Posts Tagged With: Cap Haitien

A rough draft of my last day in Haiti…

My last day in the countryside of Haiti was one of the best, because I spent the whole day in the company of Ewaldy. (Well, to be honest, the start of the day was a bit rocky when we had to use a twisted wire hanger & a wad of Ewaldy’s bubblegum to pry open the car door after I cleverly locked the keys in the Heifer truck.)

Ewaldy Estil is the Northern Regional Coordinator and has been working for Heifer International since June 2000. As he puts it, it’s not a job, it’s his life mission. When he’s not running Heifer projects (and even when he is) he belts out gospel and reggae music (you should hear his awesome original “Passing on the Gift” song!) and despite the fact that he travels nonstop and keeps ridiculously long hours, he never stops smiling.

Ewaldy and I were driving from the town of Hinche in the Central Plateau up to Cap Haitien through some beautiful farmland, on the way to the small town of Milot where I was going to watch a Heifer training session in action.

Paul Dieudem, Heifer trainer

When we drove into Milot, the men of the village were under a tree listening to Paul Dieulem, a farmer from nearby DonDon that Heifer has trained and hired to take Milot farmers through the arduous process of turning a team of 2 cows into draft animals. It’s a 20-day course that covers everything from raising forage crops for feed to making yokes; learning to tie the animals together; teaching the animals to move in tandem and follow commands; training them to carry a load by dragging a big log behind them; and perfecting the strenuous work of plowing with that team. (I felt like I was re-reading Little House on the Prairie!)

At the end of 20 days, each farmer will have a team of cattle that can do the work of 20 men –and part of the income they raise plowing other people’s fields will repay the cost of the cattle (about $1000 per cow) to pass on the gift to other farmers in the community. I watched them practice yoking, and I can tell you, it’s no small endeavor to tie two 800-pound animals together! When one farmer asked why they had to repay the gift of cows, Ewaldy had a spirited conversation about Heifer’s philosophy of no free hand-outs & community responsibility that had the whole group laughing and arguing and shouting the other farmer down. (I was secretly waiting for Ewaldy to break into song.)

Heifer has also been working in Milot to train women in food processing, so they can earn an income making jelly and liqueurs from the passion fruit, grapefruit and sour oranges that grow in abundance here. At first I was slightly shocked that making liqueur would qualify as an enterprise, until I remembered that Denver’s favorite mayor and now Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper started as a microbrewer of artisanal beer, so I’m thinking this is just the first step on the road to women taking political office in Haiti!

Madame Laurent Pauline has been one of the most successful small entrepreneurs, and she now sells about 30 small bottles of liqueur every week for 50 Haitian gourds (@$1.22) apiece. (Passion fruit is the most popular flavor because it’s considered a bit of an aphrodisiac, as Pauline laughingly relates.) This income helps her send her five children to school, while her husband is learning to work with the draft animals to earn more money.

Nothing left for me!

Twenty women of Milot were trained by Heifer and have built a network of licensed food processors who are planning to establish a revolving fund for micro-loans to help other women get the trainings and start their own businesses. I’m sure that there is a lot of potential for growth as Pauline definitely has the gift of salesmanship and plans to make her own labels, expand her line to include coffee & cacao liqueurs, and sell, sell, sell. I was dying to taste her product, but as it was Carnaval celebration week, she was plumb sold-out. (By the way, Haitians do not drink frequently, and at the size and potency of the bottles Pauline sells, there’s not much chance of serious inebriation.)

By the time we reached Cap Haitien that night, I was eager to sleep in a real hotel (our Hinche hotel had left a bit to be desired) and to release Ewaldy from the chore of driving me around so he could get back to his wife and two little children. I was flying back to Port-au-Prince the next day, and then heading home to Atlanta, and I was feeling sad to be leaving Haiti.

All these beautiful people and places – how could I stop wondering what would happen to them?

Micheraina from Maniche is on my mind...

Then I realized that they were in good hands with Ewaldy and crew. And I would be coming back (I will, no matter what!). And that as much as I’ve loved Haiti, I’ll probably love Peru just as dearly. (I’m leaving tonight!)

So.. the journey continues. I hope you’ll come along!

The oddly placed bathroom cabinet in one of the more interesting hotels we stayed in... always an adventure!

Categories: Haiti, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

The paradox of Haiti.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about going to Haiti, Month #2 in my 12-trips-in-12-months visiting Heifer International sites.  Not because I was scared something bad might happen to me, but because I was afraid I wouldn’t find anything good to say about the country.

Well, like most worrying, that was a waste of brain space.

3 big things to like about Haiti... girls going to school!

Despite Haiti’s mind-boggling set of challenges and truly appalling lack of infrastructure–which was the case even before the earthquake of January 12, 2010– the country is beautiful (really!) the people are irresistibly gregarious, gorgeous and dignified, and there’s more life packed in one square mile of this country than in some entire states of the USA (you know who you are).

Art in the wind in Port au Prince

Plus, the projects Heifer is undertaking in Haiti are amazing and on a scale that the organization has never undertaken before…which I seriously can’t wait to tell you about.

But I’m not going to be too Pollyanna here. Some of the things I saw here made me ashamed to witness them.

Tent children

When I was taking a photo of a huge pile of trash randomly on fire by the side of a garbage-choked watery culvert running through one of PAP’s more notorious slums, a Haitian man sternly shook his head, as if to rebuke me for trying to capture the utter desolation of that scene. I didn’t take the photo – but the odd thing was, what I really wanted to show was that walking right beside the blazing garbage, beautiful women in clean, ironed dresses passed men in dress shirts and neat trousers– all going to work, going to market, carrying on.That refusal to bow to the indignity of living in conditions that should be crippling is incredibly inspiring. The tap-taps of Haiti alone stole my heart, with names like “Patience” “Eternal Capable” and the slightly unnerving “Blood of Jesus.”Tiny children toting big gallons of water up steep hillsides stop to smile and wave. In villages where people scarcely have enough to eat, you’ll hear songs of praise wafting up from an unseen church. And everywhere – everywhere! – people are working incessantly to improve themselves and their country—which makes you want to do anything you can to empower them to write a better script for their future.

Unfortunately, “doing anything you can” is not a prescriptive or particularly helpful instinct in Haiti. Or as Paul Farmer of Partners in Health put it succinctly, “Doing good is never simple.” While over 50% of American households –and the rest of the world–donated $1.2 billion to relief organizations after the earthquake, 2 years later debris still clogs the streets of PAP, tent cities of unimaginable squalor still house more than 250,000 homeless (but it was 1.5 million 12 months ago!), and the unemployment rate is well over 50%.What Haiti needs now are a decent infrastructure, functioning government, income-generating jobs, and the ability to feed itself (like it was starting to do 20 years ago, before a flood of cheap American imports crushed the life out of Haiti’s smallholder farmers).Heifer’s powerful new projects in Haiti are all about addressing the last two imperatives of jobs & agriculture with integrity and vision.  But… I have to write about that tomorrow.

Today, after 7 straight days of bone-crushing rides smushed in the back of a Land Cruiser, I’m taking the afternoon off– although that is a relative term, as we still have 5 hours to Cap Haitien and somehow the resolutely cheerful Ewaldy has convinced me we should take the bad back road so I can see more of the “bon paysage.”

Eternal Capable – that’s Haiti (and hopefully me)!

Categories: Agriculture, Haiti, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: