A Return Visit to Haiti

four colorful deck chairs overlooking ocean

I took a short trip to Haiti this weekend to visit friends on the island.  I can’t believe it’s been ten years since I moved to Haiti to teach- ten years since I moved overseas!  So I hopped on an American Airlines jet and went to visit Monica and Andy, my second family.

M&A have turned their lovely home into an 8 room bed and breakfast, which is just beautiful.  I got to sleep in the same room I often slept in, so it really felt like home.  They’ve made some awesome additions to the place, but the vista of the bay of Port au Prince is still as beautiful as ever (PaP always looks better from a distance).  We spent the first day and night up in Pacot and in Petionville, having lunch at Papaye and seeing how Petionville has and has not changed since the earthquake and with more development coming to Haiti.  After a lovely dinner- with plenty of wine, of course-, we were all tired and ready for bed.

On Saturday morning we went to the municipal airport and took a 30 minute flight to Cap Haitian, flying over the Citadel on the way.  We landed, and half an hour later we were at the beach house, changing into our suits.  The property is just beautiful, with sandy beaches, an old French fort dating back to the late 1700’s, and a lovely high deck that shows off a great panorama.

We swam, jet skied, and drank lots of rosé wine.  Too much of all three!  It was fun to ride the jet ski and go by Norm’s Place, where I stayed years ago, and Labadee, the port for Royal Carribbean, and spend a few hours at a tiny island, just playing in the warm ocean.We hunted sea glass and visited with some daughters of their workers who were having their First Communion.

On Monday morning it was time to fly back to the capital.  I was pretty much ready to leave the beach, as I was sunburnt and tired.  We went shopping in town, to pick up some Barbancourt rum and spicy peanut butter, and after a final lunch of my favorite Haitian dish- sauce poids and rice– I headed back to home.  My other home.

Backpacking the Caribbean Islands of Guadelupe, Dominica, and Martinique

girls standing in front of the Green Diamond in Martinique

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Well, although it seemed like it would never happen, school finally ended. Lisa and I went to the airport, making sure we got there in PLENTY OF TIME (didn’t want any repeats of Spring Break experience). We got on the plane and before we knew it, we were in Port-au-Pitre, Guadelupe, at the airport, with no idea where we were staying! Yeah, neither Lisa nor I did a lot of planning on this one.

The lady at the tourist office at the airport recommended a cheap hotel for us, and we got a cab. We spent the next three days exploring Guadelupe. We walked around some beaches, and visited a little artisan craft village. Unfortunately it was off-season, so a lot of stuff was closed. On our second day there we rented a car and drove all around. There are a lot of surf camps on the northeast side of the island. I think it would be really cool to go to one of those for a month or so, learn how to surf.

Anyway, we rented a car and drove all around, visiting a rain forest, a waterfall, and some hot-water springs. We went to coffee plantation- mmmmm. Our last night there we went to a big reggae concert, where Shaggy was the headliner. Unfortunately, the crowd got totally out of hand and the concert was shut down. But, surprisingly, we saw Shaggy and his whole crew the next day- they were on our airplane to.

We did get to talk to the guys in the band on the flight- it was one of those tiny, 25 seaters- but they were staying in Antigua and we were going on to Dominica. I think it was my favorite of the three islands. Our first day, we bussed over to Portsmouth and stayed there for a night. We found a cheap little guest house and walked up to Fort Shirley and visited there. I really liked looking at the fort, it was like something out of an old movie. You could just imagine the French or the British or the Spanish there. We met a local, Kevin, and he recommended a great place for dinner. He and his friend met us there and gave us a lot of interesting history of the place.

The next day, Kevin’s friend, Randolph, took us on a boat ride up the Indian River. He pointed out some places where Pirates of the Caribbean 2 were filmed. Very interesting flora and fauna there. Our “guide” was really knowledgeable. He pointed out all kinds of different birds and fish and trees.

