My Old Kentucky Home


Having lived a year in post-earthquake Haiti and shipped 66 boxes worth of passion for Port-au-Prince ahead of our departure, my partner Sara and I, late last night, arrived home in Kentucky with 6 suitcases, 4 carry-ons, and two tired dogs in tow.

And today I am still too whip-lashed by re-entry (too shocked by easy access to electricity) to write much of substance, especially about my Saturday evening talk with Baby Doc, which in itself has left me dizzied with disbelief–clearly, the conversation of a life-time shaded by the half-light of infamy.

However, now that I’m back in the land of easy broadband, I can offer a few photographic highlights of our last days in Haiti:

Movers wrap everything, tables included, in cardboard

Lucy supervises shipping

Ralph visits Haitian vet to avoid US quarantine

Good bye party hosted by Sara's staff at Kalico Beach (near Cabaret)

Lucy oversees our departure for the airport

From atop Ralph's crate

Arrival at the Port-au-Prince airport

Lucy and Kathy wait at the gate

My talk with Baby Doc

Though I’m too tired to say much, I will add that, my 45 minute conversation with Baby Doc, would have been the coup of a life-time, were I a journalist in the traditional sense.  However, I was granted this access as a “friend of friend” and talked with Jean-Claude Duvalier, not about his recent arrest or allegations of wrong-doing, but about who he is as a man, as a president returned from exile, who sees his country suffering and is saddened by it.

I sat across the table and was stunned by the seeming humanity of an ex-dictator, some say committed crimes against humanity.   How could someone supposedly evil actually appear so warm, charming, and, above all else, humble?  I expected arrogance and experienced not one drop of it. 

Is this man maybe not what the world has judged him to be?  Are people capable of change, worthy of redemption?

Whoever Jean-Claude Duvalier is, he’s not what you’d expect.

Happy Valentine’s Day–from the Heart of Haiti


Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.  —Rainer Maria Rilke

The weekend here in Haiti has ended . . .

The time to catch up—do laundry, make beds, have some spaghetti with the ones we love—has lead us to Valentine’s Day—muddy, gone-amuck Monday Cinderella-ed into—

More laundry, more beds, more spaghetti with the ones we don’t always love.

Yes, the ones we love may be less than lovely at times.  But on Valentine’s Day, I’m also thinking about my home here in Haiti and about my home in the blogosphere, readers who care, readers I’ve come to love.

So, it seems essential on this day that celebrates love, a day that celebrates caring and appreciation, that I invite readers I love into the heart of my life here in Haiti–into my home.  For it’s as true as it is cliched: home is where the heart is.

A while back, on a truly muddy Monday, I promised photos of our house in Port-au-Prince, promised, that is, when so many of you ranted about our kitchen decor in a post called “Haiti needs to be HGTV’d.”  (If you missed that post, click here.)

So, though “Writing Neurotic” still threatens (for an introduction to “Writing Neurotic” click here and here), our wireless is working well today—is almost, semi fast . . .  (Notice the adverbs that qualify “fast.”  All apply.)

Given this, I’m going to attempt a giant photo upload.   (If you’re not familiar with the wireless challenges we face at our house here in Haiti, click here.)

If I succeed, a virtual tour of our home should follow.  (Please pray the bandwidth gods, maybe even Saint Valentine himself, remain with us.)

Here’s the deal.  Our house sits on a hillside, hovering above the up-scale Port-au-Prince suburb of Petion-ville, where the streets are poorly paved, if at all, and the twists and turns of “almost-roads” threaten even the most seasoned drivers—pot holes the size of swimming pools are not uncommon.

Though there’s little electricity, once you get here, things are lovely.  Truly—our home is small but adequate, and we have dressed it up with paint—bold color, saturated color, the kind you want to drink in and absorb.

After honking to alert the guard (yes, he’s armed), he’ll open the gate and you’ll drive onto what is essentially the roof of our house—an outside deck that, for the most part, doubles our living space, (only sometimes exposing us to the stench of burning tire in the town below.  Don’t worry there’s been no rioting today.  We’re sinus-ly safe for now.)

Jean-Jean will open the gate, and our dog Ralph will greet you.

So come join us, pull up a chair, have cup of tea or a cocktail, if you like.  The roof-top deck, where we’re sitting looks like this:

The view from your seat looks like this:

And, if you wonder about that roaring, rumbling sound—it’s our generator round the corner, keeping the lights on for us:

Sorry for that obnoxious noise!

You’ll enter the house itself from the roof, by descending a set of stairs:

From the opposite side of the room, the staircase looks like this:

You’ve entered our main living space—a kitchenlivingdiningroom—what in the US we might call a “great room,” though ours is not so grand. 

The kitchen looks like this:

smallandcrampedbutweloveit

Our main seating area looks like this: 

Have a seat. Soak in the color.

On opposite sides of this space, doors lead to two rooms, the master bedroom and bath on one side, the guest room and bath on the other.

The master bedroom looks like this:

And the master bathroom looks like this:

You’ll enter the guest room through this doorway:

This room doubles as Sara’s office, but if you spend the night, you’ll sleep here:

Your bathroom, a mirror image of the master, looks like this:

Another door off the guest room leads to a balcony that looks like this:

And a stairway that looks this:

At the bottom of the stairs, another door from the outside opens into my studio and study:

Wait!

