Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anger and Peace

Right off the bat I want to let you know this post mentions a little about politics.  I try not to say my opinion one way or the other on this topic.  I hope I do a good job, if not then please write your local congressman / senate representative.

I had a little confrontation with one of the sisters.  I don’t know why but Haitians can ask some very tough questions.  Questions that leave you wondering; are you serious? 

Sr. Martha is the embodiment of habit-wearing, phd-having, nun-awesomeness.  Teaching theology to students in Haiti is only a ¼ time job for her.   Being highly educated, she spends the rest of her time in Rome teaching “formation” which is the process by which a woman becomes a nun.  Above all else she is humorous about and considerate!  Example, after Joyce left she moved MY seat over to her table while I was up getting food so I wouldn’t sit alone,  did I mention she is awesome?

We were having a civil discussion about Obama.  I told her that he had made a lot of promises that have not been kept (like every president).  We are still in Iraq and Afghanistan and we have a brand new Health Care Bill that is just too long (read it here).  But I also said I can see him trying. 

Side Note: Senate Bill and Reconciliation Package. You can read it yourself if you don't think it's a little long!

Both Lincoln and Napoleon were people who were trying, and I’ve yet to see where he is going.  I never once said one way or another that I did or didn't like him.

How could anyone hate this guy cuz he's black?
Sr. Mary Karmel comes into the kitchen from another room and asks me “Ou pa remnem Obama paske li nwa?” (you don’t like Obama because he is black?)  If I wasn’t so angry at the time I would have said something funny and deflected the question, making her look stupid.  But anger has this way of seeping into every fiber of my being and making me seize up.

Well at the time I didn’t know how angry I was.  I don’t know what I said after, “You do not ask an American that!  You say that to an American and you are insulting them.”  I forget the rest but she left before too long.  I guess everyone else in the room knew how angry I was before I did.

But seriously, how dare she?  How dare she ask me if I am a racist?  How could one of my “friends” here at the convent think I was a racist?  On top of that it was one of the OTHER sisters who told her about the conversation that was happening in the kitchen!

Sr. Martha still in the kitchen with me allowed me to explain that we DO have racists in America.  We have people who judge others based on skin color.  America has history there and it is not pretty.  Yet I managed to explain this all to Sr. Martha and even did it in a calm voice.

I had recently talked to Joyce about the exact same thing.  The kids said that she liked Rosemellie best because of her lighter complexion.  I didn’t even know Canadians were allowed to say the word racist!

I almost didn’t go down and play with the kids that night, but I’m glad I did.

When I got down there they were playing, “American Idol.”  I walked in the doors and was immediately escorted to a seat.  I passed a line of girls “waiting to sing.”  I use the term line loosly…  Haitians haven’t quite mastered the art of line standing.

The girl who was singing stood in the middle of a large circle.  I guess that was the stage.  Even when a girl messed up the attitude was jovial.  Yet, I could still tell the girls who got up had a lot of gusto.  There was no music, there was no clapping; they just got up and sang.  If they sucked they heard the laughter before the judges got to them. 

The judges seemed to single out girls who sang in English.  Mostly because they forgot their words but it was still brutal.  One girl chose to sing Michael Jackson, big mistake!  But all in all it was a blast to hang with the girls.  It was nice to get a chill pill.

I’ll talk to Sr. Mary Karmel but not today. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The itsy betsy spider is cool as heck!

I’m going to try to tie two blogs in together Hurricane Thomas and the coolest spider ever.

Looks like a fly doesn't it!
Joyce left yesterday, two days earlier than planned.  It was a surprise to everyone because she changed her flight in the middle of the night.  As it turns out all flights for Friday (her original departure date) were canceled.

On her last day here I introduced her to my friend Betsy the fly-butt spider.  I first met Betsy as I was walking from my room to the convent and was like “holy Fly-Butt Spider Batman.”  She was munching on an unsuspecting fly that had thought her yellow butt was just too much to resist!

I like to think that I’ve found a new breed of spider so I studied her.  She tends to sit in the middle of her web waiting for unknowing male flies searching for a mate.  Then BAM gotcha.  Side note: we took IMMENSE pleasure in feeding her a few mosquitoes.  She may move awkward because of her over sized butt-weapon. 

I backhandedly mentioned that I was worried about my Betsy spider getting washed out the drain during Hurricane Thomas.  There was a momentary thought of Betsy sitting safely in my room within a glass jar, but I don’t like spiders that much… 

Then Joyce slapped me and said, “Eric there are 1.3 million Haitians who need a freaking safe place to stay and you are worried about a spider?”

Somewhat off guard I replied, “Well I don’t have a big enough jar for the Haitians…”

Even though it was light hearted it got me thinking about the Haitians and their insufficient tents.  In Haiti there are 1.3 million people in tents, 15% of the population.  Imagine if one day 1 of every 7 Americans were living in tents.  Go find 6 other people and draw straws…

A few weeks ago I went into a tent city.  Families of 8 or more can occupy a single tent.  The tents are packed so close together that it’s impossible to walk between them.  Some tents have beds inside but most don’t, and rain means that you’ve got to stand up or sleep in mud.

