Saturday, March 22, 2008

Volunteer House

There are two main volunteer / staff houses – this is the smaller of the two. Right now, there are just three of us living here. Its simple, and is rented from a Source Chaudes family that lives on a second house on the property. The walls and floor of the house are made of cement – the roof is tin and wood.

The family that owns the property has many animals that we share the space with. We joke that it is a small, Haitian farm. A mother pig (& 7 piglets!!), countless roosters and chickens, 2 ducks and a rotating cast of goats parade in front of our door - and occasionally attempt to join us inside the house.

The other night, Eric was experimenting with night-time photography and took a gorgeous photo of the little house ... just lit by the moon, a moving flashlight and an oil-lamp on the porch. Its posted on his blog ( - and is definitely worth the click!

A Day in the Life

As you can imagine, its difficult to truly describe a typical day here. With the whirling of people and energy and projects and colors, each day is unexpected and unique. That being said, Eric and I are both getting into a bit of a routine. And, for those that know me well, you know how grateful I am for any bits of routine I can get my little hands on.

5:00am. The sun and the animals begin to wake. Because of the lack of electricity, the days here seem to truly start with the light. The roosters make sure every knows its time to get up, and the noise of people and animals beginning their day swirl around the little volunteer house.

6:15-30am. On good days, I join some of the AMURT staff at the village pool to start the day off with a swim. The village of Source Chaudes is named after the hot springs here. Over the years, these springs have been funneled into a number of pools, washing places, and gathering spaces. One of the pools (my favorite) is made of cement, with “I love you” painted in English on the bottom. It is a constant flow of beautiful, clear, warm water … and is a lovely way to start the day.

8:00am Breakfast. Eric and I eat breakfast with a number of AMURT medical staff at a house on the other side of the village. Our breakfast rotation is: corn meal with spices/spinach, boiled bananas and onions with sauce and spaghetti. We’re (surprisingly!) getting used to spaghetti for breakfast. Its quite delicious.

Sidenote: Thursdays and Saturdays are market days, so on both days we stop in the market on the way back from breakfast. The BIG market of the week is on Thursday. People begin traveling to Source Chaudes and setting up their sales area on Wednesday night. And then on Thursday, the people come from all around to buy and sell for the coming week. Official employment in Source Chaudes is nearly 0%. The majority of the money exhange that does exist happens between individuals and families on market day.

8:45am Work begins. The AMURT office used to be a big barn - it has cement brick walls, a metal roof and cement floors. One room is split into a storage space and a common eating space (with a kitchen), the other room is an office. The building has solar panels on the roof that provide for the only electricity access in the village. Work for Eric and I varies every day. Its looking like I will spend most of my time in the office, with occasional visits to project sites - my main tasks here are to develop basic org materials for AMURT (a brochure, a power-point, a newsletter template, a handbook describing the history and current program of each project – and to assist them in developing a formalized volunteer program. Truly right up my alley.

12pm (m, w, f) Creole – English Exchange. Three times a week, Eric and I meet with a group of Haitians to learn language together. We’re learning creole, while the group learns English. Typically, 8ish people attend - Eric and I have a general plan for the day, and we take it from there. Its fun, we’re getting to know people, learning Creole and (hopefully!) we’re helping to teach some English.

2pm. Lunch. Once again, Eric and I take a walk down the one road through the village to eat lunch. We bring along our little straw lunch bag with Tupperware inside – eat half the lunch and save the other half to eat for dinner. Lunch rotates between rice with beans, rice with lentils and corn meal with beans. I really like the lunches here.

The walk to and from lunch is hot - midday sun, not a lot of shade. On the especially hot days, we stop at the town store to have a coke. Some days, that coke is pure magic.

5-6pm. We stop working for the day. The time / line is blurry, because often people stay in the office area to hang out. Since it’s the only place with electricity, people stay to use the internet (when its working!), listen to music, watch videos, or just hang out.

7:30pm. Dinner. Eric and I head back to the volunteer house to eat our second lunch (dinner!). We sit on the stoop with a gas lamp lighting the porch - and eat our dinner together.

After that, evenings vary – we read, watch movies, talk, write, swim, and appreciate the (gorgeous!) stars. Everything is quiet in Source Chaudes by 9pm. The evenings are a peaceful and relaxed time here. I soak up the quiet, appreciate the extra time for sleeping and give thanks for this place ... for this day.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Laughing Cow

Today, Annette shared her cheese with me – and it felt like our relationship had just taken a giant stride forward.

Annette is a Doctor in one of the AMURT clinics. She lives in a house with a number of the AMURT medical staff. Eric and I have a meal plan to eat all of our meals with them. So, every day we leave AMURT at 8am and 2pm and walk to the other end of the village for our meals. Most Haitians eat two meals a day – and now, we do too.

When we first discussed our joining the meal plan with the medical staff, they were concerned that we would be high-maintenance. That, because we were from the US, we would be expecting them to make us special food for us every day. We reassured that no, no – we wanted to eat whatever they did. They agreed to have us join them, with a bit of evident apprehension.

