Happy New Year

I wish a happy new year to all my friends in Haiti and hope that 2015 is a peaceful and prosperous year for you!  Though I am now far away, it is good to know that Leandra, Emma and the team, are out there now, running a health clinic and making a valuable contribution to the reconstruction of the community there.

In other news, I am also moving my photos across from Flickr so they are hosted directly on this site and accessible via the link at the top of the page.

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A few things I’ll miss about Haiti

In a few days I will be heading back to the UK. I am looking forward to seeing friends and family again and I will return with a new found appreciation for things that in the past I may have taken for granted, such as electricity, running water and comfy chairs! There will also be a few things I won’t miss, the heat and the bugs chief amongst them, but as anyone who has read my blog regularly will know, I’ve had so many memorable experiences during my time in Haiti that I thought I would end my blog by highlighting a few of the things that make this place so special.

The Beauty

Haiti is a beautiful country. Each day I look out over the mountains, the lake and the palm trees and think how lucky I am to enjoy such an amazing view. Dawn’s light renders the sky in so many shades of pink, orange, green, and blue and the aspect of the water constantly changes with the weather, from glass in the morning sun to dark slate as huge stacks of cumulus bubble up in the afternoons. Then at night, when the clouds melt away and the intense heat of the day subsides, I lie down on the balcony, gazing up at the stars which shine so brightly, with no man made light to obscure them here. Yes, Haiti bears the scars of pollution and environmental mismanagement, but it’s still easy to understand why this country was once named the Pearl of the Caribbean.

Teaching English

Teaching English, to kids, most of whom are complete beginners, has been enormous fun. No assessment, marking, meetings or targets to worry about, and a mission to make lessons fast paced and interactive, has given me the license to focus on what teachers enjoy doing most: planning enjoyable, memorable lessons. Personal highlights have included telling the story of This Little Pig and seeing how excited the kids get during competitive games. It has renewed my enthusiasm for teaching and I am already thinking ahead to new ideas I want to put into practice with my next class back home.

The Worship

One of the things that really stands out when you come to Haiti is the strength of their faith, and I have been welcomed into their worship. With bleary eyes, I have woken each day before dawn to join the family for hymns and prayer, and then again in the evening before we go to bed. To be amongst people so full of hope and gratitude, despite having so little by western standards, makes me feel quite humble but also filled with me with spirit, and a new appreciation of this gift that is life and the amazing world we live in.

Yvrose and Pierre Richard

I simply don’t know where I would be without them.   From the moment Pierre Richard greeted me at the airport with a great big bear hug, I have been bowled over by their generosity and kindness. I have spent three months in their house, eating their food, using their internet connection, and occupynig their bathroom (sometimes with alarming frequency) but never once have I been made to feel like I was getting under anyone’s feet or outstaying my welcome. With their kids too, they show such patience and love which must be quite a challenge at the end of a busy day… especially when you have 31 of them to deal with! They really are an inspiration, and the beating heart of Hope House.

The kids

The final word has to go to the kids who live here at Hope House. Always polite, kind and helpful, they are a credit to Yvrose and Pierre Richard, and also to themselves. They’re also a lot of fun too and I know I will miss their presence when I have returned to the UK. I will miss swinging Lorena around til she squeals, playing thumb wars with Erntso and Vince, and singing songs with Lugenia. I’ll remember Ginio playing with the buttons on my digital watch, Esther doing her cartwheels, and Jabetta’s doe eyes ad big smile.  Each one has their own story, often sad, which brought them to Hope House, but still they are so full of life and personality. In a country that faces so many challenges, I am glad there is a place like this where they can enjoy a happy childhood and look forward to a brighter future.

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Planting seeds

This week, Yvrose took the children outside to plant seeds in the school’s new vegetable patch. First hand experiences like this are part of her vision for learning at Hope House and part of the reason why she invited me to spend a term teaching at the school. Yes, between all the trips to the beach, playing football and messing about with the kids at the house, I’ve found time to do some teaching, and a bit more besides.

