Sunday, May 4, 2008

5/2 & 5/3

In the afternoon we left for our trip to the South East of Haiti to a town called Roche-a-Bateau. Along the way the road was mostly paved but littered with potholes of varying sizes. The highway is also a main artery for pedestrian traffic, which often comes dangerously close to on coming vehicles. The drivers, including our own, seem to have an utter disregard for those walking on the side of the road. For example we averaged speeds between 60-80 mph. Many of the towns have built speed bumps to slow thru traffic. On one section of the road people placed sizable stones to keep the cars from driving on the shoulder where they walk. It seems as though this situation is caused both by a lack of proper infrastructure and established driving culture. Most people who drive are wealthy and most people who walk are not, you can draw your own conclusions.

The length of the highway hosted many makeshift markets, where people were selling whatever they could, most of which was agricultural products, but also used clothing, sunglasses, liquor, automotive parts and jewelry. Many of those selling agricultural products did not have the money to shop in the market. We remarked that the markets are not just there for economic exchange, but also serve communal social relations: People meet at the market for news, friendship etc..

We arrived at our hosts home at around 10:30 pm, and characteristic of Haitian hospitality he offered us his own bedroom. Paul "Loulou" Chery and his wife Ginette stayed in his guest room.

Roche-a-Bateau is a radiant village beneath the mountain, next to the sea. It is in a horseshoe inlet surrounded by coconut palms, banyan, mango, and poppy trees.

It could be a great place for small-scale, community controlled tourism, but there are no infrastructures yet to develop its resources.

We proceed to Coteaux, Ville de Laurent, Ferou on our way to the area market just outside the town. We passed rows of oleander, hibiscus, peanut trees. Visiting the market we tasted fried breadfruit, cut into thin slices, and witnessed the assault of colors of the Caribbean agricultural products. We also met a local woman who had lived 37 years in Brooklyn, but retired and returned to Haiti, her home land. An embodiment of the Haitian diaspora, her two children, US citizens, remained in Brooklyn. She was resigned to live the rest of her life traveling between Haiti and the US.

Back in Roche-a-Bataeu we met with town "notables" (elected officials, religious leaders, teachers, civil servants, and professionals) in the local school, which lacked bathroom and running water. Among them 4 women in a crowd of 35. The the meeting started with the Lord's Prayer in Creole, and introduced Loulou who explained our delegation. Loulou also stressed that in all his work with the CTH he never forgets his hometown (Roche-a-Bataeu) and the CTH had made contact with the IWW for various reasons, among which collaboration and mutual aid. Ginette then spoke of two issues: 1) the importance of developing tourism to develop the local economy without destroying all the character and culture of the village. 2) the importance of feminist education. Those present discussed the town's main problems: No drinking water; no recreation youth; no spaces nor equipment for sports; no community center; no theater; no art or artisan materials; no fishing gear. Naturally the state has done nothing to resolve this. The ultimate focus of our meeting concerned how we (the IWW) could respond to these needs. Some of our thoughts are: 1) The importance of collaboration rather than charity-- the urgency of the citizens taking the initiative to realize their own needs then acting together to attain them. 2) The IWW's commitment to use our network to inform our communities of the various problems facing Haitians. Justin said he would consult his sister, an expert in grant writing to develop projects in poor communities as to how and where we could receive funds to develop Haitian projects. Furthermore he mentioned that he is in contact with Haitian friends in the US who are interested in organizing mutual aid between their communities in the US and communities in Haiti. Another important point suggested by Loulou was the establishment of sister cities.

Ginette reiterated the importance of the community taking the initiative to decide its needs. To make her case she gave an example of how paternalistic aid can be irrelevant: A few years ago an NGO decided, without consulting the locals, to build a fountain in the town's center, because the fountain used by the residents was "too far away." Ironically people did not use the new fountain because they wanted the exercise required to travel to the old one where they could above all socialize.

Outside the school where we had our meeting we observed 20 barefoot peasants hoeing the field by hand for a man who paid them in food. After asking permission Cody photographed them as they sang songs to the beet of a drum to keep their rhythm. We were amazed at how much ground they cleared under the blazing sun, and noted that virtually all agriculture in Haiti is done this way.

