Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Cooking Lesson with a Machete



Kloteed Cooks and Explains to me a Meal

Now, this is in rural Haiti, but the recipe is the same in Kafou and inner city. meal preparation is a big deal, no matter how you slice it. Kloteed does this outside the kizin, the outside cook house with a wood fire, while her sister Nadia tends the fire and the coffee.

More about the coffee next blog. That's an istwa all by itself. I am legend.

Klo squats by the mache ak pilon, with some vegetables in a plastic tub and a knife not the size of a machete, but almost. She hiked up to Kampon this morning for vegetables and is proud of her findings, her purchases.


With a knife held with the delicacy of chopsticks, she’s slicing away rapid fire while I wait for a thumb or finger tip to land with the slices of carrots. Then, the spices to be mashed in the pilon: garlic and something I think is anise. Then, aronswaI a kind of yucky dried fish, appears wrapped in a bit of paper. Looks like it is headed to be mashed in the pilon as well.

I cannot stand aronswa! Do I say so, and spoil the recipe?

An onion whirs in her hand. Slices plop into the plastic bin with the carrots. She sidles over to the cookhouse and stirs the coals, blows. A huge chodye is set on top, and some precious cooking oil is poured in. Then the epis (spices).

If you think all this is a big deal for one meal, one ordinary well, I agree. I am not sure there is any sort of “simple” plain cooking in rural Haiti. Certainly no “fast food.” And all foodstuffs need to be cooked: There’s no ready mix this or that, not even any bread, for God’s sake. If she has made some, there might be mamba (peanut butter) for purchase at Madame Mira’s or further down from our mountain, at Madam Moise.

One summer, I got a whole jar full of the stuff and spread it on biskwi, even stale biskwi, when there was nothing else to eat. Which was usually the case. Cooked food, the cooking of food, is a big deal when you are using a machete and an axe, getting and chopping wood, and slicing vegetables in your bare hands.

Kloteed is cooking. I am in awe.


Neighbor kids are lucky - Celiane, oldest of 10, found some corn in the jaden, she will roast it and they will have mayi boukane this morning, while they wait for the main meal. Madame Sove, in another kizin, peels banane, plantain, which will be boiled. Sometimes, they have rice. Mostly, not.


EDUCATION: A PRIVILEGE, NOT A RIGHT

Education as national, personal priority?

Since education is seen as a privilege and not a right in the minds of many, if not most, Haitians of all classes, our team was not surprised when very few people in the study sample mentioned education, public school, as a national priority, or a personal priority. That is to say, people in the sample cited jobs, shelter/housing, roads and security as priorities more frequently than education.

Although there is lip-service paid to the importance of mass education, the political class has not quite got the notion that it might be useful to have an educated citizenry - that education is a form of socialization, even mobilization, of a population. Indeed, there were complaints about the flood of rural migrants to the capital; mention was that the paysan should remain on their land andeyo, in the mountains "where they belonged." No, not a universal view, to be sure, but a few mentioned and shared with the researchers.

The elitism surrounding education strikes me as a carryover from 18th and early 19th century Europe colonialism. In this respect, much of Haiti -bourgeois, elite and paysan mentalities - remains stuck in 1804.

Costs. We asked our sample about the cost of education. There is very little government-subsidized education – what we would call “public” education – in Haiti. What public schooling there was, and is, is mostly in the capital. Small wonder that students are dispatched to Port au Prince! And, to get into such government schools is traditionally very competitive. We were told by many about how, although schooling might be free, getting in was a matter of bribes. The same was said of private schools, good private schools. Palms were crossed, favors tallied.

Although historically limited to Port au Prince, last year, prior to the EQ, one such government-support high school has opened in an adjacent mountain zone, in fact. This was following a good deal of pressure from Diasporan relatives, with families in that area.

Public or private, education is generally regarded as a privilege, not a right, in Haiti. Some rural families, indeed, who identify themselves more strongly with the land, are reluctant to deploy any of their meager earnings, sell any of their uncertain harvest, to pay school fees. In spite of some shifts towards a democratization of education, there are still biases towards who should, and who should not, have a right to go to school. Indeed, some peasant families, while trying to send some of their children, eventually abandon the task, as, after 8th grade, “higher” education has meant supporting a child or children in the capital, entailing housing needs, or leaning on relatives, favors, or even more expenses. To the extent that they cannot imagine their children competing on such a level, some rural families abandon the task of formal schooling altogether.

In our mountain community currently, a year at a primary level at the (heavily supported) Episcopal Church school would cost approximately $55.00 US. Books, uniform are additional costs, and of course, shoes. Students have to wear closed shoes – tennis shoes are acceptable.

Throughout the country, each school has its own uniform, with a distinct color, and a solid or checked pattern short, and often requiring matching colored socks. A child is likely to need two uniforms, one to wear while the other is drying. The cost of shoes and uniforms could be another $5.00 to $10.00 US.

As one parent (of 9) told me, “Well, if you have several children, you just can’t manage to keep them all in school.” American parents can understand this - it woukld be a challenge here just to keep 9 pairs of feet in shoes, let alone in private school.

Uniforms are required in all Haitian schools, and this has served to support a not-insignificant industry within Haiti, for Haiti. In rural Haiti, this has taken the form of cottage industries rather than large factories. Our mountain zone women have expressed interest in sewing uniforms; again, logistics are challenging but not insurmountable. And of course, a student needs at least two uniforms - one to wear while the other is drying.

Since the EQ, many children returned to our mountain zone, and are now continuing their schooling – but without uniforms. The uniforms from the city schools don’t meet the regulations in our area – but the schools have agreed not to mandate uniforms this year for these displaced students. An interesting accommodation in the wake of the quake.

In our rural mountain zone, the schools do not, cannot, provide a meal for students. This is not simply a matter of funds, it is a matter of logistics, transport, fuel, and storage. Other rural areas, some schools do manage to feed students. Usually, these have sponsors lot bo (overseas, typically, the U.S.) – either individuals or churches or coalitions of churches.

In the city, tuition fees are higher – but usually, a meal is included. As mentioned, for working class parents in the city, a big concern was school costs. To enroll, at the start of a year for primary grades, one worker told us will have to pay 800$HD or 100$ US, plus 50$HD/month or $6.25. “For each child,” he adds, “For each one.” So, in the city, a child in school gets a meal every day for $6.25 per month! This may sound cheap to us, but bear in mind that a factory worker's salary is less than $5.00 per day.

Other issues in public education in Haiti, beyond the cost of training and implementing, are: curriculum, and of course, language(s) of instruction. Relevance and utility of curriculum are other concerns. In a rural school, 8th grade Natalya sat outside her two room home, which she shared with 7 others. She was studying a page, reproduced below, in a French text, "Indicateurs de developpement." - Indicators of development. Natalya sat outside, head bent over this material, as children played on the dirt floor and a neighbor fiddled with the gift of a solar panel - the communities first and only link to getting some electrical power. Is there anything out of kilter here or is it just me?

