If only I (k)NEW(s)!

Earlier this week my friend Lisa at “Notes from Africa” suggested I begin periodic news updates about Haiti.  I thought that a fine idea, as most of Lisa’s are, so today I’m here to deliver news, of sorts.

“Why ‘of sorts’?” you might ask.

A reasonable question—

For here in Haiti, the fact remains, it’s hellaciously hard to get good news.  And by “good news” I mean accurate news.  More often than not, I’m misinformed, ill-informed, or not informed at all.  More often than not I’m confused.  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.

In Haiti I think we have accurate news about like we have free and fair elections—rarely, if at all.

But here goes.  Here you have—

Haiti’s Week in Review:

Earthquake anniversary

If you’ve been reading this blog, you should know that January 12th was the one year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, an event which, I hear, got significant coverage in the US and around the world.  (I know the national director for Sara’s NGO here in Haiti was interviewed on CNN the night before last.)

–At least 230,000 were killed.

–More than 300,000 were injured.

–Only 5% of rubble has been cleared in the last year.

–Still 1.3 million are homeless in and around Port-au-Prince.

A couple of great articles on the anniversary have appeared at Time.com this week.  I suggest you take a look at:

                “Who Failed on Haiti’s Recovery?”

                “Haiti’s Quake, One Year Later: It’s the Rubble, Stupid!”


Not as much in the headlines this week, but I heard in an interview on NPR this morning that we are officially in the epidemic phase of the disease. 

–The death toll as of yesterday was 3, 759 according to the Haitian Health Ministry.

–Officially 181,000 have been sickened to date.

For more news on the cholera outbreak I recommend an article from the Montreal Gazette:

                “Haiti cholera toll tops 3,750”

Haitian Presidential Elections

Here’s where things get complicated and more than a little fuzzy.  And here’s where I wish I knew a whole lot more, not only because it’s important to the democratic process, but also because, in purely practical and selfish terms, what happens here over the next several days will impact my life most significantly.

First a bit of background in case you’re new to this issue: 

–On November 28th Haiti held nationwide elections, with 18 candidates running for president.

–Ballot boxes arrived at polling places stuffed with votes for the candidate from the ruling political party and soon-to-be son-in-law of current Haitian president Preval—Jude Celestin—causing most of the other candidates to accuse the government of fraud.

–Rioting broke out when election results were announced a week later and the top two vote-getters were Mirlande Manigat and Celestin—excluding hugely popular musician candidate Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly from a run-off between the top 2 vote-getters on January 16th.

–Port-au-Prince streets calmed down when Preval’s government agreed to a recount of votes by the OAS (Organization of American States).

–The announced results of that recount have been delayed multiple times since December 20th, when they were originally to be made public, so the January 16th run-off has been delayed.

–Official results of that recount have yet to be announced.

However—and this is a big “however,” indeed—

–Monday results of that OAS recount were leaked to the press.  And BBC News reports that the OAS will recommend that the candidate from the ruling political party be disqualified from any run-off.  If this story interests you, check out the BBC piece,

                “OAS to give Haiti presidential election verdict.”               

 What does this all mean? 

There was actually some debate about this at a dinner party Sara and I hosted the other evening, but I will mention an idea discussed by folks who had just left a meeting with presidential candidate, Lesley Voltaire.

Our dinner guests mostly speculated which announced outcome would result in the most violence on the streets of Port-au-Prince and when that announcement might be made.  Some thought that announcement could come as early as last night, which didn’t happen, but was more likely on Sunday evening, January 16th.

Surprisingly to me, most agreed that more violence would result from Jude Celestin being left out of the run-off, since Preval’s government would pay protesters to take to the streets, despite the fact that few in the country actually support Celestin’s candidacy.  They said the omission of Martelly from the run-off would cause problems and likely riots, but fewer problems than Preval could pay the poor to incite on the streets.

So, there you have it, folks, the news from Port-au-Prince, as I know it.  Yes, I wish I  (k)NEW more—but I don’t.  We’ll just have to see what happens Sunday, whether an announcement is made then, and if so, who will be allowed to participate in a run-off.

