Truths About Haiti: Part Two
Last updated 7/30/2019 at 11:19pm
Haiti has a love-hate relationship with electricity, in reference to the country, not the people. The leadership in Haiti struggles so tragically because there is a fight between the evolution of the country, and the mafia like status quo.
When it comes to power for the country, companies that provide the generators have a stronghold on ceasing development from the fear of busting up their racket. So it's these sad and antiquated powers that keep the Haitians trapped in the 1950's and fighting for their lives while being buried by rice, Pringles, Coke products, hot dogs and pasta, literally.
Public education is terminally inconsistent. Teachers, as well as and many public jobs, and many other government positions do not get paid in a timely or on a regular basis, or if at all. Logically, they must find another way to feed their families when the government doesn't provide paychecks.
The end result is faculty no shows and the students follow suit. In Haiti, parents send their children to private school to ensure they at least have a paid staff. Much like the United States, the schools run the entire gambit from amazing to horrendous and the parents are left to place their child to the best of their financial ability.
In addition, the general teaching school of thought is still hovering somewhere between 1950 and 1970, children are routinely subjected to some of the old school abuses our parents endured as students in religious schools.
Public school students go all day without eating. Only if parents are able to make, pack in proper containers, and then the students carry sometimes eighteen or more miles one way, do the public school students eat lunch. Books are not free for students in public schools, even though many times they are advertised as "provided by the latest political front runner," this rarely sees the light of day, meaning something inevitably goes wrong and funds are lost, consumed or underestimated.
There are no public school buses for students living out in the country who are commuting for an education. Honestly, if there were regular, large scale transportation, it would be a danger due to the road conditions and the heavy foot and livestock traffic when you get just a few miles out of town. So, actually having the buses would be putting the cart before the horse.
Most of the countryside lacks electricity and running water so studying is a challenge after daylight hours and many students crowd under a few street lamps. There is very limited access to classical literature, in any language, and there are only a few in country publications, most of which are entirely political. Radio is also heavily loaded with aggressive political debate which leaves no room for educational and community programming. Radio stations are very limited and Haiti would benefit greatly from a wider reaching and more diverse broadcasting with program information in education, health, agriculture, entertainment and local advertising and community announcements.
Local libraries are non existent, so we started with a simple inventory at the English speaking school and also out at the agriculture center in the country, the first book to be checked out? The Notebook. I'm spending a little money on a photo ID card system that I have been told will really enchant the people. I can remember when I got my first library card and the sense of pride that would be compounded my many other recorded firsts.
There are colleges and universities that turn out graduates yearly, but the curriculum is not updated on a regular basis, and the case work for any professional can be overwhelming.
One farmer I worked with who owned some acreage, had a degree in agriculture, but had never tested soil, not even his own? It seemed strange but he was a tree farmer and a testament to the long ago and firmly planted seed of oppression had unavoidable sprouted. So, it was an immense joy when we grew cucumbers and Sunn Hemp in his nitrogen lacking soil and could effectively introduce real time crop rotation by example (the tomatoes had died due to lack of nitrogen). There are well educated, industrious or monied families that have students who travel to the United States or other parts of the world but this higher opportunity is not widespread or a common aspiration. The NGO's do not work together. There are a shocking number of Non-Government Organizations (NGO's) in Haiti, numbers high enough to spark books and documentaries outlining the good, the bad and the ugly. Some with the best intentions, some not so much.
With hearts in the right place, most fail to think out the social and economical impact of their programs, including, the long term results, much like Bill Clinton and sadly thousands of others.
Information revealed through inquiring directly that the mass influx of charitable items has only effectively diluted their economy, putting local producers out of business. Making matters worse, these NGOs can be inconsistent and once they put and industry out of business by donation, they turn to a different cause sometimes the following year, devastating the economy and community further.
Large, multi-million dollar donations to high profile organizations attract corrupt alliances and funds are eaten up internally. The truth is NGO's have a lot more power than realized without even including the charitable work that they do. These numbers amount to 100's of thousands of people oscillating through the country every year, desperately trying to help in an ill placed situation. The reality of their footprint brings not only carbon, but commerce. Religious organizations have to protect both their congregation and their political as well as financial ties when managing charity tourism.
Many times, the time and resources used to host the usually large groups would be better spent on infrastructure for the community and the labor donated would have better served paying a skilled member of the community. I'm committed to the idea that the Haitian people have a great opportunity in providing products and services to these, for lack of a better phrase, charity tourists. It would strengthen the external revenue stream coming directly into the public and not through a corrupt, calloused government.
Many of these agriculture turned tourist islands have successfully grown their market to accommodate and ultimately serve that which has bolstered their economy. I saw this in Peru, the town of Macchu Picchu had many small like diners to serve breakfast and lunch and they had dishes from around the world, for England, Germans, Scandinavians, Asians, Indians, North and South Americans.
The prices were competitive on quality souvenirs and quality accommodations while common things were very inexpensive, like cocoa leaves and the local beer. Haiti is not that much different. When is comes to food for the NGOs in Haiti, most houses employee cooks to serve regular meals to the occupants. There are restaurants, but there is no regulatory agencies in food service, so I only went to one in Hinche because my friend knew the chef.
The churches also provide hostel like accommodations for a competitive price and I hear the nuns are very good cooks. I would say all the NGOs charge volunteers for the accommodations they provide, they also utilize their luggage for the benefit of their organization. As stated before, some well intended, some not so much. I also found that when a Haitian person really likes you and wants to get to know you better, they will suggest that you learn Creole. This is not an insult, it is a compliment and an invitation into their world and an opportunity for them to share the role of teacher. Haitians want to learn English and communicate with you and I.
After I arrived in Haiti the first time, I was asked to teach English as a second language because I was not qualified to participate in the medical (so not me, remember I was a mule). This pretty much amounted to having casual conversation and sharpening grammar with night school student. This was really a lot of fun and would blossom into much more than I imagined.
There are no fresh cut flowers in the local markets. Ultimately considered a luxury, fresh cut flowers for us and most the world we know are the norm for special events, upscale hotels, nice restaurants and that's just the commercial market.
There is a very upscale area northeast of Port Au Prince called Petitionville. The streets are clean and there are many businesses and restaurants, the houses are landscaped and well kept. I ate at a sushi place called Haiku and it was very good and that includes the drinks. I had Peking duck and some sushi items and was quite impressed with the restaurant itself with it's clean, functioning bathroom, as well as the English speaking waiter, and did I say the ginger martini was superb, This place already had a couple hundred 4+ star ratings and one of several in the area. Large scale flower production definitely has an opportunity, even more so with exports, many people from Cuba come to Haiti just to bring back goods to sell. These are the people with the very loaded carts who are being stopped when going through customs.
The Haitian people foster strong family bonds. Haitian households have multiple family members, there are exceptions but families are usually very large and spanning. A family may work as a whole to make the most of the talent in their household. If parents pass, oldest siblings many times, assume the parental role for their younger siblings' future.
In turn, grandparents play a crucial role in the support of the grandchildren. When I revisited a family for dinner and both of the grandparents had careers in education and right after dessert, the grandfather excused himself to go help his grandchildren with homework. The families are strong in faith and attend church regularly, most practice Christianity and are very proud of their organizations. I attended church out in the country and witnessed blessings, baptism, 1ST communion and a wedding, a full menu with a band and choir. Upon leaving, my friend helped his 110 year old grandmother onto the back of a motorcycle, sandwiched by her son and a granddaughter.
Faith is prevalent in the rural communities, so much that as they slowly wither, priests and ministers are advising people to spend the day in pray or donate their personal goods to the church to be saved by God. This is an obvious problem, not only for the obvious reasons, but as I was trying to call a meeting with the community they could not get a hold of several of the members because they were in isolated prayer sessions. They finally came around, especially when we started distributing our newly sprouted seeds. All it took was handing out one of our robust sunflower sprouts, with instructions, to one of the sweet little neighbor ladies and suddenly more sweet little neighbor ladies emerged. Like little sunflowers themselves, hearing through the grapevine that we were handing out new life.
When I stayed at the newly established agricultural center in the country with and among extended family I observed that the Haitian people are very close to one another and most things are done through family. It seemed intentional and extensive, even through communications while there and after leaving, the main question? "How is your family?" The reality is Haitian people are more French than they are African. That sounds obvious and not at the same time but their demeanor, values and lifestyle reflect a strong Eurpoean influence. Many adults work in town with a family farm in the country they visit on the weekends or holidays. Haitian people are very fashionable, even the farmers. When I asked a farmer specifically about tools or things to bring down on my first trip, he asked for "farm clothes."
