Protests Over Gas Prices

Update From This Morning:

Today Port-au Prince is protesting the high gas prices.

While the global price of crude has dropped by 30% since last June (source) and in good old Kansas gasoline can be had for as little as $1.75 per gallon, here in good old Port-au Prince the price were $4.62 up until last week. 

This past Fall, President Martelly got the bright idea to increase the government fixed fuel prices.  The plan was to raise gas prices from $4.38 to $5.23 per gallon by February (source).  They have backed off on this plan, and last Friday in an effort to appease, lowered the price to $4.30 per gallon. However, people are still angry about it.

Particularly, the public transportation sector is upset. This is a populous city with no metro or trains.  People mainly move about on privately owned tap-taps and busses.  As gas prices go up, profits go down.  Today, to show their displeasure, tap-taps are boycotting driving, and putting barricades up around town to stop other people from driving too. Consequently, the streets are mostly empty, except for moto-taxis, and they are price gauging for their services. 

Since my employees couldn’t get to work very well today, I decided to close the bakery.

Like I said, barricades and burning tires are being setup at major intersections to enforce the boycott.  In fact, there are tires in the street burning right outside our gate, though it seems peaceable enough.  Additionally, there are lots of reports of rocks being thrown at cars brave enough to venture out.  I stood outside our gate awhile and in that time only saw two private cars pass and no one threw rocks at them.  They drove around the burning tires.

Anyways, the city has essentially shut down for the day.  I walked to our corner market and it was closed, but a couple employees were standing outside.  They know me and said the market was closed.  I acted surprised, “What!  You guys are closed?”  One of them asked if the bakery was closed?  I admitted we closed down as well because my workers couldn’t get here.  They laughed.

The lady who cooks daily lunches for the bakery & discipleship class just walked into the office.  She doesn’t live far away, and walked here.  She said the Fleurio intersection was barricaded and she saw people throwing rocks, presumably at cars.  I told her there wasn’t much cooking needed today, except for my lunch.

Just as I was telling her this, one of my bakery workers, Gergens, walked in.  We hadn’t been able to call him because he didn’t have his phone on him for some reason.  He looked sweaty. 

“I’m sorry, but the bakery is closed today and I don’t have work for you.”  He didn’t seem surprised.  I asked what time he had left his house this morning for work.  He said 5am…  it was now 10am!  Wow, that’s dedication to his job.  He opted to go back home instead of waiting for a free lunch.

Evening Update:

The protests tapered off in the late afternoon.  I went out this evening and didn’t see anything going on.  Apparently though, at the height of things this morning some people were shot, a lot of rocks were thrown, a vehicle or two overturned, some people roughed up, etc.  Looks like it will be the same thing again tomorrow!

That is the excitement here for today.

News Articles

The Scoop From Reuters
The Scoop From Bellingham Herald – With Pictures

In Which I Meet a Self-Proclaimed Liar

I met a man here who runs an orphanage from his home.  He currently has 13 kids, though since I’ve known him that number has fluctuated to almost 30.  He considers himself a pastor.  His English is good, he lived in Canada several years, and apparently his Ex-wife still lives there.

There are rumors.  That he is crooked.  That he is trying to get support for his own personal gain. 

This much I know: Sometimes he lies.  Little lies?

For instance, he told me he started the orphanage after the earthquake.  Then I found out he started the orphanage a good many years before the earthquake.   

Or again, he told me the kids were all homeless from his neighborhood that he took in.  Turns out the kids aren’t from his neighborhood, and most weren’t homeless.  In fact, most came from villages in the countryside, where family or relatives apparently gave them up in promise of a better life in Port-au Prince.

Meanwhile, his house/orphanage is in very bad shape.  Sanitation is deplorable.  There is a hole in the roof.  The children use the bathroom by going in a hole in the ground outside.  The girls put a square piece of plywood on their lap for privacy while they do their business.  Sickness is present every time I visit.  The two bunk rooms smell thick of urine.  Chickens roam through the house dropping feces where the children play.  The place should be condemned.

The man in charge, let’s call him Jean, keeps asking me why us white people aren’t supporting him?  I’ve brought several teams to see his plight.  They’ve donated sandals.  They’ve taken pictures.  Some have offered to help in the future. 

