Posts Tagged ‘Ti Kay’

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!


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.



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.


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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About a month ago Jillian’s parents came down for a visit and were awoken by the scurrying of feet in our living room.  They looked into Olie’s crate and found him soundly asleep, so they returned to bed, thinking they must have just been imagining things.  But 10 minutes later they heard it again, and this time after a quick glance around the living room the culprit was clear…we had rats!

We carried their mattress upstairs in an effort to keep the rats from gnawing away our parent’s fingers, but were awoken AGAIN by tiny little footsteps walking up the stairs!  The next morning we looked at each other with tired eyes, having gotten little to no sleep, and decided something needed to be done.

This actually didn’t come as a surprise to any of us, as our landlady had warned us to get a cat (or two) to protect us from the mice that may or may not be living in our ceiling.  But after Jillian and I got Olie, we realized we already had our hands full (overflowing, actually), so we found a new home for the kitten that we were supposed to get from Ben and Alexis.


So because we were catless, and had a puppy that could care less if a rat was running around the house, we decided to approach our landlady.  “We have rats in our house,” we explained, “what should we do?” “You should get a cat!” she looked unfazed, “I have a cat and I never have a problem with rats.”  “Well, where do we get a cat?” we asked.  “I don’t know, find someone that has a cat that had kittens,” she said, clearly thinking that was a stupid question.  We looked around and saw a little white cat with black and tan spots.  “What about that one…can we have that one?” we were really reaching here.  “That’s my sister’s cat, so you can’t have her,” she said, and then walked away.

Well, needless to say, as American’s we have a relentless sense of entitlement, so we adopted her anyways…and named her Beatrice (or Bee).  By luring her closer to our house day by day with kitty food and some friendly petting, we finally got Bee inside the house, and now she’s a regular visitor to Kay Thorp.  What we didn’t anticipate was the relationship she would have (or not have) with Mr. Olie Fe Dezod.


At first Olie didn’t know what to do with this strange creature that had invaded his little puppy kingdom.  He would approach her in an attempt to play, but when all she wanted to do is make strange groaning noises and violently bat at his face he quickly learned that Bee was his sworn adversary.  “Did you have fun playing with your new friend, Olie?!” we would ask him.  “She’s no friend of mine…” he would curtly respond, and then chew a toy in the corner by himself.


But the worst is that Bee has decided that the kitchen table is now her domain, protecting it with complete and utter disregard for anyone elses safety (or Jillian and my’s eardrums).  You see, Olie doesn’t often bark, in fact he’s really good about not being obnoxiously loud, but when Bee is on the kitchen table you would think that someone had stolen all of his toys and decided to burn them right in front of him.  The ear-piercing yelp is always a clear indicator that Bee has entered the building, and that a stand-off is underway.


These are usually short-lived, as Olie will typically get a few paws to the face, retreat, and then start chewing one of his toys, forgetting all-together that Bee is even in the house.  And while sometimes it’s a little more trouble than it’s worth, it’s kind of fun to have another animal that we don’t really need to take care of.  She comes and goes when she wants, and we feed her when we feel like it.  It’s win-win for all the parties involved.

And the strategy has worked.  Literally the next day after the first time we had Bee on our kitchen table the rats were no longer scurrying through the house trying to gnaw off our fingers.  It’s pretty astounding that it just works like that, but we’re not complaining as we’ve gained a new friend, and Olie has finally learned that world doesn’t revolve around him.

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I was speaking to our friend Alexis last week when the subject of our Ti Kay (or house) came up: “I love your house, it’s perfect…except it’s not very private,” she explained with a cringe.   I agreed, considering our house is surrounded by four other houses, and four apartments.  During the day the house is practically an open exhibit into our lives, and between construction workers and neighbors, you shouldn’t do anything you don’t want everyone else to see.

But I had faith in the upstairs, I explained, “it’s private up there, the window to the bathroom is tinted, and there are curtains on all the windows, so no one can see in.”  So you can imagine my surprise over the weekend when I went to go throw out the trash and I looked up and could see Jillian preparing for her shower…visibly naked.

I ran into the house and up the stairs, “Jillian, come here!”  “What?” she responded, “I’m about to shower.” “I know,” I quickly said, “just come here, please!” “Why?!” Jillian spat, she was getting a little perturbed.  “Because everyone out there can see you naked!” I said back.  She looked at me curiously, and then looked at the window. “Wait, are you serious?!” she said while running away from the shower.  We looked at each other and smiled awkwardly, realizing that for the past 6 months our neighbors have had the chance to see us naked practically every night.

(That’s our shower on the right)

Jillian is giving them the benefit of the doubt, saying that they probably haven’t even noticed, but I’m not so sure.  In fact, and I could be wrong here, but I’ve noticed how our neighbors have recently started eating on their outside patio (which has a perfect view of the bathroom window) almost every night.  They didn’t used to do that…

Looking back, I’m not sure what we were thinking.  We had asked our land-lady if this was going to be a problem, as the shower is right up against the curtain-less window, but she assured us it was not an issue.  “No no! It’s tinted! You don’t have to worry!” she said emphatically.  Now I’m wondering how big of a cut she’s getting for the peep show that our neighbors get every night.  But to her credit, during the day the tinting does it’s job, and you can’t see a thing.


Needless to say, we bought a shower curtain to cover the window the next day.  It’s not a pretty fix, but it’s a fix, and now our dining neighbors will have to rely on another house to get their voyeuristic jollies.  And even if we have been bearing it all to complete strangers for the past 6 months, at least Jillian and I know that we’ve done our part to promote transparency in a country that truly needs it.

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The 6-month anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti has come and gone, and after heavy media coverage and a slew of government events, the Haitian people have been reminded, yet again, that their situation sucks and nothing has really improved.  I’ve been trying to think about how to sum up the events of the past 6 months for a while now, considering we all knew it was coming weeks before the day arrived, and it’s still hard to comprehend.  Just over 6 months ago the earthquake in Haiti destroyed over 180,000 homes, killed hundreds of thousands of people, and left millions homeless.  Unfortunately none of those things have changed.


When Jillian and I returned to the States after the earthquake tons of people asked how long it would take to recover.  “Months? Years?” they would ask.  The answer was always a disappointing one, “More, probably decades,” we would say.  Haiti was already a place that seemed without hope, and now it appears to be almost irreparably damaged.  The infrastructure that was already sorely lacking has been torn to shreds, and the poor have just become poorer (and homeless).

With the help of tons of international money, work has begun trying to pick up the shattered pieces of an already broken country, but there are so many compounding issues that stand in the way.  Both the Haitian people and the NGOs have desperately waited for some sense of leadership from the government here, but let’s be honest, there is not a single person in this entire world who could single-handedly grasp the enormity of the issues that now face this country.  Elections are scheduled for November, but who would want to be the President of a country that has hit absolute rock bottom.


So like I said before, there are a bunch of issues to deal with, none have just one quick-fix, and they all depend on each other in one way or another.  Let’s start with the tent cities:  1.5 million people are still living in spontaneous camps throughout the country, left homeless after their houses were damaged or destroyed.  Just after the earthquake the heat was on to get them into shelters before the rainy season, and while NGOs earnestly worked to achieve this goal it was quickly realized that moving that many people, and building that many homes, was impossible in just a matter of months.  The rainy season has been upon us for months, hurricane season starts in earnest soon, and both the Haitian people and the NGOs have now admitted that the tent cities will be here for years.


But part of the hang up is there is just no place to build the homes.  Land-rights issues have slowed an already sluggish process, and with no one knowing who owns what, the building of transitional homes has been slow in coming.  Of the 125,000 transitional shelters planned, just under 4,000 have been built.  These shelters are produced to only last between 2-5 years, leaving the looming question of what happens next?  Supplies to build these houses is tough to come by, and shipping containers filled with the necessary tools to do the job sit stuck at customs, waiting for a simple signature that may take months to obtain.


But even if you have the supplies, and you know who owns the land, it might be impossible to build simply because the rubble of the house that stood there before has not been removed.  As you already know, Cash for Work programs (like the one Jillian is managing) are working everyday to clear the rubble that fills the streets and neighborhoods throughout the country.  The problem?  There is too much rubble, and not enough resources to move it.


One estimate says it could take 1,000 trucks 1,000 days to move all the rubble out of PAP.  That’s over 3 years, just to move the rubble.  But yet another problem jumps out, as there are just over 300 dump trucks operating in the capital doing this work.  You can do the math, but I went ahead and did it for you: at this pace it will take over a decade to move all the rubble out of the city.  If the rubble is still there, there are no transitional homes, and if there are no homes then people aren’t moving out of the tent cities.


Even though I’ve painted a pretty dismal picture, there are some bright spots.  80% of the schools in PAP were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake, but since then they have reopened 80% of those affected.  That’s a huge accomplishment in just six months.  While over 50% of the children in Haiti still don’t go to school, I think we can all agree that education is key to a proper recovery, so getting those kids back in the classroom helps immensely.  Also, because of a huge push to vaccinate Haitians, and particularly children, from infectious diseases right after the earthquake, there has yet to be an outbreak.  This is great news considering that if just one family catches something bad in a tent city, it wouldn’t take long for the rest of the tightly packed families around them to catch it too.


