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.