The majority of my time at school is spent teaching English, and I have to say it has been great fun. Starting from scratch in many cases, and with large classes, it’s been a case of lots of games, singing and physical activity to get the children engaged and speaking the language as much as possible. Their enthusiasm has bowled me over at times and the results have been really encouraging too; I can not take 10 steps around the school now without a child wishing me ‘good morning’, or asking ‘how are you?’

Having originally trained as a TEFL teacher, it’s also been rewarding to return to the role armed with so much more experience of working with children, gained through my time as a Primary School teacher in the UK. I remember working in Italy, as a newly qualified teacher, when my weekly class with the under 10s frequently ended up with them literally running rings around me. How I would like to have another crack at that little bunch of monsters, but I guess they are not so little any more!

So, three months in Haiti has given me the opportunity to introduce the children to English in a fun and active way. But of course it won’t be for much if the lessons stop once I’ve gone. To address this, I’ve spent many of my free periods developing an English curriculum for the school, which maps out what the teachers should teach the children each week. It includes all the topics you might expect for young learners like Animals, Food and Family, as well as identifying games, songs and other activities the teachers can use to bring these topics to life.

Of course, documents like this can quickly gather dust if people don’t feel confident using them so last week, when school was closed, we held a staff workshop where I took everyone through the curriculum and we tried out many of the activities and games. It was a lively session and the teachers who attended all proved that they were well capable of giving it a go. The momentum from that session has carried on into this week as I have started ‘team teaching’ sessions with the class teachers in preparation for handing over the reins. Despite a few nerves about speaking in English in front of their classes, the lessons so far have been a great success for teachers and pupils alike.

Along similar lines, we also held a Science workshop where I took the staff through a series of simple, fun and practical activities they can do with their classes, proving that a shortage of resources is no impediment. Highlights of the day included measuring the path of shadows with a piece of chalk, filtering water with an old sock, investigating the reproductive parts of a flower, and placing blocks of ice in the shade and in the sunlight to see which would melt faster.   Once again, it was an enjoyable day, and I challenged every teacher to take just one of the activities from the day and try it with their classes.

I’ve also helped start up Music lessons with help of the fantastic Mr.Elyse who is brimming with enthusiasm. Thanks to funds raised by Bolney school, we have been able to buy a set of instruments, enough for an entire class. It has been extremely rewarding seeing children pick up a triangle or a tambourine for the first time and give it a twang! Hopefully it won’t be long before they are belting out a few familiar tunes which we can record and broadcast. This, added to the recruitment of Mr.d’Haiti, a talented artist, is hopefully another step towards a more ‘creative’ curriculum here.

Finally, Yvrose and I have been trying to develop a culture in the school based on positive values such as kindness, tolerance, happiness and politeness. Children from Bolney may recognize these words because they appear on the school’s Values Tree. Well, here at Hope House we have been creating an ‘Arbre de Valuers’ of our own, painted by a talented missionary called Lisa, from Burgess Hill.  We’ve also introduced another ingredient of the Bolney success story: a Celebration Assembly every other Friday where we have encouraged the staff to pick out children for special praise. Part of my role has been to explain all these changes to the staff and encourage them to model these values. In that sense, I’ve also acted as a role model, showing staff how it is possible to build a positive relationship with students based on respect, praise, and encouragement instead of the traditional authoritarian approach.

Of course, changing the culture of a school doesn’t happen overnight, especially when it is rooted in the traditions of a country’s education system. Teachers are viewed as the ‘sage on the stage’ in Haiti, while the students are empty vessels whose job it is to copy down from the board unquestioningly and learn by rote. However, with Yvrose’s support and encouragement, I think I have planted a few seeds here too. What they need now is nurturing, both by the staff who work here and by those who will me here from the UK, the US and elsewhere. So perhaps I should end this particular post by saying that if you are interested in coming and working at Hope House, please get in touch! It’s been a privilege to work here at Hope House during this exciting time in its development and I look forward to seeing more and more green shoots emerge in the months and years ahead.