Higher education

In the city, the cost of higher education is priced beyond the reach of many qualifying, strong students. Sonia was accepted into one of the country’s better, if not best, medical schools, the University of Notre Dame School of Medicine. The tuition, at approximately $2,000.00 US per year, was something she was not able to pay – even before the EQ. So, she lost her place in the class. Roosevelt wants and needs to take classes in English. He is not working, so he could take the class during the day that are offered at a respected institute downtown. The day time course is much less expensive than the evening class. Still, he is reluctant to ask for even more help from his uncle, mon Oncle en Amerique.

With all these limitations, and limitations of access, Haitians who lack formal education have consistently impressed me through the past almost 10 years’ experience in Haiti as being innovators, problem-solvers, and resourceful – as well as intelligent and articulate.

People – children as well as adults – construct things, make baskets, buy and sell, build homes, draw lines, measure quantities, cook and serve and generally run their lives, albeit on a shoestring, admirably. Knowledge, wisdom are handed down in an oral tradition, song, church experience, apprenticeships, in and outside of natal families.

As I reflect on the skills in our rural zone, and in the “informal” sector of folks getting by in the city, I recall Mark Twain’s dictum, to wit, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.”

True enough in Haiti. But not enough for Haiti’s eventual emergence from the 18th to the 21st century.

There are answers to the problem of universal, public education in Haiti. And the answers lie within Haiti - no need to look outside. Coming up in next post of Haiti Next Door.

.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Still, while we stand not so idly by, the heart cries out

RESIDENT ANTHROPOLOGIST SLEEPS AROUND

Gimme Shelter



Generally speaking, shelter --- crowding and earthquake debris aside --- is less of an economic problem than food costs. Although visitors are likely to be uncomfortable in housing that Haitians tolerate, find acceptable, the prices seem about right.

Many Diasporans have assisted with the building or renting of homes for their relatives, whom they visit from time to time. It has made sense to invest in housing, be it ever so humble, there's no place like it. It does seem like a good deal of the "hot" property (literally and metaphorically) in the capital is linked to the Diaspora, one way or another, somewhere or the other. This is what got me thinking, really thinking, about what kept Haiti - or at least the city - going...

Some, lotsa, Port au Prince families were “squatters” before Jan. 12; others live in homes they have inherited, on land they have inherited. Many households are “home” to family from the countryside – who come and go with agricultural produce for city family to sell or consume. Many residences also serve as centers for small, cottage industries and home businesses, or as “depots,” storage facilities for family or neighbors engaged in commerce. Your house – or your tent – is part of your “capital” and the attitude seems to be to keep it all working for you to generate income.

Not a bad notion, when you think about it.


We sampled workers in and around the city and the “suburb” of Kafou (“Carrfeour”) – actually, it is less of a suburb now and more of the metropolitan sprawl that is Port au Prince. Let’s start with the cost of renting a place to camp with a tent. Haitians displaced by the earthquake, as well as those whose homes remained standing, received all manner of tents and tarps after Jan. 12.

Tenting in Delmas 18. Madame Soirelis pays 550 goudes for 6 months for the place to put her large tent. Or 1100 goudes/year, just US$27.00. For a spot to squat in prime Port au Prince real estate, it is not bad. And the water pump is a stone’s throw from her tent. She has a foyer, entry room, big enough for several plastic lawn chairs, a table laden with items for her “ti komes” – boxes of spaghetti, canned milk, bags of cornflakes and other dry goods. Through the portal, there is another large room big enough for a double bed and more. The bedroom has high ceilings and is a fairly good size large tent. Madame S. shares this space with Dieula, age 14, a relative from the countryside who has lived with the small family for about a year. Madame S. two year old is asleep on a blanket in the foyer. A large standing fan whirs and, as usual, a television and radio are both on. It is the time of World Cup Soccer, and most Haitian fans know that the radio commentary is superior to that on TV, so if both media are available, that’s the way to go.

Housing further downtown, in a tin-and-cardboard box in a maze of other such boxes, runs a bit more than a tent placement.

Tin box studio in Delmas 6. Marline tells us she pays 2000 $HD/year ($250 US) for her tin box, a room large enough for a narrow bed, a table, and a television, with a small window. The bed is immaculate, with a bright clean sheet pulled tightly. Stuff. The walls are hung with clothing, back packs, shopping bags, a rack of shoes, plastic bins with nail polish, toenail clippers, polish remover, soap, feminine needs, more. It is cluttered, but neatly arranged.

She has access to electricity, which the community organized after they decamped here after the EQ. To participate, she pays 500 goudes per month, about $6.50 or so US. This amount is at least a day and a half of her wage in a textile factory.


The electricity is mostly reliable…Marline turns on the fan immediately and invites me to charge my cell phone-cum-camera-cum-email-cum-contact-with-outside-world. I am relieved at the offer.

She moved here to Delmas 6 not only because her former home was inhabitable, she says, but also because this place was a lot closer to work. And cheaper – instead of having to take 2 tap-taps (small buses) for 10 goudes each, she only had to take one. She now shares her place with Yvon, her fiancĂ©e.

Tonight and tomorrow, we also will stay with them – Madame Klo and myself. Marline tells me flat out that Klo and I will have the bed, she and Yvon will have a mat on the floor. I know enough after 10 years of hospitality in Haitian homes that I can’t protest this arrangement.
The bed, I note warily, is a narrow cot. A very narrow cot. But then, my team member, Madame Klo, is skinny enough. We will degaje.

Somewhere in my backpack, I have Melatonin or valerian. Or both. The better to sleep with in shared beds and tight spaces. Fan, or no fan, I know it will be hot. I also know I am no good on no sleep. I come to Haiti prepared.

A few other things I need to know. Marline nods, picks up a folded clean sheet and tells me to come with her. Careful not to fall into the sluice, the pit holes

Marline is now 4 months pregnant. Yvon is madly in love with her. She’s the breadwinner, as well. They will degaje.

For about twenty bucks a month, the place is a steal.

LeJean pays 3000 $HD or 15,000 goudes/year for the renting of a small house in city. This is about US $375/year.


LeJean earns 1200 $HD/month are his earnings – or US $150. His rent is thus less than ¼ of his own earnings.

He works as an electrician at SONAPI, not in a factory. His wife is working in ti komes, her mother lives with them, and they have two small children not yet school age, for which he is thankful.

His big concern was school costs. To enroll, at the start of a year for primary grades, he will have to pay 800$HD or 100$ US, plus 50$HD/month or $6.25. “For each child,” he adds, “For each one.”

Yet, this will include a meal for the student.

Most schools in the city, and smaller cities, as well as those with sponsors such as Haitian churches or churches “lot bo” provide ay least one meal for the students.

