Monthly Archives: November 2012

Nov. 29, 2012

I never hear or see planes going over the city. An ambulance came to our street one day, and I saw an ambulance out on the main boulevard, Rue de Delmas.

This ghetto I live in is a very dense concentration of constant (except fo few hours in the dead of night) sounds, smells, sights, emotions, thoughts, and interactions.

It’s not like the miles of empty peace, solitude and quiet in the countryside. It’s a hive full of activity. One can live a full life here almost without ever leaving Jacquet toto, a quiet street between Delmas 95 and 83.

I’m grateful for having been able to share this reality with these people for a month. It’s one of the extraordinary places on earth right now.

What is unacknowledged here is how unsafe we really are. We relatively wealthy folks behind our big, locked gates are only able to live here because the masses of poor people around us allow it. In a matter of minutes a mob could scale these walls, attack, rob and kill us all. It’s true; I’m not exaggerating.

Why do The People tolerate this unfairness, this obvious inequality? The badly- paid police and the well-paid military men must control the poor to some extent, but we’d all be dead in our beds before they ever got to Jacquest toto.

I could not live here with this sense of unease and the social imbalances that create it. I guess I prefer to be far away from the masses of poor people in the world, ignoring them and living the good life in peace. Wow. Is that really who I am? Yes, it is. And I’m ashamed of it. It’s the “inconvenient truth,” and it prevents me from ENJOYING LIFE. Thus, the truth is my salvation.

I am only seeing the tip of the iceberg that is Haiti. I can’t even guess at what people’s home lives are like. What goes on inside relationships here? What’s marriage about in Haiti? Sexuality? Parenting? Childhood? Old age? Disability?

I want to go to Iran. (Ilona, a French woman working for NGO and living at the guesthouse, went there two years ago and loved it.) Iran will be the same fascinating mystery to me as Haiti is. I won’t understand anything beneath the surface. Maybe with time,  insight, and more travel around the world, I will have a tiny glimpse of other realities. Insight–into life in general and my life in particular–is what inspires me to write and drives me onward.

The connection between the guesthouse manager, Charlene,  and Wilson, the caretaker and general cleaner-upper, is what keeps this fine little place going so ignoramuses like me can drop in for a month and do surveillance on the Haitians. Charlene is like my dad (and like Natacha and Natacha’s mother, who began the family fortune that begat this guesthouse, among many other things, places and people). Dad was dead in the water from the beginning: a poor little kid from a Berlin ghetto, alcoholic father, seven siblings, and him the oldest boy at a time when that meant something (i.e., responsibility for the family). Dad came to America wanting a better life; he knew money was his (and his family’s) ticket up and out of poverty. When he hit Ellis Island in 1922, Daddy-o might have had an inkling of was about to befall him in the land of the free. Even before WW II made the Germans the most hated group in the United States, WW I had Irish kids yelling “Krauts!” at my German-American mom and her gang in the streets outside Boston.

Charlene reminds me of Dad. I think she’s had a tough time, and she’s doing the best she can for herself and Olivier, her son. It takes a combination of ruthless ambition and secret tenderness that you only show now and then to special people to follow this path.

Wilson is another type altogether, and he’s someone I identify with. Wilson’s from the ghetto. Every Friday he goes to another poor section of Port-au-Prince to spend a day and night with his family. Wilson has scrabbled his way up. He knows he was that close to being left out and left behind, and he’ll never forget it (this is the part I identify with). He’ll never let himself be one of the rich people; at the same time, he’s a survivor among the rats, and he’ll use every opportunity that comes his way to assure his (and his family’s) survival.

I was only adopted because I was a cute baby. Without this face and this body, I’d have been raised in a Catholic orphanage in Boston. I’m just getting over trying to make it on my looks, which weren’t that great to begin with and have faded considerably over time. It takes years to let go of what you think you need.

Dad took care of his large family in Berlin (East and West) all during the war and afterward, when times were really hard over there. How he did it, I’ll never know, but he was a tireless worker and good at what he did (his work appeared in national magazines, like LIFE). He gave me a wonderful life.

I was mad at Dad for a long time because he was an angry, bitter man who could sabotage my life without any regrets. Like lots of people who grow up poor and disadvantaged and raise their kids in the middle class, Dad resented my privileges, privileges he made sure I had. Doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way it is. At any rate, I always thought Dad was a weak man, but it turns out he that he was a tough, stand-up guy. You had to overlook his undying devotion to Germany and his neo-Nazi “friends,” but besides that, Dad was OK.

Mom joked that Dad, who was a photo-engraver, printed money in the basement. He did seem to have secrets. (I thought Dad was a Nazi, and in 1983, I reported him to the Beate Klarsfeld Foundation. Nazi hunters. They told me to forget about it.) Maybe Dad’s secret was that he did print money. He loved to bet on the horses and had a bookie he’d call on the phone to place his bets. Maybe Dad struck it rich.

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Packs of dogs tear through the streets during the night. I go to sleep around 7 pm (years of camping take their toll) and wake up around 2 am.  Cats are screeching and meowing pathetically. (I think they are being tortured. Seriously.) The dogs are barking madly as they run by the house. The other day I saw a little boy run from a dog who wasn’t paying any attention to him. That’s when I realized the dogs here have a certain amount of power. By 4:30 am people start singing at the church next door.

My Dominican Republic couches are set up. Alexei, Paula and Israel are ready for me.

Before Haiti, I never realized what a high standard of living I rigidly hold myself to. Must exercise, must do this, must do that, must look “good,” must say the right things, not embarrass myself in public, not show neediness or subservience, etc. ad nauseam. A regime of health, fitness and so-called well-being (strictly according to American standards).

In Haiti it’s all relaxed and slow (well, as relaxed and slow as you can be when your survival is at stake everyday). No where to go, not much to do, standards are low. It’s less stressful,but also less interesting. I’m not personally involved in Haitian culture so the interest for me is all about the newness and different-ness of life here. As soon as my fascination with this is over, I am ready to leave. It will take a long time to assimilate what I’ve seen and heard here in Haiti.

Yesterday, Pia and I walked  to a busy, little, crowded market down a street to the right, off Jacquet toto. On the way, we bought some of the flat, round, peanut sweets I like (2 for 10 goud), and I bought two bags of their popcorn (5 goud each) from the same woman. She comes out in the afternoon to sell her after-school treats to the kids. At the market, Pia could negotiate good prices for us since she speaks some Kreyol, and we bought potatoes, green peppers, onions, garlic and a few other veggies from a bunch of women who were fun to do business with. Lots of laughing as Pia bargained with them. On the way home we bought eggs at a tiny store across from our house: 8 goud each. I got two; Pia got 4. ($1 US = c. 40 goud) Eighteen-year-old Pia is a smart, optimistic gal, a natural linguist who loves to cook and eat, and she’s lots of fun. When we got home, Pia made us “Christmas punch,” which was just tea, but she loves Christmas and misses being home in Germany during Christmas season. In Europe next year, I will visit Pia and a bunch of other people I’ve met in Haiti.