Why don’t the “blans” who came to visit do more?  Surely we all see the need?  After deflecting these questions over a period of time, I decided to be honest.

“Yes,” I said, “People see your need, but they don’t trust you, we think you’re shady.  That’s why you’re not getting support.”

“What?! Why would anyone not trust me?”

“Well, for starters, because you lie.”

“I lie?  How do I lie?”

I gave him several examples.  He took these accusations in stride and admitted, “Yes, I do lie, but I’ll tell you, I only lie to help the kids.”

“How so?” I asked.  It seemed to me he lies out of habit.

“Well, for instance, I say the children are younger than I know they are.  That way people will be more sympathetic for helping.  I will even get legal papers made to give the children a younger age.  That’s easy to do here, you know?  But I’m lying for the kids, to help them.  Like when I ask for rice from an organization, I tell them I have a big orphanage with lots of kids so they’ll give me many bags of rice.  That’s how I lie for the kids.”

“You may justify your lying,” I said, “but your lying is one reason people don’t trust you, and why they are reluctant to support what you’re doing here.”  I then add, “Don’t you know lying is wrong?”

“Well, everyone lies in Haiti, this is a corrupt country!  You can’t be straight here”

“That’s not true, not everyone lies in Haiti.  And even if it were true, don’t you call yourself a pastor?  What does the Bible say about lying?”

“The Bible is full of liars!  Every big man in the Bible lied.  Abraham.  He lied about his wife being his sister.  He did that twice.  Jacob: big liar.  David, oh, big, big liar.  All the big men of God lied, it’s what they did.”

“When these people lied, it wasn’t necessarily their finest moment,” I countered.  “And what about Jesus?  Did he lie?”

Long pause.  Then emphatically, with a finger raised, “He is the only one who didn’t lie.” 

“Yes, and the word Christian means Little Christ,” I pressed. “Jesus is our example.  If you can promise you won’t lie to me anymore, I’ll see what I can do to help support you.” 

There was a lengthy pause, and then a load groan, “Uggh, I can’t promise that!  But I’ll promise to pray that God helps me say the truth more.”

“No go,” I responded firmly.  “I want you to promise to tell me the truth from now on.  About everything.  That is, if you want help.”

This dialogue was condensed from a number of conversations over several months.  This last week I saw him again (we donate bread to his orphanage twice a week and he comes to pick it up) and he said he’ll be honest with me.  He told me how some of the children do have parents, how he only has 13 kids because 4 of them sleep somewhere else, he told me he’ll answer my questions.

So I asked him if he lives at the orphanage?  This is something I’ve wondered about: Did he have a nicer place elsewhere?  He assured me he lives at the orphanage, though sometimes he sleeps at a friends house, whatever that means. 

At least he is trying to make an effort at honesty now, which I appreciate.  We still have a ways to go.  I feel like Frodo trying to cut a deal with Gollum.  He swears dishonesty is the only way to get ahead. I tell him the opposite is true: being honest is the only way to get ahead in the long run.

One thing is that my relationship with “Jean” has improved markedly after I began speaking to him candidly about my concerns.  Things are better now that I’ve come out and told him I think he is a crook.

What does he really want?  What is his angle?  It’s not until I have a satisfactory explanation to that question that I can begin feeling good about supporting him.  Jean, like all of us, is a mixture of good and bad.  I truly believe there is an element deep inside him that wants to help hurting children.  But I suspect there is a larger element that wants to personally profit off said children. 

He is patient.  He just needs to find the “blans” who will change his life.  He told me how another orphanage in the neighborhood started looking for blans 18 years ago.  Now they have many sponsors from America.  Sponsors who have built a beautiful house (for the kids of course, but the director gets the benefit of it too, yes?) with electricity, a generator, even refrigeration. 

I think that is what Jean is holding out for.  Here in Haiti, orphans have the potential to generate a hefty income for the shrewd and patient man who plays his cards right.

My Poor Truck & Motorbike

Poor Vehicles

The rainy season is upon us.  Haiti has two rainy seasons: April-June and October-November. 

The rain nearly always comes at dusk or night. 

My truck was in the shop last weekend getting the clutch replaced so I had to drive my motorcycle around in the rain.  Consequently, I got soaked on two separate evenings.  Being on a bike in a tropical deluge weaving between bumper to bumper slow-moving traffic is an adventure.  The streets can quickly turn to rivers.  And the rain is cold.