Our guard Jean-Jean rushes down the stairs–interupts the tour.  He insists the protests have started again.  You need to go.

Gosh, darn, you just got here——

We hurry back up the stairs to your car.

Well, at least you’ve gotten a sneak peak at our home in Port-au-Prince, I concede, and as you close the car door, I shout above clatter of gate opening–

Let us know when you can come again, stay a little longer, spend the night. 

I’ll send a driver and an armed-escort to meet your flight. 

(For a post about madness at the Port-au-Prince airport, click here.)

Happy Valentine’s Day from the heart of our home! 

Happy Valentine’s Day–from the (still unresolved) heart  of Haiti—————-

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.)

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.

Haiti’s Feast or Famine: the good, the bad, and an etiquette of greed


I got out of the house Saturday, in fact made it all the way to the grocery store, where I saw people—an assortment of real, honest-to-goodness, up-right-walking, human beings.  They were people on a mission—a singular mission, I might add—the search for sustenance.  Members of this group—more hunter than gatherer—were out for the kill—the thrill of stalking and slaying.  They were ruthless.

Blood was shed.

But, before I proceed with these graphic details of gut and gore, let me remind you how I got myself into this mess, in the first place.  To make a long story short, I came to Haiti with my partner Sara, who directs earthquake recovery efforts for a major, international, NGO.  I am an artist/writer/former-academic.  Since our arrival in Port-au-Prince, our two dogs in tow, we have survived a number of dangers that have included Hurricane Tomas, a cholera epidemic, and the ongoing threat of kid-napping.  In the past week things have worsened considerably, however, as in the aftermath of fraudulent presidential elections the country, Port-au-Prince especially, has been paralyzed by protesters rioting in the streets against a myriad of misdeeds on the part of the ruling political party, crimes that included blatant stuffing of ballot boxes and intimidation of voters at the polls.  It is this rioting that kept us house-bound for much of last week—housebound as all around us the city descended into chaos—buildings burned, people killed.   And it is this confinement that made us more than just a little merry to be out this weekend—even as far as the supermarket on Saturday—

—Where, indeed, blood was shed—

—Almost—

Okay, there may not have been literal blood in the aisles—but it was bloody in every metaphoric sense imaginable.  It was desperate.  It was deadly.  There should have been medical intervention, at the very least.

These human beings were hungry, as only housebound-for-days-with-pantries-depleted aid workers can be—a singularly ravenous group—I now know.

So here’s how it all went down:

Sara and I, wisely arrive at the super market early. Giant, as it’s called, opens at 8.  But we arrive around 7:50 with a strategy mapped out—divide and conquer.  By this time a small group has already gathered.  By 8 our number has grown.  By 8:10 we’re a small crowd.  By 8:15 we’re a ravenous herd thronging the gates of super market heaven, as Giant’s own Peter, raises the barrier.

This, I would argue, is what happens to humans accustomed to the food surplus that is America, Canada, Denmark, Kuwait—suddenly threatened—where anything short of feast is experienced as famine. Ironically, many of these aid workers feed the hungry by day, have degrees in food security, advanced degrees in hunger studies These food-spoiled-food-specialists have been housebound for days and know now that more isolation is inevitable, maybe even imminent.  These are the real survivalist, the professionally-programmed to gather, to stock pile, to horde.

Unfortunately, I participate in this parody.

Willingly—

Isles clog with carts— the meat department is particularly intense—shoppers grabbing chickens to roast, t-bones to grill, pork chops to fry.  These are carnivores galore, consuming the store.

I am no different—but I crave the carbs, have been on a diet for weeks.  And even during good times diets increase my cravings.  So when the few foods I’ve been eating for more than a month aren’t stocked by the store, I start to stress.  My anxiety soars—is still soaring two days later. 

On Saturday I do finally find a few favorite foods—pretzels, almonds, raisins, dates—the carbs I crave even on a diet.  This stockpile, however, doesn’t satisfy.  Sara and I still argue.  I know I’m over-reacting.

There’s too much uncertainty.  The airport has finally reopened, though American Airlines won’t resume flights before Wednesday—the very afternoon I’m scheduled to fly home for the holidays.  Almost daily for the past week American has promised to start flying again on a given day, only to announce the following morning the need to prolong their Port-au-Prince closure.  The only way I’ll get out with my dog Lucy on Wednesday, is if the airline does not delay again.

On top of this uncertainty, we’re not at all confident Sara will be able to leave Haiti on the 23rd—the date of her scheduled holiday departure.  The airports are expected to close again after the final results in the presidential election are announced on December 20th.  Many believe the country will slip into a chaos even more intense.

I know I should be mourning these facts on behalf of Haiti, when, actually, my grief is grounded in fear that neither Sara nor I will get home for the holiday, or even worse—that I will, but Sara won’t, and we’ll be apart on December 25th

It’s an ugly, selfish sadness. 

In fact, I am what I find most deplorable in citizens of rich countries.

Driven.

Greedy.

Vain.

I come from ugly America, a Mecca of meals with an etiquette of greed.   Am I an ugly American, ashamed but not changed?

Or maybe Alexander from Judith Viorst childrens’ book got it right after all.  Maybe it’s just

                “a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”