Imagine camping for 6 months, without any place else to go.  Camping with your kids, washing your clothes by hand, no running water, and the worst part, it’s hurricane season.  Honestly, I’m living like a king compared to these people.  Every time I get frustrated when the water is off for a day or two I just go for a walk.

It makes me wish I could had a 1.3 million person glass jar right now…
Betsy Climbing toward a mosquito.

Today I sit and watch not knowing where to help.  I continue to work on my work which has “long term” benefits.  The one solace I have is the last verse, “the itsy climbed up the spout again.” 

Keep climbing Haiti.

Alright so that’s where I should leave off for this blog but I’ve decided to keep a farewell promise to Joyce.  In lue of an Ode, she requested that I post part of our conversation about Betsy.

Joyce, hard at work or hardly working?
Joyce and I were sitting around the table talking about the dangers of genetic engineering in combination with the marvel of fly-butt spiders.  What could (and would) humans do with such a thing?  I mean it’s dangerous enough that we have lions, and tigers, and bears, but what if man made the deadliest weapon of all? 

GIANT Human-Butt Spiders!

Can you imagine the horror?  Of course they would be created first by the US for military applications in dessert warfare (to be followed shortly by China, Russia, India and strangely Cuba??).  Of COURSE proper safety protocols would be enforced so as to “effectively” neuter them… But we’ve all see Jurassic Park, we know how this ends! 

The spiders reproduce and become man’s deadliest enemy.  Luring unsuspecting males to their webs with their seductively mermaid like hind quarters!  Inter breeding with the Chinese, Russian, Indian, and Cubian Spiders creates multiple species:

  • ·         The “maiden in distress”-butt spider,
  • ·         The “I’m locked out of my car”-butt spider,
  • ·         The “old lady trying to cross the road”-butt spider, and
  • ·         The “little girl who’s lost her mom”-butt spider!

Betsy in "Come to me" mode.

 I don’t understand people who are afraid of zombies when this could actually happen!

Be careful who you vote for because they could secretly want to produce a breed of genetically engineered super smart man-butt spiders.

Now that’s scary!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Using your horn doesn’t make you a safe driver…

Road rage is a killer.  Especially when you’re trapped in a tin can, flying down the roads of Haiti at upwards of 80 miles an hour, and YOUR rage is directed at YOUR driver. 

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going to O Kay.  The drive to O Kay is gorgeous.  We wove through the mountains, drove through a multitude of small towns and villages, and hugged the coastline during our almost-pleasant 5 hour drive from Port-Au-Prince.

There was a pleasant bit of conversation between me, the head nun of Haiti, 2 of the girls, the driver, and his wife. 
I added this pic because it was Gorgeous.  The lake of O'Kay
Even this drive was tainted with a sprinkling of the road rage to come. 

The first sign came at the downed bridge (which was perfectly serviceable just covered with a mound of dirt???).  We took a 1 lane bypass around the bridge and THROUGH the river.  Many of the more polite cars pulled off the road to connect their 4x4.  If you haven’t ever seen this, older 4x4 have a locking mechanism on the front two wheels which must be manually engaged.

Butt Face (our driver) did not bother to pull off the road.  Instead he decided to sit in the middle of the road, while cars in front and back are honking, and change the locking mechanism, on BOTH sides of the river.  It would have been a minor inconvenience to us to let the 4 cars behind us pass, but I guess shrugging is easier…

Second Sign, I even kicked a pile of horse crap with my flip flops.  Luckily, there was a leech infested pond right next to the poop for me to wash off my foot.  Yeah that sucked. But at least I wasn’t in the car with the chauffer.

On our drive we passed many of the most beautiful locations I’ve seen in Haiti.  The ocean, a river flowing into a damn with irrigation trenches, beautiful mountains, the descent into O Kay from the mountains. 

After our drive and sightseeing Sr. Mary Clair stayed in O Kay and we made our way home.

After she left, the chauffer made the most dazzling show of ego, self importance, and disrespect I’ve ever seen.  For example; instead of throwing his waste sugar cane out the window he would put it at my feet.  This could have been a cultural difference and so I wasn’t angry… yet.

Lucky for me the anger would come, as the ride home that drove every nail into the figurative coffin.   I’m just glad it wasn’t mine. 

He sped. I checked and we were going 80 miles an hour at one point.  These are not highways; they would be the equivalent of American back roads. Pedestrians walk on the road, because there is no side walk. 

We even encountered a funeral procession.  The gentlemen in the procession had to stand in front of the car so that the driver wouldn’t PUSH THROUGH THE CROWD. Even with that he tried a few times.

We stopped here to get ocean water.  Again Gorgeous!
An argument between him and his wife ended with us stopping so they could collect salt water.  Awkward turtle!

