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!

From Jacmel to Cap Haitian, this island is a delight

What is it like being an international teacher? In a country that has no functioning government and a long history of fraud, corruption, and natural disasters? Well, things have been pretty crazy in Haiti since we returned from Christmas break. My classes are going well, although I am always so busy, trying to prep, teach, and grade so many different subjects and classes. I am also working on a lot of curriculum projects as well. But in between getting the generator filled up with diesel, flagging down the water truck to get our cistern filled, and trying (not) to listen to the political rumors that abound, we travel as much as we can, when it’s safe.

woman sipping coconut in Haiti
Linda’ at her beach house, Jacmel

My housemate Christy and I were invited by a work colleague to go visit her beach house in Jacmel for the weekend- it’s always a delight to visit the bustling town of Jacmel. A small pre-Carnival celebration was going on and it was fun to see the city getting ready to party it up.

For our longer Carnival break, Tom, Sue, Christy and I went up to Cape Haitian for a long weekend. We went to the Citadelle, the fortress built by Henri Christophe in 1804. Twenty thousands slaves worked to build the massive structure, as a defense against the French, whom the Haitians had recently liberated themselves from. From the top of the citadel, the Haitian “King of the North” could keep watch over the coastline and the valleys, protecting their island with 365 cannons that had been left behind. You can still see the piles of cannonballs at the fortress, and even Christophe’s body is entombed in his beloved fortress for all time, after he died in 1820. The Citadel was amazing- just breathtaking views and the walls of the fortress are so tall and straight! And of course, being Haiti, there were no fences, railing, or security perimeters around anything, so it was pretty scary walking around the top of those walls!

After visiting both the Citadel and San Souci Palace, we took a small boat to a guesthouse near Labadie Beach called “Norm’s”. It is the same harbor that the cruise ships use when they bring people to Haiti- we tried to sneak into their waterpark, which has bouncy water trampolines, jetskis, and other fun water toys, but no dice. We had a great time, though, relaxing on some little beaches and just walking around the tiny fishing village of Labadie. Unfortunately, towards the end of our weekend, Sue started feeling really sick. The village of Labadie is pretty small, and there was only one doctor around- a Cuban doctor volunteering his time in Haiti. There was no electricity in the village, so I had to grab a flashlight and ask a dozen people for directions to find the doctor, then drag him back to Norm’s guesthouse to see Sue. Her condition was very severe, so we wound up taking that same small boat back to Cap Haitian, and flying back to Port Au Prince, where she had to be admitted to the hospital and have surgery. (She’s doing fine now in case you were worried).

Since then, things in Haiti are getting pretty scary again….. a group of prisoners (including our former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune) broke out of the national prison and have been roaming around at large since then. Yes, once again, this sounds made up, but it’s not. Some very bad people broke into the house of a teacher we work with; they held her, her husband, and children hostage while they ransacked the house for money and weapons. That, and worse things have been happening, and a lot of people are beefing up their security. Our house staff Desinor wants to carry a gun. Hopefully things will get better soon, and not worse.

Since Sue was sick, I got to go with Marie to the recruiting fair in Canada- and I managed to route my flight through DFW so I could see friends and family while picking up my winter clothes. For our Spring Break, we are all planning to go to Cuba (there’s a weekly flight from Haiti), and later in April I am attending a work conference in Quito, Ecuador- I love the life of an international teacher!

Back to School in Haiti: Protests and More

Haiti Port au Prince Palace

Last night I dreamed I was running and kept feeling these little pinches on my body. I woke up in a pool of sweat and my hair drenched, and there were three mosquitoes inside my mosquito net feasting on me. It’s so amazingly, freakishly, disgustingly hot here right now. I’m averaging three showers a day and I’m still always hot.

Visiting the beach is the only way to cool off

We all arrived back in Haiti for the fall semester; me, Tom and Sue, and Christy. Pia, our newest international teacher, arrived, and they put her up at the Hotel Montana for the night (a good place to transition from the luxury of the US to the reality of Haiti). We got a half day off as the whole country took off for the Haiti-Brazil soccer game. Tom got a ticket to the game; the rest of us opted to watch it on the big screen at the Petionville Club so we could eat there and swim. It was a fun game to watch and although Haiti lost, there was a tremendous amount of support and welcoming for both teams. Haiti is so into soccer, and it was a really nice gesture on Brazil’s part to put this event into motion.