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La lingua franca

When it comes to travel, it’s definitely an advantage if English is your fist language. Even here, half the world away in a country which has no connections with the British Empire, most of the adults I live and work with have at least a little English to communicate with. No doubt this is partly down to the Yvrose effect, she lived in America for 20 years, but it’s clear that people are keen to practise and learn the language. Nonetheless, I’ve been keen to pick up a bit of the local Creole too, and living in a house of 30 people, there is never a shortage of people to practise on.

Creole has its roots in French and a mix of African languages, however French is the country’s official language. If you want to get on in business, find a profession or take an exam, you need French. For these reasons, schools teach the whole curriculum in French and parents are very supportive of this policy. I feel sorry for the students who struggle with subjects like Maths and Science anyway, and then to be expected to learn it in their second language… very confusing indeed!

For me however, the French connection has definitely been a headstart. Consider these words:

fish (n) pwason; white (adj) – blan; to eat (vb) – manje

All very similar to their French equivalents and the consequence is that I have brushed up my French quite a bit, albeit with a slight Caribbean flavour now!

The basics for grammar are fairly simple too. Take pronouns for example, mweh = ‘my’, ‘I’ and ‘me’, so no getting in a tangle between your subjects and objects there, and it’s the same story for ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘they’, while all of the third person singular is covered by li.

The good news doesn’t end there either. You don’t have to worry about conjugating the verb to compliment the subject in Creole: manje is manje and that’s that. And unlike English, where so many of the most common verbs have the annoying habit of taking irregular forms in the past tense, in Creole you just add the auxiliary te before the main verb.

So if I tell you that yon means ‘a’, you should have enough Creole by now to be able to translate this:

Mwen te manje yon pwason blan.

Well I can’t be sure I have it 100% correctly, but if you came up with ‘I ate a white fish’ I think we can both give ourselves a pat on the back.

So there you go. Speaking Creole hasn’t been quite as daunting as I thought it might be. Of course, when listening to two locals talking together, I am lost; a depressingly familiar experience I have found when learning languages. But with the kids, who are very good at slowing right down and talking about the simple things in life, I am slowly encountering more success. With more than a month still to go I shall keep practicing. After all, there is no ‘finish point’ when learning a language, so it’s important to relax and enjoy the journey.

As a post script, I am hoping to take a few days off next week to go to the Dominican Republic where I’ll have the opportunity to practise my rather rudimentary Spanish too. In which case, there may not be a blog next week but I’ll be sure to relate all my adventures when I return!

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The beautiful game

Over the past week, two separate events left me in a state of extreme dehydration. The second of these was a rather messy affair which I won’t recount for fear of putting you off your dinner, so I shall instead focus on the former, a training session with the local youth football team.

The team is run by Mr.Jules, a teacher at the school and an ex-player from Haiti’s equivalent of England’s Championship.   It’s aimed at local teenagers, roughly 14 to 16 and takes place at one of the town’s recreation grounds every Saturday morning. From the couple of minor kickabouts I’d already had with some of the older boys at Hope House I was fairly concerned that they would run rings around me but with football being our national game I felt duty bound to go along and ‘fly the flag’.

Mr.Jules dropped by our the house just before 7 in the morning to pick us up as part of a ‘walking bus’ arrangement and we proceeded through the rough and rocky tracks that make up the street network in Fond Parisien gradually picking up other children as we went. Most were kitted out in navy blue shorts and shirts which make up the club’s training kit. Very smart I thought, and was even more impressed to hear they have another kit for when they play matches. Footwear however was less uniform, with children wearing an assortment of trainers, football boots and in some cases school shoes.

All were in high spirits though as we made our way through town and past the ice factory which was already a hive of activity with men shouldering large blocks of ice and loading them onto waiting trucks. By now we had up to forty kids in tow, including a few from Hope House, Mercon, Jadonnel, Sonson and Luckman.   We turned a corner, through a narrow gap in some cactus bushes and emerged onto the playing field.