Also in the center of town, there are always rooms – some rather dungeon like, without windows, with dusty smells. I was welcomed into one and shown the electric socket, the television, the boom boxes, the fan. A small table with deodorant, bug spray, soap, a hand mirror, toothpaste. A chipped cup with a toothbrush. A chair with a worn towel. We listened to music and talked about work, working. He has a job in a Petionville restaurant, so he gets a meal in addition to a daily wage. He and his friends, who work as gardeners, pay about 500 goudes/month minimum (just about $6.50 US) or about $150 US per year for such rooms.


Delmas 40B


This is the high rent district. A one bedroom attached townhouse at Delmas 40B is $10 000 ht (50 000 gourds or about $1250/year) a year. So, yes, that is about a hundred bucks or so a month. Four adults live here; before the EQ, it was five. No one here is working. Before the EQ, one person worked and had paid the annual rent in advance.

Mom and Dad are in their 60s; the remaining adult sons are in their twenties. One son is finishing a graduate program in business; the other was accepted into a top medical school in Haiti but could not pay the tuition.

This year, the landlord – he lives in the neighborhood and his own house collapsed - told us the price will be increased to $15 000 ht (75 000 gourds or $1,875.00 US/year). That’d be, oh, say $155.00 US, give or take.

How will they manage? You have questions? They have answers: lot bo dlo.


Monday, August 23, 2010

USA? Wi, Papa!


Out of the blue. It's a Sunday and I scramble across rubble, gravel, broken glass. Goats watch me, guarding their stuff. I am together with one of our team, Kloteed, in upper Delmas (close to the “high rent” district and, er, upper, uppity Petionville...well it is uppity!).

A woman approaches us, I guess she is middle-aged. Nicely dressed (Sunday?) and literally well-heeled (closed shoes).










She crosses Delmas over by Delmas 49 and greets us. She tells Klo how much she appreciated people like me coming to her country. Of course, I turn and speak to her in Kreyol and, much taken aback, she then thanked me for even speaking her language, and then told says, directly to me, it was good for Haiti that so many Americans thought to come here. Simply, coming to her country and doing what we did, she says to me there on the street, encourages Haitian people and gives them hope.

Am I...shaking? Another small tremblman de te, startled by what I think I understand she is saying. Saying, Mesi anpil anpil, in the absence of any material contribution whatsoever, or effort on my part.

Mesi anpil, pou vizite nou nan peyi nou.

Thank you. "Thanks for coming to our country." No asking for nothing. Just thanking me.

Just for… coming to her country, for being there, and standing with, Haiti.

Stunning.

Friday, August 20, 2010

SEW WHAT: A Haitian Community Starts a Sweatshop Boutik

CHALLENGE: Are you tired of see all the sadness and depressing conditions that pervade Haiti, or at least most medias take on it? Well, step back and have a look at some positive, uh, threads...

Collaborate with Mon Bouton and La Tournelle, in the mountains above the plain of Leogane, to move mountains!

People here have skills - and wish to develop them further - in machine sewing, hand sewing and embroidery. They are ready to assemble school uniforms, T-shirts, and embroidered dress such as you will see in the video clip, just 4 minutes, below.





Can a new "Sweatshop Boutik" small-scale factory in the mountains of Haiti succeed? Come on, if we can put a man on the moon, and a stem cell in a mouse, can we work together with this mountain community, support their efforts here?

Write your comments, place an order!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

World Cup a Welcome Distraction in Tent Living




At Delmas 18, Mesye Louis Jean tells of the aftermath of the EQ and his personal loss. He is able to forget, for a little while, with the televised broadcasts of World Cup soccer.






Biznis as usual since Jan. 12 - except this family had to relocate to a tent site. Few here work in the "formal" sector, but all manage to degaje. Louis-Jean, and his aunt, baby cousin and in-living household help, cousin Dieula help Aunt Marie Ange selling staples and dry goods from the "salon," a small tent connected to a larger sleeping space visible here. Fresh eggs are sold, as well as a variety of merchandise and even "donated" cereals dispensed by NGOs - some of which do not understand that CARRYING, transporting, schlepping and distributing stuff is traditionally a money-making activity, going back to freed slavery days. Louis-Jean and Dieula will carry boxes of supplies and Auntie handles the retail. I ask about the price of rices, diri peyi and diri Miami.
The imported rice is lots cheaper than diri peyi --- but this is hardly news. Toma (again) explains to me about "Haitian dollars" - which don't exist, but are a term of reference, and goudes, the official unit of currency. In speaking, Haitians invariably give you the price of stuff in Haitian dollars; I invariably struggle with the math, especially in this climate, in this rather warm - shall we say "warm?" - tent. So, here goes: You multiply the dollars by 5, and get goudes, then you divide by 40 (a generous evaluation of the goudes to the US dollar) and you get the US dollar value...hopefully. Toma and Klo are always reminding me that at the bank, you don't get 40 goudes for your remitted dollar, it is, say, 39 or even 38, they say. But I like round numbers, especially in warm tents.

So, what does rice cost? In the city it is often 30$HD or 150 goudes
(3.20 US; 3 or 4 meals for small family, so ~ 1.00/meal) for about a large coffee can full of rice (Called a gwo mamite, this is a standard unit of measure in Haiti, equivalent to say about 3 lbs.)

I'm reeling and it is not just the heat, because this is about $1.00 per pound for rice - and varieties cost that much at stores in Palo Alto, California - not exactly a low rent district in the U.S.


An early game in the World Cup blares happily over the hubbub of our visit. Louis-Jean and I are fou de futball, fanatik

Baby cuz sleeps through it all.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is a Factory Job a Good Job? (Part 2)


Our team from the countryside also sat down with a human rights lawyer, in the course of our interviews. We all learned what the law is: A minimum wage in the textile industry is 125 goudes/day, distinct from the 200 goudes/day ($5 US) in other sectors, as set after several months’ discussion in the Haitian governmental ministries.

In the city, a worker told us, “Yo te goumet anpil ak salaire minimum. - “They argued quite a bit in the government about the minimum wage.”

Initially, a textile factory worker earns less than a street cleaner in “Cash For Work.” The Cash-For-Work program, not exactly doing the job of clearing debris and disposing of garbage elsewhere besides city sewer, pays the minimum of 200 goudes, about $5 US/day. However, I have been told that this program is for a 5 hour day. Sounds good? Well, not exactly: Workers only get to work for two weeks, then they are rotated out so others get a job.

In contrast, a stable job in a factory – even though it is an 8 hour day, 6-days a week position - seems a dream job.

Rony, a young man from the countryside, talked with us at length about factories and what the base pay, and cash for work pay, meant to him. He felt that factories do not pay enough to meet one’s needs. He felt that the 200 goudes/day from Cash For Work could easily be spent just on food alone. (I have seen what he eats, so, I can tell you that he is not exaggerating!)

On the other hand, Rony says, “Tout faktori pa fonktione mem jan.” Not all factories work the same. There are differences, differences in pay, hours, days, schedule and so on. He had friends who worked in factories, and had a good deal to say. But, to him, it is the bottom line, the pay, that matters. Everyone in our sample of workers agreed on that.

