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Archive for December, 2010

Only-the-Essentials

This photo is pretty self-explanatory.  Standing in the middle of Delmas, which is one of the main roads that cuts through Port-au-Prince, there was this boy selling balloon animals.  Now, you can buy practically anything in the streets of PAP, from car chargers to clothing to blenders, but this, for me, was a first.  I suppose he looked at his target group of consumers and saw a gap in the balloon animal industry, and then quickly pounced on the opportunity to sell clowns in Haiti what they desperately need to do their jobs.  I kid, and it’s nice to see someone trying to spread a little joy around here, even if it is one balloon sword at a time.  Now if only we could get him to smile…

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A Very Olie Christmas

A-Very-Olie-Christmas

One of the bummers about living in Haiti is that the classic Christmas jingle “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” is never really true here.  Sure they have a few buildings with decorations and there are French Christmas carols on the radio, but the weather stays pretty much exactly the same, there are no malls in which you can burn away your savings, and you aren’t constantly berated by Christmas ads on TV (we don’t have one anyways).  While that may sound incredibly materialistic, it’s kind of a total drag to not be totally eviscerated by Christmas joy come December.

So to compensate for the lack of Christmas spirit, we’ve taken some steps to make up for it.  For instance, the picture above is a (somewhat) failed attempt to get a Santa hat on Olie.  All he wanted to do was chew on it, so the only way to pummel the Christmas spirit into this puppy was to cover his entire head with the hat.  That will teach him to be jolly!

Haitian-Christmas-Tree

Secondly, because of deforestation in Haiti (I’m assuming), they don’t sell Christmas trees here.  As an alternative you can buy a bunch of branches which are spray-painted white and then held together by cement in a used paint can (no joke).  They sell these on the side of the road for $10 a pop, and if you can get past the paint fumes while you decorate, they light up quite nicely.

Christmas-Door

Christmas-Wreath

Thirdly, to make sure that you enter our house with the maximum amount of Christmas cheer, we’ve wrapped the door with some ridiculously bright LED lights and put up a bouquet of eucalyptus and tiny red berries.  It gives a Christmas vibe, and at the same time smells pretty good when you walk in the door.  We got the eucalyptus and berries at the flower market in Petionville, and the lights came from the States due to an incredible amount of foresight on the part of yours truly.

Back-Porch-Christmas

All of this coupled with about two dozen recently downloaded Christmas songs on iTunes equals what can only be considered a Haitian Christmas wonderland.  And while we have done our best to get in the Christmas mood here, in the end, Jillian and I are actually heading to Connecticut for Christmas, and won’t actually be spending it in Haiti.  We are in desperate need of a break, and have moved our tickets to the 19th so that we can avoid any craziness that may ensue after the final elections results are scheduled to be announced on the 20th.  Olie will be coming with us and will hopefully experience snow for the first time in his short puppy life.  Don’t worry, there will be pictures…

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays tout moun!

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Pray-For-Change

A man looks to the skies while protesting the results of the November 28th elections in front of the presidential palace.

Today is Sunday, which means most Haitians are in church.  Instead of the chants of political protesters, you hear the chants of churches filled with songs and prayer, which is a nice change of pace.  The city was open again today, so we made another trip to the grocery store to stock up on extra non-perishable foodstuffs, and even made it to La Reserve to watch a little football.

But the calm isn’t supposed to last much longer.  Already schools have been canceled tomorrow in anticipation of more large protests and barricaded streets.  The protests are reportedly going to be against the CEP, which is the body that ran the elections.  On Saturday, Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly announced that they were rejecting the “recount” that was proposed by the CEP, which has raised fears that the protests and riots could start anew.  It turns out the recount wasn’t really a recount anyways, and was simply a “retabulation” of the tally sheets from polling stations.

But the reality is that the final results of the election won’t be announced until December 20th, leaving many ex-pats (including us) who have plane tickets to go home for the holidays debating whether we should leave a little earlier.  Almost everyone we have spoken to has moved their tickets from the 22nd or the 23rd to the 18th or the 19th, because they’re worried that the airport will be closed following the announcement due to more riots.  We’re going to figure out our gameplan tonight while munching on some delicious homemade pizza.  But I guess it could be worse, I mean, at least the roof of our football stadium isn’t collapsing because 20 inches of snow had just fallen on it (Check out this video!).

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Happy-Street-Kid

Today was surprising calm in PAP, with few protests or road-blocks.  In fact, the only thing that I actually took a picture of in the city was the street kid above, and that was only because he asked me to take it.  The rains returned for another day, and helped to wash the black soot, left from the countless tires that had been burned, off the streets.

Our dreams came true when we heard that a grocery store was open, and Jillian took it upon herself to pick up groceries for us and our friends who live close by.  She got there and waited in line just to get in, and then once inside said the place was a mess, the counters were quickly becoming empty, and people were grabbing any food they could get their hands on.  She waited another couple hours to check out, and then left after spending three hours of her day simply picking up groceries.

