If the sea level continues to rise at the current rate, the Maldives will be the first country to cease to exist due to climate change. At 2.4 meters, it has the lowest high point in the world. Made up of over 1200 islands grouped over 26 atolls, it is the smallest country in Asia by both population and landmass. It is the first country in the world to aim to be carbon neutral by 2020, and tourism and “green taxes” provide a large source of income for the islands, which have seen tourism numbers double over the past ten years. Even with the threat of rising sea levels, there is still quite a lot of economic a activity going on here, such as skyscrapers being built, artificial islands being created, and metals being mined.
Chris and I spent the week before Christmas on the island of Sao Tome. We had a wonderful vacation- it was so great to get out of Angola! During our week on the island, Chris got his diving certification at Club Maxel Dive Center, we stayed at some really nice hotels, and we also stayed in a little hut down on the beach. Very secluded and very hidden! I’m not telling the name here because I want it to stay hidden!
We rented a car and drove all over the island, which is pretty small, and enjoyed several meals and drinks at Café e Companha, also known as MJ’s, a little expat hang out in the downtown. We also visited the Claudio Carallo chocoalate factory. We stayed the last 3 days at a nice hotel right on the beach, and while we were there we met some really nice people- one of them invited us to his house one night for an awesome South African braii (barbecue).
We ate at a fabulous old plantation, Roca Săo Joăo dos Angolares, that is now owned by a Portuguese chef and had the best meal… ever.
I think Chris’s favorite part of the trip was when we rented a small boat from some fishermen and boated over to the small island “Ilhéu das Rolas” that has the equator running through it. We beached the boat and climbed up a hill to the point where the “actual” imaginary line runs through the island.
Sao Tome is a really, really beautiful place. Like Angola, they were originally a Portuguese colony, so a lot of people there speak Portuguese, but also a kind of English creole. Dotted throughout the island are tons of old Portuguese plantation houses that have been abandoned since the Portuguese left in 1975. Some people are starting to reclaim those houses and are turning them into eco-lodges, hotels, and restaurants. I think Sao Tome is a place that would be really cool to visit again in ten years. I had a great time and it was a wonderful way to spend Christmas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.