Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Notes from Haiti, Days 1, 4 & 6

I am visiting friends outside of Port au Prince, Haiti for a month, working on various projects. These include preparing my story collection for publication, gathering notes for a novel set in Haiti, and jotting down experiences to send home to friends and family who were beset with concern that I was coming to Haiti again, particularly with the recent rash of kidnappings and food riots last month.

It occurs to me that I might share some of those notes in this blog. See below the postings from Day 1, 4, and 6

Day 1

hi, all!

i just wanted to let you know that i had made it to haiti and am safely tucked away up in the hills with friends.

i love that some of you replied to the miami note and i will try to answer some emails but don't have a lot of access to email right now. i just want to say hi now and then and tell you how it's going. if you'd rather not get the emails, please just say the word.

so i am here, TIRED, but having travelled for 36 hours am not much the worse for wear. met a gentleman from suriname who was visiting his kids in the states, a woman from buenos aires who i spent the day with in miami airport, and a young man from san francisco going to study ecology in chile. there are three american visitors here at carla and ron's--we all arrived at different times today, so our hosts did a lot of driving, for which we are grateful. (not the "lot" part, the "that they did it" part.)

anyway, they're up their blabbing so i will join them now.

advice: don't eat pringles on the plane.

(why? gas!!!)


Day 4

no internet for a couple of days, so here is a brief, delayed update.

today i think is the first day i began to really relax. i have been racing around for so long, and under so much stress with the eviction threat, etc., that i was a little shell-shocked when i got here.

day 1 i was just pooped. took in the sights without comment en route to where i am staying. those of us who had just arrived got to know each other a little (the three americans--two college students and one professor, all women). they are lovely people, as are the folk we are visiting.

the first day i got 15 pictures before my camera stopped working. very unfortunate because i love taking photos. i'm still trying to find out what is wrong.

today we went out around the neighbourhood, walking the rocky paths, visiting people here and there. there is a lovely (how much am i going to use that word?!) nest of tarantulas near the path to the lower house. they are so cute! little babies, less than an inch long, all huddled together at the opening of their grotto. really very pretty and so soft-looking i was tempted to pet them. you can safely imagine that i did not. the flock of small parrots is still here, and the weather has been remarkably cool. i even put a light blanket on the first two nights--don't know if i've ever had to do that in haiti before.
sugar press, cane museum, Port au Prince

we talked today with a young man who participates in a youth group that is dedicated to intellectual and cultural pursuits. it is founded and run by young people in the neighbourhood. they meet every sunday and share ideas, songs and jokes and have a debate. taught in school to speak french and consider creole inferior, they deliberately reverse that by speaking creole in their group, in order to preserve the language and find pride in who they are. it was lovely talking with him. we shared with him some of the experiences we have all had in our own countries around poverty and homelessness; it was an eye-opener for him to hear of the amount and sort of problems we have in canada and the usa around these issues. in haiti the impression is that all is well across the water.

i have to mention the incredible food. i love the food here so much! it's funny to see how we foreigners try to handle a knife in comparison to the way most any haitian child can use even a large one. very humbling. i have enjoyed every morsel of mayi moulen (ground corn) and fish sauce and labouyi pomdete (potato porridge), every sip of coffee with cane sugar and every gulp of ju grenadin (passionfruit juice). as much as possible, everything we eat here is local. we met Tant Yvonne today--she grows and roasts the coffee we drink--and tomorrow we'll go to meet the mamba (spiced peanut butter) lady. ( ,who has been here before and loves the peanut butter, dumps her american peanut butter at home into a dish, mixes in haitian peppers, and puts it back in the jar so she can enjoy that wonderful ting! every morning with her toast .)

thanks to all who wrote. love and hugs.

Day 6

we were all thrilled to see the mother tarantula by her nest the other night. the babies hang out at the opening during the day and run in if bothered. at night, mom stays close and they go inside (to sleep? do spiders sleep?).

i was further thrilled to go to my room that night, remove my shoes, gaze at the kerosene lamplit stone wall, and observe the familiar shape on my wall. of a really. big. tarantula.

i have transported many many spiders, bees, birds and other critters from my dwellings over time, but never one like this. i got a bucket and a piece of cardboard, popped it over the spider (who ran up the inside of the bucket, luckily, rather than trying to crawl out underneath on the uneven surface of the wall, as i'd feared), then slipped the cardboard underneath. we took my visitor to the brush outside the compound and off s/he tottered over the wall.

we visited the youth group yesterday, local village kids who gather every sunday for their intellectual and cultural development. everyone participated, from five year olds to twenty-five year olds. they put off their debate until next week so we the visitors could answer their questions about homelessness and domestic violence in north america. this was useful because the impression people have from tv is that there are no such things there. i hope to go next week to their group though, because i want to hear that debate. the question they had chosen was: are you better than anyone else? if you are, how should you behave toward that person?

they told some good jokes, too. the one about clinton and aristide was pretty telling...

today we'll be talking with (mostly listening to) ari, one of the leaders of the group i have come to stay with. (if you want to know more about their work, you can go to www.haititravels.org) he is a lifelong activist who is (among other things!) spearheading a campaign to get people buying local food and goods instead of imports. he was in cap haitien over the last few days doing a film on cassava production and a short, humourous, and very pointed short, a true story about a man who brought his suit to a party and gave all the cake and drinks to it. when people said he was crazy he said, you invited the suit, not me. before i had money, you never invited me anywhere.
Revolutionaries at the Sugar Cane Museum, Port au Prince


kate said...

Hi Casey, I prayed for your safety as well, knowing the situation there is often unstable, but I think you are very brave to go! I thought the same of my father, who had one or two unsettling experiences! This youth group debate sounds interesting, and I know my father liked the food there. I am not afraid of spiders and probably would have done what you did with that tarantula, but I have a daughter who is terrified and I guess Haiti wouldn't be the place for her! LOL.............. Kate

C. June Wolf said...

thanks, kate!

what was your father doing there?

tell your daughter not to worry too much about tarantuals--if you are in the cities you seldom see them, and even in the country it's rare. they are nocturnal and most people don't go out in the night and the houses are locked up tight (windows included). i'm just a fresh air freak so the spider wandered in my open door and made her/himself at home!