moore a.k.a Paradise says in a poem: "I love everything about you but you."

I had stories of a couple who sent $100 plus did a fundraiser at their apartment and in three days had a huge huge bag filled with expensive leather shoes, work boots and really cute baby clothes. There is more too...I just couldn't carry it all. African Americans care about their brothers and sisters in the Diaspora which includes home. the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches and our annual fundraiser report back. (It often feels like no one cares about New Orleans post-Katrina, the Gulf--post-Katrina, but us.) My radio show will be three years old on the special broadcast, Friday, August 27,8-10 AM PST stay tuned:

Now the Gulf has the oil spill to contend with. It feels like a conspiracy. A man at the rally today asked me if the situation in Haiti was hopeless. I told him that the answer was not in abandoning his country for the US. I am surprised people still think gold grows on trees here. Come to East Oakland where were don't even have trees with leaves.

Despite our economic underdevelopment--I can't name one thing--economically, that is, where black people dominant globally, let alone domestically, I love Haitian people--black people. Haiti is a lot more laid back than Senegal. Folks don't hassle you and I am blown away by the surprise I see in people's faces when I don't speak Kreyol.

I think I am finally home.

The international journalists also really cool, one even pulled my coat and told me to watch my equipment. I had my MP3 tape going and my FLIP and my Canon. Girl was looking professional (smile).

Look is often all it takes sometimes, to get one in the door. Then expertise had better be in place (smile). So I am lost, but not really 'cause I have Mr. Joseph's number and a phone card (spent $250 Haitian on that bad-boy this morning--there is another cool African on the bill) and a phone I don't know how to put money on. One would think after six weeks in Africa I'd know how, but someone always did it for me. I tried and never got the hang of it. After I got back to BAI, someone put the minutes on the phone for me there. I need to ask someone to show me where the running total is, so I can know when I am getting close to the end of the balance.

The rally was billed as a sit-in but the music and the spirit was too lively for anyone to sit down. There was a big truck with speakers and music --reminded me of Carnival, and then this cool band came through with these horns out of the medieval period: "Hark, who goes there" kind of brass instruments. But there the inference or similarity ended with the beats straight out of Africa--slammin' folks doing a little line dancing all the while shouting slogans. Personnel at BAI where so many hats, the cook is also a chief organizer. Madam Delude was leading chants and songs and testifying and giving interviews at the rally.

The woman is powerful.

One would never imagine this same woman mopping the floors before the gig at 7 in the morning and cooking our evening meal and serving it afterwards. It was good too. When I travel I eat less, so I was one hungry sister at 4:30.

"Seven months after the tragic earth­quake that killed hun­dreds of thou­sands and left more than one and half mil­lion sur­vivors home­less, the most vul­ner­a­ble are orga­niz­ing to demand a mora­to­rium on forced evic­tions, which are hap­pen­ing in vio­la­tion of Hait­ian and inter­na­tional law. The gov­ern­ment must imme­di­ately pro­vide humane alter­na­tives to the muddy, dan­ger­ous, unsan­i­tary and sim­ply bru­tal liv­ing con­di­tions by ver­i­fy­ing own­er­ship titles, and nation­al­iz­ing by decree all empty and idle lands in the hands of large landown­ers. The thou­sands who can­not leave their camps for fear of expul­sion or lack of trans­port funds will par­tic­i­pate in the protest by bang­ing pots at noon (1pm EST) within the tent cities through­out Port-au-Prince and sur­round­ing towns."

I would have loved to hear that. If anyone was banging on anything, I couldn't hear it with all of the shouting and singing and playing.

I was talking to a young man (28) who wanted one of the Hot Wheels cars that I was pulling randomly from my Trader Joes (TJ for short) goody bag for the little people and a few bigger ones (smile). When I told one of the kids to share his toy with another child who got something else, he said he and his little friend lived in another camp. My answer was to share in that moment then.

My interpreter (28 year old who'd spent some time in New Jersey a while back) told me the sad story of a girl (15) who was gang-raped right near where we were standing. He volunteers with his church in the camps with the kids and he wanted to car for a little friend of his.

I was getting mobbed by kids who thought I couldn't tell one of them from another (smile). I love seeing their little smiling faces, adult smiling faces too.

My younger daughter sent cars and stickers and chenille wires, coloring books, crayons, action figures, water color paints, Mardi Gras beads, colored markers and so did another friend, a teacher who also sent a calligraphy set with nice paper. She sent more paper than I could carry. We didn't have bubbles this time. Those went over well in April (the four month anniversary); they just leak in the suitcase. I had an oversized suitcase full of baby clothes this time too. (Got a discount from Thrift Town in San Leandro; they knocked off $6. Don't tell anyone. The sister who made it happen after another manager told me no, said to "Keep my business to myself." I'm not tellin' It listed at $24.99, but as I unzipped compartment after compartment, I was able to fit several pounds of baby clothes inside, enough for five separate donations).