To make up for “lost time” he would pass cars while blazing down the road.  We’d pass car without caution and twice we had to fit 3 cars on the crowded road.  

Then the sun set.

Haitians misuse their brights and it really chaps my hide! They turn them ON as they pass other cars, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this causes night blindness.  But this isn’t what really scares me.  In Haiti there are many cars that don’t have lights…  I counted 3 in the course of 1 hour.  Imagine passing at 80 miles an hour then seeing a car without lights drive by 5 or 6 seconds later.

At one point he scared a kid crossing the street because OUR lights weren’t on.  Our horn was the only warning the kid got of our approach, which made the kid jump out of his skin. 

After that, he almost hit 1 pig, 2 dogs, 30 people and at least 4 other cars.  OK so I didn’t count how many people he almost hit but it was a lot!  One person was hit with the mirror.  We weren’t going very fast but obviously he wasn’t driving very well either.

If I’d had money I would have gotten out and taken a taptap (taxi).  If I’d had my license I’d have asked to drive myself.  If I make it back to America I’m going to kiss the first police officer who pulls me over. 

When driving with a mad-man bring: cash, your wallet, and pepper spray.

Lesson Learned.

This is the man to look out for.  Just get out and walk!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Daily Grind

For some reason this blog has been really hard.  Maybe it’s cuz I prefer to tell stories and not off load information.  Well I’ll try my best to let you all know about my daily grind in a interesting way; although I’m not promising anything.

OK so I've really been falling into a pretty nice little schedule here.  It's really awesome to have a day to day routine.  To have work to do.  Something to look forward to.  Speaking of which I am coming home from Nov 17th through Dec 8th.

I can't say seeing my family or Shannon & Sophie doesn't play into it (it may even be the main reason).  I also want to be out of Haiti for their election on November 28th.  

Who here likes bullets?  I do I do I do.  So guess what you get a table (bwahahahahaha).

6 am
Play with orphans before they go to school!
Work Time
9 ish
Go shower (the sun has finally heated up the water!)
9:30 ish
Work Time
English lesson with nuns
Work Time
Lesson with T-Jack
5:00 (sometimes)
Walk around the local area!!!
Go play with kids again!!!!!!!!!
8:15 – sleep
Free Time (Sometimes Lessons With T-Jack)

When I say work time I’m usually doing one of the following:
  • ·         Working on the database,
  • ·         Talking to Aaron about the database,
  • ·         Planning a lesson,
  • ·         Blogging (try to keep this down cuz I don’t really consider it work),
  • ·         Washing clothes by hand, or
  • ·         On rare occasions I take a nap (who said volunteering doesn’t have it’s perks)

This is obviously a weekday.  On the weekends I try to work on the database and play with the girls without interruption from my lessons.  On Sundays they have Oratory which is where I get to know some of the local kids.  I’ve got to write a blog specifically about that.

The main reason I’ve written a boring post like this is to show you all I’m having a really good time right now.  It’s changed a lot since the first day here.  But my project has short term benefits with long term implications.

Simply put I’ve got a goal.  Everyone knows I’m a planner (albeit a flaky one:).  So having long term plans makes me really happy.  My day to day work is also really freaking fun.  The girls crack me up and honestly the need a couple good male role models.  Not sure where they are going to get that!?!

OK OK I'm going to start working on an oratory story.  That's always more fun.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Finding my niche (nitch)

I finally feel like I’m finding my niche here in Port-Au-Prince.  I’ve been finding it for the past week or so and today I feel at home.  I finally have a routine.  It may need some tweaking but at least I have something to look forward to EVERY day. 

Yeah it’s taken me a while but I’m teaching English classes to the sisters here.  These classes are in addition to my English class with T-Jack and working on some engineering stuff.  The engineering stuff is still really vague.  It looks like I’ll be building a database for the sisters (which I’ve already started).

Geek alert: This gets dorky for a sec.  OK so I want to set up a dedicated server that has permissions for remote access.  I’ll have admin access while the sisters and teachers here will have two different levels of user access.  I may be jumping the gun here but we’ll see.  I’m going to have a meeting on this today (or tomorrow or next week… that’s how stuff works in Haiti).  Either way, wish me luck.

Outside of that I may or may not be helping them build a website.  I’m also the technical advisor to the sisters regarding the engineering designs they get from architects and civil engineers…  This will kick in soon but not right now. 

And for fun I get to play with the kids.  The sisters do an oratory every Sunday with the local kids.  I’ll explain this a little later because it deserves its own blog.  Needless to say it’s a lot of fun playing with the locals.

I haven’t yet broken into the social circles among the orphans (all girls) here on the compound.  This may be due to my poorly worked schedule right now and my slowly improving Creole.  Anyway I’ll be working on it and hopefully I’ll be able to emerge as a positive role model for them.  I’m really hoping to start some English lessons with the girls. 

These are all just hopes and goals and ideas.  Doesn’t that make you excited though?  It makes me excited I have hopes and goals and ideas again.  When I first got here I had a million ideas of how to “fix” Haiti.  Since then I’ve lost all of my initial expectations (which is a good thing) and I’m starting to build up new expectations based on my experience here.
That may sound like it shouldn’t have taken me 2 months to figure out but hey guess what I’m slow.  Deal with it. 

Today I’m good.  Even with everything that’s happened.  Even when as I start getting to know the suffering around me.  Even as I become more and more disillusioned.  Through all of this one thing remains true, “If it doesn’t break you it only makes you stronger.” 

Haitians may be many things, but they are not weak. 

And they'll kick your butt!
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ode to Monica

So the other volunteer who came to Haiti with me left this morning. It was a sad and silent car ride. There wasn’t a whole lot to say after, “I know it’s for the best but I’m still going to miss you.”

Pic I took for Monica where we used to pray.

I met Monica at VIDES Orientation. I knew then we’d be great friends. First cuz she’s a giant goof ball. Second, cuz she can be bossy when it comes to health (I got dehydrated at orientation and she force-fed me water instead of letting me help clean up!) Third, she’s a solid source of spiritual advice outside of my family.

Before I arrived, I was debating whether or not I wanted to come to Haiti. I think I’ve mentioned this before. One of the many reasons I actually got on that airplane was Monica. I knew she’d need me to be there for her and I also knew I needed another volunteer to help me get acclimated.

In Haiti we became great friends. I’ve learned to look to her for a lot of my growth when it comes to God. Now I’m going to do something new, it isn’t my style to preach but I’m going to let you all know a little more about my faith...

I’ve never been a very “Catholic” person, as many of you know. Most of you don’t know that I’ve always had faith that there is a God but I’ve never defined much more than that. You don’t know because I don’t usually tell people. It’s very personal to me.

Monica cutting her birthday cake.
Well Monica helped expose me to what it actually means to be Catholic. Monica got me to start praying the Rosary, going to Daily Mass, appreciating the act of fasting, praying more and reading the Bible. Yet the Rosary was the cornerstone of our friendship.

For the first time in my life, praying the Rosary wasn’t a huge pain in the butt. It was actually kind of fun. We would use it as a way to hang out and warm up for some deep philosophical and theological discussions. These discussions allowed us to get to know ourselves and each other much better.

But the thing we did the MOST was talk about our significant others. I’d tell her about Shannon and she would tell me about Jared. We were together in Port-au-Prince for about 2 weeks before I went to Cap Haitian and about 3-4 weeks after I returned.

This morning she went back to the US because she’s been sick for 12 days.

Dear Monica,

I’m sad to see you go.
You’re friendship has meant so much to me.
Yet it’s time for you to know.
While sick, you can’t fight the Haitian Sea.
We will all miss you.
This is a poem of reminiscence.
Had you not been here.
I wouldn’t have talked about my poo
Would’ve missed your presence.
Had you not been near.

I’ll miss the times when we would talk
About all the things we found out of place
Mustering up the courage to go for a walk
Observing things that jump out at your face:
Like little boys peeing in the street;
Tents that fit a family of ten;
Wild dogs that want to bite.
Even when I felt like I was beat
You reminded me of the sorrows of other men
Whose burdens aren’t nearly as light.

So today I say goodbye.
Adios is always difficult,
With just one tear in my eye.
We both become a little more adult.
I promise to continue to fight:
Staying here I’ll to continue to see,
That which an earthquake does sow
Pray for me that I might
Have strength enough to be
The man God wants others to know.

Oreviour Monica

Biffy, Me, And Monica. Hang in there Monica!


I’ve been trying to force myself to write a blog for a week now. It’s tough to get back on the horse after you get bucked by a 104 fever. I don’t know why but this blog is a big deal for me to write. It means I’m back and ready to start helping Haiti out again.

But all that happened was that you got sick, why was it hard for you?

Good question and here’s the answer; getting sick took a lot out of me. It broke my spirit in a lot of ways. It made me want to go home. It made me want my mom. It made me angry at Haiti. It made me angry in general. Anger...

It made me face one question in a very real way, “Do I want to be here?” Well I’m happy to say that the answer to that question is yes. It was tough to realize it and it took a new friend and an old friend to make me realize this. The new friend, Joyce is a Canadian volunteer.

After I recovered she (Joyce) was the only person I could talk to because Monica was still sick (she got way worse than I did.) When we were hanging out I’d complain about the states, Haiti, and life in general. One day she said something that snapped me out of my mental funk. “Eric, you are disillusioned!”

Yes, I was. Disillusioned: to be free from or deprived of illusion, belief, idealism, etc.

Haiti has made me see the world for what it is. Earth is a rough place where privilege is handed out as a birthright. If you don’t have it forget about things like: medicine, McDonalds, welfare, and the American Passport (which allows you to actually leave Haiti).

Doctors suck in Haiti. They don’t know what’s wrong and they like to prescribe stuff just to make you feel better. Doctors here are politicians who try to lobby for their patients by making them “happy” not better. I hate that.

I don’t know why I threw that in there, it’s probably cuz these past few weeks have been such a brain twister. I’m finally starting to unravel the mess. I just found out that Monica is going home. She leaves on Tuesday (today is Tuesday I meant to post this blog a few days ago). I’m really sad about this but also happy that she is going to see and actual doctor.

Joyce (the Canadian volunteer) is leaving the first week of November. Biffy (who is still here) is an 8 hour drive away. The work that I was making progress on (making a Database to help track proposal work) is now pretty useless, and I’m thinking about asking to be sent to Cap Haitian.

I do love the people in Port Au Prince (PAP), but my heart truly is with Cap Haitian. I love the driver. I love the Choir even though they asked me for a Laptop. I love the Nuns. I love the kids yelling, “Ewik, Ewik, Ewik ‘Look’” Hehe. Little buggers. Yet I don’t know that I can leave Port Au Prince.

One thing Cap doesn’t have is the same level of need. Cap did not suffer from the Earthquake like PAP did. For some reason I feel like they don’t NEED me as much. They still have need, the need preearthquake Haiti. Today PAP has desperation. I’ll write you more about the tent cities later but for now suffice to say it’s there.

So I’m lost. I don’t exactly know where I am needed. But I keep going because of my lessons with T-Jack. My work with the database, which I’m not sure is needed any more. Along with some prayer, which is new for me.

Another digression. I’m coming home for Thanksgiving. I’ll be coming back to Haiti but I need a little break and I don’t want to be in PAP for the Nov 28th elections. I think it’d be a really bad idea.

So now that I know I want to be here I know that I’ll come back. When I first came to Haiti I did it for all the wrong reasons: Monica is here, I told everyone so I needed to “prove” myself, the people of Haiti NEED me, and I can do engineering.

When I come back to Haiti again it will be for one reason: I WANT TO BE IN HAITI.

Wow that feels really good to say. Alright I’m going to end this blog here. I’ll probably have another few blogs written over the next few days so keep an eye out. Below is a picture of the four volunteers and Sr. Mary Angela for Monica's 22nd Birthday! Monica on the left, Biffy is standing next to me, and Joyce is sitting in front of me.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Who said you can't get Salmonella Poisoning from Salmon?

I don't know who it was but they were right.

In the states I was cavalier with what I ate.  I'd eat veggies off the same board I cut steak on.  I'd eat my steak rare.  I even got suckered into eating a Korean dish that was all raw (beef and egg included).  You know what happened to me with all of this?  Nothing.  Not a darn thing.

With all the modern medicine and health insurance I could afford I didn't get sick from one slice of american under cooked meat.

In contrast, Haiti has made me careful of what I eat, even a little sheepish.  I only eat what the sister's have prepared themselves.  Everything is cooked fully and I've started steering away from mystery meats.

Yet here I am lying in bed recovering from salmonella poisoning.  It all started after a work out.  I couldn't do 20 push-ups which is a strange thing for me.  I thought I was just out of shape... really really really out of shape but later that day I was feeling sick and had to go to bed early because of dizziness and a headache.

Little did I know this was just the beginning.  On Tuesday my fever broke 104 and they took me to the doctor.  This wasn't a happy doctor visit for me.  Driving in Haiti is like a roller coaster without the inherent safety of falling 100 feet on a nearly vertical incline.  And aren't all roller coasters more fun when you're sick.

For 4 days I was laid up in bed wishing I could just visit the States for a week, a day, an hour.  Just to escape the land where reason seems to be a foreign concept and communication is off limits.

Today most of my symptoms have subsided.  All I have left is an itch all over.

One thing is for certain.  I feel like a freaking salmon.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

PAP and The Citadel

OK so I'm back in Port au Prince now. It was a long as heck drive to get down here. 8 hours in the car one way. Bumpy roads make for a sore bum. But it's ok cuz I'm here. Or at least I got here a week ago (most my blogs run a week or so behind).

That isn't cuz I don't love all of you. I do it's just difficult to get really awesome stories to write all of you, edit them (I'm not editing this one), and send them out.

I just wanted to let you all know I'm ok, I'm back in PAP, and I've been given a task I CAN do. My new job is to be the technical advisor to the sisters. I.E. I look at the engineers work here in Haiti and if they're doing something incredibly stupid, I get to catch it. Assuming I'm not feeling stupid that day.

This is better than before because when I told the sisters I wasn't an Civil Engineer they said... But you're an Engineer right? HA. Well I solved that problem, I talked to Sr. Monique and clearly told her that Aerospace Engineers can't do everything. I can build a plane, but a laser on the moon, and even solve world hunger, but building a house in Haiti is going to be a little bit out of my league.

Problem solved. Now I'm working on building a database for the sisters to keep track of their projects, learning Creole, and I'll be looking at any plans that come across my desk (a figurative desk).

Alright so why the heck don't my pictures match up to this at all? Well that's cuz about 2 weeks ago I went to "The Citadel." Today I'm finally telling you all about it.

This place was awesome: No lines, No harnesses, No rails, No boundaries, and Safety is OPTIONAL. Yup I went all over this place. It scared the carp (a fish) out of me. The pic on top was meant to be a joke but that's actually how I felt about the whole experience. The tour was in french so I didn't understand a whole lot.

This place was built by Christof Colom (Not Christopher Columbus) To ward off the french. By the looks of it this Haitian king was a master of overkill. One cannon and a pirate flag ought to do the trick...

I can't gripe about the plethora of cannons tho. I got to run around and ogle at them. I have no clue how they got these cannons up here in the first place. I had trouble walking up the mountain with a backpack full of water... They brought this cannon.

The view is breathtaking. I can't adequately describe just how gorgeous it was so I'll just let you look at the pics. The mountains you see in the pic surround the fort on 3 of the 4 sides. The other faces the plains to the South.

There is a palace at the bottom of the mountain that was destroyed by the last Earthquake to hit Haiti... Irony can be a sad mama jama some times.

Alright Lady's and Gents, this blog is raw but I'm hoping you like the pics enough to forgive me. Maybe I'll go edit it tomorrow or maybe I'll go play with some Orphans. Either way I hope you are all doing well!
From Haiti Adventures
From Haiti Adventures
From Haiti Adventures

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A good day in Haiti

From Haiti Adventures
I want you all to know that I have had some amazing days here. I tend to write when I'm upset and I just don't want to be around anyone. So today I'm going to try to break the trend and tell you all about a really good day.

As most days here start I rolled out of bed to the nuns singing in preparation for mass. Rather than being smoten(?) by a lightning bolt I roll out of bed and take the necessary 15 steps to go to mass. The priest today is my favorite so we’re already getting off to a good start.

My mind wanders to thoughts of Port Au Prince, Pizza, learning to program in Java (I’m a dork), and obviously my lovely girlfriend, Shannon. Why pizza you ask? Well, a few days prior, the sisters had asked me what my FAVORITE food was. I answered like any good America pizza and they promised to make me some before I left!

Following mass and breakfast, I wander looking for children to play with (usually one of the ones in the picture Ose right, or Wood left) or my books to study Creole (notice the capitalization). Renel stopped me to ask, “Eric, you want to go to Cap Haitian with us?” Excited to get off the compound I hurried into the car. The car pulls away as the munchkins grab onto the side repeating their mantra, “Eric Gade’m”.

A lack of the usual near-death experiences made for a pleasant ride. Without my life flashing before my eyes, I’m able to focus learning Creole with Renel and the bustling Haitian market place (which is located in the middle of the street). One of our stops was to get bread and PIZZA!

I admit it I enjoyed it, so sue me I'm no saint and I just love pizza.

Returning to the house I asked Renel (In the pic on the left) if we could go see the orphans again. Smiling he went to ask Sr. Gloria if we could borrow the car. A quick answer and we are off to see the orphans and Smiley-Mc-Smilerton. This time I got them all to make faces “Fe Makak”.

Smiley-Mc-Smilerton (in the other picture with his tongue hanging out) would glance at the pastor to make sure he wasn't looking then give me the best face he could muster. Afterwards we'd all laugh as we looked at the pictures. This process repeated 18 times (yup I counted). I gave the pastor some cash for food and we left.

Feeding 1 orphan for a week: ~$10
Pants from Northface: $60
Plane ticket to Haiti: $400
Camera from that I'm borrowing: Duh free
Pictures of orphans: Also free (see bullet above)
Never hearing this little diddy again: priceless

Later that evening Jean-Robert swung by for a Creole/English lesson. He brought a book with him and would point out words he didn't understand, like blushing. Living in a nation of blacks he has never seen skin that becomes darker due to sun, embarrassment, or anger. For a Haitian to redden their skin they get surgery (Michael Jackson's living legacy). I tried to demonstrate that my face turns red by holding my breath. He looked more baffled than ever but I tell myself he understood.

After our lesson I got the unique experience of watching a Haitian movie. The movie was corny and fun to laugh at, but I actually got to experience life with JR, Sippo, Nata, Ose, and the security guard. For once I wasn't the center of attention and I got to just sit and relax with my friends.

That night the sister's had made a pizza. It was absolutely amazing. They asked if it was the best pizza I'd ever had and unable to lie I said no. However, it was darn good and I told them as much! The sauce was a blend between tomato and buffalo chick sauce. The crust was fresh Haitian bread which is amazing. Only the cheese and and meat needed some attention. Given the situation I could NOT have asked for more. It made that day one of the best and I fell asleep feeling less like a stranger.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Visiting the orfaneles

I've mentioned Renel previously in my blog (He was previously known to me as Raymond...). At that time I wasn't able to paint you the correct picture of Renel (aka Raymond). I hadn't yet come to know him, his name, or just how much I would come to like him.

