So the Haiti chapter of my life and career has reached a conclusion, two weeks ago in fact on the day I flew out and had a small farewell gathering with my colleagues in the coordination office — cake to thank them for all their hard and continuing work, also to sweeten my own sense of parting. Indeed it’s bittersweet to leave an assignment where I worked with such great people on ambitions which feel productive and purposeful. That said – it’s also nice then to have some down time with family and friends, and a chance to gain a bit of perspective after what were certainly 23 full and busy months!
These are the last of my photos from Haiti: colleagues and friends at that farewell gathering; some kids and their parents (teachers?) at a neighborhood daytime pre-carnaval parade in early February (eek! time flies!), some of my favorite views and panoramas from PaP. Plus a little gallery of the flowers I focused on in these recent months, when events in the world and my work life sometimes got just a bit too heavy. In the end it’s all good – I trust we’ll manage to remain optimistic and hope for a bit more peace and friendship in this fractured world, eh? Over and out, for now…
Also, if you’re interested and understand some French, here are links to two interviews I did on the radio, in Canada just after departing PaP. To hear my part of the first link, click ahead to 8:19 in the program which starts at 6:00.
So it’s 2017, and I’m approaching two years working here in Port au Prince. One of the things I’ve always loved about this city is the views from the mountains out over the plain which is the core of the city; also, the views of the mountains, from when you’re on a rooftop in the city. This post is lots of individual shots I’ve taken over the past couple months – walking to work on a weekend morning, hanging out on the terrace of the Olofson Hotel, which is the grand old victorian-style institution in the heart of old town where it’s fun to have a relaxed breakfast every now and then. The earthquake affected the city itself — heart of town, where Olofson is — more than most of the other parts of town, and afterwards many businesses, NGO’s and other offices moved higher up into Petion-Ville and surrounding areas. Slowly the old city is rebuilding, and that’s great because more of the beautiful old houses are there, and that’s where the city’s historic core is — see some of my earlier posts , such as the about numbers in Haiti, with a few photos of the monuments to the first constitution and some of the early heroes of Haitian independence. (For example, https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2016/10/09/41-26-23-and-other-numbers-from-haitis-history/)
In the middle of downtown Port au Prince sit quite a few monuments to Haiti’s early history: statues commemorating founders of the nation such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe; an unfinished tower which was meant to commemorate the country’s liberation from slavery at the 200th anniversary of the nation’s founding (1804); the marble-fronted three-sided column with texts from Haiti’s first constitution, drafted in 1801 by Toussaint Louverture, who is my personal most-want-to-meet person from history, along with Queen Elizabeth the first.
Also in the heart of town is the MUPANAH, musee du pantheon national d’Haiti. (It’s the building with the tiled mosaic features – the museum is underneath those unique skylights.) This fantastic site is both a truly interesting museum with displays on Haiti’s history from the native-American era to the present — and also a symbolic pantheon (guides tell us the actual earthly remains aren’t there, more sort of symbols or something – I haven’t asked for specifics) to four of the most important early leaders and founders: Tousaint, Dessalines, and Christophe, along with Alexandre Petion. Which bring us to the numbers game.
On a wall at the end are photos or paintings of nearly all the heads of state in Haiti’s history. Having now led groups of
international staff on downtown tours several times, always ending at the museum, I’m digging into more of the details. Last time, I read all the details under some of the presidents’ photos, such as when the Palais Nationale was built — the 1880s if I recall right. (That’s the president’s palace, which was badly damaged in 2010 and not yet functional again.) I also did some counting, looking for other ways to frame this nation’s complex, impressive and at times rather depressing history. How many elected presidents has Haiti had? 41. How many unelected heads of state and interim government councils or military juntas or councils of ministers has it had? 26.
Toussaint’s constitution was the first, in 1801. I’m sure it’s unique in human history as the very first time any constitution stated that slavery shall not exist. After all, Napoleon’s reaction when Toussaint sent him the draft for approval was to send hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of soldiers. Not hard to understand that the 400,000 or so self-liberated slaves here pretty much reacted to that with a “fuck you very much.” How many other constitutions? The total number of constitutions this country has known, starting with that 1801 version, is 23.