That afternoon we bussed over to 3 Rivers Ecolodge. This is a really cool place. Anyone interested in going to Dominica should really check out this place- www.3riversdominica.com.  They have cabins, huts, and even tree houses you can stay in! Lisa and I had a great time there. Beautiful scenery, wonderful people, and plenty to do around there. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better swim than in the bathing pool where two of the three rivers meet.

We spent three days at 3 Rivers. We hiked, swam, saw baby turtles in the sand, ate mangoes and bananas and pineapple and coconut. The food there was wonderful, and all made right there. The cook made tablette, a coconut-type of fudge, for all of us. It was really fun, finding fresh-water streams and following them until they empty into the ocean, and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking.

But at last it was time to leave Dominica, and we headed off one more time to Martinique. Martinique was different from the other islands- very French. We stayed in the capital, Fort-de-France, at the cheapest little hotel imaginable. Lisa and I really outdid ourselves on this one. We had a good time walking around the little capital, kind of like walking around the French Quarter- small paved streets and lots of bars and cafes and shops. So nice to be able to have an espresso and pain au chocolate for breakfast. The water was beautiful, and we took a ferry over to Anse-de-Bout, where all the resorts are. Amazing beaches over there, and we got some laying around in the sun time.

One day we rented a car and drove all around the island. We visited St. Pierre, where the volcano Mt. Pelee erupted in 1902 and killed everyone there (except one guy who was in jail, survived, was pardoned, and later went and toured with Barnum & Bailey circus). Seeing the old town was really neat. We drove up almost to the top of Mt. Pelee. We also visited a rum distillery- very cool. We saw Green Diamond rock, a stunning rock out in the ocean, just off the coast. Wow, such amazing vegetation and water, what a great combination. We even got to visit Trois Ilets, the little town where Josephine was born, who would one day become Empress of France.

It seemed to come too soon, but sure enough, it eventually came time to go home. After a small fiasco at the airport- we, ahem, missed our flight back to Haiti, and had to take a hasty flight to Puerto Rico. From there, Lisa went back to Haiti to see Vlad and pack some stuff for us, and I got a ticket from Puerto Rico to DFW. All in all, I’d say it was a fantastic vacation, and I’d recommend those islands to anyone who wants to tour the Caribbean. One word of advice- check the ferry schedule first, and don’t plan on flying with Lisa- she’s very bad luck at airports!

We show off Haiti to our visiting friends, and more elections

fishing boat Haiti blue water

March was a difficult month at work. The teachers at the other house were having roommate problems, and things escalated to the point where one of them was fired. As she taught US and World History, my favorite two classes, I volunteered to take her two classes and get rid of my sixth grade English classes, who are little monsters. I did manage to get away for a beach weekend with Chris at Kaliko, and that helped, as it was quite nice.

Kaliko Beach Resort Haiti
Deah at Kaliko Resort

Lisa’s parents, and then Pia’s mom and sister, came down to visit us and had a wonderful time. I was starting to feel pretty lonely so I managed to talk Hunter into coming down for the last weekend in March. He agreed, and we had a whirlwind long weekend tour of Haiti! He arrived, and Chris picked him up from the airport. They met us at the Montana Hotel for drinks, then went to Monica and Andy’s house for drinks and dinner. Later that night we all went out in Petionville to Boucane, MacDoo’s, and Barak.

On Saturday we got up pretty early to drive out to Jean Marc’s beach house. That evening we drove up to Monica’s mountain house to spend the night and have a relaxing Sunday. Along the way we had lots of rum punches, more than one wahoo, bought a live chicken (that was pretty damn funny), and generally had a good time. But I was exhausted by the time he left on Monday!

My homeroom had to sponsor school-wide Easter activities, and that added to the extra class I was teaching, was really starting to take its toll on me. Still recovering from Hunter’s visit, and only four days back at work before I had to leave to go home for Amber’s wedding. Stupid American Airlines cancelled our last flight out of the day, so I had to leave Friday morning, and I got home too late for the rehearsal. I did, however, make it to the dinner, and Amber was so happy to see me. Saturday was her wedding, and by the time that was all over, I was exhausted to the point of not being able to do anything else. I spent all Sunday in bed, and was supposed to fly back to Haiti on Monday. But I just couldn’t do it. Exhaustion, a sinus infection, thoughts of Easter activities…. Combined together, I couldn’t face it. I changed my flight to Wednesday and stayed home an extra two days, in bed, trying to get well again.