Yesterday morning, Charlene fed me a huge plate of left-over spaghetti (plain, no sauce, with tiny bits of sausage in it). At lunchtime, Wilson served me a big plate of macaroni (plain, a bit of sauce, with pieces of onion and fish he keeps in the cabinet above the stove). I appreciated it all, but pasta makes me feel sick and bloated, and I am supposed to be watching my cholesterol. I feel guilty just writing this because these people are just trying to fill their stomachs with what’s available, and here I am bitching about these gifts they gave me. Duh.

A kitten has been meowing outside my window (in the alley?) for two days. In my experience, this is what kittens do when they’re starving to death.

Almost every evening someone turns on a washing machine that pounds and crashes deafeningly through its hour-long cycle. Or it might be deafening if not for all the other noise in this part of the village. Recorded Christmas carols sung in English with a French accent: “To face unafraid, the plans that we made, walking in a winter wonderland.” Did Felix Bernard (music) and Richard B. Smith (lyricist) imagine their song, which was written in 1934, being sung on the streets of Haiti in 2012?

My skin is dry and itchy, and full of little bumps that I pick at until they scab over, then I pick the scabs off, and they ooze. It’s very gross and might be a skin fungus from the water here. Or something. Quick, tiny insects are crawling all over me (what the hell are they?), and my scalp itches. I pray it’s not lice. There are so many mysterious “somethings” here. Malaria, cholera, dengue fever. From my earlier travels and life-among-the-lice (i.e., motherhood), I’ve learned that “this,too, will pass.”

The Haitians are incredibly hardy. Everyday they fight for life in a harsh environment. Yada, yada, yada, I know. But I feel like a hothouse flower wilting in the hot sun, which is actually not a sun at all. It’s life at its most raw and basic.  It’s too much for me; Haiti’s beaten me. I’m no match for her. I’m trying to not get robbed while, all around me, people are just trying to survive for one more day. And they sing, beautifully, while doing it.

Haitians, like the Navajo, the Inuit, and the native Hawaiians, know that the spirits are watching over them.

Nov. 27, 2012

I went out in the dark last night to see what the church choir next door looks like. Turns out they are just ordinary people, and not even that many of them, but they make some beautiful music. Terrifically strong voices with wonderful harmonies.

I was standing there outside the church in the road when a young woman and some children came up and stood near me. I felt hassled by the woman, and she was saying stuff to me and about me, and they were all laughing at me. I didn’t handle it well; I should have just said “Bonsoir,” but instead I turned around in a full circle (as if they’d think I was doing voodoo and leave me alone) which just made them think I was crazy. They stared at me like I was a nut. I felt like a nut.

I went back and sat on the wall in front of the guesthouse. I felt an element of danger or at least potential humiliation (“What is she doing out here?”) being out there at night, but the guesthouse caretaker, Wilson (a local guy), was hanging out at the gate so I knew I was safe.

Some young men were along the wall, too, and they were talking to me: “Blond! Blond!” (White, white!), trying to get my attention. I was very uncomfortable, so I didn’t reply. Ilona and Laure drove up, and Wilson opened the gate so they could pull into the driveway; Ilona told the boys to not call me “blond.” It pisses her off when people do this. Then, I told the boys they were crazy (Vous est fou! Loco! [I threw in some Spanish.]). One of the boys said, “je n’est suis pas fou,” or however one says “I’m not crazy” in half Kreyol, half French. I felt bad because, again, I could have just said “Bonsoir,” and they were probably just trying to talk to a white person (which is often quite impossible). Can’t win ’em all.

I’m bored and losing energy and my desire to take action. Nothing to do here; I’m in the city, in a ghetto, and I’m almost broke. Laure said I could come up and visit her in the mountains where she’s working (on a water project, I think). Two hours by bus, then moto for an hour and a half. “There’s extra beds; you can come visit,” she said. I’m not going. I just don’t have the desire (or the bus and moto fare). I want to just get out of this fucking place and never come back.

Today Haiti is sapping my energy. I feel trapped. No sense to the place at all; no pleasure; no joy. For the first time, I heard a bird actually singing today. In the movie “Ghosts of Cite de Soleil,”I saw that there’s nothing green growing there, no nature at all. Must be very hard for those country people to live there.

Culture shock! I’m depressed and just want to eat cookies. Luckily, there are no good cookies in this whole country (I’m pretty sure this is not true) so I’m gorging on cane sugar syrup.

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I’m doing nothing all day long now except writing and waiting to leave Haiti. I’m having vivid night dreams (I’m lost; the FBI is going to help me, etc.).

Laure said the people who live up in the mountains where her house is aren’t as poor as the people here in Port-au-Prince; they are farmers, and they always have food. They aren’t starving in the streets, like down here, she said; on the other hand, they don’t have schools or any of the comforts some of the city people have.

The electric wires up on the pole in front of the guesthouse are all frayed and taped and patched together. I don’t know how they work at all.

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The sedentary life does not agree with me; it tends to disturb my sensitive digestion. I am currently experiencing an unfortunate absence of peregrination (noun 1. travel from one place to another, especially on foot. 2. a course of travel; journey). Therefore, I will entertain myself by provoking, amusing or possibly  boring you with some verbal ramblings.

Verbal Rampage:

The world is a very cold place when people put their own families above everyone else. It’s a convention, an egotistical tradition, and so wide spread that almost no one questions it. While it’s natural to love those people whom you know best, in the subtly-coercive environment that characterizes most families, family bonding often ends up being considered normal even though it excludes most people and includes only those deemed worthy because of a genetic bond.

Putting one’s family first, above all others, reminds me of Stockholm Syndrome. (OK, this is a slight exaggeration.)

fromWikipedia:

 Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy, sympathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly 27% of victims show evidence of Stockholm Syndrome.
Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”
Battered-wife syndrome is an example of activating the capture-bonding psychological mechanism, as are military basic training and fraternity bonding by hazing
 

Family togetherness has intrinsic benefits for governments: it’s easier to control people who are dependent upon their families (for love, support, etc.). If a government controls the people you depend on, then it controls you. (Individuals on their own are notoriously hard to control.)

