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!

Becoming an International Teacher in Haiti

Wahoo Bay Boat Haiti

Six months ago, in August 2003, I moved to Haiti to become an international teacher. I got a lot of questions from friends and family back home; question like “What is Haiti like?” “What are the Haitian people like?” “Is it safe there?”. So I decided to start this travel blog to document my experiences. Read on to find out what this amazing island is like, and to follow my adventures there!

I mean, you can’t really beat this kind of weekend

What is Haiti like? Sleeping in Haiti is like sleeping at summer camp. At night it is hot but usually with a breeze. It is noisy. There is always a dog barking, which then sets off every other dog in the neighborhood, and roosters crowing. I thought roosters only crowed at dawn, but apparently they crow all night. Sometimes our generator or our neighbor’s generator is going, which is quite loud, but at least drowns out the sound of the dogs and roosters, and the occasional goat. If you’re really lucky you might get some city power at night (the provisional government is promising us six hours a day now….) but when the city power is on it makes our fans and other appliances hum, because the wattage is different (during the day you can tell when the city power is on because the lights are dimmer. But at least you can use the hair dryer and toaster oven then). At night sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night, sweating, because the power has gone off and the fans are off. You have to get up and go to the back yard and turn on the Delco, or just try to get back to sleep. Sleeping under my mosquito net always reminds me of a bride’s veil. Occasionally I try to tie it up in a knot and sleep without it, but the mosquitos always win.

No electricity, so we literally decided to sleep outside

In the morning, especially if there’s been rain at night, you can smell the morning like I remember from camp. It’s a nice, green, earthy smell. Haiti, in fact, smells best at six in the morning. But even at six, the streets are full of people walking to work, the tap-taps are running, and even the heavy trucks are heading down from the hills, full of gravel that has been mined from the mountains above us. The deforestation and strip-mining of the land here is devastating, and there’s constantly a need for more building materials. Almost no houses are made of lumber here; the wood supply ran out on Haiti decades ago (only 1% of the forests remain here) and even if there was trees, you can’t build a house with them that will last, because of the rot. The cement buildings are part of what makes Port-Au-Prince so ugly. The nicer buildings and churches are made of stone, which looks prettier. The concrete buildings are gray, plain, unpainted. Many of them are unfinished, lacking a roof or one wall.

In January, enjoying the nicer cool weather, we did some exploring around Petion-ville, including a local market. We also spent a lovely and cool weekend up at our friends’ mountain house in Kenscoff. We really lucked out by having the most wonderful and kind families from our school ‘adopt’ us international teachers by inviting us to their homes for dinners, or for weekends away. What a way to see the beauty of this country!

In early February, all of the international teachers traveled to Jacmel for Carnival weekend.  We went on an amazing hike to a waterfall called Bassin Bleu. The next day we watched the carnival itself, a Mardi Grad celebration full of dancers, papier- mâché animals, colorful paintings, and more.  It is truly something you have to see for yourself to understand in all its glory.

I’ll be updating this blog frequently over the next two years as I live and teach in Haiti. Click the “follow” button below to follow along and find out more about my adventures in Haiti- and beyond!