After this meeting we ate another delicious lunch and proceeded to our last meeting near Loulou's childhood home in the countryside outside Roche-a-Bataeu, where we met his mother and father, and interviewed Loulou and Ginette about their history in the labor movement.

Loulou, the Secretary General of the CTH, was born into a peasant family. He worked for his own education, obtaining a degree so he could teach English in Port-Au-Prince. Not earning enough, he went to work in industry where he developed his ideas and convictions to organize workers into unions. With Duvalier's fall in 1986 Loulou got his chance integrate his union, political, and educational activities from the grassroots. He specializes in conflict resolution, and formation of workers cadres and international relationships, particularly with Venezuela, Canada, and the US. He emphasized what he considered the essence of this work: Unionist gaining the peoples trust and expressing their will. His vision for Haiti is justice and dignity for his extraordinarily creative and energetic people so his nation could be "one of the 1st order."

Ginette APollon, Loulou's wife and comrade, introduced herself as a unionist, a nurse, and a member of the CTH Commission. She explained her main battles concern better health care, living, and working conditions. Equally important for her, as a feminist, are the training, education, and equal opportunities for women in all social and economic sectors. She noted that although women are the majority, most are victimized by patriarchy, machismo, lack of education and work, objectification in the media. She entered the CTH because it had the most progressive approach to women in Haiti. Through the CTH she feels women organizers must reach other women to raise their consensus and to empower them, and to develop female cadres. Her two main areas today, as she is working predominantly with younger women, are women organized against violence, and women fighting for justice.

Despite torrential downpour 20 or so local peasant men and women (a more proportional gender representation than our previous meeting) congregated in the local "school," which was little more than a non-functional concrete shell with a leaky corrugated metal roof. Many of the children present seemed disoriented, many were sick, as their parents left them to find work and the school seemed more like a daycare than an actual school.

Lamour Chery, Loulou's brother, welcomed the group thanking them especially for taking time out to come, thus making a tremendous sacrifice. He proceeded to welcome our delegation emphasizing that the people congregated could expect something concrete from us, with real hopes for change. Loulou elaborated, explaining the CTH had brought internationals to see especially how Haitians live, and to study conditions for which no one should be ashamed other than those who create them, ie the state, particularly the US and Canada. He explained how his mother had attended a school like theirs, but had improved her own condition so that she herself became one of the teachers. Cody explained our objectives: To see the area's conditions, denounce injustices, respond with documentation and act.

The people themselves, profoundly aware of their problems, made a seemingly endless list of them: Homelessness, housing in shambles; malnutrition and starvation (many who were there were clearly malnourished); ill health; sick loved ones without aid, medical centers, or even beds which to bring them; no potable water; no money for the school (one person commented "just look at it"); children so hungry they can't concentrate to last a whole day; no economic activity; no commerce; no work; no roads. In short they said in chorus "we have nothing." They ended with another Creole prayer saying in essence "May God Help Us, May Jesus Light Our Way." Then the rain stopped and we experienced first hand the lack of roads as our 4-wheel drive vehicle slipped and slid all over, often too close to the precipice. Loulou's brother tried to load a goat into the back of our car but it protested too much and was left behind.

Returning to Port-A-Prince we noticed one of the few rice paddies remaining, a vestige of Haiti's former self-sufficiency in rice production prior to the domestic market being undercut and destroyed by cheap, subsidized rice from North America. Miraculously a white egret flew up from the paddy and disappeared about the Caribbean. As we proceeded we saw an interesting phenomena: Cow herders walking to PAP, driving their livestock at night to the capital, 3 hours by car away.

Back in PAP we encountered one last trial, after the torential rains overwhelmed the cities's hopelessly inadequet sewers much of the city was flooded in two-foot deep rivers of garbage. In once place there were 10 foot geisers erupting from manholes that caused even the usually fearless Haitian drivers to backup.

1 comment:

J.Sprague said...

Thank you so much!!! To read an interview Nazaire St. Fort and I did with Lamoun Chery and Jude Bonhomme, another member of CTH in Roch-à-Bateau, see this page: