Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The last hurrah.


While we have disappeared from ye ole blog from time to time in the past, the last two weeks of deafening silence indeed signal a sea change. After some reflection, we've decided to stop posting here, now that our time in Haiti has come to an end.  

It's definitely time, although our last few days in Port-au-Prince were too full and I didn't get to post about Ben and Bryan's impromptu gardening lesson our last morning in Haiti:

Or publish my mini-rant on Haitian standards of craftsmanship, as evidenced by this giant box built to hold keys:

Or gush about how much I loved this tap-tap painting:

Next time, I suppose...

This blog will hang out here for a while, although Bryan and I will both be posting on our new lives in Nashville & Philadelphia at nashadelphia.blogspot.com. Come on over!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Where in the world...

Yes, Carmen Sandiego is here in Haiti! - or was here at least long enough to have her portrait painted.

Speaking of comings and goings: today is our last full day in Haiti. We have many mixed feelings about this transition, but at the moment we're sad to be leaving. It's been two difficult but good years, and we're glad we did it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What can you do to help victims of the earthquake?


Stop Forced Evictions of Haiti's Earthquake Victims

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti writes,

After the earthquake of January 12th, over 2 million survivors left the wreckage of their homes and sought refuge in camps constructed on any open land. The Haitian Government and private landowners have evicted thousands of residents from these encampments without a viable alternative for their relocation, and in some cases with no alternative at all.

The UN and Haitian Government agreed on April 22 to an immediate 3-week moratorium on forced evictions which expired, Thursday, May 13th. Within that period reports of evictions continued. Humanitarian aid, including food, water and sanitation facilities have been cut off in targeted camps (1, 2). In other locations, residents are being harassed and abused by the police. The people most affected by the earthquake, those who have lost their families, homes and livelihoods, now live in fear that they may be violently forced to leave their present settlements without viable options established for relocation (2).

These actions are prohibited under the UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The UN Principles, which are based upon international humanitarian law and human rights instruments, establish the framework for protecting the rights of displaced people, including the right to basic services (food, water, shelter, education, medical services, and sanitation) and to be protected from violence (4). When these rights are not upheld, UN agencies are obligated to call on relevant parties to respect them (5). Specifically, the OCHA CCCM Cluster-designated Camp Coordinator is charged with developing an “exit/transition strategy for camp closures while ensuring that responses are in line with ... standards including relevant government, human rights, and legal obligations" (7, 8).

(for footnoted version go here - http://ijdh.org/archives/12237)

For a concise summary of this issue, click through to Alexis's blogpost.

Haiti, sometimes you shine up real nice.

We lucked out and were able to spend last weekend in a pine forest about a three-hour drive from Port-au-Prince.

It was magical - a green and misty wonderland where we were able to wander the woods for hours, soaking up the beauty of it all:

We waded in streams, collecting watercress and wild mint...

We stayed in an enchanting little cabin, one of about 20 scattered throughout the woods:

Bryan spent time lounging around with Ben and his still-busted knee:

- except when they tried to get the perfect hammock shot. I do believe this is the one photo the dignified Mr. Depp couldn't take himself:

And Kurt even showed us where to find wild strawberries and raspberries!

Rave reviews. I can't believe we didn't discover this place until our last weekend in Haiti.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Religious math?

These figures are scrawled on a wall near the MCC office. I'm mostly intrigued by the formulaic attempts to prove...something. Insight, anyone?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The great white wave.

You may have heard about the "second earthquake" that happened in Haiti after January 12, which is what some people call the great influx of foreigners that has appeared in Port-au-Prince. As foreigners here before that moment, I should confess that we feel a certain level of snobbery - so when some hapless white person greets us with a hearty English "hello!" or waves while standing in the back of a passing truck, we're not always apt to respond.

We realized that this is similar to the Jeep Salute or the Motorcycle Wave that happens in American traffic. But really: why settle for a wave?

Yes, that is the word blan finger-spelled out.

Advantage: Creativity. Toughness.
Disadvantage: it takes a bit of wrangling and more than a few seconds to pull this together.

But loads of toughness, right?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Haiti appears well advanced on the track that the rest of the world seems hell-bent on following."

Yesterday we finally managed to download and listen to This American Life's episode on Haiti, "Island Time." Run, do not walk, your browser to this page, because you do not want to miss this. It points out the incredible complexities of life in Haiti, from the challenges of capacity-building to the difficulties inherent in small business development. This episode is such an interesting, accurate peek at this little country, although it also made me nearly unbearably sad. The longer we're here the steeper the road ahead seems to get.

[Six Degrees side note: the Gary mentioned at the beginning of Act Three is the Depps' sixty-something neighbor, a self-proclaimed curmudgeon who came to Haiti twenty years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer, married a Haitian woman, and stayed. Before his two kids went to the States, they would sometimes come through the broken wall between the yards to use the internet.]

Yesterday Alexis and I also interviewed a group of folks who lost their homes in the earthquake. MCC had been distributing food to the approximately forty families who have set up camp in an open space in their hillside neighborhood, but because MCC ended that phase of the disaster response on April 30, we wanted to see how that change has had an impact on people.

I was trepidatious about having these conversations because saying, "hey, we stopped giving you food and we're not here to give you anything else - does that work for you?" seemed so awkward. However, I was pleasantly surprised. They were not that upset about the end of food aid, since most of them can now afford to buy food nearly every day. They pointed out that free stuff is always nice, but if they had their druthers they'd like to choose their own things.

And how would they like to do this? They'd like jobs. Working for money, not food.

A job is actually the number-one thing the average Haitian wanted before the earthquake. Jobs mean salaries and security. Jobs mean being able to support a family.

It's a perfectly reasonably, perfectly dignified thing to want, but I've always been struck by the fact that even Haitians who run their own small businesses still want jobs. Many people don't seem to think of these enterprises as jobs - or perhaps they want other benefits that come along with being an employee at someone else's business?

Speaking unscientifically, I think there are more entrepreneurs per capita in Haiti than in the U.S. Most of that 70% counted as "unemployed" in Haiti actually work: they are street vendors, or operate one-pot tent restaurants, or build houses as day laborers.

So what is stopping these folks from a.) thinking of themselves as entrepreneurs/ small business owners, or b.) growing their businesses to the point at which they can hire others?* Why would so many prefer to work for an international company/NGO?

* Some are, some do. For example, we talked to 9 artisans in Jacmel a few weeks ago, and nearly all of them run workshops employing 5-15 others.

This situation is a mystery to me (okay, partially due to my ongoing incomprehension of economics and how you "build" an economy). Is there a tax structure that should be changed to make it easier for people to officially start new businesses? Should classes in management and accounting be made more available?

One of my dreams for Haiti is to see thousands of middle managers roaming the streets of every city and small town in the country. Having middle managers means having larger business owners and having workers to oversee. It means people with enough money to pay for things like a casual meal out with their families. It means service industries. It means a wide range of jobs, at all levels of income.

Oh, if it were only as easy as handing out briefcases...