Aristide is coming home—


—or so I’m told—

 And Sara and I are glad to be back on Planet Port-au-Prince, where a routine of strange and absurd leaves predictability-addicted ex-pats like us whip-lashed and dizzied.

Remember the epigraph that inspired “reinventing the event horizon”——

Haiti is not simply one more of those tropical dictatorships where to rule is to steal, and headless bodies are found by the road.  Haiti contorts time:  It convolutes reason if you are lucky–and obliterates it if you are not.  Haiti is to this hemisphere what black holes are to outer space.  Venture there and you cross an event horizon. (T. D. Allman, After Baby Doc, 1989)

From a much-too-short weekend in Miami, Sara and I have crossed that event horizon, come home to Haiti, where the streets are rocking with protesters— 

Literally—

Stone-throwing, tire-burning Haitians took to the streets on Monday, calling for the removal of unpopular President Preval, whose term ended yesterday, or should have, had he not decided to extend it by three months.

So it seems—————Preval is staying, Baby-Doc has settled in, and Aristide is on his way.

As journalist Emily Troutman tweeted yesterday, the only thing that would be weirder is if  “Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines came back too.”  (Both were Haitian revolutionary heroes who fought for freedom against the French more than 200 years ago.)

In the unfortunate (but sanity-maintaining) event that you are new to Planet Port-au-Prince here’s a recap of recent events:

–On January 12, 2011 an earthquake leveled Haiti’s capital, killing nearly a quarter of million, and leaving one and a half million homeless and still living in tents a year later.

–In October Hurricane Tomas hit Haiti, further complicating relief efforts.

–Also in October, a cholera epidemic took hold, and by now, 3 months later, has needlessly killed more than 4 thousand.

–On November 28, 2011 Haiti held a fraudulent presidential election, during which ballot boxes arrived at poling places stuffed with votes for the ruling political party’s candidate, Jude Celestine.

–After election results were announced on December 8, 2010 (identifying Mirlande Manigat and Jude Celestine as the top two vote-getters who would run-off in a final round on January 16, 2011  and excluding popular, musician candidate Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly from the second round), protesters took to the streets, rioting for an annulment of the election and leaving Port-au-Prince in a virtual lock-down that even closed the international airport for four days.

–In January 2011 the OAS (Organization of American States) reviewed election results and determined that they were indeed fraudulent and that Jude Celestine should be eliminated from a second round run-off.

–On January 16, 2011, the scheduled day of the original run-off, the delayed event was nearly forgotten when the former Haitian dictator (exiled in France since 1986) Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier arrived unexpectedly in Port-au-Prince.

–Two days later Baby Doc was arrested and released on charges of corruption.

–Also in January, when members of President Preval’s Unity Party refused to follow the recommendation of the OAS that their candidate Jude Celestine be disqualified, the US State Department revoked the visas of 12 top officials in an effort to force the issue.

–On February 3, 2011 the Haitian Provisional Electoral Council, following the recommendation of the OAS, announced the revised results of November’s election, determining by a vote  of 5 to 3, that the two candidates to run-off in a March 20th final round would be Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly.

–Though this announcement too was expected to result in rioting, the exclusion of unpopular Celestine left Port-au-Prince relatively quiet and calm.

–(In the midst of this, Sara and I left Port-au-Prince on Friday, February 4th for a long weekend on the beach in South Florida.) 

hundreds of jelly fish on South Beach

 –Monday, February 7th, the Haitian government issued a sting of its own to Duvalier supports, when  it announced it had printed a diplomatic passport for the still-wildly-popular and first-democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has lived in exile in South Africa since 2004.  (So he can return home, Aristide has been requesting a passport for more than a month.)

–(As Haitians await the imminent return of Aristide, Sara and I snuck back into Haiti on a nearly empty American Airlines flight (because few folks are stupid enough to return to Port-au-Prince during this time of political unrest with arch rivals Duvalier and Aristide waiting in the wings.)

So readers of my blog should be assured—I’m back on the job.

This week I’ll be formally accepting “awards” I’ve received during my holiday—the “Memetastic Award” (from Clouded Marbles) and “The Stylish Blogger Award” (from Wendy over at Herding Cats in Hammond River).  And I’ll pass along the “prizes” to other deserving bloggers in the next couple of days.

So I’m back at my desk—

Blogging from my home-sweet Haitian home on Planet Port-au-Prince.

Come play with me.  You too can have time-contorted and reason-obliterated!

Come wait for Aristide with me———————-

(I look forward to catching up with all of your blogs, as well.)

Luxuries Most-Missed in Haiti: an Inventory


Item #2—(Without a doubt)—bandwidth—

First a bit of context—

Most of you reading this post will do so using a high-speed internet connection, the speed of which exceeds the old dial-up connection by hundreds of times.  Do most of you even remember how slow dial-up was?  Yes, I know, when you think “dial-up,” you think dinosaur, not so much from the last decade, but from the remote history of the previous century.  (Does anyone even use dial-up any more?)

More context—

I have given up my career teaching writing to live on island with the infrastructure of 19th-Century London, given it up, hoping to make meaning from the work of ACTUAL writing, rather than the work of merely teaching writing.  Given this, the tools of the trade tend to matter.  At least they matter to me.

Herein lies my problem—namely that I’m blogging, and blogging requires bandwidth—or, at the very least, the option of up-loading text and images at a reasonably decent speed—and by “decent” I mean—able to post 1000 words and one photo in not more than 8 hours. 

