|Spring is surely coming to Ranquitte, albeit slowly. I took a
walk this morning, and snapped some photos as I did so. Rose Manie and I
stepped out and noticed the second blooming of the coffee, so I ran back in for
the camera. My first photo consequently is of her and a coffee tree in bloom.
There are lots of beautiful flowers blooming at the moment, and trees are sending out shoots. They seem to sense that the rains are coming. We had a nice one a week or so ago, but rain has been scarce. The skies have looked threatening at times, but mostly we've had dry times since December. It reminds me lot of Bassar, Togo, which also is experiencing its dry season now. I never much cared for the dry season there (it was much dustier and drier than it is here -- Ranquitte stays remarkably green, given the lack of water).
We certainly can't complain about the weather: it's been sunny and in the 80s for months now.
The mango trees have bloomed, and mangos are hanging from some of the trees. There are many, many varieties of mangos, and some of them are earlier than others. The "Baptists" are among the first to appear (don't know why the Baptists find their name on a mango).
Anna's been suffering from a nasty cough, the kind that wakes you up at night: we hope that it's merely a side-effect of her blood pressure medicine, which we'll be replacing soon to try to relieve it. Thaddeus and I have had coughs too for quite some time, which we've attributed to the dry air and dust; Anna's is of another magnitude, however.
Otherwise all is well with us. Anna's garden is producing tomatoes, zuccini, and cucumbers, and we'll soon have some cabbage too. The watermelons and muskmelons are looking promising!
Thad's enjoying life, but dreaming of biscuits and gravy in Kentucky. He's now developed an impatience to go back home, Kentucky especially, although he sometimes also pines for New York. He's never been to New York, so we don't know why...;) He and Rose Manie have planted a garden, and they like to tend that. It's about 10 square feet, but they're proud of what they're producing. They'll plant anything (Thad wanted to plant the labels from his shoes). They've got a few orange trees coming up, and some tomatoes.
Our campus is preparing to undergo a transition. We've gotten the go-ahead from Christian Flights International to do some work on a couple of fronts: fixing the drainage on campus is one effort (to cut down the mosquito population, and to prevent walls from washing out). Creating a landfill to reduce the trash problem on campus is another. We're hoping that we might undertake an agriculture program this year, so that the campus will be in cultivation to provide food for the kids when the government program isn't (which happens too frequently, unfortunately). There are those of us who would also like to see a nursery on campus, so that would be the final effort (if we can convince a few people to let us try it). Because of the generosity of many of you, we've been able to buy an 80 foot by 20 foot shade cloth, and some of the nursery essentials. George Derval can use those on his mountain nursery until such time as CFI permits a nursery on campus. By the time we're done, we'll have spent about $3000 on that.
When the nursery gets onto the campus, it will provide educational opportunities for the students, as well as providing trees for local reforestation efforts. It will also be a center of sustainable agricultural practices (such as composting), which we hope will attract citizens from the area to learn -- kind of an outreach center. Other facets of the campus will also serve as educational resources: for example, we will demonstrate silos for grain storage (small, tin structures being made down at the MPR -- Mouvement Paysans de Ranquitte, or Ranquitte Peasants' Movement), composting, food dehydration, etc.
Speaking of agriculture, and the MPR, I met with a contingent of coffee growing members of the MPR on the 22nd of February to collect some data and to discuss the possibility of forming a coffee cooperative in Ranquitte, to work in association with a network of fair trade cooperatives already operating in Haiti (RECOCARNO - Réseau des Coopératives Caféières du Nord et du Nord Ouest). Prospects look good: according to my estimates from that meeting, Ranquitte already produces somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 tons of coffee a year, enough to make a start on a cooperative.
I'm excited by a couple of other projects that we're going to be undertaking. The first is a project of home-based water treatment, using biosand filters. According to a 2006 Inter-American Development Bank report, more than four-fifths of Haitians are without access to clean drinking water. Biosand filters are one practical and relatively cheap ($40) solution, working through sand filtration and also biological remediation (microbe versus microbe). We're planning a "100 Biosand filters" project (similar to the "100 Arborloos" project) in April, once two people return from training in the south of Haiti, at Clean Water for Haiti. The training's set for April 8th, and the week following we'll get started. The objective will be to target homes of those who are drinking water from sources other than the wells in town (the wells have tested "clean").
We'll also target the school: the students presently use the well next to the school for their drinking water (because the "mountain" water that feeds their "drinking fountains" isn't available -- dry season!). When the wet season arrives in a month, however, the students are going to start drinking the mountain water again, with its risks of bacteria, intestinal parasites, etc. We'd like the students to get biosand filtered water, so that they don't drink the water straight.
We'll also likely engage in a second round of arborloos, since we seem to have enough in the "Peace chest" for it. During the first round we heard that lots of people were chagrined that they'd been "passed over" for an arborloo, while their neighbors received one. Furthermore, while we'd planned to hit a broad swath of Ranquitte with arborloos, we found that demand was sufficient in our neighborhood alone to absorb the 100 arborloos. A second round will allow us to get out to some other areas. Our own personal arborloo is now on its second hole: we've filled one, and will soon plant a sweet orange tree. We're giving the "compost" a little more time to decompose before introducing the tree. A couple of the school's arborloos are also approaching the time when they should be moved; so we're making progress!