Most Haitians I’ve spoken with will explain that the US has invaded twice. The first was in 1915, an invasion which lasted until 1934. Like the more-recent US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, Haiti continued to have presidents and a government formally its own…but with a bunch of American soldiers toting guns around, you can imagine how empowered that government and its citizens felt, eh? (And let’s be honest about white American soldiers occupying a black republic in 1915 and how respectful they likely were?) In the 48 years prior to that first invasion, Haiti saw 22 heads of state. The second US invasion was 1994, when the marines marched in to restore an elected president (Bertrand Aristide) to power and remove a military government. In the years between 1986 and 1994, Haiti had seen 10 heads of state and provisional ruling councils. Progress is hard to build and continue, when governance can’t be stable and transition reliably, and when outside powers and groups wield such influence, or invade at will.
Obviously the nation, its people and its history are more than numbers. Obviously there are human families, individual human stories of success and frustration, failure and achievement woven into the 225 years since the only successful slave revolt in human history rose and burned down the first colonial plantations on the Plaine du Nord in 1791. The numbers are but one way in – an invitation for those wanting to explore more deeply to do so. At this time, in these weeks and months to come following Matthew’s unwelcome visit, I for one am trying to remember this.
Sunday afternoon in Port au Prince. There’s a great big mass of clouds, wind and rain named Hurricane Matthew, currently a few hundred miles south of us in the Caribbean and slowly working its way north. Seems that tomorrow, parts of Haiti will see massive rain, probably flooding, and very likely substantial risks to homes and lives and communities. For now, not much to do but wait: hasn’t yet started raining. My tennis buddy is taking a weekend in the mountains, so I’m at loose ends while also behind on both sleep and de-stressing recreation.
So I started thinking about all the clouds I’ve looked at from airplane windows the past two months. Figured I’d share some of them with you.
Trip one: late July (all the files are named yymmdd so you can tell which flight it was, and numbered in sequence, so if you think of the plane’s route, you can guess as I do roughly what we’re looking at – some landforms are obvious, others less so), the first time on a flight from PaP to Maimi that we went as far east as we did. Usually, the flights have passed just west of Ile la Tortue; this time the plane clearly diverted to the east, and I think it must have been to avoid a storm system: I think the first photo you see above is that storm system. Nothing like Matthew…but certainly on that day, flights were delayed all across North America due to storm systems, and we here had our little flight adjustments as well.
Trip two: the return leg from Miami to PaP, from the same vacation trip, in later August. I just love looking down at the islands, sandy bottoms and coral formations of the Bahamas. Then watching the shores of Haiti creep slowly closer and become landforms, towns and cities that I recognize and can place on a map.
Trip three: from JFK down to PaP this time, leaving quite early in the morning on a clear Sunday. Saw the moon rise; saw rainbows in clouds as we approached a somewhat cloudy Haiti. Saw deforestation runoff coming into the bay near Port au Prince, and the bump of the Commune de Carrefour just west of downtown PaP. Saw the mountains to the south of downtown PaP, which I’ve explored a bit by car and on foot. Again – numbered in sequence from sitting on the runway at JFK, to a view at Jamaica Bay as we took off…and all the miles of ocean, clouds, moon and rainbows and bays and islands between.
I’ve gotten off for another bit of a vacation at home in California, which has given me time to comb through my camera and folders for shots I’ve not yet done anything with. These are just a few bits and pieces of miscellany — from a ride-along I did earlier in the year when our outreach team did some sensitization work on services for survivors of sexual violence at a town on the northeastern side of PaP; plus a few other bits and pieces such as the lady with her little mobile copier set up on the square in Petion-Ville by the Mairie, police station, church, etc.