Renel is the chauffeur for the nuns and the church's guitarist. Being the chauffeur, he tends to invite me along when he goes on an errand. When we are on the compound he helps me study Creole. Often when I play soccer he is willing to join me. He has also taught me to play Haitian Casino (card game) and taken me to meet his girlfriend. Most importantly, he seems content to just be friends.

A friendship we began immediately, in spite of the language barrier. As far as Haitians are concerned he has been blessed. He plays the guitar for the church, eats on a regular basis, and donates to a local orphanage when he is able. Last week, he was kind enough to take me with him to the orphanage.

I didn't know it at the time but he was giving me a different taste of Haiti. I needed some cheering up and Renel knows I love playing with kids. As we are drove down the road we enjoyed semi-bi-lingual small talk. Our conversation died as we exited the patchy main road to dirt. Parking in a little area next to a local water pump he told me we were at an orphanage.

Usually I like to mentally prepare for these sorts of thing. Put up a little mental barrier and imagine bunnies with wings. I don't know why but it helps. No time to prepare, I just walked right in. The compound was paltry: a small classroom, writing on the chalk board that stretched onto the bricks, and a small house, sized for 1 American or 15 Haitians. I smiled faintly as I passed the two boys sitting in the class room. My brain instantly overloaded and I shut down, I was a walking recorder. Rounding the corner I come face to face with the orphans.

They are the shyest kids I've seen in Haiti, and hesitant to greet the goofy blan. At Raymon's suggestion, I began taking photos of the kids. Trepidations at first they stand and watch. The bait is set and I all I need to do is show them the first picture. The silence was replace with laughter and one of the few words I understand “Gade'm Gade'm” (Look at me!). They would wait for me to show them the picture rather than creating a mosh-pit so as to grab at the camera first.

These children were different from any others I've met. They were all leery of being hurt again. In their eyes I could see a tale of pain. The loss of a parent, brothers, sisters, and family to end up in a shelter with a kind stranger. Hunger, not a thing of the past yet less familiar than before. Deep wounds. The pain in their eyes was only a slight distraction from the smiles that sung a song of hope. One child in particular caught my attention.

I don't remember his name but I'll never forget his smile. The picture can not do justice to this smile. He warmed my heart again and reopened my eyes to the beauty around me. Such a small thing yet his smile had a profound affect on me.

As much as I want to say, “I inspired them,” I can't. I walked away from there with renewed hope and a longing to give more of myself to Haiti. After a few minutes we left and my brain slowly started thinking of bunnies with wings.

The orphans are all taken care of by a local pastor who doesn't have the means to take in more. He can hardly sustain the kids he's got and as you would expect relies on charity. Renel gives to them when he can, but for a struggling Haitian musician it isn't much. I remember his exact words, “God has blessed me so I like to give back.” I knew at that moment that Renel was going to be a great friend of mine.

Donations: I hate to give sales pitches so I'll keep it brief. I'd like to start giving the pastor food, clothes, and a couple toys. If you are interested in participating please let me know.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The stolen soccer ball.

A little background first: I borrowed a soccer ball from the convent and played soccer with all the kids so they knew I had a ball. If you were wondering, soccer balls are like crack for kids anywhere but in the US. You give them a new soccer ball and you are better than Saint Nick. So the fact that I, the rich American, had a ball meant that someone was more than likely to get their hands on it.

Ose lives on the compound with his father, Sipo. He's a little bit of a hellion but not a bad kid overall. He is more familiar with the layout and knows my room, he also has no fear of punishment.

Well in the morning Ose and his sister were sitting at the open door waiting to pounce on me like a pair of catnip starved kittens. “Where is the ball?” “Give us the ball!” “Please, give us the ball.” “You can come play too!” I told them later but I saw the ravenous look of an addict in Ose's eyes, but I went and ate breakfast like usual not thinking anything of it. After breakfast I went to go get something out of my room and found my door open. I didn't even bother to check if they'd stolen any money, my camera, ipod, or radio. Most of the kids wouldn't know where to look for my money and wouldn't know what an ipod was...Still in shock I went straight to Ose.

“You no go in my room!” I said. “Mwen Pa Kompran (I don't understand),” the little long-fingered fiend replied! (Instead of saying the nine-fingered discount here they say a person “has long fingers” if they are prone to thievery. And Ose isn't really a fiend the word just sounded really good there.) Lucky for me there were a half dozen kids around who understood me and were HAPPY to interpret for Ose. The little fiend (see it's just fun to say) relented and he acknowledged that he can't go in my room. P.S. there is no way for me to lock my room. Not possible, unless I get a new door and door handle...So, Sr. Valeria and I went to go get some sand paper from the store and I let them play with the ball. In all honesty, it is my fault that I never saw my beloved George again. I had a pretty good inclination George would be lost to me forever, I just didn't know how much I cared about him until he was gone...