Bonuses/Incentive Pay: Workers, novices and experienced, get paid bonuses after they meet a quota (dozens of boxes, say, of finished garments) on a daily basis. A plant manager exlained that, “The incentive system works best here, we have found.”

The amount of the bonus can, and does, vary from one factory to another. So, instead of getting 125 goudes (or about $3.00 US) per day, a worker on a successful team has the possibility to earn more than this minimum. Here is how it might work:

For 25 boxes - 60 HD 300 goudes/day [about $7.50 US]

For 20 boxes - 40 HD 200 goudes/day [about $5.00 US]

For 18 boxes – 36 HD 180/goudes day [about $4.25 US]

If they do not meet the quotas above, they just earn the minimum of 125 goudes/day – about $3.00 US.

Does this work? In fact, workers told me over lunch that they had difficulty usually meeting the quota. Since the assembly work is done in a team – which can included 12 to 15 people – there is plenty of room for human weaknesses, if not errors. Additionally, some of the machines – which are, according to one plant manager, 40 years old – do break down or have problems. That plus worker fatigue or lack of esprit de corps seem to get in the way, frequently, of workers earning more than the minimum 125 goudes/day.

Workers really did not like the incentive pay system. Many perceive that the rates are intended to cheat them.

One of the plant managers shared a similar sentiment. He thought the workers did not want an incentive pay system, but he added that it certainly worked at his factory, where they were exceeding their quotas quite often.

Work week: Theirs is a 6 day work week, or, in most factories, Saturday is a half-day - a 5 1/2 day work week. Sunday is a paid day, at the minimum rate. However, there is also occasional Sunday work mandated. If workers are asked to come in on Sunday, food and drinks are provided.

Marline’s Work Day: Marline, my hostess at Delmas 6, has worked in her current factory job for 3 years. She gets up before 5 a.m. to bathe and dress --- This is a bigger deal here in Delmas 6 than you might imagine; water has to be carried in a bucket from a communal tap a ways down the paths that wind through the tin and cardboard structures put up after the earthquake on Jan. 12. At night, if you need to pee, there is a pot de chamber, a basin, for your, uh, convenience.

She gets to the tap tap (small bus) stop before 6 a.m. and hopes to arrive outside the factory by 6:30. outside the gates, she’ll get sweet coffee and a bit of bread for 20 goudes (about 50 cents). The gates open at 6:45. At some factories, I am told, if you are late, you cannot get in after 7 a.m.

Marline’s Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., with an hour for lunch at 11 a.m. Some workers say that get a 15 minute break and then a 30 min. lunch, but it seems the hour lunch time prevails.

Pay Day: Workers say they are paid every “quinzaine” – every 15 days, or twice a month – in cash. When I inquired about the security of workers going home with this cash on payday, the responses were that thieves respect the factory workers’ hard efforts and therefore, do not attempt to steal from them! Another added that, “People who steal are not always bad people. They are just hungry people.”

This implies, of course, a “Robin Hood” effect and the most vulnerable to crime, of course, are the upper and or working classes in Petionville, Tabarre and Kenscoffe. Gated, and locked, and securely impenetrable, well beyond all the riff raff.

Workers on their earnings: Interestingly, none of the workers criticized the profit, the amount of profit, which factory owners reaped. Perhaps because everyone seems to have grown up in an entrepreneurial spirit, none begrudged the owner. Although, naturally enough, most workers felt more pay is certainly desirable, none suggested that owners would have to lower their profits for worker wages to increase.

How did they manage, then, we asked. It was explained over and over, and observed as we shadowed Marline and other workers for a day or half day: workers ate less, or ate less often. Although they would, for example, describe and itemize the costs of each of say three meals, we did not observe any workers, nor families, nor children, having 3 meals a day. In many instances, we observed and/or shared, the single meal, with perhaps bread and coffee (in the city) on the run.

Those who labored in the streets (Cash For Work) or fields (Hired-on Day laborers) sometimes got a meal, or bread and coffee and a meal, as part of their remuneration.

Workers outside of factories, “ti machan,” shoe shine boys, peddlers of goods (shoes, sun glasses, pastries, water) made out that they had opportunities to earn more than a factory worker, and that they’d rather take their chances as an “independent” on the street, than in a factory job. The “shine” boys spoke of the occasional shoe repairs they did as boosting their daily incomes several times higher than what they heard factory workers earned (they cited 500 goudes as a day’s income, “on a good day.”)

“Niveau” workers, those who has just started, had been on the job say 3 months, just since the earthquake, said they were happy just to have a job. This included a young man, as well as several young women. “My earnings will at least keep me alive,” was one comment, and I asked this young man to repeat it, as I wasn’t sure I’d heard that quite right.

For most of the workers we interviewed, they felt that their pay was simply okay – even though it didn’t quite meet their needs. There was acceptance. Some indicated they simply had to make do with what they had; some were more vociferous, citing education costs of children and increased food costs. I was surprised that there was not more resentment.

After some weeks of pondering, I realized that, besides tightening their belts, buying less and eating less - and less often – most city residents, whether they worked in factories or not – had other sources of income. Chiefly, one other source of income: remittance payments from lot bo are a mainstay of the Haitian economy. The low textile factory minimum wage was something government and factory owner could afford to settle on, given the considerable safety net from Haitians overseas.

Duh.

Haiti's Workers on Work


What Workers Shared in Interviews

First off, nobody makes as much money as they deserve or need – here or in Haiti, folks feel the same.

That being said, it is not difficult to calculate that a Haitian textile worker’s typical wage is still not a “living wage,” but rather, a “survival wage.” However, factory workers as well as those working, peddling, or hustling in other sectors still say that a factory job is still a good job, because, after all – it is a job.

To further clarify: even if the job just pays you enough to eat and get to and from the work site, it is still a good job. For the rest, you degaje – you get by, you figure it out, you manage.

One seasoned fellow said frankly, he’d rather have this job in the factory than die.

Pito ou travay pase mouri.” His earnings, he iterated, were enough for him to eat and get himself to and from work, with not much left over. This expression, to have factory work was better than being dead, was echoed by others on other occasions, not in a mean way, just very matter of fact.

Veronique, a textile worker, told us, “Travay se libete.” (A job is freedom!) I am not sure American workers – and not all Haitian workers- would share Veronique’s enthusiasm.

Just like the rest of us, and people everywhere, Haitian workers, in and out of factories, wanted to earn more. To my surprise, most factory workers did not emphasize, however, that they were being treated unfairly. There were a few exceptions:

A young worker sits down with us at our table as we are looking at a list of “Good” textile factories in SONAPI, compiled for us. This is a list of companies who are following the law, regarding minimum wages, at least. The worker points to one, where he works, and tells us that he doesn’t always get the bonus pay when his team meets the quota. He was the only worker to be forthright, in the context where we sat. Now, of course, most interviews were held in the Industrial Park, with other workers around. Other interviews, held in homes in the center of the capital, allowed for more expression. We heard dissent, but not vociferous resentment.

