Friday, October 30, 2009

Day of the Dead

We enter now deeper into the holy day season, starting with the Jewish high holy days, then coming now into the Pagan one of Shamain , the Celtic new year, which the Christian's then took over as All Hallow's eve.

Nowhere in this hemisphere is this reunion between the dead and the living celebrated quite so deeply as among the descendants of the West African slaves in Haiti. See this interesting first hand account from a foreign perspective here

I first saw a taste of this when I lived in Grenada. On the day of Halloween, the women would assemble in the graveyards, which were mostly above ground mausoleums, whitewashed, with nominal crosses on them. They carried buckets of water, scrub brushes, clorox, and if they could afford it, white wash and brushes. All day they would prepare and clean the graveyard. Because all night that night, most of the adults would gather there, candles lit, rum bottles and drums in hand to dance and sing along with their ancestors who had passed along.

The author in the piece above states that Christianity is monotheistic while Voodoo is polytheistic. One could argue that Christianity is based on some sort of bizarre trinity and every Haitian that I have met worships and acknowledges Bon Dwye, who is merely too busy to come visit, and so daily life is entrusted to a variety of other spirits. And certainly Christianity is all wound up in the issue of a living and dead God - sort of the central theme.

Voodoo, like paganism, does include a wild streak of sexuality in it which sets it apart from most other religions which appear intent in separating spirit from flesh. The entire operation of "possession" is to lend one's body to the spirits so that they can enjoy the senses. To me, that it what makes both of them so very scary and "demonic" to Christians---that ready acceptance of sexuality-- which is just, well. inferior to the virgin birth and all.

Those who have been present at a tent revival meeting of protestants, seen people speaking in tongues, and even taken Quaking by the Spirit at a Quaker Meeting can attest to the power of the Spirit, no matter what the name.

Enjoy the holiday. Do not forget that it is a sacred day. Remember the Dead on their day.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A New Constitution. Waves of Protests

The Dominican Republic passed a new Constitution which has much of the populace protesting in the streets.It is interesting to watch the rise of civil society here, a building of a coalition of feminists, students, environmentalist who are making an effort to take their country away from the political class, which is intent on consolidating power.

Read my article here

Monday, October 12, 2009

Haiti after Donors Conference

A new report has been issued by the USIP working group on Haiti, headed by Robert Maguire. Read the full text here

Friday, October 9, 2009

A new view of Haiti

Why We Shouldn't Stigmatize Haiti
By Jeff Antebi

In April, as part of a series of photo essays I'm doing, I made my way to Haiti for the recent Haitian Senatorial elections.

When I mentioned Haiti to friends, colleagues and travel agents, the universal response was "what?!?!?!" But I completely understood this reaction. I was worried myself. Haiti is thought to be a place where kidnappings are de rigueur. It's widely believed if your ride from the airport didn't show up on time, you might just be 'disappeared'. Given all of the talk of danger, I started to have nightmares of having my throat slit by the flight attendant as I deplaned.

So I made out a will. I took out all sorts of exotic insurance policies that I cannot discuss without risking them being voided. I signed up for a medical evacuation service and got prescriptions for Malarone and Azithromycin.

First, let me get this out of the way. Haiti is sad, yes. Desperate, yes. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and it shows. If you are Haitian and under five years old, you are more likely to die than if you were born anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. If you are a woman, you are more likely to die giving birth here than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. If you are Haitian, there's a 50/50 chance you can't read or write. If you are Haitian and you die, there's a 50/50 chance what killed you was a water-borne illness. One of the leading causes of death in Haiti is diarrhea. The nation's children have it the worst: 98 percent of Haiti's children don't finish secondary school; thousands of Haitian children become victims of human trafficking every year; and 19,000 children in Haiti currently live with HIV/AIDS.

But that is only one part of the story. The other is that the country is stunning and Haitians are incredible people. It's nowhere near as apocalyptic as people make it out to be. In fact, for experienced travelers who understand the risks, caveats and cautions - it's a great place to see.

Haiti's proximity to the U.S. (only an hour-and-a-half from Miami) provides a compelling case for engaging programs and policies that can make life-saving differences to the men, women and children I met. They are, literally, our neighbors. There are nations everywhere that need help, but compared to a nation across the ocean, the cost of supporting our close neighbors is minimal. Haitians who are lucky enough to have a job earn the equivalent of $600 a year. As you can imagine, it doesn't take much to make a significant impact on the wider community.

Not that there aren't obstacles. Government corruption can prevent real, beneficial change from happening (things such as education, electricity and basic health care). The wrong kinds of "charity" render people apathetic and don't galvanize the population to help themselves. And a lack of long-term stability means a lack of foreign investors.

That's why it's important to at least start neutralizing the stigma and fear. While it's not going to be the most attractive choice for Caribbean tourism, Haiti is also not the abyss. Far from it.

My photos from the Haitian elections can be seen at but I want to point out that they are not good 'tourism' images. They are dramatic.

I'm currently in Afghanistan photographing the elections here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mercedes Sosa

Confined to a clinic in Argentina, this great singer and champion of the people is asking for a miracle in order to stay with us.

It may not be true, this legend I heard of her, that the Argentine government banned her from singing this song by Leon Gieco. She was on stage at the Plaza de Cinco de Mayo in Buenas Aires, which was packed with people. Police snippers were on the rooftops as well as around the srage. She motioned to the band to start up the song and Sosa stood silent before the microphone, listing to the immense crowd sing the lyrics.

I was told this by my Puerto Rican compatriots when we were all in the holding cell in Vieques in 2001, awaiting transport fo the Federal prison in San Juan. Even if was only a legend, the story kept us strong.

Thank you for your courage, hermana, your songs will never die.

Sólo le pido a Dos
Sólo le pido a Dios
que el dolor no me sea indiferente,
que la reseca muerte no me encuentre
vacío y solo, sin haber hecho lo suficiente.

Sólo le pido a Dios
que lo injusto no me sea indiferente,
que no me abofeteen la otra mejilla,
después que una garra me arañó esta suerte.

Sólo le pido a Dios
que la guerra no me sea indiferente,
es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte
toda la pobre inocencia de la gente.

Sólo le pido a Dios
que el engaño no me sea indiferente,
si un traidor puede más que unos cuantos,
que esos cuantos no lo olviden fácilmente.

Sólo le pido a Dios
que el futuro no me sea indiferente,
desahuciado está el que tiene que marchar
a vivir una cultura diferente.

Sólo le pido a Dios
que la guerra no me sea indiferente,
es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte
toda la pobre inocencia de la gente.

All I ask of God

All I ask of God

That pain does not leave me indifferent,
And that parched death will not find me
Alone and empty not having done sufficient.

All I ask of God
That I not be indifferent to injustice
That they won’t slap my other cheek,
After their talon has scraped away my luck.

All I ask of God
That I not be indifferent to war,
It’s a big monster which crushes
All the poor innocence of the people.

All I ask of God
That I am be indifferent to deceit,
If a traitor can do more than the masses,
Then let not the masses forget him easily.

All I ask of God
That i am not indifferent to the future,
Hopeless is he who has to go away
To live a different culture.

All I ask of God
That i am not indifferent to war,
It’s a big monster that crushes
All the poor innocence of people.