(Let me be perfectly clear—I’m not talking about writing time—I’m referring to the time it takes to upload a word document and a photo or two—something that from our home in Kentucky I can do in a matter of seconds—copy, paste, save, upload (image), save, post—not a complicated or time-consuming process—5 minutes max, if literally everything imaginable goes wrong.)

Not so in Port-au-Prince—

Not so by a long shot—

For example—

One day over a month ago, I decide to change my blog’s theme (big mistake), which ultimately involves uploading a new header image (even bigger mistake). 

The process begins around 9 in the morning.  I have been awake for several hours—since 5, actually.  I’ve had my French lesson, which is challenging and something I sometimes even hate. (See “A Tale of Miserable Failure: Moanings of a Second Language Learner” to fully appreciate my struggles with the language.)  I have been to the gym—

I am eager to get started but remember that posting to my blog the day before and the day before had not gone well—had taken considerable time—

Here’s how it all goes down—

9:15 am: I make myself a cup of coffee.  I need to be fully fortified.  Caffeine should do the trick.

9:21am: I position myself on the corner of the couch, open laptop.

9:23 am: Click the Internet Explorer icon on my desktop and wait for my Yahoo home page to load.

9:26am: Still waiting.

9:27am: Text begins appearing on the screen.

9:30am: Text still loading.

9:33am: The first image—a photo of Michelle Obama—begins appearing.

9:35 am: More photos———

9:38am: With Yahoo fully loaded, I decide to forego checking email.  (It might take too long.) 

9:39am: Sigh—click “WordPress Dashboard” on Favorites drop down menu.

9:43am: Dashboard still loading.

9:50am: I decide against checking stats.  (It might take too long.)

9:51am: Sigh—click “Appearance.”—Sigh—Click “Theme.”

Fast forward————-

10:01am: First page of themes fully loaded.

(You see where this is going)

Fast forward——————-

Around 6 in the evening Sara comes home. 

I am not in the best of moods.  I am not welcoming.  I am not gracious when asked how my day has been. 

I share.

Apparently, I share too much.

I share too vigorously.

I use a few too many expletives.

“You wanna know how my day has been?”  The rhetorical question is Sara’s first clue—things may not have gone well.

“I’ll tell you how my day has been.”  Sara takes a step back.  I have that look in my eye.

“I have just spent 8 hours pounding my f—ing head against a f—ing virtual wall.  And I’ve accomplished  nothing.   Absolutely.  Nothing.”

“Nothing?”  Now Sara has the look—duck and cover—duck and cover!

“Nothing—a big, fat, mind-numbing NOTHING!”

“In that case, I think I’ll get something to eat.”  Sara leaves the guest room, where I am hovering as close to the router as humanly possible without morphing into router myself.  I’m hoping it might increase my chances.  Improve my reception. 

I’m hoping it will keep me sane and Sara able to live with me, not living with enough bandwidth.

Fast forward several weeks—————–

Sara shares the other morning, once we’ve decided to schedule my return to Haiti, “I’ve had Steve from IT working on our internet connectivity.”

I’m thinking—

Wise woman.

Maybe this means it will only take half a day, a mere 4 hours to post 1000 words and one photo.

I’ll keep you posted—

I hope.

A Tale of Miserable Failure: moanings of a second language learner


So—I’m trying to learn French.  I’m not good at it.  In fact, I think I hate it!

Don’t tell my teacher—it might cause her to reassess her positive opinion of me.  She thinks I’m a “good” student.

Now, I don’t know what kind of pathetic linguistic losers she’s used to teaching—but if I’m a “good” student, it doesn’t bode well for the language acquisition skills of these other wanna-be-French-speaking-idiots she’s teaching here in Haiti.

The fact of the matter is I’m getting older. 

I can almost watch it happening.  I hover slightly over-head, a stunning display of aging unfolds below, a slightly over-weight woman morphing before my very eyes.  What’s that she’s saying?

Unfortunately I think age is interfering with language acquisition.

I watch myself struggle with the words.  From above I observe—the woman has gotten dumber—way, way dumber.  She’s nearly mute.  She mumbles. 

It’s sad, really.

It’s not that I was ever an intellectual heavy weight.  I’ve never had the brainy brilliance of my sister Lynn, for example.  She’ll probably never dumb down with age.

But at one time—mind you this was a good 25 years ago—I was decent with languages.  I studied German and Spanish—and was able to get along—limpingly—but at least I held my own, made myself understood, made out what native speakers were saying to me.  Yes, I asked them to speak more slowly, to repeat themselves—but eventually I understood.

Not so anymore!

In light of this language lapse, I’ve begun reading a book I think might jump start a little linguistic hope in this old tongue of mine.  Called Dreaming in Hindi, this book by Katherine Russell Rich, is about the year she “spent living in India, learning to speak another language.”   Rich addresses the “transformative power of language,” its ability to “tug you out of one world and land you in the center of another” (Prologue).

So far, studying French has landed me flat on my linguistic ass right here in the middle of Haiti, not the most romantic of language learning destinations.  Surprisingly, however, this little island in the center of the Caribbean Sea has romanced me—welcomed me with arms wide open—even as I’ve stumbled over every sound, struggling to make myself understood in either Creole or French.

The lesson to be learned is this—

Despite an earthquake that left most of Port-au-Prince in ruins, despite cholera that continues to kill folks by the thousands, despite election fraud that in the last week has brought the country to the brink of yet another unnecessary disaster, the Haitian people soldier on—

—keep trying.

So—I’ll keep trying too—

Language learning be damned!