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.)

Stumping for Haitian Art: Gorgeous Gardens in Port-au-Prince


I had a close encounter with garden art last week—

An unexpected one at that.

Regular readers of my blog know that I’m a visual artist—of sorts—self-taught, poor, and living in exile on a Caribbean island, where electricity is in short supply, political stability is even harder to come by, and cholera is spreading like good gossip in a gaggle of girls.  I’ve shared my work in previous posts.  I love art, support art, enjoy it in all its incarnations, shapes, and sizes.

But it surprised even me last week, when an artistic enterprise unfolded in my own Port-au-Prince back yard—one uninitiated by me.

Ever since last spring when Sara moved into our house on a hill—Morne Calvaire (where we’re told a new neighbor is Baby Doc Duvalier), the land-lady has promised a garden, and last week she delivered, arriving with a landscape artist who installed a stunning rock garden near our front door.

We were happy.  We were actually thrilled.  However, we were not prepared for act two, which unfolded the following day.

It was morning; the sky was clear, blue bold enough to brighten even the most bored of bloggers.  I was writing, enjoying light that angled through my wall of windows.  While I was working, however, the dogs alerted me to a noise outside, one I might have otherwise ignored. Thank God for canine clamor.

There on the hillside that slants down and away from our house, three men, our landscape artist included, pushed and pulled, grunted and groaned the most massive of stumps toward a wall and fence that border the back of our garden.

I couldn’t imagine why.  What was the purpose behind this effort?  Why had Sisyphus himself shown up on my Haitian hillside?

What concerned me most, however, from my interpretation of signs and signals being gestured below, was an apparent plan to heave the stump over the wall and through the fence cemented into it.  I watched and wondered, watched and wondered some more till I was sure the plan indeed involved such fence bull-dozing, before running out to get our security guard to intervene and interrupt this planned assault.  Within seconds Sonny came running, riffle gesturing the men away from ruining our fence.

It was soon discovered via a phone call to our landlady that, having forgotten the fence was attached to the top it, she had asked the men to remove the stump by pushing it over the top of the wall.  Our stump-movers extraordinaire interpreted her instructions quite literally, intending to force the tree through the fence in an effort to accomplish the task.  So much for common sense.

Stump removal ceased for the day.

The men then returned the following morning, removing a section of fence, forcing their burden over the top of the wall, lowering it with ropes into the back of a truck on the other side, and replacing the offending section of fence, before departing—

I assumed forever.

However, the following morning, while I was again writing, a horn honked outside our gate, the dogs barked like insane caricatures of canine companionship, and I soon heard the shouting of what turned out to be seven men.  Within minutes massive crashing commenced on the deck above, more shouting, still more housing-rattling crashes, shouting and crashing, shouting and crashing, until I simply had to investigate.

The stump had returned.

It was now living on our patio, puzzling me, puzzling indeed.  I like trees as much at the next semi-green ex-pat on the island, but REALLY, did we want this stump on our patio?

Over the next several days, however, Dicton Gaston, our new gardener guy answered that question for me, proving more and more a sculpting savant, as the stump morphed from this:

Into this:

Dicton Gaston is a gardening genius.

Dicton Gaston proves art emerges from even the most unlikely places.

Dicton Gaston proves that in Port-au-Prince, though ex-dictators may show up unannounced at airports, though they’ll be arrested and released and move onto the mountain where you live, art can come from equally surprising places, in delightfully surprising packages.

So, this week, as long as the ex-dictator can maintain his EX-dictator status, as long as protesters don’t take to the streets and shut down the city, as long as posts can go as planned, this week I’ll bring you a series on Haitian art, hoping to remind you—

Port-au-Prince may be leveled, reduced to a dead stump of its former self, discarded on a hillside, in ruin.  Haiti may be broken, lost, and nearly forgotten, but still, like Dicton’s stump, it can occupy a prominent place, a patio blooming, green, and living once again.

A work of genuine genius.

I Encountered a Duvalierist: Haitian Atrocities Then and Now


It’s getting to me folks. 

Really, really rubbing me the wrong way and getting this Confused and Befuddled Foreigner all up in arms and ready to kick some Duvalier ass.

Oops!  Did I just say that with my outside voice, my typing voice, my public, face-to-the-world voice?  Did I just threaten to kick ex-dictator-dying-to-be-dictator-again ass?

I’m what my grandmother would call “all riled up,” and “in a tizzy” over some Haitian’s seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward Baby Doc–

The attitude of at least two upper-middle class Haitian’s I talked with this week.

But what strikes me as odd is that both of these acquaintances shared a frighteningly similar perspective—one that scared the pro-democracy socks off of my oh-so middle-class American sensibilities. 