Strong family ties also benefit the weak, dependent individuals within the group. (I am not talking about disabled people or young children.) I am talking about the folks who don’t want to go out and find out who they are as individuals. I saw lots of these people in cultures where family ties are strong (like Latin America). The domineering parents control their children, sometimes for their whole lives. The benefits to such “jailers” is obvious, and the abusiveness of the relationship is overlooked and even encouraged. Such parents are widely respected; adult children who don’t respect this corrosive tradition are vilified.

In closed families, real love is only given to people who are related by blood. This is the height of vanity. Adopted children and marriage partners (people who are  related by law) are often not considered to be part of the “real” family.

Many orphanages exist in Haiti; they are full of children who have lost their families. In the elite groups of insiders called the family, orphans have no place. Orphans don’t “belong” so they can never be truly accepted or loved. Family rules demand the rejection of outsiders; benefits are reserved for family members only.

If more people knew how it feels to be excluded, they would reject family bonding. They wouldn’t be so quick to champion their family above everyone else. Because most families are exclusive, closed institutions, Christmas is a cold time for many people. Families are private clubs for members only.

My ex-husband taught in private schools. (He still does.) These were places where very wealthy people sent their kids to get them out of their hair. One school is in a corner of NW Connecticut; the other is the oldest prep school west of the Mississippi, and it’s in Southern California. The worst thing about these elitist cracks in the sidewalk is the “you’re not one of us” attitude. (Of course, you find this egotistical bullshit anywhere that little people are trying to convince themselves and others that they are actually big people.) It’s the same with family togetherness: it’s all about shutting out those who “aren’t one of us.” Well, assholes, I don’t want to be part of your dumb family anyway.

The best family I’ve ever heard of is the Not-So-Fictitious (as I like to think of them) Addams Family. Charles Addams created the original cartoon.

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Charles Samuel “Chaz” Addams  (January 7, 1912 – September 29, 1988) was an American cartoonist known for his darkly humorous and macabre characters. Some of the recurring characters, who became known as the Addams Family, became the basis for two live-action television series, two animated TV series, three motion pictures and a Broadway musical. (from Wikipedia)

Charles Samuel Addams

Born: Jan. 7, 1912, Westfield, New Jerseyey.
Died: Sept. 28, 1988, New York, New York

Charles Addams first appearance in The New Yorker Magazine in 1932. He quickly became a regular, and by 1935 his cartoons had evolved into his immediately recognizable style. His darkly comedic visions of death and the macabre lasted until 1989 (published posthumously).  His cartoons led to the development of the The Addams Family television series [1964-1966], The New Addams Family series and two feature films, The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993).

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The truly wonderful thing about the Not-So-Fictitious Addamses is that they welcome into their family anyone who is willing to join them (on their terms, of course). Margaret (or “Marilyn” in earlier, pre-1991 versions) marries Cousin It and is totally embraced as an Addams clan member by Morticia and Gomez. (It and Margaret later have a baby named “What.”)

Families which spoil and pamper children are not doing the kids a favor. Their well-being and self-image comes almost solely from their families, and they grow dependent upon them. Of course such people praise the virtuousness of putting their family above all others. Their family is their bread basket and mutual admiration society. Close your eyes, baby; you’re stuck in a self-reflecting web, a maze designed to prevent your escape. If you ever see the truth (and not just your family’s version of the truth), it will be a miracle. But I believe in miracles.

Passing on the idea of one family’s superiority over another is perpetuating a fiction. It’s a useful fiction because why else would people stick with a group they are simply born into? Myths are at least based on ancient truths, but family togetherness was only a necessity a long time ago when people literally had no one else to depend on. Family unity wasn’t based on love, and neither was it based on free choice.

A genetic tie is not a good foundation for either love or harmony. Just because children are raised to follow whatever crazy ideas their parents have does not guarantee that they will get along in later life, and the likelihood of such brain-washed,robotic kids becoming independent thinkers is tiny. So what if the whole crowd of Murphys vote Democratic, do the dishes the same way (the “right” way), go to the same church, hate the same people, refuse to watch Oprah, and love spaghetti? In the long run, it doesn’t matter one fuck.

How many families teach children to think for themselves? So few that people who grow up to think for themselves and follow their own path have a special name: Black Sheep. The rest of the kids grow up to follow the party-line (family dogma) and be just regular sheep, which has the unfortunate connotation of meaning dumb followers. (Real sheep are actually thinking creatures who can distinguish individuals within the group.)

In the past, individuality had absolutely no place in the family, and, in fact, it was a force that opposed family cohesion. Individuality is still rejected, particularly for women, in countries like India. I see this in the life of my very dear Indian friend, whom I will call Shanti. Shanti’s life is totally dominated by her roles as wife, mother, daughter-in-law, and sister-in-law in her husband’s exceptionally devout (Hindu), extended family.

In addition, Shanti caters to the demands of her own natal family (including an aging mother) and the needs of her three children. One of Shanti’s grown sons wants Mom to go to India to arrange a marriage for him, and Shanti is very happy to do this because she believes such a girl will never divorce her son (“like an American girl would”).

I consider Shanti a victim of repression. Her culture, religion, and family absolutely and specifically forbade Shanti’s development as an individual. Her personal needs and desires were dismissed as selfishness that went against the will of God.

Shanti is an exceptionally strong woman. She loves her family and puts them before herself. This seems like an admirable trait until you realize that Shanti’s husband and his family control her life. In traditional Indian culture, women are the servants of the family. Chandra comes from a poor, father-less, Indian family from the countryside; she had very little education. Making her own choices, for her personal satisfaction, was never a possibility.

To people who put family first, Shanti’s life is an example of righteous self-denial. You learn to fold the newspaper just like Mom and Dad did (which is, of course, the ONLY way). Anyone who follows a different path is lost and probably going to hell.

The concept of family includes legitimizing children by a piece of paper which says that a man accepts a woman as his wife and believes that any child she bears is his (not the milkman’s because there are no milkmen anymore). Without such legislation, people (like me) are considered “illegitimate” (illegal, not real), and we are called “bastards” (which means those who bring shame upon the family).

I think matrimony is a bunch of phoney baloney, and I’m surprised that so many people buy into it. Marriage has social, economic, and emotional benefits. People mistrust single people and we don’t get invited to couples-only parties. Most people hope that their families will love them and take care of them (in sickness and old age). If the kids won’t go along with this, many parents believe they have the right to demand it, like family is some kind of weird contract.

The (Not-So-Fictitious) Addams Family had the right idea: be wicked. It’s the only way to protect yourself from parents and other sadists.

ALL parents fuck up their kids; we can’t help it. It goes with the territory, which is a no-man’s land. The first ten years are just about keeping the kid alive, for God’s sake. After that it’s like catch-up, trying to instill the values you kind of kicked to the curb during the initial maelstrom (the insanity period, I call it, of being home alone with toddlers). And forget having your own life; the kids will despise you for it.

