Wednesday, December 19, 2007
But the darkness, the solstice-- the orginal Christmas that was usurped - that we do not have. Except perhaps the celebration of the end of the rainy season, which took over 100 lives this year and most of next year's plantains.
I hope that it was really really raining very hard in Bali. And that the lights went out. And that the bridges were flooded.
However, we do have large woven straw Christmas llamas for sale on the streets.
All hail, the Christmas llama... I think it is really a camel. Just seems a bit small.
I was going to Haiti. Nervous and excited. But the Haitian American friend who was coming to talk to me about his jatropha ( a plant which grows in arid soil and yields a burnable fuel) project could not come. We have postponed the encounter.
I will fly to DC instead, dressed as some sort of refugee in layers of summer clothing-- to hold my great-great nephew on his first Christmas.
Next year, I will hear the "Messiah" performed in Port au Prince......... I hope.
Here in my apartment building, I am the only foreigner. But someone nearby is learning Beethoven's Ninth on the recorder.
I picked up mine and played back at them. We will meet soon, I think, over Ludwig.
Digital memory is amazing. Back at Friends Seminary, we were so small (350 students, k-12) that we had only one music teacher, and only one instrument - The recorder. As we got older and taller, we could advance to the tenor and alto and bass recorders, if we wished......
But even though the pictures of Christmas are all in white and snow, and Jesus looks more like a goyim than a Jew, there are many sounds of the Christ that reverberate only in drums.
Me, I am a vodousant in training.
|FOUR HAITIANS SENTENCED TO LONG TERMS IN HOSTAGE-TAKING OF A NINE-YEAR-OLD AMERICAN GIRL IN HAITI IN 2005|
|WASHINGTON-Four hostage-takers have been sentenced to long prison terms for taking hostage a nine-year-old American girl in Haiti in 2005, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor and Kenneth L. Wainstein, Assistant Attorney General, National Security Division, Department of Justice, announced today.|
(Media-Newswire.com) - WASHINGTON—Four hostage-takers have been sentenced to long prison terms for taking hostage a nine-year-old American girl in Haiti in 2005, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor and Kenneth L. Wainstein, Assistant Attorney General, National Security Division, Department of Justice, announced today.
Lesley Merise, 29, Yves Jean Louis, 29, and Ernso Louis, 20, all of Port au Prince, Haiti, were sentenced yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before the Honorable John D. Bates. A fourth defendant, Phito Cajuste, 26, also of Port au Prince, Haiti, was sentenced today. Judge Bates called the hostage taking of the little girl a “horrible crime” causing “severe and long-term trauma.”
Judge Bates sentenced Merise, one of the ring-leaders, to 238 months ( 19 years 10 months ). Yves Jean Louis, another planner of the crime, was sentenced to 180 months ( 15 years ). Ernso Louis was sentenced to 168 months ( 14 years ), and this afternoon, Cajuste was sentenced to 166 months ( 13 years and 10 months ). Each of the four had entered guilty pleas. Yves Jean Louis and Ernso Louis each pled guilty on December 16, 2005, to one count of hostage taking. Cujuste pled guilty on May 4, 2006. All three agreed to cooperate with the government in prosecuting other perpetrators. Lesley Merise was a fugitive for almost two years. Merise entered his guilty plea on Aug. 31, 2007, the last of the conspirators to plead guilty. The government had moved for downward departures from the applicable Sentencing Guidelines ranges for Yves Jean Louis, Ernso Louis, and Cajuste, which the Court granted.
The nine-year-old victim, who is a U.S. citizen, had been living with her family in the area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The ordeal for the little girl began in the early morning hours of Sept. 26, 2005, when Lesley Merise, Yves Jean Louis, Ernso Louis and Phito Cajuste abducted the girl from her bed, after having invaded the family’s home. The hostage-takers wore masks and wielded machetes and a real-looking imitation gun. The girl was taken to a remote mountain location and held there for more than one week, during which time she became ill. The girl was told repeatedly that if she told anyone or tried to escape, she would be killed. During that time, the hostage-takers made demands for ransom, starting at $200,000 in U.S. dollars.
A shepherd passing through the area where the girl was being held became aware of her presence and got her to write down her father’s name and phone number, using a piece of charcoal from a fire pit and a scrap of paper. Through great travails, the shepherd traveled many miles over torturous terrain to alert the authorities. On Oct. 4, 2005, the authorities mounted a rescue and saved the little girl. The authorities apprehended Ernso Louis at the scene and located Yves Jean Louis a short while later. Phito Cajuste was arrested in late February 2006 in Haiti. Merise was arrested in February 2007 in Haiti.
In announcing the sentences, U.S. Attorney Taylor and Assistant Attorney General Wainstein praised the hard work of the FBI’s Miami Extraterritorial Squad, in particular lead case agents Oscar Montoto and Kenith Jett, and agents Carlos Monero, Ed Cruz and William Clauss, the Miami Evidence Response Team, and the FBI Miami Special Weapons and Tactics Squad, all based in Miami, then FBI Legal Attache Andrew Diaz and then ALAT Joseph Jeziorski based in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the Haitian National Police and the United Nations Civil Police, the Haitian Ministry of Justice, the ICE Office in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Port au Prince, Haiti. Furthermore, they acknowledged the efforts of victim witness advocate Veronica Vaughan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Trial Attorney Thomas P. Swanton of the Counterterrorism Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeanne M. Hauch, who prosecuted the case.
# # # #
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
"How did you come to be here?" They asked.
"You probably won't believe this. I know it sounds foolish. But God sent me." Sheepish - that is the proper word for my reply.
"Not foolish to us. We're nuns."
Monday, December 17, 2007
However in the end, this practice aided the Haitian revolution as more and more people who arrived had the recent memories and the force of Africa in them. I speak often of Haiti with my French friends here who have not had the advantage of the 50-200 year discussion of the issue that we have had in the United States. Indeed, even now France is just beginning to hold the discussion on "affirmative action" - even using the English phrase, which is anathema to the French establishment.
One man recently said to me:"But slavery has always been with us, since ancient times." A true observation. Slaves were always part of ancient culture, usually taken as prisoners of war. Yet the African slave trade was distinctly different in that the Africans were considered "subhuman". Even today, there are those who hold that genetic racial distinctions render the Africans less competent or capable of sucessful life.
While I applaud the attention given to Africa, I often want to climb up on some high spire and shout out: "Haiti First!"
But it is easier to look at Africa - so exotic, so rich in tribal heritage, so far away. Americans can even look at Africa through a hazy cloud of self-righteousness. We fought the Civil War over this issue, didn't we?
This island, these two nations, seem to be carrying on to the future what was done to them in the past, like an abused child who often becomes an abuser. Both governments rank high on the international corruption scale, femicide, rape, child abuse, incest, prostitution, are common in both countries.
What will it take to break the cycle?
Thursday, December 13, 2007
My internet is still not working from that storm, although I have spent two days and $$$$ sitting on hold on my cell phone with the company. (hence my silent blog) But it always quite astonishes me when anything works at all here. 42% of the people live below the world poverty level of $2 a day-- and certainly most of them are illiterate -- so it is a wonder that there is any internet at all.
In one of those wild juxtapostiions, I heard Al Gore talking to the Climate change conference in Bali over CNN in Spanish (don't know if he got any coverage inside the US) -- he had the courage to state that it was the US who was the major obstacle to any meaningful improvement.
I think of this fragile island, how every storm brings death-- and how much worse the storms will become if something is not done.
Friday, November 30, 2007
by Elizabeth Roebling, Santo Domingo
In Santo Domingo, the oldest city in the hemisphere, work on the construction of a subway has begun. Few believe that it will actually alleviate the congested traffic as the estimated fare will far exceed the current prices for the public buses or the "publicos", the old taxi cabs that ply the avenues carrying six passengers in the four passenger seats. Nor will the subway curb the Dominican's adoration of the car, which along with baseball, underlines their kinship with their gringo cousins up north. Interest rates on cars can be 16% per year which after the rates of 37% under the last administration, seem reasonable and attractive. And despite all the available statistics on air pollution, the dream car for most Dominicans is an SUV, which admittedly makes accessible the remote areas of the country which are still paved only with "caliche", a limestone sort of road bond.
Yet in the older sections of Santo Domingo, one still hears the clip clop of horse's hooves as the vendors sell giant avocados and pineapples. Walking along the sidewalks of Gazcue, formerly the premier neighborhood, whose pavments are cracked and heaved by the roots of the giant almond and mahagony trees, it is easy to slip back in time. The actual handwriting of Admiral Colombus is on display a few blocks away in one of the museums that dot the colnial zone. The old houses, not "colonial" old, for here "colonial" is two centuries older than in the UnitedStates, but old as in the 30's, when the country was dragged into the modern world under one of the more brutal dictator, whose name and legacy are wiped from history but whose ghost somehow remains are mostly sagging into disrepair. Here, as in Haiti,the neighboring nation, the common legacy of thirty years of strong man rule are not easily shaken.
Here there is no New England restraint on the display of wealth, but rather a striving to appear more affluent than one really is. Appearances, like highly-shined leather shoes and manicured fingers and toes, are important here. The new malls scattered around the city are crowded on Saturdays. Shops selling computers, nintendos, ipods, home appliances, imported chipboard furniture, exquisite jewelry and fancy dress gowns, with staggeringly high price tags, are nevertheless full. Credit is becoming easier to obtain and Domincans, like their American cousins, are learning to live beyond their means, indebted to VISA and Mastercard.
Most believe the subway is yet another way for construction companies and bureaucrats to pocket large amounts of cash. Big development projects, highways, airports, dams, have long been the darling of international donors and lenders, and are notoriously financially porous and cloudy. Witness, for instance, Iraq. Projects such as these, built with borrowed money, put the nation squarely under the control of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank who are, for instance, now insisting that the country collect more tax revenues. For the money is needed to pay back the loans, if nothing else. The tax base rests primarily on a 16% sales tax, called the ITBIS, which appears on all hotel charges, all restaurant bills, all computerized receipts from large stores. The higher end restaurants include as well a 10% service fee, making the menu prices almost fictional, as a ten dollar meal costs almost $15, as if there were a drastic inflationary rise in prices during the meal.
Wages are low here. A college teacher, with a master's degree, working from 4 PM to 9 PM , five days a week, makes $600 a month. A newspaper editor can earn $800, a middle bank manager $1000. If you have English, you can work perhaps in one of the free trade zones, answering phones, for 44 hours a week and earn as much as the newspaper editor. Many of the workers in the free zone are ex-convicts deported home, bringing with them their English skills learned at Attica and Sing-Sing. But English tutors can expect at best $10 an hour. The best paid jobs are with the Embassies, the international development banks, the multi-national corporations and the big international non-governmental organizations, whose foreign executives live in million dollar homes under 24-hour guards, often armed. Most of the international workers are here only for a few years, three to five, but their presence drives up the rental market.
It is common to see apartments advertised for $3,000 a month. Landlords will advertise the rents in US dollars, an implicit sign that Dominicans need not apply for those who are paid in pesos can not risk the price fluctuation of the international currency exchange which was, for instance, 50 pesos to the dollar three years ago as opposed to 34 pesos now.
The state of low wages exacerbates the divide between the rich and poor which is estimated as the greatest in the hemisphere, But if you are an entrepreneur, own a colmado, drive your own cab, start a beauty parlor, or have connections with the drug lords, you can rise quickly into the middle class. Condominiums are being built all over the city, often priced in the $100.000s with gates, and car parks, and 30 year mortgages and down payments of $5,000. Most of the older condos have "maid's quarters" , a tiny room with a bathroom off the kitchen. Full time, live-in maids can be found for as little as $150 a month and few women from prosperous families here have ever mopped their own floors.
This perhaps accounts for the contrast between public and private spaces as most Dominican homes are immaculate, being swept, dusted, and washed down with disinfectant daily. Yet the public streets are often full of trash. Never having learned to pick up after themselves in private, perhaps they await the public maids to remove the trash that they put on streets, often while they are standing right next to a trash can. At the expensive international schools, wealthy Dominican children are delivered by white -gloved chauffeurs, and picked up by nannies, like the children of Hollywood.
Guaranteeing the ongoing state of low wages is the presence and continued influx of undocumented Haitian workers, desperately poor and hungry, who do the hard and heavy work that Dominicans will not do, cutting sugar cane, digging foundations by hand in the heat of the sun, often for half what a Dominican will accept. Across the border in Haiti, only an estimated 200,000 of the 8 million Haitians actually hold paying jobs, so the promise of any sort of paid labor has a magnetic draw. International and local human rights advocates have been pressuring the Dominican Republic to grant birth certificates to those children born to Haitian women living on this side of the border. Undocumented Haitians are considered "in transit" and not granted citizenship papers which would entitled them to higher education and health care. Many do not even have legal documents from Haiti, creating a vast sea of "stateless persons".
There has been a mixed response to the pressure. Official announcements declare the government's decision to abide by a recent ruling of the InterAmerican Court of the OAS to remedy the situation while enforced deportations back across the Haitian border and recruitment of new workers into the sugar cane fields or work in heavy construction or brothels continues unabated. Rumors abound of a proposed alteration to the current constitution which technically grants citizenship to all children born in the Dominican Republic. There is a threat that that provision will simply be removed from the constitution, avoiding for evermore the issue of citizenship to children of foreign workers. Advocates of Haitian rights here can expect virulent attacks, including death threats.
Many Dominicans believe that the world at large has abandoned Haiti and holds this country, which has a vastly different cultural history, with a different language and different customs, responsible for the future of Haiti. There is a deep seated fear that the aim of the United States, in particular, is to unite these two lands. While there are signs of progress in Haiti, a new elected government, a general disarming of the population, there is an underlying despair over the environmental degradation, the rising uneducated population, the lack of any infrastructure such as water, sanitation, roads, schools. No formal trade agreements exist between these two nations despite the fact that they are major trading partners. Haitians crossing into the weekly market days inside the DR, selling used clothing, vegetables, and cheap US imported rice, buying eggs and paper and plastic products, and long bologna rolls that have been in sun all day, and live baby chickens arriving, miraculously still chirping, from Georgia, are subjected to the whims and abuses of the Dominican customs officials. Under the new Haitian government, they are now subject to taxation by the Haitian border authorities as well.
Even a short day trip across the border at one of the four authorized crossing points, a trip usually made only by NGO workers and missionaries, produces an intense cultural shock. Akin, perhaps to moving from downtown Johannesburg to one of the Bantu villages, or from New York into one of the shanty towns among the cotton fields of Mississippi. On the Domincan side, cars and motorcylcles ply the paved, albeit dusty streets, electric lights, although with an intermittant supply, illuminate the streets, public hospitals provide free health care, and pharmacies, while expensive, are common. Across the border, along the unpaved streets of the Haitian border towns, mules and bicylces are the more common form of transit and electric poles and lines, if present, have no current running through them. The two nations, historic foes, both turn their backs on the border, leaving it open a continuing traffic in illegal drugs, stolen vehicles, and persons - women into the sex trade, as men on both sides of the frontier consider the women from the other culture more desirable, and men, Haitians, some coming voluntarily looking for work, others being recruited for work in the sugar cane fields.
While many people in the Dominican Republic register among the exceedingly poor, with incomes below $2 a day, Haiti leads all the hemisphere's worst statistics: lowest life span, highest level of unemployment, lowest level of literacy, highest rate of HIV/AIDS, tuberculousis, malaria, waterborne disease, highest infant mortality, lowest per capita income, highest rate of environmental degredation. Life in Haiti, already difficult under the dictatorship of Duvalier became almost impossible under the intermittant leadership of Aristide.
International aid organizations both government and non-profit, often work in isolation, without consulting either one another or the government or, perhaps more importantly, the people. There is such pressing need, a sense of urgency to repair Haiti before complete collapse. Often policies are not thought through well and even two branches of an NGO working on both sides of the border may have no coherent development policies. It is not the lack of international funding for restoration but rather the complicated issue of delivery of funds and empowerment that delays aid. Funds which have, in the past, been freely given to governments on both sides of the border have disappeared into cavernous accounts off-shore or into personal “foundations” of government officials. The concept of fiscal responsibility and accountably is new to both these nations who suffered under dictatorship for much of the last century. On this side of the border, there is a gradual policy shift among NGO’s away from a culture of just dispensing aid into one of empowering people on the ground. But it is a long and difficult process, to deliver millions of dollars of aid in an effective manner, peso by peso, gourde by gourde, without creating dependency.