So we are left here, 6 months after the earthquake, with little progress.  I’ll be the first to admit, everything in Haiti takes about 5-times longer than anywhere else, so the slow pace of recovery isn’t shocking.  And you also have to give the NGOs slack simply because rebuilding an entire city, or country for that matter, takes an enormous amount of time.  The phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day” resonates well here, but that’s hard to explain to the people who live in tents that seem to hold heat better than our oven.  Life is miserable for them, and time is something they just don’t have.


For Jillian and I, this 6 months has proven to be an enormous test.  Jillian used to say “the earthquake was the easy part,” and it’s totally true.  In that situation, for her at least, it was life or death, black or white.  It was ‘get home and get help’, and knowing what was best was pretty clear.  But now we are posed with questions that always tend to have a slight tint of gray to them, whether it be Jillian managing her programs for WC, or just questions about us.  Nothing comes easy anymore, and whether that’s a reflection of living in Haiti or the residual emotional effects of what happened to us during the earthquake, it’s hard to tell.

We have made some major progressions.  We moved from a tent in Ben and Alexis’ yard to our beautiful Ti Kay.  Jillian went from newly unemployed to being a rockstar at her new job managing programs that are really helping Haitians in need.  I went from an unemployed freelance journalist to NBC’s man in Haiti.  Olie went from a tiny little fur ball into a teenage punk of a puppy.  These are all good things, things we can hang our hats on and say, “not bad, all things considered.”  But it’s funny how all the external things can align perfectly when the pieces inside just don’t seem to fit.


For a lot of people, when they heard that the 6 month anniversary was here they were shocked: “I can’t believe it’s already been 6 months!” they would say.  “I can,” I would think to myself, it’s been the longest 6 months of my life.  It’s hard not to resent the earthquake for doing what it did to us, as I’m sure is the case with almost every single person in Haiti.  Our life was so simple before, it was just Jillian and I, in love, newly married, and living a comfortable life in our tiny little apartment in DC.  Back then all we had to worry about was the cockroaches that pranced around the floors while we ate dinner.  Now our decisions have ramifications, like whether people will be living in miserable tents for the next couple years.

And while many things have moved on, some have stayed the same.  It’s been 6 months since the Mission House we lived in collapsed, and all of our possessions are still sitting (finely pressed, we’re assuming) under the rubble.  I’ve asked to go back and simply dig (without putting myself at risk), but have been turned down time and time again because of a not-so-simple reason.  You see, Haitian Ministries forgot to pay their earthquake insurance for more than a year before the quake, making the house a pile of worthless rubble instead of a fat insurance check to use on the next Mission House.  Because of that no one has been allowed to dig in the house at all (they made an exception when we dug Jillian and Chuck out, thank goodness), as the lawyers overseeing the case have asked to keep it just the way it is until the case is resolved.


Jillian is over this, and I can understand why, the house brings bad memories and she’s ready to move on.  But for me, this is something that I need for closure, just to know that all our stuff is gone (or not…), to know that that life is over.  It’s the watch that my Dad gave me when I graduated from college, it’s all the pictures that are stored on my computer, it’s the hard drive that I backed up all my pictures on and set next to my computer (woops!).  It’s not so much getting those items back, it’s knowing that I can just move on and get on with the future, and not live in the past.  It’s so incredibly frustrating to not be given that chance, to be held back when practically everyone else here has had that opportunity already.

But now we look ahead, at the next 6 months, after which we will look back at what has been done here and scoff at why more hasn’t changed.  By then Jillian and I will have decided if we will stay here for another year or make the move elsewhere, whether it be back to the States or to another country.  Olie will be HUGE, and probably injuring us constantly by thinking he is still a puppy that can jump on our laps like he does now.  Haitians will still be living in tents, and our stuff will probably still be sitting in the rubble of the Mission House.  6 months from now lot’s of things will have changed, but I fear that many will stay same, leaving Haitians with yet another round of media interviews and government events reminding them how bad life after the earthquake really is.

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Sometimes things have a way of working themselves out.  After hearing the news that our puppy had died, we wrote off the idea of getting a dog, taking it as a sign that maybe this just wasn’t the right time.  Well, the reality is that we don’t really need to get a new dog when it appears we already have one!