The main concern was (no surprise again): money. The main issues were the base pay, low overtime pay and the quotas. Workers made suggestions about what the minimum wage (before quota incentives) should be, and gave good reasons (cost of food being the most frequently cited). Overall, workers were not vehement. Information about pay was offered matter-of-fact. To my concealed astonishment, there was no grousing about working 6 days a week, either. This, it seems was a given. I recalled the Haitian proverb that goes something like, “If you want to be able to afford to live, you must work.” There are actually a number of such sayings in the oral literature.

Dissatisfaction wasn't about heat, lunch breaks or even the commute. It was just: lajan.

An experienced factory worker, who has worked in the same textile factory for 3 years, lives with 7 people in his household. He feels 250 goudes should be the minimum wage; explains that he pays 20 goudes for the two tap taps just to get to work, so round trip that eats up a lot of what he earns now (200 goudes to 300 goudes depending on if his team makes the quota). That is, round-trip transportation is 1/5 of his pay! On the other hand, gasoline at this writing (July 2010) is 38 or 39 HD$ per gallon or almost $5.00 US!

I’m also thinking they rarely get the 300 goudes/day that he has mentioned as possible if he makes the quota. Another team member, Lionel, concurs with me. When they don’t make the quota, I ask, what happens? He tells us, he is “Nan ka.” (Deep shit.) So, we ask why they don’t make the quota? He replies that sometimes a machine breaks down and they have to fix it, or sometimes people are just tired. Overtime (20 goudes/hour) is too little and people do not want to stay late, he adds.

Why can’t teams consistently make the quota? It is not usually a matter of worker’s laziness, or fatigue, or failings, apparently. From a plant manager, who has spent his whole working lifetime in Haiti with a family business in textiles, tells me that yes, the machines break down and it can be difficult to get parts for them. When they have to stop, fix a machine, substitute another one, it cuts down on productivity.

Some of the machines, he says, are 40 years old. By this time, I know enough, sense enough, not to ask the plant manager why they don’t purchase new machines.

Teams often don’t make the quotas, but they stick it out. Toma tells me of another proverb that goes, “Pito ou travay pase mande, “ or – It is better to work than to beg.” The earnings are low – even for Haiti.

Nobody has to explain things to me at this point. Toma is quiet. We get ready for another interview, the next round of questions. I am beginning to understand that it’s about getting by, making do and not about making a living. If you have a job, any sort of a job, you will be able to eat. No difference, you say, between here and there? The difference here is: there are no safety nets. In the city, in the streets, you can take your chances. Somebody will need water carried, a slop jar emptied, a baby tended, clothes washed. You can get a job somewhere, somehow, in the streets. And if you get a little something, why, then you eat. In the countryside, you don’t get such chances.

The city streets are not scary – they are your hope, your safety net. If you can hustle, you could get by. Everyone here is hustling. It is not about making a living, it is about surviving, eating today - and maybe even tomorrow.

This is, even after 10 summers of experience, enlightenment for me. Being here is not just about being poor. Being poor is about not having enough money. Being here means not having the means to make money.

Now I begin to feel maybe I can put some pieces together.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

IS A FACTORY JOB A GOOD JOB? (Part 1)

Do You Think Working in a Factory is a Good Job or Not?

"Is a factory job a good job?" Overall, both city and rural respondents felt that factory work was a good job – this, despite that they knew it was not well-paying. It was a job, and having a job was good.

We Talk With Textile Workers in the City

We asked factory workers: What would you do if you did not have this factory job?

Among women, the immediate response was always “Ti komes.” (They would buy and sell goods in the street.) So, staying with the factory job was not simply that they had no other options.

Several factory workers were proud that they worked in a factory. One claimed to earn the equivalent of $10 US per day, because her team made the quota, got bonuses and overtime.

The workers we spoke to had completed at least 9th grade; many had attended university up to some point. They were articulate and interested to meet us.

Paulgina is pleased to be included in our interviews. She is 28 and tells us that she works for a Korean-owned textile factory. She is happy to sit and talk to us, in front of her extended tent and tarp residence in the center of Port au Prince. Tall, heavy set – should I say “large?”- she is laughing and well-groomed. She got the factory job through a friend. Just the way things often happen here in the States, says I to me. She had started high school, but had to quit. This was some years ago. She is happy to be working, no matter the pay. Says I to me, somehow, people seem to manage. No complaints so far, says I to me.

Here is her take on her earnings:

She gets the minimum 125 goudes/day but can earn 250 goudes if her team makes the 50 boxes quota. She makes 300 goudes if they finish 60 boxes. This is pretty standard. [One factory has all their workers earning 200 goudes/day as a minimum wage. This, the plant manager tells me, is the highest in the industry. But, they only hire experienced workers, he adds.]

Paulgina says she starts at 6:30 a.m., has a break at 11:00 to 11:30, then continues until 5 p.m. I ask her about the one hour lunch, which I understood was the law. Shrugging – now, I know what is coming – she tells me: “Sa depan."
Of course, she wants to know all about me. What brings me to Haiti? Do I have kids (Sure, all grown. Two grandkids even. Photos are shared.)
She likes her job. She appreciates have a salary. She is able to make things better for her relatives who share this tent, and the next one over.

I begin to understand: It is pretty special to have a job – what we might consider a low level job – in a country with an unemployment rate pegged at, what, about 60%?
Of course, whoever is doing that counting is not counting all the work going on around us as we sit, even here in Delmas 6 tents and tin boxes. Everyone is working, hustling at least.
Kids are crowding around us, mainly around me that is – and it is almost time for one the the World Cup games to start. It’s Argentina today and the tent camp is divided into two, er, camps: some are for Argentina and some folks are for Brazil, the traditional Haitian favorite. It seems to me that more elite, more working class, more city folks, are siding with the Argentines, but this isn’t clear. Paulgina invites us to watch at the TV of her cousin, in an adjacent tent and tarp structure.
I am a soccer fanatic – it is the only sport I understand – and I am eager to get inside as many tents as I can squeeze into – so I tell her I will join them She tells Shirley, another cousin, to fetch stool for me. Now, the tent we enter is huge, tall ceilings and cement blocks laid out on part of the floor. There is even a refrigerator at one end. Of course, a TV, a big screen and it is in color. Of course, remittance monies are rounding out any “earned income” that heads of households in this tent are bringing in.
To us, it may seem like camping, but for folks here it is just the way it is – maybe even a little better in some ways – than they had been living before the EQ. Here, they are getting water brought in by an NGO. Here, there are some sort of latrines – even if they have no doors and are filthy.
For some of Haiti’s underemployed, Delmas 6 is a step up.
Paulgina’s cousin’s family are thrilled to have me; some speak a bit of English. I ask one husky young man where he’d learned – I am really impressed as he speaks well and I can understand him easily. He tells me he learned English on the street, that’s all. That and TV.
Later on, I see Shirley sweeping, tidying up Paulgina’s tent and washing dishes. Shirley fetches a bokit of water now that Project Concern’s truck has arrived and the tap is turned on. Shirley and her 3 year old, Woud, line up and wait. Paulgina will give Shirley maybe 5 or 10 goudes for this help today. If Shirley gets four or five little jobs like this, she can buy a plate of spaghetti (no meat) for herself and Woud. Or, somebody might share some cooked food with them.


