The Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Be sweet, and do awesome stuff all the time

Political Cacophony December 11, 2010

Sleeping in a tent on the roof of base, I’ve become pretty accustomed to the “unusual” sounds that go on in Leogane after our 10pm curfew – the voodoo ceremonies that get rowdy late into the night, the Jesus-loving evangelicals who have sing-along concerts that can be heard all over town, a “rara” passing by our base on special occasions (roaming dance parties, complete with brass bands and drumming), the barnyard symphony of noisy dogs and roosters, and even the occasional gunshot from our backyard guards scaring off thieves. When I first arrived in May and would hear these noises, I would lie in my tent rigid with fear, trying to talk myself down from the adrenaline rush of the unknown. Now that I’m a bit more familiar with Haitian culture and how people here party, pray, and react, some of these noises have become quotidian and even somewhat comforting…they indicate that people are carrying on with their lives as they normally would, no matter what recent calamity has affected them during the day.

The election results from the first round of voting were announced at 9pm on Tuesday night, and by the time our generator was shut off an hour later we could hear that the soundtrack to our night was to be anything but soothing. People were demonstrating until almost dawn, and continued on for the next 3 days. Burning tires, road blockades, and massive protests went off all over Haiti, shutting down most businesses and halting all inter-city travel. The people believe that the elections were rigged – Jude Celestin, the current president’s son-in-law, made it through to the next round of voting over Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, who (as I mentioned in my post last week) was considered a heavy favourite. Celestin’s campaign headquarters were burned down in Port-au-Prince, municipal buildings were torched in around the country, and most of the 19 presidential candidates are calling for the elections to be considered null and void.

As for us here on base, today is Day 4 of Lockdown. No one has been allowed to leave or enter the base since Tuesday, except for our Haitian staff who have been an invaluable source of information and supplies. We are safe, albeit rapidly approaching cabin fever. Adding to the tension of the political situation, a French epidemiological study has shown that Nepalese UN soldiers are responsible for bringing cholera to Haiti in the first place (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11949181). Given the UN’s rocky relationship with the Haitian people, and the tendency of the people to lump all foreign organizations under the same umbrella, this is not good news for Blancs. There had been some rumours and suspicion about Blancs bringing cholera, and now that it’s basically been confirmed, we’re being very careful about everything we say and do.

Getting back to my original train of thought, there is good news. Last night after a day of office-type busy work, marathon yoga sessions, lots of reading, and a game of All Hands-themed Clue, I lay in my tent and listened to Leogane. After 3 long nights of either noisy protests or eerie silence, I heard the joyful songs of the evangelicals coming over our gates. In the middle of the night, I could hear the voodoo drums off in the distance. It’s been a rough week for everyone, least of all for those of us who have been locked in on base. We all took last night’s musical offerings as a sign that things are looking up. It is important for the protests to happen, but it’s a relief to hear that at some point life must go on. Tomorrow we’re anticipating to be allowed out (restricted to our small corner of town) and we should be able to get back to work sooner rather than later.

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Shmemocracy November 29, 2010

Haiti held its third ever “democratic” elections yesterday. No clear winner was established, and there were the score of usual problems that go along with holding elections in an environment like this. Leogane was relatively calm, as usual, but as a precautionary measure we spent yesterday on lockdown (no base residents allowed to leave, no visitors), and today we’re doing work around base instead of in the field. The Globe and Mail had some pretty good coverage online today if you’d like to read more about the election: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/americas/haitian-election-descends-into-crisis-as-candidates-declare-fraud/article1816449/page2/

Most of my Haitian friends (being for the most part young and not-so-politically inclined), as well as many other people I’ve talked to in the community, declined their right to vote. This was either because a) they figured all the candidates were theives and didn’t want to vote for any of them; b) they figured the elections were going to be bogus and didn’t want to waste their time; or c) they figured that it didn’t matter who won, because no matter who is running the country their daily lives are always the same. My few friends who intended to vote were for Michel Martelly, or “Sweet Micky”, a popular “kompa” singer with no political background, known for dropping his pants on stage. Why him, and not, say, Mirlande Manigat, an experienced politician with years of direct involvement in the Haitian government? “Michel Martelly is popular, he’s got money. Haiti has a lot of problems. When you have money, you can fix problems.” I feel like this answer speaks to a mentality that is widespread in this country, especially within the lower class.

Again, everything is OK here in Leogane and we remain, as usual, “cautiously optimistic” for the weeks to come.

 

Lapli ap tombe November 6, 2010

Filed under: Haiti,New kinds of hell — themadmadmadmadworld @ 2:32 am
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I’ll hopefully have a more complete post once I have some time to wrap my head around the situation, but I just wanted to send out a quick update to let you all know that although the situation is far from ideal, it could be a lot worse in Leogane right now. Hurricane Tomas brushed the far Western penninsula of Haiti, and the only effect we felt here in our area was relatively heavy rainfall. Leogane is a fairly low-lying area notorious for flooding during tropical storms, and today was no exception. Although the neighbourhood our base is in wasn’t directly affected by the flooding, some of our friends and other people we know in the community were hit pretty bad. I went out this afternoon to visit some friends, and at some points in the streets I was up past my knees in fast-moving water. The sewage canals are all overflown, into the streets and into people’s homes. You just couldn’t think about what was in the water or else you wouldn’t be able to keep going. For the most part, people seem to be handling things as they always do. There seems to be a prevailing attitude of “Yep, this sucks. But what can we do? Cry about it?” And then everyone gets on with their daily lives, as best they can with a river rushing through their living rooms.

