Did I Speak Too Soon?

26th July 2016

Well, maybe I spoke too soon, because when I decided to go out for a bit of a walk around the block before dark this evening what did I meet when I got to the top of the road but a road block. The police seemed to be out in force for some reason and it looked like it was serious business. They were all in black with guns to the ready and black balaclavas covering their faces. It was a little bit frightening alright as I had no idea what was going on.

Police in Port-au-Prince Photo: courtesy of www.wikipedia.org

Police in Port-au-Prince
Photo: courtesy of www.wikipedia.org

I decided to walk in the opposite direction and keep out of the way. But in order to do that I had to walk through the crowd that had gathered to watch what was going on. I spoke to no one but kept walking in the opposite direction, not knowing what I might meet further down the street, after all, what I had encountered might only be the tip of some iceberg. Being a stranger in the area I had no idea how to gauge what was actually taking place. I continued walking in the general direction I had intended and hoped things might have panned out by the time I got back to the junction to my street.

There were quite a few people all along this street, but that could be normal for the time of day, I didn’t know whether it was or not as I had never walked there at that time before. At the next junction I met a busier road and everything seemed quite normal in that it seemed like rush hour traffic was simply making its way home after a day’s work.

I continued my short walk and made my way home earlier than intended thinking to myself, well what a great journalist you’re turning out to be! The first sign of activity and you head in the opposite direction!

When I arrived at the top of my road, there was still a little activity but no sign of the police! I made my way home, on the one hand wishing I knew what exactly had happened and on the other hand, glad I was back safe and sound in this city.

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Safe or Unsafe in Port-au-Prince?

26th July 2016

I arrived in Port-au-Prince last Sunday as I am flying back home on Thursday and a car was bringing others for a flight on Monday. It seemed the obvious thing to do. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to stay in the Religious Sisters’ of Jesus and Mary house in Port-au-Prince until I catch my flight on Thursday morning.

All I know about the city is what I have heard on the grapevine. It’s very hot, it’s not very safe; you daren’t go out alone and everyone lives in a compound set up!

Well, this morning after spending two nights here in the city and being confined to my room for the most part, I decided I would take a walk a bit further afield before the sun became too hot.

Photo: courtesy of Wkimedia Commons

Photo: courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In reality I haven’t a bull’s notion what area of the city I am in or how to get from one place to another, should I wish to do so.

My little walk took me quite close I would think to the centre of the city as I ended up at what seemed to be a memorial garden to Haitian independence. I went for cover out of the hot sun and sat under a tree to watch a bit of the world go by. This is one of my favourite pastimes when visiting a new city. I love to sit at a pavement cafe and watch all the goings on. But on my travels this morning I didn’t come across any such entities in Port-au-Prince.

 

tap tap bus in Port-au-Prince

tap tap bus in Port-au-Prince. Photo: courtesy of www.thirdeyemom.com

Street Trading in Port-au-Prince is everywhere Photo: courtesy of Fred W. Baker III

Street Trading in Port-au-Prince is everywhere
Photo: courtesy of Fred W. Baker III

The route I took brought me down-hill and I passed many street traders selling everything from bread to Rhum to beer and soft drinks. I passed shoe-shine boys busy shining their fellow-country men’s shoes, women cooking bananas and other Haitian delights by the roadside and others selling the basics staples such as crackers, onions and tomatoes, while others stocked pineapples and watermelons.

There were other traders in abundance also, selling clothes – everything from shirts to sandals and bags to books. They make use of every inch of space, pavement space, wall space, car-boot space and of course head space. The head spacers are unique in that they don’t seem to have a designated spot along the pavement but wander around the general area with a large container perched on their head, holding their wares as they encourage those passing by to make a purchase.

My morning stroll took me along what I might call the ‘educated route’ as I passed university after university, college after college and school after school. The main thoroughfare while not exactly teeming with people was certainly very busy as people went about with a definite sense of purpose.

