Sunday Lunch in the Best Restaurant in Town

Rose and Naza with the team of 3 Spanish Dentists in Chachou's Resto, Jean Rabel

Rose and Naza with the team of 3 Spanish Dentists in Chachou’s Resto, Jean Rabel

4th October

Last Sunday we had dinner in one of the best restaurants in the town of Jean Rabel, or ‘Resto’ as it is simply called in Kreyol. The owner, Mr. Chachou is friendly and welcoming and offers typical Haitian food, fried chicken, fried banan (plantain), a beetroot based salad, pikales, fried potatoes and a mountain of rice.

The occasion was that we had a team of 3 Spanish dentists staying with us this week offering dental work to the local people at a fraction of the regular price. [Read more…]

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The Big Divide!

4th October

Nothing brings out the big divide between rich and poor quite like the build up to a country’s general election. And in Haiti, perhaps even more so than in other places!

Last Sunday Jean Rabel was treated to the presence of Dr. Maryse Narcisse one of the candidates in the upcoming election, a member of the Fanmi Lavalas political party.

Dr. Maryse Narcisse, Presidential candidate for the Fanmi Lavalas Party

Dr. Maryse Narcisse, Presidential candidate for the Fanmi Lavalas Party

Of all the candidates to have arrived in the town over the past few weeks I would say Dr. Maryse Narcisse had the biggest turnout from all ages. Indeed she was accompanied by the Haitian National Police, unlike the other candidates who visited during the past week to make their last plea for votes (perhaps this was because she also had renowned former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide accompanying her). [Read more…]

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Hurricane Aftermath

6th October, 2016
Despite the huge winds and very heavy rain and the assurance that hurricane Matthew has wreaked havoc on many families in this area of Haiti where the only livelihood centres on farming, crops and animals, mainly goats, others have turned a devastating occurrence to their advantage.

Gathering timber for charcoal

Gathering timber for charcoal

There are always some enterprising souls ready to seize their opportunities as soon as they strike and by Wednesday afternoon many people had begun harvesting timber from the large numbers of fallen trees around the town of Jean Rabel. This they will likely sell as charcoal for cooking, it being the main source of fuel in the whole area. [Read more…]

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Friends in High Places!

7th October

This morning broke bright and sunny with the promise of a good day, a typical day in Haiti, a welcome sight after hurricane Matthew and the overcast days that followed.
With the sun came a stream of people, mostly women seeking help from the Sisters in the aftermath of the hurricane, with the queue forming from 6.00 am.
Sr. Rose directed them to the local leader, telling them it was the responsibility of the State and not that of the Sisters. But these people are local and know only too well their best bet for getting assistance in times of need is to come directly to the Sisters and that little or no assistance will be forthcoming anytime soon from the State. [Read more…]

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No River Crossing Today

10th October

We headed out to school today for the first day since hurricane Matthew struck Jean Rabel. The devastation it caused was evident all along the route, with huge trees just outside the town having fallen during the gale force winds. Some have been taken away but others lie all along the side of the road for the moment. In the fields the crops have been flattened, particularly banana trees and sugar-cane, the main-stays of the area, which are sturdy plants but they were unable to withstand hurricane Matthew’s destruction. [Read more…]

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Spanish Dentists Visit Jean Rabel

10th October

Last week we had three, Spanish, Dentists visiting with us here in Jean Rabel. They came to volunteer their professional services to the local people. Oriol, Marieuna and Carmen worked as many hours as possible and must have attended up to 100 patients at very reasonable costs.
Oreol has volunteered in Haiti before both in Port-au-Prince and in Gros Morne. This was his first visit to Jean Rabel and he brought staff from his Spanish practice to help him. They were two lovely young girls, eager to use their skills for the benefit of others.
They told me that if they hadn’t seen the misery in which the people of Haiti live day in and day out, that they would not be able to believe it! [Read more…]

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Back to School

3rd October, 2016

Schools here in Haiti returned at the beginning of September but many didn’t bother attending regularly until October began. The reason for this is mainly due to the pressure of the high cost of education relative to income in the country. There is no ‘free education’ in Haiti and families struggle to send their children to school, to buy their books and uniforms.

School children enjoying a meal

School children enjoying a meal

Haitian school children

Haitian school children

The policy is that the children are allowed come to school in normal clothes for the month of September but by 1st October they are expected to have their uniform. However, many simply don’t come much till October arrives but overall there has been an improvement in this regard over the past few years as education has become more of a priority for parents in the Jean Rabel area.

The Religious Sisters of Jesus and Mary have been instrumental in this regard, having established 6 pre-schools/primary schools in the area catering for about 600 children and implementing a sponsorship programme with up to 200 children having their education funded.

