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.
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.