Sugar cane has a long and mostly painful history here in Haiti. Before it became the Republic of Haiti, this part of the island generated huge profits for the slave-holding French colonists. So it was with a mix of interest and discomfort that I took in all the sugar-making implements and buildings at the Sugar Cane Historic Park (Parc Historique de la Canne a Sucre), a private park, meeting space, restaurant and tourist site on the eastern edge of PaP. I was there for a full-day meeting but enjoyed the breaks and the end of day to explore the site a bit, and as you’ll see it’s rather picturesque. Given its incredible and utterly unique history, its mix of rugged mountains and beaches, its quite unique and rich culture and art — Haiti by rights should be the biggest tourist magnet in the Caribbean in my opinion.The mix of poor infrastructure, weak security and health care baselines, and other obstacles make it more of an adventure-tourist or even “humanitarian tourist,” especially for all the one-week teen-aged missionary visitors that fill the planes from Atlanta in their shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops). But I know the government certainly hopes tourism can grow and I for one hopethat the baseline infrastructure and other conditions improve sufficiently that Haiti’s manifest attractions for tourism can be more evident to the masses of North Americans who seek a safe, interesting and warm escape from cold winters :-). It’s been months since I last posted, and I apologize. Given the long delay, I’ve thrown in a few other random shots from around PaP, mostly views of houses on the hills. Every photo file should have a name which will tell you roughly what it is. Hope you enjoy!
The year’s gotten off to a busy start – lots of work, long days and weeks, not quite the amount of free time that gives much chance to get out and about with a camera, or sort & post the photos once I’ve gotten out. Still and all, I did manage another hiking weekend back to the lovely Auberge la Visite, at Seguin. This really is a lovely if challenging hike. (Because it’s rolling, very steep ups and downs, and almost all in blazing sun unless you start really early or get a cloudy day…without rain: you would NOT want rain on this road). This time I walked again with a few work colleagues. We started really early, and in late January so the sun rose above the mountains too the east a bit later, and we actually walked in shade much of the time.
The stars at night were wonderfully clear and abundant – we spent time studying the milky way & deciding which were planets, which stars, and which satellites. On the way back we were actually surprised when we reached the end: if you look in some of these shots below, you’ll notice one can see the road most of the way – and we thought we had yet another village, and another down & up road segment, to cover before reaching our end-point. The end point, if you’re curious, is the last village that any regular 4-wheeled vehicles come to from the north. From the south, you can get to about where we spent the night and even a bit further – but the middle chunk of this road is so steep and rocky that it’s foot, mule, and motorbikes only. I, for one, would not have any wish at all to be on those motorbikes: it’s how I felt backpacking the grand canyon; I trust my own feet more than the mules (in the canyon) or the motorcycles.
There are mules here but mostly as pack animals: very few were being ridden by people, though I suppose after they drop off their carrots or scallions at the market or transport towns, the folks may ride them back home… (I’m sort of assuming there are brokers or agents in the village where we start, who buy up what all these folks are carrying, then shuttle it the rest of the way into the PaP metro area…but I haven’t investigated further.) The only real downside to this time of year for a visit is that the waterfall is more of a lovely water trickle, not much of a fall. Oh well. Enjoy the shots, even though they’re probably quite repetitive with the ones I put up last summer…haven’t checked but I suppose I will shortly, just to see how repetitive I’m getting! Happy spring, to those of you in northern climes where spring has sprung.
In this shot below, plus the one at the very end and a few others scattered through the post, you’ll see these rock-strewn hillsides. My current suspicion is that this is the result of erosion — deforestation, as we know, has led to a lot of Haiti’s topsoil being washed into the ocean. I figure these rocks may have become more and more exposed, as the topsoil has washed away…but again it’s something I’ve not checked into. They make for an interesting sight, though, eh?
Mostly when I’ve flown out of the Toussaint Louverture PaP Int’l Airport, we’ve taken off toward the east, then circled around north-westward until the airplane has climbed to its altitude and established its flight pattern toward whatever US airport it’s aiming for. On my last trip, I had a window seat and I took full advantage: friends and followers may remember how much I loved staring out the window and capturing the views in PNG and over the Coral Sea between PNG & Australia…well, the views on this route are equally wonderful. All photos in this post were taken during one flight, following that trajectory up and over Haiti and on to Miami Int’l Airport. Two highlight full-size shots are kicking it off here, out of order, but the gallery below is strictly in order as the plane advanced along its course. I’ve named each photo and hope if you run your cursor over it, you’ll see which was when; where I knew I was looking at xx or yy geographic feature, I cited it. I find the contrasts between Haiti, the other islands and the finally Miami very interesting. And many of the shots nearly modern-art-like in their beauty. Hope you agree!