The trip to get the sand paper was uneventful. We walked in, I was quiet and she did the bargaining. It is hard to bargain with a Haitian when you have a Blan (foreigner) with you but nunsseem to make due. When we returned the playground was empty, no playing kids, no Ose and no Jeff, err George.

I found Ose later and had an in depth conversation with him while my friend John Roberts was around. He speaks great English and has been helping me learn Creole. With him correcting myCreole, I told Ose I wasn't angry, I was sad. He betrayed my friendship and I don't like it when friends steal from me. It makes me not trust them. I also told him that now that I don't have a ball I can't share with all the kids. I wrapped this little motivational speech up with telling him that I wasn't going to tell his dad. If he didn't understand anything I told him he understood that meant no beating. This was about as far as my Creole could go so we hugged it out Bear Grylls' style and moved on.

In the long run, Jeff was a fairly inexpensive ball but the principle remains the same. I'm trying to let these kids know I don't have money just lying around. I want to pay for all their needs, but I just can't. Instead I want them to know I'm here to help them in ways I can. By teaching them English or by just listening to them. Money isn't the thing a lot of these Haitians need. Sure money will help a small non-profit reach out to more people. But when you start throwing money at a population, they expect it.

It doesn't matter who you are, entitlement is a feeling all people get some point: I deserved an A, I deserved a raise, I deserve a umpa-lumpa. I don't care who you are we all feel this. It's part of being human. It's only a problem when you decide to take matters into your own hands; whether that be by telling Willy that you want one of his Golden Geese, or my treasured soccer ball.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thank you but I've lost my appetite.

Preface: This entry was written on what I would like to call a bad day. It is intended to pull at your heart strings and help you get one step deeper into Haiti with me. While I usually write with humor, this is my attempt at trying a different approach.

I fall in and out of a mental funk here in Haiti.

I see so much suffering. The air is thick with it, and it gets in your lungs. At times this makes me want to turn and run. Run for the mountains, for the salty air of Seattle, or toward the embrace of my loved ones. There are days, however, that I want to breathe more in. I want to be a Haitian, to be part of the story of pain I see written on their faces. It stems from a need to completely relate to those people around me. Yet, I have an implicit knowledge, I’m Blan, and my suffering will always be at a deficit.

Even with this gap between us, I strive to understand. Fasting is one of the techniques I use to help me relate. My fasts in Haiti manifest in multiple ways, one of which being that I do not eat until I am full. Full; a memory of Thanksgiving, pants that seem to have shrunk during, and the famous American turkey coma. We suffer through digestion pain with our families. Its one of the few comfortable pains in life. It is a feeling that I miss and yet the memory of that feeling separates me from the people around me, because they will never know it.

It is in this memory that realize how different I am from the people here. I will never share their constant struggle for life. It is a conscious that is always with me. There are times that I try to escape my own thoughts by putting my headphones on, laying in bed, and shutting my eyes. Yet even, my mind has turned to Haiti. In my dreams people are tightly wrapped packages, made with skin, bone, and gas bloated bellies. Their tired eyes that have long since lost their luster. Hunger is a feeling they remember with fondness, and for some their bodies slowly stop responding.

While rare, these cases exist and I've seen them. I've seen the eyes of children who aren't lucky enough to get one meal a day.

Although it kills me to admit it, I've been protected from this side of the suffering every day or even every week. I'm not yet strong enough to see those glazed over eyes every day...

Time for a story:

I love to wander the compound here in Cap Haitian, usually searching for kids to play with. Sometimes I need something to do and Wood, my favorite kid, always cheers me up. Tuesday, I needed some cheering up so that's where I was, walking the compound. Yet my timing was off, it was noon, a time for people to eat what they can scrounge up.

Most of the people go home, but the compound always has a few stragglers. Some of the stragglers lazily take naps and others are just sit in the shade, to get out from under the heat. As I pass the nappers I tread quietly and politely greet those who aren't yet dozing. Yet this day, I saw an frail old woman taking respite under awning of the school. I didn't recognize her, and she looked as if she just walked in from the street. Her head was resting on the palms of her hands as she was bent over her knees.

The closer I came the more details I was able to make out. Her clothes was tattered, her body had the tell-tale signs of hunger; stick figure arms and a gaunt face. I give her my usual greeting and our eyes meet. She moves her hand to her bloated stomach, an indication that she wants food. Her eyes told me all I needed to know, she needs food, but I'm “not supposed to give anyone food.” Unable to bear the weight of her gaze I turned and walked away.

I don't know why this one woman affected me more than the others. It was the timing, it was my mood, it was the light, it was all of the above, or maybe it was just because at that moment I was hungry.

The hunger here is inescapable, it is a harsh reality that surrounds me. In these moments I turn to the serenity prayer and look to a future where I'm capable of doing more for these people, my friends.

If you don't know the serenity prayer here:

This photo was found at: http://michaelnajim.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/serenity-prayer-and-sea-sunset.jpg