Deah and Amber, wedding day

In April, Lisa and I were supposed to leave for our Spring Break adventure, a trip to Guadalupe, Martinique, and Dominica. Her boyfriend Vlad picked us up for the airport- an hour late. About half way there, his car broke down. We grabbed a tap-tap and headed the rest of the way to the airport, but our flight was just about to leave and it was too late for us. We changed our tickets to June and we’ll go on our adventure then. For this week, we decided to just plan small fun things for this area. We went to the beach with Tom and Sue and their new baby Jordan, and yesterday we went up to The Lodge and had a long lunch. My friend Yves, who works for a USAID program, asked if I could be UN election observer for the Senatorial elections on Friday. It all turned out pretty interesting.

Before we knew it, the school year was winding down. Tom and Sue are heading to Kuwait for their next teaching job, and I’m going to Nicaragua. Lisa is staying in Haiti another year, and Chris is going to Africa. It was sad saying farewell at the last hashes of the year, but we’re all excited to see what the next adventures bring us. Stay tuned to see what life is like in Nicaragua!

Finally- elections in Haiti, and a vacation to Jamaica

Haitians jump in pool at hotel Montana in Haiti

Haiti continues down its path of general destruction, and we continue our lives here. Elections were scheduled for October, then November, then December, then January, and now for February 7th. The list of candidates has been narrowed down to 35 or so. The kidnappings continue and UN peacekeepers are still being killed as well. We had a strike day in January, and it happened peacefully, but with no visible results. After two high-profile kidnappings over Christmas break (one of them a Union School mom), some of our families have left Haiti with their kids and gone to Miami. We hosted a baby shower for Sue, who will be leaving for Miami soon to have her baby.

On the day of the election, February 7th, I went with Monica and her friend to watch them vote. I felt like since I was here during all the protests against the former government, and living in Haiti during the two years of the interim government, and I really wanted to witness the election process. We got to the election site around noon and stood in line for almost two hours. At last both Monica and Diggan had voted in what we hope will be a fair and free election.

We knew it would be several days before the election results were tallied and announced, so we went back to work on Thursday and Friday. By Friday afternoon there were already rumors and reports of election fraud, and the next week seemed as though it might be dangerous. Lisa and I were alone in the house and stayed pretty close to home that weekend. On Monday morning we drove to work, but as soon as we got there we learned that they had just cancelled school. We took one of our students home, encountering several road blocks- one at the top of Petionville, blocking the route up to Kenscoff, one at the bottom, blocking the road down to Delmas, and one on L’Ouverture. We figured there were probably road blocks on Canape Vert as well. Petionville is a small place and it’s not hard to block the city off. We drove around and got some photos.

The next day, nearly a thousand Haitians decided to march up to the Hotel Montana, where Desmond Tutu was staying and where one of the counting centers for the vote tallying was set up. They overpowered the gate and jumped in the pool, but for the most part it was peaceful. There were some great pictures in the news of the crowd at the gate, in the pool, and Desmond Tutu speaking from his balcony. Later a UN helicopter came in and evacuated him. In other parts of Port-au-Prince, some rioting and demonstrations left one dead.

Lisa and I decided to go down to Chris’s house and stay there. We knew we wouldn’t have school for most of the next week. We packed up some bedding and food (seeing as how Chris’s house is totally empty), and drove down to Pacot. It was raining and extremely dark outside- no street lights. Along the way we passed through five fairly nasty road blocks on Canape Vert- burned out cars, small trees dragged across the road, other debris. But we were able to get around them.

We spent Monday night down at Pacot and the next day Chris tried to go to work. Lisa and I stayed at his house, made breakfast, worked out, and laid out by the pool. Chris got halfway to the embassy and had to turn back. We had a good time but we were a bit worried about dinner- all Chris had was ravioli and dumplings. We called Monica and begged her to take pity on us, which of course she did.

