Monday, August 16, 2010

Reflections on Haiti in no particular order, just chronological

Daddy died this weekend and I am in Haiti—Delmas now with Rea Dol and her family. I am so happy she picked me up first before she ran her errands. Her house is almost finished outside and inside it is a mansion—oh my goodness! I was sleeping on concrete and happy I had Chris’s air mattress last night and today I am in bed with a mosquito net—I have arrived. We went to check on her account with a building supplier—Arnold Azolin, a black man who lets Rea buy on credit when she doesn’t have the money up front—she is preparing to open the Sopudep 2 site for the older kids in temporary classrooms made from bamboo this September and keep the younger children at the old site where some people are still living since the earthquake because of the shortage of shelter. Her family members, the larger two have their own places now and some of the younger people who were also here do as well. She is getting ready to adopt another child—a girl whose parents died during the earthquake and her neighbor who has been keeping her can’t feed her. Rea is also taking care of a neighbor who is so weak she can’t stand—she showed me a photo. Her legs are a thin as twigs. After taking her to the doctor, she said the diagnosis is starvation, the women just needs to eat, so Rea takes food by her house for the children to cook. One child dropped by the house this evening.

We stopped off at another supplier, a woman whom Rea purchases beans and rice to feed the hungry children in the neighborhood where Sopudep 1 is. After she found out why Rea was buying beans and rice, she told her she would extend credit to her as well. Rea stopped by to pay her, and the woman didn’t want to take her money.

The last stop was the grocery store where we got sodas and water. The bill was $129.00 gouds I thought. But I paid with two $500.00 goud notes. The change was $200.00. Yes. I am confused. I have to figure out what that means in Haitian dollars.

Today was a long one—I visited three Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps this morning and afternoon. We walked down with Giselle who introduced us to women who’d all suffered sexual violence, from the young girls barely out of their teens to their mothers and grandmothers who often suffered such violence as well. When one thinks about a generational traits, rape is not one that comes to mind, yet, for those women who speak up like Malya A. Villard and Marie Eramithe, two women I met who lead KOFAVIV: Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, to young girls and other women who are targeted because they don’t have anyone to protect them, which is certainly the case in many of these women’s lives since the earthquake in January.

Women have been beaten and raped often brutally or with multiple partners, as a warning to stop being politically active. In many cases, women become pregnant and as abortion is illegal and women can be incarcerated—these women are left with a living breathing reminder of the trauma. Most women cannot hold a job if they are the leaders and they need protection getting to and from their tents.

BAI offers this kind of support and there is even an advocate on board to helps the women act more effectively and to facilitate their work with resources. Avon just gave the women a grant. I don’t know for how much. A BAI volunteer, Christopher Eaves, who is completing a Masters in Social Work in Chicago, also translated for me and filled missing information when requested of her knew.

I wanted to visit the National Museum and it was closed—it has been closed since January. So we’re strolling towards an artist marketplace and Chris ran into a friend who invited us to visit his home which is across from the French Embassy which is guarded gated. We could see the official looking building from afar. These IDPs seemed to have a better situation than those I’d met in the morning, mostly women –all the ones I met victims of sexual violence. At Place des Artistes where Jude Jean Pierre, Chris’s friend stays, men patrol the camp and even resolve disputes which I witnessed as we were departing. Jude pulled one of the young men away from the other. There is a camp director, a position Williams James Marc Else fell into after the earthquake when so many people found themselves displaced.

I guess the similarities and differences can be equated with degrees of heat in hell. One woman in the second camp had a tin roof so at the time we visited it was almost unbearably hot, the roof cooking the interior. But, there were no leaks so unlike others nearby, when it rained the family didn’t have to awaken drenched and then stay wet the rest of the night. The rugs which covered a dirt surface below would get wet, clothes, bedding, and if unable to adequately dry would get molded. Williams and Jude are both members of the organization that meets at BAI—it seemed that if anything was happening in PAP around policies or policy development, one was connected to Mario Joseph’s BAI. It was great to be a part of a hub of important activity such as this—too bad I didn’t fully comprehend the extent of all the activities like the eight of so men and women who filed down the hall into Mario’s office to change as I was leaving. Several well-dressed men came back with Mario from a funeral –I presume of an important person in the community—Delude mentioned she was attending a funeral and Mario hadn’t seen her, so it must have been huge.