The baby clothes are so cute too, some designer wear-especially some of the tiny dresses. It feels good to look good when one's surroundings are unpleasant and I'm sure being able to dress her babies up will make many a parent feel better. I just wish I could have fit the medical supplies, but as I said, I was over in pounds and my TJ bag only held so much.

I put the extra clothing in my TJ bag and carried it on board after getting the weight down. I was in those seats by the window facing the curb.... My brother told me to leave the clothes, my daughter said perhaps the lost and found would give them to Good Will or some such institution, but I wanted to take them with me. So I packed my shopping bag and asked a couple with only one carry-on in security after the person checking my ticket and ID let me get in line, if they could take one of mine. They thought about it and declined--

Maybe it was a good thing, I wasn't separated from my belongings. I had to get patted down in the room. Something was triggering the alarm around my midsection. I had on a back brace, so I could carry all the extra weight in my backpack and the luggage. It had metal in it. I wasn't aware of that fact. So when I finally made it to the gate, with an hour to go and extra hour was added.

The plane was delayed.

At 12:20 or so the stewardess tells me I can't carry my extra bag on, and the husband, re: nice couple I'd met two hours earlier said he felt more comfortable helping me now that I'd cleared security. He steps up out of nowhere and says he'll carry my TJ bag filled with baby clothes and a TaSin purple umbrella. They board before me and he leaves it in the overhead bin at my seat. I put my suitcase there and put it and my backpack under my seat.

The newlyweds were on their way to St. Lucia, married just that day. The groom's dad (French) had volunteered as a translator in the early days of the earthquake ravaged Haiti. People were going to St. Lucia, the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Kitts, and Haiti (smile). I even ran into a City of Oakland council person, Natalie Bayton and a professor I know at Cal State East Bay, Dr. Charles Debose.

American Airlines was hot Tuesday night.

On the connecting flight, which we missed, despite all the promises that we'd make it--the gates were so far apart and the directions on the plane contradicted what the attendant told us when we got off--so anyway there was a three hour wait. We saw the plane leaving us--

American Airlines is the worse airline I have ever flew on. They generally make me miss any connecting flight--Senegal to New York was the worse January 2010--eight hour layover and again, the plane was there when I was told I couldn't board.

The reason customers put up with them is because they fly all over the world, places no one else flies from here. While at SFO we asked what an hour delay (12:30 AM departure rather than 11:30 PM) would do to our connecting flight.) Well if we'd left on time we might have made it, but at 12:45 we still hadn't left the gate. The PAP flight out of Miami was taxiing out at 9:38--two minutes early. At SFO they said Miami knew ten people were on board, but that they couldn't hold the plane.

Yep. Folks should boycott American.

I can't find a seat near the gate and I almost miss that flight from Miami. I set my phone to ring when I need to get to the gate, but I have the time wrong and the phone rings when I am seated on board (smile).

I hear them paging me and I rush to the gate. The attendants are so nice; they give me water and store my bags. I have been told I have looks. Well this one might have been worry as well--this was my third trip to the airport to go to Haiti this month: August 2, August 9, and August 10. I was so close this time and yet I still wasn't there.

Add to this my ear plug tearing off in my ear and I could not retrieve it. I could barely hear. I wasn't sure if I'd need someone to take me to the hospital--luckily Samantha at BAI, an intern who is working on public health and rural prisons (BAI and Partners in Health) pulled it out with tweezers. Today she wasn't well--hope there is no connection (I jest).

It's not the people at American airlines that suck, it's the corporation--the guys with bottom-line under their chins. They are so cheap, customers have to pay for Y5 and external Y5 is disabled. (I forgot my code so I was doublely (new word?)out of luck.)

Wanda Ravenell sent a lot of paper, but paper is heavy and I was over on both pieces of luggage by twenty pounds. I am happy I left some of it at home for another time. I couldn't even pay the difference in weight. The airline has this weird embargo up to August 24 for international flights that says one can only check two pieces of luggage.

I wonder is the fact that "inter­na­tional aid agen­cies and the United Nations read­ily admit that the camps do not meet inter­na­tional stan­dards for inter­nally dis­placed peo­ple, at the same time non-governmental orga­ni­za­tions, char­i­ties and the Hait­ian Gov­ern­ment are unwill­ing to pro­vide basic ser­vices to these victims.

"[That] food dis­tri­b­u­tions have come to a halt [for adults not for children and elderly--what kind of sense does this make] and many aid agen­cies are inten­tion­ally with­hold­ing nec­es­sary and fun­da­men­tal ser­vices such as latrines, water, food and med­ical aid, in order to force earth­quake vic­tims to aban­don the camps that cur­rently exist in for­mer parks, school grounds and church­yards. How­ever, no fea­si­ble plans exist to relo­cate these families."

A friend of mine who has an afterschool program going says he can't get any of the food for his kids and he is going deeper and deeper in the hole which has a bottom. If he hits the bottom then the children he has served out of pocket since January will have nothing and with school out, many kids would have nothing to do if not for people like Jean-Yvon Kernizan, who moved back to Haiti in January just in time to assist with earthquake recovery and relief. For people looking for a worthy cause, his is such a one. He's on facebook. Poke him with some money(smile).