Meanwhile some of the traders were still only setting up their stalls and their wares. Two women were busy hanging string from nail to nail along a wall where they would then set up their wares – handbags and sandals. I was tempted to take a closer look at some of the sandals, particularly those I saw with Haiti on the cross-strap but I didn’t want to get into a bargaining situation and so continued about my business. On the other side of the street a man was setting up his bookstall complete with shelves and all. He had the shelves attached to the wall of what I think may have been a hospital or clinic of some kind.

It seems anything goes in this city. It is vibrant with movement, traffic and purposeful people.

At the park/garden I sat close to a monument constructed to celebrate Haitian independence and ‘La Constitution de 1801’.

It’s a nice park with trees and walkways and I noticed it is still very green considering the heat we have here in Haiti. From here I could kind of watch the world go by for a short time. That’s when I noticed the mountains in the background, it reminded me somewhat of the mountains that surround Nice although they are higher here in Port-au-Prince and I would say also greener considering its July. (When I visited Nice in the south of France it was May and its mountain vegetation, if I recall correctly seemed much sparser).

I came to the conclusion that many of those I passed by during my stroll were students of one kind or another. Throughout Haiti it seems there is an abundance of students from pre-school to third-level and beyond. And they come in all ages and sizes, with the hope of a better life for themselves and their children. The problem of course is the lack of opportunities here for those even with education, never mind those who haven’t been lucky enough to receive that basic necessity.

Despite the fabulous weather and the glorious sunshine there was another vibe going on in the background. I came across people sleeping on pavements, beggars sitting on pavements with their hands out and dirt mounting up in certain spots not to mention the occasional bad smell from one area or another that had obviously been used as a toilet. In the park I also noticed lots of rubbish (and not a rubbish bin in sight) and some people making it their home.

I stopped off on my way back for a cold drink and a seat in a Sol Shop which are attached to some of the National gas stations. Here I was glad to sit down inside in the air-conditioned building and savour not only my cool pineapple juice but also the busyness of Port-au-Prince outside and regard the entrepreneurship I had just witnessed all along my route.

Everyone I had encountered had something to sell and would remain selling all day long, despite the intense heat, in order to make some kind of a living for themselves here in Haiti. If they didn’t do this they would simply go hungry as there is no State support system in place.

As I neared my destination I remarked to myself how, for the most part, the city seemed to be green and glad with the trees holding onto their foliage, the sun splitting the trees and the people busy as bees. And I hadn’t felt unsafe at all.

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Artisan Business Network in Port-au-Prince

The gift shop at the Marriott Hotel in Port-au-Prince tucked away in a corner beside the main reception area has an array of handmade artisan crafts made in Haiti.

Gift shop items at the Marriott Hotel

Gift shop items at the Marriott Hotel

Everything from jewelry to handbags have been carefully selected from a wide range available through the locally based Artisan Business Network in Port-au-Prince in an effort to highlight the excellent workmanship of its members.

IMG_0503

If you get the chance to visit this luxurious hotel make sure to check out the Network’s colourful collection of high quality gifts.

s available from Artisan Business Network

Gifts available from Artisan Business Network

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5 Star Luxury in Port-au-Prince

After 3 months living in the rural environs of Jean Rabel I decided today was a day for a bit of luxury – because I’m worth it!

Knowing I was now on the homeward straight a longing for ice cream and a latte were foremost in my mind as two of the first things I would do on landing in Dublin airport. My sister had already promised she would pick me up and I’ve been planning the journey home wondering where is the nearest McDonald’s to could stop at en route to get my fix.

Since arriving in Port-au-Prince last Sunday, I’ve already had not just one but a couple of ice-cream tubs, and I’ve really enjoyed them.

When I realised the Marriott hotel was so close to where I am staying, I thought, I’ll surely get a latte there, hence my mission this morning!

And as I hadn’t had access to the Internet since Saturday, I thought I’ll kill two birds with the one stone.

