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Archive for April, 2010

Brownies

As a self-proclaimed “Real Househusband of Haiti”, I’ve decided to make an effort to learn how to cook.  My mother bought me a Haitian cookbook recently, and I really want to learn how to make things in the kitchen that people actually want to eat.  Well, Jillian has been working really hard this week and deserves a treat, and it’s almost impossible to mess up brownies.  So, bon appetit!

And to stick with the baked goods themed, I came across this video which is, quite possibly, the best way to start your weekend: people being shot by a “cupcake cannon”!!!  You can thank me later.

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Our Famous Ti Kay!

My Mom came to Haiti last week for her first visit, something that I was a little apprehensive about as Haiti is hard to swallow, but we ended up having a really great time.  We toured the countryside on our trusty stallion, Pinotage, went to the grocery store (which is something she likes to do in foreign countries…), and just sat around and talked.  It was really great to have a sliver of home here in Haiti, a small sense of normalcy in a place that can be constantly uncomfortable.

But on her last day here we went to Men Nou, which is a Haitian art store in Petionville, close to where Jillian and I live.  As my Mom was purchasing her pink flamingo metal work for her “completely sustainable garden” back in the States, I sat down next to the counter and started flipping through this book while I waited:

You don’t need to know French (or Kreyol) to know what “Interieurs d’Haiti” is all about.  Each page has a panoramic view of some of the most beautiful interiors in the country.  As I was looking at it I mentioned to my Mom, “this is a really cool book!”, and then gasped…

On page 33 is none other than the first floor of OUR ti kay!

So after freaking out in the middle of the store as the employees looked at each other awkwardly, my Mom bought two of the books and gave us one!  We traveled back to our house, and as we were walking in the front door our landlady looked down at the bags we were carrying and exclaimed, “I see you got my book!”

I was confused, “Your book?” I said looking at her inquisitively.  “Yeah, my book,” she explained, “my husband took the pictures and I did the writing.  Our picture is on the back.”  And sure enough, we turned the book around and on the back is a picture of her and her husband!  The house that we are staying in used to be her mother’s, and our landlady had done the decorating, so they decided to include it.

It’s pretty cool to have this book, knowing that our ti kay is eternally emblazoned in the history books as one of the beautiful interiors d’Haiti.  And it’s interesting to see what the house looks like now compared to when it was photographed.  The whole layout is different, and even some of the walls have changed color.  Here’s what it looks like now:

Jillian and I like the way the house is decorated in the book, but will we change it? Of course not.  That would require work, and let’s be honest, when Jillian gets home that time is strictly dedicated to eating cup o’ noodles and watching seasons of TV shows on the computer.  A truly Haitian tradition for a beautiful Haitian house.

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Houses that were partially destroyed by the earthquake are now being demolished everywhere, and the Presidential Palace is no different.  Over the past few weeks they tore down the entire front section and shipped it out.  You can actually look right down the hall now, seeing a glimpse of the palace that before was saved only for dignitaries and Bill Clinton on holiday weekends.  Also, you have a UN vehicle now permanently parked on the front lawn, just to remind everyone who hasn’t already seen the UN troops aimlessly pointing their guns around all over the place, that they can do whatever they want!

If you would like to see the picture we posted of what the palace looked like before you can click on “Continue Reading” below:

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Well, we told you it would be any day!  Yesterday we got the call from our friends, Ben and Alexis, that Luna had finally exploded, filling their house with kitten love.  My call, from Ben, went something like this:

Me: Hey Ben, what’s goin on?

Ben: Ahh, nothing.  Do you have a firewire chord to connect my video camera to my computer?

Me: I don’t know, probably, I’ll check. Anything else?

Ben: Well, Luna had her kittens.

Me: OMG!  Hoorah! (then silence as my head bursts from excitement)

I picked Jillian up from work and we quickly weaved through PAP traffic en route to see what Luna had concocted during her 2 month pregnancy.  We arrived at Ben and Alexis’ house and looked around but saw no kittens.  We curiously turned to Ben, who was in the kitchen preparing a delicious dinner for him and his bride, and he said, “they’re up there.”

Luna had precariously perched herself on top of the cabinets in their kitchen, in what can only be described as a Kitten Canopy.  You step up onto their kitchen counter, and in the corner is Luna lazily nursing each of her FIVE (5!) new kittens!

This is so incredibly exciting.  Jillian and I were likening it to being 8 year-olds on Christmas morning.  It’s like there are five brand-new models of iPhones (or whatever you’re into) sitting above the cabinets in Ben and Alexis’ kitchen, after months of waiting for them to be revealed.  The kitties are all black and white, just like their mother, each with a different patchwork of spots splayed along their coats.

Of course it will take some time for the kittens to mature into something more than just a turd shaped ball of fluff, so we’re not sure which one we will take.  I mean, who knows, you could pick one now and he could turn out to be a real jerk in a month.  Take the one below for example, he already looks like he has an attitude:

But it’s funny how incredibly exciting, yet totally anti-climactic this birth has turned out to be.  On one hand it’s so much fun to be able to see all these healthy little kittens just after they were born to a teenage mother that we know well, but at the same time, they don’t really DO anything.

It’s fun and all to stand up on the counter and ‘ooh’ and ‘ahhh’, but until they grow up and are able to pounce around and tumble all over each other (or sneeze!), then it’s just another waiting game until we get our new kitten home.

So now that the new kitten countdown has begun, the real hard questions present themselves: Mostly-black or mostly-white? Boy or girl?  Judging by how promiscuous their mother was by getting knocked up at the ripe old age of 8 months 5 months, I’m pushing for a boy.  Just saying….

If you want more pictures you can click on “Continue Reading” below:

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There are many things that are debatable in Haiti: military presence or no military presence, tents or tarps, rice or beans (or both, OMG!).  The one thing that is not debatable here is that the kids are freakin’ adorable!  I mean, every single one of them looks like they are gearing up for their shoot for Parenting Magazine.  Give it a week and this girl alone would have every 5-year-old in America wearing an orange striped dress.

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I’ve posted a couple pictures of people who have been affected by the earthquake, but most of them I leave out there faces.  This is for two reasons. First, many people feel uncomfortable having their picture taken.  But because many of my pictures are taken while there is a video camera rolling, I tend to be in the periphery, allowing me the opportunity to take photos undetected.  Second, many of these photos are not meant to portray just one person.

While the little boy above (whose name is Sebastian and is the cutest thing ever) is learning to walk on his new prosthetic after losing his leg in the earthquake, there are thousands of others who are going through the same thing that he is.  So the pictures are not meant to portray just one character, they are meant to portray a situation and feeling that is everywhere.

The first time I came to Haiti to visit before moving here I had a hard time describing how it was.  Everyone would ask, “How was Haiti?!” and my response would usually be that I wasn’t sure how it was. “It’s hard to describe,” I would say.  There was poverty everywhere, there was trash everywhere, and there seemed to be no hope, even before the earthquake.  After visiting again there seemed to be one answer that helped me describe “how” Haiti was: the poverty is comprehensive.

But in that comprehensiveness is a sense of cohesiveness.  While the lack of the basic necessities for survival can bring upon desperation, in Haiti it brings a sense of community.  They don’t suffer independently, they suffer together, because you really have no other choice.  When everyone is poor, you never really have much of an advantage over your neighbor, and if you don’t help them they won’t help you, which leaves everyone with nothing.

I’m not sure where I’m really going with this, but what I think I’m trying to say is that it’s really not about one person, or even one group of people.  Here it’s about everybody.  And Sebastian’s situation, and those just like his, are a perfect metaphor for what has been happening with this country for the past couple decades.  Haiti is like a child who lost a leg but instead of providing a prosthetic, the international community (we are all to blame) has given this child a crutch.  The crutches will get him from point A to point B, but it will never teach him to walk on his own.

