Sunday, December 12, 2010


Yes, I am well aware that I am failing miserably at this whole blogging thing. Jarrett Allen never lets me forget it. Maybe it will be one of my New Year’s Resolutions…?

Anyway, I have many experiences to catch you all up on, but I feel the most pressing is the election. (Look for a summary post of my goings-on later) On November 28, 2010, the presidential election took place in Haiti. Let me preface this by saying that there was and still is a lot of hubbub about this election.

First of all, elections in Haiti have a history of going sour—it’s not uncommon for the president to refuse to leave office and things often escalate to violence—and people had been preparing for this one like we were going to war. I mean the shelves in the markets were bare. No one was out and about. Even the nightclub down the street from my house closed out of fear and caution. And if you know me well, you know that this just made me want to go out more. If there was going to be violence or excitement, I wanted to witness it. Come on, I am in Haiti after an insane earthquake, in the middle of a serious cholera epidemic, and during a tumultuous election and I am not going to have anything to show for it? Really? That’s simply unacceptable.

To my perverse dismay, everything went relatively smoothly, in my neighborhood anyway. I still did not get to go out because the students were being total chicken-shits, but I suppose I can’t blame them. Based on previous experiences with elections, they probably have good reason to be overly cautious. Instead, I sat around with them all day watching the progress on TV. By about 2 pm the majority of the candidates were calling for an annulment, claiming widespread fraud in favor of Jude Célestin, which they are saying mostly occurred throughout the polls in PAP.

Protests broke out in parts of PAP and throughout other areas in Haiti, namely Cap-Haitian, where tensions were already high due to the cholera outbreak that many angry Haitians blame on the UN Peacekeepers. But demonstrations seemed to calm down by the Tuesday after Sunday Nov. 28 and we all went back to work, markets were reopened, etc.

A few days later, some reports came out that it was looking like Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly were leading the polls, and that Jude Célestin, the corrupt candidate from Préval’s party Inité, was out of the running. I thought, oh good, things are okay. The candidates who the Haitian people really want to be in the 2nd round will be there, but little did I know that we had just reached the eye of the hurricane.

We’ve spent the last two weeks hovering in a state of mixed emotions, mainly comprised of relief, anxiety, frustration, and anticipation. What would the CEP (Counseil Electoal Provisoire) release? [Note: There is little faith in this organization, as they are believed to be in bed with Préval and the ruling political party Inité. They are the ones responsible for making sure the voting process is proper and just, but citizens say the CEP officials were stuffing the ballot boxes with votes for Jude Célestin; hence, crazy tension.]

Tuesday, December 6, the office closed at 4 pm sharp because the CEP stated they’d release the results at 6 pm. The tension was palpable. If Jude Célestin would make it into the next round, you could just feel in the air that the entire country would lose it. The students gathered in the kitchen/living area with nervous stares and eagerness. Huddled around a little radio, we waited and listened.

In this photo: Kenal (white hat), Samuel (black shirt), Barthelemy (green shirt), Marc Arthur (white shirt), Léonel aka "Senegal" (Tommy Bahama style shirt), Hégel (blue shirt), and Makelot (red stripes). More students were sitting on the stairs nearby and at the kitchen table.

The results were in: Mme Manigat won around 34% and Jude Célestin barely slid into 2nd with around 24%. He beat out Martelly by less than 1%. Everyone was up in arms. The reaction in the street was instantaneous. Gunshots, yells, screams, arguments…it was on. We entered a new phase of unrest, especially since everyone knew that Célestin had cheated.

Everything shut down again. I knew it would be days until I had to work again…days until the markets reopened. Stuck at home.

It’s been five days now of staying mostly at home, eating peanut butter and bananas, taking multiple cat naps per day, basically living the lazy life and going stir crazy because of it. I am not good at staying put, particularly when I am told that I have to. The first day of demonstrations, I went out to the street to see what was going on.