Deah, Pia, and Sue, ready for school to start!

To welcome our newest housemate, we went down to the Oloffson Hotel to see RAM (anyone who read The Comedians by Graham Greene, that is the hotel in the book). RAM is this really kicking Haitian band- featuring guitars, bongos, drums, and singing. They’ve opened for Jimmy Buffett in the past. Plus they have these three Haitian women dancers who do all the Haitian folklore dancing. It was also an ass-kicking 90 degrees inside the place. It was quite a workout and we were super sweaty when we got home at 2:30 am. But it was really fun and I’m glad we finally got to go.

Sweating just makes you burn more calories, right?

We have a much larger student body at Union School this year; we dropped our tuition to try to bring in more kids. I’m happy with my class load this year; I am teaching 8th English and 8th US History, and 9th English and 9th World History. Since I taught three of those last year, I am hoping this year will be a little easier on me. Although I have to admit, just getting through August was a challenge. I’d go to the gym and it would feel like I was going to pass out because it was so hot (imagine 24 Hour Fitness with no a/c). Just when you get a good rhythm going, WHAM! The electricity cuts off and you go flying off the front end of the treadmill. It’s actually quite funny to watch, but not so funny when it happens to you.

In the weeks after Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne hit, things got pretty bad in Port-Au-Prince. There was a lot of protesting and rioting, and looting in the port area. Customs was closed for a month straight, so we didn’t get any of the textbooks we ordered. Earlier in the month several policemen were beheaded, and their funerals were last week. Aside from the police, it’s estimated that up to 50 or 60 people have died in shootings and protests downtown.

Armed security at the local convenience store

As rumors swirled of targeting Americans to kidnap or kill, we canceled the hash two weeks ago and had a barbecue at our house instead. The Marines and other groups felt like it wasn’t safe to have a large international group of runners cruising around town. The embassy and some other personnel have curfews. As teachers, we aren’t restricted by our jobs. So we had a barbecue and about 15 people came over and we all had a good time.

dancing outside on the terrace pink house
3 am dance party!

Several of us managed to get together to watch some of the US Presidential debates. Some Haitians are for Bush because they see him as the one responsible for getting Aristide out, but others blame him because he didn’t do it sooner. Some say if Kerry is elected he will bring Aristide back (because Kerry is a Democrat and so was Clinton, who reinstated Aristide the first time). This past week Kerry addressed a group of Haitians in Florida and spoke in French, and said he had a plan for Haiti, but he didn’t quite state what that plan is. It is said that the demonstrations going on downtown have been financed by Aristide and the Lavalas party, in an attempt to influence the American elections in November.

The situation in Port-Au-Prince got worse and school was cancelled for four days. We’re not really sure at this point if we’ll have to make up those days, but the general consensus is that we will miss more before the end of the year. The UN and several embassies ordered the departure of all non-essential personnel, meaning wives and children, and we have lost five students so far.

Haitians protesting near the presidential palace

The past week has been uneventful but many people still have a curfew. We couldn’t have a hash again on Saturday so we had a pool party and bbq at some embassy people’s house. I went out late last night to Barak, a night club in Petionville, and when I walked in there was about 200 Brazilian and Chilean UN guys, and about 7 women. I was literally the only American girl there. Oh, Haiti. Such fun.

Hash House Harriers

Five more days of work and then we have a long weekend off for All Souls’ and All Saints’ Days. And of course, my birthday! I can’t believe I’ll be 29!

We close out our first year of international teaching in Haiti

We finished the last week of school and had a MONSTER party at our house. We invited over 50 Hashers and other international friends, plus the entire staff of the school. Luckily we international teachers have a HUGE house and a great front yard and balcony. Some of our friends will be here when we come back in August, some will have moved on. Everyone had a great time and we finally kicked the last few people out at 4:30 am and went to bed. We had a very odd mix, ranging from people our age from around the world, to our bosses from work, and even some of our students’ parents that we are good friends with! The Marines showed up around midnight and brought their enormous sound system with them. Super fun.

