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Archive for March, 2010

Well everyone, the day has come for Jillian and I to go off on our own.  On Saturday we moved into our new ti kay (small house in Kreyol), and while we came to Haiti with a relatively small amount of stuff, in the past month we’ve already accumulated enough to make moving a day-long event.

Since we don’t have a car, the alternative was to use creativity and ingenuity.  Thankfully, Ben and Alexis, who we’ve been staying with for the past month, have both of those things.  Ben has created two pretty awesome cargo bikes out of old bikes that he had laying around.

Our new house is actually right around the corner from theirs, so these bikes turned out to be the perfect way to get our stuff there.  Ben loaded them up with all the stuff the tires could hold, and we jumped on.

Above is the Kabrit, which is Kreyol for goat.  The larger bike with the yellow bag on it is named the Cheval, which is Kreyol for horse.  I was pretty stunned at how much weight they could carry.  On the back of the Kabrit is a 70 pound case with satellite equipment in it. On the back of the Cheval is a bag carrying about the same amount of weight, plus two baskets carrying even more stuff.  Ben made an online how-to instructions manual for how to build the Kabrit here.

We treacherously rode down the hill to Jillian and my’s new place, as every Haitian we passed pointed and laughed.  But I have to admit, these bikes saved us.  If it weren’t for them, moving would have been no fun whatsoever, and the two trips it took us to move all of our stuff would have likely taken 10 instead.  Not to mention, after we were finished Ben helped refill the propane tanks for our stove, see the awesomeness below:

We’ll post soon with pictures of the ti kay.  We’re pretty stoked about it.

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So it’s been just over a month since we’ve been here and we are really starting to feel like we belong.  As many of you know, Jillian started a new job at World Concern on Tuesday as their Program Support Manager for the disaster relief.  It’s a really great gig and she’s super happy to be involved in an organization that is really helping the people of Haiti.  She works 8am – 5pm everyday, and might be working on Saturdays as well depending on the work load.  She makes daily trips to the UN Logistics Base located on the airport tarmac to attend disaster relief planning meetings, and works directly with World Concern’s Emergency Coordinator to help rebuild a part of Port-au-Prince.

Because of Jillian’s new job, which is a one year (extendable) contract, we have just signed a one year lease on a house in Petionville!  It’s a one bedroom loft house with a really great porch area and lots of space.  It’s also in a very cute, wooded area of town which helps keep the temperature cool and the air clean and breathable.  We really love it and move in on Saturday.  We’ll post with pictures of it once we’ve moved in.

On my front, I’ve been working for the past two weeks with NBC as they had a team here following up on stories they had done just after the earthquake.  Today is my first day off in 12 days, so I’m relishing in the fact that I have nothing to do…and getting really bored really quickly.  One of the Haitians that I have been working with for NBC helped us get a Haitian bank account yesterday, which will help us to pay our bills here.

Unfortunately, because foreign checks take such a long time to cash in Haitian banks, nobody will take checks from our bank in the States.  So for us to be able to pay our rent we had to figure out an alternative.  We’ll be able to wire money to this account and pay our bills in cash, not to mention having a local bank account will help us get our Haitian Residence Permits when we get around to applying for them.

I’m getting better on the motorcycle, slowly but surely.  I drive Jillian to and from work for now, until we figure out whether we are going to get a cheap car to drive around.  She works about 20 minutes from where we live, so it’s not a bad drive at all.

And last but not least, the cat who belongs to Ben and Alexis, who we have been staying with for the past month, is totally preggers and is going to hopefully have kittens ASAP.  Jillian and I are planning on snagging one once they are born for two reasons: 1) We need a kitten in our life, and 2) Our landlord said we “MUST” have a cat (or two) in the house or we will hear the mice running around on our roof.  She decided to tell us this about 5 minutes after we had signed the lease…

It’s been a really busy couple weeks, and in the end I think Jillian and I are getting really comfortable with what our life here in Haiti is going to look like.  We have a house, jobs, a motorcycle, friends here in Haiti, and we are loving it.  Of course there are kinks to work out, but now that most of the major issues are resolved we can breath easy knowing that we can start to check off all the little things on our list.

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Presidents Bush (43) and Clinton visit Haiti on Monday, and I was one of 10,000 journalists there to cover it.  The two went with Haitian President Preval on a tour of a tent city across the street from the presidential palace and chaos ensued.  But we did get the interview!

After about 15 minutes Bush went back to his car as Clinton continued to be swarmed by press and locals.  We tracked him down and got what we were really there for…a picture with him for our facebook pages!

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When many think of helping Haiti, they think of the children.  They are everywhere, and they are adorable.  How could you not want to help the child smiling right next to you, a piece of candy away from making their day.  So when I heard we were going to an elderly care house for a story earlier this week the idea seemed shocking.  It turns out this story was one of the most compelling I’ve seen since the quake.

The care center previously had two buildings, one to house women and the other for men.  The women’s dorm collapsed.  In the men’s dorm there are the reminisce of those who used to occupy it before the earthquake.  Only a few elderly are living in the dorm as most are afraid of it collapsing as well.

But outside the situation is grim.  Portable hospital toilets lay in the courtyard as children play games amongst the elderly.  An organization has come to take care of those staying here, but because the wall between the care center and the tent city next door had collapsed, there have already been reports of a neighboring gang stealing food and aid.