It’s easier to live according to the roles that are expected of you (like “The Good Mother”) than it is to live authentically. People will hate you for being yourself and flaunting your disdain for familial and social rules (they can’t do it, why should you be allowed to?). Maintaining illusions requires a lifetime of symbolic behavior (i.e., lies). You do  “the right thing.” If you don’t conform, your society or family will kill you (or at least ostracize you). Most people don’t dare to try it. The  monsters will be on you before you even step outside the circle, when you’re just THINKING about it. They’ll know, and they’ll try to pull you back in.

This is when lots of people give up. But if you stick with the process, one day you’ll find you are truly, finally and forever free. I promise.

If you take the other road (and not “the road less traveled”), you will go to your kids’ weddings because you have to, not because you want to. (These things are like parties with all the people you hate: your ex-husbands, his new wife, the new daughter-in-law’ family, people you don’t ever want to meet, let alone have to smile at or talk to.) You go see the new baby because it’s expected of you, not because you want to. (You’d really rather wait until the kid is four or five and can say “hi.”)

You can act out the “appropriate emotions” for your whole life or you can be one of the honest Women Who Run With the Wolves* or one Of (the) Wolves and Men.* It’s your choice. (*I am referring to books by Clarissa Pinkola-Estes and Barry Lopez, respectively.)

I gave up roles a long time ago. I don’t have to be an adoptee, daughter, mother, wife, or grandmother. I can just be myself. I can love who I want to love, do what I want to do, say and write what I really feel. I am no longer living according to a script written for someone else.

One of the greatest things in Western culture is recognition of the individual and the concomitant lessening of religious dogma, social obligations,* and family ties.

*The reduction of social obligation in Western societies has had a negative effect upon many wealthy people. They do not respond to the suffering of the poor around them. Noblesse oblige used to be an obligation of rich people, and they were respected for their kindness and generosity to their communities.

from Wikipedia:

Noblesse oblige” is generally used to imply that with wealth, power, and prestige come responsibilities. The phrase is sometimes used derisively, in the sense of condescending or hypocritical social responsibility. In American English especially, the term is sometimes applied more broadly to suggest a general obligation for the more fortunate to help the less fortunate.

In ethical discussion, it is sometimes used to summarize a moral economy wherein privilege must be balanced by duty towards those who lack such privilege or who cannot perform such duty. Finally, it has been used recently primarily to refer to public responsibilities of the rich, famous and powerful, notably to provide good examples of behaviour or to exceed minimal standards of decency. It has also been used to describe a person taking the blame for something in order to solve an issue or save someone else.

Yeah. Not much noblesse oblige today in Haiti or the US.

I liberated myself from my parents when I was eighteen. I moved out of the nest permanently with my mother’s blessing. At the ripe old age of thirty-two, my adoptive mother got married and moved to the suburbs of Boston, distancing herself from her big family of ten siblings. She knew the distinct benefits of escape from the confines of the womb. She encouraged me to elope rather than go through the foolishness and expense of a big wedding. Wise woman.

I moved 3,000 miles away from my parents when I was twenty-two years old, and I returned to visit them only a few times after that. We kept in contact by phone and by mail, but I was on my own, married, with small children, and very far away.

By demanding–in no uncertain terms–their own independence from all family authority, undue influence, coerciveness, and interference in their lives, my children, led by their powerful, older sister, Anya, FREED ME. In so doing, my children forced me to discover who I am and inspired me to create a life for myself on my own. Motherhood is a role with a lot of power inherent in it; it’s hard for some women to let it go.

I am grateful for my whole, huge family (both my birth-family and my adoptive family). They have all helped me and taught me a lot. I am also grateful that, as a family, my children and I have abandoned, not love (which endures), but false, forced dependence upon each other. We are individuals who have moved beyond the kind of love that is primarily for one’s own family. We have moved into the Age of Aquarius, with all the possibilities of universal love suggested by the astrological sign Aquarius.

Some adventurous souls find their own, individual paths through life. It’s not easy, but anyone can do it; as they say, it starts with one step. I chose this pathless way, and I’m contented now. I am still on the Hero’s Journey (see the collected works of Joseph Campbell in the Hero With 1,000 Faces). I heard and heeded “the call to adventure.” It’s not the safe way; that’s why anyone who chooses it is called a hero. And that’s why it’s called an adventure, with all that wonderful word implies.

End Verbal Rampage

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I am an old, faceless, white woman here in Haiti; no one on the streets notices anything else about me. I am not exactly dehumanized, but I am rarely seen as an  individual. Today, a woman buying produce at a food stall assisted me so I was able to buy a nice bag of green beans for 25 goud (a reasonable price, instead of what the vendor initially asked me for). This lovely, older woman “saw” me, and she was kind enough to help me.

I see almost no disabled people on the streets here. I think the injunction to walk straight, proud, and unswervingly toward one’s goal is not intended merely to open the heart chakra (and, in fact, this may just be my interpretation of it). I think it’s also so one appears to be healthy, strong, and a force to be reckoned with. I think these qualities are probably very important in any poor country, and especially in countries like Haiti where there is very limited health care.

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People carry all manner of things through the streets. I have seen people carrying mattresses on their heads, dragging multiple long pieces of metal behind them, bags of food, of course; people pushing impossibly heavy, bulky wheelbarrows through the deeply rutted, rocky streets filled with rotting, wet, burned trash and many people (including lone children) and cars, trucks and motos driven by maniacs who CAN’T STOP! Women (and some men) balance big basins of food on their heads; men and women roll big, black, plastic, trash bags into fantastic “wigs” that they display on their noggins; one gal balanced a tower of 50 or more baseball caps on her head; a young woman had a toddler holding onto one hand and she carried a bucket in the other and sported a charcoal stove on her head.

In Haiti, originality and practicality merge with the People’s go-ahead attitude and undeniable enthusiasm, optimism and energy. It’s an unbeatable combination, and with a benevolent, strong government, extensive foreign aid, and free education for all, Haiti will move forward and never look back at these hard times.

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The nation of Haiti is 200 years old. Let’s take a look at the slightly over 200-year-old United States of America:

–an overweight population of workaholic consumers (not producers); very materialistic (main interest is making more money than one needs); a sense of world superiority despite ignorance about the world, disinclination to travel internationally, inability to speak a second-language, and innate isolationism; hatred of immigrants (check out the film “A Day Without a Mexican” to appreciate the influence of Mexican immigrants in California); power is in the hands of a wealthy elite who are admired and emulated by the masses; disdain for manual labor and those who perform it; dependence on technology; increasingly urban (and consequently ignorant of and isolated from the natural world); separation from food sources and consumption of an unhealthy and unnatural diet (Monsanto continues to control seeds and to genetically alter our food); a proletariat who unquestioningly slave for the “bosses,” making the rich richer; social status is a huge motivator; women are still not equal to men; the US is a very violent society (women and children are frequent victims); the complacent population generally prefers to believe what “authorities” (in politics, in the media, and in the churches) tell them rather than  seeking out the truth for themselves; Americans are a weak and pampered people who are, overall, way too comfortable for their own good.