Have I mentioned cell phones? The cell phone has come to Ranquitte, in spades. A few months ago "Digicell" put in a tower, in the center of town, and now we have to hear the Creole word "Digicell" one hundred times a day. Everyone's getting a phone: there are four in our house now (we don't have one, of course!).
This has led to the phenomenon of illicit cell phone charging (since there is no power grid in town, only hand-crank chargers, generators, and solar systems -- like ours! -- can be used. So the school and the house have been the scenes of surreptitious cell phone charging. I've had to police the house, as the cell phone czar, confiscating illegal phones and dealing with the perpetrators. I've had to hold court twice.
At church in town this past weekend at least four phones went off during the service. One young lady played games on hers during the sermon, while a crowd around her watched. One fellow at the front of the church spent the service swapping in and out phones as they reached full charge, or as their owners reclaimed them. Following the service there was a rush of young men to the front, to investigate the results of their cell phone charging. It was all very comical, distracting, and, I dare say, sad.
I had hoped that I would never have to relive the rudeness of the cell phone revolution as we experienced it in the States, but we get to relive it again here in Ranquitte. Back to sitting in meetings of three people, two of whom are staring into their cells simultaneously while the third regards them with bemusement. Back to loud conversations held in public places by people ignorant of others' active disinterest in their conversations. We've even got people driving while dialing their cell phones (there aren't many cars, but almost certainly every owner has a cell phone). Arghhhh.
At church the week before, Roger, the Elder at the church in Roi, took five or ten minutes to criticize the "adoration of the cell phone" which he's seeing, and to suggest a cell phone charge fee for those who want to charge their phone during the service. A den of thieves? I'm definitely more concerned about the adoration than I am about the charging (although both are annoying): one of the young workers in the house is now handicapped, having the use of only one hand (because she can't let go of her cell phone with the other). She walks around with the cell phone at eye level, and I'm waiting for the day when she falls in a mud puddle or trips and lands in the ditch because she's not paying any attention to where she's going.
I'm hoping that the novelty will soon wear off, and that soon a cell phone going off won't seem an urgent emergency, cause for mad scurrying. I've already seen signs of nonchalance in one user: Hallelujah! Technology can be wonderful, but it can also be a pain and a curse.
(not for the faint of heart).
I've been reading a couple of really disturbing books lately. The first is a history of the Duvalier years (and the immediate aftermath): the story of Haiti from about 1957 to 1986, when the "Docs" (Papa and Baby, Francois and Jean-Claude) ruled as "Presidents for Life". Titled Haiti -- the Duvaliers and Their Legacy, Elizabeth Abbott details a string of unfathomable atrocities.
For an example quite close to home, Ivy's first husband of fourteen years, Mileon Herivaux, was taken from her at 11:00 pm one night in September of 1964. The Tonton Macoutes of Papa Doc (armed and dangerous thugs, above the law) burst into their home, arrested Mileon and ransacked the house. Ivy never saw Mileon again. She learned several days later that he was dead, killed in Papa Doc's torture chambers in Cap Haitian.
The reason he was killed was that he was seen as politically unfriendly to the regime: he'd once been asked by Papa Doc for his support in elections, but Mileon had already promised his support to another candidate (and friend). Papa Doc never forgot.
Whenever Papa Doc got angry, he'd round up a group of perceived threats, some of whom would be killed, some of whom would be tortured, some of whom would never be seen again. And so did one unfortunate merchant exporter die in 1964.
She met her second husband, Ducange Salomon, in New York, where he was in exile from the regime of Papa Doc. The Salomon family has played an important role in Haitian history, and would continue to play one up to the departure of Baby Doc. Lysius Salomon (Ducange's great grandfather) was a President of Haiti.
In spite of their history with the Docs, Ivy and Ducange returned to live in Haiti under Baby Doc. In 1986, Jean-Claude Duvalier and his despicable wife Michelle Bennett departed Haiti for luxurious exile in France. As they were preparing to leave, Michelle ordered a Voodoo sacrifice of two unbaptized infants in the palace, "to curse the presidential bed so that the next person occupying it would die a horrible death there." (p. 323)
"Vengeance is mine," sayeth the Lord, but there are certainly times when I'd be happy to exact a little of my own....
As I read about what many of these people I live and work with have been through in their lifetimes, I have more sympathy for this people's sullenness, paranoia, rudeness, etc. Haitians, especially the poor peasants of the countryside, have been through the wringer over and over and over again, passed over at the table, beaten, raped, robbed, violated by their neighbors, their own leaders, and by leaders of powerful and far off lands; it's surprising that there's any hope or other positive human emotions left -- and yet there are!
Papa Doc was politically astute enough to shout the anti-communist line, so that he and his son received the U.S.'s considerable support (and generally its silence) throughout their long and wicked reigns. What has startled me, however, is that, however atrocious the Duvalier years were, the early history of Haiti is even more so. There is nothing glorious or uplifting in the Haitian story, as told in Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492-1995, by Robert and Nancy Heinl (revised and expanded by Michael Heinl). It is atrocity, massacre, assassination, pillage, treason, treachery, torture, self-serving self-interest, with scarcely a whisper of any positive human characteristics. Read it at risk to your comfortable sleep....
To end on a happier note, we're on the verge of a visit from our friends Cindy and Joe from Oshkosh, WI. They'll be helping out in the clinic, on some of our food packaging projects (computer labels for cans and bags), etc. We look forward to having them here for a week. This will be the last group to include friends or family before our departure -- but there's still time for a few of you to visit! Not much, however, as we've now fixed our departure for June 15th.