Life in Fondwa

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fr. Albert McKnight Posted by Picasa

Tales of travel and teaching

Thursday, September 22, 2005

These past week or so has been eventful and productive. I spent last Tuesday and Wednesday in Port-au-Prince working with Fr. Joseph and the group that is arranging internships for our University students. On Tuesday I had a long afternoon session of troubleshooting and problem solving with Fr. Joseph at his home, which inevitably led to more work to be done in Fondwa. Fr. McKnight, a 78 year-old Spiritan priest from the US who has decided to retire to Fondwa, arrived that day and had lunch with us. On Wednesday I worked at the APF office and visited SUCO, a Canadian NGO, with Anne and Laurent, a French couple who have lived in Fondwa for two years. The three of us caught an afternoon bus back to Fondwa; the 2-hour drive took about 4 due to ‘technical difficulties,’ but we were happy to be back in one piece. I spent the night at Anne and Laurent’s house in Tomb Gato, where I lived during my time here in 2003. While we were descending the mountain the next day, a powerful thunderstorm rushed across the valley and overtook us before we could reach the APF Center (see the photo above). We were fortunate enough to take refuge in a friend’s house along the road before the worst of the storm hit.

On Sunday I visited Léogane to promote a two-month English conversation class that I will be offering in October and November. During the course I will leave Fondwa Thursday and stay in Léogane through Saturday, teaching on Thursday and Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Wednesday I started classes at l’Ecole St. Antoine, the APF’s school in Fondwa. I’m teaching Wednesday and Thursday mornings, 7th grade and 9th grade. On the weekends I also have an hour-long conversation class with the novitiates I live with, and there is no shortage of people asking for more lessons. Once the University students start their internships in October, I will be visiting them with another professor to evaluate their work. At that time, my schedule will officially be chok-a-blok full.

For now, I find I have a fair amount of time to read, relax, and spend time with people. I have become particularly fond of Djet and Julie, a pair of 2 year-old orphans who are too young to live in the orphanage, so they live in the APF Center with one of the sisters. They are together 100% of the time, and know few words other than each others’ name. Djet is especially fond of having his picture taken. He knows I’m taking his picture when the initial flash on my camera goes off, so in each photo he is squealing with glee at the flash that went off a moment before. Julie is less fond of pictures, but is starting to pick up on my name and the fact that my lanky frame makes for an excellent jungle gym.

The coming week will bring many English lessons, a friend’s one-year marriage anniversary party, trips to Léogane and Port-au-Prince, a meeting with USAID, and an over-night stay with a group that does cultural diversity training.

Sr. Carmelle and Missy Posted by Picasa

A Community Celebration

Friday, September 30, 2005

Last week brought the 43rd birthday of Sr. Carmelle Voltaire, the director of the guest center where I live. She spent most of the week in a contemplative, near-brooding state that often accompanies the passing of another year, but her personality emerged in full form on the evening of her birthday party. She donned an impressive African gown for the event, which she had received as a gift in the United States. By nightfall the whole neighborhood had caught wind of the buzz that surrounds a celebration in Haiti. When fetching water, dealing with illness, and amassing the basic necessities of life take up so much of one’s time, celebration takes on a whole new meaning of release from the daily concerns of life. Simply put, Haitians know how to party.

Whereas dinner around here is usually a bit of oatmeal or some re-heated spaghetti, Sr. Carmelle’s birthday spread consisted of an impressive display of mounds of rice and beans, crispy fried chicken, deep-fried plantains with a spicy vegetable garnish, a colorful assortment of vegetables, sweet potatoes, Haitian-style french fries, and the deep-red sauce that goes with everything. The celebration was begun with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday in French, English, Spanish, and a Creole-English mélange, along with a champagne toast led by Ciné, Fondwa’s elder statesman. I was a bit surprised at the champagne, what with being in rural Haiti and all, until I realized that one bottle split amongst 30 people makes it more of a symbolic gesture than anything else. After the toast there was a long prayer and tribute to Sr. Carmelle, who strikes a large figure in the community because of her role in the guest center, the health clinic she runs, and the religious order she takes co-responsibility for. A young man at the event who happened to have the same birthday as Sr. Carmelle then took the opportunity to thank everyone to coming to his party, “even if I didn’t have time to invite you,” to the delight of the crowd.