The last time an announcement came, we were stuck in our house for 4 days because of city-wide violence.  For descriptions of that rioting and how it affected our lives you should click here and here  and here .

I’ll keep you posted———-

Happy Holidays from Haiti: a Christmas letter

Dear Friends and Family,

Sara and I, along with our dogs Ralph and Lucy, would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays both from our home-away-from-home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and from our home in Lexington where Sara will join me on Christmas Eve. 

2010 has been a challenging year for us, as we have tried to settle in yet another international location, tried to create a home for ourselves away from the family and friends we hold so dear and miss so often.

Though last year we didn’t make it home for the holidays, Sara and I spent Christmas itself on a stunningly secluded beach in central Vietnam, playing in the sun and sea, eating food so delicious we salivate now even thinking about it. 

However, just two weeks after that lovely holiday in paradise, the January 12th earthquake in Haiti brought our life in Hanoi to a premature end.  By the first week of February Sara was on the ground in Port-au-Prince, having had a mere 18 hours at our home in Lexington to transition.   Since that time she has still not had more than 5 consecutive days in Kentucky, not more than a week in close to 2 years.  And though, of course, Sara loves her work and is passionate about providing homes for those displaced by the earthquake, she’s saddened that time away from her own home distances her from those she loves, forcing her to think about  from far away.

I, on the other hand, was fortunate to spend most of February, March, and April in Lexington, with only 1 week during March in Port-au-Prince and 2 weeks during May in the slums of New Delhi with 12 University of Kentucky students (completing in a service-learning project with Habitat for Humanity India).  It was not until June that I, along with our two dogs Ralph and Lucy, transitioned to Haiti more “full time” or at least as close to full time as risk management allow.  Security challenges abound in Port-au-Prince, where there is at least one kidnapping a day and we have two armed guards at our house around the clock.

However, we DO have a lovely, mountain-side home in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petion-Ville—a home Sara’s left for only brief visits to the US and one longer trip to the Pacific Northwest, where we enjoyed 2 days in Seattle and a week with 12 other friends on Whidbey Island—a fabulous time of fun, feasting, and fellowship with a group of women we dearly love.

And though we feel fairly well-settled in Port-au-Prince by now, settled enough to have hosted a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner for 24, Haiti itself is far from peaceful this Holiday Season.  Not only did the earthquake last January kill close to a quarter of a million, but it has left, still 11 months later, more than 1.3 million people homeless in the city of Port-au-Prince alone.  Not only did the Haitian people suffer destruction again in the wake of Hurricane Tomas, but they are continuing to fight a cholera epidemic that has killed and sickened thousands more.  Not only did they face fraudulent presidential elections last month—they have dealt with the resulting social unrest, especially in the form of rioting by people who have suffered unimaginable losses in the last year, people who feel disenfranchised not only by the international community, but also by their own political leaders who would steal their right to a free and fair election.  It’s sad for us to see so much loss and suffering in such close proximity to our own lives of comfort, surplus, and blessing.

Despite all of this, however, the Haitian people are strong.  They are resilient.  They persevere.  Sara and I are proud to call the beautiful people of this tiny island our neighbors, our friends, our family, and we would ask you to not only pray for us this Christmas, but more importantly to keep our new Haitian brothers and sisters in your hearts and prayers, as well.

As the mountains that circle Port-au-Prince brighten on Christmas morning, the Haitian people will be left with little to do but pray—

But we ask that you too pray for peace in Port-au-Prince streets—for peace in those mountains beyond—those mountains beyond mountains—

Please pray those hills would be alive with the sound of peaceful music–

A peace that passes understanding–

May God bring peace to you and your family this Holiday Season!

May God bring peace to Haiti!

With blessings from Port-au-Prince,

Sara and Kathy

Risk Management in Port-au-Prince: a note of clarification

My blogging buddy Lisa (again at “Notes from Africa”) raises an important point in a comment to yesterday’s post—one, in fact, that helps me realize just how lost I sometimes am inside my own perspective—looking at Haiti from the inside out—(not that I’m a real “insider” by any means).  It’s just that, as the name of this blog suggests (“reinventing the event horizon”) to come to Haiti is, in many ways, to cross a virtual “event horizon.”  Things get twisted here, turned inside out, spit out, inverted, and reinvented!  So I should try untangling a few details for the sake of clarity.