My wandering field life passed the ten-year mark earlier this year. That’s ten years of finding my way into a new work environment and getting to know new colleagues once a year or so. In a more mundane way, it’s ten years worth of photo files to keep up-to-date and to try to remember to share on my blog. A cousin (thanks, Juliette!) noticed that the entries from my earliest days had lost their photos: mine was a rather early blog, and the ways of uploading photos have changed since then. (Many of those earliest posts appear frankly so embarrassingly shallow to me now that I’m tempted to simply wave my editorial wand and have done with them…but thus far my sense for historical accuracy is controlling that temptation…) If my continued research succeeds, many of those photos will be directly restored onto the blog as I find their originals in backup hard drives and other obscure locations: ah, new year’s resolutions before the old year has even wrapped up!
In the meantime, I’m uncovering little treasures that never made it up here, while fondly remembering where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I was recently saddened to learn that Nancy Schrom Dye, former president of Oberlin College, had passed this year. During my years of active alumni-association work I greatly appreciated her contributions to my alma mater – so I was proud to join some other colleagues in taking her for an end-of-year meal which, the digital date stamp tells me, occurred in Beijing on December 31, in 2005. Up above are also a few rediscovered December 2005 Beijing-area shots which somehow didn’t get posted at the time. (Posting photos was more challenging in those early days…)
Just below are some previously-unposted 2015 shots: early-morning moonset at my home here in Haiti; me with my brother and a colleague when I gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon University earlier this year; and some shots from the lovely Frick House & museum in Pittsburgh, from the same visit. And since this put me in the mood, I’ve wandered through the many countries & continents, family meals & trips & assignments on four continents that have filled the years between these two sets of photos so very fully. Assembling them’s been fun for me so I hope viewing them is fun for you too :-).
This time last year? In December 2014, I returned from Sierra Leone & later went with great friends to enjoy the Ai WeiWei exhibit on Alcatraz Island (more photos from that one in the original post….though that particular set of great friends – you know who you are! – are remarkably camera-resistant):
Where’d I spend 2013? Living in PNG, participating in meetings in Amsterdam & dive trips in Australia, then celebrating the holidays with Steve & Mom in New Zealand:
I began 2012 in the US (where I visited Washington, DC in cherry-blossom season), turned 50 in the company of Howard & Gene at Kakadu National Park in Australia, and finished the year in PNG:
2011 was mostly Mweso, a little Lamu, a little London and a year-end back home seeing Frank Lloyd Wright homes of Pennsylvania with family:
2010…wow, what a year. Just seeing all the continents and countries where I spent time (actually meaningful time, with friends and family and work) makes my head spin even now. The photos evoked so much for me that I just couldn’t narrow it down to three or four…so I’m giving you a lot from 2010, a mix of Manipur (start of year) and Mweso (end of year), with a sprinkling of Sweden, Berlin, Paris & California in between:
I entered 2009 in Tahiti, yes it’s true: during the year I took off from work to help Mom with her house, I dedicated two months to exploring Australia (and watching the Australian Open!) and New Zealand, flying in via Tahiti with a few nights in Papeete, just because I could. The year ended, of course, in Manipur and included a great trip to see excellent sites of Rajasthan with Howard & Gene:
2008 started in Nigeria, and ended in Tahiti…with a lot of good work in Nigeria, a short assignment for the earthquake in China, visits in Germany with my exchange family friends there….and a good deal of time in and around NYC (Mom, aunt Judy & I enjoyed a harbor trip past Ellis Island where our own immigrant ancestors entered the country, and also a trip to our favorite sculpture park up th Husdon)…with a side trip for some hiking in Sequoia and other California adventures:
2007…I began the year based in Colombo but spend the new year’s period with Mom & Steve at Angkor Wat, returned to Colombo to finish out an assignment, headed on for training in Paris where I also got celebrate Mom’s 71st birthday…back to the US to reorganize my life after my first two years in the field, and then off for a new assignment in Nigeria. At the time it felt big. Now it’s all fond memories:
…which will bring us back to year two of this current phase of life’s great adventure, the lovely year 2006. From Beijing & Yunnan in China, to Polonnaruwa & Sigiriya in Sri Lanka (where I was based at year’s end), with family time on Cumberland Island (Mom’s 70th birthday dinner!) and in Germany in between. With a special souvenir from Seoul, where I had the opportunity to work a bit with the young ladies pictured with their daffodils. In a small-world twist, I had dinner with one of those two young ladies just a few nights ago in Port au Prince, which she visits sometimes in her current work with the CDC. So much small world, so little time for it all. Happy end of 2015, and many good hopes for a 2016 of more peace and health to everyone, everywhere.
