Thursday, 17 September 2009

Sirets and cold showers.

Siret (see-ret) = candy in creole.

I wasn't going to use my blog for bitching, but it has come to it that I must. I wanted to tell about the great adventures and all of the good things, but what is "good" anyway? Possibly my irritating and awkward and uncomfortable experiences will be my best later, regardless of how I feel or see them right now.

I haven't said anything in my blog, but for the past month I've been wavering between staying and leaving. Staying because I know how great of an experience it is to be here, leaving because semi-isolation (semi because I'm rarely ever alone) and busting out of my comfort zones in all directions is just super overwhelming when you don't know what the hell you're doing, when you have no solid center to ground you.

My "project" I'm working on is a waste management project. It should be ok. There's a lot going into it; a lot of factors which need to be considered and planned into whatever I think I'm doing. I need to go around town and ask people questions and figure out how they view trash and what they do with it in order to maybe think about a waste management system that would work here.

Other than that, I don't have too much going on. I'm supposed to be adapting to the culture. It's supposed to be my number one priority. Forgive me for perhaps being slightly negative, but boy is it hard or takes some kind of person to push yourself onto people and into their lives when maybe they don't want you there, or you don't know how to get there. I personally really enjoy just hanging out with my host family. So far, they like me enough and I like them enough (though we're having some door closing cultural issues). Besides them and maybe some of their friends, suggestions?

I'm not saying I'm not at some point going to do this throughout the year, but the thought of it right now is terrifying. I'm all for meeting people through organized activities and common interests, but when it comes to poking my head into groups of people who I know nothing about, it is SO scary. It's all part of the learning curve I suppose and learning about myself.

That's all my bitching for right now.

I did go on a bike ride today. Very exciting to have a working bicycle. Automatic mobility. The roads are kind of scary and when it rains there are major pot holes (mud pits). And today I had to turn around because the road I started biking on did not come back around to my part of town. That's about it.

Monday, 14 September 2009

1 night, 2 day trip in Haiti = 3 nights, 4 days p.1

Alas, going on a road trip at first sounded like a good way to get out of the office for a few days and see the Haitian countryside. Oh man, if I had only known.

The plan was to leave on Wednesday morning at 5 a.m. to Port-au-Prince (capitol of Haiti). It's about a 4 - 4 1/2 hour drive. Get to P-a-P and then move on to Les Cayes in the afternoon, sleepover in Les Cayes, get up in the morning, take water samples and then drive back home. Easy as pie. Ha. I packed 2 shirts, 3 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks, and only one pair of pants. Again, if only I had known. I was a little nervous since I kind of knew it wasn't going to be super comfortable traveling conditions, and being a lady, it's a little more difficult going to the bathroom, but I figured it would be fine traveling.

I got up at 4:40 on Wednesday and was outside waiting by 4:55. It was dark and the moon was setting. No one came at 5. And still no one came at 5:30. The sun was coming up and people were starting to walk around a bit more. At 5:45, Gran woke up and was walking around, saw me and was like ah! At that point I looked down the road, and about 50 yards down, the truck was sitting, parked. I went and sat back down. Then at around 5:55 ish or so, the red truck drove right past my house.

I got up and started walking to Javan's house, and as I got closer the truck started turning around. Javan said the driver, Clemmy, thought my house was further down. Uh huh. We picked up a couple people on the way who were also going to P-au-P. And then the drive started. We were in the truck bed, standing on two spare tires at the front. The roads are pretty bumpy, so it was similar to skate boarding or something, in the way that you have to figure out what your center of gravity is and work your way around the bumps as they come. We stopped for breakfast/lunch around 8:30. It was fish and rice. It was good, but not necessarily breakfast food from my Western perspective.

The drive from breakfast was through the last stretch of mountains. At some point the wheels started squeaking every time we went around a corner. It was slightly nerve racking since we were going around turns that had no safety rail and no shoulder and trucks were coming at us from the other direction. However, we made it safely into P-a-P around 10:30-11.

There was a bunch of shopping to do since there was a well broken at La Gonave (island west of the mainland). Going around PaP is insane. The intersections are nuts, and passing is at your own risk, with crazy painted buses carrying 50 people, and tap-taps carrying 20, and cars, and trucks, and mopeds all trying to get somewhere and the majority of vehicles are second hand and on their last legs. Smoke for exhaust, burning garbage, human feces smells kind of absorb into you. It's pretty nuts.