Obviously, I have focused on the negative things about the United States (and omitted the many, exceptional positive things). But this assessment is not original; many people know the US is in trouble. Comparing the two countries, is Haiti really so much worse off?

Nov. 26, 2012 (3)

I am a self-described Traveller-Gypsy. My family’s surname (on my birthfather’s side) is Boswell, a well-known English Gypsy name. But, more than that, I instinctively followed a Traveller-Gypsy path every step of the way since I was 27 years old, well before I ever heard of Judith Okely.

The Traveller-Gypsies is a book by Judith Okely that was published in 1983 (Cambridge University Press, England). Okely studied the English Gypsies. I discovered her book sometime in the 1990s.

I have highlighted special areas of interest to me in this review of The Traveller-Gypsies from Amazon:

Synopsis

In this book Judith Okely challenges popular accounts of Gypsies which suggest that they were once isolated communities, enjoying an autonomous culture and economy now largely eroded by the processes of industrialisation and western capitalism. Dr Okely draws on her own extensive fieldwork and on contemporary documents. The Traveller-Gypsies is the first monograph to be published on Gypsies in Britain using the perspective of social anthropology. It examines the historical origins of the Gypsies, their economy, travelling patterns, self-ascription, kinship and political groupings, and their marriage choices, upbringing and gender divisions. A detailed analysis of pollution beliefs reveals an underlying system which expresses and reinforces the separation of Gypsies from non-Gypsies. Explanations for beliefs are sought in their contemporary meaning as opposed to their alleged Indian origin. None of these aspects are analysed independently of the wider society, its policies, beliefs, and practices. This book will be invaluable for teaching purposes, both as a study of a Gypsy community per se, and for its discussion of the problems involved in carrying out fieldwork within the anthropologist’s own society. It will also interest the general reader and the academic specialist; social anthropologists, sociologists, historians, geographers, planners and all those concerned with minority groups.

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What Okely suggests is that many groups of Gypsies, English Gypsies, for example, have sprung out of the native, English population, specifically from disenchanted members of the proletariat who dropped out of society, preferring a life of travel. They are not “exotic” people, like the Romany Gypsies.

For many years, I’ve been meeting people in the US who fit this description of Traveller-Gypsies. I fit into this group myself.

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The Irish Travellers also sprang out of the ethnic population in Ireland. See below (from Wikipedia):

Irish Travellers (Irish: an lucht siúil) or Pavee are a traditionally nomadic people of ethnic Irish origin, who maintain a set of traditions[1][2] and a distinct ethnic identity. Although predominantly English speaking, some also use Shelta and other similar cants. They live mostly in Ireland as well as having large numbers in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

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Michael Stewart cites Okely’s research in his book, The Time of the Gypsies, a study of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe (1997, Westview Press, Boulder, Co.). Stewart’s research was done over 18 months in 1984-85.

(Later, I’ll get the book out of the library (again) and quote Stewart on Okely’s conclusions about Gypsy ethnicity in countries like England.)

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What defines a Gypsy? I believe it is travelling, not ethnicity. The wandering tribes from India which used to be on the road all the time have largely settled down; today, a new group of people are travelling and are the new Gypsies.

Here’s a quote on travelling (from h-net.org/reviews of the Stewart book):

“Although most Gypsies in Eastern Europe don’t travel (less than one per cent) and almost all these Gypsies work for wages, they manage to distinguish themselves as a group within wider society.”

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from a website called Euroheritage.net:

The Gypsies in history and today, treated as Europe’s “public enemy”
by James Mayfield (Chairman, European Heritage Library)

This article is about the Gypsies, also called the Roma, Romani, and Sinti, who populate Eastern Europe. They are easily the most unique minority in Europe, and one of its oldest immigrant/nomadic identities. Popularly reviled by most Europeans, they are perceived as a tremendous source of social plight, theft, prostitution, drug trafficking, disease and petty crime. Growing human rights concerns are greatly conflicting with inextricable inter-ethnic conflict that has endured for centuries.

Negative perceptions and hatred for the Roma are virtually universal among Europeans.

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I lived in Ojai, California for ten years, and I visited there often during the past twenty or more years. Last summer (2012) I joined an online group called “Ojai Job Board.” A local mover-and-shaker in that group shunned me once she realized I had no home; she considered me someone who  was not to be trusted as a housesitter even though she knew some friends of mine who recommended me. This woman perceived me as someone not worthy of her friendship simply because I am a traveller. Prejudice against travellers by sedentary people is very common, world-wide, and it definitely does not apply only to ethnic Gypsies (eg., Rom or Sinti). It is based upon xenophobia, a fear of the stranger or anyone who is “different” and whose very presence among them challenges the norms, beliefs, and values of the settled group.

 

Nov. 26, 2012 (2)

I just watched the movie “Ghosts of Cite de Soleil” on Ilona’s computer. It’s devastating; it’s what I felt but didn’t know about Port-au-Prince (and Haiti): the suffering, the violence, the anger, the sadness, the hopelessness, the love, the grasping for power, and, above all, the no-way-out.

Here are my impressions of the movie:

Haiti: dictators and foreign trade embargoes have made it poor. 2004 Aristide, a former preacher (no surprise), takes power and becomes the president of Haiti. His army/party is the Lavaras. When rebels closed in on Aristide, he armed gangs from Cite de Soleil. They were called the Chimeres.

The movie focuses on two brothers 2Pac (the Haitian 2Pac, a rapper and a gangster) and Bily, his brother. Cite de Soleil was a city of 300,000 people in 2004, mostly country people who came to Port-au-Prince to find a better life. It’s still a total slum today, but not “the most dangerous place in the world,” as the UN called it in 2004.

2Pac: “You have to have your own dreams.” “All we need is peace, baby.” “There can never be peace.”

The African slaves’ successful revolt in 1804 was 200 years before this situation in Cite de Soleil. Bob Marley posters on the wall; smoking dope.

The people revolted in 2004, and Aristide paid and armed gangs to fight government critics and beat up anti-government marchers in the streets. Young men like Bily and 2Pac are completely powerless. They have no house, no food, no water, no jobs, little education (though they can speak quite a bit of English), and no money to send their kids to school. They wanted power, and they were given guns. They considered themselves the chiefs of Cite de Soleil.

