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Archive for June, 2010

Zen-and-the-Art-of-Motorcycle-Maintenance

I had my Mom bring me this book because I had tried to read it in the past, but never finished it.  I thought the third time would be a charm as I’ve started to drive a motorcycle here, and the book would make a little more sense to me now.  But it appears to be one of those books that you start but always lose track of and never finish, as I’ve only met one person who has actually finished it (my mother-in-law, Karen).  You see, when your on the 20th page of mindless dribble about why “quality” cannot be defined, it’s easy to put the book aside and do ANYTHING other than read it.  Well, it has conquered me yet again, and with only 150 pages left I just totally lost interest and moved on.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – 3, Frank – 0.

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We take Olie on walks outside our complex almost everyday to give him some exercise and to teach him to be on a leash.  It’s also a great way for us to see the neighborhood that we live in, even if we are the crazy ‘blancs’ walking their dog through streets that everybody stares at in disbelief.  Often times we get stares, sometimes we get smiles, and then other times we get the weirdest requests ever:

Olie-with-Jillian

REQUEST #1: “Give me your dog!”

I’ve made it pretty clear that the begging in this country bugs me a little bit (you can check it out here, here, and here), so I guess this shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did.  Almost every time we take him out of the gates of our complex someone on the streets ask us to give them Olie.  At first I didn’t understand it, but it’s totally true.  There is a group of woman that sells food and clothes on the corner by our complex, and they called Olie and I over one day.

I abliged, as I was expecting them to want to pet Olie in all of his cute puppy gloriousness, but NO!,  they took his leash and said, “bye-bye.”  I stood there confused, “bye-bye”?  I went to take the leash and she wouldn’t give it to me, and then I realized my mistake…I had just given away our dog.  I explained in broken Kreyol that he was not for her, and he was my dog, and she reluctantly handed the leash back to me.

I walked away confused, not understanding that the begging could go this far.  I (kind of) understand the begging for food or money, but the idea of me giving someone our dog because they just wanted to have it seemed ridiculous.  Imagine walking your dog down a suburban sidewalk in the United States when someone stops you, “You have a beautiful dog there!  Give it to me please.”  That person would likely have just been released from a mental institution (as a clerical mistake), or…well, there is no ‘or’.

So I continued our walk, expecting that instance to be a crazy outlier, thinking those women were simply just a little off their rockers.  But as we walked up the hill to the grocery store, a moto-taxi driver called me over to him.  I thought I would try this again: someone in the country has to be able to just appreciate him as MY cute little puppy.  Nope.  He took his leash, and then cast me aside.  I had just given away our dog, again.

Since then I have made the conscious decision to not go over to people who look like they just want to pet Olie.  These are extremely awkward situations, as I really don’t find them very funny.  “Haha, you want to take my dog away!  Haha! Sure!”  Forget it.  But even though we don’t stop anymore, we still get the requests.  Random people will walk by us: “Thank you”, “For what?” we respond, “For your dog!”  It’s unbelievable!  I just got in an argument with a random guy who seemed to think it was insulting that I would not leave Olie with him.  In an effort to rebut these requests with something that I see as equally outrageous, I have considered responding, “Give me your baby!” but I unfortunately think they might actually hand over their child.

Dumbo

REQUEST #2: “Show me his passport!”

Now, this one I really never expected.  While walking Olie one day we were stopped by a respectable looking Haitian gentleman.  “Come here,” he said.  He looked a little upset, so I went over to him.  “Where is your dog from?” he asked.  “What do you mean?” I didn’t get it.  “Is he a Haitian dog?” he specified.  “Nope, we got him from the United States,” I responded.  “Then show me his passport,” he said, completely seriously.

This was a new one, so I played along: “He’s a dog, he doesn’t have a passport,” I responded stoically, trying not to laugh.  “What do you mean he doesn’t have a passport?! He’s not a Haitian, he needs a passport!  How did he get into the country?!” he exclaimed.  “Well,” this was actually kinda fun, “we brought him here in a crate. On an airplane.”  “So then where is his passport?”  “Are you kidding with me?” I asked, thinking maybe this guy was just messing around, “he is a DOG, he does NOT need a passport.”