But, over time, I think they’re starting to believe us that we’re truly quite happy with the food. It is simple – but good. Breakfasts rotate between boiled bananas and onions, corn meal with beans, and spaghetti (!!!). Yes – spaghetti for breakfast! Lunch is rice and beans, rice and peas/lentils, or corn meal with beans – all with meat and sauce on the side. The portions are huge, so we usually take some of our lunch home with us to eat mid-evening. It works out great.

Sometimes the medical staff eat at the same time as us. Annette is one of our most frequent meal companions. She’s been consistently polite, but seemingly slow to warm up. As we learn more and more Creole, we attempt to make conversation. But, I’m concerned that our broken Creole sometimes becomes tiresome to her. A week-or-so in, she told us that she speaks some English – and, since, has been helping us to learn a little Creole every day. We started talking about the basics – family, food, Haiti, the US. She wonders what we eat on Spaghetti in New York City. And whether we like it here. She tells us about her family. Her husband is a police officer in Port au Prince (6 to 7 hours of travel) and her two kids live with her family a few hours past that.

Annette had started warming up.

She began showing us pictures. And talking with us about things she likes that she thinks we may also know – Elton John, the Backstreet Boys, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Segall, and Denzel Washinton. And admitting that she worries that Eric and I are talking about them if we ever speak in English. I was able to share that the concern goes both ways. And, we reassured one another that was never the case. Jamais.

Today – she offered me cheese. Fromage. I wasn’t sure whether I understood what she was saying, and then she went to her room and brought back little packages of “Laughing Cow” cheese – with Creole on the label.

I very happily accepted – both the cheese and Annette’s kindness. Plus, in Source Chaudes, cheese is delicious on breakfast spaghetti.

the MUD

There is one hot spring in Source Chaudes that is particularly hot. It has been funneled into a pool called La Bou. If you dig down into the ground near the spring, the dirt is deep*deep*black. It is believed that the ground around this spring has many minerals in it – and that it is good, even healing, to put on your skin. We tried it out…

(We're pretending we're all squished into a tap-tap -- Haiti's most common form of public transportation!)



The more I learn about AMURT, the more impressed I am. They are doing incredible work in the NW of Haiti. The team of people working here are dynamic, passionate, smart, creative, interesting … and very busy. I will learn so much during these months of working for them. I’d encourage you to check out their website, if you haven’t yet: Its very well done, and is a good synopsis of their programs. There’s also a slideshow on the homepage, with some great photos of NW Haiti and the people that live here.

The past couple of days, I’ve been helping AMURT to create their first brochure. Its been a fun, very collaborative, creative process. In the process of creating the brochure, I’ve gotten a better understanding of their projects. At one point, we had lists of projects in their different focus areas. I thought I’d share the lists, so you can get a sense of the work AMURT is doing in Source Chaudes and the surrounding villages. Pretty incredible.

- Training 8 communities to construct and install Bio-Sand Water Filters in homes, schools and clinics.
- Training and overseeing a network of community filter agents to lead hygiene education classes in more than 24 villages.

- Training teachers and community leaders.
- Building and rehabilitating schools.
- Introducing integrated education methods
- Strengthening school management structures.
- Building a education training center.

- 8 school tree nurseries and vegetable gardens.
- Fuel-efficient stoves.
- Mangrove Rehabilitation Project.
- 9 community managed tree nurseries.
- Creation of Micro-Forests.
- Training of community leaders.
- Agriculture demonstration and training center.

- Establishing a community owned and operated salt production cooperative.
- Setting up a model salt production facility.
- Facilitating additional community collaborative projects.

- Building and rehabilitating health clinics.
- Providing staff, medicines and supplies for three clinics.
- Recruiting training and overseeing 12 community health agents.

- Built a village water distribution system, a park, irrigation channels and washing facilities.
- Community resource in water systems.
- Helped to build 8.6 KM sections of new road.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

I am here.

Eric and I haven’t pulled out our cameras much yet. White people seem to be uncommon here – so we are already a bit of a spectacle. People wave at us (while smiling warmly) and call out “blanc!” (white) as we walk by. So, we don’t want to draw more attention – or seem like tourists – by having our cameras out. Once we’ve been around awhile, it will be easier. I’m anxious to share photos of everything.

When Eric I were by ourselves (rare in this small town), I took out my camera for a few quick minutes the other day - just to document that I am here. My feet in the dirt. In Haiti.

Welcome Cultural Program (aka: Party)

The staff of AMURT hosted a cultural program for us - as a welcome party of sorts. SO thoughtful – and SO fun. One of our favorite parts was their rendition of Wycleff Jean's "Yele". Picture a circle of Haitians (with some International NGO staff mixed in) sitting under the beautiful night sky, with a lantern lighting the song lyrics so everyone could join in to sing. The song was powerful, a picture of Haiti today -- and a call for action.

