Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Republic of Haiti

Well it’s Tuesday May 31, 2011 and I’m sitting at the Double Tree Hotel in Miami, Florida after spending a week in Haiti. And I would like to start out by saying that Haiti without question kicked my butt. I thought that I was somewhat of a world travel and that I would be able to handle Haiti without much problem, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everyday Haiti won. It was like I was in a fight with George St.Pierre and I just kept getting knocked out over and over again. And the funniest part is that I loved it and look forward to going back.

Anyway, I got into Miami last Tuesday May 24th and it was a pretty simple day of travel and then on Wednesday May 25th I went to the airport in Miami to fly to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. As soon as I went to check in I knew that things were going to be interesting because there was no line for check in. There was just tons of people walking back and forth to the counter from the place where the line was supposed to be. They were yelling in English, French, Haitian Creole and Spanish. The main problem seemed to be that most passengers wanted to get onto the plane with many difference carry-ons such as: a television set, a chair, giant home stereo and many other large boxes that wouldn't fit into the average car trunk and couldn't understand why the airline wouldn't let them take these things as carry-ons. So I knew from this moment that I was in for a week to remember in Haiti.

I landed in Haiti and much like India was greeted by hundreds of people who are like piranhas offering to carry my bag, get me a cab and a hotel but as if they are all on crack and have known me since I was 5 years old. I managed to walk through them all and found a police officer and asked him where I could find such and such a person who was waiting for me, the officer pointed out a man to me and said that this was the man that I was looking for, so I thought to myself “great.”

We walked a few more feet and then I saw a sign with my name on it and I saw the actually person who was supposed to pick me up. Meanwhile the random guy who the cop told me was there to get me was walking through the parking lot with my bag, so I ran him down and got my bag. I thought to myself, “what just happened, aren't the police supposed to help?” Then as I was pondering this experience a UN tank rolled by. What? Where am I? Welcome to Haiti Mark Christopher Fry.

My actually driver took to Grass Roots United. Grass Roots United is an NGO which does many things and one of their main features is to connect non-profits. You can check them out at: http://grassrootsunited.org/. Basically they provide a place for non-profits to gather, meet, and connect while providing a sense of family and stability. They are wonderful, thank you a million Grass Roots.

Uma Viswanathan, who has been the director of Nouvelle Vie for the past few years, came into Port-au-Prince later in the day and we met up at Grass Roots. Nouvelle Vie will be the project that I will be heading up when I come back to Haiti in August for the year. Uma gave me an intro to Haiti and got me up to speed on what we would be doing the upcoming week. Here’s the link to Nouvelle Vie: http://nouvelleviehaiti.org/

The next few days was me experiencing the ‘intro’ that Uma gave me to Haiti. So Haiti works like this, the electricity cuts out all the time, people go to bed around 8 or 9 pm. And everybody and I mean everybody is up by 4:30 am and if you wake up at 5 am, you've slept in. They eat a big breakfast, like what we eat for supper. They have an average sized lunch and a very very small supper, like a roll or something. There isn't really any running water. There isn't much infrastructure. There is extreme poverty and everybody is quite happy.

So we went to bed the first night at 8:30 which seemed like midnight and we had showers before we went to bed. By shower I mean I stood in a stall with no roof and used a bucket for a shower. Went to bed in a tent that was built for someone 5 feet tall not 6 feet tall, which made for a night’s sleep similar to a Chevy Chase movie. The next day everybody was up at 5 am and Uma and I went to the airport for 7 am to fly to Cap Haitian which everyone calls Cap. Cap is the second biggest city in Haiti and where Nouvelle Vie (New Life) does most of its work. Cap wasn’t directly affected by the earthquake so I didn’t get to see the directly affected areas. I will see all of this when I get back to Haiti in August and spend more time in Port-au-Prince.

I forgot to mention that in Haiti they speak Haitian Creole as the National Language and educated people speak French. So everything that is happening in the story is happening in French or Creole, which adds to how Haiti Kicked My Butt. I kept saying to myself that Haiti was ‘Having a Laugh at My Expense,” or as my brother’s and I always say, “Having One.”

So we flew up to Cap and I got to see the deforestation of Haiti. There are no trees. It is crazy. As we flew up from Port-au-Prince to Cap, there were no trees and it was a 30 min flight. Absolutely mind blowing.