The Dominican Republic enforces its border with a few armed guards and a strongly instilled prejudice against Haitians, who occupied this country back in the 1800's. The memory is kept alive by repetition and education in the consciousness of the current generation. Dominican children are taught that Haitian children learn in school that the entire island belongs to Haiti. Much as many in the southwest of the United States believe that Mexico is undertaking a conscious recolonization of Texas and California, Dominicans fear giving Haitians within the Dominican Republic the voting rights of citizenship. They insist that it is not racism, but rather nationalism. The Spaniards, one social scientist purports, could not think of Blacks as inferior, as subhumans, since Spain had been ruled by the Moors. This sense of deep history stands in stark constrast to the modernistic outlook of United States whose collective memory hardly stretches back more than two generations.
Here family roots are deep. It may take years to change one's voting residence. During elections people travel back to vote where they were born, as in Biblical times. Unmarried chlidren live with their parents, saving thousands of dollars in rent and producing a peculiar type of prolonged adolescence. The family is still the backbone of the culture. Children, most certainly the youngest, are expected to care for their aging parents, as is true also in the neighboring Spanish island of Puerto Rico.
While the general population of the country is exceedingly diverse in color, the ideal for beauty for Dominican women, portrayed in fashion magazines, is a pale coffee complexion (or lighter, preferably lighter), aquiline noses, thin but voluptuous bodies, and long, straight hair. Despite temperatures that hover between 80 and 90 degrees all year, shoulder length straight (or straightened) hair, is the defining mark of beauty. Long time resident foreign women usually have close cropped hair. Air conditioning is becoming a necessity and CFC pollution levels have soared. For every colmado selling frosty local beer and chips, there is a beauty parlor, dedicated to perfecting the ideal of beauty. Most Dominicans insist that their heritage is a mix between Indian and Caucasian, even though the indigenous Tainos were obliterated within 50 years of the arrival of Columbus. Spanish language books define a “mestizo” as an Indian-European mix, and “mulattos” as a Negro-European mix. As in most of hemisphere, "white" is still the color of the Big Boss Man, as can be seen in a cursory glance at the society pages. The "ruling families" , inheritors of vast lands, the cattle ranches, sugar and rum production, citrus and dairy industries, are concentrated in the fertile Cibao valley, north near Santiago, an area striking in the "whiteness" of the population.
Inflation is down to 3% and the economic figures have posted a remarkable 13% growth rate for the year. Unlike a few years back when one dollar American bought 50 pesos, the current exchange rate of 34 has bought the price of the all-inclusive resorts to over $100 per person per day, which along with increased airfares, strains the purses of the middle class European and North American vacationer. Resort workers, who are often required to speak three and four languages are rarely paid more than $500 month. Food is becoming increasingly expensive, with recent price increases posted in such staples as sugar and rice.
So far, the traditional dish, “la bandera Dominicana”, of a giant helping of rice with beans, two small pieces of chicken in sauce, and grated cabbage salad, holds steady in the Capital cafeterias at 80 pesos, or $2.47. But the chicken pieces are smaller than last year.
Beach development of vacation villas and condominiums is now geared to the affluent, often to the top 10%. More and more hotels are being built with designer golf courses, and nightly room charges that exceed the monthly income of many Dominicans. Smaller towns, particularly on the North Coast, beyond the walls of the all inclusive resorts, are being developed as retirement havens and vacation places for foreigners. Yet since the country has long been a haven for those who are escaping legal actions in their home nations and is located conveniently on the cocaine trade roots to the United States and Europe from South America, security in the beach areas is a difficult proposition. Police officers are not well paid and therefore easily tempted into corruption. And corruption itself, the idea that any government official is entitled to personally prosper from the public trough, has been a long tradition. Last week in the Capital, leaders of the Catholic Church followed by a procession of faithful, led a prayerful march along the historic Malecon, the brick paved seaside avenue, asking for an end to the recent crime wave, the "delinquencia", a delicate word for the gangs of armed robbers who have transformed both the Capital and beach areas into danger zones. Ten years ago, it is said, Santo Dominigo was one of the safest cities in the world. The current government, under the direction for the second time by a US educated Dominican, Leonel Fernandez, has ordered all the bars closed at midnight and placed more uniformed police on duty, particularly at night. Yet the construction of buildings, with locked gates and bars on all the windows up to the third floor, indicate that robberies have long been a part of life here.
While the country is exceedingly beautiful, with more land inside natural preserves than even Costa Rico, and has breathtaking scenery which goes from a below sea level salt lake to the highest mountain in the Caribbean, few tour operators do more than book rooms at the resort hotels on the spectacular beaches or offer day excursions into the "outback" on all terrain vehicles. Cruise ships are beginning to come into the Bay of Samana, to the consternation of many environmentalists who hope that the big ships will not disturb the breeding season of the Atlantic family of the humpback whales, who return here to mate every year. These extraordinary mammals are all Dominican, returning home every year from as far away as Greenland and Newfoundland, fasting for six months en route, to mate and deliver their young in the warm shallow waters of Samana Bay. The males start composing a new song every year on their journey home and by the time they arrive, all the males are singing the same song, a bacchate love song.
Although located firmly in the Caribbean, this nation is part of Latin America, preferring alliances with Central and Latin America (such as DR-CAFTA), broadcasting almost exclusively Latin music, retaining a fierce loyalty to the remnants of Spanish culture. For years the majority of tourists here came from Europe. Spanish and French, German and Italians, all have settled here, intermarried, developed large businesses. Yet above all, it aspires to the United States. New York, with a larger Dominican population than Santiago, is its second city, Miami its shopping Mecca, and baseball its adored national sport and promise of fortune. The United States must have streets paved with gold, judging by the money that is sent back here by families living there, an amount which accounts for 12% of the GNP. And the United Sates, for better or worse, appears to be its dream.
Copyright 2006, E.E. Roebling,
For publication rights or reprint permission please contact:
Elizabeth Eames Roebling
word count - 2724
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Along with the tourists come some of the worst exploitation -- sex trade, gambling, drugs -- the sort of thing that drove Cuba to revolution.
It is a sad thing to see.
Now, when I see a really beautiful place, and think - wow-- how stunning- how beautiful- it would be wonderful if people would come and see this.
But then -- well----- perhaps it is better leaving it just untouched.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
There is a deluxe air conditioned bus that arrives in the major town of Barahona, about 2 hours from the border but I had been told that connections from there are dicey. Nevertheless, next time, I am on that big bus.
But ohhhhh the ride down from Barahona to Pedernales is the most beautiful in the country - ranking up with the coast of the Big Sur - winding roads beside the Caribbean sea, high mountains, then into desert with cacti (I really love to use that word because how else will you know that I struggled through two years of Latin?) as big as people. The region is mostly national parks. But parks with little or no development, perhaps a main entry road and a visitor´s center but no campgrounds or tours, yet. There is work on that. But as yet the ¨powers that be¨still have not made the connection that you must actually get the people down to the area in some sort of comfort and have rental cars for them at the other end.
Down in Pedernales there is one park, Bahia de les Aguiles, which ranks among the most wonderful in the world, absolutely pristine white sand, miles of pure blue water. You go out by boat now, or take your 4 x4 and camp overnight. The Peace Corps workers are training some locals in how to be tour guides, to identify the local birds, trees, rent out camping equipment protect the environment a bit.
There is always pressure to sell off the land to a private developer, build another big resort complex, bring in massess of the massess.
Because behind that park is another one, high up in hills. I had been there by car and so thought little of taking my friend up to see the view from the hills, this time by moto concho - really sort of a two person Vespa. Somehow it didn´t seem like a 25 kilometer ride in the car! But you do feel every kilometer on the back of a concho--- which I have now decided is the only way to see it, unless you went by mule, or horse, or mountain bike...... The road rises, the climate changes from the Carribbean to Canada..... High pine forests, rich red dirt, fresh cool air.
We had not had the forsight -nor had there been any suggestion- that we pack lunch. And falling off my usually good form, I had not even brought water. Next time, I will go for the day as there are trails, with tree identifiers, and markers. The view --- from here to forever, is akin to my beloved mountains of North Carolina.
How glad I am that it is a park, that it will be forever preserved. But how much I hope that people will soon discover the beauty here and come to enjoy it.
