Follow by Email

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The things we read, the things we carried back, some thoughts on international aid and service, and being a tourist in Haiti.

And now, enroute to home. We are on the plane back north, this one to JFK, then after an hour plus there, a second flight back to Logan.
Our trip began this am with a pick by taxi at our house by Elvens, the same driver who brought us to the house 9 days earlier. It was a fascinating trip both times around. First, back through Jacmel then across the mountains, from south to north, back to Port au Prince. I'd hoped we'd have enough time to stop in the city and take a look around, and we did. Our trip out to Jacmel, we'd gone on a long continues route lined with vendors. Not sure of our geography, we didn't realize that this had all been part of the capitol.

 While P au P hadn't sounded very appealing, I had wanted to at least see what it was like. I'd been hoping that we'd left early enough to do so, and indeed we had. Elvens said we'd have enough time for a meal, did we want him to drop us off at a restaurant before the airport? Neither of us wanted a meal, but we did want to get a tour around the city, and we did. It was the same combination of half built buildings, small brightly painted cement blocks homes and business, ruins, but more extensive and intensive than Jacmel. 

Elvens took us to a series of courtyards that went back from a street, to a photo exhibit of photos of the devastation of the earthquake, an exhibit mounted for the 5th anniversary. I'd actually seen an article about the exhibit in the newspaper I'd found at our house.  The photos were by Haitian/American photographer Daniel Morel. The pictures were graphic and heartbreaking, many focused on the shock and pain of individuals caught in the devastation. 

As much as I wanted to take time to look at the photographs, I was even more taken by the hundreds of sculptures made from scraps of various kinds that took up the walls and floors of the series of courtyards. They were huge and tiny and in between. Many featured doll heads, combined with other materials in grotesque but appealing configurations. They reminded me oddly of sculptures made of tin cans and doll heads and other scraps that I'd seen sold at an arts fair in Salisbury Ma. a year or so before. But these were less cute, more grotesque.

 Loring, I could see, was worried that I would be carting one of the large scale ones back home. I was good, though, and decided more quickly than normally. I didn't see a small one with a doll head, but did find one with a Barbiesque body, sans arms, and a frame that looked like strips of tire tread, and some caps that were probably from water bottles, that said Haiti. A fine end to our travels and an excellent souvenir. I bargained briefly, without the heart for it, and paid, I'm sure, too much. The only reason I feel like I should bargain is that I don't want to be taken for a stupid tourist.

The piece reminded me somewhat of some of the street sculptures we saw in Havana.  I think they both have a voodou quality, but don't know enough about voodou art to say what it is. I put it in my suitcase just as we arrived at the airport, so look forward to taking a better look at it when we get home.
I didn't buy as much as I have in the past in terms of crafts, but am happy with what I did purchase. I have two papier mache pieces that I hope make it home intact. They are in the suitcase I brought down filled with supplies for the school. I think they were better quality than the other artists whose items I saw in Jacmel, but I liked them even more because we saw and spoke with the woman, Charlotte Charles, who made them. I bought a small metal piece that struck me in one of the shops, even though the man who was selling it told me it was $25 when I came back, rather than the $10 he told me before.  Loring had heard him, too, so I know I hadn't misunderstood.  I did not feel bad insisting on the $10 with him.
 I also bought two small paintings from a young man on the beach, one for Carolina and one for Max. He first unrolled a dozen or so that were about 20 inches square, and I said I could only use smaller ones. He left and came back about 10 minutes later with two small pieces, each of which he'd cut from one of the larger ones!  I told him that wouldn't do. He was persistent but polite.

He left again, living all the paintings spread out around us on the beach.  He made another excursion and came back about a half hour later with about a half dozen small pictures. I didn't like most of them at all, but, luckily, there were two that I did. He'd earned his money, although I'm sure I also paid him more than he would have been willing to sell them for.

Loring is convinced that much if not all of the artwork of various kinds is mass produced in China, and it's quite possible he's right!  When we were in Venice a few years ago he was reading a book by a Chinese American man who drives along the Great Wall and has all kinds of interesting encounters. One was with a woman who lived in an "art city" in China where great numbers of people are employed painting multiple  copies of paintings of famous places which are then sold in those places as originals. Well, they are originals, I guess. Didn't all kinds of artists learn their trades copying the works of great artists in whose workshops they apprenticed?

The vendors are surprisingly low key, some more insistent than others, but none are annoying. And some just ask once, say merci if you say non, and move along.

So I'll give M and C their paintings, whether Haitian or Chinese made, and hope they'll like them.

Aside from the first couple of days, where we walked up and down the road a mile or two, then went to Jacmel, and then to L'Ecole lDignite, our general pattern was to walk all or part way to Ti Mouillage each day, catching a tap tap if one came along, and then spending the entire afternoon there.
Most days we ate at the restaurant there, too, crab one day, lobster another. The setting couldn't be beat - turquoise tables and chairs on the sand, a few yards from the shore. Kids playing soccer that went into the waves. A few fishing boats in the distance. The owner of the restaurant and cabins ( we never saw anyone staying there)  and a few friends  playing dominoes at a nearby tables.

 We hadn't been sure just how we were going to find either the supermarket or the place to pick up a tap tap back. We were just wondering around the town hoping to stumble on the right place. I asked a woman on the street about the supermarche. She didn't understand me, but after I'd started to walk away, said, oh, le supermarket? It was practically around the corner, as was the tap tap depot.
 Last night we hadn't yet decided whether to eat at our same restaurant on the beach or go back to one of the others we'd tried before. Then two men came up the beach, one carrying several lobsters, the other a bunch of fish. I wasn't sure if the owner was going to buy the fish, so quickly went up to him and said we'd like fresh fish for supper.

Promptly at 4pm, our fish dinner was served. We hadn't specified the time, but that was the time we'd eaten our other dinners there, so they didn't even need to ask. We'd been on an early dinner schedule for a couple of reasons. One, we hadn't eaten much or any lunch most days, so were hungry by late afternoon. And, also, since we didn't want to get home much after sunset, 4 seemed like a good time for dinner.

Have I mentioned our electricity issues? Yes, I think I have. We'd settled into a a regular schedule of  Jeancene turning on the generator when we arrived home around sunset, about 6, and turning it off a couple of hours later. In the meantime, we made sure to plug in our kindles and camera batteries and computer, and to drink cold water out of the water cooler while it was somewhat cold. And to drink some of our canned club sodas while they were at least somewhat cool from the 2 hours of freezer time they had each evening.
What we didn't quite understand was why some of the places in the village did have electricity, that did not come from generators, while we did not.

And then there was the time, a day or two ago, when we ran out of gas for the stove. Loring had gone down to the kitchen to boil a couple of eggs for us to have with our crackers, cheese, and salami for supper. But before the water could boil, the gas ran out. We went in search of Jeancene. He said, not surprisingly, that it was too late to get gas, that he'd do it first thing in the morning.

 But before he came back, though, the next morning, we'd also run out of water from the tank on the roof. That was less of a problem, first, there was still some on the second floor . And, it took just a brief run of the generator to get the pump to run the water back up to the tank above us. So we soon had both water and gas back again, although Loring had to wait a little later for his usual pre-dawn cup of coffee.

All this is amusing in retrospect, and was pretty much so even at the time. It's hard to be frustrated with Jeancene, he is so good natured, offering his hand to shake every time he sees us, with his still disconcerting "buenos dias" and his big grin. On the other hand, we feel we need to tell Lionel the things that weren't right with the house, to be honest, and if he wants to continue to rent it. The couple of times Lionel called to see how we were, I tried to mention, in a nonchalant way, the issues with electricity, gas, etc. But we've also been compiling a list of things we think the place needs in order for it to be rentable for more discerning folks than us - a couple of plastic porch chairs that aren't broken, a few more glasses, etc.

Loring just announced that he read 9 1/2 books while we were in Haiti. I think I've read seven or eight.  He woke up about 3 hours before me most mornings, hence the difference. We've both read many but not all of the same ones. Most but not all had Haiti themes. I read The Big Truck that Went By, written by Jonathan Katz, about the aftermath of the quake. He's an AP reporter who was in Haiti during the quake. Loring read that too. We both also read Claire of the Seas, a series of interrelated stories by Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat. I'd had Junot Diaz's This is How you Lose Her on my list for a long time, but then came across an essay by him about the earthquake. So I read both the essay and the novel. He's Dominican American, and the book is about growing up as a Dominican American man in New Jersey.