The lack of modern farming methods is causing young people to abandon the field. When I say primitive, I mean primitive. They are still plowing with an ox. They lack many times even basic tools that ease the back breaking work of farming. I'm speaking more specifically about the central plateau of Haiti, it's to my understanding that the southern area is more developed and they are doing some very successful micro agriculture but this is not widespread in the central plateau. The farming plots in the central plateau many times lack not only a well, but outhouses, landfills and basic structures for animal containment and husbandry.
Livestock is wandering or tethered, even though tagged, dangerously subjected to becoming road kill. Safety aside, the animals are generally led to slaughter and how they are grazing and lack of continuous fresh water opens criticism to not only the flavor but the quality of their meat. I witnessed the farmers in the fields who were planting and comprised of grandparents and grandchildren, parents many times are in Port Au Prince working to help support their families in the country.
It seems the Haitians, due to lack of resources in the farther flung parts of the country, are stuck in a repetitive cycle with very bad math. It seems they spend three months growing a field of corn, only to sell the entire crop to buy only three weeks of rice. This equation, without even picking it apart, is a losing one. When I look at these well tilled pieces of gold I see bursting multi use gardens with trees, containers, greenhouses and live ponds that stream irrigation fed on property by a well.
These thoughts make me dizzy and I am overwhelmed with the amount to opportunity that could sprout from each acre. I have not even touched on the opportunities with livestock and the need for quality meats on the island.
Things will never stop growing in Haiti, this is the biggest truth of all and it became more apparent as my visits have spanned into the rainy season. Many people visit Haiti in winter to early spring, usually spanning November to March.
This is their dry season and it definitely looks like it. The countryside is brown, the town square has no grass, it's the peak of desolation to the naked eye, but in truth, it's merely plodding through it's cycle. Upon returning in late May, it had been raining everyday, the rolling countryside was now covered neatly with a vibrant mossy green and the rivers were running full. The town square had tall, thick blades of field grass, like the ones you'd pick to play a tune.
The roads were mucky and river pitted with no maintenance or gravel to drain the run off. Haiti is lush during the summer and with some care, consideration and training, can be restored to its previous glory through education and community teamwork. I'm convinced that anything is possible in a city of five million people with no traffic lights.
Haitian women are the hidden gem of the country. Haitian women are strong and silent when it comes to the daily plod of maintaining their standard. Clothes are washed and hung daily, food is prepared, water is hauled, then off to the market that is abuzz mostly women while the men are outside waiting for fares on moto taxis or working in the more industrial areas of town.
There are many industrious ladies on corners selling their tasty dishes and practical needs to those on the run. Again, looking at the culture as a whole, I come back to the conclusion that the Haiti people are more French than they are African.
Despite the history, despite the struggle and the economic injustice, the Haitian people elevate not only the language but also the culture. I see French influence that is more obvious in the men, but more deeply embedded in the women and less visible, making it even more true to its nature.
While researching Hawaii and its take over by the exploitative European colonists, I was struck by their affinity towards wearing the impossible clothing in such a sultry climate, it spoke nothing of the pain and suffering the native cultured endured at the hands of that very image.
This French influence has built an elegant woman, with a strong spirited and a soft spoken nature, I found it interesting and outright hilarious when the Haitian people refer to the Cubans as "loud."
The Haitian women have many talents that have yet to be fully founded and properly fostered into fruition. In working with them myself, they are problem solvers and are quite used to a balancing act as regular occurrence throughout their day of little modern convenience.
So I'm returning to Hinche at the end of the month as part three to my saga with no ending. So far, with the help of several amazing Haitian people and their families, I've identified an agricultural/educational community center for an underdeveloped neighborhood; helped them work towards making improvements to list a property an AirBnB that targets the NGO community; brought cucumbers, work clothing, machinery and ideas to a local farmer; introduced butchering at a professional level to produce product for upscale hotels and customers; established two libraries, one in town and one in the country. Whew! I've been busy.
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I am looking for partners in radio broadcasting, funding for well drilling and compost toilets.