I headed to Débussy (one of the other student houses) because I couldn’t stand being inside and I had told Lubin, a student, that I would visit despite the disorder. I wasn’t really afraid, but just in case, I walked with my cell phone in hand ready to dial Mathieu in case something went down. (Mathieu is a medical student who was very concerned for my safety, yet was too afraid himself to walk with me. They’re all a little bit too paranoid if you ask me. At some point, they need to stop being so afraid because the fear itself is inhibiting progress here)

Anyway, there weren’t many people out, mostly men, except for the women selling bread and canned milk. A stench of burned rubber and smoke filled the air. On every corner there were simmering tires leaving behind mounds of black soot and wires. People had obviously been throwing rocks and shoving piles of the rubble further into the street. Navigating through the mess, I finally made it to the house, where I enjoyed the student’s company and had a nice break from Noam Chomsky’s Hopes and Prospects.

I’ve been venturing out everyday a little bit. Most of the time I went with a student or Michael. One day Agronome, a lovely HELP student who is very considerate and helpful, took Michael and myself out to try to find some food. Right as we were leaving a huge riot broke out in the direction we were heading. On the radio they were reporting guns and machetes to be present. Needless to say, we turned around and walked the other way. It was later reported that many people were shot at that demonstration.

Last night, Michael and I had had enough, and we thought we’d go see if this local bar was open. As it turns out, Muncheez was totally open and we got to enjoy an odd mix of blues/jazz, reggae, bad ballads, and Sweet Dreams are Made of These. It was strangely comforting.

Things aren’t really calming down, but places are starting to slowly reopen. People can’t go this long without work, food, etc. So while the riots continue, everyday life is picking back up anyway. It’s a good thing, too, because with everything closed, it’s difficult to find clean water, food, and medical attention, all of which are not helping the cholera epidemic. I guess we’ll see what happens in the coming week. For now, I am staying safe and simply waiting for it to be over.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rolando and the Hardware Adventure

Saturday October 23, 2010

A few days ago I had a bad day. I had a whole entry written about everything that was wrong…mostly things related to homesickness, sleeping by myself in a concrete box (I really miss Oscar), and about being alone as an American woman in Haiti. But it just isn’t good to harp on the negative, so I’ve let that day go along with the post.

Saturday October 23 could have been considered a bad day, since pretty much everything went wrong. It went so wrong I spent most of the day laughing. It was quite the welcome to Haiti.

The day began with me heading to the HELP Center in order to meet our motorcycle driver at 8 AM. He was taking me to the hardware store so that I could get a quote for all the equipment I would need for my garden/compost project. First of all, I was already feeling like this would be an “experience” because I was going alone and my Creole is still baby talk. All I knew was that I needed to ask for a “proforma” and ask for a “ti discount de 5%.” (Creole has some funny English words…discount being one of them) So with my list in hand, I grabbed a helmet, hopped on the back of Rolando’s bike, and we were off. [Side note: I really love riding motorcycles; it’s too fun. And I still want a Vespa. Nothin’ like the wind in your face.]

Unfortunately, my joy ride didn’t last very long. We were about 20 minutes into our journey towards A&B Hardware when the police pulled us over. (Welcome to Haiti) I noticed they were pulling all the motorcyclists over and checking their licenses, so I simply stayed on the back of the bike while Rolando (HELP’s motorcycle driver/errand boy) dug around for his papers. Then I thought that maybe the police were giving him a hard time because I was white. Great, I thought, I’d have to try to explain in Creole that he is my chauffeur and that he is paid by my employers, etc, etc. It turned out that wasn’t the case and that I didn’t have to explain myself. But the police asked me to get off the bike and go stand in the shade. At that point I started really wondering what was going on. Was I going to be stranded somewhere in PaP? I had no idea where I was. What would I do? I didn’t even have Garry’s number. (Garry is HELP’s director in Haiti)

Luckily the policemen were nice and spoke French (yay!), and I found out that the problem was Rolando only had a copy of his license. (Welcome to Haiti) Not a big deal, but they did confiscate his bike and keys. I called Linedy, who manages the HELP office and she just said don’t worry. Don’t worry? I mean, I stayed calm of course, but couldn’t you at least tell me if somebody is coming to get us? Whatever, I just went with the flow and Rolando made some mystery calls to mystery numbers from my phone (so as to save himself the credit). He just looked at me every few minutes and said, “Mimi, Garry ap vini, l’ap vini.” That translates to Garry is coming, he’s coming. OK, I was reassured; at least somebody was coming. The next challenge was how long would that take? Traffic is notoriously bad in PaP. (Welcome to Haiti)

