Tuesday, October 26, 2010

BIRTH OF A NATION - Reverend Brother Martin Luther King, Jr. and Haiti? No Way!

You are right - King had nada to do with Haiti.

But me, King's "autobiographer/compiler - ghost writer" - I have lots to do with Haiti.

"There is a great day ahead. The future is on its side. It's going now through the wilderness. But the Promised Land is ahead….There is no crown without a cross. "

The connection?

Since Jan. 12, 2010, I’ve kept reflecting that Haiti will rise again, and again…and it came to me that: Haiti is the FIRST world-nation to be reborn in the 21st century! And then, reverberations from those old tape recordings...the words, the sermon...it came to me, it came back to me: Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had spoken about Ghana.

IT ALL CAME BACK: Brother Martin, on April 7th, 1957, in a Sermon at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church had spoken of the “Birth of a New Nation,” and it was Ghana. And he spoke of the life of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's First President.

So I grabbed my book of King’s speeches, and I check on the ‘net, and I cribbed from a reproduction of his full speech: Birth of a New Nation. And so I could craft this, what King made me think about, the re-birth of Haiti, the first world-nation to be reborn in the 21st century.

As usual, Brother Martin’s words sing out to me. For 18 months, had I not listened to, and rewound, those audio tapes and the videos when I worked to compile material for The Autobiography, all this, coming out of Stanford at that time? Brother Martin. He wouldn’t let me alone, wouldn’t let me sleep. I read his love letters, post cards to Coretta, stuff dug out from a box in Coretta’s basement, versions of his dissertation, her edits, her typing. And I remembered his words at thee birth of a new nation, Ghana, and it made me think: Haiti.

Haiti now.

Brother Martin told of how for Kwame Nkruma, “…his nation was now out of Egypt and has crossed the Red Sea. Now it will confront its wilderness. Like any breaking loose from Egypt, there is a wilderness ahead. There is a problem of adjustment. Nkrumah realizes that. There is always this wilderness standing before you. For instance, it's a one-crop country, cocoa mainly; sixty percent of the cocoa of the world comes from the Gold Coast, or from Ghana. In order to make the economic system more stable it will be necessary to industrialize…”

Shades of Haiti!

“Cocoa is too fluctuating to base a whole economy on that, so there is the necessity of industrializing. Nkrumah said to me that one of the first things that he will do is to work toward industrialization. And also he plans to work toward the whole problem of increasing the cultural standards of the community. Still ninety percent of the people are illiterate, and it is necessary to lift the whole cultural standard of the community in order to make it possible to stand up in the free world.”

Ghana, 1957. 90% illiteracy. Haiti today? Numbers, numbers – 75%? Where do they get the numbers? Who’s counting and who are they counting?

Haiti today. And illiteracy is some staggering figure. And it is 2012.

Brother Martin continued his sermon, “Yes, there is a wilderness ahead, though it is my hope that even people from America will go to Africa as immigrants, right there to the Gold Coast, and lend their technical assistance, for there is great need and there are rich opportunities there. Right now is the time that American Negroes can lend their technical assistance to a growing new nation. I was very happy to see already people who have moved in and making good. The son of the late president of Bennett College, Dr. Jones, is there, who started an insurance company and making good, going to the top. A doctor from Brooklyn, New York had just come in that week and his wife is also a dentist, and they are living there now, going in there and working and the people love them. There will be hundreds and thousands of people, I'm sure, going over to make for the growth of this new nation. And Nkrumah made it very clear to me that he would welcome any persons coming there as immigrants to live there…”

Haiti today. Well, I don’t know as an influx of Americanos of whatever shade of brown or white or pink would immigrate to live. Probably they, we, would be welcomed. And then? Will Haiti become another Hawaii, with the majority becoming the minority…?

Probably not.

Brother Martin continued, “So never underestimate a people because it's small now. America was smaller than Ghana when it was born…”

And reminds us: “There is a great day ahead. The future is on its side. It's going now through the wilderness. But the Promised Land is ahead….