The evening was topped off with a delicious home-made birthday cake and the rare treat of Haiti’s best (and, as far as I know, only) beer, Prestige. I took my Prestige with a bit of Coke, as per the local custom. It sounds strange, but a concoction with carbonation, sugar, and alcohol makes for a great birthday beverage. The sisters each have their own approach to alcohol, with some modestly abstaining while others indulge in the temporary freedom provided by the party. One sister, Myrlande, went so far as to offer a beer to the guest center’s pair of resident 2 year-olds, Djet and Julie. They not only accepted, but insisted on finished it to the last drop. I couldn’t quite tell later in the evening if their stumbling was a result of the Prestige or their limited motor skills. My American sensibilities aside, perhaps it’s only fair that everyone, young and old, escape through celebration from time to time.

Missy with a new-born triplet. Posted by Picasa

Drive-Through Market

Friday, September 30, 2005

Last Sunday the sisters and I left Fondwa for a week-long retreat in Port-au-Prince. We rented our own tap-tap, not for the comfort but because we just had that much stuff. We stocked up the truck with enough food and clothing for the week, and on our way to the city we did the rest of our shopping in Haiti’s drive-through market.

In Haiti, 90% of people survive by selling something. There are two great challenges associated with this way of making a living: no one has the money to buy anything, and there is no place to sell either. What results is the Haitian open-air market, where most economic activity takes place. Almost everything is sold in very small quantities, because most Haitians live literally day-to-day. Water is sold in small plastic bags for 2 Gourdes (US$1=43 HT Gourdes); Magi, cubes of seasoning used to make chicken broth, come in packs of 5, but are sold individually for 1 Gourde; you can buy one piece of chalk from a pack, or even half. Day by day.

The marketplace is also mobile. As we drove through Port-au-Prince, we did our shopping during the hour-long traffic jam we found ourselves in. A call to the side of the road brought a selection of buttons to the back of the tap-tap for our perusal. When stopping for gas, we picked up some friend plantains and fried pig fat (well, the others did). A larger purchase was a bag of “America’s finest super-fancy long grain rice,” which dominates the rice market here because Haitian production is so low and uncompetitive. Some sugarcane helped pass the time. Some new headphones replaced a broken pair. A newspaper filled me in on the country’s latest political developments. All without stepping foot in the market.

Our final purchase was a bag to put all of our other purchases in, naturally. Sr. Simone saw an older woman selling bags by the side of the road and called out “Pssssst,” the Haitian version of ‘hey you!’ Belying her advanced age, the woman took off on a sprint, avoiding other cars and the garbage in the street in her bare feet, and nimbly hopped aboard our truck. Sr. Simone referred to her as “my aunt” as they began to barter, the preferred means of exchange for most all transactions. As the bartering heated up, Sr. Simone changed to calling her “dear,” until finally she arrived at her final price and said “take it or leave it lady.” The sisters may be gentle souls, but they’re not about to get taken in Haiti’s drive-through market.

Claudette and Melicia. Posted by Picasa

Retreat in Port-au-Prince

Friday, September 30, 2005

I have spent this whole week in Port-au-Prince with Sr. Carmelle and Sr. Simone, who together are responsible for the Sisters of St. Anthony of Fondwa, and Claudette and Melicia, two novices who will make their preliminary vows on October 4th.

I have been translating for Fr. McKnight, an African-American Spiritan priest from Brooklyn who is leading them on retreat. Fr. McKnight arrived in Haiti just two weeks ago, after deciding to retire to Fondwa at the tender age of 78 years old. He may be getting up there, but his spiritual energy is electrifying, and his sermons on the relationship between the spiritual and material world, the need to know yourself, and even the spiritual consequences of quantum physics are always engaging.

Translating personal reflections has been no problem, but putting the wisdom of esteemed theologian Ronald Neibuhr or the philosophical insights of scientist Max Plank into Creole (on the spot no less) has my head spinning. At least I know that after spending a week with these deeply spiritual people I can’t help but have a bit of positive energy rub off on me.

Hey, that smells almost like...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

On Saturday I accompanied Missy, the other American volunteer in Fondwa, to Jacmel, where she had some mail to pick up. Jacmel is a cozy town by the sea with some impressive colonial-era architecture, a thriving arts scene, and many beautiful beaches. I usually have a relaxing and enjoyable experience when I go to Jacmel; this time, I got more than I bargained for.

After trekking up the mountain to Anbatwanel, Missy and I climbed aboard an already fully-loaded bus heading for the Southern coast. A warm day becomes even warmer when there are that many bodies stacked on top of each other, and the bus was by no means immune to day’s hot sun. When a group of young men started running after the bus flailing their arms, the driver caught on that something was wrong. As he pulled over to the side of the road, an all-consuming pungent smell enveloped the bus; it smelled almost like… burning tires. The bus’s left rear tire was in flames, and there was a stampede to escape out the back door. I managed to get out by flowing with the tide of frightened passengers.