Obviously it’s important not to generalize from this small sample, but what amazed me was that both said the same thing—something I thought I wouldn’t hear—especially from well-informed and well-educated Haitians.

Both were pro-Duvalier.

I encountered a Duvalierist, two of them.

Both were not just neutral, both clearly supported someone who makes Saddam Hussein look like a Sunday school teacher.

Both said life was better during the Duvalier Era.  The streets were safer.  There was better infrastructure, more electricity, the lights stayed on longer at night.

“Okay,” I said, “but what about the oppression, the arrests, the torture, the killings?”

“That’s exaggerated,” both claimed, both in separate conversations.  Neither knew the other.

“Okay?” I said, half rhetorical question, half affirmation that I had heard them—heard the words at least.

I was dumb-founded.  I literally couldn’t come up with something to say. 

I still don’t know what to say, how to write about this, how to think.

But the stunned silence I’ve felt inside myself since those conversations has been telling.  I’m thinking, as I suspect most well-informed North Americans like me might, “So the numbers are inflated.  Then what’s a more accurate estimate?  Some say 30,000 Haitians lost their lives.  What would have been an okay number to have imprisoned, tortured, killed?”

Quite frankly I’m more than just confused.  I’m irritated.

Angry. 

Yes, I’m angered that people think this way. But I’m more angered by my own ignorance, my own naivety, my own not knowing how to talk or write about it.

How could I assume so wrongly?

Am I wrong to believe democracy is always best?  Are there indeed places on the planet where it won’t work?

I’ve long thought the Bush mandate to “export democracy” expressed many of the faulty assumptions Americans have toward the rest of the world.  I’ve known that Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, insisted Democracy depended on an educated citizenry—that the uneducated and ill-informed are poorly equipped to think about, let alone make decisions about good government.

But how does that apply here in a country where so few have gone to school, so many remain illiterate?  If education is the key—then which education, what kind, who decides?

I beginning to believe I am indeed in a place where other rules apply.  Life’s lived differently, and I don’t have the How-To Manual.

For so long Europeans and Americans have imposed their perspectives on Port-au-Prince.  Since the days of Columbus and the original “colonizing,” the conquerors have been wrong—

Done wrong.

Who’s the real dictator here?

Which are the true atrocities?

An Event Horizon for Haiti? Baby Doc’s Mind-Bending Return from Exile


As events unfold here in Port-au-Prince around Jean-Claude Duvalier’s return from exile on Sunday, his being detained and charged with corruption by Haitian prosecutors yesterday, only to be released last night and returned to the Karibe Hotel having had his passport confiscated, I can’t help but repeat how surreal it feels—like living on the edge of a bizarre Caribbean twilight zone where reality contorts itself into a banana republic parody of all things right and just and  good.

In the midst of this twisting of right and wrong, caring and corruption, goodness and greed, I’m reminded of why I began this blog in the first place and why I called it “reinventing the event horizon.” I’m reminded of the quote from T. D. Allman’s After Baby Doc I cited in my first post back in November.  It bears repeating, as Allman associates Haiti with the same “convoluting” of reason we see happening here this week:

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. (After Baby Doc, 1989)

Wrap your brain around that statement and you may begin to understand how Haiti feels this week—how this warping of the already absurd, not only wearies me, but worries folks the world over.

Remember, an event horizon is the edge of a black hole, a bending in the space/time continuum beyond which no light can escape—in many ways, a point of no return.

Was the earthquake an event horizon for Port-au-Prince?  Will cholera bend time and space so there’s no escaping the dis-ease that’s plagued this place for centuries?  Will fraudulent presidential elections and now Baby Doc’s return from exile push the Haitian people into further darkness?

Is there light for Haiti?

Duvalier Update


This afternoon Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was detained by Haitian authories, formally charged with theft and corruption, and, as of a few minutes ago, allowed to return to his hotel here in Petion-ville.  He must remain at the disposal of prosecutors for further questioning.  Baby Doc has a press conference scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at 2pm EST.

Though I’m not the story by any means,  this newest turn of events affected me only inasfar as UN helicopters droned over-head for much of the day, and by mid-afternoon tires began burning, the stench of which I find nauseating.  If you’ve never been up wind of burning rubber, I suggest you stay away at all costs.  Eyes will water, heads will ache–blindingly so for some, me included.

Frankly, I feel whirl-winded and whip-lashed by the day’s developments–unable really to make sense of this place, this Port-au-Prince I now call home. 

More tomorrow.