An interesting character, eventually 2Pac’s girlfriend, was Lele, a French aid worker. She helped when she could, but eventually was able to do nothing to help the “gangsters, thugsters.” At the end of the film, she’s in Paris.

A coalition of wealthy businessmen, merchants and students began fighting Aristide in 2004. The Chimeres, 2Pac and Billy’s gang of Aristide’s enforcers, was for the government; the people were turning against Aristide and the government. 2Pac had already spent two years in jail, ignored by Aristide (whom he said knew he was in jail, but did nothing to help him). I got the impression 2Pac and Bily felt they had no options but to serve the President. The police, upon Aristide’s orders, killed demonstrators in the street.

Wyclef Jean, a famous Haitian singer who lives in New York City now, is on the phone with 2Pac (whom he calls the real 2Pac), and 2Pac is rapping his songs for him. “They (the Haitian people) will live by (rap music) and they will die by it,” he says, remarking on how great the effect rap has been here.

Rebels against Aristide seize the city of Gonaives, up north of Port-au-Prince, along the coast. Lots of bloodshed.

Mambos, voodooiennes, shown; some of the Chimeres are believers. 2Pac: “Fuck voodoo. Fuck God.”

In 2004, Aristide ran; he left the country and gave up his power. A man in the street: “We need food, school for the kids, and sleep.” Soldiers and police are starting to search for the Chimeres to disarm them. 2Pac, who is as thin as a rail, says, “We die of hunger already. Why we gonna die by arms (guns) now?” Lele tries to convince 2Pac and Bily (who was also in love with her) to give up their arms; she knows a massacre could ensue if they do not.

2Pac: “Power is the gun in Haiti.” “Every door is closed.” He gets a policeman (“my brother”) to get him a “license” to leave the country or he knows he’ll be killed. 2Pac thinks the soldiers have killed Bily. His only regret is leaving Taina*, his daughter; 2Pac leaves by bus. He later returns when Bily gets out of jail; 2Pac is killed soon after returning to Haiti. (*So much like the word for the people called the “Taino,” Amerindians who inhabited Haiti long ago.)

Wyclef Jean goes back to Haiti and to Cite de Soleil (despite warnings that he would be killed there). He wrote the song, “The Ghosts of Cite de Soleil”:

“No way out… How can I be scared of people who look like me… cry like me… of gangsters who bleed like me… The people don’t know where they’ll find food… No way out.”

 

 

 

 

 

Nov. 26, 2012 (1)

I am ready to leave Haiti. I’m very glad I came, but a month here is enough for me. I have only seen Port-au-Prince (and a tiny bit of Cap-Haitien) which is full of suffering people, poverty and ugliness.

From Joel’s balcony in Cap-Haitien. The downtown area has some beautiful architecture: buildings show a very French-influence and are a lot like New Orleans’ buildings.

I knew when I came here that it wouldn’t be easy. Did I write about the recent three days without water or electricity? And four days without internet. Ah, well, it’s Haiti.

It’s Sunday and the maniac preacher is yelling from the churches on one side of us. Haiti has the most truly insane preachers I have ever heard, but the people LOVE them! These preacher men work the crowd up to a fever pitch! They yell, “Alleluia!!” They sing (badly, dismally, not joyfully), and the faithful applaud.

I’ve been so disgusted with this deranged behavior coming from our neighborhood psycho-preachers that I have “unfriended” two people on my Facebook page who are militant, ugly  (as are all fanatical fundamentalists), religious bigots who want to proclaim their religion and their god as the best and only god. UGH! I’ve just had enough of those people; I don’t want their preaching and their weirdness in any part of my life.

A woman who lives off the alleyway below my window is a real fighter. She can yell for a couple of hours. She loves to fight! Is she, I wonder, the same mean, angry woman who repeatedly slaps her sad, angry, little child, making him cry and yell even louder? After yelling (at someone who wasn’t much of a fighter) for an hour yesterday, this woman suddenly broke into song! Soon, the fight was on again.

The sunset is beautiful from the roof of the guesthouse. Ilona calls it “The Blue Hour.” It’s one of the only beautiful things I’ve seen here in Port-au-Prince.

The scene at the Petion-ville market is so rough and dangerous that I’m not going back there. Been there about four times, and, believe me, that’s enough!

I feel awkward and uncomfortable walking any of the streets around here, even in my quiet Jacquet toto neighborhood. 40% (Pia’s estimate) of the very rich people here are white, so we are hated, in general, as being the oppressor. But I walk straight and tall, with my shoulders back and my heart-area wide open; this way, I can literally FEEL the love in some of the people around me. I often say “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” to these people; people on the street invariably respond in a friendly way when I say hello to them.

It is often helpful to have an earphone in my ear and listen to local Kompa music when I go out on the street.

The women here approach me with hard, unfriendly faces that hide their true, friendly natures. When a man squeezed in beside a woman on a tap-tap, she gave him an exceptionally mean, angry look. But, with a word and a smile, the man got a friendly response from her. So, the women here have just learned over time to have a powerful, defensive front.

The internet doesn’t work if it’s cloudy and overcast here. It’s been off and on lately since winter is setting in.

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Here’s a link to the drawings of Sebastian Loerscher of Berlin:

http://www.sebastian-loerscher.de.

Sebastian has been here at the Port-au-Prince guesthouse for two months. No one speaks German in Haiti, so Pia is very glad to have Sebastian to talk with. Sebastian is teaching “Recording Graphics,” which is about drawing the news. His wonderful Haitian drawings are at the above address with “/blog” added to the end.

Later, I will put some Sebastian’s drawings and a photo of him in this post.

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Monday

After three weeks here, I have adjusted a bit and feel relaxed. I have some idea of what to expect, both within the guesthouse and out on the streets.

This feels like a prison state to someone like me who lives to travel. Most of the people here have no chance of ever leaving Haiti; the country is run and owned by very wealthy people; and the majority of the people are very poor, uneducated, and illiterate.

New breezes are blowing through our yard. They have come to carry me away. I can feel, smell, and see other, faraway places.

I sat out on the street this morning in front of our gate on a wall. The area around me was littered with condom wrappers and old sachet dlo (small bags that held water).  I wrote, took photos with my cell phone, and just observed; people said hello to me, “Bonjour,” for the first time without me saying it to them first. Lots of people just stare at me. Two cars drove by with white people in them.

Today, with the usual trepidation I feel before setting out alone on the street, I bought two, little, green peppers and a small carrot (25 goud) from a woman with a big, heavy, plastic basin on her head (her two friends smiled because I paid about 10 goud too much), two oranges (10 goud) from another heavily laden woman (her friend took out the oranges so the woman didn’t have to take the big container off her head), and three bananas for 10 goud from a woman in an open stall. All just a little ways down Jacquet or while sitting on the wall in front of the guesthouse gate. I got ripped off again, and it’s so easy  to tell because the women always chuckle after pretending it’s all above-board, but I don’t care; the produce is good quality and still very cheap for me.