We both also read The Oldest Woman in the World and other Stories by Kirk Colvin. The stories take place in Haiti, but we weren't able to figure out if they were true or fiction. I'll have to check once we have internet again. They provided another interesting perspective but left me kind of puzzled.
I just finished An Untamed State by Roxane Gay, another Haitian American. It begins with the abduction of a Haitian woman from her family's gated in compound in a wealthy section of Port au Prince. It's an intense, powerful read.

read Still Alice, which Loring had read a while ago, about a woman with early onset Alzheimer's. We'd just seen previews for the movie, I figured I should read it soon.
And we both read Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, which takes place around an elementary school in Australia, not a thing to do with Haiti. I chuckled all the way through it, and Loring did too. It's an odd mixture of hysterically funny and dealing with quite serious issues, very well written.

Final thoughts? I am surprised that the Haitians I've met and observed don't seem as destitute or desperate as I had imagined. Yes, I've seen plenty who live in tiny shanties or less, and surely can't have terrific health or nutrition, much less opportunities. And yet they don't seem, on the surface, worn down by their lives or situations. Most smile or say bonswa when we pass each other on the road. Their clothes look clean and not overly well worn .More surprising, although there are few private cars, there are tons of people with motorcycles. Ones with entire families riding on them, ones with young couples, many with two or three men. How can they possibly afford to buy them, even to pay for the fuel? Or are they lured by salesman with enticing loans that they aren't able to continue to pay?
And what about the horror of living through an earthquake that has taken thousands, many thousands of lives? According to Katz, the AP writer, there are no firm numbers on how many died, because the different agencies, government and private, don't agree, don't even come close. The government had no numbers on how many inhabitants, before the quake, lived in the country. The various death estimates range from 80,000 to 320,000, an upsettingly large range.

Five years have passed. Lots of buildings, including the government palace, have never been rebuilt. Some have been cleared, some still lie in ruins.  How do people even recover, emotionally, from that kind of trauma?  Is it any easier when it's collective, when everyone you know has been affected, because your pain is no worse than anyone else's?  Or are there layers of damage, not physical but pyschological, that could never be noticeable to the casual observer, many, thousands suffering from some type of post- traumatic stress related to what and who they have lost. And yet they smile when we pass each other on the road, or when we climb up and squeeze into the already crowded tap taps.
I would be interested to read or speak to some mental health workers who have dealt with survivors. Or are there even any such trauma mental health workers here?

There were many aid workers in Haiti even before the earthquake, and hordes that poured in afterwards. And we've seen a number of groups of Americans that were clearly here on some type of aide trip.

Our driver, Elwens, spoke disparagingly of them when Loring asked him if the international aid had been of any help. He said that the workers came mostly to eat lobsters on the beach. I would hope that at least some had more good intentions than that. But I also wonder if all the money poured into the country does much good. Katz, the AP writer, is not any more lauditory. He is talking about the big groups, not the little church and other service missions, although I'd like to know his thoughts on those.

I’ve come across a similar issue in my own volunteer work .Does it really do any good to spend a couple of weeks in a situation planting a garden or teaching kids English or whatever the particular project is.? Or is it more to assuage the guilt of the privileged, or give the college or gap kids something for their resumes?  My answer to that is twofold one, I really do these projects for myself, for what I get out of it, and only secondarily for the people I am supposedly helping. But, also, isn't there some merit even if you just reach one person, make an impression or have an impression made on you. You know, the old tossing the fish back into the ocean parable.  It's not going to save the world or even anyone in it. 

But, I am thinking now of the boy I met on the beach this week. He was selling shells. He also had two notebooks with him. I didn't need any shells and they weren't even very nice. But he showed me his notebooks, and how he was learning chemistry and biology. I figured it was part of his schtick, but I chose a few shells anyway. He was so sweet. Later, and the next day, he sat on a wall, and later, in a hammock,  singing his notes to learn them. Whether he was a good salesman didn't matter. He was truly interested in learning. I won't forget him. I hope he remembers at least for a bit, one foreign blan who took the time to listen to him. 

