Sunday, October 1, 2023

The seeds they sow...

A tribute to Mariejo and to the teams of Stanford students she led and cheered, in the hills of Haiti.
In Memoriam
"May the one whose spirit is with us in every righteous deed, be with all who work for the good of humanity
and bear the burdens of others...
and take the friendless into their homes.

Stanford student team dances the distance

Goats at dawn with kids...yawn...

Mariejo shells beans, ruins manicure, listens to neighbor, Magali.

So this is how it went: we lived with the people, they took us into their homes, they shared their lives.

Take a bath once a week whether you need it or not...

Hike way up to Fort Kampon, 2001

"May the work of their hands endure,
and may the seed they sow bring abundant harvest." (text by Chaim Stern)

Monday, August 7, 2023

Haiti and Hunger, Why Haiti?

 Why Haiti? Why Hunger? Why Indeed?

What?  Why? Huh? 

After several years trying to find a magic bullet to somehow solve the problems of subsistence farmers in rural Haiti, and trying to understand my own motivations, I came across Alexander McCall Smith's narrator's conclusion.  Mma. Precious Ramotswe, in Morality for Beautiful Girls.   Like Precious, Ramotswe, I felt could not refuse to help persons in need.  

And yes, although Haiti is not (exactly) Africa, it is safe to extrapolate, with Precious R., "Not that you could do everything.  Africa was full of people in need of help and there had to be a limit."  Haiti has 8 million hungry people (not counting city-dwellers, who manage to eat every day). 

So, for myself, in Haiti, I set the limit: just one hillside, just one small mountain, that's all. 

So, it happened to be my mazel (luck) to arrive up in Mon Bouton, some 3500 feet above the plain of Leogane. Because of a cup of coffee. (But that's another story.)

Back to basics. Food. Agriculture? First, let’s give you banana fronds…oh damn, no, let Edwige Danticat give you banana fronds—, banane, thickets of pwa nwa, black bean plants taking over because, of course, you cannot EAT flowers, and if you are Haitian, if you are Madame Kawolis, why, you must  plant every possible square inch with a food crop…

If you are a  blan, a foreigner, like myself, why, in your home country you glory in the green , which is of course everywhere, everywhere, and climbing. Growing.  


Earth rich.

Earth rich and rotten. 

Saturday, July 1, 2023

How Do We Know What We Know? Knowledge and Wisdom

    After my Doctorate in Psychology, I had formally trained as a public school teacher.  Educational, that!

    I learned then that if a student provided any answer (be it mathematical or grammatical), best practice was query, to probe, the student How do you know that” orHow did you get the answer?” This procedure aimed to have the student reflect on their thinking, and also to craft a verbal explanation so that others could understand. Building more learning upon learning. And, a two-way street, as I would also learn.

I rigorously deployed this in Haiti. How do we know what we know? Think about it.

One day after a hike upcountry, there was the disaster of the cell phone. In my backpack, but… It was back in those days of flip phones. I had forgotten to wrap my phone carefully, double-bag it, in two plastic bags. Instead, it rested in my backpack, on my back and…and of course, the rain came down and down. 

Solar Energy and a Hot Rock: 
Curing a Sick Flip Phone by Setting it
on the Only Available Surface to Dry

When I remembered, pulled it, out the phone was dead! My Kreyol groped for words. Li mouri, li mouri, li pati!” (It’s dead, dead and gone!)

But says Toma, in deliberate slow, Kreyol, “Pa enkyete ou Madame Randy, li pa mouri - ou pral wè.” “Don’t worry Madame Randy, it’s not dead — you’ll see.” 

Then, he pinched it and in front of my shocked eyes, soon had it in two pieces! My heart was then giving way, my stomach ready to heave…Now, I felt truly doomed, marooned! My phone was taken apart and my connection to the outer world gone, gone, gone before my very eyes! But Toma quietly says, “Gade sou glas la, ti boul sa yo? Oke, tout sa nou fè se, nou pral mete telefòn nan nan solèy la sou yon wòch epi ou pral wè demen bul yo pral ale.” “See on the glass, those little bubbles? Well, all we do is, we’re going to put the phone in the sun on a rock and you’ll see tomorrow the bubbles will be gone.”

He tears apart pieces of my phone and removed a tiny sliver of metal. He shows me, “And you see this, Madame Randy? This is your SIM card!” Huh? I had no idea what he was telling me. SIM card? It got worse as he explained, “It’s all the information in your phone.” Even worse, as he tries to make me understand, It’s the memory of your phone.” 

Now , this was getting really scary! All I could think was, I had lost connection with the outside world! I’m stranded, Robinson Crusoe in Haiti…

But no. Toma says, “Pa enkyete w, Do not worry,” replaces the SIM card back into a slot, some slot — what do I know? Closed everything up and…and? Phone was as good as new!

Ever the teacher deploying pedagogical skills, I probe,Toma, how did you know what to do? How did you know how to solve the problem?” Tools of the science of knowledge, indeed! 

“Well,” says he, “Madame Randy, You know when you buy a cell phone, it comes with a little book inside the box?”


  “Oke, mwen li ti liv sa a! Well, I read that little book!”

He read the directions! I had not considered that at all.

I was busy imputing arcane know-how, innate intelligence, reflection on processes of mind-ing.…Tools of the science of knowledge indeed! Simply, it was this: 6 or so years of what passed for schooling in these rural the mountains paid off!

What else I learned: Wrap your phone in plastic bags and keep your powder dry!

So, yes, from the outside looking in, we salute all innate intelligences. And how folks get by. And keep on keeping on.