Call it a day.
It strikes me: This crowded maze of invested sluices, trash and families is full of oh-so-patient 3 year olds. There he is, little Woud, behind his mother, not complaining, not whining. Just…there.


WHAT TI ELI ATE TODAY




What Ti Eli Ate Today:

Before we hiked down from the mountain, we had coffee, laced with sugar. There is coffee now every day because I am here. Otherwise, it is not the way most rural residents here start the day – it is a special treat, rather a deal, when you are offered coffee. However, everyone here has gotten used to my rather princessy expectations, which date back about 10 years ago. Like when I first came to Haiti, you read in the guidebook that “In the morning, Haitians have coffee and bread.”

Hah-hah – the book is a guide to the city, to the Republik of Port au Prince, to some, not all, of the working class, the salaried class, the political class, biznis class.

But not us.

Still, long after I understood that morning coffee was not de rigeur, I still got to have my cup O’ Joe. So, now there is a small, very small, biznis on our mountain: Fixing Madame Randy’s kafe chak maten. They learned, I learned. I brought a large thermos to keep it hot most of the day. They tempered the sugar down a bit. And, I learned to share all the coffee. This was expected of me, call it Haitian good manners. As I come to understand, "Moun ki pa manje pou ko l pa janm grangou." (If you are not selfish with your food, you will never starve.)


I am used to the children having coffee with me. Ti Eli drinks too, as would any Haitian baby or child offered a cup. I blow on a small cup, and give it to Ti Eli, who is now 3 years old.


Coffee is now 25 goudes for a “cluster” of unroasted beans, yon “paket” up at the Kampon market. Toma tells me it is very expensive now, and getting scarce. What I notice is: no one is grilling and pounding coffee fresh every morning, as in years past. Kloteed has bought it already pounded! I used to hear the thum-thump-thump of the monch ak pillon every morning, with the rooster crowing, it was the sound of morning on the mountain. Now, all but the rooster is silent. Change has come to Mon Bouton.

There is no bread today. We will get some when we get “downstairs.”

A few hours later, at the river’s edge, we buy some biskwit and Ti Eli eats a few bites. Then in Darbonne, when we reach the town, after a ride across the rivers on motos, 3 plus the driver. It is now about 10:00 a.m. I buy some pate, freed dough for all 5 of us.

Still, 3 year old Ti Eli has not had much to eat. A few bites of fried dough, then he is not much interested.

Some hours and a jostling tap-tap ride later, we arrive in Kafou. Klotted buys a bag of chips. Ti Eli will eat a little of this. We mount motos again, thanks to my bankrolling our travel, and get up to the zone of Jericho, at the top of this road in Kafou in style: myself, the driver, Kloteed and Ti Eli.

Still, no real food today for Ti Eli or anyone else.

We arrive and Klotted unpacks, and sets to cooking. Rice and some black beans goes on the fire. A small onion, a bit of oil, some pate tomat, - there’s even one small carrot! There’s just one charcoal stand, so the meal preparation takes a while. No one, absolutely no one complains, but I am feeling really hungry! Ti Eli plays with his cousins. They roll on the cement floor, play with a stick too near the charcoal stand. I am the only one watching. Everyone else is chopping spices, chatting, catching up on news from Mon Bouton and waiting patiently for water to boil.

Me? I am starving.

Some time late in the afternoon, Klo and my hosts try to serve me first, in a room separate from everyone else. There are no tables. Klo puts a thin embroidered towel on a chair, and sets some beans and rice on that. I decide I will join everyone in the other room and take it there. I can see what Ti Eli eats.

He can feed himself, but he prefers his mother or someone to put food into his mouth. He is rather spoiled, isn’t he? So, he runs around, gets a mouthful, runs around. How much does he eat? Impossible to measure. Some of this, and some of that from someone else’s dish, even mine. Clearly, "Manje kwit pa gen met," - that is, cooked food is for everyone. And, indeed, whenever Klo is cooking, it is for me and everyone, and anyone, who is around. So, when I try to figure out what does it cost me for food nan Ayiti Cheri, I begin to sound like my Haitian neighbors, study participants. All say: "Sa depan." It depends.

Later, asweya, at night, someone will eat any leftovers. If there are leftovers. Klo would not have another fire going at night to cook, except for me bank rolling our dining pleasure.

Some nights, she will take diri kole, left over rice, and add it to a pudding, “la bwi,” made with canned milk, sugar and flour. If she has cinnamon or other sweet spices, she will add that in.

It certainly is delicious. Yet, the day has passed an except for the shared carrot, no one has had fruit or vegetables. Bananas are expensive, I note – that is to say, they don’t seem to, er, grow on trees. The sweet, “fig” bananas are what we are all craving for. Sometimes, when she finds them at a market, Kloteed will spend say 5$HD, 50 goudes, on a bunch.

Not today.

Next day, we shop for a meal together. We spend $350 goudes, or about $8.00 - $9.00 US (divide by 40 goudes to the dollar, or more accurately 39 if you are good with dividing). Here is what we buy: 6 pieces of fish, a godet of rice (about 20 oz.), a godet (20 oz.) of fresh beans (pwa vet) – not dried, a small (8 oz.) bottle of oil for cooking, some fruit for making juice (ji genadia), container of margarine (16 oz. tub) that Klo keeps without refrigeration, a large piece of ice, oil, onion, pate tomate for sauce. Some chabon (charcoal) for 15 goudes – Klo says it should last for 2 fires, 2 meals, maybe more. Some maggi cubes, garlic, for 15 goudes a “paket” (little bit). Not much else.

You know what? This seems expensive to me. We did feed 6 people, plus the kids (age 3 and 2) this one meal.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

RETIRED TAILOR RECALLS GOOD OLD DAYS: DARBONNE

Outside of the capital,
some 20 or 30 miles,
but light years away
from the, er,
sophistication that is Petionville,
if not Port au Prince, the village tailor sits in front of his sewing machine.


It doesn't work and neither does he.
But I take a chance to pose a few questions.
Heck, yes, he'd take a job (again) in a textile factory - he used to do that work many years ago. If they had a factory here, out in Darbonne (Dabon), he could work here. Living in the city is too expensive, he says. And it is not safe. "Anpil vole," "Many thieves." "And they kill you, they kill you for whatever you have in your pocket," he adds. But, he says, "Not all the thieves are bad people, you know? They just need to be able to feed their families, so they do what they have to do."