I looked at my watch; it was now 10 AM (2 hours after we had initially set out on the adventure). While we were waiting on the other side of the street for Garry, a Tap-Tap (the Haitian public transportation “buses”) broke down right in the middle of an already busy street…only about 30 feet down the street from the police motorcycle checkpoint. And the Tap-Tap didn’t just stall. Oh no, the whole front axel just dropped onto the asphalt. (Welcome to Haiti) The truck wasn’t going anywhere for a long time and in kicked the cacophony of hundreds of horns and honks.

Garry eventually made it through the gridlock to pick us up, and we were back on route to the hardware store. Ahhh, sweet victory! We were going to make it!

A&B Hardware turned out to be a total bust. They didn’t have everything I needed, and not only that, but you can’t pick things up and put them in a basket. You have to describe to them what you want and they get it out of the back for you. This meant there was huge potential for a large margin of error. After hearing “pa gen sa” (don’t have that) one too many times, Garry and I gave up on A&B. (Welcome to Haiti)

We got back in the car, and I just assumed that was it, I’d have to wait another week to get my equipment. But then Garry drove around the corner to a place called Eko Depot (a total rip off of Home Depot…same colors and knock-off logo). This was the place! It was like hardware heaven! They had everything I needed and more! And I could put my stuff right into a basket and take it home with me that very day! I was thrilled. Who knew a hardware store could bring so much joy.

We crammed shovels, wheelbarrows, pitchforks, and much much more into Garry’s little SUV (like an old Rav4 size SUV) and headed back to the HELP Center. I think we finally made it back around 2 or 3 pm. Ahhh, what a day, and it was far from over.

After organizing everything at the center, it was time to head home with Joanna for a quick rest and shower before going out with Conor to hear some live kompa. Joanna works in the NY office and was on her first visit to Haiti. She stayed with me, and it was wonderful! Even though I hadn’t been here much more than a week, it was so nice to have another American female around. Plus, she is totally awesome! (I was quite sad to see her leave a few days later)

Joanna brought some Newman’s Own pretzels with her from NY that we proceeded to devour before going out. Mmmm, a break from fried plantains and beans & rice. We were all tired, but mustered the energy to go hear this good kompa group, Fasil. The venue was pretty cool, although we were seated in the back, and since I wear flowers in my hair, I was placed on the bush-side of the table. My head was literally in the plants, but it wasn’t a big deal because the Prestige made the whole day better.

Prestige is the Haitian beer. It’s very similar to Red Stripe of Jamaica, and even comes in a similar bottle. Add in some groovy Afro-Caribbean beats, and you have a wonderful evening. Kompa is great! It’s pretty relaxed, but also upbeat. I like it. One dances kompa to kompa music, but I have yet to learn how to kompa. Watching all the other attendees crammed on the dance floor was enough for me that night. It’s a pretty sensual dance, so I hope to learn with some familiar people before jumping into a serious dance scene with strange men.

The concert was great, but we didn’t even make it to the headliner because it was already around 1 am and we couldn’t last any longer. The next time Fasil plays I will drink some coffee and prepare for a really late night, full of dancing and hopefully drunken splendor.

Welcome to Haiti! From potential disaster to delightful beer and music, all in a day’s work!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Exhausted, but alive and well in Port-au-Prince

Where to begin… So much has happened in the past 24 hours and I’m still hovering in a world of disbelief. It has yet to sink in that I am here relatively permanently. I am not going home in a week. I am not going to see my kitten boy or snuggle with him at night, and I am not going to see my best friend everyday. My mom’s care and my grandparents just across the street are no longer my reality. Now, I will be calling Port-au-Prince (PaP) my home and HELP is my new family. Although overwhelmed by just about everything, there are two things that stood out the most to me: a) the state of the country and b) the incredible hospitality with which I was greeted.