All of the IDPs camps are called: Champ de Mars. One doesn’t wander through the camps unescorted –it is a “gated community” (smile). Unfortunately, the resources don’t seem able to get into each of them equally. Chris said the camp dwellers don’t control who gets the mobile health unit, which one has a school, who has childcare or preschool—but in Petion—the camp right behind the Palace with a fountain which used to work—the space is densely populated with not much room to move around. Tents and people literally on top of one another. I wish I’d had a before and after image. It’s sort of like people feel about New Orleans, pre and post-Katrina, now pre and post-BP spill. The polluted shoreline, the displaced and destroyed natural habitats and its inhabitants—birds, fishes, plant life and of course human beings –cultural decimation irreplaceable its cumulative impact impossible to calculate.

It is the same here in Haiti. With the timing of the election and the vote just two months away, one wonders what is in store for this tiny country with major karma in opposition to the lives and well-being of people, African people who just want to be left alone to live—really live.

There was high unemployment for Haitians, educated with skills and the unskilled as well, prior to the earthquake. For a government official to tell a BAI representative that the cessation of food was a way to motivate lazy people looking for a handout to get to work. Since when is physical hunger a motivation when hunger is not anything new to Haitians whom have had to deal with food insecurity for as long as President Aristide’s programs were effectively shut down?

Although he doesn’t have a clue on how to run a country, some feel that he is interesting Haitian youth in the electoral process for the first time because he is on the ballot. If he gets in he will be a perfect dummy for ventriloquist America, especially if he has the endorsement of President Barack Obama. He doesn’t speak Kreyol, the national language or French. It’s great he is proud of his Haitian heritage but it’s like a person who has been passing for white all of a sudden claiming his or her African ancestry for an associated perk. I don’t see any evidence of relief for any of those people I met who spoke to me Saturday. One young mother said, she was happy to see visitors but many people come through, but there is nothing that follows.

Can you imagine being homeless in a displaced persons camp? Kind of hard right? Definitely, but I met a grandmother who doesn’t have a bed and sometimes when she wakes up she can barely move. I knew exactly what she meant, having spent two days on the ground myself. I also met a woman who has several children who also needs a place for her children. Celeste, who was our tour guide, had to send her children away because it was too dangerous for them at the camp—their mother with a contract on her head.

Women wore their badges with whistles attached. I asked one woman to let me hear it. When blown a certain way help comes—if it is within earshot.

Jude is also an artist—a painter and when I met him he’d made some brew—green with ginger sediment at the bottom of the glass bottle (5th size). He explained that there were different flavors which had certain properties when ingested. Chris and I walked through an artist village area, which reminded me of the Ashby Flea Market, just less re: items and variety. An artist wanted to see me a painting on a canvas for just 500 goud, but I wasn’t feeling it. None of the art spoke to me; it was “I Love Haiti” key chains and bracelets and necklaces.

I saw a couple of elderly women begging and a clearly deranged man—he was so dirty his skin looked like it was covered in charcoal. If I wasn’t feeling so skittish, I would have given the women and the man an offering, but I didn’t have the money already in my pocket ready to pull out. With the money belt under my top around my waist tucked into my waist band—my passport getting a steam bath daily as I heated up, my waist pack on the outside with less money inside a baggie, my tape recorder, FLIP inside, my glasses case hooked to the fannie pack, and then my camera around my neck. I even had my TJ bag full of kid’s supplies—however, when I saw the older women and the man who looked like he needed a medical intervention—I had no more goodies.

I wanted to go to Les Cayes and to Jacmel this trip, but given the short stay, it is not happening. I ended up getting picked up by Rea that afternoon and today I am sitting in Delmas getting consumed by bugs. I am taking off now, more later.

Church services were great. You’d be surprised at how full the 6 AM service was at the Baptist church I attended with Rea and Bato and Awu and a few others we met along the way and gave lifts to. The live band was great and the soloists inspired. I stood when the first time visitors were greeted and then the one person whose birthday was today received a special greeting. There were a lot of kids out with their parents and for a Sunday morning many men were also present, some alone or with their children and spouses.

We finished about 8 AM or so and picked up some fruit and eggs on the way home, where we had a nice soup – called Soup Joumou, made from squash. I had a banana first, I was starved (smile). Rea and I then tried to take her photos from her card but my card reader couldn’t read it.

Later we went for a six months after the earthquake tour with Rea’s friend, a pastor visiting from Oregon and his friend; he hadn’t been here before now. We took the usual route starting in Petionville which is where they were staying. I’ve been through Petionville many times, however Sunday afternoon about 4 PM the place was jumping, reminded me of Dakar in the various marketplaces especially where one catches the buses to other major thoroughfares.

