Haiti in your Face


I’m pleased to share——-(drum roll)—————

I will be heading back to Haiti Saturday, after 3 weeks in the US—21 days so far since my American Airlines flight landed in Miami and I had my first night in several months with an uninterrupted supply of electricity.  I guess Friday will be my last for the next 90 days or so.

Which raises the question—

What comforts from home will I miss most in Haiti?  Over the next several days, I’ll share them here, a way to gear up for this transition.

Clearly, however, electricity tops the list.

Now, I’ve been without power before in the US, without the luxury of electricity for 6 days straight during an ice storm in Kentucky some years ago.  But being without this utility here at home is entirely different from being without in Haiti. 

For example, no electricity for several days means near disaster in most of North America.  No one knows what to do or how to manage the tasks of daily living, so folks function on the adrenaline panic produces during times of crisis.  Citizens of Kentucky jump into fully fueled cars, drive to Lowes or Home Depot, grab all the batteries, flashlights, and candles money can buy this side of Port-au-Prince.  Normal life is temporarily interrupted. 

It takes several powerless days to shift into “picnic mode” and celebrate with neighbors round a fireplace, all hoping to stay warm on icy February nights.  

People play games.  They pop popcorn on the stove top (gas, of course).  They become families and neighborhoods once again–helping one another survive this bout of being without. 

The local utility company may take longer than they’d like to get things up and running, but folks maintain a basic faith in the system, a security that only a strong and stable infrastructure provides. 

They believe.  They know. 

The lights will come back on and all will be right with the world—a reality interpreted largely in terms of how well one sees at night. 

Eventually, neighbors go back to FaceBooking  in the evening, doing status updates out the ass—rather than playing Monopoly or Clue around the kitchen table—really seeing the shadows candles cast on the faces of their children—the shades of gray and flickering light—Sally’s chin that’s strong and Bobby’s dimples winking in the nearly dark. 

In Haiti it’s an entirely different affair. 

If we happen to have power when we wake up in the morning and even less likely happen to have it when we fall asleep at night, Sara and I marvel to one another:

“Do you think we REALLY had city power all night?” (What in Haiti we call electricity that comes from something other than a generator)

“Well, was it on when you fell asleep?”

“Yeah, it was.”

“And you’re sure you didn’t just forget to turn the generator off?”

“No, if you didn’t turn it on, I didn’t either.  Had to be city power!”

Craziness—

We marvel at the having rather than the not.

But Sara and I are spoiled.  Though we often face the threat of diesel running low—at least we HAVE a generator.

Most folks in Port-au-Prince, on the other hand, truly DEAL with darkness every night.  Without the ability to generate power, they struggle to help children with their homework—that is, if they can actually afford tuition, if they can actually afford to buy a candle for their kids to study by.

Eyes adjust to lesser light—the dim of half-light becomes a way of life.

But now—

As I prepare to return to friends on our Caribbean island—now that I once again have grown to expect bright light at night—20 good evenings in the US—it’s time to return again to the dimly lit faces of my Haitian neighbors.

To look them fully in the face at night—

And see the contours courage carves.

21 thoughts on “Haiti in your Face

    • Ha Ha—Narita beware! I really loved your packing post. I don’t dare show it to Sara though, as it will get her going about my over-packing–something she’s mentioned in the last day or so, knowing I’m trying to work out my luggage issues in advance of my return.

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  1. That was truly beautiful. I feel ashamed for sitting on my couch with my laptop plugged into the wall and The Today Show blaring on the television across from me. Not to mention the lights that are on. Two lamps and four overhead lights.

    I love that, rather than mourning the loss of the guarantee of electricity, you are instead looking forward to getting back to a simpler way of living. It’s incredibly admirable and inspiring.

    Which brings me to my question: what do they need there, Kathy? Like really really need. Clothes? Candles? Provisions? And how do we get what they need to them? I’m a poor graduate student, but lord knows my closet is crammed with clothes I’m not wearing anymore (Robert’s closet is full of clothes he doesn’t wear anymore too).

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    • I’ll have to think about this question. Generally sending things to Haiti is complicated by import taxes, which are helfty–sometimes to the point of being unaffordable–taxes/duty even for NGOs.

      When we brought our larger dog, Ralph, into the country, we had to pay $200 in taxes for a dog that came from the pound–priceless to us, but, in terms of actual worth–not worth a dollar. Obviously, we would have paid whatever we needed to to have him with us, but this goes to show, NGOs have to be careful what they import, as the taxes can be more than the item itself is worth–a serious complication.

      Sara’s NGO had building supplies waiting in customs for months because they couldn’t afford to pay the taxes–so much for housing relief!

      I will give this some thought————-

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  2. “Eyes adjust to lesser light—the dim of half-light becomes a way of life.”
    What a neat way of explaining the different ways we react to different circumstances! Can’t wait to hear more from your upcoming adventure!

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  3. Kathy–
    beautiful post…so much we take for granted here, as ever…
    I especially enjoyed this because nothing you wrote about was conjecture on your part…but came from that place of truth, where the words…just are.
    that last line…a stunner.
    blessings
    jane

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  4. There is a book — I wish I could remember the title — a man in Florida (I think) wrote about getting to know his neighbors after a power outage. He decided to take it further, as an experiment, by staying with people (neighbors, strangers, anyone who was willing to participate) for a few days in an effort to get to know them better while they got to know him.

    I was reminded of that when you wrote of power outages here in the States. It’s interesting how the lack of electricity brings us back to getting to know our neighbors. Beautiful post with beautiful writing. And the last line (as someone else pointed out) is a stunner.

    I look forward to reading about what you have decided to take back with you.

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    • Thank you, Robin! Yes, isn’t it strange how the lack of power almost literally rolls back the clock, and if it’s electric, literally, stops time. I would love to know the name of that book if you think about it. Interesting–

      I’m so pleased you enjoy the writing itself, as well! Somehow this post just came together–almost magically–sometimes the words all line up and fall into their places–wonderful fun when they cooperate!

      Thanks for the great comment. And again, let me know if you think of the book’s name.

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  5. Even in South Africa we have a fairly consistent power supply. Although we did go through a couple of months a few years back, when the power company (there is only one) had to resort to “load shedding”. This was done to lighten the load on the system, as there were problems at one of the nuclear power stations. So each area/town would have no power for 2 or 3 hours each day. There was a lot of complaining, but we all survived! And I think were taught a big lesson in how wasteful we are with electricity.

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  6. Pingback: Top 10 Ways to be a Not-So-Normal American Couple | reinventing the event horizon

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