[Read more…]

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Hurricane Matthew hits Jean Rabel, North West Haiti

5th October 2016

Fallen trees in the school yard under our home

Fallen trees in the school yard under our home

Well this is the scene I awoke to at 5.30 this morning as hurricane Matthew continued to rage in Jean Rabel, NW Haiti. We thought we were going to escape it as the weather was all calm up to Tuesday at around 1.00 pm, although we had had rain from about 5.00 am that morning.

We had to cross this stream at the back of our home

We had to cross this stream at the back of our home

Lots of damage to trees in Jean Rabel

Lots of damage to trees in Jean Rabel

The wind howled and the rain poured down and we thanked our lucky stars we were fortunate to be living upstairs over the local school in the town. This meant we were unlikely to have rain coming in the doors regardless of how many inches fell.

Many were not so lucky; these children were busy trying to get rid of about 12 inches of water outside the door of their home at about 9.00 am this morning.

Two children helping to beat flooding in their home

Two children helping to beat flooding in their home

This tree is only one of the numerous ones that fell within close proximity to our home. This one even uprooted the concrete surrounding it in an area in front of the local priests’ home.

Naza checking out the damage after hurricane Matthew

Sr. Naza checking out the damage after hurricane Matthew

One tree even uprooted concrete

One tree even uprooted concrete

And this car (belonging to a local German organisation) was damaged by a falling tree while parked nearby.

Car damaged during hurricane

Car damaged during hurricane

Sr. Nazareth was anxious about her workshop to see how the roof held up over night. It wasn’t a pretty sight when she entered this morning. There were gallons of water that leaked in through a hole in the roof, needing to be swept outside and lots of materials needing to be dried out.

Sweeping out the water from the workshop

Sweeping out the water from the workshop

Without delay however, the stalwarts of Jean Rabel (who Sr. Rose and Sr. Nazareth have befriended over the years here in the town) were on the scene helping us to get rid of the water, and make the roof waterproof once more.

Meanwhile at the back of our house, the usual pathway to the classrooms was blocked with these falling trees (the only benefit being the crop of mangos that up to now were not ripe enough to fall from their height).

Pathway to computer room

Pathway to computer room

One of the classrooms was fairly damp with a good pool of water sitting on its tiled floor and Sr. Rose lost no time in setting to sweep it out. The mobile clinic’s chauffeur was on hand without delay with a mop and bucket to help with the operation.

The rain had come in under the door due to the fact that the building is built on a slope and will need work done to ensure such an occurrence won’t happen again. Thank God the new printer and computer, installed only last week, remained intact!

As we slowly got back to normal and removed as much water and leaves as possible from around the veranda of our home and from the steps downstairs, in order that no one would slip and injure themselves, we began thinking about our neighbours, knowing many of them would not have escaped as well as us from the impact of hurricane Matthew.

I went down the road and around the corner to see the river that runs through the town and usually furnishes the townspeople with water for daily survival. Two days ago this river was almost dried up and people were worrying about a shortage of water in the area.

This morning however, it flowed, furious and fast through the town – and it didn’t look very clean to my eye.

This could cause further problems as the days pass, if people cannot access clean water to drink. We were in need of some rain for the crops and a supply of water throughout the area of Jean Rabel but I’m not sure the supply we now have will be of benefit.

I’m sure the next few days will tell us the true story for many people in Jean Rabel who daily live from hand to mouth and are ill equipped to weather such catastrophes.

Many must be isolated with no food and little access to food, as fallen trees have completely blocked roadways and byways that are normally used by walkers and motor-bikers (taxis) allowing people go about their daily business.

I hate to think of the conditions of many families I regularly pass on my evening walk. Their homes are flimsy, built on the side of a hill, with little to secure them in place and a dirt track for a road or a pathway for access. These now have undoubtedly changed from sturdy, dry-earthen, dirt tracks and roadways to muddy and mucky flood paths, making access and egress next to impossible.

It’s amazing that despite the fact that movement is so difficult, the rain and the wind were so strong and heavy and roadways are blocked or turned into mud slides, regular market stall-holders still turned up today to sell their wares in the Jean Rabel Wednesday market.

Wed Market Day

Wed Market Day

To me this shows the persistence and tenacity of the Haitian people, particularly the womenfolk who are in a majority among market sellers. It will take more than hurricane Matthew to quench their spirit!

 

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Don’t You Love Pop-Up Shops?

In Haiti, the Pop-Up Shop comes into its own! It seems to me the only way for anyone in Haiti to make a living is to sell their home-grown or home-made produce or something else if they can find it.

And find it they do! Whether its clothes, shoes, bags, medication, toiletries, school supplies or store-cupboard essentials you need, you will find a pop-up shop selling it on a near-by street.