The driver stepped down to take in the situation, and determined that the wheel wasn’t doing so bad. After all, it was now only smoking, not flaming. He decided to give it a go, and there was another stampede to get back on the bus as it started to move again. Not being Haitian, I didn’t have the killer instinct necessary to force my way through the crowd of people amassed at the back entrance; even though there was room enough for everyone in the bus, people were staying near the exit in case of another emergency. The bus picked up speed, and I ran after it day pack and all, finally managing to jump on the back bumper and cling to the roof for dear life. It wasn’t so inconvenient in the end, because, predictably, the tire started burning just a bit down the road. Missy and I decided to walk to rest of the way, convinced by the second burst of flames that staying with the bus was not going to lead to a relaxing and enjoyable experience.

Friends Danny Richter and Eliber walking by the beach in 2003. Posted by Picasa

The new members of the Sisters of St. Anthony of Fondwa. Posted by Picasa

What a spread! Posted by Picasa

Fr. Joseph and Fr. McKnight. Posted by Picasa

The meaning of homemade

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Tuesday brought an occasion that the Sisters have been looking forward to for months. Sister Melicia and Sister Claudette took their temporary vows, the first two novices to do so in the newly-founded Sisters of St. Anthony of Fondwa. It has been nine years since Fr. Joseph founded the congregation, and after a few false starts the community finally has its first full members.

The ceremony took place in the St. Anthony Church, 10 minutes down the road from the APF Center. Guests came from all over Haiti, including a number of sisters, brothers, priests, and foreign missionaries. All told there were about 300 participants, all converging on the tiny village of Fondwa in the remote mountain valley two hours south of Port-au-Prince.

Though they don’t have many material resources, the Sisters pulled out all the stops for this grand occasion. The church was beautifully decorated with flowers and ribbons, and six older gentlemen sported colorful hand-crafted “Welcome” signs to greet the invitees. The greatest production was the reception that followed, during which 300 people were served a full meal of beans and rice, turkey, goat, fried plantains, eggplant à la Française, salad, french fries, and popcorn. The popcorn seemed a bit out of place to me, but it’s a sort of delicacy because they prepare it so rarely. Another small touch was yellow mustard, which didn’t really go with anything but made the event just a bit more fancy. Everything, and I mean everything, came down to the last minute (in true Haitian style), but somehow it all came together and everyone seemed to enjoy the feast.

The whole ordeal was capped off by not one but four impressive cakes. In the two days that I observed the baking of these cakes (that’s right, a full two days), I came to a new understanding of the term ‘homemade.’ The process included hours of beating the butter, sugar, milk, eggs, flower, and rum in a large tub with a flat stick, then cooking each cake one-by-one in a small oven, and finally decorating them elegantly with an improvised icing. After participating for just a few minutes in the beating stage, I have half a mind to write Betty Crocker about how she mislabels her products as homemade. I now know that homemade means that you hurt after you bake it, and the only remedy is the sweet taste of the final product. And oh, how sweet it was.

Herault Beauvais Posted by Picasa

Hérault Beauvais

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hérault Beauvais, a native of Fondwa, serves as the APF’s Fondwa-Port-au-Prince liaison. He was born 33 years ago in his family’s humble dirt floor home, the youngest of three children. After completing his primary school in Fondwa, Hérault went to Port-au-Prince for secondary school, beginning a long voyage of education, training, and work that continues to this day.

During his secondary studies he sought to augment his education with practical training through two-year courses of study in auto mechanics and men’s apparel. After receiving his high school degree, he undertook two years of study in accounting. He then had the chance to participate in an exchange program in Roanne, France, where he studied accounting and management for one year. After returning to Fondwa in 1997, Hérault started working with Radio Zetwal, the local radio station. By 1999, he was the director of the station. He began his current work as APF liaison in 2001, and has also been active in managing the APF’s small businesses, especially the bakery. While working full time, he continues to seek to improve his education; he recently began the second year of a four-year program at Port-au-Prince’s Superior Institute for Administration and Management.

Hérault has been involved with the University of Fondwa since its formative stages, and now sits on its Administrative Counsel. He thinks that “the work we are doing here in Fondwa can’t be limited to our community. The University holds the key to the dreams of the APF for all of Haiti.” Though he acknowledges that UNIF faces many challenges, he accentuates the many positive aspects of the project. The academic level is of very high quality, and the students have the distinct advantage of learning about rural problems in a rural setting. He also notes that the University has a solid team of professors and administrators, and believes that “UNIF will be a tool for much-needed decentralization in Haiti, so that people can organize and develop their own communities.”