“Well, then where is YOUR passport?! Show me your passport!” Woah, this was taking an unexpected turn…”I don’t have my passport,” I responded, getting slightly defensive.  “Where is it?” he asked.  “At my house, I don’t carry it with me everywhere, I live here.” “Well, you HAVE to carry your passport with you, this is not your country.”  He might be slightly right here, but I pushed back.  “Show me your passport!  Do you have your passport?”  “No! I am Haitian, I don’t need to carry my passport!  What is your name?!” he asked back, he was getting a little upset.  “My name is Frank, what’s your name?”  “I don’t need to tell you my name! Where do you live?!” he yelled back.

Now I started getting pissed.  I’m sorry, but I was simply walking my dog!  “Who are you?!” I quickly responded, stepping towards him “Who are you to be asking me these questions?! Are you a police officer?!”  His eyes got big, he noticed he was no longer in control, “No, I’m not a police officer, I just want to know where you live,” he said.  He wasn’t yelling anymore.  “I don’t need to tell you that.  I’m leaving, goodbye!” I responded, calling Olie so that we could go home.  “Next time I see you you better have your passport!” he yelled after me.  “GOODBYE!” I yelled to him while walking away.  Prick.

Olie-with-Frank

So there you have it.  When people ask what it’s like to live in Haiti, the perfect response seems to be that everyday is interesting, and these are perfect examples.  While I would prefer to be able to walk Olie without having to worry about people wanting to take him, it does make the day that much more interesting.  While I would love to not be accosted by some random guy asking for Olie’s and my passports, it turned out to be a pretty good story.  So in the end, if I leave Haiti having accomplished absolutely nothing, I’ll at least have a ton of really great stories to tell at the bar when I get home.

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G(olie)

G(olie)

In an attempt to live in harmony with the Haitians during this World Cup craziness, we are trying to teach Olie this crazy “Soccer” game (or “Football”, as they call it here…idiots).  He’s a pretty ineffective striker, and it appears dribbling the ball will never be his forté, so we’ve stuck him in the back at the only position that he’s any good at: golie.

Olie-Soccer-Ball

He’s not bad at stopping the ball, especially when not distracted by passerby’s and random piles of sand, and he liked the game so much that on day two he punctured a hole in his brand new ball…punk. But in all honesty, we don’t expect Olie to become the next Ka-ka or Pelé, so this is all just a way for him to practice before his big debut next year at the PUPPY BOWL!!!!

BTW, GO USA!!!

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Well, that was fast…

In true child-like fashion, Olie has made a swift, and full recovery.  In fact, it only took about 4 hours and a little kibble in his stomach to bring him back to normal.  While yesterday morning was a tough one for him, before we knew it he was prancing around the house, jumping for toys, and running after the other dogs on the complex.

We can count ourselves lucky for this one.  We have searched the house for anything else that could possibly poison him, and are making sure that he doesn’t go by the construction work out front unless we are there.  We’re not really sure what it is he ate, and we probably will never find out, but in the future we are going to keep a much more vigilant eye on him so that he doesn’t pull another stunt like that again.  If only we could stop him from sniffing glue when we’re not around…just kidding.

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On January 12th, when the ground in Port-au-Prince started to shake violently, Jean Tibert (or Handy, as his friends call him) was teaching a class on video production in a large building on the main drag that funnels through the city.  The walls started to shake, things started falling off the walls, and the class dispersed into the dust-filled street.  The world was coming to an end.

When you talk to Handy, you get the sense that he know exactly what’s going on around him, at all times.  He stands about 6 feet tall, has a warm smile and a small gut (he’s trying to lose 40 pounds), doesn’t drink soda, and is deathly afraid of heights.  NBC has used him for every trip they have taken down here, because if you had to describe the way he works in 10 words or less, it’s simple: he’s just incredibly reliable.  He knows the city like the back of his hand, and he likes that he knows WAY more than you.  You want to find the Haitian Soccer Federation HQ?  “Of course!  It’s just off John Brown on ‘blah blah blah’ street.”  The streets in PAP rarely have street signs, but he somehow knows the names of all of them.

But not only does he know where everything is, he knows everyone that matters.  The chief of police? “He’s my godfather.”  Laura Silsby’s lawyer? “He’s my uncle.”  The president of some random tent-city? “Oh yeah! I used to play soccer with him!”  It’s ridiculous.  If you need a sliver of information, or a short interview with the Prime Minister (Handy’s distant relative is his PR rep), it’s done after just a few quick phone calls.

