Thursday, February 23, 2006

On the Other Side

Life in the Third World is always full of surprises- some to do with lack of understanding others with lack of organization or communication. On Sunday I hopped across the border to the Dominican Republic. Just over the border our small 16 passenger plane started to descend. I knew we were no where near Santo Domingo yet and wondered why we were descending. Plane trouble? Did I get on the wrong flight? Were we being taken as hostages in the latest antagonistic move between Haiti and the DR? Of course, the pilots said nothing.

We landed at a small airport in Barahona. The place seemed new, but deserted. Turns out that the Dominican authorities moved the customs office to Barahona in an attempt to get more business there and to force air companies out of the airport in Santo Domingo, which is in the process of being closed. The good thing about the unexpected stop was that it was much less hectic than going through customs in Santo Domingo and I wasn’t asked to pay a tourist tax. Maybe I was supposed to pay it, and I’ll end up being thrown in tourist jail when I try to leave. We’ll see.

I’ll be here in Santo Domingo for two weeks studying Spanish. (Language number 4—I’m starting to wonder how much space I have left on the hard drive in my brain.) During that time I’ll be on an all carb and coffee diet- not necessarily by choice. Since I’m staying with a Dominican family I’m at their mercy for two meals a day which have so far consisted of bread, cereal and pasta. I’ve also been served coffee wherever I go. I’m hopeful that drinking four or five rich cups of coffee per day with lots of local sugar is somehow medicinal.

In the meantime, it’s nice to escape Haiti for a bit and become familiar with another countries joys, problems and surprises.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The New President

Yesterday morning at 6:30 am I awoke to thousands of people marching down my street chanting Preval's name. (I have digital video to prove it!) Sometime while I was sleeping Rene Preval was declared President. I'm baffled that it took over a week to tally votes and they still didn't finish counting, yet the commission to investigate the count made a decision in less than 24 hours on how to award the presidency. On one hand I can't blame them. They had to act fast to avoid further deterioration of the situation, but on the other hand it does seem a bit fishy. What they decided to do was divide the blank votes among the candidates according to the percentage of votes each candidate already had. To justify it, they found a loophole in Haitian law-- or rather, there's no law that says they can't do it.

I do have a great sense of relief that this crisis is over. I was getting tired of being stuck in my house and counting supplies to make sure we had enough to last how ever long we might need them. Two sacks of rice, check. Fifteen gallons of drinking water, check. Matches and toilet paper, check. It gets tiring really fast! There are other little questions that nag on the mind, too, such as will I have enough minutes on my cell phone? Can I buy more and where since all the stores are closed? (Since all minutes are prepaid) If I have to evacuate what will I take?

But for now, I'm back at work and things appear to be getting back to Haitian normal. There's already word that some people aren't happy with the way the election was decided, but there's always people who aren't going to be happy. Let's hope they don't cause too much of a ruckus so that Preval can establish his government and bring some stability and security to this country.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Haitian Scandal

What would Haiti be without a scandal? I've been roosting in my house for the past three days as people demonstrated in the streets. In this instance roosting includes baking cookies, quilting and studying Spanish. I did take a bit of a walk in the streets to see what the demonstrations were all about.

Near my house is a major intersection which was barricaded with random bits of whatever was available-- campaign signs, car frames, tree branches. It's interesting until you realize that you are standing around watching people watching other people. Many demonstrations here are done out of sheer boredom or the fact that someone is paying for it to happen.

Other demonstration areas were a bit more exciting including the debacle at the Montana Hotel. The Montana is usually considered to be a reprieve from the chaos, but not this past Monday. Crowds of people pushed their way in, were running around the hotel, jumping in the pool and otherwise causing chaos. The humorous part for me is that Desmond Tutu happened to be staying there as well as most of the international press and other significant VIPs. Some were air lifted off the roof, but Desmond apparently stuck it out in his room. Welcome to Haiti.

Things got really interesting last night (Tues, Feb 14) when television cameras filmed people in the city dump holding up ballots alleged to have been tossed out. Of course, the ballots they found were votes for Preval, who is leading the polls, but doesn't have the majority of votes to avoid a run-off election. There are two possibilities- first, the ballots are valid and were in fact thrown out or second, they were extra ballots that weren't used at the polling stations, had been thrown out and someone decided to mark them and call them real. Both scenarios are entirely plausible. The second is likely because there were hundreds of unused ballots left over that had been signed by the election workers (they were required to do so before the voting began). The deciding factor will be if the ballots had been folded in four, which they were supposed to be and in fact had to be in order to fit in the ballot boxes. In any case, the whole situation has caused an uproar and simply added to the chaos.

Surprisingly, there is less tension and fewer demonstrators on the streets today. On Monday and Tuesday they demonstrated because the final results hadn't been posted yet and there were accusations of 'magouy' (scheming, twisting) the election results. There were even announcements of candidates contesting the results before final results have even been posted!

At any rate, things are likely to become more interesting as time goes on. It looks like chaos, confusion and personal interests will continue to be major players in Haiti's near future. If you don't hear from me for a few days it's likely that I'm busy sitting in my house waiting out the chaos!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Haitian Elections

I spent February 7 knitting and playing x-Box. I did make it to the pool to sip a fruit punch, too. Admittedly, these probably aren't normal Election Day activities. Other people were voting to change the direction of their country. Since I wasn't eligible to vote anyway, I don't feel guilty.

Despite the gross unorganization of the elections, here are a few positives that I heard from first hand observers or saw for myself:

1. A few policemen put on their uniforms and patrolled the streets and election areas even though they weren't required to work. They were able to bring order to more than one line of waiting voters and helped ease tensions amongst the impatient.
2. The director of a school acted as a responsible citizen by posting signs for voting booths to smooth organizational problems and by using his own diesel to run a generator so that there would be light for voters and election workers.
3. As has already been widely reported, there was a massive turnout from all social classes. Some of my friends were amazed that so many upper class people took the time to stand in line with everyone else to have their vote counted.

All of these examples remind me that it is the action of individuals that can make a positive difference. We each have choices to make everyday on which actions we will take.

Now for the cynical part....
"Pa enkiet' ou. Yo pral tou'l kand menm." There are people who want Preval and others who don't. Yesterday I overheard the previous quote from someone who was telling her mother not to worry. "If Preval is president, they'll probably kill him anyway." Unfortunately, with Haiti's history this is more likely than not. Let's hope and pray that the democratic system will be allowed to work. This country needs a bit of stability for a while so that processes of development can actually work. Without a central authority and local officials to appeal to and to work with communities, development work is stuck in the mud spinning its wheels. And for Haiti, those wheels have been spinning for quite a while.

Monday, February 06, 2006

It's the day before Haitian elections (finally) and everyone is holding their collective breath. Will this be the turning point or just another noted point in the free fall? The observers are here with their plastic ID cards hanging from their necks, the press corps is perched on the balcony of the Montana Hotel and the US diplomatic contingent is armed to the teeth. Tomorrow I'll be sitting at the Kinam next to the pool while everyone else frets about the elections-- although you wouldn't believe how many people (Haitians included) who asked if and for who I would be voting! Hello! I thought they were tired of American/foreign intervention!

It's the crazy events like this that have pushed me to start this blog (and a little prodding from Bridget- credit where credit is due!). I hope you'll come back often and check in on the happenings that make my life exciting to live. Until then....