I bonded with a bereaved parrot at the local hotel. His mate had been killed by a cat and he sat, bereft and mournful. I pulled up a chair next to the basket where he was eating his breakfast bread and starting singing to him in French. He looked up. He dropped his bread. He came over to the edge. He started bouncing, dancing back and forth with me to "Au claire de la lune, mon ami, Pierrot". B
By the next morning, he was sitting on my shoulder, and then sat down on the table and ate part of our breakfast. Fortunately, my friend does not like papaya.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Among the loudest voices are the women of WILPF, heretofore a respected peace organization which is now endangering its credibility over this issue. They appear to be only informed by many paid professionals, of the former, and disgraced President Aristide.
As Michael Deibert, who was on the ground in Haiti at the time, reports in his excellent book, Notes from the Last Testament:
According to U.S. Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings, between the beginning 2001 and the end of 2003, the Miami law firm of attorney Ira Kurzban — responsible for funding the U.S attorney Brian Concannon and the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti as well as the Haitian government's domestic representation in the United States — received $3,569,026 from the Aristide government of behalf of its efforts ( www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fara/), The same filings, between the beginning of 2000 and the end of 2002, show the public relations firm of former Black Congressional Caucus member California Representative Ron Dellums was paid almost $600,000 by the Aristide government for its lobbying efforts, and that the firm of Hazel Ross-Robinson, wife of TransAfrica founder and vehement Aristide defender Randall Robinson, who had served as Dellums's senior foreign policy adviser before going into the private sector, was paid $367,966 by the Haitian government starting in 1997. Robinson, Dellums and U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters were all official advisors to the tax-exempt Aristide Foundation for Democracy, the body that Aristide had set up to raise and administer funds for projects in Haiti.
None of the scandals of Aristide's corrupt government pass through the guardians of the gate of the American left. Neither the fall of his government's promoted co-operative bank scandal, nor the rice that his cronies stole, nor his taking of kick-backs from the telecom company, nor the fraudulent elections, nor the drug ring that surrounded him,nor deep and firmly rooted opposition to his rule have appeared in the progressive press.
The voices touring the circuit of the American "progressives" appear to have no respect for Haitian democracy, or for the voice of their current democratically elected president, who stated at the UN Security council that the UN peacekeeping forces are "only formula that is realistic and available at this time that enables Haitians to restore freedom and live in peace."
The "progressives" appear to answer only to the call of Aristide.
As Aristide's recently returned-from-being kidnapped spokeswoman said:
"He is in good spirits because he knows he will come back and that we are fighting for that," said Maryse Narcisse, one of five directors of the Aristide Foundation, which bankrolls student stipends, aid for activists with his Lavalas Movement and political agitation for his repatriation.
When pressed by Aristide supporters to invite him back, Preval has pointed out that there are no impediments to his predecessor and onetime mentor's return -- except the former president's own concern about pending charges of criminal drug trafficking and misuse of government funds while in office.
One can only surmise that the goal of the public outcry for the removal of the MINUSTAH troops is so that once again, the drug dealers can control the country.
While Haiti now is enjoying a fragile peace and is in desperate need of all possible public support, the American progressives prefer to spend their time looking backwards and to the left.
I apologize to the people of Haiti for our benighted ignorance of the facts.
You deserve better.
We are, theoretically, a literate nation and have extensive access to the internet.
Perhaps, once the UN troops are removed, and the poor of the slums are once again armed with automatic weapons, Aristide,is counting on the support of yet another Clinton to support his return.
J'en ai mes doutes.
Fortunately, there are quieter, saner, calmer voices who wish for a stable Haiti.
Friday, November 9, 2007
In the morning, at the front desk, I encountered a Haitian. I have "Haitian" radar the way gays have "gaydar" - I long to be among them, I yearn for their company, I can detect a small rolled "r" inside their Spanish. He was delighted by my French (which has the proper accent since I started at age 5 - can choke back the "r", roll out the double "l" and say "frog" - "grenouille"
which may be the definitive French word.)
Years back, under Trujillo, over 30,000 Haitians were slaughtered here on the border. The test of " Dominicaness" was whether or not they could properly pronounce "parsely" "perejil" - with the proper Spanish . But for my white skin, I would have been massacred. I cannot yet roll those "r's.
He was there representing a group of Haitian churches who were working with the Dominican churches in setting up programs in schools across the border from one another - so that the students could begin to meet with one another, learn the other's culture.
I was there, I reported, with the Collectiva des Mujeres y Salud, to deliver aid to the victims of Hurricane Noel and write a story. They also worked to decriminalize abortion in the cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother's life. I waited for his response.
"We work with anyone. Really. Anyone of good will. I am myself opposed to abortion, but I respect the opinions of others who disagree. We even work with Vouduistes."
So I was able to introduce him to the young woman organizer from the "Collectiva". They were able to sit together at coffee, exchange contact information.
It was one of those moments when I felt that I was, indeed, being of Service. Had answered the true call.
I love to see people of goodwill working together.
I was delighted to read this report of Christians (who often have a problem with tolerance in my experience) from Cuba, posted by the news agency which has printed my stories.
Gives one a bit of hope.
Monday, November 5, 2007
I wish I could describe the scene to you but the truck that I was in got lost and spent two hours driving in a seemingly endless circle amidst a stunningly beautiful African palm tree plantation whose fruit is used to make palm oil. We did arrive in time to greet the 40 other workers, mostly women, almost 25 of them volunteers, who had spent the day in the little pueblo. Ah well, I was there in solidarity, at least!
Among them were two Norwegian volunteers who were overcome by the experience, never having seen this level of poverty. Indeed, most people in the "developed" world have never seen this level of poverty - except when it finally reaches the TV screens at the level of Darfur. I doubt that there is any poverty in Norway that could compete even with the poverty in the United States. Nor does the poverty there compare with the poverty here. Nor can here compare with Haiti.
My first exposure to the sight and smell of poverty came when I was 17 and set out to help the North Student Movement, operating safely on the outskirts of Harlem from Morningside Heights, which was helping organize rent strikes. At our Quaker school the most competitive thing that we did was raise money for the annual school charity drive. Juniors were allowed to chose a non-profit and present their work to the student body which then voted to select the one the funds would go to. Mine lost to the American Friends Service Committee which then "imported" a bright Black student from Florida -- "why not from Harlem, I cried?" -- he later went on to become a major general in the Army. His two years with the Quakers had not been enough not catch the Quaker peace testimony. Yet by our actions we students integrated the heretofore all -white school.
The second day in the North Student Movement office, I was taken across town to Harlem by one of the staff to see some of the apartments. I was the only white face walking down the street, feeling self conscious and awkward and out of place for the first time in my life. The doors of the first five apartments that my guide knocked on slammed quickly shut as soon as they saw the color of my skin. Ah Ha -- so this is what it feels like.......
I held back my tears. "But it wasn't me" I wanted to cry out. "I want to help" "Please let me in." But I remained silent.
By the sixth apartment, my guide had learned a new approach: "She is young. She wants to help. She needs to be educated. Please let her in. She needs to see this."
So I was allowed inside the little two room apartment, with the peeling paint, with three holes that the rats had made in the walls of the bathroom, with the three children, hiding close behind their mother's skirt, looking up at me in fear.
I close my eyes and I am there once again.
I know how those young women from Norway felt yesterday.
Everyone should be required to have this experience.
Friday, November 2, 2007
I stand corrected about the reports from Haiti. I was forwarded a detailed report.
The government of Haiti released a detailed report of the damages from Noel as of yesterday at 11 AM:
224 disaster victims,
11139 in shelters
883 homes destroyed
3002 houses damaged
On this side of the border, the reports are that
The roads from the Capital city of Santo Domingo both to the north, Santiago, and the South, Barahona and Pedernales are cut off as bridges are down from the flooding. It is estimated that this storm has done the most economic damage ever sustained in the Dominican Republic.
The President has asked for God's help in overcoming the damages.
The government has started to distribute food to stricken families. This aid will continue along with the distribution of mattresses, sheets, and mosquito nets primarily to the provinces of Azua, Barahona, Bahorucao, Peravia and San Jose de Ocoa.
Catholic and Evangelical Churches and many non profits, have opened up centers to receive donations as has the Embassy of Venezuela.
