Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Haiti Week 3

Haiti Week 3. Tuesday August 30, 2011.

What’s Up Everybody?

Well it’s been a little while since I blogged and I have to say I am at a loss to explain everything that I am experiencing. I’ll do my best.

So when I first got down here to Haiti I was working on the women’s courses in Wharf Jeremy and everything was quite busy but at least I had some context as to what we were doing. Then I went to Cap-Haitian (everybody calls it Cap.) and started living at the Nouvelle Vie house.

On the first weekend when I was in Cap I just caught up on my sleep. Then on Monday 22nd I was rested and ready to go and wanted to start working on my job here transitioning Nouvelle Vie to Haitian lead leadership. Well I have to come to learn that what I have been asked to do is not as cut and dry as I thought.

I was all ready to go and wanted to have a meeting with all the teachers in Cap. But not everyone has minutes on their phone to call the others or the others are in areas where they don’t get phone service. And the pace of life is very very slow here. And And And……..basically the last ten days I have been getting to know how to work with Haitians in Haiti in their style. Needless to say it has been very very frustrating, difficult and a learning experience. What everything doesn’t work like Canada? You don’t come on time for a meeting? What?

In my mind I was supposed to come to Haiti and take over as the Director of Nouvellle Vie and implement the transition of leadership from Ex-Pat lead leadership to Haitian led leadership and have Nouvelle Vie be sustainable. This would take 11 months. We would get NGO status from the government and then implement the UNICEF grant. And along the way I would perfect my French and get to see and experience a new culture.

Well now I know that the job that I have been given is next to impossible and it is like saying, Can you go to Afghanistan and transition to a democratic government in 11 months? I have found some humour amongst the craziness.

I found out that the process to become a NGO in Haiti doesn’t take the ‘Two More Weeks’ as we were promised. No, Sir. We are in month seven of the process and it could take up to twelve months until we get official NGO status. And then we have to work with UNICEF to get the proposal together which will take another month or two. So that puts us waiting seven more months for that to start, if it ever does.

And the language in Haiti isn’t French , it is Creole. So I can only talk to a few people who speak French and my French still needs lots of work. And if they don’t know French we play charades to communicate. Hilarious at times and at other times it is ‘poke your eye out’ funny.

Whenever I go for a walk in the street the people call me ‘Blanc’ which is like calling me Whitey. Sometimes funny, sometimes annoying. And if I hang outside somewhere people just stop and stare at me. I feel like a zoo animal sometimes. Again, sometimes funny, sometimes not so much.

The other day I was at my wit’s end as to what to do. I had just spent a week in Cap with the group trying to work on the ‘transition plan.’ And it wasn’t going as ‘I had planned.’ I don’t even know where it was going to be honest. It was just diving me crazy.

So then I had to fly down to Port-au-Prince to go to Les Cayes (which is in the South) but I couldn’t catch the flight to Les Cayes so I had to stay in Port-au-Prince for the day. I called a friend of my Uncle Tony’s named Shane and he said that he would pick me up for supper. So I went to Grass Roots to hang out until Shane came for supper.

Shane picked me up for dinner and he literally was sent from Heaven. He came in a nice car to pick me up and we went out for supper for a couple hours and he really put my mind at east. Shane is an engineer from Toronto and has been working in Haiti for 11 months and speaks English, French and Creole fluently. He has worked in Indonesia after the Tsunami and has worked in Africa. He was a God sent. He is building ten schools here in Haiti.

I was telling him about my frustration and everything that I am experiencing working here in Haiti and he was finishing my sentences for me. Not only that but he gave me insights into what I was experiencing and into Haiti in general. He told me about Maslow hierarchy of needs. And he said that if your basic needs are being met how can you worry about any other needs? You can’t. Like for example at Grass Roots earlier in the day when Shane picked me up there was an emergency because someone had stolen a cell phone. Shane said well if you’re finishing a class and leaving and you see a BlackBerry and you have no money to eat then what do you do???????????????? You take the phone, sell it and eat.