Amenold Pierre Posted by Picasa

Aménold Pierre

Friday, October 07, 2005

Aménold Pierre, 29 years old, is from La Vallée Jacmel, near the Southern coast of Haiti. His parents, both peasant farmers, never had the chance to learn how to read and write, making his path to become UNIF Professor of Agronomy all the more remarkable.

After completing his primary studies in La Vallée, he went to Port-au-Prince for secondary school. With the help of a priest from his hometown and the support of an older brother, he was able to go to Panama to pursue a university education in Agronomy. He arrived March 4th 1998 speaking very little Spanish, and started courses just 11 days later. “It was very had at first,” he remarks, “but I learned how to read well and spent all of my time in the library.”

Upon graduating in 2003, he returned to Haiti and was informed about UNIF by a childhood friend. He started by teaching courses on Thursdays and Fridays, working in Port-au-Prince the rest of the week. His dedication to his students is admirable; he once got stuck in Léogane on the way to Fondwa, sleeping overnight in a broken-down truck before finding a ride in time for class the next morning.

Amenold has big plans for UNIF and his home community of La Vallée. He currently has a weekly radio program called ‘An Evening of Agriculture,’ and is the General Director of an organization called ‘Movement for the Economic Recovery of La Vallée.’ His professional interest is the business aspect of agriculture; he has already started a technical school in La Vallée, and would eventually like to do a Masters in Environmental Management. Of UNIF, he says that it can be a model of sustainable economic development both for Haiti and other poor countries. “If UNIF fulfills its promise,” he says, “I will feel proud to know I have been a part of its development.”

Tying the knot

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Last week Anne and Laurent, a French couple that has been working in Fondwa for two years, were married in the French Embassy in Port-au-Prince. Some people might find it odd to marry without their friends and family just two weeks before returning home. To those doubters, Fr. Joseph responds: "It must be Haiti!"

The day after the wedding, they invited many of their friends to celebrate the occasion with a party on the beach in Jacmel. They rented a yellow school bus to pick everyone up, and we all went together. There was plenty of food, drink, and dancing, enough to last through the night. I ended up strewn across four chairs by the time everything wrapped up at 5 in the morning, but the more adventurous souls kept the party going. Below are a few photos that capture the eclectic nature of the evening. I guess there's nothing quite like tying the knot in Haiti.

Breaking down cultural barriers with musical chairs. Posted by Picasa

Mano singing a rousing rendition of Guantanamera. Posted by Picasa

Herault enjoying the evening. Posted by Picasa

Manouche Douze

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Manouche Douze is one of UNIF’s four students from Mirebalais, in Haiti’s Central Plateau area. Her home is in a small town named Gran Boucan, where she lives with her mother and father, both farmers, and her 5 younger siblings. During her classical studies, Manouche was the treasurer of her church’s Director’s Committee, and she speaks of religion as an important part of the UNIF experience. Though the students of UNIF, which does not have an official religious affiliation, come from different religious backgrounds, they all participate in Fondwa’s spiritual life. For Manouche, who stays in a UNIF residence with the other 9 female students, “religion is an important component of learning how to live with each other.”

The residents of Gran Boucan have a number of challenges to confront together as well. Manouche describes the area as greatly lacking in infrastructure, schools, and health care. Simple necessities such as latrines and potable water remain all too elusive. “Still,” she says, “it’s where I come from, and I want to participate in its development.” Toward that end, Manouche brought together 40 members of her community in 2004 to found APGN, the Peasant Association of Gran Boucan. Founding the organization is just one step in her efforts to improve the conditions of her hometown that will continue after she receives her degree in Agronomy from UNIF.

Manouche appreciates the professional skills she is learning at UNIF, with practical work and studying in 4 languages complementing her normal course of study. As to where she will put those skills into use, she says “I come from a rural area, and I can’t ignore that in Haiti, peasants are the most unrepresented people. It shouldn’t be like that.” She thinks that having a university in the mountains is a positive way of changing the relationship between peasant farmers and college graduates. “As we interact with the residents of Fondwa, students come to have a new vision of their work, and the peasants see that there are people who are concerned about rural issues.” It is evident that Manouche knows where she comes from and where she would like to go: “I’m a child of peasants, and it’s my mission to work with them.” With a full scholarship from Fonkoze Director Anne Hastings, Manouche will be able to pursue her mission with the help of an UNIF education.

Manouche Douze Posted by Picasa

Charles Edner Posted by Picasa

Charles Edner

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

As the son of peasant farmers from the Northern town of Borgne, Haiti, Charles Edner made a long journey to join UNIF 2004’s founding class. First, he beat the long odds of pursuing higher education, an even greater challenge for students from rural areas. Second, he made the more than 300km trip from his hometown to Fondwa (over two days), traversing mountains, valleys, and rivers on the nearly impassable roads.