The German NGO, Farm Action, has donated 50,000 Euros specifically for the workers, both Haitian and Dominicans in Monte Plata and San Cristobal.
Japan has sent donations of $112,000.
The United States dispatched three Navy helicopters to the North Coast, at Puerta Plata to aid in relief efforts.
The transit workers union, the strongest in the nation often at odds with the government, has said that its 100,000 workers are at the disposition of the population and will serve the people of the affected areas, in many cases for no charge.
Reports are that while the plantain crop in Barahona has been destroyed, other production areas in the Cibao and Moca have suffered only minimal damage. The country has sufficient potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yucca so that there will not be a food shortage. However, both the tomato and onion harvest have been affected. The Minister of Agriculture warned speculators that the government will be watching for any possible abuses by speculators during this time of crisis.
Since Haiti has the least capacity to deal with this crisis, I am collecting donations for Anse-A -Pitres from the PayPal button on the right. Anse A Pitres is in the area hardest hit by the storm and is almost inaccessible from the Haitian side of the border - 7 or 8 hours over a road best navigated with a tank, or 12 hours in an over-crowded ferry from Jacmel.
I will wait until communication is re-established with that area and then ask my friends at PLAN international who work in Pedernales, what would be most efficient and how best to distribute it.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
organization, one of whom I know. Over the course of two days, the doctors and technicians from the hospital in Springfield, MA saw over 300 children who all had different orthopedic problems, some were in wheel chairs, some on crutches. The Shriner's are the ones who wear those red fez(es?) (s) on their heads. I had never met them before.
As a female, I would not have been allowed to join since one has to be a Mason first. And so I would naturally have a resentment. But now I doff my non-existent fez to these people, both the one's who came down from MA for three days (no beach time, no golf games, no time for play) and the ones on the ground who organized it. All the services were completely free to the recipients. Serious cases who would benefit from surgery may be sent to the hospital in Springfield, placed with a local family who cares for them, and operated on. Often this requires several trips. Again - no cost at all to the recipient.
The clinics in the DR are ongoing. Word of them travels via "the coconut vine" from one family to another. I sat with one family who had come from four hours away, who had heard of it through the family of another child.
There is at least one doctor connected with the team who goes to Haiti but there are difficulties organizing clinics there as the facilities are lacking. There are problems as well in getting Haitian children here, across the border since there are visas to be procured and host families must be found who will shelter the children.
Since most of the kids had two or three adults with them, the waiting room of the local rehabilitation center was crowded. I asked what I should do, hoping that there were others whose Spanish vocabulary included far more words than mine - I am not even sure of the words for "elbow" and "knee" , although I had brought my trusted dictionary with me.
Fortunately there were lots of volunteers, the clinic had already been running for a day and a half . So I suggested that I start singing to the kids. My one crowd pleaser is "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands" which can be extended rather infinitely. Both kids and parents participated and after four or five rounds, we had produced the first Shriner's Rehab Chorus.
What continues to strike me again and again both here and in Haiti, is the amazing good humor and cheerfulness of the people. They have a deep patience with waiting and a centered calm that is lacking in the frenzy of the "developed" world. I remember years ago, waiting for hours in the Mexico City airport late at night for a friend, surrounded by people who were content to just sit. At the time, I felt very "superior" with my big book. Very "productive". Now I am in awe of the ability to "just sit."
When you ask a Dominican how they are, the answer is often: "Fine, thanks be to God." I have never heard that in the States.
As is usual, I got more than I gave. And I share with you now the words for
La Cucharaca -(you most probably know the tune) written down for me, very proudly, by a young boy of eight, whose arms were connected backwards from his elbows:
La cucharca, la cucaracha
Ya no puede caminar
Pourque le falta
Porque le falta
La partida principal
Una cucaracha grande
Se cajo en un hormiguero
Y las hormigas calientes
La partita le comierion
_ (The cockroach now can not walk -- because he is missing the main part--
A big cockroach fell onto an anthill and the fire ants ate it)
Now form a Conga line.
The Rains have ended.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Now playing: Wyclef Jean - 24 é Tan Pou Viv
I have been having an ongoing discussion with a cyberspace friend from Haiti, Patrick Lucien, who now lives outside Boston. Like many Haitians in the diaspora, although he lives in the United States, his heart is still with his homeland. His family comes from the south of Haiti, from the region known for its natural beauty. Les Cayes, the third largest city in Haiti, after Port au Prince and Cap Haitian, has, he reports, a growing business community.
He is particularly interested in the development of Ile A Vache
an island off the coast, about the size of Manhattan, with a population of 15,000, two small, high end resort hotels, a health clinic, and a few schools. We talked a bit about his dreams for the development of a little "eco-tourist" bungalow development on a property he owns with some partners.
"No sex tourism" he said.
"Sign me up." I said, having seen more of that in my nine months living on the coast here than I ever wanted to see or imagine.
"And we would like to attract people who might be interested in the community, might wish to contribute."
I might know some people like that.
"We would like to help the people build guest rooms on their homes so that they can transform them into little bed and breakfasts."
AH- now That would be a learning experience for los/las gringos!
"And we are interested in helping perhaps to get a portable desalination plant so that they can get pure drinking water. And solar electric power. And helping them become self-sufficient in food production. We will need to get a launch."
I asked him why he did not make the development of the "resort" part of his existing foundation, which has all its proper papers in the US?
"Ah, no. Then some NGO (non-governmental organization, i.e. non-profit) will come and put their name all over it and tell us what to do. We are tired of that in Haiti. We want to show that you can do something as a business in Haiti and make a profit. I once saw a website of a charity which was running an operation in Haiti and they had a picture of a naked Haitian boy, looking miserable, on their webpage. I wrote to them and said I thought it was child pornography - how would they like it if I had a picture of a naked American child on my web page. They took it down."
So I have joined him in his efforts. To help make the place ready for your visits.
I will go and stay on the island for a month this winter. I have my portable mosquito netting, my no-battery hand shake rechargable flashlight, my DEET insect repellent, my LED headlamp, my Creole- English Dictionary. I offered to go there and sit with the women, talk with them, see what they want. Patrick has done a wonderful job of talking with the men, the mayor, and all those.......
but--- well, we know, don't we--- if you want to really get things done, you have to talk with the women and find out what they want.
You may support this effort in any one of three ways:
Donate to my witness by Paypal on the button on the right.
Give a tax-free donation to the school.
Become a partner, if you are like minded.
Personal Journey | Sticking it out on a trip to Haiti
By Amy Miller
For The Inquirer
Still, the vibrant music, piquant food, and people we had met from Haiti drew us there during a five-month adventure living in the DR. We were introducing our children to the mystery of travel, the magic of following an unexpected trail.
Unfortunately, by the time we had crammed into an old school bus for the two-hour ride to Cap Haitien, we were questioning our decision. Men were fighting in the bus yard, and we were the only blans, or foreigners, on the bus. Benjamin, 5, and Lane, 10, sat on our laps while bags sat on them.
But curiosity is a powerful diversion, and our children were fascinated by the men yelling at each other and women yelling louder to sell cosmetics. At the hotel, Ben was thrilled to see a TV, and Lane was enticed by a woman braiding hair by the pool.
My husband and I resisted the urge to turn back, and we were rewarded with an experience college tuition can't buy. At dinner we met Americans working in a health clinic. Lucia, raised in Haiti, had built a school on family land. Jan, a doctor from Maine, was running a temporary clinic in the school.
For two days, we traveled with them in the back of a pickup - no children's car seats here. Lane and Benjamin accepted the sweltering, back-breaking journeys because our friends were exciting, the scenery was exotic, and we let them drink all the Coca-Cola they wanted.
We went to the ruins of the Palace of San Souci, built in 1810, and told our children how Haitian slaves fought off the French in 1804 to become the first black republic. At Labadee Peninsula, we frolicked in aqua waves with dozens of Haitian families.
But the miracle of the trip was the clinic. We became doctors, not tourists. Our children became involved in others instead of themselves. Lane, normally content to hang out at a hotel pool all day, ran for instruments and antibacterial soap. Benjamin, happiest when he's with his Legos, got medical gloves and played with a boy from the village.
During our three hours there, we saw children with scabies, malnutrition and worms and adults with headaches, colds and backs broken from carrying water. I used a stethoscope while my husband checked for scabies.
On the way back to the hotel, we passed a man with eyes burned from the sun. Jan gave him her sunglasses. Lane was awestruck.