"Through the gen­eros­ity of peo­ple through­out the world, more than one bil­lion dol­lars has already been donated to char­i­ties," yet one wouldn't believe it, looking around at the sameness of the landscape from the National Palace to the streets where waste stands in trenches, mothers bath their children on the women wash themselves with their backs turned--an illusive attempt at modesty, while no one looks because it is the same for most of the population.

"Haitians who lost loved ones, homes and all their belong­ings are now out in the mer­ci­less sum­mer sun all day, then soaked to the bone by rains each night,” explains Melinda Miles, direc­tor of Let Haiti Live and Coor­di­na­tor of the Haiti Response Coali­tion. “They are deprived of fun­da­men­tal human rights – access to food, water, shel­ter – and have no other place to go.”

Mr. Valentine said he cleared away all the debris and he and his family are settled in a tarp covered shell of a house on its foundation. His five year old son suffered a fractured leg and arm. His dad said he is learning to walk again. Mr. Valentine is a hero in Haiti. Everywhere we walked he was greeted with smiles and hugs and conversation. As we waited for someone to come back for us and then started walking home, he told me his January 12, 2010 story.

Every Haitian has one. I met a young woman on the airplane, Judith who came home on vacation and as soon as she arrived at her house the earthquake happened. She is a nurse and even she couldn't give comfort to some victims who were subjected to Stone Age medicine--amputations without anesthesia. Mr. Valentine said that after he stabilized his son, he went to the capital and raised the Haitian flag and sang the anthem. He said he didn't have on a shirt, just shorts and I guess shoes, but it was important for him to let the world know that Haiti was not defeated.

President Preval gave his statement afterwards, Mr. Valentine said. He said his name is his mission, to spread love all over the world.

"The U.S. gov­ern­ment and UN agen­cies all point to the Hait­ian Government’s inabil­ity to pro­vide land for reset­tle­ment, refer­ring to con­tro­ver­sies around land tenure and emi­nent domain. How­ever in the past, emi­nent domain has not been an issue when the gov­ern­ment has needed to appro­pri­ate land for build­ing roads or fac­to­ries. The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is illus­tra­tive of a his­tor­i­cal prece­dent of pri­vate prop­erty being more impor­tant than the rights of the poor.

"'The law is per­fectly clear,” accord­ing to promi­nent human rights attor­ney Mario Joseph. “There is a prob­lem of polit­i­cal will and a prob­lem of exclu­sion. The poor have been excluded from their land for years, and are now excluded from the process deter­min­ing their rights to lodgings.'

"In addi­tion to demand­ing imme­di­ate solu­tions for the inter­nally dis­placed peo­ple such as viable land for relo­ca­tion and resump­tion of basic ser­vices with­out fur­ther delay, demon­stra­tors are demand­ing that forced evic­tions and vio­lent expul­sions cease, and the Hait­ian Gov­ern­ment and Hait­ian National Police enforce a manda­tory mora­to­rium on forced removals until suit­able alter­na­tives are in place" (Taken from

If pictures are worth a thousand words, then the voices of the women and men today, are worth millions--the millions and billions the American Red Cross and other non-profiteers are sitting on as the Haitian government drags its feet. These multinational organizations need to connect with grassroots organizations and give the money to those entities who are connected to the people and not receiving funding.

I don't think I will be able to see So Anne or Pastor Francke this time. I think I might get over to Jean Ristil's and hopefully Rea Dol will pop through BAI tomorrow. I love Haiti. It's hard to manage without Kreyol, but next time I might have a bit more than I have now. This is thanks to a quick one hour lesson with Colette Ewoi and the book Pierre Labossiere's sister Marie-Therese Labossiere, wrote: Nou Di, We Say, Nous Disons. It is in English Kreyol and French. My hosts chuckle as I flip through my cards and practice on them.

My name is Wanda: Mwem rele Wanda.
What is your name: Keyjan ou rele?
Glad to make your acquaintance: Mwen countent wey ou.
Good Morning: Bonjou.
Good Afternoon: Bonswa.
Good Night: Bo(accent on the o)nnwit.
Mesi (accent on the e) anpil: Thank you very much.
Deryen: My pleasure. It's okay.
Kouman ou ye? How are you?
Byen Me (accent on the e)si: Fine thank you.
Kouman moun lakay ou ye: How is your family.
I presume the answer can be the same.
Say hello to everybody: Di toutmoun bonjou
Can you help me: Eske ou ka eden
I do not understand: Mwen pa konprann.
The cool way to ask how someone is doing:
Sak passe (accent on the e). Response: Map boule
(accent on the e. I'm boiling but not too hot.
Another greeting is "kombien po sa?" Which I think means how
are you.

The photos are from Day 1: my ride in the pouring rain from the airport. I will post the Rally and videos sometime later. I have to get to bed. It's really late here. There was a band playing music when we got off the shuttle. They were good. I didn't have my camera ready, otherwise I would have taken a photo. There was no band in April-sounds of recovery perhaps (smile).


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