I’m calling them pop-up shops because for the most part permanent fixture shops are non-existent or at least in short supply. But the daily pop-up shop comes into existence from about 6.00 am with its stock and personnel arriving by donkey or motorbike to the Main Street or Market area of Jean Rabel (the town where I am living). Boxes, bags and buckets are unloaded and the merchandise is displayed on the pavement (or basic table/stand if one is lucky).

Under the hot sun, the proprietor sits all day long hoping for enough sales to feed her family for today at least. Just before dark, she un-pops her shop again, taking down the sheet/curtain/card-board that might have been protecting her wares from the sun during the day. She piles her merchandise back into their containers and heads off home till tomorrow when again she will rise early to pop-up her shop with the same hope to make some bit of a living for herself and her family.

As far as I can see Haiti is the stalwart home of Pop-Up Shops Extraordinaire.

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Christian influence very strong throughout Haiti

As I write this I can hear Christian music playing away in the background, close to the house. I’m a little surprised, but not totally. In Jean Rabel it was an everyday occurrence but I wasn’t sure it would be so here in Port-au-Prince.

Obviously, I’ve been aware from the outset that Haiti is a Christian country with the vast majority of people claiming to be Christian if not indeed, Catholic. There are any number of Christian variations of churches right throughout the country with services in full swing at any hour of the day, and well attended.  [Read more…]

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Haitian side of Port-au-Prince Airport

I was quite surprised how modern the departures area at Port-au-Prince International Airport appeared when I was returning home

at the end of July after my initial 3 months in Haiti. It was every bit as up-to-date as any small airport I have visited in the modern world. This came as a surprise to me compared to my experience at ‘arrivals’ only 3 months earlier. At that time I found the airport to be drab, not very welcoming and with very basic functionality.

As a would-be entrepreneur I was surprised about what seems to me a juxtaposition of the roles of these two areas within an airport.

From a promotional point of view I would have thought that creating a good first impression of Haiti for visitors would be a positive move and so if I had to choose as to where I would focus the best resources I would choose the arrivals area, so that my country of Haiti would impact new visitors as they enter the country for the first time.

Perhaps I am looking at the situation wrongly. Perhaps providing better facilities at departures ensures visitors to Haiti leave with a good ‘last impression’ of their experiences in the country and so they take home an urge to visit again. Whatever the reason behind the decision, my advice to anyone visiting or thinking of visiting the country is:

·         be open minded

·         don’t judge the book by the cover and

·         leave forming an opinion of the country till the end of your stay

because the diversity that is Haiti must be experienced to be appreciated.

 

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Such a Tragic & Untimely Loss is Difficult to Understand

Sr. Isa, energetic and  enterprising nun

Sr. Isa, energetic and enterprising nun

Sr. Isabel Solá Matas from Spain but living and working in Haiti for over 8 years was tragically and fatally shot and killed as she went about her daily business in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Friday 2nd September.

Sr. Isabel (known and loved as simply Isa) died instantly at the scene of the shooting amid heavy traffic in the city. Another occupant, a Haitian friend and colleague of Sr. Isa was travelling with her in the car at the time. She was also injured at the scene but was later discharged from hospital.

So many tributes have poured in in memory of Isa who has been called an ‘energetic’ and ‘enterprising’ woman and one with ‘vision’ and a love for the poor.

Isabel-Sola

          Isabel-Sola

She devoted her life to working with the poor and worked in Equatorial Guinea in Africa for 15 years prior to moving to Haiti. On Friday morning when she was gunned down she had just left a Port-au-Prince bank with some money to begin a new education project in the area.

She has been tireless in her fundraising    initiatives to build schools in and around Port-au-Prince for the poor and disadvantaged and was also the visionary behind a prostheses clinic she established in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that killed many people she knew.

Through the clinic local people were trained to provide prostheses to those who lost limbs as a result of the earthquake and when that was up and running well by locally trained personnel, Isa moved on to providing a mobile health clinic to rural areas around the capital.

Isa touched so many peoples’ lives and over the past few days many of them have visited her home to pay their respects and offer support and comfort to those left distraught since her passing. At 51 years of age, she had many more initiatives to realise but these have been cut short in the blink of an eye. However, the Congregation of the Religious Sisters of Jesus and Mary will continue their mission in Haiti despite the risks involved in this tumultuous country.

Isa joined the Sisters when she was 19 years of age and had one purpose in life, to be of service, useful to others, particularly to those who cannot really help themselves.

Isabel

              Isabel

She certainly did this and so much more as those who knew and loved her will testify.

Pope Francis honoured Sr. Isa alongside Mother Teresa as he formally declared Mother Teresa a saint at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday last, saying, “Let us pray especially for the Spanish missionary sister, Sister Isabel, who was killed two days ago in the capital of Haiti.”

He also praised all religious women missionaries who silently go about their work in difficult and risky environments.

Having lived and worked among these women for the past three months I have to concur with him!

 

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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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