He reminds me of another Haitian saying, "Degaje pa peche," "Doing what you have to do to get by isn't a sin." I am not sure this covers murder, but it certainly sounds like being a Robin Hood meets with approval.



Then, Toma sings out a new jingle he heard in the capital: "If you don't give me Cash for Work to save my life, I will have to rob, kidnap, break into homes, so I can get a little money to give my wife..." Something like that. It sounds good when he sings it. We all laugh, the tailor, the young men, Toma, Destin and I.

I get another flash of insight: the Cash for Work program, it was actually meant to curb riots, theft and murder, to protect the Haves and the Have Mores from the Have Nots!

It isn't really a "Works" program - although all the NGOs and churches from here to Kingdom Come are involved in it. It is a revolving means of getting some money in circulation so some people could have some income to buy some food to eat some of the time. Such workers work 6 days a week for two weeks, then someone else rotates in. Such workers have means to buy food more of the time.

But, not all the time.

Friday, August 6, 2010

EARNINGS- Textile Factory Workers in the Capital



Income and Expenses

Among the sample we interviewed, factory worker earnings ranged from 125 goudes or $3.00 base pay per day to am alleged 425 goudes per day (one worker claimed to earn this much) with overtime and bonuses. Our team was skeptical that Marline did earn this much on any day, but this is what she told us and that’s what we report.

A “niveau”, typical, entry level worker in textiles at SONAPI gets 125 goudes, or roughly $3.00 per day. This is the new, legal minimum base pay for textile factory workers set in 2009, after considerable wrangling in the Senate and between factory owners, worker representatives and the GOH. For other sectors of the fractured economy, the minimum wage was set at 200 goudes or 5$ U.S. Textile factory owners cut a deal. This report will not remark on the why’s and wherefores of that, as it was not something posed in our interview questions.
[But see: http://www.anarkismo.net/article/13438
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/496 and http://www.alterpresse.org/spip.php?article8417]


We interviewed four such new workers, all at SONAPI, 3 young women and one young man. The women all lived at home, with their families – parents, siblings and extended kin. They all worked in the same factory, on the same team. They had been students, finished school in 2008. They had not held jobs, paying jobs, before. The young man was married, with two small children. Previously, he had been a student and did not have a job. After Jan. 12, a friend helped him get into the factory for this job.

All of these young people were happy, if not ecstatic, to have the jobs they started. They had obtained the work after Jan. 12. They were all very well-spoken, articulate and enthusiastic to speak with us. Not surprisingly, they were not critical about the pay or working conditions. The young man offered a Kreyol proverb, equivalent to “You have to start somewhere,” “Kanpe sou bwa kwochi pou koupe yon bwa dwat.” He saw the job as an opportunity, an experience he could learn and build on.

More experienced workers had more to say, and were more comfortable with some criticisms, suggestions for improvement. Better pay, of course, was always the starting point, and it was usually couched in terms of meeting their needs, their family’s needs, and not in terms of the factory owner cheating them, or making too much profit. (Perhaps if I had been able to spend time with workers at the offices of AUMOHD (Human Rights Legal Center), I might have heard such?).

HAITI WORKS : MAKING IT IN HAITI, FACTORIES AND FARMLANDS



This document summarizes the interviews, conversations and observations chiefly of Randy Mont-Reynaud, and of Elisee Abraham, working together in urban and rural Haiti, June 13 to July 16, 2010. They were accompanied and assisted by Destin Francois, who did some photography and managed logistics, and Kloteed Abraham, who shared observations, clarified questions and answers and was key for obtaining much of the market price information

Goals and objectives
Incomes and Expenses. The goal of the pilot study was to ascertain the relationship between the cost of living and factory workers’ wage earnings. At the conclusion of the field work, Dr. Mont-Reynaud felt that a better term, “cost of surviving,” is not too much of an exaggeration to substitute for “cost of living.” Henceforth, this report will refer to the “cost of surviving,” and “wages.”

Perceptions. An important, related objective of the pilot work was to gather perceptions, held by Haitians, of Americans doing businesses in Haiti since the Dougadougou, or “EQ” (Earthquake of Jan. 12). Do Haitians feel American business are a force for good? Do they feel that such business helps the country? What role does or should U.S. business play?

Earnings and Equity. The major thrust of interviews was framed in several key questions: What are some general feelings about industrial development, wages, and working conditions. What are Haitian feelings about wage earnings, about what Haitians earn and what Americans earn?
Subsidiary Goal. The principal researcher, Dr. Mont-Reynaud, also created a subsidiary but not unimportant goal of the pilot work: to expose a small team of rural Haitians to the research process, and to train them in the interview process, photography, and collection of interview data.

Participants in the Pilot Study
Sample and Sample Constraints. Although the target population was initially urban-dwelling factory workers with at least one year experience in textile plants, Dr. Mont-Reynaud chose to extend the questions to suburban (Kafou) and to a remote, mountain zone in Southeastern Haiti, Zoranje zone, above the plain of Leogane.
As it turns out, including this rural group provides an important perspective on Haitian perceptions of foreign investment and business efforts, and any generalizations one would care to make about work, wages and the cost of surviving in Haiti today.
We met with men and women currently working in factories, mostly textile workers. We stayed at the homes of some workers, in the center of the capital and in the area of Kafou (Carrefour). With the exception of 3 individuals, who had been employed at SONAPI only since the earthquake, all participants have been working in textiles or light assembly either at SONAPI or other factory near the airport for at least 1 year prior to the earthquake. Some participants said they had worked 15 years in the textile industry.
Also included in the pilot study are the responses of men and women who had “retired” from factory work for one reason or the other (marriage, re-location, laid off) as well as those who had never worked in factories, but were at SONAPI in other capacities (electricians, plant managers, ti machan (market vendors, cooks).
In the suburb and rural communities, we met with “retired” factory workers who had relocated to the countryside, as well as men and women who did other work (“travay te” agricultural workers, ti machan, peddlers, day laborers, teachers, clergy).
Unfortunately, because of time constraints, we were not able to meet with workers actively involved in workers’ rights groups – although we had been invited to their Saturday meetings in the city. Here, we might have heard more criticisms, not to say negative remarks, about factory work, pay and working conditions. From one organization, we did obtain a list of 28 textile factories compliant with current laws and the minimum wage standard.
From this diverse spectrum, from city to country, from young to old, from “niveau” to experienced, we hope to gain a sense of Haitians’ perceptions towards doing business with Americans and other “blan,” the priorities of the country, and attitudes towards factory employment, wages and conditions.
We looked for commonalities and differences from city to countryside, across genders and ages. We found them.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

SI OU PA JWE, OU PA KA GENYEN - If you don't Play, you can't win



Retired Ti Machan Makes and Sells Coconut Candy back in her Mountain Home

Madame Andrelon came back to our zone after the EQ and she does not plan to return to the city. Here’s what she does now: she makes coconut candy and shares a corner of the pate machan’s little hut down by the Episcopal Church and school.