…freedom never comes easy. It comes through hard labor and it comes through toil; it comes through hours of despair and disappointment…

“And that's the way it goes. There is no crown without a cross. I wish we could get to Easter without going to Good Friday, but history tells us that we got to go by Good Friday before we can get to Easter. That's the long story of freedom, isn't it? Before you get to Canaan you've got a Red Sea to confront; you have a hardened heart of a pharaoh to confront; you have the prodigious hilltops of evil in the wilderness to confront. And even when you get up to the Promised Land you have giants in the land. The beautiful thing about it is that there are a few people who've been over in the land. They have spied enough to say, "Even though the giants are there we can possess the land, because we got the internal fiber to stand up amid anything that we have to face."

Haiti today. And how about that internal fiber? Indeed.

Now said Brother Martin, “That night when I saw that old flag coming down and the new flag coming up, I saw something else. That wasn't just an ephemeral, evanescent event appearing on the stage of history, but it was an event with eternal meaning, for it symbolizes something. That thing symbolized to me that an old order is passing away and a new order is coming into being. An old order of colonialism, of segregation, of discrimination is passing away now, and a new order of justice and freedom and goodwill is being born. That's what it said. Somehow the forces of justice stand on the side of the universe, so that you can't ultimately trample over God's children and profit by it.

Haiti today, 2010. I guess, sure, we still are talking about freedom, aren’t we? Freedom from want. Freedom to choose. So, Brother Martin’s words on the birth of that new nation are still true, eerily so, for Haiti today: “The road to freedom is a difficult, hard road. It always makes for temporary setbacks….”

Haiti today. The first nation to be re-born in the 21st century.

Brother Martin begins to conclude, invoking the prophet Isaiah, and images of mountains, of the earth laid low:
“Then I can hear Isaiah again, because it has profound meaning to me, that somehow "every valley shall be exalted, and every hill shall be made low; the crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

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Monday, October 25, 2010

WATER! Dlo, Dlo!

What water do people drink in rural Haiti?

Up in the mountains, I can say: folks get water for drinking from one "ti sos" - a spring. For washing, they bathe down at the "Oache-Oache" and will carry water up from there for washing (using sparingly) of dishes. Visitors and those that cannot carry their own "bokit" have water carried up for bathing and washing - - this is a job for several folks when we have visitors staying over.

No one boils water to drink (or course not!).

Some, especially our visitors, add bleach (Klorox) into the kanari (clay jug) or bokit with a spigot (this is newly introduced innovation. Some families pay a few goudes and add "chemie" - a chemical treatment - their spigot cum bokit -- but most do not bother.

I see that. I watch those water jugs, let me tell you.
I catch those kids pouring their ti gallon of water into the big household bokit with spigot. And nobody is adding any "chemie" or bleach.
We all live to see another day. Somehow. Anyhow.

Am I dreaming? It seems my neighbors drink a LOT LESS than we blans do,

Indeed, people also eat a lot less frequently, but also a lot more when they do eat -- huge bowls, if not platters of mayi moulin ak sos pwa, pa egzanp.

And me? I drink like a fish and eat like a bird, BUT one rule of thumb has been : LOTSA coffee! So that's when I insist on maintaining my "Prinzess" routines...gotta have that kafe le matin. So, a huge chodye is prepared with coffee, and then poured into a HUGE thermos that is the size of a three year old rural Haitian child...This too is a little business, provides a job (and coffee!) for the families involved. Ok, ok - it's my ONE luxury, will you allow me that?

I didn't know that, honestly, when we first arrived in the mountains of Haiti. Like you, I had read that coffee (and bread) is what Haitians get for breakfast. Well, let me debunk that stereotype! Even in the city, among the fat cats and the not-so-fat cats, coffee (and bread?!) is not the breakfast of champions. Breakfast, indeed, eating a morning meal (or, for some, any meal) is not guaranteed. You have to hustle if you want to eat, or drink, or be merry.

In the mountains, the thermos of coffee keeps me company all day and my neighbors marvel at how much I drink. But: I NEVER get sick in Haiti and I swear it is because the water I drink is boiled, it is in the boiled coffee. That, and I swear by the few drops of Klorox someone usually remembers to squirt into the large, traditional clay kanari and the two small clay kreche.