Blan, by the way, from blanc, doesn't mean white so much as foreigner, and is not derogatory. From what I've heard and read, it isn't strictly for whites, either. A foreign person with of dark skin is, apparently, a blan as well.

As far as whether the billions of foreign aid that poured into the country in the aftermath of the quake ever reached the victims, it seems the answer is that most of it did not, that relief effort was mostly an abject failure.  From all Ive read and heard, from fiction to the AP reporter’s book to our driver, Elvens, to the articles in this week’s press, the answer seems the same. I don’t know, will have to read more, how much of this is endemic to Haiti, to the degree of poverty, amount of corruption, any other factors.

And I don’t know how much the many smaller relief projects, soon after the quake and continuing into the present, that build or rebuild houses, schools, etc. are subject to the same criticism. I hope that the  medical  trips, at least, provide critically needed services. 

And I personally think projects like the mosaic one in Jacmel do serve an important purpose. In many streets where we walked in Jacmel, especially near the water, were wonderful mosaic walls and a beautiful  well used staircase.  I saw no signs about the mosaics in Jacmel.  But when we returned, I found info online about the U.S. mosaic artist who has spent much time in Haiti and some other places doing mosaic work, It  has involved the community, especially children,  has really brightened the city and made it visually beautiful for both the inhabitants and for tourists.

Loring, though, has a good point about reconstruction projects. How much does it help for a group of us blans to come down when there so many Haitians with no source of income who could use and do the work, and probably a better job of it. Volunteers for Peace, the organization with which I’ve participated in numerous projects, currently has eight different projects in Haiti. I think highly of VFP and have recommended them to many people. But it is, I think, a valid question. 

 Is it our place to do projects that take badly needed work from people who desperately need it? Is it ok to do art projects, or other ones that the locals couldn't initiate, but not ones they couldn't do on their own? I welcome other thoughts.

We went to Haiti on a vacation about which some folks we know were incredulous. Surely, most people from abroad who aren’t Haitian come on service trips. And I think, that was part of the appeal to us, to see what it was beyond all of our perception of it as a place of poverty and crisis, and if it was a place that we thought people could and should consider for a vacation. Our conclusion – it was interesting, beautiful in many ways, as well as very poor and sad in terms of the poverty, and what we knew of the disaster and hardships, both before and since the quakes. If you are looking for upscale accomodations and service, it’s not the place for you. But if you are an adventurous traveler and interested in culture, it might just be.

Madarines and mangoes, lobsters and crabs, and a krewel "bonswa" to all

It is now Friday am. We leave for home on Sunday. We have settled into pretty much of a daily routine , Loring up before sunrise, me two or three hours later. Today, though,I have awakened for the sunrise for the first time. Today is also the first time I've lost track of which day it is. Surprising that I have kept track, since I often lose track at home, at times between semesters, when my routine is more open ended.

 I like the slow pace of the days, when the biggest decision may be which way to walk, or which fruit to have for breakfast. We have our choice of bananas, mangoes, mandarines, grapefruits, oranges. It took a few days to realize what the grapefruits were - they look like giant lemons. And the oranges are green I skinned, not so sweet, and my least favorite.

Our breakfasts, along with the fruit and coffee, have been pb and j and crackers, which we bought our first day in Jacmel, on our way from the airport, and then again in Jacmel, the day we spent there, three days later. We also have cheese and salami, which we've added some mornings to the mix, or for lunches if we are hungry before we head out to the beach.

Ti Mouillage has become our default destination. It is really the only sandy beach in the area. It is about a 15 or 20 minute walk from our house. There's a restaurant/ bar and some lounge chairs. We have generally picked up a tap tap ride somewhere between our house and there, and then walked back in the early evening around Sunset.