The song is written in Creole. Following is an English translation of some of the lyrics:

If you have ears, listen
If you have mouth, speak
If you don’t, our country is going to sink
Like a boat full of refugees
If we do not seek God,
Once more!

If you have ears, listen
If you have mouth, speak
If not, our country is going to sink
Like a boat full of refugees
Izrael is seeking God, listen!

Ten thousand coffins, look!, all are children.
The priest whines, but they cannot resuscitate
The Mom cries, but the dead do not hear
A criminal just passes by, I hear
(blow blow blow blow)


If you have ears, listen
If you have mouth, speak
If not, our country is going to sink
Like a boat full of refugees
Haitians, seek God, once more!


In our first English – Creole exchange class, we played Pictionary to learn vocabulary. Following the class, I was attempting to impress my new friends by telling them that I liked flowers (in Creole). With confidence, I said “Mwen rele fle!”. With amusement, my new friends laughed and gently explained that i had just said “My name is the flower.”

As far as nicknames go, it certainly could be worse.

Mwen Pa Pale Kreyol.

After Eric and I arrived in Haiti, we traveled with AMURT staff from the airport in Port au Prince to the project site in Source Chaudes. It was a long, dusty, bumpy trip – as the dirt/gravel roads began, even before we'd left the capital. We left the airport just after 9:30am, and arrived in Source Chaudes after 10pm that night. The trip was a good introduction to Haiti – complete with 8 people in a truck, a flat tire, a stop to swim in the ocean, and visits to friends of AMURT along the way.

Haiti is beautiful – both the land and the people who live here. We drove along beautiful beaches for much of our journey, over and around mountains, through little towns and villages. The town of Source Chaudes is absolutely beautiful. It is a tree covered area, in the middle of a desert, an oasis of sorts – with lovely hot springs and mineral pools.

But life is hard here. There is no electricity in town, except in the AMURT office. Access to clean water is also a struggle for many. Thanks to the work of AMURT, more and more families have sand water filtration systems in their homes – providing clean water for drinking, washing and bathing. People travel by foot, with donkeys, or (for the fortunate) with dirtbikes.

I am anxious to learn the stories of these people. To meet and talk with them. But – first – it has become very evident that I want and need to learn to speak Creole. I'm starting with the basics. Hello, my name is Molly. I don't speak Creole. (Bonjour, muen rele Molly. Mwen pa pale le Kreyol.) Smiles and kindness go along way – but I am anxious to learn. Eric and I have been studying as much as we can, writing down phrases we learn in our notebooks, talking to children (willing teachers) and attempting to order food at the town's restaurant. Today, we are beginning a Creole – English exchange for interested town members – people with an interest in learning English. We will talk and play games together three times a week, to teach one another our languages. I am hopeful that it will be good for everyone.

As Eric and I were walking down the street yesterday, a community member stopped us - talking excitedly in Creole. Thanks to his hand gestures and patience, we figured out that he was asking about our “English class”. Could he come? How much did he have to pay? Tomorrow at 12?

Needless to say, word had gotten around.

The class starts today, and I am hopeful that before long I'll be able to say: Mwen piti parle le Kreyol. (I speak a little Creole).

PS. When writing in English, Haitians use the word Creole to describe the language. When writing in Creole, they spell it Kreyol. Creole and Kreyol are the same.

PPS. When writing phrases in Creole, I am typing phonetically. So, for all you fluent Creole speakers out there, be kind to me and my spelling errors!

Our Rage Pressed Cheek to Cheek

"The say that other country over there, dim blue in the twilight, farther than the orange stars exploding over our roofs, is called peace, but who can find the way?

This time we cannot cross until we carry each other. All of us refugees, all of us prophets. No more taking turns on history's wheel, trying to collect old debts no one can repay. The sea will not open that way.

This time that country is what we promise each other, our rage pressed cheek to cheek until tears flood the place between, until there are no enemies left, because this time no one will be left to drown and all of us must be chosen.

This time its all of us or none."

- Aurora Levins Morales

(Thank you, Brian.)

Welcome to Haiti.

Our plane landed in Port au Prince, Haiti, early in the morning on February 20th. With much anticipation, Eric and I faced the front of the plane and waited to de-board. We sensed movement and light behind us, and turned around to discover that people we de-boarding the plane from the front AND the back – everyone behind us had disappeared. Pleased to discover we had very quickly moved from the back of the line to the front, Eric and I walked to the back door of the plane and emerged to discover Haiti.

I have found that there are moments in my life that seem to stop time. A moment (an image, a feeling, a conversation) that I immediately know will become a part of me. Emerging out of the plane in Haiti was one of these moments.

The details that stopped in time:
- The plane parked in the middle of the runway.
- The sight of hundreds of Haitians carrying suitcases, walking from the plane, across the pavement and towards the airport.
- The view from the top of the metal airplane steps.
- The mountains and palm trees and desert all around.
- The live music beckoning us from the airport.
- The warm air swirling.

Welcome to Haiti.