About 3 months ago, Jillian and I were grappling with the issue of having to pay our rent in cash, as they don’t take international checks here.  Handy took me to a local bank, talked to the clerk, and after skipping the enormous line that snaked around the building, he had me sitting at the desk of one of his (3 million) friends.  20 minutes later I had a local bank account without the required Haitian Residency Visa, something I couldn’t have done myself even if I would have bribed the guy.  Handy shook his hand, said he’d give him a call sometime, and we left.  Simple.

But if Handy doesn’t know anyone at the hospital we are doing a story on, or the tent city we are touring, someone is likely to recognize him anyways.  You see, Handy is a Haitian movie star, a serious, honest-to-God, local celebrity.  Before the earthquake he had starred in a handful of Haitian movies, some shot locally, others in Miami.  In one he played the poor local boy who seduced the daughter of a rich, bourgeoisie family.  So in PAP he’s the closest thing to a heart-throb that you can find, and the ladies love him.

Jillian and I were watching the Brazil World Cup match with him last week, and on our way out two young women stopped him to ask for his autograph, all while flirtatiously batting their eye-lashes.  During a trip to a local hospital where we were looking for a particular patient who had been dispatched months ago (a close to impossible feat as records from after the earthquake are non-existent), the only reason we found him was because the women at the counter told Handy where the patient lives…but only after he let them kiss him on the cheek.  No joke. The judge in the Laura Silsby trial was even giving him regular updates on the case “because he likes my movies,” Handy explained, with a huge grin on his face.

But what’s so amazing about Handy is that even though he could probably run for President in Haiti, and win, he’s incredibly cool and down-to-earth, and his number one priority is ALWAYS his family.  He’s constantly making sure his schedule allows for him to take his daughter to school, and if his wife needs to use the car, he takes public to make it work.  I asked him one day if he had girlfriends outside his marriage, as so many Haitian men do, and he simply replied, “No! My wife makes me happy.  And to be honest, she’s enough work as it is.  I don’t need another woman to worry about.”

So when the building Handy had been in after the earthquake survived unscathed, his primary objective was to get his family.  “A lot of my friends were going around trying to save people from buildings, but I couldn’t do that without knowing if my family was OK,” he explained.  He ran to his mother’s house, where his daughter was supposed to be after coming home from school.  The house had also survived, and his family was outside, scared and unsure what to do next.

He quickly thought about his options, figured out his next move, and told his family to follow him.  After the earthquake everyone who wasn’t digging out friends or family members was simply looking for a safe, open area to stay.  The medians of streets were filled with people with nowhere to go, so an alternative had to be found.  The golf course at the Petionville Club was the first thing that came to mind.  It was open, safe, and clean, and let’s be honest, there’s no chance that a building can fall on you while sitting on one of the fairways of PAP’s only golf destination.

The family walked the short distance to the course, put down the possessions they carried with them, and relaxed for the first time all night.  Handy looked around, and there was no one else around.  They were the only ones on the golf course, but in just a few days more than 40,000 displaced Haitians would be calling this their home in what is now the largest tent city in Haiti.  They slept through the night, and when they woke up, others had taken his cue and filtered in to spend a night filled with screams and sorrow on the lush grasses that have now been trampled to dirt and mud.

But they couldn’t stay there forever (like so many people have), so the next day Handy walked to his car, drove back to pick up his family, and traversed the streets on their way to his home in the mountains of Thomassin, where his wife was anxiously waiting for him.  Their house had also made it through the quake, but the next night they slept in the courtyard in fear that another earthquake would finish what the first one could not.  After a few days they returned to PAP to check on his Mother’s house, and on friends.  The movie studio that he owned had collapsed, he now had no way to support his family.

He then made the tough decision to send his family abroad, so he took his wife and two children to the border of the Dominican Republic, saw them through, and then returned to PAP to find work.  “It was go time,” he said.  A friend of his (I know, another friend!) was working for NBC as a driver, and Handy just happen to run into him, as the phones were still not working.  They needed another driver to pick up NBC staff from the airport in Santo Domingo, and bring them over the border to Haiti.  He was hired the next day.

Since then he has ascended to be the go-to guy for everything that NBC needs.  When a team comes to cover a story, no matter what it is, I hire him knowing that we will get exactly what we’re looking for, no questions asked.  And if he says it’s not possible, I know he’s not just saying that to get out of doing work, it’s just not possible.  Every time I work with him I learn something new, and he’s one of the only people who I feel I can talk to candidly about the situation here in Haiti, whether it’s my own frustrations or just questions about why things are the way they are.

He’s always thinking, always trying to be one step ahead, and always gets the job done.  Whether it’s his family or NBC, he’s a guy you want on your side, no matter what lies ahead. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Handy, and I am lucky to be able to call him my friend.  And while I think it’s safe to say that the tent city at the Petionville Club would have started without Handy, it’s still pretty amazing to know that he was its first resident.  It’s proof that he knows what’s best, because 40,000 people can’t all be wrong about the same thing.

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An Olie Update: Crisis Averted

After a long, strangely sleep-filled night, Jillian and I walked back to the vet this morning to check on our fearless friend, Olie.  As we walked down the driveway of the vet’s office, all of our questions were quickly answered when we heard a sound we have grown accustom to hearing over the past couple weeks: Olie’s high-pitched whining.

We went through the gate to the outside kennel area, and there he was (alive!), sitting in a small metal crate desperately waiting to be released.  The crisis had been averted.  We opened his crate and he quickly jumped out, snuggling up in our arms as if trying to say, “Take me home as soon as you possibly can.”  We went in to get his IV taken out, we paid our bill, and then put him down for the first time as he barreled out of the vet’s office.

He’s still a little weak, and looks like he lost about 10 pounds since yesterday, but other than that he’s doing good.  You can tell that he’s still uncomfortable, as he moans and whines a little more than usual, but who wouldn’t be after being poisoned and on the brink of death.  We’re going to keep a close eye on him for the next 24 hours just to make sure everything is back to normal, but I think we really dodged a bullet this time.  So everyone can breathe easy now, knowing that the super-duper-pooper-scooper is BACK, and that his reign of terror is far from over.

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Pray For Olie

This will be quick.  We got home today after I picked Jillian up from work and Olie trotted out to greet his Momma, like any other happy Olie day.  We fed him, and after taking two bites he stopped and started acting funny.  His condition quickly deteriorated, and soon he was having trouble walking, sitting, and practically doing anything.  We brought him outside to see if he just really had to go to the bathroom, and he had terrible diarrhea and started foaming at the mouth.  He could barely move, and was just laying there breathing heavily and not playing, which is what he does all the time, so something was seriously wrong.

We didn’t know what to do, and because we don’t have a car, we started walking to the vet’s office, about a mile away from our house.  About a block up the street our landlady passed us in her car and stopped, seeing that Olie was sick (we were carrying him in a towel).  She drove us to the vet, and as we waited in PAP traffic for what seemed like forever, Olie cried and yelped the entire way, as if his insides were exploding.

We arrived at the vet and I put him down, thinking he would need to go to the bathroom before we went in, and all he did was lay still.  We picked him up and rushed him into the vet’s office, where he determined that Olie had eaten something poisonous, probably rat poison.  We don’t have rat poison in the house, but the place came fully furnished and has a lot of things in the nooks and crannies that we don’t necessarily know about.  He forced liquid charcoal into his mouth, gave him some shots, and hooked up an IV, all while he just laid their silently, with every muscle in his body twitching uncontrollably.

He gave Olie some sedatives, and told us that he would have to keep him at his office overnight, and that we could check on him tomorrow morning.  So we left, not knowing if that would be the last time we would see him again.  The vet said that typically dogs can survive these kinds of things, most dogs do, but some times there are “complications”.  We’re just hoping that he’s OK.

The worst part about this whole thing was that today, out of all days, I had finally come to the realization that Olie was an integral part of my life.  For the past month since we got him, I have been grappling with feelings that he was not the right thing for my life at this moment.  He is an enormous responsibility, and something that has made me rearrange my life here in a way that I wasn’t really ready for.

Jillian and I had talked about that, about how the idea was a good one, but that it might not have been the best time for it.  But today I was going to tell Jillian, after we got home, that I wholeheartedly believe that it was not a mistake to get Olie, and how I could not imagine my life without him.  All of a sudden, it seemed to click, and having him prancing around our house seemed as regular as putting on my shoes before I went for a walk.  But now we have to wait, and see, if yet another piece of normalcy in our lives will be taken away.

I realize that many of you will read this after this ordeal is over no matter how it ends, but either way, pray for him.  He’s our little guy, someone that loves us during our good days and our bad ones, and this house seems really empty with him not here tonight.  We’ll go to the vet tomorrow at 7:30am sharp to check on him, and we’ll keep you updated.  I feel that he’ll be OK, because I trust that whoever’s up there making the decisions wouldn’t make life this tough.

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