Saturday, December 24, 2011

A (not so) gentle reminder

My computer crashed the other day. It shut down a few times on it's own, gave the blue screen of death and then upon trying to reboot notified me that it could not find the hard disk drive. Crap!

I tried and tried to get it going - not really knowing what I was doing. I tried to do a system restore with a really old back up disk I had - nothing worked. I was frustrated. I was mad. Mad at myself for not backing up my system regularly. I have all my really important working documents on a USB Drive, but I still had a lot of things like music, tv shows, pictures and all my uploaded emails on my hard drive. After hours of trying, I finally had resigned myself that I may lose everything. Fine. But the second problem is actually getting it back to working order, even if everything is lost. I don't have my start up disks here and I really don't know if I trust anyone here to work on it. That means sending it back to Canada. Luckily, a group is coming down next week, so I can send it back with them and then have my parents bring it back down at the end of January when we meet them in the DR. But still, that's a month without MY computer.

The truth is, i'm upset about the inconvienence of it all. No longer can I look at and write responses to nicely organized emails offline, instead I have to get on the internet (which has been working at a snails pace lately) and search through the 3000 unsorted emails that occupy my yahoo account. I can't listen to my music. I can't what my tv shows when I just want to relax.

It hit me yesterday, when we were at the beach with friends (seemed like a good distraction from the computer problem), that what I was trying so hard to avoid had found me. You see, in Haiti, you can keep yourself very removed from the materialism and consumerism that is so much of a North American Christmas. I found it very refreshing. But, it turns out it can find you here as well. I had put so much of myself into the computer, I had forgotten what really can give life and joy. Not things, but God's love and the relationships of family and friends around me.

And so, I think I've been able to let go of the frustration. Life will go on, maybe a bit differently, but that's okay.

May God bless you deeply this Christmas. Joyeux Noel!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Food is such an important topic in Haiti. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about it - what do we need to buy, how much does it cost, how in the world can my neighbours afford any?

For the past 2 years I've been trying to figure out what exactly the cost of food is in Haiti. It's baffling to me. It's baffling because I see how much I spend on food knowing full well that many around me live (barely) on a fraction of what I have. I do know that I don't eat like a typical Haitian. I eat like a wealthy Haitian. I have 3 meals a day. I eat meat at least once a day. I enjoy luxuries such as milk (canned or powdered), cheese (not the real stuff - highly processed, but nevertheless a luxury), etc. I would probably enjoy more luxuries if we lived in Cap where I had more regular access to the tiny grocery store that is there for ex-pats. For the most part, our food is bought at the outdoor markets in Limbe and Cap.

Thankfully, Cal's dad is more than happy to go to the market twice a week for us. You may think going to the market sounds fun - it is, for the first few minutes. But going to the market in Haiti is different than even countries like Honduras or Nicaragua. They don't have that romantic European or Latin American feel. Haitian markets are dirty, muddy, crowded, hot, dirty, loud, hot... get the idea?

Anyways, I thought I would give you an idea about the cost of food.

$1 US = $8 Haitian

The staple of a Haitian diet is rice. A 25kg bag of rice (American) sells for $200 Haitian ($25 US) right now. You may think - wow, 25kg's that'll last a long time! Wrong! Haitians don't eat rice like a side dish, it is the meal. I have seen children eat a heaping large dinner plate with no problem! 25 kgs doesn't last that long.

Eggs. Eggs (Dominican) are sold in cartons of 30 for $33 Haitian. A few weeks ago they were just $30. Inflation.

Iceberg lettuce (imported) - $7 Haitian

Chicken (Dominican) 6 drumsticks for $15 - $20 Haitian

Cooking oil, 1 gallon (American or Dominican) - $65 Haitian

Box of Cornflakes (American generic) - $21 Haitian

Coffee (Haitian Processed), 1/2 pound - $20 -25 Haitian. Local coffee is available in the markets for much less but is ground super fine and doesn't work in electric coffee pots or coffee perks, but tastes awesome if prepared in the the traditional Haitian way.