The pitch was a good size but alas, not a blade of grass in site. Instead the surface was hard earth, completed covered in rocks of varying sizes while wandering goats grazed on the occasional weeds that poked through. There were goals at each end, made from metal pipes, but the route between was blocked by several large mounds of dirt around the centre circle. Apparently the intention is for these to be spread over the pitch as a means to improve the surface but for now it had the effect of creating a skate park in midfield.

Mr.Jules soon got us into our stride with a thorough warm up. We were organized into three files and began by pacing back and forth across the width of the pitch. This led into jogging which was then made more challenging by adding in little exercises such as headers, touching toes, heals and ankles as we went. I slotted in at the back and took things easy, well aware that this was the first time I had broken into anything above a brisk walk in over a month. Looking around, I took in the magnificent view of the hills, the lake and the palm trees, a cluster of which lay out past the water’s edge, claimed by the lake in recent years as its level has risen.

Next, we formed into a circle, jogging on the spot and performing some jumping and stretching exercises which required a level of balance and coordination that was certainly taxing this new recruit. The pace of the session continued to build but I was pleased to see that my fitness levels at least seemed to be up to the challenge. The heat was building though, and as we broke up to grab a drink, my brow was already wet with perspiration. It was only 8 o’clock but I imagine the temperature was already up into the high twenties.

After a pause in which Mr.Jules registered the names of all the players, this being the first session of the season, a ball was brought forth from a rucksack and given a pump before it was chucked onto the pitch and twenty of the more confident boys went haring after it. But with only one ball, Mr.Jules made the decision that it was not practical to have a game with all the children involved so instead two teams of 11 were picked, and large rocks were erected as goals on each touchline as we elected to play across the width of one half, thus largely removing the mounds of dirt from the field of play.

I was sent to join the team that would be kicking uphill, to my slight dismay, and slotted in at left back. The boys seemed to be well organized and sorted themselves out into formation with little fuss, the lad on the left wing even offering to swap with me. I politely refused, planning instead to play a holding role involving very few forward runs, leaving the wing play to those with younger legs and more energy.

We kicked off and I was pleased to see that a pretty cultured game of football began to develop. The boys’ natural instinct was to look up and pass the ball to teammates in space, hold formation and move into space. Their, first touch was pretty good, considering the surface, and they got their heads up quickly to look for support. Then the ball was sprayed out in my direction and I turned and chased to collect it. As I came on top of the ball a rock caused it to deviate in its path, only fractionally, but enough to make me miss it and run two yards past. I turned to collect, only for it to snag on a root and I overstepped again. Stumbling around, I must have looked a right clown as one of the opposition rushed onto the ball and took it in his stride as he raced down the wing.

Thankfully, the attack was snuffed out and after that I settled into the game, taking great care over my first touch and managed to make a few decent passes. A couple of our players, Luckman and Wesley, seemed very skilful, shaping their bodies one way and then turning the other to give themselves the time and space to control the game from midfield and make intelligent passes. I took things easy at the back, letting others go forward, but nonetheless I was sweating so much my eyes started stinging from the salt.

We peppered the other team’s goal but with no luck.   Then a free kick was charged down and they had a break on. As one of their players went through on goal, our keeper burst out and dived at his feet, amidst the rocks to prevent a certain goal. Brave keeping indeed! After 30 to 40 mnutes, Jules called time with the score at nil-nil. A good game and I was pleased not to have disgraced myself or to have turned an ankle. I grabbed a drink and was almost tempted to wring out my shirt, such was the amount I had sweated, but we were quickly called back for some shooting practice.

