Thursday, October 28, 2010


"Hand-to-mouth -- "barely enough food or money to satisfy immediate, basic needs"

This phrase occurred to me a couple of days ago as I was wrapping up filming and packing for a few days in Cap Haitien.  The entire time I've been in Haiti I have been being extremely cautious about putting my hands to my mouth, and have been especially careful not to get water into my mouth when bathing.   So far this trip has served as my first trip here without getting sick!!

But how do you love someone genuinely - in the way we love each other out in the streets, like a neighbor greeting you kindly as you walk by their mangoes neatly lined up on a fabric on the ground, and with an open heart, grateful to be in their country, graced by their culture, in awe of their kindness -- then walk away spritzing your hands with sanitizer.....?

Hand to hand embraces your hand......we stare into each others eyes for a moment with a great deal of joy and delight........and I walk away to a car and spray spritzer on my hands......

I find this part of traveling here to be extremely confronting.  Hopefully, my Haitian brothers and sisters are spritzing their hands too.  You never know what these foreigners are bringing into the country.....

But the phrase has taken on a whole new significance for much of Haiti, as this cholera outbreak threatens to move into epidemic status.   It was discovered yesterday that the ground water of Port au Prince is contaminated with cholera (I do not have a reference for this, nor do I know if it refers to all of Port au Prince or only certain regions.  But I did hear it from a reliable source.....)

How would you clean your hands before eating if the only water you had was contaminated water?  What if the only water you have access to drink is contaminated water?  Or how about this -- what if the tent where you live with your family is literally a few feet away from open raw sewage, contaminating the air you breathe let alone the ground beneath your feet?

One of my new friends in Haiti, Daniel, says Haiti is surrounded by angels, protecting and guarding it and its inhabitants.  I am using all my psychic/spiritual/shamanic powers to view these angels guarding every hand, every mouth, every one who lives, eats, drinks, sleeps, and loves in Port au Prince.

Certainly SOIL is taking every precaution, going to 20,000 tents door to door to educate and inform people about how to avoid, recognize, and treat cholera.  In addition they are implementing new safe practices for their staff,  and I view their efforts as part of that powerful tribe of angels, protecting a peaceful people from yet another devastation......

One would think that the billions of dollars of aid that was promised to this tiny country might finally be released to ward off an epidemic.   Would you consider contacting your representative to ask them why the aid promised by the U.S. government has not been released?

Houses for Haiti!  Clean water for all humans!  Adequate, sustainable sanitation in every home!  No more hand-to-mouth, no more basic human rights lost to political agendas, no more lives lost due to de-valuing of the poor and displaced......

Hope for Haiti is hope for all of humanity --

Friday, October 22, 2010

port au prince

Like a prince he carries 30 lbs. of sugar cane wrapped in fabric and balanced perfectly on his head....Like a prince he cuts coconut deftly with a machete, leaving a perfect straw-hole and hands it to me with grace to receive a few coins......Like a princess she hands me a cold coke out of a strange refrigerator, sitting under a tarp in a camp for the displaced.......Like a prince he runs through the thick rocky streets on bare feet, his back perfectly straight while his baby belly bloats......Like a prince he comes to our door every morning dressed immaculately and wearing a smile.   He waits patiently for us, he carries our gear, he answers all our questions, he smiles for the camera.  He picks us up in his air-conditioned truck and guides us through his home town, telling the stories, listening to the mental commentary of our confused conscience......Like a princess she hides in the shadows, wordlessly gliding down the hallways with laundry on her mind and a sick child in a tent city..........

This is a city of complexities, internationals here to "help", gracious locals attempting to make sense of our presence, stumbling over 3 languages interwoven like vines on a brick wall.  Everyone can see the disparities, the internationals safely housed in still-standing buildings, clean drinking water, 3 meals a day!

For me, it is the outrageous smiles of a dignified people that pull me deeper into this country, attempting to understand my role, attempting to be of service somehow, learning more about what i can handle, what I cannot......forgiving myself for my need for a constant fan to blow over me throughout the night, for my bug spray, for my well-digesting meals.......

Today we head back out to Cite Soleil, where we will be swarmed by children wanting to hold our hands, wanting us to take their pictures, wanting us to feed them, wanting us to give them anything even a glance a smile a dance......while their more seasoned parents sit on the side-lines feeling all the complexities that we do.......Day 8 of filming begins with a slight breeze and the sun beating its drums of Caribbean heat.......

More to come and with love from Port au Prince.......

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day 6

Well folks, things have been going amazingly well here in Port au Prince for me and my incredible crew.

First of all we have all been in very good health and very much enjoying our meals over at the Matthew 25 house, where each day we meet another set of foreigners in town for different purposes, mostly either missionaries or medics.   And I personally have become very fond of this little corner of the world where I walk between the Coalition house, the SOIL house, and Matthew 25, greeting folks with my limited Kreyol and being very warmly received by each stranger-turned-friendly-acquaintance.  