Chris was able to go in to work late on Wednesday, and the embassy told them all to go home early. Protestors were still blocking the streets, demanding that the votes be counted so that Preval could win by 50% plus one. He seemed to be hovering around 49%. Then on Wednesday a bunch of ballots was mysteriously found down at a dump by some reporters. Were they for Preval? Were they fakes? Was it fraud? No one seemed to know.

The week dragged by and we didn’t go to school on Thursday. However, at 3:00 that morning, the group that was counting the ballots declared that Preval had won the required number of votes and was President. Within an hour raucous ra-ra bands were out in the streets, singing and playing their horns and drums. By Thursday afternoon the streets were clearing up, and we were able to go to the grocery store and get some groceries and water and go out to eat at Fiore di Latte. We probably could have gone to work on Friday, but the board voted to keep us all home one more day.

One week back at school, and then it was time for Carnival Break. Although I had just had five days off of work, I was more than ready to get on that plane and head for Jamaica with Chris. Out of Haiti at last!  Margaritaville, jerked pork, ATV riding…. Jamaica rocks!

New Teachers New Friends New Travels in Haiti

friends in the water at wahoo bay haiti

The new school year- and my last in Haiti- starts with a bang! We got a new housemate, Lisa, as well as another whole house full of ex-pat teachers! Five new teachers who now live together, plus the five at our house. We introduced them to our friends around Petionville, including our friend Rafael (who took Jonathan’s place at the sugar company), Jean Marc (a cousin of Monica’s who has returned to Haiti to run a family construction business), Chris (works at the embassy), and a few others.  We’ve been hashing a couple of times, including a hash by the dump, where they are building the new embassy, as well as a couple around Pacot, where Jean Marc, Chris, and Rafael live.

A few new clubs have opened up, including a Lebanese restaurant called MacDoo’s -great food and hookah pipes- and we still go dancing at Club Barak, and Boucane Gregoire has a nice outdoor atmosphere.  Tom goes with us a lot, although Sue has been staying home more, as she is pregnant!  We also sometimes see Fran, Melissa, and Kasson and Olivia, the teachers at the Juvenat house.  Malushcka and other hashers are sometimes seen at Boucane, and meeting up at Resto Bar St. Pierre has that “almost home” feeling of the neighborhood bar. On Wednesdays I tutor two of my students and have dinner with their parents, and I’ve been spending more time at the Petionville Club– a cute boy I like is often there. Pia and I bought a car together, so suddenly we are a lot more mobile!

In October, me, Lisa, Jean Marc, Pia, and Chris went to Jean Marc’s beach house to stay for a weekend.  There was a beach concert out at Club Kaliko and that was pretty fun.  It was great visiting the beach and eating all kinds of fresh seafood.

For my birthday I went to the beaches in the Dominican Republic for a really short (24 hour!) All Saint’s holiday.  We all spent Thanksgiving vacation at my number one vacation spot:  Andy and Monica’s mountain house.  It was a fabulous meal and a wonderful, relaxing weekend, although it was also sad, as this was the first holiday without Hans Peter.  While visiting one of the beaches in October, he apparently contracted malaria, and he died in early November, quite unexpectedly.  It has been a very sad time for Ingrid, Hans Ryan, and Verenna.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Chris, going to different functions.  There was a UN party at La Reserve (ironically, right on our own street), which I wound up attending.  We have also been to a UN photography exhibit of our acquaintance Sophie’s, and a dinner and awards ceremony at the Pakistani UN camp.  It’s been really interesting to see the military side of Haiti. Lisa and I went to the Marine Ball and danced it up all evening.

I decided to split my Christmas holiday between home and Haiti- I went to Íle-á-Vache with Chris for a few days, then home for Christmas. I’ll be heading back to Haiti to spend the New Year’s Eve- there’s going to be a big concert and party at the Oloffson Hotel and RAM is playing!