A few people have come up to me on the street asking for money (“Give me money.”). It’s natural and to be expected in such a poor country. I am the rich person here; I need the money I have to make it in the world outside Haiti, but they don’t understand this. I could live much cheaper if I didn’t want to travel or rent apartments, but I don’t want to live like that.

Haitian Kreyol (Creole) sounds just like African with many French words thrown in.

Spiders are busy everywhere and, unlike so many small, busy creatures around us, they leave their webs as evidence of their presence. Grandmother Spider is always weaving the web of the world. I see a web in the kitchen this morning. It was made during the night after Olivier’s party. It’s strung between a big, plastic Coca-Cola bottle and a small, dirty glass.

Little girls danced to American music (Justin Bieber [actually a Canadian], Nicki Minaj, etc.) at the party, and we ate lots of food (fried pieces of hot dogs, chips, cookies, popcorn, candy, Coke, wine, beer, pretzels, apple juice, and cake). Balloons and a “Happy Birthday” banner were strung up. About 20 people (mostly women and children) showed up. Natacha wore a beautiful, sparkly, bright red sari with white pants underneath; her beautiful, little adopted daughter, Kimberly (“Kimmie”) danced for Olivier and the adults wildly applauded her extraordinarily sexy moves.

The party was held in the evening out on the front patio, and I kept putting food behind my chair for the rat who comes out every night. I wonder if Wilson (“Wil-SON!”) swept it away before the rat could feast. The tops of the high walls around the guesthouse are lined with coils of  barbed wire and broken bottles set into the cement of the walls.

When I bought my bread on Jacquet yesterday (30 goud [40 goud = $1 US]), the vendor, inside the walls and roof of his stall, inspected the 250 goud bill I gave him with tremendous attention, even pouring water on it and crumpling in his palm for a final inspection before hanging it up to dry. He gave me my change (220 goud), and, after I had put it away in my purse, he wanted the change back, so I gave it to him, and he recounted it before giving it back to me. Very mysterious

Starting at 4:30 am, he rooster crows from the tin roof next door.

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What defines a Gypsy? Travel. The Romany and other people whose origins have been traced (through their language) to India have largely settled down all along their path through the world. They are no longer Gypsies in the actual sense of the word; they have stopped doing that which defines Gypsies: travelling.

I am always travelling around other travellers and some sedentary people, or I am travelling toward or away from all of them so I’m never very lonely.

Olivier gave me a nice, long hug yesterday after I gave him the crayons for his birthday present. We had lunch together, just the two of us; I shared my bread with him and gave him lots of cane sugar syrup from the jar up in the cabinet. I’ve eaten almost the whole jarful, and I don’t even know who it belongs to; maybe some traveller, passing through here, left it behind.

I am getting NO exercise here. Oh, well. In Puerto Rico or Jamaica, I will go to a gym again. And walk more.

Nov. 25, 2012

The ocean north of Port-au-Prince (photo by Pia) taken from the truck on our way to Cap-Haitien.

I didn’t realize how repressed I am until I came to Haiti and observed these people who are so amazingly free and spontaneous.

I don’t care for most of the townsfolk of the world. The sedentary, careful people who seldom travel, and, if they do, are contained and insulated within their own little xenophobic bubbles… They are well-bred and trained like performing circus animals. Or ants. But less interesting.

I was one of them for a long time, long ago. My suppression of my natural energies comes from that period when I could neither be myself nor find my group. The group I was adopted by (Germans), and the group I was raised in (middle class New England) both rejected me. The Ugly Duckling.

Now, I am tending a small, quiet, inner fire. I’ve discovered who I am, and I’ve found my group (Travellers, Gypsies). I know the blazing passion that lies beneath my surface calm, and, for the most part, I keep it controlled and hidden. It’s the source of my power and can be used for good or evil; I try to not release that scorching blaze in anger or pride. Knowing the particular nature of my power, as well as how to control it and use it in a loving way gives me strength and confidence.

This is a photo Pia shot on her trip with Nico to a coastal village near Cap-Haitien. I was sick and came back alone to Port-au-Prince.

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52% of Haitians are very poor; about 7% are very rich; the rest are in between.

The very rich (as they do everywhere in the world) live their lives in luxury, never venturing near the communities of the poor people and ignoring the suffering of their poor neighbors. The very wealthy people of Haiti may have a huge house in Petion-ville’s hills, a house and yacht at the seashore here, and travel with internationally, always staying near other very wealthy folks.

In the mountains en route to Cap-Haitien.

This weekend, Ilona’s handsome, French friend, Johan Bourrier (from Paris) is visiting the guesthouse. He and Ilona work for Inter Aide, an international organization which, here in Haiti’s remotest areas, helps in the areas of health, water and sanitation, schools, and coffee-production. “Jo” has been here for four years; he often works in places that are an 8 hour walk from any road, up in the mountains or along the seashore. He said, “there are 1,000 different realities in Haiti.”

Pia got a package from her mom in Germany: it came fast (under 2 weeks) and cost little to ship here. On the other hand, Pia mailed a 10-page letter to Germany the other day, and it cost close to $20 US and may take two months to get there or may never arrive.

We went to Petion-ville’s huge street market a few days ago. The sidewalks, as I mentioned earlier, are crammed with women who are sitting on the ground with baskets of produce (too much to ever be sold). Ilona said most of these women buy the produce from farmers up in the hills outside P-ville. People pee (and I suppose poop, though I haven’t seen this or evidence of it) on the streets everywhere here. I was walking within 2 feet of women crouching to pee behind some trucks and men peeing, of course, everywhere.

The electric wires above some of the street-sellers were on fire in one place.

I bought some Barbancourt Rhum (made in Haiti) on the street for a little over $1 (for a small bottle) and some limes, and we made rum sours when we got back to the house. Added sugar and ice. Pia and I went to two banks near the street market, but I couldn’t change my Haitian Gourdes into Dominican Republic pesos. Will do it at the border Saturday.

We also went to the Rebo Cafe and used their Wifi. I got my first good coffee here ($1 USD or 40 goud). We sat around there for a couple hours and talked with Daniel, a guy here “on business” from Texas. The women at the street market often yell out to us, “Blond!” which means “white”, to get our attention; I bought some produce from them: beautiful little yellow potatoes, onions and garlic.

Women are shelling adzuki beans (a relatively new trend, sold in California;s natural foods markets) wherever they are selling produce. The gals here marry young (at least by 18), have babies and divorce. Most young men have children who live apart from them with the children’s mothers.