There will be 54 candidates on the ballot when Haitians vote for president on Sunday. Driving through the streets along one of Port au Prince’s wealthier neighborhoods recently, I commented to a Haitian colleague on a trend I’d noticed: no posters visible anywhere around for the Lavalas party. By contrast, in other more crowded parts of town I’d noticed plenty of posters. I figured I knew why – and my colleague’s response put it clearly: Lavalas’ supporters are the children of Dessalines, and the wealthy neighborhood is the children of Petion. Indeed, the wealthier neighborhood is named Petion-Ville, and in the poorer parts of P-V you will find a few Lavalas posters, but not higher on the hills where the big houses are.
Haiti’s founding, as anyone who’s followed my blog knows, inspires me with awe. That several hundred thousand slaves could rise up and free themselves, in the process pushing back the armies first of Spain and Britain, then finally being the first army in the world to defeat the concentrated attempt of Napoleon Bonaparte to force their submission, is a simply unique event in human history. Unfortunately that early history held the roots of a rich-poor, powerful-powerless divide that remains present in Haiti today. Describing the wealthy as children of Petion refers to his ancestry as mixed-race son of a wealthy white plantation holder, compared to Dessalines’ (& Henri Christophe’s) purely-African ex-slave background. But it’s worth noting Petion made himself president in the republic that governed the south of the country, after Henri Christophe made himself king in the north…after both he and Petion were among those in the government conspired to kill Dessalines shortly after Dessalines crowned himself emperor for life. So things got complicated fast, and it’s not always purely about power, wealth, or ethnic background.
On Sunday, Haiti holds the first election since 2010. Races for parliament and for municipal posts have been successively postponed by the current government, the last several years. In January, parliament was dissolved and the current president, elected five years ago and in office since February 2011, has been ruling by decree since. He stated that he’d use his power of decree only to ensure that elections did happen this year for all offices. On Sunday Haitians will vote not only for the next president, but also for all municipal offices around the country, all deputies and most senators. There will almost certainly be a run-off for president at the end of December, and many of the coming weeks will doubtless be absorbed with arguments over which two candidates will be on that final ballot.
Americans of my generation remember Bertrand Aristide and his election as president in 1990. Many then lost sight of him, and got lost in the details of Haitian politics fairly soon after, but to recap, Aristide was ousted seven months after taking office (military coup), returned in 1994 to finish out his term; was succeeded by Rene Preval (presidents can’t serve two terms in a row, and can’t serve more than two total, under the post-Duvalier constitution); was re-elected in 2000 and held office from early 2001 until forced out of office by an organized and armed opposition movement in 2004; was then succeded after the 2005 election again by Preval, who was succeeded after the 2010 election by the current president, Martelly. The party Aristide founded, Lavalas, is being permitted to run candidates for the first time 2004 – and though the party has lost some of its shine since the idealistic days of the late 1980s and 1990-91, it seems to me that for many they still represent hope. For many others, it seems they call up fear of a return to violence and strife. I’m hoping for a reasonably peaceful weekend and an electoral result that most Haitians feel is fair enough. Either way, I have to admit I find the all the posters fun, seeing how politicians all over the world promise the same things, do the same things…a pothole on our street just got fixed last weekend! Just like NYC during election season, eh? Above all I join many friends and colleagues in hoping for a maximally non-violent weekend and subsequent counting period…