Yesterday, as we arrived, the burly, friendly manager, and probably owner, invited us into the kitchen and showed us two enormous crabs, as well as lobsters. He asked us which we wanted, and if we wanted to eat about 4pm, which has become our routine. Shortly before 4, we moved from the beach chairs to the tables and chairs in the sand. We noticed people congregating behind us, a bit toward the road. More and more arrived as we awaited our crabs. It was some kind of community meeting. And our restauranteur was clearly one of the organizers. We ogled them a bit, and they us. Our chanting student shell seller from the day before was in a hammock between us and the group, swinging and singsonging his lessons like on the day before.

Our crabs arrived, the legs overflowing the plates. On a separate plate were the ubiquitous spicy cole slaw and fried plantains. The coleslaw is great, the plantains I am tiring of. The waiter showed us how to crack the claws with the handle of our knives, and then, realizing we were somewhat stymied, proceeded to help us with it.  We didn't quite have the technique, and whacked at the shells hard to crack them, which was quite noisy and drew the notice of all of the people at the meeting who were trying to listen to the speaker. They were all facing us, which made me feel quite conspicuous. I am sure they were as curious about us as we were about them.

There was another group of "blans", two couples, who'd arrived to the beach quite after us. They had drinks and took the beach chairs when we had moved to the tables.  Aside from the two chairs we were sitting in, every chair, many more than I realized were on the premises, was occupied by someone attending the meeting. They'd kept arriving, until there were probably about 50 0f them. Most were older, not the young men and women we've seen on motorcyles and just hanging about on various points along the road. But there were a few younger people there, including one young woman who sat next to the restaurant guy and seemed to be one of the leaders. I wish I could have understood even a little of what they were discussing. But the speakers had their backs to us, the waves were loud, and they were no doubt speaking in Creole.

What must they think of us, beside that we are rich? Does being on a beach watching the waves have any appeal or soothing effect, or is it just a part of their environment that they take for granted. For some, it is a livelihood, we see the fisherman in boats from our deck and from the beach, but very few, actually, just three or four boats that we've observed. And they must be aware of the appeal of the ocean, not just to us blans but to well off Haitians who at least begin to build their grandiose houses here.

I wonder how many of these homes, including the one we are living in, will ever be completed. To us, this house doesn't feel complete. It is livable, for people like us, who regard living without much electricity (just a couple of hours at night) as somewhat of an adventure. (I'd mentioned missing refrigeration much more than electric light, but as Loring points out, we also rely on the electricity to keep our cameras and kindles and computer charged.  I've read at least 5 books in the last few days, and neither of us brought any paper books, so we'd have been lost without our kindles. We also are okay with the sparse furnishings (a few more cups and utensils would be nice, especially if we wanted to do any amount of cooking aside from making coffee.)

And it would of course be a palace for most Haitians. Each room of this house is bigger than many of their homes. 

But there are probably not very many foreigners, or blans,  unless they are aid workers, or young adventurers, who would be ok with the level of accomodation. If Lionel, the owner, wants to rent to more blans, he will probably need to up the comfort level. I discovered a whole folder of color fliers advertising the place, with phrases like "our ultra-modern 3 story waterfront villa"  and "ideal for a film location", the descriptions somewhat of an overreach, although not really untrue. It is modern in that there are stove, fridge, microwave, blender, etc, but not of much use without electricity, or, for that matter, pots and pans.

And yet, the couple of times that Lionel called to see how we are doing,, and once when Jeancene called him because he wasn’t sure what I was asking, I answer fine. And in fact we are fine, with the beautiful ocean, palms and fruit trees, and the friendly people to whom we say bonswa, the Creole greeting  no matter the time of day, and them returning the greeting.

A singing school director, and a singing student shell salesman

Wednesday, half way thru our Haitian sojourn, We spent Monday in Jacmel. Yesterday we went to visit a school, L'ecole le Dignite, about a 15 minute walk from here, 10 minutes on the road, and another 5 minutes up a hill, as Viviane Vieux, the director, had told us. I'd gotten her name from Lionel, the owner of our house. The school has been there 15 years, and Lionel has known her from the beginning, when there were only seven students. Now there are over 250, from grade one through nine. Viviane is quite the character. She's from the area originally, but has lived in other places, has two grown children living in the states, and two who had lived there but have returned to Haiti.