Education is always a sacrifice in Haiti, and nowhere is that more evident than in Fondwa. “No one else is taking this initiative,” says Charles of UNIF, Haiti’s first rural university. His educational experience is the result of many people sacrificing for a common cause. Though the students come from all over the country, “we have adapted well to one another,” Charles says. “We also have a very close relationship with our professors, and we are very satisfied with our courses. The education we receive here will help us solve the problems in our communities.”

Because of his rural upbringing, Charles finds that he has a close relationship with other peasants, which is essential for his studies in Agronomy. Thanks to UNIF’s rural setting, “we have more contact with farmers and their work. When you go to Port-au-Prince, you are disconnected from the reality of rural Haiti.” This semester, Charles is doing an internship in Limonade, in the northwest, with Vétérimed, “a very well-known NGO in Haiti,” as he notes. He looks forward to the internship as an experience that will improve his professional skills as a future Agronomist. All part of the UNIF education.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

This week Fondwa welcomes another 'koperan' (foreign worker), my friend Dan Schnorr. Dan graduated from Notre Dame with me in May as a Pre-Med and Philosophy major, minoring in travel, peace, and rabble-rousing. He subsequently became an official employee of the Federal Government as a firefighter in rural Nevada. Hopefully he won't have any need for his new-found skills in Fondwa, but it was probably good training for the rough-and-tumble life of rural Haiti.

When he arrived on Saturday, Dan had a typically Haitian introduction to his new surroundings. American Airlines managed to lose his luggage between
Boston and PAP, forcing us to survive for three days on my day (note: singular) pack. We were more than relieved to go pick his bags up at the airport on Monday.

The picture above is from Dan's first experience of our working conditions in the
APF Center. As you can see, he is adapting just fine. Nou oblije (we're obliged). He is very talented and a quick learner, so I'm sure he will soon be making a big difference in the work of the APF.

Being resourceful. Posted by Picasa

Yves clipping away. Posted by Picasa

The Fondwa Barbershop

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Above is a photo of Fondwa's barbershop, which is located wherever Yves can plug in his clippers. There isn't much competition around these parts, because most people simply take a naked blade from a razor and start scraping. As hesitant as I was to let Yves experiment on his only white client, I wasn't about to put my life in the hands of a stranger with a Bick. With some minor post-haircut adjustments, I think it turned out just fine. And not a single life-threatening injury to boot.

Fun in the sun. Posted by Picasa

Destination: Paradise

Sunday, October 23, 2005

If you can't see it, there is a tropical paradise hidden in the lush vegetation featured above. Missy, Dan and I went to a place called Cyvadier Plage on Saturday, a destination that includes a top-notch restaurant, hotel rooms (for those hoards of tourists in Haiti right now), and a cove that holds strikingly blue water and white beaches.

In Dan's one week here, he has experienced the heat and squalor of Port-au-Prince, the scenic (yet difficult) 2-hour drive to Fondwa, life in the mountains, and the best of Haitian tourism. And we're just getting started.

What Role for Women in our Communities?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A reflection from UNIF’s female students

It is clear that women play a central role in our communities. Looking back at Haiti’s past, we see that women have often been limited by their lack of opportunity in terms of education. As a result of this limitation, men have come to play a dominant role in our society in certain domains, especially in business and politics.

Today, we are experiencing a change in the place of women in Haitian society. As we see with the current elections, it is possible for women to run competitively in political races. As is evident from the number of women in UNIF’s founding class, it is possible for women to go to university and work for the future of this country. Rather than accepting the lot of their communities, Haitian women are forming associations to transform them. In recognition of the perils of a society in transition, women come together to protect the rights of other women. Women can become presidents of organizations, managers of businesses, and leaders of communities.

Photo of Ebelle Jeune by Rebecca Sherman. Posted by Picasa

A true piece of Fondwa history

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Last week I was introduced to a genuine piece of Fondwa history. Early Friday morning I set out on a trek along with Eugenio, Danny, and Missy that eventually took us down to the depths of the Fondwa valley, across a river at two points, and up the slippery slope of the mountain on the other side. Our destination was the house of Minik Nocent, the first President of the Peasant Association of Fondwa (APF), which founded the university I work for.