Every bag of rice, every mobile clinic, every temporary shelter has helped, don’t get me wrong, but they are just crutches on the path to dependence.  There is no doubt there is an immediate need after the tragedy of the earthquake that can only be met with the help of the international aid organizations, but once all these NGOs leave and they no longer need drivers and translators or workers to clear the rubble, there will be nothing left for these people.

There are over 9,500 NGOs in Haiti.  Haiti is the size of Maryland.  That’s crazy.  Theoretically an NGO’s job is to put itself out of business, teaching the people they are helping to get off their crutches and teaching them to walk on their own.  An NGO should go to a group of people in need and tell them, “We are going to help you in a way that, after we’re finished, you will never need us again.”  But there are organizations that boast “25 years of service in Haiti” when nothing has really changed in that period of time.  In fact, it’s gotten worse, so good for you.

I don’t intend to make a blanket statement about everyone doing work here, some are doing an incredible job teaching and helping Haitians to do what they do best: be innovative, independent, and hard working.  But because those organizations are few and far between, we have 9 million beggars (almost the entire population) in Haiti, all of them trained to ask you for something.

It might sound like I’m a little upset about this, and you would be right.  I am upset that every time I go to the grocery store I have a dozen kids run up with their hands out asking for a dollar because I’m white.  I am upset that every time I go to a tent city there is a full grown man with his hand out asking for food.  Because of these organizations with “25 years of service” handing out crutches, walking on their own seems ridiculous now when there are thousands of blancs (white people) running around with free (imported) schwag.

And after all this time, where is the industry?  Where are the opportunities?  Where is the future?  I can tell you one thing, the work of many of these organizations has only made this country more susceptible to continue their own work here.  “We’re in it for the long haul,” they say.  But that’s not the point.

Ideally, in the future Sebastian will learn to walk without his crutches on a prosthetic fitted by a Haitian physical therapist.  Ideally he will get a job working for a Haitian business that will provide him with benefits and a pension.  Maybe he could even live in a city outside Port-au-Prince because Haiti has, after the hard work of the Haitian people, been decentralized in an effort to make it sustainable. Imagine that!  Haiti can learn to walk, we just need to learn to give it the ability to do it on it’s own, without our crutches.

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Hmmm, this makes things a little complicated…

As you know, Jillian and I will be adding a kitten to the Thorp family any day now.  Luna is about twice the size she was before getting knocked up, and we are anxiously awaiting the call from our friends saying, “Luna exploded and there are kittens everywhere! Hoorah!!!”

It’s something that we’ve put a lot of thought into.  After looking at our family budget and figuring out if a new kitten was even economically viable for us, we weren’t really given a choice in the matter as we were party to Luna getting pregnant.  It’s therefore our responsibility as the irresponsible temporary parents of this cat to take one of her bastard children in an effort to alleviate the responsibility from her (semi)responsible permanent parents.

Well, we thought we were going to have our hands full already until Jillian got a non-kitten-explosion related phone call.   Jillian’s old co-worker, JeanBa, has thrown a kink in our spokes, and it’s is in the form of a cute ball of puppy goodness!

“Awwwww” is right!  JeanBa’s dog just had 6 puppies that are waiting to be snuggled and posted on youtube for all our family and friends!  Their mother is a mild-mannered Rottweiler mix, and the father is whatever mutt that got lucky with her about 3 months ago.

But now the debate begins, a dog is clearly more responsibility than a cat who could care less if you are home or not.  Transporting a dog also creates it’s own roadblocks as Jillian and I only have our trusted Pinotage at the moment.

You also can’t leave a puppy at home for an extended period of time, and add that to the work of having a kitten, you have a full time job.  It’s almost as if you would need a husband who works freelance and is home most of the time to be able to handle all of this…….WAIT A SECOND!!!