"You gave him your own glasses," she said to Jan. "I could never do that."
"Yes, you can do that," Jan assured my daughter. "One day, I know, you will do that."
Amy Miller lives in South Berwick, Maine.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
It is easy to be talking about G*d when in the company of Friends. Yet I hesitate here lest I be mistaken for a missionary. But wait -- if a Quaker up and sells her home, leaves her Meeting and Friends, gives away everything she owns, and leaves her country for a place she has never been because she senses some inner "call from God", is she not then a "missionary"?
Aaarghhh. But see, a "missionary" here is someone - usually an evangelical, a Mormon, an Adventist, who is bringing the "Gospel" (in many cases here to people who have already heard it all their lives but from Rome) to people, urging them to convert, repent, forswear, whatever.... and I am certainly not that. I have enough on my plate with my own converting repenting forswearing and all. I am a devout Universalist/Pagan Friend believing the G*d speaks in all languages, through all hearts, in all tongues and never ever stops publishing.
This First Day, I prepare to go sit with Friends at the Self-Realization Fellowship which is as close as I have come here to finding Friends.
Perhaps I am comfortable saying that I feel "led" by G*d. That is on my good days. Other days I stumble about saying "Oy Vey, what am I doing here?" Perhaps I can just say I am a "follower" - but that is only when I actually SEE the Light.. Wait, wait, there is a good Quaker term here-- how about "Seeker"?
I came "seeking" to broaden myself, to be perhaps of greater service than I could be at home, to see the world from a different angle, to escape the drumbeats of war which were searing my heart, to uncover and soothe the wound of slavery in our hemisphere, to stand in solidarity with the poor, to live in languages other than my native tongue, to dispel habits, to mirror back to the world life in the developing world, to test my faith.
I am not certain that I am being of much service. For the rest, I am plodding along.
Friday, October 26, 2007
When the annual rains come to Haiti, there are always fatalaties and thousands of people are left homeless. Relief workers are discouraged from continuing mobilizations, knowing that poor people will again construct makeshift homes on the banks and beds of dry rivers during the rest of the year.
In preparation for next year, perhaps an effort to prepare for them might be in order, since here on Hispaniola we have an annual rainy season from May to November. Flooding should not, please forgive me, take us by storm.
Indonesia is going to have a huge, nation wide party to plant 79 million trees in one day. Now, couldn't we do that in Haiti? If everyone could just all agree on what tree?
My vote would be for bamboo, for a variety of reasons. It grows very quickly. It produces food, shelter, timber, and aids in carbon restoration.
Here are a few more of them:
WHAT BAMBOO CAN DO FOR YOU
- Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth. Some species can reach for the sky at the rate of 2 inches per day. Over 120 miles of root system from one plant was discovered throughout a 1-acre area. Bamboo plants managed to survive the nuclear blast at Hiroshima at a point closer to ground zero than any other life form.
- Bamboo can withstand forces of up to 52,000 pounds per square inch, making it the rival of steel.
- Bamboo provided Edison with one of the first ever filaments for the electric light bulb. Alexander Graham Bell used bamboo for the first phonograph needle.
- Few people realise that a significant proportion of Chinese and Asian medicines are extracted from bamboo.
- Australia has at least three, maybe five indigenous bamboos. In Arnhem Land, one species has been used for the past 4,000 years or more to make didgeridoos.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
OK - he didn't but I will dare say it -- cut infant mortality in half by 2015, one of the Millennium Goals now deemed unreachable.
I was up in the foothills northwest of Santo Domingo yesterday at the opening of a clinic run by the Batay Relief Alliance. This was an area where the sugar cane production ended 12 years ago. Dreadful as the conditions may be for workers on the sugar cane fields, as is now being bemoaned by several films, conditions are even worse when the fields are closed, the lands sold to cattle farms, and all jobs are gone. The hundred and fifty or so people who had been brought by bus from one or two hours away where BRA has its "bus" clinic said that ,in addition to HIV and TB tests, and free medicine, BRA also hands outs free food.
I saw a poster for this food, a dehydrated vegetable and soy protein soup, made by Harvest Pro
out of Lubbock, Texas and given as a gift by US AID (labeled as gifts from the American people, which is US, or WE, the people).
You,too, will crack a wry smile when you see that one should store this product below 70 degrees. I have been here for the better part of three years and perhaps once, during a really hard rain storm, the temperature dropped to 70 degrees. It was a humid 87 degrees under the poster, according to the trusty thermometer that I keep attached to my wallet, just to reassure myself that I am not imagining it, it really is sweltering hot here.
Once you get this "soup", you can't just eat it, you have to add lots and lots of pure water - something that costs $1.10 for 5 gallons. Then you have to cook it for 30 minutes. Over gas, which costs a fortune here and is ever rising or over charcoal - there goes the forest, down goes the last tree in Haiti.
SO while you are writing your Congressman about- oh so many other things-ASK please that we get rid of the soy bean/potato/carrot soup out of Texas and BRING ON THE PLUMPYNUT!
Every American knows that the kids want Peanut Butter - not soy beans!! Imagine the response in your house if you hollered out "Come and get your soybean soup!"
Better yet. Go to this website for this wonderful project in Haiti. Have a fundraiser and help Haiti develop their own production of plumpynut.
Haiti is full of so many fantastic little projects. One day they are all going to meet up and wow, won't the world be surprised!
WE CAN DO THIS
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Now I don't yet agree with Friend Janet's action since I believe that nations have a right to determine their own immigration laws. The United States takes in one million immigrants a year, more than the rest of the world combined. But there are laws, there is a long waiting line.
Friend Janet might change my mind on this issue. I am open to that.
In addition, I would love to see the entire Haitian diaspora return to Haiti and help fix it. Estimates are that Haiti has lost 50 percent of its educated population. Imagine how bright these Haitians who just entered Canada are. They had already arrived in the United States and then found an agency, Friend Janet's, to help them get to Canada. Quebec doesn't need more educated Haitians - Haiti does.
But this is just an opinion.
My heart just sings to see a Quaker, or anyone, following their convictions to the end. It is a breathtaking event. Powerful, exhilarating for all involved.
I am pleased that I have met some other courageous people, who are willing to put their lives on the line, people who went to Palestine and accompanied children to school, a good friend who spent 6 months in prison for her convictions on closing the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, which specializes in teaching torture.
I have spent my time in jail - 40 days in Great Britain for speaking out against the war in Ireland back when Bobby Sands was fasting to death in Long Kesh. Years later, in Vieques, I was arrested as a Quaker with the support of my Meeting. Both were wonderful opportunities for my spiritual growth. This time I chose exile over imprisonment as I knew that I could not stay inside the United States and hold back my tongue and my feet during the current atrocities.
So my heart is with you, Friend Janet. I applaud you. I salute you.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Last year, I was up on the border, in Dajabon, at a bi-national ecotourism fair. This was held in a field where pavilions and a main stage had been erected. During the two week event, a troop of cleaners had been hired to clean up the area. Yet by the middle of the afternoon, the site was awash in trash - Styrofoam plates, empty bottles, plastic of all sorts. I made an effort to enlist a small army of children in helping to clean the place up. I stopped in front of one of the vendors, a young (18?) Dominican selling imported apples from Washington State, to ask him to help pick up the trash in front of his stall. He sat back in his chair and refused, saying "it is not my garbage.'
So I went around with the troop of children and picked up all the trash until I had an armload of it. Then I walked over to and dropped it on his feet, saying "Now it is."
This difficulty that the people here have in picking up for themselves, I attribute to having too many maids (who are generally paid less than the minimum wage) and too much mothering. It will be a great day for this country when the women are a bit more liberated. But since the Catholic Church (with lots of help now from the American born-against) upholds a rigid ban on abortion, under any and all circumstances (including rape, and incest), that day will not arrive anytime soon.
(I fixed the link on the last article - sorry about that)
Friday, October 5, 2007
Here is an article that I wrote for those of you who might be thinking of leaving.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Up in Hot Springs, where the peaks seem to brush the sky, the outlanders are moving in. For years, only the very brave and hardy of “foreigners” would dare to move in, settle in with the copperheads and rattlers and men with tobacco plugs in the cheeks and the words “I protect what is mine - and I don’t call 9-11”. Now it is being discovered by the wave of money coming down from the North and up from Florida where is either too cold, or too hot. Twenty years ago, an acre of steep mountain land (steep as a cow’s face, they say here) would set you back $1300 if you were foolhardy enough to want it. Today there is a gated subdivision selling 5 acre lots for $250,000. The locals are laughing with an edge of fear. Perhaps their way of life, with the grandchildren parked in the trailer out back, will
soon be a thing of the past.