Minik was born in Fondwa in 1934, the last year of the 19-year American occupation of Haiti, at a time when the area was much more productive. He recalls his parents planting crops that farmers don’t even try to produce anymore because of the degradation of the soil they cultivate. He comes from a family of nine children, with some in Fondwa, some in the United States, and some who have returned to Guinea (which symbolizes Africa, the Voodoo version of heaven). When Fr. Joseph Philippe, who had gone to Cananda and the United States to finish his theological studies, returned to Fondwa in 1988, Minik was amongst the group of nine leaders that he called together to consider their common problems.

The group, which included two of Minik’s children as well, decided to form an association, which the called the Asosyasyon Peyizan Fondwa. Their first move was to construct a small building for meetings with a bit of money that they each put into a common fund. All they could afford was wooden poles and coconut leaves, but as they say in Creole, “A house of leaves can’t block the rain, but at least it can block the sun.”

After that, the 9-member committee decided that if there was no road to Fondwa, there would never be development. The still didn’t have money, but the residents of the region came out in force to participate in a project that responded to their needs. Nine groups of twenty people each began work on the road, which was built with picks and hard labor. Today part of the road had been paved with help of the Inter-American Development Bank, and it serves as Fondwa’s access point to the major highway that crosses the mountain above.

The APF soon began working on the most pressing issues facing Fondwa peasants, such as tapping water sources, reforestation projects, and providing agricultural formation. They looked abroad for help from the beginning, working with international NGOs that had Haiti branches and a French NGO called CEIPAL that provided extensive help to buy a truck. While there was much work to be done, not everything went exactly at planned.

Minik’s son Ismit, also a former President of the APF, participated in a prayer group around the time of the APF’s founding. The group wanted to get involved in the development work that was going on, so they put 15 gourdes together and thought about what kind of a project they carry out. They decided to buy tobacco in bulk and sell it in small sacks, so they chose a ti machann (market woman) to sell the tobacco at market. They counted on doubling their money, but hadn’t counted on the ti machann’s husband smoking all of the tobacco. It took months to get the money back, but when they finally did a new ti machann was able to make 45 gourdes.

One of the group members took the money to buy soap, again ostensibly to sell at market. She ended up using it to do her washing, and the group was only able to get 25 gourdes back. The other members, refusing to be discouraged, continued to put money into a common fund and approached Fr. Joseph for help. He helped them find 500 Haitian dollars (2,500 gourdes) to begin a real cooperative, which today has 200 clients and has offered nearly 700,000 gourdes worth of credit this year. The path isn’t always straight and narrow in Fondwa, but that’s only because we have to build it with picks and hard labor.

Minik Nocent, first president of the APF Posted by Picasa

Funny, but wrong

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I recently gave a test to my 7th and 9th grade English classes. Most of the kids passed, either because of my superior teaching skills or because I just didn’t have the heart to fail them. Here are some of my favorite responses:

When is your brother’s birthday?

- My brother’s birthday is the 12th in 1890

Translate the following question: Ki jan ou santi ko ou? (The answer is ‘How is your heath?)

- Where is your body?

What do you think about deforestation?

- It makes me happy

What should people wear during the summer in Haiti?

- An umbrella

I have finished teaching in the school, because next week I will begin visiting UNIF students where they are doing internships. I’m happy because I get to see most of the country, but my students were a bit upset: “you make me cry!”

It takes all sorts

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dan and I took another trip to Léogane on Friday to accompany Missy as she checked her mail. We waited along the highway for 2 hours, but all of the buses that came by were chock-a-block full. A nice SUV with some white people inside drove by, so I flagged it down to try my luck. They agreed to give us a ‘wou lib,’ or free ride.

I have gotten rides to Jacmel in private cars three times now, and each has been a unique experience. The first time was with a doctor who worked with a nursing school that has campuses throughout Haiti. We talked about the similarities between UNIF and his school, and he even gave me a tour of the Jacmel campus before dropping me off. The second time someone stopped I hurried through the usual sob story of not being able to find a bus in my accented Creole, and the middle-aged woman in the passenger seat replied “Honey, do you speak English?” It turned out that she was a double US-Haitian citizen who had lived in Miami for 30 years, and had recently moved back to Haiti. When I remarked what a beautiful country Haiti is, referring to the impressive scenery as we were driving through the mountains, she said “It’s great, we don’t have to pay any taxes!”

The last time was even more interesting, because we were picked up by a pair of missionaries, one from Iowa and the other from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. They were part of a small community of missionaries that has no name, no fundraising efforts, and no organization. Still, they were driving a new SUV and one had just been back from a 5-month series of conferences in Europe, so something seemed a bit off. In any case, the Iowan had been in the country for 23 years, making him a veteran of a dictatorship, transition to democracy, two military coups, and the current internationally-appointed regime. We have been invited to their house for coffee anytime, and I just might take them up on it. It would surely make for good conversation.

