Life in Fondwa

Thursday, August 24, 2006

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!


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