All Hands will be back at work tomorrow. We’re not sure what exactly we’re going to be doing, but it’s been a weird week of sort of waiting and preparing for a disaster that sort of ended up happening but not really, and we’re all dying to get back out in the field in whatever capacity we can. The worst thing about being here is the impotence you feel when you see something terrible happening to someone else and there’s nothing you can do to help them. It’s a daily occurence, and this week it was exponentially worse. On the flip side of that, we are here to help, and we wouldn’t still be here if there was absolutely nothing we could do. The thing to do this week will be to focus on what we are capable of doing, and getting out there to do it well. Because what else are we going to do? Cry?

 

Just when you thought it was safe to live outside October 31, 2010

Filed under: Haiti,New kinds of hell — themadmadmadmadworld @ 3:51 pm
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Hey, remember last week when Haiti was going through a horrible cholera epedemic? That sucked. Now this week we’ve got ourselves a category 3 hurricane headed for our messed-up little tropical paradise. It’s getting to the point where there are no longer separate disasters in Haiti…it just is one.

I’m not exactly stoked about the idea of living through a hurricane, although who better to do it with than a disaster response organization? I’ve signed up to be on the “emergency preparedness team” so that when the storm hits I’ll have a specific task to focus on, instead of just freaking out like I’d planned on doing. There are quite a few people here who are from hurricane-prone areas and they’ve all assured me that although we prepare for the worst, it’s never all that bad. And on the plus side, very few people die from the hurricane itself, it’s more the flooding afterwards that does the most harm.

This is a plus? OK! So instead of killing a bunch of people right off the bat with a swift impact, people get to suffer slowly through drowning and the (even further) spread of disease through the massive quantities of contaminated water that will be flying around the island? Great! And with all these people, some of my friends included, who are still living in tents and shanty towns (or IDP camps, for those in the know), a little flooding is going to affect their lives in a huge way.

Not that I’m panicking…(!!!!). I guess like everything here, we have to take this a day at a time and see how it plays out. The Haitians don’t seem nearly as worried as us Blancs do. I guess they get warnings like this every year, and sometimes it turns out really badly and sometimes it’s OK. Just in case it does get ugly, I’m supposed to let everyone know that they are not to worry, that we have a safe place to ride out the storm, and that we are as well-prepared as we can be. We might lose mass communication for a while, but our families will be updated as soon as possible whenever we’re able to get news out. So keep an eye on the news, and if you don’t hear from me for a few days assume that I’m fine. I will most likely be locked tight in a bunker playing charades and eating Kraft Dinner, which realistically is what I do at home all winter anyway so it won’t be so bad.

 

Leogane in the Time of Cholera October 24, 2010

As I’m sure many of you not on island time have heard, Haiti is going through some pretty rough times these days. Then again, when is Haiti not going through rough times? This country has been dumped on from day 1, and every week seems to bring a new kind of hell.

This week it’s cholera. If it weren’t for Garcia Marquez and the Oregon Trail, this disease would never make it into my daily vernacular. 250+ people have died north of Port-au-Prince in the Artibonite region over the past week. The disease has mostly been spread by contaminated water from rivers and open sewers. (Not-so) Fun Fact: 9 million people in Haiti, 0 sewer systems and wastewater treatment facilities. In a place that has a population density of 254 people per sq km (compared to about 3.5 people per sq km in Canada), and the high risk of infectious disease spreading through contaminated water, it’s not such a stretch of the imagination to conceive of this happening.

Leogane, where our base is, hasn’t been directly affected. Even in nearby Port-au-Prince, all the confirmed cases have been people who came to the city from Artibonite. We had a meeting today to discuss prevention, and suss out our contingency plan should the “pandemic” spread. Officially, All Hands is “cautiously optimistic”. On the ground, people are a bit worried.

My friend Christina is a nurse from California, and also my hero. She is headed to Saint-Marcs tomorrow, ground zero of the outbreak, to help out. I wish that I had the skills that she does so that I could do something other than hang around in Leogane washing my hands.

Even if I did know how to help, I’m not sure that I would be brave enough to go. It’s interesting to see what my limits are, and where I draw the line as far as what I would consider too scary to do. I am terrified to death of earthquakes, and every few days when we have a tremor in Leogane my heart races and I wish I were anywhere else in the world. It was the same feeling I had when I was in Chile, like the world could end any second now without warning. But that didn’t stop me from coming to an area for which the U.S. Geological Survey predicts “future surface rupturing earthquakes are likely”. (How reassuring!) I’m not especially scared of infectious disease (H1N1 is a hoax!), but I don’t know if I would go right to the source of a cholera epidemic to help out.

Anyway, the whole point of this post was to reassure everyone that I’m ok and that there’s no reason to worry about me. We have access to safe drinking water and our sanitation facilities on base are above the standard of the average Haitian household. The disease is transmitted through fecal-oral contact, so I’ve been going out of my way to avoid licking toilet seats and other un-hygienic practices. As is usually the case with most “scares” in foreign countries, reading the media at home will usually freak you out more than is necessary. The All Hands website is being updated with the latest information from the Pan-American Health Organization and local sources, so if you want more information that would be a good place to go. In the meantime I’ll try to keep everyone updated, and in the unlikely event that I get cholera you will hear about it.  I’ll be like those annoying people who spend the whole time they’re at a concert on Twitter, except I’ll be blogging from my hospital bed…

Stay clean everyone!