Again, with only one ball, it meant that most of the kids had to stand around and watch but as I was given the honour of the first shot, I think they were all curious to see what I would do with it. ‘No pressure’ I thought, as the ball was placed for me, 20 yards out, ‘just don’t do anything that is going to undermine your reputation when you return to school on Monday morning’. I ran up, made a slightly scuffed contact with the ball and shanked it low and wide. Not too embarrassing but certainly not a shot that was going to restore the already beleaguered image of English football. Thinking, I’d blown my shot at glory, Mr.Jules then insisted I had another go. This time I elected to clip it with my instep and was pleased to wrap my foot right around it, curling it just inside the left post. Sadly the keeper scrambled across and parried it out but it was a fine save and I was pleased. Nonetheless, Mr.Jules insisted I take another shot. With forty kids still watching me, I was beginning to wonder where this would end. So a third attempt, and another sweet strike, but again it drifted to the right and across the face of goal.

No goals then, but thankfully Mr.Jules had seen enough and moved on to the kids who took it in turns to sky the ball high over the bar or shank it wide as I had done. Of the dozen kids who were given a turn not one was able to score, which left me feeling somewhat better about my own efforts and also pondering whether Haitian football needed to work on its finishing a bit more.

With the shooting practice over it was time to head home, and not before time; although it was only 9 o’clock and the Sun was still on an upward march, the heat was making me dizzy. We wandered back down the same tracks, passing a bar where men huddled around a TV watching the Argentina Brazil game. I said goodbye to Mr.Jules as we parted company at his house and made it back to Hope House in time to join Pierre Richard for the last 5 minutes of the South American ‘Super Classico’ which he was streaming over the internet.

It seems that football is a national pastime here in Haiti, just as in so many parts of the world. I had a great time playing with Mr.Jules and the kids and I hope they will not have to wait too long before their pitch is upgraded somewhat. I certainly hope to attend another session or two before I leave and I will see if I can’t rustle up an extra football or two to take along with me.

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A mountain idyll to a beach paradise

How much adventure can you pack into a single day? I found out last Saturday when I shared not one but two unforgettable experiences with a group of new found friends.

Gina, a friend of Yvrose from Nantucket, Massachusetts, and her friend, Jordan, had come to spend a week’s holiday in Haiti. For them it was as much a chance to see old friends and reconnect with the spiritual side of life as it was to enjoy some rest and relaxation. Gina has also been supporting a local school p in the mountains by paying the salaries of the two teachers there, 50US dollars a month.   She had timed her trip to coincide with the graduation of the school’s first class, an important milestone, so it was with much anticipation that we set off soon after dawn on Saturday morning to attend the ceremony.

Our party consisted of Yvrose, Gina, Jordan, myself and Lisa, a fellow Brit. Gina, I had discovered, was an incredibly cheerful and energetic, Brazilian-born Mum who loved to chat over freshly brewed coffee. Her travelling companion, Jordan, was a carpenter from Nantucket who grew up in Jamaica spending his childhood pumping water from the local well and enjoying fresh mangoes, so a trip to House House had a resonance for him that puts modern US living into perspective. Lisa, a fellow Brit, had also been staying at Hope House for a few weeks, doing Art with the kids and creating a fantastic ‘Arbre de Valuers’ for the school. As for Yvrose, I could not hope to do her justice in just a sentence suffice to say she was our group leader for the day, and oversaw the running of the mountain school.

Our journey was to be made on motorbikes. A band of dusty looking extras from a Mad Max film pulled up by appointment and after the briefest of introductions, we each picked a ride and took our seats behind. As I may have mentioned before, the tracks here are extremely rocky and as we pulled off I could feel every bump. With white knuckles I held on tight, putting my faith in the driver as the bike bucked and rolled up through the valley. Steep cliffs soon enveloped us and we found ourselves crossing a huge dry river bed of chalky white rock. Then up a steep mountain path that wounded and twisted up slopes with gradients over 20%. We passed other bikes on the way and donkeys laded with sacks and boxes. Children gathered outside the occasional cluster of concrete block houses shouting excitedly at me, ‘blanc, blanc!’

We must have climbed a couple of thousand feet before we reached the top of the ridge. From here we could look down on Fond Parisien and the lake spread out below but we still had a little way to go, through winding and undulating dirt paths that took us through the high countryside of the mountain tops. From here we could see peaks, ridges and valleys, rising, falling and weaving in and out of each other, dotted with block houses and clumps of trees. The land was green, with avocado trees and crops of corn in the fields, providing enough for people up here to get by.