He also told me that it is very difficult to make anything sustainable here in Haiti. Because the mindset is not to maintain things. And if something brakes than some NGO will come and build another one. And he said, “Why would you worry about maintaining anything if you haven’t eaten and have nowhere to sleep?” So he told me that for him what is sustainable is the people that he works with and making them better engineers and better people.

And he told me that a big thing for NGO’s is to think that they are bad if something isn’t maintained or sustained or falls apart during the transition. But he said that if the people you are transferring it to aren’t ready to take over leadership because of their needs not being met than who is to blame?

And he said how difficult it is to work in Haiti. President Martelly first promise to the people was to have 400 houses built immediately after he became President in May. And the houses still aren’t built. And Martelly can’t even appoint the Prime Minister that he wants. Shane said that if the President can’t do these things that he wants than we don’t need to get that worked up if we have problems accomplishing things in Haiti.

And then Shane invited to stay over at his house in the nicest part of Port-au-Prince. We went to the house and it was literally a mansion. I was just laughing how the day before I was so frustrated and didn’t know what to do and was more confused than I have ever been in my whole life. And the next night I was at a mansion in the nicest neighbourhood in Haiti having a cup of tea with a guy from Toronto who had answers to all my troubles.

And it helped me to realize that what I have been asked to do here in Haiti is extremely difficult and most NGO’s are working on this transition period in Haiti and they are having the same problems.

Also I also realized that I might have to change my entire approach to Haiti and what the goal is for me being here. I have been talking with Uma who has run Nouvelle Vie for the last three years on the phone every day as to what to do. This is an extremely interesting process. I hate to write this because it is so cheesy and overdone but I am learning so much here. It almost makes me throw up to write that but it is very true. I was looking at the calendar yesterday and was laughing because I have only been here for three weeks. Insane. It honestly feels like 3 years.

And I am glad that I have been able to keep my sense of humour about all of this. I know that I am not unique and am not the first person to go through this. And talking with Shane was great because he had a great sense of humour. And he gave me a great website: http://stuffexpataidworkerslike.com/. Which is really funny because it makes fun of all the things that I am experiencing now.

I am now down in Les Cayes and the group here is like all the other Nouvelle Vie groups in Haiti, so sweet and so young. That is another thing that I learned from Shane is look at this situation with different eyes. These guys are young and yes the are leaders but they are still going to school and it is a lot to ask anyone to take over an NGO let alone to ask a young person not yet finished their studies.

They took me to the ‘beach’ yesterday which in the end was nice. But it is strange to go to a beach which has garbage everywhere and the good ol’ pigs walking around eating all the garbage. I told them that if my feet fall from going in the water that they would have to call my Dad and tell him. The water was nice and in the end my feet were ok. Not the whole group went in the water because the water was ‘cold’. You know 80 is cold? WTF come to Nova Scotia and you’ll see some cold water. Just another example of the cultural differences.

So my plan is to spend a few more days in Les Cayes and then go to Port-au-Prince to see the group there. I might be there for the follow up with the women’s course in Wharf Jeremy. And then back to Cap. And then?????????????????????? I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Haiti. I might be here for a few more weeks, a few more months or until July 1st. I really don’t know what will happen. But I know that it will be interesting.

Lots of Love to everyone,

Mark Christopher


  1. Mark ... I just gotta say that reading the Blog it does sound like 3 years LOL --- You are experiencing so much and knowing you as I do , I am trying to guess just how you are feeling in each of those situations ...... just totally amazing Mark ....
    i am very proud of you and Shane sounds like he was sent from God for you ...so glad that you connected ... much love -- dad

  2. Hi Mark, it sounds like working in this cultural setting is like landing on an alien planet. At least there is air to breathe and you are managing to see some of the humour some of the time and people like Shane. Bonus. Thanks for keeping us so well informed. Sending love and hugs,Step mommy, Rhonda