Tom and Deah end of year
Tom and Deah, at our end of year blowout

The next week we spent packing up our classrooms and getting signed out at school. We discussed the possibility of us all moving out of our house and into some apartments, but when we went and looked at them we all said no. Our house is pretty cool, with the exception of not having a pool and having to live with four other teachers. But the apartments, while we would each have our own, were just not in a good area and not very nice. Besides, after our party, everyone knows where our house is now and we won’t have to give directions next time. Giving directions in Haiti is super hard because not every street actually has a name.

Union School Promotion 2004 cake
Senior Graduation Dinner

On Thursday most of the city shut down for a holiday. Did you know that June 10 is God’s Birthday? I kid you not. It’s celebrated all over Haiti and some other Latin American countries. The banks and stores and restaurants were closed. There were processions out in front of the churches and chalk drawings and flowers on the streets. How can God have a birthday? We all really questioned our Haitian friends on this one but they all looked at us like we were crazy for not knowing about God’s birthday.

We all headed out to Wahoo Beach Resort and stayed there for the weekend. I took a Scuba Diver Certification course at Wahoo Bay Resort. That kept me busy Saturday and Sunday, and Tom, Sue, and Maluschka all left Sunday evening and I stayed out at the beach on Monday and Tuesday and finished my class. They have this amazing coral reef out there called Îles des Arcadin- and it’s only 6-10 feet underwater. It’s beautiful. Good place for snorkelers too.

group at dinner at Wahoo Bay Haiti
Dinner at Wahoo Bay

I’ve been getting a lot of emails about the flooding here- we’re fine in our area of the country. We’ve had rain, normal per the rainy season, but not as bad as in the fall. In the fall we really had a lot of debris washed down from the mountains and I remember there was a huge wall that piled up in front of our school that one day actually had a dead dog in it. That was gross. This spring hasn’t had as much stuff washed down. But it’s been very bad in the south part of Haiti and the part that is near the Dominican Republic. They are thinking the death toll is up to 2,000 and they haven’t counted all the bodies. I saw on the news the other day that they are spraying chemicals from helicopters to counteract the decomposing bodies. Gross. The road was washed out so there is no way to get in or out of that area except by air. I guess they will have to rebuild the road soon. In addition, we’ve had a couple of small earthquakes in the area. I don’t know how bad they were in surrounding areas, but they didn’t seem to cause any damage in the capital. I felt the first one at school; we thought at first it was kids running across the third floor. But it turned out to be a minor quake.

rain in haiti boy plays in water

On Saturday our boys basketball team played in the National Finals. It was in downtown Port-Au-Prince (pretty scary area) and it was televised on national tv. Our boys came in second place and got a trophy. The Prime Minister’s wife was there and handed out the trophies. We had a good turnout, several teachers and parents and other students came to the game (with the requisite number of bodyguards and security, of course). The only bad thing was that it was amazingly hot. This had to be the hottest weekend I’ve had in Haiti so far. We thought we were just going to die sitting at that game. I was really glad I brought my hat and wore sunscreen (spf 30).

The political situation seems to be improving lately. In the past couple of weeks they’ve indicted and arrested some big time ex-leaders. Aristide has left Jamaica and gone to South Africa, but the opposition party there is questioning why South Africa is granting him asylum and who is paying for it. In fact, there is a pool going around the city right now about when he will be indicted and arrested. You can pick a date for twenty five gourdes– just be smart and don’t sign your last name. We’ve also been getting more electricity lately. We all noticed that we had city power going on at various times throughout the weekend, and I heard it switch over this morning. The fan in my bedroom sounds different when we’re on city power. Everyone at work says “Oh, isn’t it great, they’re giving us more power”, but as Sue pointed out, they don’t really give us power. We actually pay the same bill every month, whether we have electricity or not. Can you imagine in the United States if TXU sent you out a bill every month whether they were supplying your house or not? And here, of course, there’s only one company, and you keep paying every month in the hopes that you’ll get five, six, ten hours a month to help out with your diesel generator and your inverter batteries. It’s so bizarre.

Tom tries to get the generator running again