**A combination of busy days and technical challenges have prevented me from posting pictures recently. I will post more when I can, but in the mean time make sure you’re watching the fabulous short videos Jeff and Oly have made. You can watch them at: wenatcheeworld.com or north40productions.com**
APRIL 11, 2012
Today was a full day for sure. Mike Poirier, Laura Monda, and I went out to Likere, the village where Patrick lives and where the Rotary is placing their main water filter and building. We took a pickup truck out, which was a fun way to explore the countryside in slow motion. Laura and I gave hair ties, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soccer balls to the local school, which is the same one where people came out in droves for us the other day. The villagers there are so friendly. I visited with Patrick’s wife. She wanted me to adopt a child here.
In the afternoon we went on a walk to the market and near the palace. The market was a fascinating place full of raw meat, smoked fish, grains, popcorn, oats, pasta and beans. I was surprised to see so much produce: cilantro, onions, garlic, grapefruit, yams, beets, tomatoes, bananas, oranges, plantains… The selection was wide and I was told that all of the food is very local. Some women hike in for miles with their wares on their head. When Mike gave a dollar for bananas, they wanted to give him bunches and bunches.
The food here is quite tasty, I find. The onions are the spiciest I’ve encountered, I don’t normally like grapefruit but the ones here are delicious. The bananas are small and sweet like in Hawaii, and we’ve tried juicy, sweet pineapple here, too. Our meals usually consist of spicy rice and beans, some form of meat, and a salad. We’ve had french toast, oatmeal, and eggs for breakfast. Some of the flavor combinations are unexpected and delicious, like spicy onion salad dressing, spiced peanut butter, and anise-coconut oatmeal.
As with most things here, the plan is often evolving and appointments shift frequently. We continued our walk up to the palace, but it got quite rainy when we arrived, and we decided to take shelter at Father Tijwa’s house. Of course he took our group (Mike and Libbie Poirier, Laura and Alisa Monda, Kayla Fix, and Kelly DeWolf) in and we wound up having an impromptu wonderful business meeting. Libbie set up her own microfinance program through Father Tijwa and met Marjorie, a 22 year old woman who wants to start her own business. Libbie was inspired to help out and had saved money from teaching piano to do so. That night she presented her program to the medical team. She was so inspiring that by the evening’s end she had gathered over $1000 of support.
APRIL 12, 2012
It was another full day. The Rotarians and I met with Father Tijwa again to visit his church’s school, and the medical group walked through Michel’s garden in the afternoon. The garden was more like a spot in the jungle with a bunch of sweet potatoes, bananas, mangoes and avocados intermixed. Michel knew where everything was, though, and his cousin Joseph harvested several sweet potatoes for us to have for a meal later. We had a very cultural evening. First Jeff Ostensen hired a band to play at the soccer field. Then the Rotary treated us to a cultural night at Lakou Lakay Cultural Center here in Milot. The band element was completely surreal. We traipsed out to the far edge of the local soccer field where a band called Leya was playing. The band consisted of 15 or so hot pink t-shirt clad young men with mostly homemade instruments (galvanized metal trumpets, PVC-pipe horns, drums and shakers). Next to the band stood a large group of local young men staring seriously. (I dubbed one suave looking fellow a Haitian will.i.am from Black Eyed Peas). Downfield a cow grazed and the whole while we were there a soccer match was occurring.
Donni, Libbie and I went over to the Haitian young men and tried to get them to dance but they were shy. Eventually one guy stepped out and showed us some extravagant moves. We joined in for a bit but when his moves turned a little complicated, we backed away. Libbie approached the guys again at the end of the set with no luck, but finally a woman danced with her. It was quite a show.
The cultural show that the Rotarians arranged was surreal in its own right but was also very nice. We learned a little about komba and vou dou dancing, heard call and response singing and drumming, and ate tasty regional specialties. It was very professionally done. The surreal part was when a large group of locals stood behind us while we were eating our fancy meal. It made most of us quite uncomfortable and reminded me completely of OXFAM’s Hunger Banquet, which is a program that reflects the global inequities of food distribution. We were much happier when the locals stayed for the entertainment. They obviously enjoyed the singing and dancing, and they went absolutely bonkers when Father Tijwa was pulled up on stage to strut his stuff.
APRIL 13, 2012
Friday the 13th lived up to its name. After an exciting day at the hospital yesterday (in which an OR bed caught on fire), we thought we’d used up our bad luck on the 12th. But there was plenty of good luck, too.