After our shopping, we went to a garage to get the tires fixed. The garage could also have been named car cemetery. Cars were littered throughout the walled yard, with a house to the right behind all of the cars and a covered area to the left with parts and tools. That was where we camped out for the next 5 and 1/2 hours while they fixed the car. I'm not actually sure what they did, possibly realigned the wheels. They also changed the brake pads, even though I was skeptical if they were the problem. The head mechanic graciously let me use his bathroom, though it didn't flush and I had to walk by the scary daughter who glared at me while I walked by, but at least I got to use a toilet. With the work done and more money spent than I think the crew had intended, we headed out at 5:30 in search of a place to stay.

We ended up sleeping in a hotel called Rosaline. It wasn't too bad. There was electricity and running water. After traveling in the back of a truck and sitting around a garage all day, it was probably one of my top 5 best showers. That was the first day. I'll write more later about the next few days.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Gifts from Gran

My favorite thing here so far, which I may have already mentioned, is getting food made for me by Gran. Gran must have been quite the hottie in her day. She's got big saggy boobs, and a small frame that is now wrinkly and gray with age. She doesn't have any teeth left, but she always color coordinates her head scarf with her dress.

Since she doesn't have any teeth yet, it's super hard to understand what she says, and when I talk to her most of the time she either doesn't hear me (I haven't figured out yet if she's hard of hearing or not) or she shakes her head and does a half laugh and looks to Wilson for translation. In the morning when I see her and ask her how she slept, it's usually the same thing every time: Not so good, then she rubs her side or head or whatever body part that ached her. That's usually how it goes anyway.

Gran doesn't do all of the cooking anymore, but sometimes when Soulange is at the market or busy with something else, she takes the responsibility of sweeping the back, looking after the kids and making snacks.

Now, the last snack I got was this past Saturday when Soulange was at the market. I forget how is started, but I think Gran waved an ear of corn at me, said something and walked to the cooking hut. At some point, Wilson came and got me and showed me the three ears of corn sit on the flames in the hut. He picked them off as Gran came in with a couple more. She told me to go sit back down and handed me a plate of sliced avocado. I sat down with the plate. Benji was floating around so I gave him part of it and ate a piece myself. That's when she brought out the corn and was like no, no, no. Don't eat the avocado yet. She handed me the corn which was cooked and slightly charred. Eat it with the Kernels. Alix (grandpa) was sitting next to me, watching.

I picked up the corn knowing that eating it right off the cob was not the plan. But what I was supposed to do I wasn't sure. Wilson, Alix and Gran sort of made a twisting motion with their hands, so I followed. The kernels didn't come off, and when that happened, Alix laughed and started doing it for me. He said, "Blan's don't have to do any work!" We both laughed because it was so true.

With shed kernels and cut avocados, I was still at a loss. I started putting the kernels on top of the avocado, but Gran and Alix laughed again and said, no, no, no. Put a handful of kernels in your mouth and then take a bite of avocado. So, that's what I did. My jaw ached for how much chewing was required. I asked Gran and Alix if they wanted any. They said no, no, no. I offered one more time, and Alix was like, "We don't have any teeth." Ha. Right.

The only thing with the kernels is that Gran made two full ears of corn and I felt obligated to finish it since it was kind of like a present. So, I chewed, and chewed, and chewed, slightly against first instinct, until there were only a few left which I gave to the rooster near by. Good snack.

The next offering, I will keep brief. I bought coffee for the family. (Sidenote: Roasting and grinding is done by hand; roasting over their wood pit and grinding with a log-sized mortar and pestle.) I went to into town earlier in the morning, but when I got back Gran had a whole pot of coffee with cup and saucer waiting for me with 3 little pieces of bread. She had set it up in her bedroom, at her table! I felt so honored to sit in her room and drink like the 5 cups of coffee. The first cup she poured, and I drank some, and she kept pouring it until I was like, thanks! But it was pretty great sitting in her room drinking (super sugary) coffee. First (5) cup(s) of coffee in like 2 1/2 weeks, and for someone who drank it everyday, that's a long time. Thanks Gran.

Friday, 4 September 2009

My neighborhood and house

Per request of one of my family members, today I am going to write about my house and the neighborhood.