Students come to campus

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The students came to campus October 10th-14th to prepare for the internship period, which goes from October 17th through mid-February. It was my first opportunity to meet most of the students, which was a great pleasure. They are a very close-knit group, which would tend to happen in a university with only 20 students. During the course of the week we went over the internship requirements, had a few lectures to help them with specific tasks, and met with Fr. McKnight, UNIF’s spiritual director. It was my job to translate, because Fr. McKnight, who is from Brooklyn, doesn’t speak much Creole yet, and the students, though quite fluent in French and Spanish, aren’t very strong in English. Hopefully that will change next semester!

I also had the chance to interview many of the students and take their photos; the biographies and articles that I wrote can be found on UNIF’s website,

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Challenges of Today Become the Progress of Tomorrow

Thursday, November 10, 2005

(From the Bloomington Sun Current)

I decided to spend my first year out of college in Haiti for many reasons, such as immersing myself in another culture and growing as an individual. Beyond those personal concerns, though, I also had a job to do, working as the Secretary of the University of Fondwa. I have quickly come to see that the two are closely related, each not possible without the other.

There has been no shortage of obstacles to achieving my goals. Communications can be difficult because the cell phone network doesn’t reach our valley, a lack of electricity prohibits internet access through even the most advanced satellite technology, and the nearest post office is two hours and a large headache away. The Haitian custom of warmly greeting each person you encounter at the office is much appreciated, but it can be a burden when there is much work to be done. Even seemingly unrelated problems can be a hindrance; it is tough to work well when there isn’t any water to bathe with, or when hunger sets in because rice and beans have been served for the 83rd consecutive day (and counting).

Mother Nature has her own unique role to play in this game. When tropical storm-force rains hit Haiti last week, the road to Port-au-Prince was blocked by impassable bridges. When I had to travel to the city for work, what is normally a two-hour trip became a four-hour marathon.

As daunting as these challenges may be, they pale in the face of the daily struggles of the peasants of Fondwa. My work hardly compares to their own, toiling under the hot Caribbean sun to produce the rice, beans, and vegetables that are their lifeblood. The weather is often an inconvenience for me, but it is a matter of survival for them.

The Peasant Association of Fondwa (APF), which founded the university I work for, was created in 1988 by local farmers to take on these challenges together. It seems that what allows the members to overcome the myriad difficulties they face is the fact that they have a common goal, the goal of promoting the well-being of the community.

What continues to impress me is the relentlessness with which they pursue that goal, regardless of the numerous difficulties that lie before them. With each milestone that is reached through the efforts of the APF, like the construction of the local school and orphanage, planting of trees, and planning of model farms, the solidarity of the group increases. The more they accomplish as a group, the greater their capacity to work together becomes.

In the same way, I have found that my personal challenges have been a necessary stepping-stone to completing the work that I have been given to do. Without them, I would have no basis for understanding the problems of the people I have come to live with. If it were easy to build a university in the mountains of Haiti, one would already have been built. After two months of blackouts, rice and beans, and periodic flooding of major highways, I think I will be hard pressed to find something I can’t handle. The lives of the peasants of Fondwa won’t be transformed overnight, and neither will I accomplish all that I have set out to do, but the challenges we face today will help us progress tomorrow.

Dancing. With vigor.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Each time I set out on a trip in public transportation, I think I know what I’m getting myself into. I am always mistaken. On Wednesday I went to the station where buses leave for the South with Vital, a professor of Agronomy with UNIF. We found a bus for Aux Cayes, where two students are doing internships, and I settled into a seemingly benign seat near the front of the bus. My seat became infinitely smaller a moment later when a grandmother of generous proportions took up residence beside me. It may not have been so bad, but it just so happened that she was in the dancing mood. As the bus pulled out of the station and the same Kompa music that plays in all buses started blaring from the front speakers, granny started moving to the beat. With vigor.

When we finally arrived at Aux Cayes many, many hours later, I was ready for a break. Vital had a place to stay with a friend, but there wasn’t room for two so I had to find a hotel. The hotel manager instantly recognized the potential for a large payday, asking the foreigner for 100 Haitian dollars (about $25US) per night. I later did some investigating and found the real price to be about one-fifth that price, and some intense negotiating led to a significant discount from the blan rate.