The Marriott hotel in PAP is luxury personified, in my book. It’s bright and spacious with a minimalist feel to the lobby, beautiful bathrooms, a coffee dock, friendly staff, a centrally located bar area with a dining area beyond. I was in business, and the luxurious feel of conditioned air was the icing on the cake for me as I stepped in out of the hot sun shortly after 9.00 a.m. having circumnavigated the building a few times in an attempt to find the pedestrian entrance.

I love to people watch and ponder what kind of business people are on when I encounter them in such elaborate settings. But this morning I was on a mission to catch up with my emails and Facebook; and drool over a long-awaited latte.

Swimming Pool in Marriott Hotel

Swimming Pool in Marriott Hotel

But before any of that, the ‘pièce de resistance’ beckoned – a swimming pool beyond the lobby area! I pushed through the doors and found myself in what could be described as paradise, blue sky, palm trees, swimming pool and lots of outdoor seating areas, on two levels, with bright orange parasols contrasting superbly with the deep blue of the pool and the sky. But I was somewhat disappointed! The warm air all around me could not compete with the fresh air-conditioned interior.

I had a wonderful morning in the coolness of the hotel and was loath to leave it to head out into the midday sun, but I had no choice, not like most the other clients who seemed to have arrived by car. Most of the clientele were impeccably dressed, particularly the Haitians, there were some Americans and Europeans also on business in the hotel, but they were more casually dressed, I felt, certainly not as smartly turned out as the Haitians.

Whatever business was being done in the sumptuousness of the Marriott hotel this morning seemed light years away from where I had come from in Jean Rabel a meagre 200 miles away, but so vastly distant at heart.

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Peacock for Sale

27th July 2016

During my short few days in Port-au-Prince I think the most extraordinary sight I came across has to be the peacock for sale on the side of the street, that’s right, a peacock, as large as life and as colourful as they come, perched on top of a number of coops full of birds of every description from chickens to hens to budgies and maybe even parrots. I’m no expert on birds of the feathered variety but there were plenty of them there with their master, ripe and ready for sale.

I wasn’t particularly surprised by this sight as I had seen so many different things all along the street as I headed downtown but it’s certainly not a sight I regularly envisage when I conjure up city living. But then again I have to remember I’m in Haiti – a land unique in so many ways.

Haitian Households' Feathered Friends

Haitian Households’ Feathered Friends

Even within the city/suburban garden where I am staying there are a range of feathered species safely tucked away in their coups and runs, and they produce a good number of eggs for the residents. I didn’t ask what else they might do with them! But time will tell.

They may produce organic eggs but I wouldn’t necessarily say they are free range; they needed to be cooped up so the dogs wouldn’t get them, you see, and the dogs are needed for security and safety reasons. Animals play a large part in the lives of ordinary people in Haiti, as I’m sure you have deduced by now.

As I’ve mentioned before, Haitians tend to live according to daylight and darkness but for some reason, the cocks in this part of the world don’t seem to do the same. ‘Cock crow’ doesn’t automatically mean, dawn as I would think of it because cocks can be heard crowing at any hour of the day or night in the city just as much as in the countryside. If I don’t remember having heard the cock crowing when I wake in the morning, I know I’ve had a good sleep!

 

 

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24th June Big Celebrations in Jean Rabel, NW Haiti

As an Irish person living in Jean Rabel in Northwest Haiti, the feast of Saint John the Baptist (Fet Jean Baptiste) felt like Christmas. And perhaps it was Christmas time as I’ve been told Christmas itself is quite an underrated occasion and lacks any feeling of celebration.

The town of Jean Rabel, like many in Haiti has been named after Saint John the Baptist (who came as a forerunner to Jesus). He was born exactly 6 months before Jesus as his feast is on the 24th June, exactly 6 months before Christmas Eve.

During the days leading up to the feast day itself there was lots of activity in the town and lots of visitors arriving by bus for the novena that took place from 16th June.

As well as visitors arriving by bus, a large number came to the town by car and on the 24th itself there was almost a traffic jamb (a hitherto unheard of occurrence) in Jean Rabel.