Viviane says she came back here to retire and relax in a hammock, but that didn't happen. She has incredible energy and enthusiasm, and a somewhat impish personality. She kind of bounced and sang her way into each classroom with us behind, and introduced us to each group. Some students were shy, others giggly, and a few volunteered to talk to us, the younger ones in French, which they are learning, and a couple of the older ones, young teens, in English.

The school is free, funded largely by a Swiss foundation, supplemented by Viviane's "begging" folks for support. Free schools are rare in Haiti. Most cost the families about $200 tutition, a prohibitive price for many families.

We'd brought a couple of suitcases of supplies. Jeancene got two men with motorcyles to each carry a suitcase down the road and up the hill. The intention was for Loring and me to ride on the bikes as well, but I demurred, preferring to walk, and Loring then did too. So the suitcases had arrived before we did. I'd bought a variety of school type supplies, pens, pencils, markers, a couple of puzzles and games. Most of the bulk was in two large trash bags full of Duplo, the larger scale version of Lego.  At the Y, the day before we left, the director of the child care program was giving it away, because they had too much, lots of it donations from families.They seemed pleased that it was going to Haiti. 

Viviane seemed pleased with all the supplies, noting that the duplo, which I hadn't been sure would be useful or appropriate, would be great for motor control, learning names of colors, etc. 
She showed us the large water tank, which she explained government workers had installed and monitored routinely for water quality, adding chlorine on a regular basis. But although she'd asked them to teach her how to do it, they didn't, and then eventually stopped coming. So they are unable to use the water for drinking.

She also showed us the school garden, which they are having trouble maintaining because it has been unusually dry This made me wonder how severely affected the local communities were, in terms of water and crops.

As we left the school, we decided to head directly to Ti Mouilliage Beach, really the only sandy and relatively calm beach in the area, where we'd already spent one other afternoon. We walked just about back to our own road before a tap tap came along, along with the usual rearrangements of passengers to make room for two more. We spent the rest of the day there at the beach, and had supper at the adjoining restaurant on the beach, lobster and shrimp.

Unfortunately, Loring was plagued last night and into the morning with digestive issues, which we attribute most likely to the shrimp and sauce, the only thing he ate yesterday that I didn't.
Nevertheless, back to Ti Mouilliage beach we went this afternoon, for the better part of the day. But we did not eat there today, having only a coke each. We'll go back again tomorrow, because of the beach and also because the owner said he'd get single US dollars for us tomorrow. We are running low, not on cash, but on low denominations. We have in fact used only dollars, no Haitian money at all.

On the beach I met a young boy selling seashells. He had a bucket full of them, none of them particularly beautiful. He said he was trying to earn money for his education.  It's a pitch I've heard before, in other places. He did have books with him, which I asked to see. They had sentences related to chemistry and biology, in beautiful handwriting.  I asked how old he was, and he said fourteen. I was surprised, he looked about 10.

I bought some of his shells, which I didn't need at all. When I went to pay for our cokes, the restaurant guy said he had no change, I told him to give the $3 change to the boy when he had it. The boy seemed unsure that the money would actually make it to him, so I walked him over to the restaurant guy and hopefully made clear that the change was to go to the boy.

Among the folks hanging out there was another man who spoke decent English, although with a thick accent. He told me he taught people English, and that the restaurant guy was one of his students. The man said he spoke French, English, and Spanish, but not Creole, which surprised me. He told me that he was of Haitian decent but had grown up in the US, and returned to Haiti to meet his father's side of the family. He did want to return to the US, though, if he could save a couple  of thousand dollars. Oddly enough, one of the places he'd lived in the US was Framingham, Ma.

Later, on the beach, my young friend was sitting on a low wall, chanting singsong style in a sweet voice from his notebook. However good a salesman he may have been, he was clearly a diligent student too, I wondered if the singsong memorization was the school's style of teaching, or the boy's own technique. In any case, it added a musical flavor to the beauty of the beach and the sea.

