Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tropical Storm Noel

From Haiti - there will be no accurate reports of how many are dead or displaced.

In the Dominican Republic, it is reported that 41 are dead, 20 missing, and 50,592 evacuated.

It is still raining.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ile A Vache

Now playing:
Wyclef Jean - 24 é Tan Pou Viv
via FoxyTunes

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.

Mesi d'avant.

Travelling to Haiti

Personal Journey | Sticking it out on a trip to Haiti

We were standing on a bridge over the River Massacre, and it was too late to wonder why we were taking our children from the relative comfort of the Dominican Republic to the violent poverty of Haiti. When we decided to make a four-day visit to the poorest, densest country in the hemisphere, we knew tourists rarely visited anymore.

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

A Seeker

This blog has been added to the list of other Quaker blogs and in reading others, I feel that somehow I should/could/ought to be more, well, religious or at least "spiritual" as I write.

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

Rainy Season

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:


  • 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.
  • Traditional Oriental belief holds that being in a bamboo grove restores calmness and stimulates creativity. Bamboo groves were also a favourite dwelling place of the Buddha.
    • Bamboo can withstand forces of up to 52,000 pounds per square inch, making it the rival of steel.
  • One book has ascribed over 5 thousand uses for bamboo - ranging from arrow-tip poison to medicine to scaffolding to desalination filters.
    • 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.
  • A Western Australian Agriculture Dept brochure predicts that bamboo shoot production has the potential to provide an income to the grower of $16,000 per hectare. (Australia imports thousands of tonnes of tinned bamboo shoots every year).
    • Few people realise that a significant proportion of Chinese and Asian medicines are extracted from bamboo.
  • If bamboo disappeared off the face of the earth, about 30% of of the population of Asia would be homeless.
    • 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.
    So now if we could interest all those groups who appear to be so concerned about Haiti to apply their energy to some positive, on the ground action instead of .......

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Good News on Malnutrition

    Last Sunday's 60 Minutes ran a wonderful story on the use of peanut butter, powdered milk and vitamin product called "Plumpynut" which is saving the lives of hundreds of severely malnourished children in Africa. The wonderfully enthusiastic doctor in the story suggested that if the world's donors shifted even a small portion of their donation dollars into the purchase or - better yet- local production - of plumpynut - we could,

    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!


    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Quaker Woman Arrested in Canada

    It is a fine Quaker tradition to go to jail for conscience sake. Recently, a Quaker from Pennsylvania, was arrested at the Canadian border for transporting 12 Haitians, who had been living in New Jersey without proper papers. She, Friend Janet Hinshaw- Thomas, will stand trial under the laws for human trafficking.

    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

    The Trash

    Back home again in Santo Domingo, which is noticeably cleaner than it was when I first arrived here three years ago. There has been a concerted effort to pick up the trash on the streets, and along the roads. When I first came here, I assumed that Dominicans were very dirty people, considering the state of their public spaces. Then I discovered that they were, in fact, rather impeccably clean and neat but had a distinct idea that they did not somehow own the common spaces. Once outside of their doors, they felt it was someone else's responsibility to clean it up. I can only speculate as to the origins of this habit.

    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

    On leaving the States

    I meet more and more people who are searching for a place to live outside the United States.Some offer up Costa Rica as a possibility. Others France. I have made my choice.

    Here is an article that I wrote for those of you who might be thinking of leaving.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2007

    An Island of White

    The mountains of Western North Carolina are one of the great natural treasures of the planet. They are, it is said, the oldest mountains in the country, far older than the uppity Rockies, even more worn and run down than the northern peaks of the Adirondacks. It is home to moonshiners, Scots Irish Balladeers, rugged mountain folk, devout Baptists and born agains who cling to their families and roots and a small piece of dirt which, perhaps in a good year of tobacco farming, will produce a marginal lively hood. They are, some say, the new feminine center of the United States. Many acknowledge that they have a great healing power. There is something special in the water.

    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?”