Pia, who volunteers in Natacha’s school here, told me the Haitians admire Hitler! (Pia is German and says that, of course, most Germans hate Hitler.) She said it seems to be because he was “a fighter who changed things, and they admire that.” Oh god! They also, she said, think Germans are racist. Go figure.

Pia on our Cap-Haitian host’s balcony, overlooking the street.

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I spend many days quietly “at home,” wherever I am in the world. I listen to the local sounds, write, observe wildlife around me, think, feel; then, I go to sleep early and dream. Last night, I dreamed of mountain lions stalking me. I just made it into the house, and, with a few other people, I was safe (although one mountain lion was sitting like a human, reading a newspaper on the couch in the living room).

Me, riding in the bed of Ilona’s truck, on the road to Cap-Haitien.

This afternoon, after church, Charlene’s son, Olivier, will have a birthday party at our guesthouse. (Charlene manages our guesthouse; Olivier lives at an orphanage during the week when Charlene is working at Natacha’s school. He comes to the guesthouse on weekends.) Olivier’s body is scarred from being under his collapsed house for two days after the 2010 earthquake. He’s a wonderful little boy (about 7-years-old). I got him a small box of crayons.He is nine, my grandson, Sam’, age. It’s wonderful to have a little boy to celebrate with since I can’t be with my beloved Sam right now.

I have just a little money left for street food. Saturday, Dec. 1, I leave for the Dominican Republic on Capitol Coach Lines.

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From the website Voodoo Authentica:

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First of all, since Catholicism and Voodoo are very much intertwined and have been since the time of the slave trade, the cross is a symbol used in both religions. In Voodoo, it has the dual meaning of representing the Voodoo Loa (Spirit), Papa Legba, the Guardian of the Crossroads. The color green is used to represent (most commonly) money, sometimes fertility and also, Ogun, the Voodoo Loa of Metal and Iron. In today’s world, it also is sometimes used to represent envy.

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From The Magic Candle by Charmaine Dey:

Green is the color of the Venus planetary influence, and also of the P_desc1ive meadows of the Earth. It therefore symbolizes Nature, and material gain, Fertility, Abundance, Good Fortune, Cooperation, Generosity, Good Health, and Renewal.

Green candles are burned to promote balance and harmony in any off-balance situation.

Pink is a color which generates affection, self-generosity, selflessness. It is an excellent choice for matters of domestic, or ‘true’ love, as it symbolizes Love, Honor, Togetherness, Gentleness, and Spiritual fulfillment.

Pink candles may be burned for some healings, especially of the SPIRIT.

Purple is the color of Power, Royalty, Dignity, Wisdom, Idealism, Psychic manifestation and Spirit contact. Therefore, it is used when great Spiritual Power is necessary. Purple is effectively used against Black Magic, demonic possession, and for Spiritual or Psychic healing. It is also used to throw up a veil of Spiritual protection.

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Babalu Aye

God of health and healing, the poor. His colors are black, purple, and brown. Identified with St. Lazarus.

Chango, Shango, Xango

God of thunder and fire, passion, power and music. He uses lightening to increase the fertility of the earth and his worshippers. His colors are red and white. Identified with St. Barbara.

Eleggua, Papa, Legba, Exu, Elegba

A trickster, God of travelers and small children. The one who opens the way for seekers, keeper of the crossroads between the natural and supernatural worlds. Pushes or tricks us beyond the limits of mundane existence, teasing and daring us to transcend. His colors are black and red. Identified with St. Anthony.

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Is Haiti becoming an oligarchy? Is it one already?

Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία (oligarkhía); from ὀλίγος (olígos), meaning “a few”, and ἄρχω (archo), meaning “to rule or to command”) is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who pass their influence from one generation to the next.

Throughout history, oligarchies have been tyrannical (relying on public servitude to exist) or relatively benign. Aristotle pioneered the use of the term as a synonym for rule by the rich, for which the exact term is plutocracy, but oligarchy is not always a rule by wealth, as oligarchs can simply be a privileged group, and do not have to be connected by bloodlines as in a monarchy.

(from Wikipedia)

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Nov. 18, 2012 (2)

Cap-Haitien, looking down at the street from Joel’s balcony. (Joel and his wife hosted me, Nico and Pia.)

Facts and Figures: Haiti

(from Wikipedia)

Ayiti (land of high mountains) was the Taino or Amerindian name for the island of Hispaniola.

The island’s highest peak, Pic la Selle, is 8,793 feet high.

Haiti’s total area is 10,714 square miles

Haiti’s uniqueness:

a.)     First independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean

b.)     First black-led republic in the world

c.)     Second republic in the Americas when it got independence in 1804 after a successful slave revolution that lasted for almost a decade.

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Looking into the back alleyway, out of Joel’s backdoor. The neighbors in the street were arguing over the mud and rocks in the street, and one man was shoveling it away. The people on the landing are watching the proceedings.

Haiti has a history of devastating earthquakes similar to the Jan. 12, 2010 quake which registered at 7.0 and killed at least 220,00 people.

In 2012 Haiti filed an intention to seek associate membership in the African Union.

President Michel Martelly is a former singer.

The population is somewhere between 8.5 million and 9.1 million.

80-85% of the population of Haiti are predominantly West Africans. The remainder are primarily mulattoes.

2/3 of the population live in rural areas.

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Population figures from 2006:

1.)     The average household contains 4.5 members.

2.)     The median age is 26.

3.)     People age 15 and younger make up 1/3 of the population.

4.)     52.7% of the population are women.

5.)     80-85% of Haitians are Roman Catholic. A significant portion of Haitians follow voodoo.

Life expectancy at birth: total population: 62.51 years

male: 61.15 years
female: 63.89 years

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Public education is free (Note: I have heard this is still a work-in-progress), but private and parochial schools provide 75% of education programs that are offered.

Less than 65% of children of primary school age are actually enrolled. At the secondary level, the figure drops to 55%. Of those enrolled in primary school, 63% complete it.

Education is highly valued by Haitians, but few can afford to send their kids to secondary school.

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In Port-au-Prince:

1.)     22.1 million population

2.)     Only 23% of adults have completed secondary school, with 16% passing the state graduation exam.

3.)     More than half of the children ages 5 to 17 didn’t attend school.

Post-Quake Fertility

Disasters often cause human populations to increase long-term, rather than decrease, by way of increased fertility far exceeding the deaths caused by the initial disaster, as shell-shocked mothers replace every lost child with far more than needed. In Haiti’s case, the fertility rate nearly tripled after the quake, as is likely to remain elevated (above pre-quake levels) for long after.

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