We walked back along the ride the mile or so back to our bizarrely large house, and had a hopefully stomach soothing supper of crackers, cheese, hard boiled eggs, salami, and potato chips. So far, so good, reports Loring an hour later. He has just now fetched us a dessert ration of chocolate. Hopefully in another day he will feel better enough to attempt another meal at our beach side restaurant.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Day in Jacmel

We took our first tap-tap today. In the city, the tap-taps are busses, brightly and beautifully colored. Outside the capital, they are mostly small trucks. The concept is the same, though. You put out your hand for a ride, they pick you up. We've seen some hauling donkeys as well as people. People get on and off anywhere along the way. There were about 8 to 10 people in ours at any given time, plus a large steel pot and a very large jug. At times a couple of the men were standing and hanging onto the back of the truck.  No donkeys though.

We made it into Jacmel fine, and disembarked in the middle of a very large, dense street market. People selling everything from produce to cosmetics.

Jacmel is largely, but not totally recovered from the earthquake. There are still partly collapsed buildings and piles of rubble interspersed with brightly painted new and reconstructed buildings. We passed a building where people were singing on a second floor open air thatch roofed  balcony, and waving their hands. Perhaps it was some kind of memorial service, as today is the 5th anniversary of the earthquake.

We found a couple of streets with stalls and stores of artisans, largely papier mache masks and other items. along with paintings and other crafts in metal and ceramic. Looked at a lot, and finally came across one of a woman, Charlotte, who was paining a papier mache rooster. She was as colorful as her work, was the only person we came across who was actually working, and her work seemed higher quality than most of the other crafts we'd seen. There was one other couple in her tiny shop. They were Haitian, and were exclaming about how much superior her work was to most others. I thought so too. They purchased a few painted wooden trays, and I got a saber toothed tiger mask, (very Haitian, as Loring said) and asked if she could finish painting a blue rooster that was only half finished. She said yes, and we came to the Hotel Florita, where we are now, for lunch (grilled goat for me) and internet,

It's been three hours, and in theory my rooster should be finished, and we will head back to Charlotte's shop as soon as I finish writing. The Florita was largely destroyed and has been completely rebuilt. Here at the hotel, almost everyone in the lobby/bar/restaurant is using a computer.Even two little kids, who are sitting entranced in front of an Apple. They are watching Home Alone.

Then back to the food market (the indoor supermarket kind, if we can find it) for more supplies, ie pb and J, and chocolate, club soday,  a few other indispensibles,  and then back to our house, by tap tap if we can figure out how to find one in the city.

Creole, or Krewel, as they spell it here, is a conglomeration of French and I don't know what else. Once in a while I can recognize a word. The word for hello is bon swa, in other words, good evening, in French,. But here people use it at all times of day.

I will keep writing, but may not get to post again until we are heading home a week from now.

Bienvenue a Haiti!

It is our third day in Haiti, Sunday. We flew down from Boston Friday before dawn, landing briefly in Miami, then on to Port au Prince. It is always a strange transition, going from a cold place to warm, from frost to palm trees. It leaves me with an odd feeling of dislocation, a dream like sense of altered reality.
We have rented a house about 10 miles east of the town of Jacmel, itself about 60 miles from Port au Prince, the capital. We found the house on Homeaway, which we have used before. We chose the Jacmel area because it is on the ocean, and because it is described as the arts capital of Haiti. There are, apparently, many crafs tpeople there.  We drove thru briefly on Friday, on our way here, stopping at a supermarket for provisions - peanut butter, jelly, saltines, cheese, potato chips, rum.  We knew that the caretaker here, Jeancene(ie. Johnson) would provide us with breakfast, and other meals too if we wished.

We knew from the photos that the house was sparsely furnished, and that was fine. We generally prefer rustic to elegant. There are four bedrooms here, and just the two of us. If we were indeed the ten the owner said the house can hold, we might have been hard put to find cookware, cutlery, glasses, etc for all. We were actually somewhat hard put to find enough for two. There's a pot, a pan, one mug, several glasses, enough silverware for perhaps three.

We didn't know there wouldn't be electricity, but that is mostly okay, too. We have spent plenty of time, in a variety of places, without it. Many years camping at Ladd Pond in Maine, our sojourns on a pretty much uninhabited island in the Bahamas, etc. The one thing I missed most there, in the Bahamas some 40 years ago, is the same thing I miss here, which is something cold to drink. In the Bahamas it was a  great joy to have an iced drink on our once weekly trips by boat into town.  There is a generator here, which Jeancene has run a few hours at night, not enough to keep a drink chilled. But we are fine without electric lights.