Many Haitians now living in the US arrived to celebrate the feast with family and friends. This caused great excitement for local families delighted to see their offspring or other family members back in the home town.

Over the weekend of the 24th many weddings and baptisms took place in the local church while other parties and celebrations brought much needed business to local hostelries. The atmosphere was uplifting and joyous and Sr. Rose who has experienced many feasts of Saint Jean Baptiste in Jean Rabel said she felt the celebrations this year were heartening to see as it seemed to be the mark of a new vision for the area and a greater positivity for the town since the devastation of lives and livelihoods that squeezed so much life from the people left behind after the Haitian earthquake that struck the country in 2010.

After Mass on the feast of St. John the Baptist itself, everyone was treated to a meal in the church grounds which brought the whole town and its visitors out in force with an air of community spirit, joy and togetherness that many, especially in Ireland, associate with Christmas.

Perhaps Haiti is now beginning to look forward to a better future, but the reality of such a future is dependent on so many variables (such as weather, good harvests, political stability, the building of trust and honest dealings throughout society) outside of the average Haitian’s control, we can only hope their strong Christian faith will sustain them as the future unfolds.

 

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Survival of the fittest! Walk in my shoes before you judge me.

We all know the saying ‘dog eats dog’ and understand its meaning in the modern world. But what if I told you about a woman who walks the roads of Haiti carrying a heavy, heavy bag each and every day, in reparation for a deed she did in the past.

According to the local grapevine this woman suffers day after day for her crime of having eaten her own child.

That sentence certainly puts a new spin on the saying ‘dog eats dog’. I don’t know if I can believe the story I’ve heard; I don’t know if you can believe the story either, but if you lived in Haiti and had nothing to eat and nothing to feed your baby with, and no where to go for help or sustenance who knows what you might do?

None of us can be sure how we would react in someone else’s circumstances, however much we think we might. Life is hard in Haiti and people must become hard to survive so before I judge this woman and her alleged crime, I’m sure it would be wise for me to contemplate what life must have been like for her (if indeed she did commit the crime) at that time.

Having spent some time in Haiti now, I am sure there are many people throughout our world who are and have been hungry enough and desperate enough to have done something similar.

As my father always used to say, “there but for the grace of God, go I.” Those of us who are fortunate enough not to have encountered such a predicament can only thank God for our privileged existence, many others have not been so lucky.

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Dental Work at a Reasonable Price

A Spanish Dentist and three eager student dentists arrived in Jean Rabel on Friday to offer the local people dental treatment at very reasonable prices.

They will be here living in Kay Klodin and working in the local clinic each day for over 2 weeks and are expected to treat a large number of people.

Dental Costs

     Dental Costs

 

Here are the costs for routine dental treatments for the people of Jean Rabel during the stay of the Spanish Dentists.

Ignacio treating one of the patients

Ignacio treating one of the patients

Here Ignacio is treating a patient.

 

 

 

For 17 days a group of 3 Spanish Dental students worked 6 days a week in the Dental Clinic in Jean Rabel, treating close to 150 patients in total.

Maria, Victor and Ignacio under the tutelage of Dentist Carlos Gracia-Soler undertook abstractions, teeth cleaning and reconstruction work on those who presented themselves each day. They brought lots of equipment with them from Spain to carry out the work and enjoyed the experience o f helping so many people despite the many difficulties they encountered onsite. Initially there was a problem with the compressor which had to be fixed in order for them to carry out their professional work to the standard they wished.

Carlos treats a patient while Maria and Victor look and learn.

Carlos treats a patient while Maria and Victor look and learn.

Next was a problem with the dental chairs which caused them untold stress as it meant they couldn’t always have the patient at the optimal height for comfort. And then to top it all off, a problem with the water supply reared its head 2 days before they were due to leave and head back to Spain to continue their dental studies.

 

But they took the upsets in their stride and even managed to see a little bit of Haiti while they were here, visiting the beaches at Môle-Saint-Nicolas and Bord-de-Mer at weekends.

 

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Home Alone!