There are no black faces here. In fact there are few places around where Blacks feel safe. I lived up around here for 20 years but finally had to leave for although I am white on the outside, I am black inside. In the last census, I identified myself as mixed race - “Caucasion and African-American” although I have nothing to prove it except a little curl in my hair, a natural ability to dance and drum and an affinity for all things African. Asheville has a population which is 20% black but you have to go looking for them, find them behind some sort of wall. The schools there were only integrated under federal court order in 1976. And here, as in most of the US, one is either Black or White. Not like the Dominican Republic where one is Indian, or wheat, or cinnamon, or mulatto but hardly ever, ever negro, “black” - unless, of course, you are Haitian.
I remember a conversation with a French woman on the beach up in the Samana peninsula.
She spoke of our terrible problem with racism and slavery in the United States. I listened intently, for certainly we do not deny it, we have been working on it for over 200 years.
Then I looked up at her, and held up my palms, weighing one down, then the other,
“And Africa, for you, would be, what?”
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I had no idea how radical the education had been until I went to college - first to Middlebury, in Vermont, bastion of the privileged white class, where I nearly suffocated in two years, had it not been for a few Jewish friends and artists whom I met. Then on to CUNY where the diversity of the students more suited my mindset. But in both those colleges, I met bright, powerful students who had been trained already into submission to some "party line" or other. Few had open inquiring minds.
For the brilliant training that I recieved, I will always be grateful to the Quakers. They rescued me from a dim and drearly life, from isolation and affluence, into the powerful world of service and spirit.
I am extremely pleased to learn that the George School is now the most heavily endowed school in the nation. I hope this will encourage more Quaker Meetings to start schools.
You all just saved my life!!
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
I sat yesterday on the porch of my friend Clare Hanrahan,a dedicated community activist. She has disconnected her land telephone line and does not give out her cell phone number so we are now forced to come and sit on the porch - an ongoing meeting. The local of the Green Party arrived and we spoke of how to envigorate the dissent: what could be done other than standing in the public square in protest every week, carrying on with the petition of impeachment, generally voicing opposition? It has been six years of steady public dissent now and even the diligent dedicated pacifists are frustrated and discouraged. What could be done?
It was good to learn that now 70% of the population of Western North Carolina is against the war. When we first started standing, both the WNC Peace Coalition and Women in Black, the number was only 15%. Yet six years into any war, the opposition will rise. It does not mean that we have tired of war - only of this war.
We spoke of a recent even in one of the mainline churches, organized by the local chapter of the Network for Spiritual Progressives and 40 local groups, at which Clare was a speaker and recieved a standing ovation. The participants, she noted, were mostly white, mostly affluent. Clare is one of the few who travels between communities, from the projects to the park to the Council chambers. There is great diversity here but the pieces of the pie try very hard not to touch each other, not to find common ground.
Although I certainly respect the work of Rabbi Lerner and his community, I wonder how much real peace building we can do if one of the basic tenets is "To Challenge the misuse of God & religion by the Religious Right and religio-phobia on the Left." It does not seem to be a peace building position, to begin by setting up opponents and then saying that they have misused God and Religion. It seems polarizing and divisive.
How, indeed, do we become the change that we want to see? What if the affluent Christians started feeding the homeless in the park (now closed from 10 pm to 6 am - and there are not enough shelters - but, alas, if you build shelters, one friend said, they will come. Homeless are already shipped to Asheville from other cities as we do have some services)? What if the Right and Left formed a circle around the returning veterans and said to them, "we are greatful that you answered your nation's call, even though there are those of us who object to the war. We want to help you heal and return to us whole. Tell us of what you suffered, tell us of how you still suffer, let us help heal you and perhaps you can heal us."
Perhaps we can indeed break this cycle of the endless war.
It is certainly important work. It is sad for me to see my fellow Americans so bowed down in fear.
My friends in Haiti ask for $75 a month for the salary of a teacher. That is all it will take. Two are needed for the little school.
I am looking forward to going to the Island and seeing the school upon my return.
It is odd to me that it seems an easier project to heal Haiti now than the United States.
Monday, September 17, 2007
It remind me now a bit of 8th Street in the Greenwich Village of my home, after it was "cleaned-up" and the artists had moved to Hoboken since they could not afford the rents and the dingy coffee shops were replaced with fern barns. The environmentalist, who pay oh so much more for their organic food, don't seem to yet be aware that Fiji Water really does come from Fiji. I wish that "green" did not look so "white".
But there is a deep spirit moving here as more and more people flock to the ideas that surface -- a model of power with rather than power over. There is so much feminine energy here that some people have dubbed it "Ashe She Ville".
There is an awareness that the road that has lead us to this point is a dead end.
We gather here. In this cul de sac.
Regroup. Rethink. Rejoin.
We have been recycling for oh so many years already.
Here I get to sit deep within the silence of my community, my Quaker Meeting, in the house on the hill by the University, finding the ground of our collective being, serene in the little island of peace created by generations of seekers.
I come back to feed my roots, to nourish my bones, and mark the passage of time.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
On Saturday in downtown Asheville there was an organic food festival - as there is always a festival now in Asheville on the weekends- with a chair massager- ah luxury.
Was I local?,she asked. I used to be, I answered. But now I live in Santo Domingo and report from the border of Haiti. I hope to move to Haiti in the next couple of years.
"I worked in Haiti about twenty years ago for a few months- in a hunger relief program. It was very touching. The people were very sweet. I wasn't able to see much of the country as they did not let me out of the compound. When I came back to the States, I was incredibly angry for an entire year. Angry at the consumption, angry at the waste."
I thanked her profoundly not only for the massage but for naming the knot in my stomach that had been building over the last month.
While visiting my neices and nephews in a suburb 40 minutes outside NYC, I drove one day with the Mom to deliver one 11 year old to soccer camp where she could work on her "foot skills". We drove the minivan 45 minutes each way to deliver the girl into a field enclosed in a bubble - an enclosed air-conditioned bubble- where coaches from England trained about 75 suburban teens, primarily girls. The course cost $200 for the week,for 5 days of 4 hour sessions, which in NYC suburban terms was a bargin.
How can I explain Haiti to these children?
Monday, August 13, 2007
I can't think of another way to get here as there are no hydrofoils from Florida - even though the DR is only 500 miles away. And, as we have all read, the trips on the open boats are no fun.
I am spending a lot of times telling people "No, really, the poverty is not that bad in the DR- perhaps in the batays- but it is a middle income country. They eat meast usually once a day.
And as for Haiti -It is THE PLACE WHERE THEY DO THE MOST WITH THE LEAST" -- We have a lot to learn from them.
They are going to post an economic growth rate this year for the first time in perhaps twenty years.
Things are going to just get better and better - that perhaps is the advantage of being on the bottom.
Whereas here in the States, there is the sense that things are going to get worse. Perhaps I am just imagining the fear level, but somehow, I don't think so. The mortgages are coming due and people are beginning to realize that they have a really expensive health care system that isn't even that good, that even though the banks say that they "own" their own homes, they are really just renting them from the bank.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
They have a sliding scale for payment based on consumption. It is a program that the United States would do well to emulate. Why not a progressive tax on electric consumption?
The bulk of the population here did not have it a generation ago. The national grid is non-existent. Electricity service 24/7 is an unexpected luxury: most new buildings or construction in the tourist areas have their own "plantas" or generators. At the very least, they will have a system of inverters, battery back up banks that will run a few lights, perhaps a fan and the refrigerator on an emergency basis for a few hours.
I live in a section of town called Gazcue, an area of former elegance of large homes and streets lined with old trees, next to the Colonial Zone, the oldest city in the Americas, est. circa 1598. A few blocks away is the National Palace so my neighborhood always has electricity.