Our first day of filming took us out to Cite Soleil, a part of Port au Prince mostly known for its intense impoverishment and constant rumours of violence and gangs.  Our film's host, Daniel Tillias, works in Cite Soleil with the kids doing empowerment programs, and out where SOIL has their toilets, by the soccer field, has erected several beautiful "billboards" with words of encouragement by various world leaders such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and others.  

Daniel is new to being on camera but you will soon see that he is an absolute natural!!!  For our segment in Cite Soleil he shows us the toilets and how well they are being maintained -- in fact -- believe it or not, these public toilets actually SMELL GOOD.  It's a far cry from any port-a-pottie I've ever been in that's for sure.  And the toilets have become a gathering place for the local community, where kids come daily to do their homework, hang out, and watch the soccer matches.  

Just beyond the soccer field and the toilets is one of SOIL's compost sites, where we were able to capture the daily dumping of barrels from the toilets.  SOIL's agronomist, Jean Marie, supervises the process, where each barrel is dumped and then covered with sugarcane bagasse, which immediately neutralizes the smell and begins the process of heating the wastes and transforming them into a vital resource.  Then, on a weekly basis Jean Marie tests the temperature of the compost, counts the barrels, and ensures that the process is occurring properly.

Then by contrast, yesterday, for our second day of shooting, we witnessed the other manner in which wastes are being managed in this city: they are sucked out of public latrines and spewed out onto a huge pit at the dump about 200 meters from the Bay of Port au Prince, combined with medical wastes and garbage, and left to seep into the ground and the bay to devolve into another form of public health disaster.


Today we are going to have a more mellow day of shooting, going out to get some audio footage of the amazing church choirs which constantly float through the air at all times of day, and then to do a little tour of the surrounding areas to get some establishing shots of Port au Prince and the general region.

Last night we had a thunderstorm (my favorite kind of weather when I have a warm, safe place to hide out from it....which 1.5 million people in this town do NOT)....and today it is a beautiful over-cast morning with a breeze!!! 

More to come......

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ayiti chere

 My first day back in Haiti, and my immediate and overwhelming reaction:  bliss.  I love this place!!!!  From the live acoustic folk music at the airport, to the chaos of finding my bags (all found in one piece), to driving down the dusty, rocky streets, I love this place.

First adventure of the trip:  going to the Oxfam office with a goat.  Here's what happened - Oxfam granted SOIL a huge contract to develop the compost sites (second contract this year) but for unknown reasons was slow to deliver the funds. Today, Sasha and Leah came up with the idea of going down to the Oxfam office to bribe our contact there to give us the funds -- with a goat -- just for fun.

One of the SOIL staff here at the house happens to have a sweet little goat, and was willing to let us borrow it for an hour to run our little mission.  So we loaded up in the back of the truck, me, Sasha, Leah, and the goat, and headed through Delmas toward downtown and the Oxfam office, laughing and having a great time thinking of the upcoming surprise.

But one thing I've learned in my brief times in Haiti:  nothing ever works out exactly as planned (isn't that true in most places?).  In this case, the truck broke down on a very busy street, filled with school kids walking home from school (most schools just re-opened yesterday), many covering their heads with wash cloths, using umbrellas, or simply sweating from the humidity, and all of which were confounded to find two white women hanging out in the back of a truck with a goat (Sasha hopped on the back of a moto to go on down to the Oxfam office to sign the contract....).

After a few minutes of pondering, our driver went off to find a mechanic, and Leah and I sat inside the truck to get out of the sun, scheming up options for what to do now.  Thankfully there was another truck available at the SOIL house, and Anthony agreed to come out in the middle of his busy work-day to assist us in our mission.  After getting lost he did eventually scoop us and the goat up from the stranded vehicle, driving through stop and go traffic up and over Delmas toward Petitionville, where the Oxfam offices are.

The timing actually worked out perfectly, as we arrived at the offices just as Sasha was completing her meeting, and with the permission of the security guard we went through the gate with the goat.  (Thankfully she pee'd and pooped right there on the door-steps -- before going inside -- good goat!)

It was a huge success as the entire office was laughing so loud to see a goat being paraded past their desks to the back of the office where our Oxfam officer was giggling and cracking up at our quasi-gift.  We sang him happy birthday (since it is his birthday), and everyone clapped and cheered.

And the money has been delivered so it was a successful afternoon.

Prior to the goat mission, Sasha and I walked over to the yard behind Matthew 25, a house which became a central refuge for thousands of people after the earthquake, and where Sasha and Nick actually slept outside under the stars for months.  Now it has been transformed into a "displacement camp", and very recently a wonderful school has been constructed.  It was so beautiful I can't wait to show you pictures!  The school has several classrooms, and the kids were being very attentive and cooperative.

In the coming weeks SOIL will be building toilets for the school -- possibly while the film crew is stay tuned.......and always remember when you go to the bathroom: sanitation should be a basic human right......but actually, it is a privilege we in the "first" world often take for granted.......