The puppies need to grow for another three weeks before they can be harvested, but we’ve already put a hold on the spotted one above in the event that we decide to convert our house into a baby animal farm.  It doesn’t help that Jillian’s parents have just purchased the cutest little puppy in the world, named Jack.  You can see a picture of him, and more of the puppies if you click the “Continue Reading” link below.

I think we have made a decision, which I will not post here in a brash attempt at creating suspense.  We are definitely still getting one of the kittens, so that’s a lock.  But we would love to hear what you think, and I found this cool button on our blog’s website that allows you to create polls, so vote (OR DIE!)  Just kidding….

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I’m working on a story about a 25-year-old graffiti artist in PAP named Jerry.  His work is less like vandalism and more like art.  But just two hours after the earthquake he started spray painting a crying Haiti, with hands praying next to it, which has become an iconic image here.  Because of that, two different organizations have hired him to spray paint public service announcements with his own distinct style.

One thing I noticed while talking to him was that his hands were covered in paint, which was the only evidence that he was responsible for images you see everywhere around the city.  I asked if I could take a picture of them, and he said, “Sure!  They are the hands of change!”  This guy is 25 and he has probably reached more people in Port-au-Prince than any other person in Haiti.  It’s pretty awesome.

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Hog Heaven

Even the Haitian youth know: a motorcycle is the ONLY way to get around in Port-au-Prince.

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The NBC team I was working with earlier this week took a trip to Corail on Wednesday, which is where they are relocating people from overpopulated tent cities in PAP.  To put it lightly, the location sucks.  It’s in the middle of absolutely nowhere, about an hour’s drive from the city, and there is NOTHING to do.  There’s no shops, no buildings, and no jobs.

But we went to follow-up on a family that we had interviewed two days earlier who had moved there from the Petionville Club tent city.  We walked down the gravel-lined alleyway and arrived at their tent where we found a mother and daughter, but no father.  “He hates this place, there’s nothing to do, he went to the city to find work,” she told us. I don’t blame him.  The whole tent city seems like a lesson in how to make Haitians completely dependent on aid organizations, which seems pretty stupid to me.

But the problem for us as television journalists was showing the vastness of this new tent city, which is located in the middle of a desolate field.  There are mountains close by, so the idea was to drive to them and get a wide shot from above.  Well, we started driving towards the mountain closest to us and we started to realize it was MUCH farther than we thought.  It was almost as if we were trying to get to the nonexistent puddle of water sitting on the road on a hot day which looks like it’s right there, but you never actually drive over it.

We realized that the shot might be impossible so we decided to turn around and head back when an interesting idea popped into my head.  A soldier with the Army Corp of Engineers was steamrolling a road right in front of us, and the roof of his steamroller might give us the elevation we needed for the shot.  I told our driver to stop the car, asked everyone to hold on a second, and in true Tiananmen Square fashion ran towards the elephant-sized steamroller with my arms frantically waving in the air.

He killed the engine and calmly asked, “What’s up?”

“Can we use your steamroller?” I responded while trying to catch my breath, “We’re trying to get a shot of the tent camp down there and your roof would be perfect.” I thought for sure there was no way he was going to say yes, but clearly the Army Corp of Engineers are a lot cooler than the tank drivers in China, as he responded, “Sure, where do you want it?”

I pointed to the top of the hill, about 100 yards away, and he started the engine and drove.  I ran back to the cars and the team looked at me in disbelief, “What are we going to do with that?” they asked incredulously.  “We’re going to get on the roof of the steamroller and get the shot,” I said, thinking that it seemed pretty obvious to me.  The cameraman, Ned, is a pretty chill guy, so he looked at me and said, “it’s worth a try…”

While it was no mountain, Ned made it work and we got the shot we needed.  He jumped off the steamroller, we thanked the soldier with an ice-cold Coke, and we parted ways, now having the unique ability to say that we have used a steamroller as a riser for a tripod (in Haiti).  Beat that!

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