The nation is just figuring out how to protect the electric supply, how to cut off the lines that are illegally spliced into it. In the country, you will see small wooden houses with dirt floors, and a television connected to an extension cord, connected to the house next door, and next door, leading eventually to a wire hooked into the tall electric pole. The government has just passed a law making the theft of electricity illegal. Since that was not explicit and only a fool would pay for a state provided service if there was a way not to. There are now some private electric companies which have better service but actually involve meters and bills.
After the first electric light, the Dominicans buy a "third world" washing machine, which has a tumbler for washing, another alongside for extracting. You fill the tub with soapy water, it runs and spins, then you extract the clothes, put them into the side tumbler which extracts the soapy water, then fill the tub with rinse water, load the clothes, then extract again, then hang the clothes on the nearest barbed wire fence. It is certainly more labor intensive than an American washer/dryer but certainly less so than taking them three miles down to river to beat them on rocks or washing them by hand. IIt is also a lot rougher on the clothes: holes seem to appear out of nowhere.
Here's how my April bill looked (the peso is now at 32= $1 US if you wish to convert):
Basic service 108.65
75 kWh x RD 3.12 234.00
125 kWh x RD 3.12 234.00
100 kWh x RD 4.71 390.00
100 kWh x RD 7.00 700.00
100 Kwh x RD 7.00 700.00
100 kWh x RD 7.00 700.00
69 kWh x RD 7.00 700.00
Total 3,785.65 (US 118.30)
Then the temperature started to really rise in July and I put on the old air conditioner in the middle of the day and went to the bedroom to read. Look at what happened to the electric bill.
Basic service 108.65
800 kWh x RD 8.57 7,370.20
Total 7,478.85 (US 233.71)
So you can be assured that I started rushing around changing my light bulbs to low consumption compact fluorescents, and set about to find an electrician to deal with the suspicious whirring noise that comes from my freezer, take a look at that strange plastic heating unit that is attached to the shower head which is supposed to heat the water, but doesn't.
And to solve the mystery of why I received a shock when my arm touched the metal cage outside the window surrounding the air conditioner. No mystery there, there is some sort of electrical leakage. The mystery is why the pigeons still want to nest in it.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Others believed that he was a drug dealer, running a criminal enterprise.
This arrived, from a completely partisant, anti-Aristide source. However, I believe that the facts are the facts.
So much for the fall of Aristide.
OFFICIALS AND OTHER INDIVIDUALS SUSPECTED OF, INDICTED FOR OR
CONVICTED OF DRUG TRAFFICKING FROM HAITI TO THE US
July 20, 2007
Former director of security for American Airline at Port-au-Prince international airport
Arrested in Haiti in October 2004 and extradited to the US
on October 14, 2004 ; she is awaiting trial in Miami and is
currently out of jail on bail and confined to the Miami area; pleaded guilty on March 1, 2006. Will be sentenced in May.
Eddy High level drug trafficker
Extradited to US from Haiti in August 2003
Jean Salim Businessman and high level drug trafficker
In jail in Miami
Former Lavalas member of the lower house** of parliament implicated in drug trafficking in Jacmel.
Disappeared at about the time of Aristide's downfall in
Former head of Haitian National Police anti-narcotic brigade (Bureau de Lutte contre le Traffic des stupefiants.
Arrested in Haiti in late May 2004 and deported to US; awaiting trial; tried and found not guilty on October 7, 2005
Quirino Ernesto Paulino Former captain of the Dominican army and high level drug trafficking baron suspected of ties with Haitian networks.
Extradited to NYC from the DR on February 19, 2005
Fourel Former president of the Haitian Senate
Arrested in Haiti in late May 2004 and deported to US; currently in jail in Miami
Wilnet Former Lavalas member of the lower house of parliament implicated in drug trafficking in Jacmel
Disappeared at about the time of Aristide's downfall in
Arrested in Canada while trying to smuggle cocaine dissolved in cans of soft drink on February 23, 2005
Businessman involved in the borlette (lottery) and allegedly involved in drug trafficking Arrested in the DR on April 16, 2005 and deported immediately to the US; convicted on July 22, 2005 of drug trafficking and money laundering; sentenced to life in jail late in September 2005
"EDOUARD," Hughes and Hubert
Half twin brothers of Serge Edouard heavily involved with him in drug trafficking The petty drug dealers criminal and thieves
Convicted in Miami ; have testified against their half brother in order to have their sentence reduced
Former officer of the Haitian National Police
Arrested in Santo Domingo with his Spanish acolyte, Luis Felipe GarcÃa Manso Gonzales on January 12, 2007 and extradited the same day to Miami. Accused of shipping 2000 kilos of cocaine to the US.
Business man and drug baron based in GonaÃ¯ves Do not know the pig
Picked up in a DEA raid on July 16, 2007 , and extradited to the US on the same day.
Businessman, owner of Gold's Gym in
PÃ©tion-Ville Arrested in Fort Lauderdale on February 4, 2007, for alleged involvement in drug trafficking.
Former owner of a construction company and high level drug trafficker. Extradited to US from Haiti in September 2003; sentenced
on February 9, 2005 to nearly 20 years
17 JEAN, Oriel Former head of presidential/ national palace security . Only 3 years Il a vendu les autres criminels y compris Aritide
He was arrested in Canada in May 2004 and deported to US shortly thereafter. He has pleaded guilty in Miami in late May 2005. He was condemned to 3 years in jail on 11.18.05.
Jean-Claude Businessman suspected of having connections with drug trafficking and having financed the armed rebellion against Aristide. Escaped from the National Penitentiary on February 19, 2005 ; he was arrested in the DR and extradited to Haiti on July 10, 2005
Husband of Stephanie Ambroise and former security agent at American Airline in P-au-P Pleaded guilty with his wife in Miami on March 1, 2006; will be sentenced in May
Beaudouin High level drug trafficker
He said to the judge upon being sentenced "One day you will sentence Aristide the drug dealer just like me. He got 25 years
Deported from Haiti to US in June 2003, convicted late in
February 2004 shortly before Aristide's overthrow and currently serving time in an American jail. At the time of his sentencing, he denounced Aristide's participation in drug trafficking. His brother, Hector, was shot dead by Rudy ThÃ©rassan on February 13, 2003
High level drug trafficker
Arrested in Haiti and extradited to the US where he is in jail
Former commander of Haitian National Police Department of the West
In jail in the DR
Former head of Haitian National Police at international airport
Indicted jointly with Lucien and ThÃ©rassan and in jail in Miami ; awaiting trial there; pleaded guilty in Miami on August 23, 2005; will be sentenced on November 9, 2005
24 LOUIS, Wista Arranged transportation of drugs from Haiti to Miami; wife of Thibaud
Codefendant with Jean Eliobert Jasme.
Sentenced on February 9, 2005 to nearly 16 years.
Jean Nesly Former chief of Haitian National Police Indicted jointly with Lestin and ThÃ©rassan and in jail in Miami ; pleaded guilty to charge of money laundering on April 12, 2005 ; condemned to nearly 5 years on July 13, 2005
Nahoum Former Lavalas member of the lower house of parliament implicated in drug trafficking in Cap-HaÃ¯tien.
Disappeared at about the time of Aristide's downfall in
27 OVALLE, Carlos Colombian national and long time resident of Haiti in charge of coordinating drug trafficking in Haiti on behalf of the Colombian cartels
Extradited to US in September 2003; tried and convicted in Miami
Guy Former high officer of the PNH long suspected of involvement in drug trafficking .
Defected Haiti under Aristide in 2001 and was one of the key leaders of the rebellion/invasion that caused the downfall of Aristide in February 2004; presidential candidate in 2006; was the target of DEA raid on his home in Les Cayes on July 16, 2007; on the run
29 PiQUION, Bernard
Aka Fizi Bwa
Picked up on May 31, 2007 in Leogane in conjunction with the consfication of 420 kilos of cocaine; deported on July 16, 2007 by DEA
Former army officer
In jail since November 11, 2006 ; deported on July, 2007
Emmanuel High level drug trafficker and husband of Wista Louis
Already serving a 141/2 year sentence for drug trafficking
Rudy Former head of the Haitian National Police Brigade of Research and Investigation
Arested on May 14, 2004 in Miami, indicted jointly with Lucien and Lestin and in jail in Miami; on April 20, 2005 pleaded guilty to accepting protection money from traffickers; condemned to nearly 15 years on July 13, 2005
Jean Ronald High level drug trafficker
Arrested in Miami on January 19, 2005 where he is in jail