The neighborhood I live in is on the outskirts of town. If you thought of Minneapolis as Pignon (totally not to scale, just for an idea) La Pila, where I live (which is actually still part of Pignon, but is a township, or something. I don't really know) is like Eden Prairie or Hopkins, or some other suburb, but not countryside. Houses line the roads, and there are some cactuses which define the boundaries of each property. The houses are made of cement blocks, then finished with finer cement giving it a smooth appearance. They are also often painted, some pastels, some darker colors, but they tend to be on the bright side. Repairs are far and few between since it costs $$ to get stuff fixed, and if water isn't pouring through the ceiling then it still works. It takes awhile to get used to the shabbier look of the neighborhood, but it's starting to normalize (aka. I'm getting familiar to the feel of things). It looks a lot worse than it feels or what my "standards" for live are used to. There is only electricity in the city, and then it only sometimes runs. When it's not broken or when they have fuel, but that's expensive too.

Roads are used for walking, biking, motorcycles, donkeys, horses, and trucks. There aren't really any cars. Cars would definitely not be able to handle the rugged dirt Haitian roads. In some places, they are fairly impassable, or passable with tons of shocks, 4 wheel drive, and serious skills. Women walk around with stuff on their heads (water, purses, sacks of stuff, huge bowls of laundry, etc.). Men mostly carry things, but I actually have only seen men help women carry stuff now that I think of it. Very curious.

My house is a lot like the other houses in the neighborhood except there are two houses on the compound I live and two little wooden huts. One of the huts is for cooking, and I believe the other is for storing food, but I'm not entirely sure because I haven't been in there yet. The other house is for Gran and Ailix, grandparents. In my house, the kids and Soulange share a bed, and I can hear them from my room. Sometimes there are some funny interactions because Benji can't talk yet.

The houses are surrounded on the left and right by corn stalks, while in the back there is a big shady tree, and sugar cane in the back fields. There are some avocado, mango and orange trees in the back as well.

As for things that my family does...they get water, cook, sit around, Soulange does my laundry (I pay her and she does a fabulous job. I have a white bra that has never been as white since I bought it). Sit around. Gran is kind of old, but she's great. She made me breakfast once (I don't pay for breakfast) and today she gave me an avocado for lunch. I was greatly touched by these gestures. I felt looked after. Yea, and more sitting around, take naps when it gets super hot during the day. Market is on Saturday. Soulange goes into town and sells stuff. Of the two weeks I've been here, they haven't gone to church, but they've talked about it. That's about it for now. If I have more to add, I will later. This wasn't too exciting, but I hope it helped with the visuals. I will post some more photos on facebook.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Poop! (A fair warning if you're not up to reading this)

I hate to talk about it, but it's so important and people in the US and other developed countries are too uptight about it anyway. Thus, I will inform you all of my adventure of 24 hour (possibly more, I'm still sort of working it out) of really uncomfortable bathroom issues.

It all started on an unfortunate day, a day like many other days, mind you. I had breakfast and already something was astray. Morning passed (no pun intended) without much events. Lunch was slightly more precarious, slight tinges of wobbliness deep in my belly. Then dinner. Feeling the need to indulge my host mom and be polite, I chowed down on french fries, fried plantains, a spicy cabbage salad, and avocado. Such a bad idea. That night I tossed and turned until I could take it no longer. I thought maybe I could wait until morning to use a proper, flushing, American toilet. When I looked at the clock it read 9:26. Nope.

I mustered up the courage, and my toilet paper, and ventured outside to the cement pit of doom. Cockroaches like to reside there after dark. However, I was told if I shined a light on them they would scatter. Normally, this situation would totally not be ok with me, but when you gotta go, you have to go. Scatter they did and burst forth the evil demons in my stomach. This happened, not once, or just twice, but for the rest of the evening. Awful.

The next day I took a stopper-upper. That helped with the ghastly flow, but sometimes that's not always the best thing. I only ate some bread and peanut butter at lunch, and when I got home I had to explain to my host mom that I couldn't eat my favorite meal so far (mashed potatoes, chicken and spicy BBQ sauce) because I felt sick. The sickly feeling came back. Unfortunately, when it did come back it was down pouring rain; full blown, angry thunderstorm. I had to sit it out. Finally, not wanting to have any accidents, I put on my poncho, grabbed kleenex (I had run out of TP), flashlight and succumbed to nature yet again, and the cockroaches.

Back in my room, I lay on my bed and listened to the noises my stomach was making. I have never heard so much distress and angst in a belly in all my years. It was really quite horrendous. I hope that it didn't frighten my younger host brothers, perhaps thinking at night I turn into a beast, growling, frothing at the mouth, waiting to eat them when they are unawares (I maybe would have thought that as a little kid).

Yeah, so that's about it. As I said before, I'm still sort of working it out. I just hope it's not worms or something. I'm not sure how many days you're supposed to wait before you do something about it. Eh, oh well. Ta for now. (Hope I didn't offend anybody's sensitivities...)