The chocolate lab carelessly splayed on our living room floor above is named Nunka…we think.  We actually aren’t really sure what his name is, it could be Luka, or Nuka (without the ‘n’).  Jillian has dealt with this uncertainty by naming him herself: Haiku.  If there was a Haiku poem written about him, I think it would go like this:

Brown dog…
Sleeps on our floor and
wants our food.

I’m not sure if that’s even a proper haiku, but that encapsulates our relationship with him perfectly.

But the best part about Haiku is that he sleeps in the wildest positions I have ever seen a dog sleep.  He will stroll into our house, without knocking of course, and just roll over on his back and chill.  It’s kinda the coolest thing I have ever seen a dog do.

He didn’t used to just stroll into our house, we actually had to train him to do so.  Initially, he would walk to the open doorway and then stop.  When we called him to come in he wouldn’t, as if there was an invisible barrier blocking him from the interior of our house.  But after coaxing him with a little bacon carbonara, he’s broken that invisible glass ceiling and is now a daily fixture in our ti kay.

So we have now semi-adopted him.  When he comes in I will sit down and pet him for a while, and he just hangs out with us until he gets bored and leaves to go sleep in a weird position somewhere else.  We’re actually not sure who really owns him, so I have proposed making him OUR permanent dog, an idea that Jillian opposes until we find out who he belongs to.  I find that unnecessary, as he clearly likes our floor more than anyone else’s.

But the reality is that he’s just a dog that trots around the complex and wants some food and attention.  There’s also a BIG German Shephard that lives on the grounds as well, but we know he belongs to our neighbors.  So until the mystery surrounding Haiku (or Nunka, or Luka) is solved, he will be our anonymous adopted dog that hangs out with us and that we don’t have to feed.  We don’t have dog food anyways, but we are getting a kitty…

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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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It was the middle of the night on the first day that Jillian and I had moved into our new house.  We were peacefully sleeping when all of a sudden, “THWACK!”, it sounded like someone had swung a baseball bat as hard as they could at our corrugated-steel roof, and hit a grand slam.

We looked at each other terrified. “What was that?!” we whispered to each other as we pulled the covers up to our faces.  I crept downstairs to see the damage, and to ask whoever was responsible why they felt the need to conduct batting practice at two in the morning.  But downstairs there was nothing but our still-packed bags and a gigantic spider walking in the middle of the living room floor.  The spider met its maker with the help of a falling Chaco sandal, and we went back to sleep with one eye open, fearing that our new house was nothing but a haunted mistake.

But the next morning it happened again, this time to the roof that protects the windows on the first floor.  We ran outside but saw no one, no baseball bat, nothing.  Then after looking at the ground, we realized that what had been terrorizing us this entire time was not the ghost of Ti Kay past, it was simply a Falling Nugget of Death! (or FND)

I can’t actually take credit for the name “Falling Nuggets of Death”.  When we had our friends Devon and Megan over last week, we experienced one of these seed pods plummeting from the trees to the ground first hand while sitting on the porch.  It smashed into the concrete, left a crater the size of a basketball, and then evaporated into the muggy Haitian air.  Megan looked at us and said, “Wow, that’s a falling nugget of death if I’ve ever seen one.”  The name stuck.

I think it goes without saying that being hit by one of these puppies would likely cause major memory loss, or at least an ugly bruise.  When they are ready to kill, they detach themselves from the branches just as you are peacefully admiring the nature surrounding you.  It then plunges to both its own, and its innocent victim’s, death, in a kamikaze mission from the heavens.

We approached the landlady about our concerns and she said that at least 5,000 Haitians are critically injured every year from FNDs.  When we asked her why she never told us we were at risk by living in this house she responded, “You never asked, but if you do anything, just remember to never….” and then she was hit!!!  Just seconds before giving us the critical advice we needed to stay safe from these monsters, she became the latest victim of FNDs right before our eyes.

Obviously this entire post has been grossly exaggerated, but there is a tad bit of worry that an FND could leave a dent in one of us.  Most likely it would be Jillian, as Haiti has tried repeatedly to do her in (ex: earthquake, moto-taxi accident, eating my cooking). We would also really prefer it if they would stop smashing into our roof in the middle of the night.

Two nights ago there was an all-out assault, and as we were sleeping, we were awoken to the sound of about 5 of these things smashing into our roof at the same time.  It never ends!  But of course, it will.  The trees will eventually run out of ammunition and we will be able to eat our cup-of-noodles on our porch in peace.  But if you think about it, it’s probably best it wasn’t Haitians swinging baseball bats…they’re way better at soccer.

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