Arriving at our destination, a small community called Pourri we pulled up next to a wooden framed shack with dried leaves on the roof, no walls and benches made from thin wooden planks. At first I thought it was a shelter, maybe for people waiting for a bike ride, but Yvrose explained that this simple structure was the school. I was quite taken aback at how humble it was and yet it was under this roof that a group of adults had taken the massive step of learning to read.

Soon, members of the community started to gather, men in shirts and trousers, women in simple dresses, and we filed into the Catholic church next door. This was a more substantial concrete structure with pin holes drilled into the tin roof, causing spots of light like stars to shine down into the dark, cool interior. Garlands of plastic flowers hung from the columns and a fait perfume wafted through the room. We were given seats at the front as guests of honour though I was given the job of official photographer so I was soon on my feet taking pictures of Gina handing over certificates to all the adults, who had passed the First Grade exam.  It was a proud day for these people and there were readings from the Bible and singing. When I was asked to say a few words, I said how books would open up a whole new world for them; after all you can go anywhere, and any time, with a good book and a bit of imagination.

After the ceremony we returned to our posse of bikers and left the community to continue their celebrations as we headed back down the mountain. Mercifully, the pace was fairly gentle as our drivers favoured turning off the engine and saving on petrol. Apparently the track had been widened over the the last year too and Gina was most relieved that the hairpin bends were far less hair-raising than on her last trip.

The journey was the best part of an hour and as we pulled back into the Hope House compound we stretched our aching limbs and admired the new coating of dust that we had each acquired over our legs shoulders and faces. The return journey cost 500G, about 10GBP, though I was so pleased to be back on terra firma I would have happily paid double.

There was barely enough time to freshen up before we piled into Pierre-Richard’s 4×4 for the next adventure of the day, a trip to the beach. With six of us going, I offered to sit in the boot so the others would have more space on the back seat. What it lacked in comfort it made up for with leg room and we were soon cruising along the same roads as I took with PR last week on our trip to the market. We stopped off briefly for mangos and avocados, two sacks being deposited in the boot with me, and as we pulled off, Jordan caught the drama of Police confronting a man waving a firearm in the street.   Sadly I missed it, too busy tucking into a slice of avocado.

Heading north along the coast, again the landscape became more verdant and eventually we pulled though some large gates that marked the entrance to Club Indigo, a hotel complex specializing in rest and relaxation. The driveway was lined with tall palms and sprinklers watered the manicured lawns. We pulled up under an almond tree looking over a lake covered with lily pads. This was a side to Haiti I had not been expecting. The hotel was a low rise structure with wide balconies and tiled floors walkways that took us past wicker chairs, swimming pools and sun loungers. We bought a day ticket, and strolled down to the beach.

The beach was idyllic. More palm trees, fine yellow sand and clear blue water lapping the shore. There were a few people around, a mix of black, white, Hispanic and Asian, but largely we were free to stretch out and make the place our own. While the ladies settled back on sun loungers, Pierre Richard, Jordan and myself went for a swim. The water was so warm, it was almost like being in the bath. I settled into doing some lazy backstroke, staring up at a cloudless sky and letting the aches and pains from the day’s travelling melt away.

Later, I ordered a pineapple slush, shortly followed by another, as I lapped up the luxury of this resort. Yvrose told me that the resort had once welcomed cruise ships which moored off shore and ferried in guests for day trips. Sadly those days are gone, but surely, I thought, this place will be rediscovered before too long. Then, the Sun sank into the Carribbean and for a while the whole sea turned to quicksilver, sprinkled with crystals shimmering on the surface.