In the photo, I am the one with the water bottle. Madam Lwides is the one with the bokit on her head.
When hiking around and working in school, and hiking to the ti jaden with everyone, it is obvious: no one else carries a water bottle, and my Haitian friends sip very gingerly when I offer to share. Workers in a koumbite, in the fields, are brought water (and coffee) - as well as a meal - in the fields... Again, I observe people drink sparingly....

Ah, Mesye Gistav works here.He would certainly never dream of wearing shoes to work in the fields. He sets out with hat, tools and satchel woven from local materials by local artisans and will dig, plant, and sekle, rache zab. (cut and pull weeds). If he works as "vann journay" (day worker) he would earn say 35 goudes (2008 rate) which was not quite a dollar. He would get coffee in the morning, water and a meal of beans and corn meal, or (rarely) rice at about 11:00. Quitting time was some hours later.

Other alternatives for paysans, farmers, moun ki travay te would be to form "kombite" - work teams, work collectives, and take turns as a group working in one anothers' large plots of land. There are few such large land owners these days - what with inheritance patterns being as they are, with all children inheriting equally, boys and girls, most owned land are small plots scattered here and there, bits and pieces from a mothers' side, a fathers' side, and so on.

The "trickle down" effect has resulted in land plots being a small trickle, quilts of plots that one hikes to (or not), that one plants (or not) and weeds and perhaps, hopefully, harvests.

No, there is no irrigation, and little watering of gardens here. When it rains it pours, and if it doesn't rain, farmers and their families are, well, sunk.

There are occasional surprises, however. Like one summer, Madame Jean produced some tomatoes! Once.

Most folks take a bath once a week, whether they need it or not...

Water play!

And the goats? Well, they get set out (and tied) to pasture, but as to water, well...there's no well for goats. Some people have a gourd hanging inside a small lean-to goat shelter...I believe they put salt in it...water? Beasts don't get much either!

Washing dishes, doing laundry. Water is used very sparingly.

Gran wonders and smiles at my photographing these mundane activities that show: Haiti Works! And How!

So, if water access was improved, and the water got closer and the grass got greener, what would women do with all their "spare" time? We asked them. "Fe ti komes," "Etidye bwode," "Etidye koude" They'd try to do a little peddling, schlepping of goods, they'd learn to embroider, they'd learn to sew.

Niagara Falls, Haiti.
Visiting students, some from Poprens, some from lot bo dlo (overseas) check out our water resources, our zone's Niagara Falls.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How you gonna get them back on the farm after they've seen Paree?


'Got to incentivize decentralization.

A way to start might be to first MOVE THE NGOs out of the area of the capital, so the aid, tents, and cash-carrying visitors and, uh, paying guests, NGO CEOs, architects, builders, reconnaissance mission...s, goodwill ambassadors, mission missions HAFTA be put up and Distribute themselves and their cash and donations OUTSIDE OF THE CAPITAL. There's a whole country out there! Have the NGOs live in tent camps OUTSIDE of the capital until they can build themselves some permanent structures - that is, hire Haitian workers to build them, and invite the government ministries to do the same...Once you put the sources of aid somewhere else, displace them, people make flock to other smaller towns so they can access their, uh, share(s).

Then, move GOH ministries, their families out into temporary tent camps as well, where ever you have NGOs and minimal infrastructure to start with. Build new roads, improve old roads, get solar panels and /or DECLCO generators up and running first while the GOH ministers and NGOs sort out the issue around establishing state-run utilities, right where they stand --- out and away from the capital.

Next, invite workers and wanna-be-workers, construction workers and others with or without shovels, to implement NGO and GOH decisions and indecisions, dig ditches and put donated cash to work (finally) erecting semi-permanent or more permanent housing. Put up walls around wranglers to keep the noise down.

Build semi-permanent foster homes for families willing to take in youth and willing also to enroll in programs of early child development, parenting classes and be supervised in foster home care. Supervision and training to be accomplished by Haitian students enrolled in Haitian university classes and/or a contingent from the Peace Corps.