Aux Cayes is Haiti’s fourth-largest city, situated on the Southern coast of Haiti’s Southern peninsula. The difference between Aux Cayes and Fondwa can be summed up in one word: WATER. Aux Cayes has it, Fondwa doesn’t. As I traveled through the surrounding area, including Port Salut, the tiny town where Jean-Bertrand Aristide was born, I saw endless fields of rice and other crops that thrive on the lush, flat plains of the region. Vital was legitimately incensed that his government is not capable of fully taking advantage of such fertile fields; with more investment in basic infrastructure, he thinks that Aux Cayes could provide for much of the food needs of Southern Haiti.

Given the way things are in Haiti, we visited a project that shows what can be done even amongst the current political and economic turmoil. Chouloute Jerome, a 35 year-old Catholic Brother who decided to go back to school to study agronomy at UNIF, is doing his semester-long internship with AVSI, an Italian NGO. Vital and I surprised him with an on-site visit, for which we left Aux Cayes on a small (yet disproportionately dangerous) motorcycle and then trekked through the countryside to find him working on a tree nursery. The program he is interning with targets area residents who are at risk of malnutrition; rather than simply providing food, it works with them to plant their own gardens and gives on-going formation in agricultural techniques.

Vital, who was doing an evaluation of the internship for UNIF, remarked that Chouloute was getting practical experience in subjects that usually aren’t studied until the 5th year of university. What I took away from the visit was the fact that Chouloute is willing to live away from home, make a long voyage each day, and work in a poor rural setting during an unpaid internship. Haiti has no lack of political candidates (there are some 40 candidates for Fondwa’s one local seat!), but there are only so many university students and graduates who are willing to work in the areas with the greatest needs. UNIF graduates promise to return to their home communities to work on rural development projects after they receive their degree, and they are keeping that promise during their internships this semester.

At 3:06 PM, Cheryll said…

Thanks for the colorful travelog!

Two things I found very hopeful in your report (which things, of course, are never mentioned in US media):

- that Haiti has agronomic potential to feed its people
- that even more important, it has people who are altruistic and actually making a difference

Always like to find out this sort of affirmations!

Water! Posted by Picasa

La Citadelle. Impressive. Posted by Picasa

Cap Haitian, a City of History

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Cap Haitian, located on the Northern coast of Haiti, an historic city for both Haiti and the world. In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed near Cap Haitian and established the first colonial settlement in the Americas. He found a land populated with native Taino and Arawak peoples, who numbered from one to several million. Just a few decades later, slavery, war, and disease had nearly obliterated the population. One of the only lasting remnants of Haiti’s native peoples is the country’s name; after gaining independence, the former colony of Saint Domingue was renamed after the Taino word for ‘mountainous land,’ Ayiti.

It was in 1670 that Cap Francois (as it was then known) became the administrative center of the French-controlled part of Hispaniola. As Saint Domingue grew into the most productive colony of the 18th century, providing much of Europe with sugar and cocoa, Cap Francois became known as the “Paris of the Antilles.” In Haitian history, the area is most significant as the site of the Vodou ceremony in 1791 that launched the Haitian revolution. In a clearing called Bois Caiman, slave leader Boukman called upon the Vodou lwa (spirits) and his fellow slaves alike to rise up against colonial oppression. Thirteen years later at Vertières, also in the North, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines fought the last great battle of the Haitian Revolution, finally repelling Napoleon’s forces for good.

Dessalines became the Emperor of Haiti in 1804, but he was killed just two years later. At that time the country was split in two, with General Alexendre Pétion ruling the South and General Henri Christophe taking over the North. Christophe rebuilt the re-named Cap Haitian, which became his capital, to some of its former glory. His most impressive achievements were his castle, the Palais Sans Souci, which is said to have rivaled Versailles in its day, and the behemoth Citadelle, a fort built with the labor of 20,000 men high atop a mountain to protect against a return of the French.

Sadly, today Cap Haitian is an over-crowded city with a crumbling infrastructure that the government shows no interest in improving. As is usually the case, it is up to the local peasants and non-governmental organizations to find a way to confront the problems of the area. One organization that is taking an innovative approach is Veterimed, a Haitian NGO founded in 1999 in the nearby town of Limonade. UNIF has two students doing internships there this semester (Moussanto Dantil and Charles Edner), working mostly with a program that gives seminars to peasant groups about how to care for their animals and increase production. Veterimed also runs a business called Let a go-go (A lot of milk) that buys milk from peasants and turns it into various products like bottled milk and yogurt. The program has gone nation-wide, and I can personally vouch for the great taste of their chocolate milk! Cap Haitian may not regain its former glory anytime soon, but providing a decent income for peasants and producing a nutritious product is a good place to start.

Haiti is a beautiful country. Period. Posted by Picasa

Kids hanging out near where we broke down. Posted by Picasa

Fried pig guts. Yum! Posted by Picasa