Our house here is owned by a Haitian American who lives in New York. I am not sure how frequently he is here, or how long ago he left Haiti. He lives, oddly enough, very close to my mother in New York, knows exactly where her assisted living facility is. That came up when he told me he lived in NY, and I told him I'd grown up in the Bronx.

The house is huge. There is a second floor with living room, kitchen, and bedrooms, and a third floor with living room and bedrooms and a lagre balcony overlooking the ocean.  We are primarily using the third floor, plus the kitchen to heat water for breakfast. There is also a large rooftop balcony which we haven't yet used and probably won't, since the one on the third floor is just as nice.
The breakfast Jeancene has served us is largely fruit. Bananas, tiny, drier, yellower than the ones we have at home, and mangoes, oranges that look like large lemons, and mandarines, small oranges, and larger oranges which are green skinned.  This morning he brought us coconuts to drink. There are also eggs, and the pb, j, and crackers that we brought. We've been eating breakfast plus one meal out, which seems to suffice.

Jeancene is very solicitous, almost too much so. He makes the bed every morning, and we think he's changed the sheets both days too. The first day he seemed to want to accompany us everywhere, to make sure we were okay, I guess. Oddly, he speaks some Spanish but no French. I can only guess he's spent some time in the DR.

Yesterday we walked west along the road, stopping to take photos and once for a swim.  The beaches all along the way are rocky, so no place nice to sit and relax for a while, the only dissappontment so far. Today we walked east a similar distance. The houses along the way are a mix of tiny shacks, some very colorfully painted, and half built houses on a scale similar to ours here. Very few of the large houses seem inhabited or completed.  It seems that most are post-earthquake construction. But it is not clear if construction is continuing.

We came across several hotel-restaurants.  One, fancier than the rest, was owned by a Swiss German man with whom we spoke for a while. There were no customers there. He said it was particularly quiet this weekend. probably because of the demonstrations in PP and along the highway. He was surprised we weren't aware of them.  We saw no evidence of any protests ( we didn't find out what they were protesting, the government, I assume.) Hopefully no one at home had heard about them either, or were worrying about us. We had told them we'd be out of internet contact for at least the first few days.

Mr. Lehrman showed us a room, quite nice. The grounds were pleasant and there were two
s wimming pools. He said his hotel wasn't one of the $60 ones, that the rates were from $100 to $140, but negotiable if one stayed a while. He said that a group had been there last week for 9 days. He told us that he was building a house behind the hotel for several children of two families whose mothers had died, who still had their fathers but who weren't able to care for them.

Another small hotel had little cabana rooms right on the beach. Nice but very rustic. Even those were $70.  Mr. Lehrman said people expected things in Haiti to be cheaper than they were, they didn't realize how expensive everything was, like food. He also said that people asked him many times why he chose to leave Switzerland for Haiti. He answers that there is no adventure in Switzerland, whereas in Haiti everything is an adventure.

Tomorrow we will head into Jacmel for the day.  We've considered even staying overnight if it seems like there is a lot we want to do there.  In any case, we will visit the Hotel Florita.  I spoke to the manager of the hotel from home, and had him arrange for transportation for us from the airport to here. The hotel was destroyed in the earthquake, but has been completely rebuilt. It is a 19th century building, one of many with wrought iron balconies reminiscent of New Orleans that were originally built for coffee plantation owners. There are pictures of the devastation on their website. They wanted to show how committed they were to rebuilding.

Tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of the earthquake. I wonder if there will be any visible acknowledgement, in Jacmel or in Port au Prince.

It is about a month before Kanaval, as they spell it here. Jacmel's is supposed to be even better than Port au Prince. They have moved it up a week earlier than PP's, so they don't compete. I am hoping that there are workshops we can stop in at where they are making the masks and floats. We stumbled upon one once, in Trinidad, but were quickly shooed out when they saw us, because the crews and their designs are quite competitive.

More to come, when we find internet.