Another “If only I (k)NEW(s)!” update from Haiti


I have a confession to make—

I’m a tad bit apprehensive here in Haiti today—

Since, as many of you know by now, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier arrived in Port-au-Prince Sunday evening.  If that doesn’t blow your ever-lovin’-Haitian mind, nothing can, nothing will.

It’s in honor of this less-than-happy happening, that today I offer another “If only I (k)NEW(s)!” update from Port-au-Prince.

First, a brief overview:

Sunday night former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier landed unexpectedly at the Port-au-Prince airport.  He had been exiled in France for nearly 25 years.  Duvalier, son of the infamous and brutal “Papa Doc” became “president for life” when his father died in 1971 and he himself continued to brutalize the Haitian people for 15 years, until exiled in 1986.  Many believe he may have ulterior political motives for returning at this time, wanting to fill the power vacuum left here after a fraudulent presidential election in November.

Duvalier history in Haiti:

–Francois “Papa Doc,” Duvalier, a medical doctor, served as president from 1957-1986.

–In 1959 Papa Doc established the Tonton Macoutes, a secret police, that terrorized Haitians for nearly 27 years.

–Papa Doc had political opponents imprisoned and/or executed.  Some estimate as many as 30,000  were killed.

–Papa Doc died in 1971, having named his 19-year-old son as his successor.

–Baby Doc continued the atrocities begun by his father: “prison camps, torture, arbitrary executions, extrajudicial killings . . .” in the words of Amy Wilentz (see her book The Rainy Season).

–In 1986 a coup exiled Baby Doc and his family to France.

–Haitians danced in the street, knowing he was gone.

Current developments:

On Sunday at 5:50 pm Duvalier, along with his wife, arrived in Port-au-Prince aboard an Air France flight from Paris.  59-year-old Baby Doc, wearing a dark blue suit and tie, is said to have kissed the ground upon deplaning.  From the airport, where he told reporters only, “I’m here to help,” Duvalier traveled in an SUV to Petion-ville’s Karibe Hotel.  (Petion-ville is the up-scale Port-au-Prince suburb Sara and I call home.)

Sources indicated that Baby Doc traveled to Haiti on a diplomatic passport, but it’s not clear which country issued it.  Though most find this hard to believe, a senior aid of current President Preval said it did not become clear to Haitian officials that Duvalier was returning until the plane he traveled on stopped on the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe.

It’s the timing of the former dictator’s return to Haiti that seems suspect, his arriving on the day a final run-off presidential election was to be held, one day before the head of the OAS (Organization of American States)  was scheduled to meet with President Preval to discuss the outcome of a vote recount.  The OAS findings were leaked to the press a week ago and suggested the OAS would recommend that Jude Celestin, candidate from president Preval’s political party, and Preval’s hand-picked successor, be eliminated from a final round of elections, due to massive election “irregularities”—namely ballot boxes having arrived at polling places already stuffed with votes for Celestine.

Because of this, some, both in Haiti and abroad, believe Duvalier has arrived for political purposes, hoping to fill a power vacuum here in Port-au-Prince.  It’s this fear that has lead the United Nations to restrict the movement of its staff until further notice (or until Baby Doc’s motives for coming can be clarified).

We can only wait ourselves, since Duvalier’s press conference scheduled for Monday was postponed and is expected to be held today, Tuesday, instead.

Finally and, perhaps, more importantly, some journalists and academic experts are asking if this return of Baby Doc’s will prompt Jean-Bertrande Aristide to come home, as well, or at the very least drive Aristide supporters to the streets demanding that their exiled hero be allowed to return.

A few good news articles you might want to read:

–“’Baby Doc’ Duvalier returns to Haiti in a surprise move”—a piece from CNN.com.

–“Haiti’s ‘Baby Doc’ in surprise return from exile”—at Yahoo news.

–“Duvalier Meets with Advisers as Haiti Holds its Breath”—from the New York Times.

Disclaimer:

Remember, as I’ve said before, that here in Haiti it’s hellaciously hard to get good news.  And by “good news” I mean accurate news.  More often than not I throw my hands in the air and exclaim in utter and complete newsless-ness, “C’est la vie, la vie.”  Indeed—whatever will be will be—cause I’m not gonna be able to change it and I’m sure as hell not gonna know about it ahead of time.

Confessions of a Desperate, Writing Neurotic


Sara (my partner) has been saying for weeks that I should blog about this—this being what I wrote last summer about my struggle to write.

“I swear, it’s funny as hell,” she says.

Repeatedly—

So I gave in this morning, agreeing, maybe it is funny—

Or pathetic—

You decide.

But first a bit a background— how it all got started.