Then we landed in Cap and one of the youth from Nouvelle Vie was there to meet us. We went to the house in Cap where Nouvelle Vie does all of its work. The group of the Nouvelle Vie Youth Corps is a group of 19 Haitian Youth who have been selected from hundreds and hundreds of Haitian Youth who have taken the Art of Living Courses offered in Haiti. All Art of Living Courses in Haiti are offered through the sister organization of the Art of Living called the International Association for Human Values, http://iahv.org/. And in Haiti the project is called Nouvelle Vie.

This group ranges in ages from 21 – 34. Today, Tuesday May 31, 2011, they just finished a five month intensive program. In this program they did the Art of Living Teachers Training Program and became Art of Living Teachers. They also took a perma culture course where they implemented a compost perma culture site in the local market.

They got the local government to remove garbage from the local market and put in the compost perma culture site, which has various compost sites and various gardens. The site is about 200 feet by 200 feet and the garbage was piled about 15 feet high. I went to this site and it was truly amazing. From a giant garbage pile to a beautiful garden in just a few months.

They also developed a workshop for the youth of Haiti about Sexual awareness because many Haitians are sexually promiscuous and HIV is quite rampant in Haiti. And they developed and implemented a program for youth mentorship. They also took entrepreneurship courses and are working on business ideas for the different areas of Haiti.

These 19 youth come from 5 different parts of Haiti. The goal of Nouvelle Vie is to empower the people to Haiti to take ownership of their country and to heal their country. As the Nouvelle Vie youth corps say, they want to bring Paix (Peace) to Haiti. They want to bring this Paix to everybody by giving them the experience of a quite, still and peaceful mind. And they want to establish in the people of Haiti the belief that they do not need foreign aid to ‘save’ Haiti, that Haitians themselves can do this. It was quite humbling to spend time with these 19 youth who are truly empowered and want to bring this real change to their Country.

And the work of Nouvelle Vie is being noticed by many higher ups and many big and powerful NGO’s. Many of these business leaders and NGO’s want to work with Nouvelle Vie and empower all of Haiti like these 19 are empowered.

So, this is the program that I will be working on in the upcoming year. It was going to be quite exciting.

And, on the lighter side there are my personal experiences in Haiti. I mean Haiti was wild. It was crazy. I have never seen anything like it. I don’t think that I have gone to bed before 8 pm since I was 5 years old and most days I was dying to go to bed by 8 pm. The days there are so long and full. Imagine everyone awake and moving around your city/town at 5 am and the day just goes from there.

And everyone is Haiti is beautiful. Every man looks like Usher. They are all ripped and it seems that everyone is born with a 6 pack. And the women are all very voluptuous. And no one in Haiti dresses conservatively. They change their clothes 3 to 4 times a day, it is like they are always going to the club. And on Sunday I went to Church and the outfits? Indescribable. Let’s just say that I was severely under dressed in my t-shirt and shorts.

And the bathrooms????? For those who know me well, know that I have some bathroom Karma especially from India. Well Haiti was like a war zone in the bathroom. In the house where we were staying, I called the bathroom the War Zone and Uma called it Hell. I was actually afraid to go the bathroom. Many many things I will miss about Haiti but the bathroom will not be one of them.

And because of the lack of infrastructure in Haiti especially Sewage and Waste you are greeted by, shall we say, smells of the toilet when you least expect it. It was like a little jab from Haiti. You could be doing anything anywhere and then all of a sudden BAM, THE SMELL. Thanks Haiti, you win again.

There weren't really any roads. The ‘main road’ in Cap was like a back road in Canada with huge potholes everywhere. And of course there was motorbikes with 3-4 people on them, trucks with 20 – 30 people (F150 Style) on them, buses (school bus) with I don’t know how many people on them? 300? and taxis’ all over the roads plus pedestrians. Crazy Crazy Crazy.

Also along the road there are burnt out trucks/vans/cars/buses/etc… that are completely gutted. I asked someone why are they there? They said, “ Well they stopped working so people took what they needed and then left the rest.”

Anyway, that is all for now. I’ll write more when I’m back down in August and I’ll post pics and other stuff.

Until August Haiti


Mark Christopher