As night fell, we returned to the car and I cosied up to the bag of mangoes, now glowing with heat and giving off a sweet perfume after being left to bake under the glass of the rear windscreen all afternoon. It was a relaxed and uneventful journey back; clearly Club Indigo had done its job. But I was left to reflect on the price tag; I had spent 40USD on entry, drinks and food in one afternoon. Good value by western standards but when compared to the 50USD that Gina’s teachers in the mountains receive each month, it puts in perspective how out of reach this kind of luxury is for the majority of Haitians and how privileged we are in the UK.

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A trip to the market

Term is in full swing here at Hope House.  The classes are filling up, my teaching timetable is starting to get quite busy, and exciting devlopments are taking place; a new tree is putting down roots in the Director’s office, stars came out to shine in the middle of a Friday morning assembly, and, via the magic of the Internet, we were able to speak with a class of children half a world away.

More of that another day.   Because as well as throwing myself into school life, I’m eager to explore and experience as much of what life in Haiti has to offer as a whole.  With this in mind, it was with enthusiasm that I eschewed a well earned lie-in and agreed to accompany Yvrose’s husband, Pierre Richard, to the market last Saturday morning.

We set off at 7 o’clock, the Sun barely over the horizon, the air warm and still.  Skirting along the edge of the lake, we take the main East-West road which links Port-au-Prince with the Dominican Republic.  Our route takes us west head towards the capital and then swings north towards the town of La Harcailie in order to pick up corn for the chickens that Pierre-Richard farms.

The road is fairly quiet, with little traffic at this time, although passing through the local town of Fond Parisien it is evident that the local market is already well underway with many little stalls open for business.  We make good time, with the roads being relatively well surfaced, although occasional sections are still rough and rocky, not to mention the occasionally speed hump that is completely unmarked and ready to wreck the suspension of an unsuspecting motorist.  Nonetheless, the route has apparently been upgraded substantially in the last 12 months.

With the lake behind us, we gradually dip towards sea level. The mountain ridges recede slightly and the valley widens into a wide plain that stretches all the way to Port au Prince and the bay. The landscape becomes steadily greener although the soil is still thin and rocks are to be seen everywhere.

Since all roads in this country seem to go via Port au Prince, we need to pass through the city outskirts in order to get to our destination but this does give us the opportunity to stop for breakfast. Pierre Richard pulls up on a busy street and jumps out. I watch tap-taps motor by, colourful trucks and vans that have been modified into minibuses ferrying people across the city and further afield.  A few moments later PR returns with thick wedges of creamy avocado and freshly baked pasties. The later are thin and crisp with a think filling of fish, oinion and chilli. We wolf them down and then PR winds down the window to stops a woman passing by.

A red plastic bowl is balanced on her head and it appears she is selling bananas. Swiftly setting about her work, first she picks out two from the small bunch in her bucket and sets them out on a metal tin. Knife in hand, she tops and tails them, then loosening the cap on a bottle of water and drizzling it over the skins, presumably to clean off any dirt. Pierre Richard hands over a note through the window and we get the bananas, but the woman does not appear to have any change. This is not the first time I have seen this happen and PR is having none of it; a few more forceful words are exchanged and the correct change is produced from a purse.

The skin is blackened and slightly bruised, the shape is imperfect, yet it tastes great. Soft, ripe and sweet. I think of how uniform the bananas look on the supermarket shelves back home and make a silent pledge there and then to shop around for more authentic produce when I get home.

We head north, skirting the bay and the crystal blue water. On our right, the hillside rears up and we see shanty towns built on the foothills. These are the dispossessed who moved out of Port au Prince when the earthquake struck. There are homes are made from concrete blocks and tin rooves, little more than shacks in many cases.   Life looks incredibly hard here but I am told that it is nonetheless progress when compared to the cities of tents that were set up in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

We press on past a tall tower proudly displaying the Olympic rings. Behind the fences are a sports centre, running track and football pitch; a team seem to be going through their morning training session. The road snakes northward past an inlet that smells of sulphur, and around the mountains that line the northern border of the Ouest province. The land starts to become much greener. We pass through a town with the evocatively named town of Cabaret. The road is wide, straight and lined with tall palm trees. Above us, hundreds of plastic bottles are suspended from cables that span the road, giving a sense of carnivals past and future.

