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#2605: most recent trip to Haiti..comments and highlights (fwd)

From: thor burnham <thorald_mb@hotmail.com>

   I just returned from a two week visit/research trip from Haiti and I find 
that i really don't have anything profound or groundbreaking to share with 
the Corbett village, just a few vignettes and a renewed committment to 
contributing in what ever way I can. More than anything i find myself caught 
up in the daily struggles of my friends and their attempts (not much 
different than my own) to make sense of, and give meaning to, their own 
lives. They seem to be doing a better job of it than i am.

   I took Richard Morse up on his offer to go by the Olaffson to hear RAM 
play. And, despite someone's earlier complaint about the cost of entry, i 
thought it was well worth the price of admission, and actually a pretty good 
deal. (The Rhum punch was nice and strong and the fried Accra was tasty. The 
dancing and singing were top notch, it was a good crowd, and the band wasn't 
bad either....i'm kidding) I was also fortunate to have a chance to sit down 
and chat with Richard and ask him some questions i've had for some time. I 
now understand the meaning behind Puritan Voudou as well as some other 
things i'll keep to myself. Needless to say, once again I was in the 
position of learning, and I gratefully thank Richard for taking the time to 

   The cost issue is a good segue into a pet peeve i've had for a long time: 
too often i think us blan go back to Haiti and expect to get everything on 
the cheap. I think we should be willing to pay equivalent U.S., Canadian, or 
European prices (where we can and if we can) for services rendered. I think 
we have an obligation to spend as much money as we would if we were at home. 
Before i get blown off for this remark, i realize this doesn't apply to 
everyone at all times, but i do get tired of blan's complaining about prices 
for equivalent
services they would get at home if they aren't cheap enough.

ELECTIONS: MY TWO CENTS...which is about what it's worth..
    With respect to elections, my sense is that many feel there really isn't 
any great hope of change. I think people are understandably skeptical of 
what the process will do for them; perhaps their cynicism will benefit them? 
It would seem people are moving on despite the government's invisibility in 
everyday people's lives and the multitude of other problems. Obviously, 
people have again started to vote with their feet. A close friend has 
noticed a slow down in her business and thinks that people are waiting to 
see what happens with the elections.

    Some interesting anecdotes (for me anyway). I was sitting at a friend's 
house when the apartment had a power surge and the TV was knocked out. The 
current was quite strong...the lightbulb was almost too bright to look at. A 
"teknisyen" was sent for and about 1 hour later he showed up. He had a small 
camera bag slung over his shoulder. After analyzing the situation, he got to 
work. As many of you know, electricity is poached on a regular basis. (My 
friends are no exception. They cant afford to pay the real rates anyway) The 
teknisyen began his assault on the puzzling (at least to me anyway) array of 
wires dangling from the ceiling which were in turn connected to the 
television and the ventilator and held together with masking tape. He pulled 
out a small device to check the strenght of the current and to see which 
wires were live. I wouldn't have felt comfortable handling the live wires, 
but this guy was a pro. He quickly assessed the problem, disappeared 
upstairs and outside for awhile, returned, repositioned a few wires and 
voila! Good as new. Then he set to work on the T.V. Out of his bag he pulled 
his small collection of electronic tools. An hour later he had it 
working...just in time to watch  a match of football. We were so happy we 
gave him a couple of prestige in addition to his fee and he stayed and 
watched the game with us. I've gotta admit, i've never had nor seen that 
good of home service repair anywhere else.

I found the discussion of microbes interesting while I was actually in the 
country. I've yet to take anything before i go, and have yet to get 
seriously sick (knock on wood). But I eat everywhere and eat pretty much 
everything, (which would explain the continuing teasing i get... "gade gwo 
bout patat!", etc) relying on my ability to ask the right questions and read 
the signs. Amusingly, i once again fell prey to the microbes at the Miami 
airport and then came home to Toronto to find that the big local news is 
that over 2/3  of the city's restaurants failed health inspections because 
of mice and cockroach infestations. And, as a result of the publicity, many 
people have gone public with very serious and permanent health problems that 
have resulted from unsanitary eating establishments. So my new policy is to 
only eat out when i go to Haiti.