Just after the Christmas holiday, Sara returned to Haiti ahead of me.  And because of this, over the New Year’s weekend, she was doing what Sara does to relax.  What she calls “piddling,” what I would more accurately describe as “recreational organizing.”  This can come in many forms: straightening closets—obsessively earnestly rearranging items according to color, all clothes on wooden hangers only—ordering and reordering items in the refrigerator—neurotically enthusiastically arranging jars and bottles in tidy rows, like-items soldiered together according to kind rather than rank.

(a subject for another post, perhaps?)

At any rate, you get the picture—

Over this particular weekend, however, Sara extended her reign of organizing terror to the contents of my drawers, my closets, cabinets, shelves.

Now I have mixed feelings about this. 

Sometimes I don’t want my stuff touched—because in her cleaning frenzy, Sara is inclined, at times, to throw things away, pieces of paper she thinks useless but which are, in fact, important to me.  On the other hand, Sara is extremely good at organizing, really good, as you might expect from someone who behaves this way for sport.  So sometimes I agree to let her “piddle” with my precious possessions, but only if I can extract from her, my “everything-is garbage-gal,” the promise that nothing, absolutely nothing—not even the most seemingly senseless scrap or decades old sales receipt— will be discarded.

On this weekend in question, I extracted such a promise, and Sara came upon such a scrap—something I had scribbled on index cards—the contents of which she says I should blog about here.

But—before I lay my naked and neurotic writerly self out to me mocked and laughed at—I offer a disclaimer, of sorts—

Namely—that real writers, good writers, famous writers do indeed write about the kind of stuff I describe below.  I’m thinking specifically about Natalie Goldberg, who in her book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, outlines the basics of writing as spiritual practice and in Chapter 1, “Beginner’s Mind, Pen and Paper,” addresses the writers struggle to find the perfect pen, the even more perfect paper.

(And remember, as well, that this was NEVER meant to be read by anyone but me—so it’s bad, it’s raw, it’s, well, neurotic.)

So, without further adieu here’s what I wrote on 13 June 2010, what I scribbled in pink ink on unlined index cards:

When I have tried to journal recently I’m always bothered by the notebook I’m writing in—I know that sounds crazy—and surely it’s a mere excuse—but I truly believe I should be keeping my entries in another format—

Perhaps, typing them on my computer—if the paper is lined, perhaps, it should be unlined—if it’s plain—perhaps, it should be graph paper.  If I write in blue ink, probably, it should have been black or green or gray—any other color than the one I’m using.

So here I’m writing on an index card—knowing that it too will feel wrong—and using pink ink—equally incorrect, I’m sure.

Most everything about writing feels wrong—doing it—not doing it—doing it in the morning, in the evening, in the afternoon—equally problematic.

Now, these index cards feel too small—not enough space—I feel confined—God knows I’ve got it wrong again!

But I try to tell myself it doesn’t matter.  It’s better to get it wrong than not to have gotten it at all.

There you’ve GOT her folks—Kathy, the “Writing Neurotic,” evidence that she does indeed exist.

So laugh if you will.  Mock if you must.

But, where in the name of God’s good implements of ink, does Writing Neurotic come from?  Does she live in other writers?  Does she roam from writer’s body to writer’s body, circling the globe, imparting authorial insecurities across the entire planet?  Or does she only live in little old me?

Tell me—

Have you ever been possessed by Writing Neurotic?  Has she come to your country, your city, house and street, forced herself uninvited into your office, taken over your desk, borrowed into to the deepest and most secret corners of your scribbling-obsessed self?

If she has, I want to know.  I want to join forces with others who’ve been haunted—track her down—bury her once and for all, far from WordPress  and Freshly Pressed—ban her forever from the Blogosphere!

Please note:  I scheduled this piece to post yesterday before news broke that former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier  had returned unexpectedly to Port-au-Prince. 

To see an article from Yahoo News about this potentially ominous development, click here.  To see the piece I posted  as soon as we got the call that Duvalier was at the airport, click here.  To read an article from CNN click here.  ( Thanks to Mrs. H. over at “A. Hab.’s View of the World” for the CNN link.)  And finally, to see a helpful piece from MSNBC.com, click here.

I will try to keep you updated as the story develops.

Dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier at Port-au-Prince Airport


The news here in Haiti just gets stranger and stranger. 

Within the last few minutes we got word that former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has returned to Haiti, landing at the Port-au-Prince, Toussaint Louverture International Airport at 5:30pm EST on an Air France flight from Paris. 

We don’t know yet what this means or why he’s here for the first time since exiled in 1986, but it’s hard to imagine this is a good development.

I’ll keep everyone posted as soon as I hear anything more.  In the meantime this article from the National Post might interest some of you.