Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Heading out again

So, I haven't posted anything in four years. A lot can happen in four years: a new country (Hong Kong), new job (refugee center manager), a new country assignment (Nepal), return back to the US (another new job and language training), and a new language (Nepali, but I have the vocabulary of a toddler). Whew! In three weeks' time we head out to Kathmandu. Keep your eyes on this page.

MacDonnell Road
Here's a peak at what we enjoyed in Hong Kong: View from our apartment in HDR by fabulous hubby Laurence Kent Jones

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thunder happens when it isn't raining, too...

Lazy day on the river outside of Les Cayes

Queuing up in Jeremie to buy celebrated camperrette (yum)

The ruins of the Palais National, modeled after the U.S. White House
There's a magnificent storm raging above us right now, but we're not getting the rain we most desperately need. A month ago we had an amazingly destructive four hours of sheer tropical deluge, which flooded out parts of greater Port-au-Prince, caused landslides, and destroyed roads. While we're glad we haven't had anything like that since then, we are a bit parched! Rain, please!

Laurence and I are here for another 2 1/2 weeks. We've spent 4/5ths of our married life in Haiti -- my sense is that the only thing that might drive us apart in the future is we'll get edgy with one another because everywhere and everything else will seem dull in comparison. Really. You get somewhat addicted to the rhythm of life: pulsing compas music; the cycle of disaster, public unrest, and political intrigue; the taste of piklis and banane peze. Uniformed schoolgirls walking to school with ridiculously cute and elaborate socks. The azure expanse of the Caribbean on a hot afternoon. Outrageously colorful and elaborate tap taps and buses.

Thunder is still rolling and rippling in the sky above. Glorious. Rain, please,

Friday, November 05, 2010

How much is too much?

As I sit and write this from a place of extreme comfort, thousands of people are sitting in flimsy tents while Hurricane Tomas dumps rain on this beleaguered island. I wouldn't be surprised if there are reports of frogs falling from the sky -- how much is too much? The earthquake, cholera, Hurricane Tomas, presidential elections -- what's next?

When I was a child, we spent our summers at this Victorian-era Methodist campground on the North Shore of Massachusetts. My favorite times at the Grove were days just like today: rain, rain, rain, rain. I'd curl up on the couch in front of the fireplace and read until my eyes hurt. Now when I hear rain on the roof I cringe, wondering which roads will be blocked by landslides, how many people will lose their homes, or if a wall of water will come rushing down the mountainsides and wipe out the villages below. I took the photo above in Fonds Verrettes in October 2008, one month after a series of tropical storms and hurricanes hit Haiti in rapid succession. Fonds Verrettes was badly affected by the 2008 storms, but flooding during Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 took out the entire town, leaving only the remnants of the police commissariat in its wake. Everywhere is vulnerable.

So, like millions of other Haitians and expats living here, I'm waiting for January 1, 2011. It's simply another day on the calendar, but symbolically it moves us away from 2010 and this constant onslaught of disaster. I am focusing on the Haiti that enchants so many: hot nights filled with compas music and drums, cold Prestige beers on the veranda during sunset, stunning mountains that appear to undulate towards the horizon, little girls crowned with hair ribbons walking to school... I'm focusing on beauty and hope.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

And we thought 2010 was going to be a good year!

My husband and I decided to see a late afternoon matinee in Massachusetts on Tuesday, January 12. As we left the theater, I turned on my cell phone to find 6 new messages from family and friends: “Are you okay?” “Are you in Haiti?” “Where are you?”

We should have been in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but this year we had planned our vacation for January, not December. My husband and I have lived and worked in Haiti since 2007: me with Save the Children and then the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and my husband with the US State Department. I can’t write about the devastation that has forced us from our home, redrawn the city, killed over 200,000 Haitians and displaced even more, but I can write about the Port-au-Prince that has slowly mesmerized us over the past 2 ½ years.

To live in Haiti is to have an affair with the quixotic, dazzling, and befuddling. Haitians often say there are two Haitis: Port-au-Prince and everywhere else. Home to a quarter of the nation’s population, Port-au-Prince looms large on the psyche of the country. On Grand Rue, you can – could – still see the outlines of Haiti’s elegant past; from our balcony we could see the Palais Nationale, which was modeled on the White House, and Notre Dame Cathedral, which was built at the turn of the last century. The city is nestled in deep in the Gulf of Gonave; the month of September is always filled with spectacular thunderstorms that streak across the city, bay and mountainsides.

The city, unable to keep up with the constant influx of people from the countryside looking for better opportunities, is in a constant state of mad disrepair: irregular electricity, sporadic access to city water (we had our own cistern and generator), clogged and congested garbage-filled streets, humanity everywhere. Yet even in the most hopeless slum, there is something to be hopeful about: children’s laughter, the bright painting on a taptap (local transportation) that proclaims “God is good”, or the simple act of neighborliness when strangers help a market woman lift her basket to her head. A friend of mine helped me put the city into perspective by stating that Port-au-Prince was just like being in the countryside, but more crowded. She’s right.

Before returning to Haiti in late February, I had a series of post-apocalyptic dreams: the streets of Port-au-Prince were tunneled to create a series of trash-filled canals (not far from the truth) that were suddenly set on fire – violent infernos streaking across the city. The night before returning I dreamt I was in Middle America, looking at yellow skies filled with tornadoes, at least 7 at one point. I took refuge in a yellow bathtub for the first tornado and then a high school chorus room (oddly filled with members from the cast of “Glee”) during the second storm. Somehow I was preparing myself for the return to Port-au-Prince, where I thought the nightmares would be real.

As I write this, it’s over three and a half months since the earthquake. The nightmare is real for thousands of families, unaccompanied children, and adults living in squalor in camps – planned and unplanned – across the city. My colleagues and friends who have lost loved ones, their homes, their sense of being, tell me that they might be smiling, but there isn’t any smile in their heart. They might say they’re fine, but they’re not, and won’t be for a long time.

Yet there is still reason to hope. Every survey that’s been done in this assessment-riddled environment demonstrates again and again that parents want their children in school. Children want to be in school and learning. With this desire comes change; with this change comes a better future for Haiti.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Calm during Carnaval

I am writing this from our hotel - Hotel Atlantis near Las Terrenas - in the Dominican Republic. We decided our Carnaval experience would be away from Carnaval itself, although we did go to Jacmel last weekend and witnessed a really charming and original Carnaval complete with fire-breathing papier-mache dragons, a tortured Jesus bearing a cross with American, Canadian, and French flags, and these mysterious men - les lancers du cord - who covered themselves in a mixture of cane syrup, soot, and dirt, thus rendering them the blackest black. Actually, here's some more about that from the website of photographer Leah Gordon (http://www.leahgordon.co.uk/), who has been capturing images of Carnaval in Jacmel for 15 years:

Lancers du Cord: We are making a statement about slavery and being freed from slavery. This is a celebration of our independence in 1804. The cords we carry are the cords that were used to bind us. We are always sullen and menacing and we never smile. The blackness of our skin is made with crushed charcoal, pot black, kleren (cane spirit) and cane syrup mixed with a little water in a bucket. Although we know that slaves never wore horns, we wear them to look more menacing as this is about the revolt of the slaves.

The parade was marvelous, but even more marvelous in the staging area where most of the Jacmelian Haitians seemed to be hanging out. Quite frankly, where we were it was a bit of a drunken mosh pit: vendors had been selling pints of rum since the early morning and by mid-afternoon the carnaval spirit was well mixed with other spirits. Sitting up in the balcony overlooking the crowd, we could see the people on the other side of the crash barrier beginning to get crushed by the crowds: at one point, two merging and opposing flows of people began to punch each other in the head. Carnaval spirit? Supposedly in Haiti Carnaval allows an opportunity to become unrestrainedly violent, instead of unrestrainedly bacchanalian, but I guess violence is a part of bacchanalia... Anyways, having been in a similar crowd in Vietnam but on a much larger scale, Carnaval's spirit changed once witnessing the crowds struggling and we wandered back to our hotel.

For Carnaval photos from my Facebook site, visit: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=26752&l=382c7&id=613156291

For the "big" Carnaval -- a 5-day weekend in Haiti -- we decided to go away to the Dominican Republic to rejuvenate and experience something different. We'll stay in PauP next year for the parades, but this year we needed to drive and be free! So, we got into our car way too late Friday afternoon and arrived at the Haitian/Dominican border around 6:45 PM. The road to the border skirted a rather vast and smelly lake, which I can only assume was flood water, that flowed openly into the road at times. We could see lights in the distance and knew we were seeing the DR -- Haiti! Far away, so close! Being here in the DR is maddening because we know we are on the same island, but the realities are so different.

The border was surreal. We were there too late...

More anon.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Escape from the tropics

What better to do when needing to escape the winter blues than go to New Hampshire for one of the heaviest snowfall on record Decembers ever??? (Does that make sense?) Anyways, we did not have a Haitian holiday and instead went for typical New England Christmas: bucolic, snowy, lovely. And now we're back in Port au Prince with intentions to write often and well, but we'll see how long that lasts!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Haitian tigers playing poker

Much more sophisticated than the dogs on velvet! Cheers to you, AJA.

Haitian haze

I haven't written in weeks. Not that anything hasn't happened, it's just that it's a bit of a blur and not so quick to process! I think about my past international experiences and note that "haze" seems to be a fitting description of my status within that experience: it all seems normal, but the lines are faintly blurry. Regardless, my Haitian haze cannot be confused with my Bangla daze, so let me begin.

Life in Pacot, Haiti, is quite pampered for someone who was living on an uninsulated steel tugboat. We have 3 bathrooms - 3! - and a generator that kicks in when the power goes out, which is often and for long periods of time. Our lovely plot of land is covered by mango trees and other lush tropical plants. My desk faces the front of the house, where I can spy the passing feet of the scores of women and children trudging up the steep hill carrying water from the polluted stream at the base of the hill as there is no city water. Never have I lived anywhere where there wasn't any sort of infrastructure for water in the capital city -- and Pacot is a pampered neighborhood where the elite of Haiti lived in the 1930s - 60s. Something fundamental is simply not working.

I'm working full time at my old NGO that has been working in Haiti since 1985. I'm their education manager and busy, busy, busy. Delighted in having work to do but dismayed by the volume of it all, Laurence and I soldier on. He shuttles off to work daily at 6:30 AM; I jump into our old Jeep Cherokee around 7:30 and enjoy my reverse commute up the hill beyond the Hotel Montana whilst listening to Radio France Internationale, pretending that my French is improving. (It is, actually, but not nearly fast enough!)

Weekends are simple: shopping, dinner out, a little adventure. We're going sailing next weekend, which will be delightful, and then we're off to Florida to visit my grandparents on All Soul's Day and All Saint's Day, which are BIG events in Haiti and worthy of a day off!

That is life. It's pretty simple, a little bewildering, and occasionally restless. But then something extraordinary happens: a flight across the mountains into the Central Plateau, a shared smile with a young schoolgirl riding in a taptap on her way to church, or a huge laugh with a delightful colleague. I'm still getting to know this place, but I have a feeling one never really gets to "know" Haiti. You feel it.