We pass through a marketin full swing at a busy intersection. Motorbikes are parked haphazardly and taps taps are busy loading and unloading passengers. The pavement is lined with tall planks of wood, iron gates and railings, racks of brightly coloured women’s clothing, leather workboots, shampoo and toothpaste. Brooms and mops sprout from plastic laundry baskets like followers in a vase, wooden cases house a sekection of mobile phones and one stall is given over entirely to a flat screen Samsung TV.

Our destination, La Harcailie is only a few miles further on. We take a turn off the main road and pass through woodland and lush fields of tall grass. There are banana plantations here and mango trees. For the first time since my arrival I feel like I am in a land that resembles the images of the Caribbean in my head.

As we enter town, a huge barn like structure comes into view. All around, there is traffic and people coming and going. Pierre-Richard takes us in slowly, the crowd parting for us, stall holders hastily moving their makeshift stands or dragging their tarpaulins of fruit to one side so the 4×4 can get through. We make our way right to the quayside and park in between a stall selling fish from shallow wicker dishes and a line of motorbikes up propped and their owners chatting casually alongside.

The market is alive with activity. Everywhere I look there are people selling from stalls, carts, sacks and mats, with no apparent system or organisation. But it seems to function well enough and soon Pierre Richard is tracking down a corn seller he knows. I take the opportunity for a few photos, spying a woman with a chicken under her arm, a young guy with a sack of black beans and another shopper walking off having just bought two machetes. At a stall, seemingly unattended, there is a shopping bag emblazoned with the Argentine football team, a picture of Messi with his arms aloft. A man comes past pushing a wheel barrow of academic textbooks and is passed by a similar entrepreneur coming the other way with school rucksacks, strapped to his front and back.  But mostly this market is about food. It feels as if you can buy almost anything here from packs of spaghetti to ripe and juicy mangos. There are avocados, aubergines, onions, melons, squash and sugar cane. There are cold bottles of soda, huge sacks of rice and cornflakes, even crackers and cream cheeses with French looking brand names.

Then of course there is the corn and Pierre Richard has employed a couple of young lads to port three sacks, each weighing 120kg into the boot of the 4×4. He tips them for their efforts and we get back in and I feel relieved to feel the air conditioning once more. We edge out slowly once again, passing a man with pushing a wheelbarrow cow’s head in it and soon we are off again past fields of bananas and mangos. Pierre Richard stops by a road side seller to grab some snacks. He passes me a paper bag of what I think we would call peanut cracknell; peanuts coated in sugar and fried with cinnamon and ginger. Whatever they are called, they taste amazing.

What strikes me most coming away from the market is that everyone here feels like they have a stake in what’s going on and that their hardwork is going to make a difference. It’s not like so many towns in England where the local high street has become hollowed out because Sainsbury or Tesco’s has blown out the competition. Working for these organizations might provide security in terms of hours and pay but it can’t give the sense of ownership and self determination that these people have.

On our way back, we have one more task to fulfil. We stop off at a modest building made of concrete blocks and a tin roof where a family await us to mill the corn. We heave the bags inside and a young lad, probably around 18 years old, starts up a motor which is attached by a belt to some kind of machine that will grind the corn down into a finer powder that the chickens can eat. First the corn is sifted by the grandmother and then brought in batches by the son to his mother who gradually funnels it into the top of the grinder.   All the while, the motor rumbles along and a fine dust of corn hangs in the air, but little by little a small pile of fine orange-yellow powder grows into a huge dune that covers half the floor of this cottage industry.

We finally get home at around 3pm with enough feed to last Pierre Richard’s 400 chickens the six weeks it will take for them to grow to a size where they can be slaughtered and sold for a profit. A meal has been cooked and is waiting for us, while three little toddlers, Jabetta, J-P and Lorena, are waiting on the front step to welcome home their Daddy.

For more info… Deforestation in Haiti

 

 

 

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