I had the opportunity to visit a newly built home in Jean Rabel about 2 weeks ago and was really impressed with the location and the beautiful garden it offered its owners. The garden already has a year-long supply of mangos from the well established trees that shelter the front of the house, making it an ideal spot for relaxation or play for the two young girls living in the house.

The family has already moved in and the only furniture I saw while viewing the house was a large dining table and chairs. In the children’s bedroom there was one single bed which the girls shared; there was no sign of any bed for the parents in their room. I wondered where exactly they sleep, but perhaps like so many Haitians, maybe they are content to sleep on the floor. The floor by the way is made of concrete and I doubt very much if any covering will be installed any time soon. There was no kitchen or a place to keep food or crockery, that I saw. All the cooking will be done outside using charcoal, so this does away for the need of a cooker and an electricity supply.

The toilet is housed in an outhouse, the weather is hot or warm all year round so there is no need for plumbing for heat or a water supply, they use the local river water which is pumped through a canal which runs very close to the house.

The only storage I noticed was a ‘wheelie bin’ which held much of the children’s clothes and a suitcase or two which most likely was used for the parent’s clothes.

The walls were still in their rough concrete state and might remain so for a lifetime. But the owner of this particular house was truly content that his home was now almost finished and he could now enjoy living there.

What struck me most was the fact that his two young girls, perhaps about 4/5 years of age and 6/7 years of age were just sitting on a low wall at the entrance to the site when we arrived and were happy to go back to the same location when we left, waving their dad goodbye,

Typical home in Haiti

             Typical Haitian Homes

homes in haiti2

they were home alone, but not unsafe, I felt, as there were other householders nearby, going about their daily tasks of washing in the canal, preparing food or tending their gardens. These two little girls were part of that community and by   assumption, therefore, were cared for while their parents were out at work!

Homes in haiti

 

 

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Summer Camps for all!

Every summer during July and August a number of Spanish volunteers arrive in Jean Rabel and help out at summer camps for the children.

This year Beatrice arrived on 7th July with Gabrielle and Maria arriving on the 12th and their enthusiasm to get going at the camps was infectious.

Once the preliminaries were out of the way the girls simply got on with the task of planning fun activities for the children in Colette and those from the immediate vicinity of Jean Rabel itself.

Along with Middia, a Religious Sisters of Jesus and Mary Postulant, they entertained up to 100 children each day with two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

In between the two sessions they also assisted Naza with her work in the Atelyer where beautiful handmade crafts are created by 25 local women, often using recycled material to create useful accessories, jewellery and home-wares such as aprons, handbags, pencil cases, lap-top bags, cards for all occasions, wall-hangings and ear-rings.

Beatrice is a final year student of Pharmacy in Madrid, Gabrielle has just finished a degree in Engineering and Maria teaches kindergarten, both in Seville, Naza’s home town. Middia is Haitian and has completed a degree in the Science of Education in Port-au-Prince. She came to Jean Rabel to improve her Spanish while the Spanish girls were here before she heads off to the Religious Sisters of Jesus and Mary in Cuba in the coming weeks.

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Voodoo

Since coming to Haiti I have heard a little about Voodoo. It seems to be still very much in vogue here among everyday Haitians, who put a lot of store in practitioners and what they have to say.

I haven’t come across it personally but the night before I left Jean Rabel to travel home to Ireland (23rd July), I was awake all night. There was music and chanting going on the whole night, with the noise coming at me from the near distance.

Voodoo paraphernalia in the Marche en Fer, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Voodoo paraphernalia in the Marche en Fer, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

I was aware of it but it didn’t really register with me as to what it actually was. I was just aware of noise going on in the distance and I just wished it would stop so I could get to sleep.

The following morning Sr. Nazareth said she hadn’t had a good sleep either and put it down the Voodoo ritual that had been going on the whole night long not far away.

It’s a funny thing here in Haiti that it presents itself as very much a Christian country with references to Christianity everywhere, but yet on the grapevine you come to realise that even practicing Christians in some cases are also practitioners of Voodoo.

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