For some reason I saw dilapidated homes and businesses and churches and schools I hadn’t seen before. We also saw tents and other temporary homes along the way down towards the capital where the Palace for those who knew it when it was majestic cause for sadness.

We drove around the plaza where all the camps connect and share common borders. I didn’t see anyone I’d met yesterday, but I looked for a faces in the streets and around the camp entrances. It is really a shame that in the twenty-first century human suffering can reach such magnitude –preventable human suffering at that has reached this magnitude and throwing money at it from afar is not the solution either. The money needs to be attached in certain instances to people with skills like doctors and teachers and architects and construction persons, engineers—all these people can collaborate with existing organizers, some community organizers born from necessity during the disaster.

Rea’s guests say they have seen enough and we head back to Delmas—I see a tag with the face of Michael Jackson, whose birthday is later this month, along with my cousin Jeffery and my good friend Karla and the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the anniversary of Wanda’s Picks Radio Show.

The police pulled François over to check his license and registration. All was in order. I forgot to mention that we go to a fast-food place which looks like MacDonald’s and Pizza Hut and a Safeway Bakery all rolled into one. It is packed. I wonder why they aren’t serving Haitian cuisine. Rea says all the fast food chains are owned by outsiders and there is a MacDonald not far from the place we went which sold items like crepes, steak sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs, pizzas, regular sandwiches—deli, and donuts, cakes, ice cream in a cafeteria style space with most of the people eating there, unlike the fast food places at home where most of the people use take out.

After purchasing the large pizza and drinks we left. I was finally able to give something to a person begging—it had started raining and a mother with a baby asked us for something at the RV window. Three of us chipped in to help her.

When we got back to the house the Billi had almost completed the sign he was painting with the new Sopudep address on it. Dinner was lovely as usual—salad, yam, beans and rice, chicken, and a vegetable platter—beets, carrots, cabbage, green beans, and other veggies I didn’t recognize. Water is always my preferred drink in Haiti, so I had that for dessert (smile).

After dinner we walked over to a neighbor’s who just had a new baby boy, Ricarlindo. The parents, Linda and Ricardo, are working on an immigration issue, Linda was born in the US of an American father and a Haitian national mother. When she was one her mother had a mental illness which incapacitated her for most of Linda’s life. Now Linda wants to get her passport and she has to reestablish her identity which is hard considering at one, how was she to hold onto her passport, but she has her birth certificate, her parent’s marriage license, her mother’s birth certificate, photos of herself with her mother as a baby and since. Immigration keeps asking for more proof. I think they are playing their usual –if the person is coming from a country we are unfriendly with—make it as hard as possible and maybe they will stop asking.

Ricardo, who works for a really wonderful organization, which teaches youth about their rights and laws in place to protect them. It also grooms them for leadership positions in Haitian society. There are teams of youth spread throughout the country on the ground going into the camps, schools and other places where there are young people to let them know about resources and rights they can assess. They have a weekly radio show on Planet Kreyol where they broadcast 4-6 PM. The central office is in Delmas 48, but as I said, most of the work takes place in the field with the person to person contacts and trainings the organization conducts.

They serve more than 10,000 youth; Ricardo is the person in charge of the social work aspect of the program. I told Ricardo that I wanted to connect him with the women organizers I met who are the leaders of the organization that supports women who have experienced sexual violence.

I just have one more day here. I hope I can connect with Jean Ristil. I haven’t heard from him and I need to deliver the money to him. I wanted to see his organization so I can tell the Social Welfare organization about it. Take photos meet the youth…etc.

On the eve of the presidential nominations deadline—Tuesday, August 17, 2010, Marcus Garvey’s birthday, the slate is definitely on the minds of many Haitians, even if not many are talking about it or maybe they are, I am not the best resource with my non-speaking Kreyol self (smile). I can recognize Lavalas when I hear it though and with the anniversary of Lovinsky Pierre’s kidnapping and the celebration of Bwa Kayiman August 14, 1791 in Milo, the revolutionary spirits of Boukman and Madam Fatiman are in the air, and with it the wave of people rising.

I don’t I will ever forget the Haitian bicentennial celebration. I was teaching at Laney college then and I hosted a forum on Haiti on the eve of its bicentennial –we had a film clip from Kevin Pena, Maria Labossiere spoke, Congresswoman Barbara Lee sent someone from her office to talk about US Haiti policy to date and a couple who’d been in Haiti for that historic day spoke about the mood of the people the festivities planned which were co-opted and sabotaged, eventually culminating in the kidnapping of the newly reelected President Aristide.


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