The reason why this story seemed so interesting to me is because I never imagined it being a problem.  To be honest, in the past I had never seen very many old Haitians walking around, so seeing this many in one place was jarring.  Because the average age of a Haitian is around 60, many of these people have outlived their children which has left them with no where else to go.

They plan on building another elderly care center as soon as possible to house those that are now living in tents.  But until then, these people are left with so little.  The tent camps are not ideal for anyone in Haiti, but for these people, life is about as hard as it gets.

But it’s nice to know that these people have not been forgotten.  The organization that has taken them under their wing is keeping them cared for, and workers come everyday to feed and bathe them.  What this story did do though is remind me that everyone needs help.  These elderly were once the children that we care so much about now.  And just like the children, they need our help now more than ever.

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Well, we did it.  Last week we went to the motorcycle shop just down the street from where we are staying and took the plunge.  Our new chariot is a Chinese-made, 2010 Linkgen 125cc motorcycle that rides like a dream.

There are about 10 million reasons why this motorcycle is awesome.  First off, when we (as blancs) ride around the streets of Port-au-Prince on a motorcycle that only Haitian moto-taxi drivers drive, it’s like being a celebrity.  They look at the bike, they look at us, and just start laughing (with us I assume…).

The second thing that’s awesome about this bike is what’s written on the side of the fuel tank:  “Pursue Outstanding, Enjoy the Life.”  Jillian and I “pursue outstanding” everyday, so this is the perfect bike for us.

When I went to actually purchase the bike I was by myself, so to be honest I know very little about its mechanics because everyone who helped set it up did not speak a lick of English.  I have read the 15 page manual which has been poorly translated from Chinese to English, so I get the general gist.  But I’ll be honest, I’m learning as I go.   When I drove this baby home from the shop (after stalling 3 or 4 times), it was the second time I had driven a motorcycle.  EVER.

We decided to go with the “red wine” color because the only other option was silver and we wanted to keep things interesting.  Because of the name of the color, we’ve decided to name our chariot “Pinotage” after the varietal of wine produced in Stellenbosch, South Africa where Jillian and I studied abroad. I don’t know about you, but the one thing that I feel is synonymous with riding a motorcycle in exhaust-filled streets of Haiti is the intense dark cherry, oak barrel, and pencil shaving after-tones of a nicely aged pinotage.

I understand that I’m no master of the motorcycle, so don’t think I’m going to be rushing out to drive the mean streets of PAP traffic anytime soon.  I’m practicing everyday, and making sure to keep my speeds safe (even though it says “High Speed” on the side of the bike).  But there’s a certain liberating feeling now that we can go anywhere we want when we want to, and not have to worry about having enough Goudes to pay the moto-taxi driver to wait outside while we run into the bank.  It’s kinda weird though, all of a sudden I have an intense hatred for men walking across the street holding coolers…I’ll get one of them, one of these days.

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Today I learned through my friend Dom that Boris Jean Louis, the Director of College Concordia in Petionville, and his wife were shot last night as they returned home from dinner.  He died instantly and while his wife survived the attack she is in critical condition at the Medishare University of Miami Hospital down by the airport.  This man has been an educator for over 40 years and has been a huge supporter of feeding programs in schools.  The exact reason for this violent act may never be known, but the belief is that it was financially motivated.

While I only met with Monsieur Jean Louis a few times, I was impressed by his passion for improving the education system in Haiti and by his loyalty to his students.  I do not think the people responsible for his death knew the greatness of the man they shot down, but all I can hope for now is that his vision for the future of Haiti’s youth will not be forgotten.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Jean Louis family for their loss and to all the students at College Concordia who have been robbed of a great visionary.

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The word miracle in the past has been a difficult term for me to digest.  It has always been attached to super human events that I was not connected to so I was never truly able to understand how awe-inspiring they really were.   After my earthquake experience, things changed and this word became a regular in my story.  I think what I understand now is something is given the label miracle when a rational explanation cannot be found, but what about everyday miracles?

I have been back in Haiti for almost three weeks now and when I finally come to the end of my day where I try to mentally debrief, which usually ends up as a prayer, I find myself smiling over my recent experiences.  A new gift I seem to have been given by the grace of God is in recognizing small miracles.  It is seeing past the flawed human condition to the miraculous fortitude, kindness, grace, beauty, loyalty, and love we all possess.  In a place like Haiti where frustrations are in abundance, the simple fact that I end my days smiling is amazing enough, but when I think about the causes of this sustained joy, they only thing to call them are everyday miracles.  From the astonishing beauty of the rad pepe (used clothing) marchand, who joked and relished her heart stopping smiles on Alexis and I as we searched through her piles of clothes for sale, to Milo who I spent most of the afternoon with looking at apartments for Frank and I and paid for my tap-tap rides the whole way simply because he said Haiti had taken enough from me, to the fact that my first job interview since my return went so well (I am keeping my fingers crossed) that I told my mom it was her birthday present and she started to cry as this was an answer to her prayers.  To me all these occurences are miracles.  They are small gifts that have kept me well nourished on this journey.  I am extremely grateful for their existence and for the fact I am able to see how priceless they really are.

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