I accompanied the Rotarians to Limbe, Rosedanie Cadet’s hometown. Rosedanie is the Haitian woman who met with us before we left the US. She now lives on Orcas Island and has started an organization, Helping Hands Noramise, in her hometown. We visited the organization’s community house, gardens, and school. The 1 1/2 hour drive from Milot to Limbe was very insightful. We saw the hustle and bustle of grimy Cap Haitien; the quaint, simple, primitive huts among rice paddies, pasture land, hillside terraces; burned out old factories; and we even caught a glimpse of Labadee, the Royal Caribbean International Cruise Line’s private faux island port. Labadee is a curious-sounding place. Apparently the cruise line was outed in the ’90s for not telling passengers they were going to Haiti. They only called the port Labadee, Hispaniola. (Hispaniola is the island that encompasses Haiti and the Dominican Republic.) More recently Royal Caribbean has received flak for sending ships to Labadee directly after the 2010 earthquake. It was difficult to grasp how people could possibly be snorkeling, kayaking, and enjoying fancy cocktails just a few miles away from the town after town of flooded, dilapidated shacks receiving US AID that we passed between Cap Haitien and Limbe.
The real adventure happened on our way home. As we approached Cap Haitien we noticed a police blockade. There were several policemen in full SWAT uniforms, carrying semi-automatic weapons. They were checking car registration papers. Unfortunately, ours were not in order. This meant the police seized our vehicle and we were left stranded for a while on the side of the road. We had no idea how long we’d be waiting. Despite a long, uncertain wait, everyone in our group was reasonably calm throughout the event. I really wished that I could know the other group members’ inner monologues at the time, though. I personally went into survivalist mode a little in my head, glad I’d paid enough attention to where I was that I could’ve found my way to an English speaking institution not too far away if I had to, happy that I had hours of daylight left if I needed to walk all the way to Milot if I needed to do so. Fortunately, though, CRUDEM sent another vehicle and we wound up waiting for only a couple of hours.
The rest of the day was far less eventful. John and I ran the vendor gauntlet between the hospital and our housing area. We purchased a few items. The vendors here are incredibly aggressive. Everyone says they want to be your friend, you are their son or daughter, or that Jeff Monda is their “chief”. John says he’s impressed by how much English people speak for not having any formal training. In the evening, most of us stayed up late visiting, playing dice, and enjoying 3-star rum and coke.
APRIL 14, 2012
This morning the Rotarians left and many of us did another “moving” (workout) session. To finish, John, nurse Jennifer Gehringer, and I went for a run around the village. We joked that people pay a lot of money for mud runs like we had on the side of the muddy dirt road, dodging motor bikes and tap taps. But the joke was really on us, as the few villagers who spotted us seemed to react to our running with varying degrees of wonderment. We definitely provided some morning entertainment for the town, though, as we attracted triple the number of observers on our way back to the compound. It almost looked like they were cheering us on in a race. But their faces seemed to reflect bewilderment.
After lunch we headed into Cap Haitien in a local tap tap. That was an experience in itself. We packed 17 people into this converted pick up truck with bench seats, abuzz with loud music and flashy colors. It was the perfect way to see Cap.
Cap Haitien makes Milot look like a quaint upscale mountain village. This bustling city is the second largest in Haiti. It is filthy, crowded, and full of traffic patterns that look like absolute mayhem (a woven pattern of tap taps, “moto” bikes, trucks, and whatever else can squeeze in) but somehow work. In fact, Haiti in general seems to be like that in many ways. The situation may be challenging–with trash piles everywhere and streets and shops in disarray–but somehow people here make it work.
In Cap we first made a stop at a tourist market, which was a series of 75 weathered stalls that had obviously been built a long time ago for cruise ships that never come anymore. The artwork and jewelry the vendors were selling was worth seeing, but what was really stirring was the view. The shops were oceanfront, and the salty air, sea breeze, and palm trees almost looked like any other seaside town. But as we walked out a little further we could see that instead of pristine white sand there was a beach full of garbage, mounds and mounds of it. Trash was strewn literally all throughout the beach and it was floating in the waves for almost as far as we could see. Eventually we could see blue water way out on the horizon, but it was a stretch to see. Standing in that spot viewing the trash beach, hearing vendors begging us to spend a dollar on their necklaces, and eying the tattered homes up and down the hillside I was overcome by sadness. This place could be a beautiful seaside city. This country should be touted for its natural scenery, its friendly faces, its gorgeous people. Instead, it seems in so many ways like we’re visiting another planet. Things here, though functional, are so tough to see. People seem very happy, but I’m still conflicted about what the solution is for Haiti.
We rounded out our visit to the big city with the complete antithesis to the trashy beach. We visited the Hotel du Roi Christophe, a high end hotel and restaurant that caters to foreigners and wealthy Haitians. It was the prettiest place I’ve seen in this country. It was a grand, colorful establishment with tree-filled grounds, a pool, and fancy artwork. We sat there and enjoyed the peaceful, relaxed ambience with rum punch. We visited for a long while, and when we left I spoke with an American electrical worker who complained about the rooms in this hotel. If he only knew…
Tomorrow we will hike to the Citadel, which is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the area. The members of the group who have been here before have talked it up so much, I can’t wait to see what the day will bring.