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!