Her expenses for her small – very small – candy business include;

2 gwo mamite sugar
(Each gwo mamite is the size of a 3 lb coffee can)
150 goudes each = 300 goudes ($7.50 US)
12 Kokoye (coconuts) 500 goudes or about $12.50 US
Spices (anise, essence) 100 goudes = $2.50 US

Total $22.50 US

With all this, she makes two HUGE kivets (basins) of candy.

Of course, someone has to fetch the wood for the fire to boil the coconut and then melt the sugar and coat the candy. She does not buy charcoal for this.

She has to boil the coconut and leave it overnight. The whole production can take about 5 hours, she says. We figure she has to sell 50 pieces of candy at 10 goudes each in order to cover her investment in coconuts. I quickly buy 20 goudes worth of the sticky sweet stuff and share it with everyone.

I discover: This very sweet coconut stuff goes great with Haitian coffee.

She says she will hike to the church at Beausejour, some 10 miles up and down hills, to sell this stuff. She plans to spend the night somewhere and will bring some cooked banana and sauce for herself to eat on the way. Or, she’ll make some sort of soup with old bread, old biskwit, “rasi” they tell me.

We sit outside, by the cookhouse, as the fire burns and the sugar melts.

And I try to do the math. There’s more than a hundred, maybe two hundred, “tablet” of candy in each basin. So, Madame Andrelon could make say 2000 goudes or more from each basin of tablet, or $50.00 US x 2 =

Income: $100.00.
- Expenses 22.50
78.50

I realize: This is a small, a very small, business. She works many hours, hikes to hawk it. Somehow, it keeps, stays dry and hard and the ants don’t get it, nor the rats, mice, bugs.

A week later, she is still selling down at the Episcopal Church on Sunday. I want to buy some but I have no change, just a big ole’ 500 goudes note. She slips me two chunks of candy “kredi.”

It’s all I have gotten to eat that day. I devour it.

Working to Live, Working to Eat: He sells Fresco from a Cart



For many years now, Mesye Edwa has divided his time between his city job, selling fresco drinks from a cart, and managing his corn and bean fields and ten children up in the mountain zone. Madame Edwa has been a ti machan this same time, in between pregnancies. In the photo, Mesye Edwa sits with me just outside his home in the mountains, with the oldest son, Ronny. This summer, the earthquake and the recent death of one of the older sons, Nelis, brings everyone back to the mountain home, stunned.


The family had put a lot into Nelis’s training as an auto mechanic, and the purchase of tools for his trade. Nelis has also worked side-by-side with his father, and, trucked the drinks when Mesye Edwa was in the countryside.


Mesye Edwa told me that he buys the materials he needs for his business on credit. every week. He says those expenses, the flavorings, ice and such, run about 355 $HD or about $45.00 to $50 US per week --- which I’d say is rather high.
He says he spends $52 HD per day for food, or about 260 goudes ($6.50) for meals – which again is pretty high. He says, “Put down 10 $HD for morning, 21 $HD for lunch and $21HD for dinner.”

Then he tells me that of course he doesn’t eat like that every day. They “degaje,” and spend what they can, so they have enough to get by.

I do not get his estimate of any “benefis” or profit he makes. He makes enough to meet his expenses, he says, to pay back the extension of credit, and enough to eat, for himself and Nelis.

No one makes any claims to profit or savings. Again.
I ask Toma about this. He tells me he finds it puzzling too, after hearing this so many times. But then he says, it is true. People make enough so they can eat, and that’s that.

So, do they stop selling, or trying to sell, after the break even point? Surely there is not much point in hanging onto much cash – it is likely to be stolen unless you actually invest it in more calorie intake for yourself.

From Edwa, and other folks selling on the streets – the water vendors, the pate sellers, the hawkers of peanuts, soap, shoes, toothpaste – I begin to get a picture of these workers trying to get by.

They try to sell as much as they can in order to make it to the next day.

Or so they would have me conclude.

HAITI WORKS, LIVES, EATS: MARKET VENDOR, INDUSTRIAL PARK

Earning a Living as a Market vendor, Industrial Park

We – Toma and myself – camped out for some days over at the Industrial Park (SONAPI) workers’ outdoor market cafeteria. Generally, workers were eager to talk to us; many thanked us for our interest in their lives and work.

It felt comfortable sitting in the shaded dining area, and our drinks were humungous with chunks of ice. And fresh. People were interested in us, and we were interested in them, so that worked very well! I was surprised at how articulate and easy to talk to everyone was, both young and old. Very forthcoming and, it seemed, honest.


My first friendly connection was with a “ti machan” vendor who sold this and that snacks. She sent someone around to find out if anyone was still selling coffee at 10 a.m. – it seems I was a bit late for the usual service, and they don’t keep it going all day. She sold peanut butter in small packages, she has a bit of “biskwit” (hard tack, is what I call it) to go with the mamba (peanut butter) and with the coffee (not at this hour) and small tins of condensed milk; plastic individual packets of ketchup to put on spaghetti; chips; boxed juice drinks; cigarettes (singly); matches and the usual 5 goude packets of crisp coconut cookies. All of this made in the D.R. except for the matches.



She had done factory work, she told me, a long time ago, but she went back to “ti komes.” How did she get into it? A relative, a cousin. (Everyone gets a job through “knowing someone” – from factory worker to ti machan to Cash for Work: It’s who you know…) She likes to be her own boss, and also, sitting all day in the factory was dull. It seems she wants to tell me she makes more as a ti machan than as a factory worker, but she doesn’t want me to think she has a really good living from it.


“So, you have to pay for the right to sell in this place?” “Oh, yes, I have to pay a lot. We all have to pay. So, after I get done paying for that, and my transportation, and the storage locker, “ she points across to the other side of the shaded dining area, “ well, after all that, and a bunch of kids, I just about break even.”



I hear this a lot of the time. A lot. I don’t suppose the beating around the bush responses are unusual anywhere; I mean, after all, back in the U.S., how many of us answer straightforwardly the question, “How much money do you make?” Even the forms we get online give a range, not a specific amount.


In fact, though, the ti machan get all the goods they offer for sale on credit from a gwo machan or Madam Sara. So, at the end of the day or the week, they pay for the merchandise. Still, nobody would be out here day after day if they didn’t make a bit of profit, right?



I say as much to her. “Surely, you make a bit of profit every day?” It is hard to get precise numbers here. Toma endeavors to help me, but we always run into the way I frame the question, “Chak jou,” (Every day or daily) when people have to calculate weekly, or more, what their “benefis” will be.

Does she make as much as a factory worker? Well, that depends, she says, on what day, and on which worker and what company they work for. It depends.



I get this a lot too. I have to take that for an answer, for today at least.