Until you can spare workers to dig latrines, or get the various NGOs and GOH ministeries to agree on a sewage system, let things take their course but import more Port A Potties, rec-cycle those already in Port A Prince. When other regions prove to have more, if not better, facilities, populations may find this enough of an incentive to get a move on, and just follow their noses to decentralized sites.

Figure out a way to efficiently enable hot showers (some young and GREEN-minded visiting NGOS may have just the solar system to enable this) and that should be sufficient incentive for more NGOs - and IDPs themselves - to consider taking the plunge.

Move on out.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Oy vey. This is blog worthy!

Lately, I am DOWN ON DONATIONS, and UP ON INVESTMENT. 'am beginning to feel that all the donations of products produced everywhere is part of what has kept Haiti from developing as a producer rather than consumer...It's like the subsidized rice stuff...sure, it helped keep people fed, but even Bill Clinton is now regretting and saying it was a mistake...and now, it's everything from shoes, old clothes, food donations, you name it...

Next, after we get over our shock at bare feet, it will be someone shocked at the bare naked babies and 3 year old boys and before you know it, we will be shipping Pampers to Haiti...just as they send Kotex...

Landfill issues will rival rubble!

To be continued.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Judaica in Haiti

Yes, there is a God. And mitzvot are serving to level the playing field, encourage investment and job creation in Haiti, our neighbor just next door.

And miracles and odd serendipitous events in unexpected places - as is this writer's presence and investment and involvement in Haiti since 2001. The Jewish (and Israeli) investment in Haiti may not have a long, glorious history, but it may have a future. Many speakers on the podium with Bill Clinton last week in New York seem to have been either Israeli, Jewish, or married to Israelis - and doing good things, good business sorts of things, in Haiti, with Haiti and for Haiti.

No, Not "to Haiti," - with Haiti. For example, Adam Goldstein was speaking for the cruise lines and Maryse Kedar speaking for ProDev schools. There were others, financiers, techie speaker, business moguls...

What's with the Israel connection? American Jewish World Service has been and is in Haiti. I hope I will hear more about how funds are being spent. We sure could use some INVESTMENT and not charity dollars for the sweatshop boutik up on Mon Bouton! And, a couple of pigs and goats provide "work-study" scholarships for our mountain youth.

Some months back, Forward editor Jane Eisner, traveled to Haiti to investigate the devastation left by the January earthquake and to see how Jewish dollars for relief are being put to use. Here is a link to her article, and also a video chronicling what Jane saw on the trip, including the devastation that still remains and the refugee camps all over the island.

As you and I know, and others who read the blog, the earthquake devastation is just the tip of the iceberg in Haiti. And yet --- and here's an important caveat - lest we be overcome with the needs and the facts of human misery --- there are many strengths, resources, dispositions and skills to build on and develop.

Let's be thankful, try to be thankful, for these gifts and work with, invest in, and support Haitians to turn the tide.

Here is the link to the Jane's article and her video- http://forward.com/articles/131324/



Meet Watklif. Yup, nothing new under the sun. He could be the poster child for Darfur, Somalia, the you name the place malnourished child.
I know him. (So do you.)
Squatting there, watching him, “Why am I taking his picture?” I took it anyway, and a few others, then a short video clip. Objectifying him.
Not that I haven’t seen him and thousands others over the 8 summers and then some tthat I have spent in Haiti, agonizing over Haiti, agonizing with Haiti, living , among the farmers in remote mlountains. Watklif is the boy next door; he’s Toma’s grand nephew or something. The grandson of Madama Karolis. Last summer he was the ugliest toddler, all large head, covered with scabs, flea bites. Now, he is an ugly child of maybe 3 or so. Nobody much knows or cares.
Suddenly, I do.
Will you?
Will you invest, help us get goats and pigs and work opportunities in the mountain zone?
Below are the faces of the workers, the mothers, the fathers, the lovers, the tired and the hungry, the happy and the watchful...Investors, please, take note.