Flying in to PaP in itself was an experience. As you descend into the airport you can see all the decomposing ships that had gotten stuck on the reef or a sandbar with little white triangle sails zipping all around. The closer we got to the tarmac, the more I could see the destruction from the earthquake. Tent camps and shantytowns are scattered everywhere. As you may imagine or remember from the pictures just after the earthquake, there is rubble everywhere. The camps take up all the space where there isn’t rubble, and just up the street from my apartment there are still tents in the street. Everybody just goes around them, but what else can you do? They aren’t going anywhere soon. These tents and makeshift shelters will be the Haitian way of life for many years. Nobody is cleaning up the rubble, and few are rebuilding. I passed by a couple of construction sights on my walk to the HELP Center from my apartment, and I wonder if they are rebuilding with plans and materials that can withstand a 7.0 earthquake. I hope so, but somehow I don’t think they are.

I had the opportunity to go into one of the camps with Michael because Conor (the executive director) had arranged a meeting with this NGO called SOIL and I thought I’d go along. SOIL installs and maintains toilets and they compost the waste. It’s pretty cool and reminds me of the Living Machine at Oberlin. They’re even trying to come up with ways to bribe more people to use them. Anyway, the camp was pretty dismal. Life is hard there, but like I mentioned these camps are fully expected to be permanent, so they’ve strung up electrical wires and have giant water reservoirs where they can get water for cooking, bathing, and washing clothes. This particular camp had been built on what once was a park with a soccer field (of dirt) and a basketball court. Building the camps in these open spaces makes sense, but the people, particularly the children, of PaP have nowhere to play. It’s sad. They just sit around the camps all day, since most don’t attend school.

But, this brings me to b): The Haitian People and their hospitality. It is no exaggeration what they say about the kindness and tenacity of Haitians. Everyone in the camps greeted us with smiles and a “bonjou!” The same goes for pretty much everyone I saw or met from my flight to PaP to all the others throughout my day at HELP.

Itelier (a LOVELY student) and Roman (the driver) came to get me at the airport around 8 AM. They brought me right to my room in one of the dorm houses. There I met Michael (my boss) and Linedy (sometimes the d’s in Creole are pronounced like “dz”, so her name is the equivalent of Lindsey) who showed me around the house, introduced me to some of the students and helped me get a little settled. But I didn’t get to rest. At this point, my adrenaline must have been pumping because I took a quick sponge bath and walked with Michael and Linedy to the HELP center. The welcomes never stopped and neither did the happy faces. I met so many people who kept showering me with “Glad to meet you’s” and “We are so happy to have you’s.” What I don’t think they quite understand is how happy I am to be here. And how excited I am to learn their names and their stories. I can tell already that they will make a wonderful second family for me. How could I not already love them? Some of them who don’t speak much English at all were still eager to talk to me and welcome me to their country. It just feels so right. Now if I could just remember everyone’s name! (I have about 160 names to learn, ahhh!)

I think that’s a long enough first post from Haiti. There is plenty more to come… Look forward to descriptions of my living quarters, the food, the classes, etc.

I love you all and miss you dearly. Mom, pet Oscar for me and tell him I love him.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Tomorrow night, I will fly on the red-eye from Los Angeles to Miami, then from Miami to Port-au-Prince. The flight gets in just before 8 AM to Haiti and the following is what I have received in preparation (as it turns out I've learned quite a lot):

"We'll send our driver with a student to meet you at the airport on Wednesday.
As the main terminal collapsed in the earthquake, you'll go through
immigration in what was originally a building for handling cargo. Once you
clear immigration, you'll go outside, turn right, and walk following a
chainlink fence on your left for maybe a couple hundred yards before reaching
the area where people can meet you. Our student will be holding a sign with
your name on it. The driver can take you to your room, where you can
drop off your things, get cleaned up, and then come to the office when you're
ready. Then we will be delighted to welcome you here!"

It's real, and it's here. And I am not packed. I am sitting here watching the Daily Show going over my packing list, but not actually making progress. So far I have 3 piles: Clothing, Toiletries/Accessories, and Stuff. All are growing, but none is in the suitcase.

I think it's time for me to stop writing in this blog as if it is some sort of catharsis and just get'er done. Beace out beoble. (That's Arab-American speak for peace out people). Wish me luck.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Final Countdown

Sorry! I had to include Europe in this post. Only because "The Final Countdown" is one of those epic songs that gets stuck in your head and you start to hate after the first minute. Cruel? I don't think's a guilty pleasure.