I found some of the reactions to the murder of the two French citizens 
interesting both on the list and on the ground. I didn't actively solicit 
opinions, but some people said that it was their own fault for flashing 
money around. This explanation i find troubling. But, i still feel safer in 
Haiti than i do at times in Toronto, Vancouver or Miami, with qualifications 
of course. However, i think that the most recent publicized crimes should be 
kept in perspective. In Toronto recently a man and a woman were arrested for 
killing a small girl and cutting her up into pieces. Gruesome yes, but 
important to remember that Haiti has not cornered the market on violent 
crime as a result of attempting to introduce a workable democracy. Recent 
postings on the Duvalier era are a sad testament to that.

     I was fortunate enough to get a chance to go down to champ mars with a 
group of friends for the carnival pre-lude...goood stuff. They parked the 
truck just next to Jerry's subs with the truck bed facing the road. It was a 
lot of fun. The small Ban a pie's came through singing a variety of 
songs...an awkward moment when one group close to us was singled out and the 
verse "Haitian-yo ap soufri woy!" was repeatedly yelled out. (It appeared 
awkward to me because it seemed a class/colour division was being exploited 
by the singers. They had a captive "elite" audience. Or maybe it wasn't? ) 
As the smaller floats turned into the large chars the action began to heat 
up. A group of CIMO in riot gear led the big rigs, batons held high, ready 
to smack people. When they motioned to hit, people scattered. it  seemed in 
some respects like a game, but with potentially serious results. The CIMO 
were accompanied in some instances by private security in yellow shirts, 
armed only with Batons...they didn't seem to be as aggressive as the CIMO 
officers, but just as effective. All in all, it seemed all rather peaceful 
and calm. There were of course the instances of male bravado, chest 
pounding..but for the most part instances of potential violence amongst the 
crowd were quickly quelled by friends and passers by. However, as the last 
float went by,  things turned ugly. A group of young toughs running against 
the flow met the group of young toughs directly in front of us. Pushing 
turned into punching turned into bottle throwing turned into complete 
mayhem. Very quickly two other groups to either side of us were involved. It 
was tough to keep track of who was fighting who and why. After the dust 
settled, no blood, no serious injuries...lots of talking and lots of making 
up. I made the joke to my Haitian friends (based on an old Rodney 
Dangerfield joke) that "I went to Carnival and a hockey game broke out". 
Needless to say, they didn't get the joke. But, for those of you worried 
about the putative violent nature of Haitian language/society...you've 
obviously never been to a Canadian Junior Hockey Game. I grew up playing the 
sport. Carnival seems organized and peaceful by comparison.

Given the working nature of my visit i ended up, through a fascinating 
series of events (wait for the book...not mine, however) on the road between 
Gonaive and CAP Haitien. About 30 kilometers outside of Gonaive we turned 
onto a rough path. About an hour into the interior by jeep and we arrived at 
an impassable dry river bed. We hiked for another hour to the top of one of 
the smaller mountains. The drive in and the hike up were interesting. THe 
path along the river bed was full of electoral propoganda such as  "Vot 
tab-la!". People had spent a considerable amount of time repeatedly writing 
variations on this theme on flat sun-bleached rocks all the way up the 
mountain. On a sad note, there were numerous older trees, particularly 
mango, that had recently been cut down for charcoal. Some of them were quite 
old and very large. But I don't think they would provide very much charcoal 
for very long. I would maintain that this is one of Haiti's most pressing 
problems, but that's not news. The real question is what are we, the outside 
community, going to do when the trees are gone?
As for the arrival on the top of the mountain, who we saw and why we were 
there...well, that remains a story for another time. But one that i'm sure 
will come back to the list. Let me just say that it defied my silly logic 
and was, well...discombobulating to say the least. How i will define it and 
order it in my own personal narrative remains to be seen.

All in all, i am once again humbled and hopeful: humbled by the strength of 
the people i know and love and their determination to carve out meaningful 
and "normal" lives for themselves (whatever the hell qualifies as normal, i 
don't know); hopeful in the knowledge that there are an awful lot of people 
who are trying in whatever capacity they can to make a difference, Haitian 
and foreigner alike. This is balanced, however, by my anger at the 
perpetuation of inequalities, silences and oppressions, whatever their 
origin, that continue unchecked. What I've learned is that while they are 
not limited to Haiti, they are certainly not isolated. The injustices in 
Haiti are, whether we choose to believe it or not, linked to the injustices 
in our own communities outside of Haiti. Just ask the Diallo family. But 
like most of us on this list, I have learned that one of my many privileges 
rests in the fact that I can always leave.

La lucha continua....y'ap desbat..
Thor Burnham
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