You might be seeing a pattern here. Haiti has a lot of imported food. It still amazes me how much of our food here is imported from the US and the DR. Unfortunately global trade rules have made it cheaper for Haiti to import food, then produce it themselves (a topic for a whole other post).

What can we buy that is local? Fruit! Yes, we have any amazing selection of fruit - oranges, grapefruits, limes, bananas, mangos, papayas, passion fruit, pineapple - it's amazing! Haiti does still grow rice - although it is hard to find, we grow some beans (congo beans are in season right now and are my favourite), sweet potatoes, manioc, okra, etc. 

Anyways, the point is, food is relatively expensive in Haiti if you consider the income (or lack thereof) that most Haitians have.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My little idea

Two years ago I wrote about my experience with the midwives in Haut Limbe. I had just been here a couple of weeks when Rosemary, a midwife nurse from the states, came to lead a seminar for about 25 local midwives. A few weeks ago, she came again to lead a 2-day seminar and I was able to attend.

I got so much more out of it this time - of course we had an interpreter, but this time I could understand the kreyol of the midwives. They are such sweet, special people. I was able to laugh and joke with them. There is a great age range of midwives, most of them being older. Some I'm sure are in their eighties (or looked it). Many of them live in extreme poverty and provide their services for free to their neighbours as it has been tradition. While they are happy to provide the service, they would appreciate some compensation, at least to cover the cost of purchasing the supplies they need - soap, razors/scissors, string, gauze, gloves, etc.

The midwives have formed a little association. They meet together at least once a week to support and learn from each other. My friend Carmelle is acting as coordinator of the group. Carmelle is 30 years old with a 9 year old boy and 5 year old girl. She lives with her mom (who is also a midwife) as she broke up with her husband.

Carmelle is bright and motivated. She is a member of the local scouts and is often involved in community activities. After spending time with her, I was trying to think of a sustainable way to help the midwives. Often times, people from Canada and the US send supplies down for them, but there is nothing consistent. I was trying to think of a way that the midwives could find supplies on their own, with their own talents.

I was thinking about the many groups that will be visiting this coming year, and then I had an idea. What if the midwives could make something to sell to the visitors? Something that is not too costly to make and could sell for a reasonable $5 - 10 US. I imagined that a lot of them can sew and do embroidery, so I thought maybe they could make potholders like my mother-in-law made for me! It's something affordable and a nice gift idea. They can use the profits to have a kitty to buy birthing supplies as well as to buy additional fabric and thread.

With just a small investment from me, I sent Carmelle off to Cap today to buy the supplies and the ladies will start working on the potholders. So, if you are planning to come in the next year, be ready to buy some pot holders and support some Haitian midwives! I'm so excited - I hope it works!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tis the season...

It's December in Haiti (and everywhere else in the world for that matter) and Christmas is fast approaching. It's really hard to believe that this will be my 3rd Christmas here (much to my mother's dismay)! But really, can you expect a girl to go from +30 to -30 degrees? I do miss Christmas in Canada - the lights, the food and time with family, but I'm trying to make the best of Christmas here as well.

A Haitian Christmas is pretty low-key relatively speaking. I've seen a couple of houses with Christmas lights (those that have electricity) and I've started playing Christmas music on my laptop while I work at the office and in my kitchen. The kids in the community are finishing up their end of term exams and are excited to be on vacation. There is more Christmas music being played on the radio and we sing carols in church.

This year Cal and I are hoping to have a small Christmas celebration with his family - not something they ever do. Christmas is just another day of the year for most Haitians. So, we are hoping to buy a goat - yep, a goat - to have a little feast! Goat is seen as a delicacy here, it's more expensive than chicken or beef. It's actually really tasty as well. Of course I won't be preparing it, I'll leave that up to Cal's mom, but it should be a good time. And since Cal's dad isn't really fond of goat, we'll make sure there is some beef for him. :)

December also brings cooler days and nights. No longer do I break out in a sweat from folding the laundry or walking 5 minutes to the University - thanks goodness! Cooler days also mean much cooler showers - brrr!! Unless I've just had my workout, I've resorted to heating water for a bucket shower these days to make it bearable.

Blessings to you as you prepare to celebrate Christmas!