The hardest part about being in a torrential rainstorm is not being able to see so well.  I have to move my helmet face-shield up and take my glasses off because water gets on them and I can’t see through.  They should invent motorcycle helmets with windshield wipers.

On one of the evenings traffic was light and I was bee-bopping along at about 30mph through knee deep flooding.  This made two jetstreams of water shoot out from the sides of my front tire and it was quite sensational.  It felt like I was water-skiing.  I was so happy I wanted to shout and I remember thinking how grateful I am for the opportunity to live adventures like these while going about my daily business.

Another evening last week I was in my truck and the street flooding was beginning (this was before the clutch had gone out all the way).  At one point I went through a low section of the road and my front end submerged…  I kid you not, it felt like I was in a submarine as the front headlights shot two beams of light underwater through the murk.  Miraculously, after a few seconds I drove up the other side and the car didn’t die, though it did start glug-glugging and wouldn’t move for awhile.

This reminds me of another time earlier this year when Anachemy and I accidently entered deep water on a bad road and my truck died (same truck).  In this case the water wasn’t moving, just deep.  I felt water at my feet and realized it was coming in the door!  I opened up the door got out and the water was nearly up to my waist!  Fortunately, it was still underneath the level of my intake and exhaust manifolds (barely, I checked).  A group of Haitians appeared and pushed us out.  Unbelievably, the truck fired right back up again and we were off.

Yes, my (t)Rusty Toyota Pickup does get abused.  For instance, I routinely carry 2,500+ lbs in the back when the rated capacity is only 1,110 pounds. 

But you know, those ratings are low.  Like the carrying rack on the back of my bike.  It has a sticker saying don’t load it over 22 lbs.  Why, the other day I put a 110 lbs of flour on it and it still drove ok!  Not great, but ok.  In fact, I may have had to sit up on the gas tank to make the steering work…

My dirt-bike is only 125cc so not the most powerful.  There is not enough power to do a wheely, for instance.  Unless, as I found out one time, the rack is loaded with more than 22 lbs (like a couple 5-gallon Culligan water bottles as the case may have been).  With this load I gave it a little too much gas starting and the bike flipped over backwards on me!  Like a bucking horse.  That was funny.  Neither I nor the bike was hurt, only embarrassed, though I couldn’t stop laughing.

The only bad thing about my poor truck and bike is that they frequently break down, and I don’t know why.

My Life in Haiti Feels Kind of Like Camping Out

I love camping, and Haiti is a lot like camping.

Here are some similarities:

First off, we are out of electricity. Apparently the Port-au Prince electricity tree ran out of fruit. Never were many power outlets in the great old outdoors either, unless you’re closeby Seth’s camper.

A moth just flew off my pillow. This morning I sprayed poison at the line of ants marching across my fridge. Last night I dispatched a cockroach with my shoe as it ran across my shower.

Speaking of showers, they are cold, because I don’t have access to hot water (unless I boil it on the stove). In fact, hot water faucets aren’t even plumbed in Haiti! The knobs are there, but they don’t do anything.

Reminds me of the famous “Nick & Joe Campout to Freezing Arkansas in January” when I tried taking a bath in a an arctic creek in January. Joe just laughed. Then left me to freeze while he went hunting for rabbits or squirrels or some such.

Sometime I feel like I’m living on a full-time campout, but also my job is sort of like being on a campout too. It is very primitive. For instance, our main oven is on a concrete pad outside our bakery and currently has no covering. Yesterday it was raining hard. The man working our oven was standing in the pouring elements rapidly taking racks in and out of the oven and running them inside. What a system?! We need a covering.

Like back when we were in Mound City and would pride ourselves on seeing if we could start a raring bonfire in the middle of a Noahic deluge. As I recall the best we could do was stink our clothes up with smoke and get ash smothered all over our faces as we improvised our lungs for bellows.

When I’m counting money or doing paperwork in our office, mosquitoes are attacking my legs. Dirt from the street swirls in, coating everything. Each morning we wipe surfaces down, but dirt still enters everywhere. Our keyboard on the computer has so much dirt inside it hardly types. Keeping up with the cleaning is a full-time job.

Just like a campout, everything is always dirty.

Tap water is not pure, so drinking water needs to be purchased separately and dishes rinsed in bleach solution. I remember being with Seth in the back woods of Kentucky purifying already-clear water for drinking. I also remember trying to purify Cheney lake water for drinking, somewhat less successfully.

I’m one of the lucky few who have access to a washing machine, but it is a mixed blessing. I can only run it when we have city power, and that is only at night-time (most nights). There have been times I’ve set my alarm clock for midnight to put a load in, but when I woke up city power still wasn’t on! So I set an alarm for 1am, and when I woke up city power WAS on, so I blearily went downstairs to put a load in, came back up to bed, and then watched with dismay as city power clicked back off!

This past Saturday, my laundry situation was desperate, so I paid for some diesel to put in our generator so I could run the laundry in the day. But then it rained or I forgot or something, but needless to say they didn’t get out on the line. Sunday I went to church early and was gone most the day, they still didn’t get dry. Yesterday morning I finally got everything on the lines and right when all was just about finished….. a torrential downpour suddenly erupted and my clothes got soaked before I could pull them off. So I left them on the line to dry out last night. This morning I went out and saw some of my clothes now have bird poop on them, other clothes have mud that splattered up from the ground during the rainstorm., and it looks like most the laundry could use another washing!

It’s not so frustrating to be in Haiti as long as one doesn’t try to do too much. The frustrations come whenever one tries to DO something, such as wash their clothes. I’m going on my 4th day of effort in simply getting a load of laundry clean.

Similar to campouts. The best ones are where you sit around and do a lot of nothing. I’ve learned long ago the best part of hiking is when the hiking is finished.

Let’s see, what else feels like a campout? Well, the last few days my primary internet connection has been down. So I’ve been tethering my laptop to my telephone, or just using my telephone.

This reminds me of Dad trying to figure out where the heck we were using his cell phone on some campout in Oklahoma. Or the time I was using my cell phone to try getting the up-to-date nearby tornado reports while we hunkered down with hail falling all around our heads.

Since nothing is dependable here in Haiti, backups are necessary for everything. For instance, I have two telephones I always carry with me. One is with Natcom, one is with Digicel. If one system goes down (which does happen) I have a backup. With internet ít’s the same way, I have two internet plans I pay for each month through separate providers. With electricity we also have backups: battery backups, solar panels, diesel generator.

On campouts you need backups too. Generally duct tape can be used to backup most anything, which is true here too. One time Luke didn’t even trust that the fluffy pine needles were going to be cushy enough for an improvised pillow and brought his 15 lb feather pillow strapped to the top of an already over-flowing backpack. We were all in awe at the ginormous weight he was lugging, as well as the ponderous angle to which he was leaning forward in order to keep his center of gravity somewhere over his feet.

Electricity being scarce, electric ovens aren’t used here. Instead the ovens are propane. Same with clothes dryers, if you can find one, they are propane too. Same as campouts. Now that we’re all so green to not hurt the environment, fires are frowned upon and we cook over gas stoves in the wild, unless we’re feeling cold in which case we build a monster bonfire anyways. I remember many times trying to dry out wet socks by sticking them beside a roaring fire. Usually I ended up burning one side while making the other wetter somehow.

These last couple months have been pretty hot, and I especially notice it at night. During the day the concrete absorbs heat, and at night they radiate heat back inside. Oftentimes my apartment feels about 10 degrees hotter than outside. But inside is bug-free (more or less), so it’s a trade-off. Each night I usually sleep on top of my sheets in shorts with a fan blowing directly on me at high, and still my sheets are often damp with sweat when I get up and invariably a few mosquitoes will have snacked on me while I slept, fan notwhitstanding. Yesterday morning I woke up with a few bites on the palm of my hand, which I didn’t even know mosquitoes could bite there!

The hottest night I ever remember in my life was camping with the Gillman’s at Lake Texoma. It must have been 110 degrees, and inside of my tent rivers of sweat were trickling out of every pore. It was the most miserabilst of nights, made worse because I knew the Gillmans had air conditioning over in their tent-thingy, as they always tended to bring everything including the kitchen stove when they went camping. Yes, they were forward thinking souls, light years ahead of the 90s camping culture.

Yes, Haiti feels eerily similar to a campout. Just one that never ends!

The great news is that I love camping. And I feel like living in Haiti is giving me good practice for camping again someday when I get a chance.

The Funeral Which May Never Happen

I have a friend I met in Ravine Seche last summer.  His name is Noah and he is 20 years old.  He has a “wife” who is 18 years old.  Her name is Berlin, and together they have a child who is 2 years old.

Last summer when I met them both in the village, he and his wife weren’t seeing eye to eye and were separated.  For several weeks Noah even lived in my home.  I remember oftentimes walking across the stream to where his wife and baby were to visit.  Berlin, for her part, wouldn’t make eye contact or acknowledge Noah’s presence, but would allow him to spend a few minutes with their child.

On many occasions I encouraged Noah to be reconciled with his wife, even later after I left the village and he would come visit me in Port-au Prince.  I especially pressed he take the lead in reconciling because I knew he was the primary person at fault in their separating, as I had gathered both from his personal acknowledgment of guilt as well as other people having exuberantly retold me of past altercations (or one in particular). 

Eventually the two of them did reconcile, and once again began living together.  In fact, Berlin was now pregnant with their second.

Two weeks ago I heard the news Berlin had suddenly died.  “Wow, that is crazy,” I thought.  Just recently I had seen her and the baby when driving Noah back home, and she had seemed healthy.  In fact, Berlin apparently showed no signs of illness right up until the day before she died  She became sick on a Monday and died on Tuesday, along with her unborn baby. 

I asked many questions trying to determine cause of death.  Her symptoms were: 1) a stabbing pain in the middle of her chest that went through to her back – as if a knife were being plunged in, as it was described to me 2) pain in one of her legs 3) complaint of being cold and they put blankets on her. 

Berlin herself ascribed the sudden illness to voodoo, claiming she had been bitten by a zombie.  Her last words to Noah before passing were, “Why did Jeanette do this to me?”  Jeanette being a previously close friend of hers whom she recently had a falling out with.  I was told their last interactions took the form of a public shouting match interlaced with profanity.  The topic of controversy being unknown to Noah, or perhaps he was unwilling to tell me.  Jeanette’s husband is a known voodoo practitioner, and Jeanette herself was also known to dabble in the black arts, or so I was told.

Another anecdote was relayed to me as an omen of import:

On Sunday night, the day before she fell ill, Noah and her were lying in bed preparing to sleep when they smelled a foul odor.  Getting up to investigate, they found a dead and decomposing dog at their front door.  The two of them decided to go out in the dark and dig a shallow hole to bury said dog.  As they were digging the grave, Berlin felt something pass in front of her, like a cold wind, and became frightened.  She told Noah what she had felt, and how she was scared, and he in turn told her it was nothing and she was merely frightened of the dark.  The next day she fell ill, and the following day she passed.

Did she die of complications with the baby?  Did she die of an appendicitis?  Did she die of a blood clot in her leg that caused a pulmonary embolism?  As there was no autopsy done, we will never know what natural causes may have been at work.  What about the supernatural?  Could she have died of a zombie bite?  Did Jeannette have a voodoo doll she was poking pins into?  What was with the dead dog and the cold “spirit” Berlin felt in the night?  Nothing?  Or something?  I defer judgment to the reader.

The mysterious aside, Noah is now left with the challenge of arranging funeral expenses.  Here in Haiti, funerals are expensive events.  Berlin wasn’t dead 24 hours before Noah was down in Port-au Prince looking for money from myself and other relatives to help cover the costs. 

He has not yet been able to raise the money he needs to satisfy the morgue, so….. they in turn are not releasing the body until he does.  Today is the 14th day since she died, and still there is no scheduled day for the funeral. 

I offered a few dollars towards the cost, more of a token gift than anything.  Berlin’s family was apparently upset by my stinginess, and asked Noah, “What is wrong with your Blan, that he’s not paying up?”  Referring to me.

Yes, if Noah didn’t know me, or more importantly, if the morgue and everyone else didn’t know that Noah knew me, I think the funeral would have long been over by now.  But since they know he has an “in” with a white man, they are holding out for the bucks.

Ahh, such is life in Haiti, a complicated and enigmatic place to be sure.

If you think of it, please pray for Noah, and especially for his young son, that arrangements will be made for the toddler to be taken care of. Noah is unable to care for the child himself.