So the bottom line is that I think we can all agree that Jillian is our “Hero of the Day”.  The winner of this award is given a prize of hugs and love, which will be evenly dispersed over the period of forever.  Here’s hoping that the city will be calm again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…

Grocery-Store-Line

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Protester-Running

Port-au-Prince is still on lock-down after thousands of protesters took to the streets for a second day contesting the results of Haiti’s November 28th elections.  “If they don’t make Martelly president by the end of today,” one protester explained while following a group marching through the streets of Petionville, “then we will burn the city down.”  The number of crowds had decreased significantly compared to Wednesday and many of the protests were much calmer, but road-blocks on many of the main roads have been fortified to the point of being almost completely impassable.   At one road block on Delmas our moto-taxi driver was forced to pay a group of way-too-drunk-for-10am Haitians 50 goudes before we were allowed to pass.

The sky was filled with rain clouds, which sent showers cooling the tension in the city periodically throughout the day.  The storm proved to be the perfect way to keep the number of protesters down, because if there’s anything that Haitians hate more than feeling that their votes have been stolen, it’s rain.  The weird thing was that we haven’t had a rain shower here during the day in months, so it was almost as if the skies had realized that the city needed a little break, and decided to try to keep people off the streets, even for just a couple hours.

Woman-with-Umbrella

Burning-Car

But after the storm let up the protests continued, and a general sense of frustration was felt amongst the people.  “We are fighting for Martelly,” explained 27 year-old Dabouzae Lexima while he participated in a protest outside the CEP in Petionville, “He understands the people, he understands our problems.”  But when pressed about why Martelly is the right choice for the country, and why they are fighting for him, his answer was simple: “Because he is not Celestin!  Preval and Celestin are the same, and we don’t want the same problems we had before.”

This man’s frustrations seemed to reflect a growing sense of anger not necessarily because Martelly was left out of the second-round run-off, but because there is the possibility of Preval’s pick being their next leader.  “Preval is the devil!” explained another protester, “We call the presidential palace the Devil’s house.  He has done nothing for us.”

And while many of the protesters chant pro-Martelly chants and carry around his posters, the huge turnout in the streets also reflects the anger people have about the general situation they face everyday in Haiti.  For instance, protesters are still taking any chance they can get to pelt UN tanks and troops with rocks and bottles.  “MINUSTAH (UN forces) gave us cholera, they are trying to kill us,” explained Dabouzae, “Why are they here?  We should kill them!”

Protester-Throwing-Rock

Huge-Crowd-on-Delmas

This afternoon the Provisional Electoral Council (or the CEP) announced that they would be reviewing the results of the elections with the top three candidates, and that that review may lead to a recount.  According the Miami Herald, the Inite party (which is lead by Celestin) will be contesting the results of the election on Friday, even though he came in second place and is slated to be included in the second-round run-off.  This is the guy who everyone is marching against, and who everyone has charged with widespread election fraud, and he has the guts to say that he was cheated.

What I fear most is that they could be trying to use this recount as a way to prove to the people that the results they reported were correct.  If, at the end of the recount, Martelly is not included in the run-off then these protests and riots will be taken to another level, and the city may actually be burned to ground.  After it was announced that there would be a recount, protesters flocked to the CEP office in Petionville and demanded to be let inside.  “We want to burn the CEP down,” said one protester, “and then we want to give Martelly the presidency.  Not for 5 years, but for 10.”

Approaching-UN-Troop-Line

UN-Troops-with-Shields

Angry-Protester

UN-Troop-Line

The protest stayed relatively peaceful, and only once was there an exchange of rocks from the Haitians, and tear gas from the UN troops.  We headed home and called it a day as the sun was setting and it would soon be unsafe(r) to be driving around the city.  Jillian and I sat at home and ate a delicious meal that she prepared for us, and we debated when the next time we would be able to go to the grocery stores would be, as they have been closed since the protests began.  We’re hoping sooner rather than later, as Olie has run out of food (priorities people!), but we fear that this could last weeks instead of just days.

At the end of the night I went to our land-lady’s house to grab her internet modem as our internet bill was not paid because of the commotion happening in the city.  We got to talking about the election, and she explained that she hadn’t gotten the chance to vote because she was in Miami that day.  But when I asked her what candidate she would have voted for she quickly responded, “None of them!”

“These people are protesting for Martelly,” she explained, “but he has no credentials to be president, why should I pick him?”  We talked about how she was, for the first time in her life, considering leaving Haiti, which is a big statement for a Haitian.  “I’m tired,” she exclaimed as she let out a deep breath, “I’m tired of all of this, I’m tired of having to worry all the time, I’m tired of everything being so unorganized.”  She admitted that, in the end, she would likely never leave the country that she loves, even if it has it’s problems.

As I left I asked her if she thought any of the candidates would make the situation in Haiti any better, if they could make the country right.  “It won’t be better, it will just be a different,” she said with a sigh, “Haiti has been like this since 1986, and to be honest, I don’t see it changing anytime soon.”

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For those of you who wonder what I do to bring home the bacon, the video below includes a little bit of that. It’s just a small phone interview about the situation that was put into a piece for NBC Nightly News, but I think it turned out well!

Also, I co-wrote an article for the LA Times that ran yesterday as well. You can read that here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2010/12/08/1761466/vote-result-spurs-rioting-in-haiti.html

I hope you enjoy and I’ll be posting about today’s activities this evening.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

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Burning-Tires

Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Port-au-Prince Wednesday, leaving the city crippled after the results of the November 28th presidential elections were announce late Tuesday night.  The protesters, many of which were supporters of Michel Martelly who was left out of the country’s January 16th second-round run-off, erected roadblocks at practically every major intersection in the city.  By using burning tires and cars, as well as rocks and rubble, the streets quickly became completely impassable for anything other than a motorcycle.

Burned-Car-Roadblock

Casket-in-the-road

Ben and I traveled around the city with the help of an awesome moto-taxi driver who seemed to know every single person at every single road-block.  At one point a group of protesters surrounded us holding rocks and demanding we give them gas from the motorcycle so they could light a barricade on fire.  He looked around and found someone he knew who quickly explained to the people that we could pass, and we drove away safely before they got the chance to use their rocks.  Bottom line, he’s a keeper.

We maneuvered through protests and barricades, as Haitians ran through the streets holding Michel Martelly posters, and in the mean time destroying Jude Celestin and Mirlande Manigat posters along the way.  Businesses had boarded up their windows and doors, and the entire city was practically closed down, but the streets were packed with people chanting, “We don’t need Celestin!  Down with Preval!  We want Martelly!” in Kreyol.

Protesters-Running

Old-man-martelly-protester-champ-mars

Man-with-Anti-celestin-poster

And while many of the protesters marching the streets were peaceful, some resulted in violence and destruction.  At the Port-au-Prince campaign headquarters for Jude Celestin, protesters broke in and looted the building before lighting it on fire.  Local firemen (which I didn’t even know existed) sprayed down the smoldering remains of the HQ, which was filled with piles of burning Celestin campaign posters.

Unfortunately, it’s acts like this that detract from the real message, which is that these people feel that their democratic process has failed them yet again.  Like I said yesterday, it appears that the real results of the election actually included Martelly in the top two candidates who would move on to a run-off, winning over Celestin by over 10%.  They have the right to fight for that, but they should not do it at the expense of those whose personal property is now being destroyed because of it.

Firefighter-spraying-Posters

Fireman

Firefighter-Spraying-room

We traveled further downtown to the presidential palace, which had a peaceful march of a couple thousand Haitians.  “Celestin bought his votes, he bought this election,” explained one of the protesters as he passed by the palace, “But we don’t need money, we need a president that can lead our country.”  We doubled back towards the Delmas region, which holds one of the main arteries of the city.  Our moto-taxi driver expertly maneuvered around rubble that had been thrown into the street, and we came across one of the offices of the Provisional Electoral Commission (or the CEP).  Remember, these are the guys who ran the elections, and are also the ones that many hold responsible for having reported fraudulent results.

UN troops were standing guard at the CEP office building when suddenly rocks and bottles came raining down on their heads.  The protesters, who had been peacefully held back until this point, started to approach the line of troops, and the UN engaged.  Using flash grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets, the UN troops pushed back an increasingly violent crowd that was slowly creeping towards the CEP.  The rocks came from all directions, and the UN troops were outnumbered.  They jumped into their tanks and drove full speed towards the protesters, temporarily scattering them before they would quickly reconvened.

UN-Troop-Ready-to-Fire

UN-Troop-Throwing-Flash-Grenade

UN-Troops-with-Two-guns

Protesters-Running-From-UN

Tear gas filled the air and we left the area, heading up the hill towards the CEP office in Petionville.  There we found another protest that, while much smaller, proved to be much worse.  About a dozen protesters were throwing rocks at UN troops there, but the UN response could only be characterized as irresponsible.  Rubber bullets flew past the protesters and into crowds of people surrounding the area.  A tear gas canister also missed its target and landed in the middle of a nearby tent camp, causing it’s residents to flee from the toxic fumes.

And then, just 10 feet away from Ben, a flash grenade exploded right underneath one of the protester’s feet.  He hobbled away from the intersection and looked down at his foot, which was now riddled with shrapnel and bleeding profusely, and then collapsed on the sidewalk.  He started to moan as fellow protesters assessed his wounds.  His foot was badly injured, and the first layer of skin on his legs had been burned off.  We helped him up, and then carried him to a clinic nearby where we left him slumped on a chair as he waited for medical attention.

Protesters-Throwing-Rocks

Protester-Injured

The question now is whether the protests will continue with this intensity.  President Rene Preval spoke on the radio this afternoon asking for protesters to stop the violence and accept the results.  Michel Martelly came out with a statement of his own saying that the people have the right to fight for their vote, but also asking that the violence end.

The city will remain on lock-down until this dies down, but that could take days, if not weeks.  American Airlines has canceled its flights for today (Wednesday) and tomorrow, and the US embassy has warned American citizens to avoid the streets.  There are less gunshots tonight than last night, which is a good sign, but only time will tell if that means that order is being restored, or if the people are just resting for yet another day of chaos in Port-au-Prince.

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