It really is the final count down, though. I leave in 5 days. Come next week, I'll be on the ground in Haiti, probably settling into my new apartment, meeting all the students, and adjusting to what will be my routine for the next year. It's hard to imagine how much my life is going to change in just 5 days time. I don't really know what to expect, and I am surprisingly OK with that. Contrary to most people's intuition, I am feeling like the less I know the better. Obviously I know the big things like my arrival date and time and the contact information for the H.E.L.P. headquarters. I've been told somebody will be fetching me at the airport, but I don't know who; I know I have an apartment, but I don't know exactly where. The unknowns aren't bothering me one bit. I am ready to get thrown into it. Plus, I honestly don't believe that extra information is going to "prepare" me for anything. Just gotta go with the flow and be flexible. I know I'll be taken care of, and I know I'll figure it all out in due time.

Believe it or not, a quick trip to San Francisco and Stanford has finagled its way into my schedule. While I am so happy to attend a family gathering and see Timmons one last time, it's crunch time, and I will return from NorCal with one more full day to get it all together. Stressful! Attempting to get ready early, I've been running around doing all the little errands that creep up on you and can take over, like getting a pair of jeans hemmed, buying DEET, and the like. (I really don't want to get Dengue Fever, although it feels inevitable)

Goodbyes and departures are always sad. I am spending my final days indulging in all the things I will really miss, i.e. See's Candy, frozen yogurt, crisp beer, and good company to name a few. But, I am ready to get down there. I'm excited to learn, to share, to be inspired, to meet amazing people, and to forge connections. Only 5 more days... Yee-haw! Bring it on!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Good Advice from Zia Nicoletta and Co.

Contracts and waivers signed, now it's officially official; I am going to AYITI!

The anticipation is growing, as is my distaste for travel preparation. It makes me anxious. I haven't been sleeping well. It's nerve-wracking. It seems no matter how much laundry I do or how many lists I make, I feel like the time is flying by without much packing progress. Only 2 weeks remain before I leave.

I have been communicating with Michael (the ESL teacher already there) about what to expect and what is actually available. Here are a few things I know:

1. HELP has a driver! It's generally unsafe to take public transportation, so if I need to go anywhere outside of the neighborhood, the driver will take me. I have NEVER had a driver. I think I will feel pretentious and ridiculous, but I intend to become his friend. Hopefully, that will ease my discomfort with the idea.

2. The open-air markets, supermarkets, and general stores have reopened in Port-au-Prince. Life goes on, even after great disasters. It's like my family in Beirut reminded me when I visited in 2008: just because there is a war going on outside, doesn't mean you stop living your life. The necessities (ie. soap, shampoo, food, etc.) are apparently readily available in the capitol. That makes things easier, I think.

3. I get a mosquito net for my bed and screens mounted on my apartment windows. That's a big deal since many frightening diseases are mosquito transmitted.

4. HELP is going to give me a cell phone. Cool?! I am a bit confused about why I'll need it, but I imagine it's for contact purposes in Haiti.

5. They tell me Skype doesn't work very well down there. I have a feeling video chat will be a rare occurrence. So expect emails, not calls! Sorry!

6. Lastly, I am coming home for Christmas! HELP will pay for 2 round trip tickets to the USA, so I requested a winter break. It will be particularly nice because my cousins from Italy will be visiting and I haven't seen them since my junior year abroad!

Now for the good advice that so earned the title of this blog entry.

Sunday evening, I had dinner with our good family friends the Merhmand/Tinozzi's. Whenever we get together we spend most of our time laughing and enjoying Nicoletta's incredible Italian cooking. It's always a convivial experience, and of course, my going to Haiti was brought up a few times. Sara thinks I am going to be crawling over rubble strewn streets, scavenging for food. My mother is afraid I will be kidnapped and raped. Not that these are not genuine concerns--truly the worst of the worst scenarios--but they are slightly exaggerated. After appeasing those worries, we started in on imagining my daily life. Most of that was uninteresting, save my future laundry habits.