More specifically, Lisa notes how casually I mention someone from security, namely Samuel, not meeting my plane and how that makes me sound like some kind of celebrity. 

Now the fact of the matter is—when Samuel escorts you through the airport you do FEEL like a celebrity—by-passing the lines at immigration and security check points.  However, this perception has more to do with how well Samuel does his job, than anything about my status as a 5” 2’-artist-writer-nobody hoping, sometimes even praying, to get through the chaos, the outer edge of insanity, that IS the Port-au-Prince airport. 

And even more importantly to do with the insanity itself, the degree of danger, the security risks Sara’s NGO cannot afford to take, and the willingness of my partner herself to forgo as much risk as possible where MY safety is concerned.  In other words, the woman loves me.  What more can I say?

But about the risk itself—

Port-au-Prince is a dangerous place.  The risk-management folks at Sara’s NGO, for example, won’t allow her to travel through the traffic, streets still clogged with rubble from the January 12th earthquake, to the airport itself without an armed escort, in addition to a driver.  In fact, any expat working for the organization is NOT allowed to drive outside of Petion-ville—never supposed to drive alone—even in the relative safety of our upscale suburb where President Preval himself lives.  We drive with seatbelts on, windows up, doors locked.  It’s harder to be pulled from a car that way.

To violate these rules would be to face the wrath of Richard, head of security for the organization’s operation in Haiti, the one responsible for the safety of a few ex-pats too many, someone we affectionately refer to as “Papa Bear.”  Not to mention the wrath of Jack at headquarters in Atlanta!  (Jack sometimes reads my blog, so I need to give him the credit he’s due.)

On average—there’s a kidnapping a day in Port-au-Prince—usually of foreigners, often of expats working for NGOs on earthquake reconstruction.  And in fact, a number of these kidnappings actually happen in Petion-ville itself, since most NGOs have set up their operations from this location.  

Though most of Port-au-Prince proper was left in ruins following the earthquake, much of our small suburb was still left standing.  The actual earthquake only measured a magnitude 7.0, but because there’s no building code, to speak of, in Haiti, people take engineering shortcuts to save money and establish shelter without “excess” expense.  These kinds of structures pancake in the face of earthquakes. Remember the earthquake in Chile soon after the one here.  It was a magnitude 8.0, but because of rigidly enforced building codes, the country ultimately suffered far less damage than Haiti did.  

In Petion-ville, however, people have the funds to build safer structures.  These more stable buildings survived the earthquake with far less damage, so it’s in these that NGOs have set up offices to oversee the recovery process.

But about the danger itself—back to the risk of kidnapping—

I should specifically mention an “attempted” but soon failed abduction that took place outside the gym where I work-out most mornings.  In this instance, the Haitian driver was let go because he supposedly “had no money” to pay a ransom, while the “foreigner” (as they’re referred to here) was essentially car-jacked (but soon escaped)—physically unharmed, thank God—though I’m sure emotionally quite unsettled by the event.

Around the same time, the wife of the Petion-ville chief of police was assassinated just yards (meters) from her house and another NGO employee was shot and killed by gunmen while working “in the field”—essentially anywhere outside of Petion-ville where reconstruction is taking place.

The bottom line, actually, is this—

Sara oversees operations, on the ground here in Haiti, for a large NGO that works in almost 100 countries around the world—one that, for legal reasons, is forced to manage risk quite closely—so the security protocol is extensive.

It means that every day I live with two armed guards outside my door—in shifts that rotate every 12 hours.

It means sometimes a security escort at the airport.

Why the airport specifically, you might ask.  Ah—that “outer edge of insanity”—that’s tomorrow’s story to tell—

—“Adventuring at the Port-au-Prince Airport:  Another Event Horizon Redefined.”