Nicoletta gave me great advice, that I think should be a slogan for all people who have to wash all their laundry by hand. From here on, it will be dubbed the Tinozzi Method.

Step 1: Put a little soap in a bucket filled with water.
Step 2: Swish around your clothes.
Step 3: Let it soak, overnight.
Step 4: Go to bed.
Step 5: Wake up.
Step 6: Rinse.
Step 7: Hang, to dry.

In summation, and this is verbatim from Zia Nicoletta: "Soak, Go to bed, Rinse, Hang...And you do this everyday, so your laundry never piles up!" (Now repeat with an Italian accent).

There you have it folks; soak, go to bed, rinse, and hang. This could be the best advice I've gotten thus far.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bonjou ak byenvini!

"Hello and welcome" to my new blog for my upcoming adventure in Haiti (Ayiti). You will notice that I am trying to incorporate Haitian-Creole into this blog as much as possible. It is a central part of Haitian culture and I can't wait to learn it. Plus, I enjoy seeing the French influences when it's written out.

Now, let me begin by explaining the title of my blog. In Haitian tradition, when somebody wants to tell a story, they ask "Krik?" And when people want to hear said story, they respond "Krak!" Isn't that awesome?!!! So, here we go fellow readers...Krik? (I am going to assume you are all yelling "Krak!" enthusiastically at your computer)

Most of you reading this already know that in about 3 weeks Port-au-Prince, Haiti will become my new home for a year. Yes folks, that's right, I got a job! I will be the Assistant ESL Teacher for the organization HELP (Haitian Education and Leadership Program).

HELP awards merit-based scholarships to disadvantaged Haitian students so that they can attend university. These students would never be able to afford college if it wasn't for HELP. It's practically a miracle that they even made it this far. And the program is quite successful: 90% of students granted these scholarships graduate and 100% of those find a good job in Haiti. The key words being "in Haiti." These students are not only dedicated to improving their personal situations, but also their country. With steady work, they are able to provide for their families, often sending their relatives to school, and contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty and helplessness.

In addition to their normal university schedules, the students are required to take Spanish, English, and leadership courses. Enter: me! I will be working with the head ESL instructor on revamping the ESL curriculum to include better testing components and to reinforce the leadership program. Needless to say, I am getting more and more excited everyday about working with these students!

For more information on HELP, check out their website:

Enough about the job, my biggest concern now is getting ready. How exactly does one prepare for a country which has recently been ravaged by a 7.0 earthquake and has pretty much remained in piles of rubble? Well, to be honest, I don't really know. I have no idea what to expect. Haiti has dropped off the radar in the news and I don't think the situation has much improved. When I first found out I'd be going, I immediately thought I needed to take my own backpacking camp with me. A Tent, water purifier, sleeping bag and pad, Sierra cup, knife, etc. etc. were all on my DO NOT LEAVE WITHOUT list. But, thank goodness for Michael, the head ESL instructor  who is already down there. He pretty much told me that HELP has all of that kind of stuff in their emergency equipment. So I suppose I don't need to worry about it. However, I think I'll still take my water purifier and knife. They could be really handy, and won't take up that much space.

I also realized that I am going to a tropical country where diseases such as AIDS, Malaria, and Dengue Fever have been a problem even before the whole country crumbled. So yesterday I went to a doctor who specializes in tropical diseases. He was an old man spewing about how awful all these maladies are and how dangerous his patients' said Haiti is. These diseases do sound terrifying, and since most are carried by mosquitoes (who already eat me alive), I will be taking Malaria pills and dousing myself in 40% DEET. Oh, and get this, beyond the fact that mosquitoes love my blood, I am also aesthetically the prime target for those Malaria-carrying buzzers. Apparently, they love black clothing, shiny jewelry, and sweet perfumes. This is no joke; he was completely serious. Guess what I was wearing in his office? Exactly that, a black blouse, a pair of costume gold earrings, and some nice gardenia scented perfume.  I thought to myself: No black? Really?!! No big gold hoops? WHAT? No perfume? That's no good. I can't wear deodorant because of an allergic reaction. Perfume was my only French-inspired hope to covering up my stench. Oh well, I signed up for this; and despite these slight obstacles, I know I'll figure it out.