Sad News from Haiti

The people of Haiti have never deserved the hand they’ve been dealt, and that only got worse early this morning, when news broke that the president, Jovenel Moise, known as “the Banana Man,” was assassinated and his wife wounded when an as-yet unidentified team of commandos attacked his home near Port-au-Prince.

Moise is a complicated and corrupt guy in a complicated situation, which is basically the MO on everyone and everything in this island nation, which has paid for two-plus centuries now for having the temerity to throw off colonialist France (and defeat a Napoleonic army!) and become the White World’s worst fear—a nation formed from a slave uprising.

The guy to turn to to understand this is Jonathan Katz, who was a reporter on the scene when Haiti’s calamitous earthquake struck in 2010. He wrote this book about that time in the island’s history. Another good follow, on Twitter, is Michael Diebert, from Lancaster, Pa., of all places. He has spent a lot of time reporting on Haiti and places south of the United States. His feed has a lot of gunfire currently.

Sadly, this is only the latest hardship to visit itself upon the more than 11 million people who call Haiti home. I’m not the one to try to chronicle or make much sense of its past or present, but here’s a link with some thoughts from 2018 that includes links to some resources to better understand the place — some histories and a set of episodes on the Haitian revolution from podcaster Mike Duncan — as well as some posts and poems from my visit. I would like to go back some day, but that day isn’t looking like it’s coming soon.

What I Know About Haiti

I’m no expert on Haiti. I’ve been there twice in the past four years, for a total of two weeks. But two weeks is more than most folks, and it’s enough to form an impression.

And enough to refute our president. Because when President Trump reportedly called Haiti, El Salvador and most of Africa “shithole countries,” he intimated that Haitians, Salvadorans and Africans are “shithole people.” It is awful, racist, repugnant stuff. It is divorced from my lived experience.

So let me tell you a little about the Haiti I have experienced, and point you to some better reference materials if you are interested in the place and its people.

The joyful and the troubling mingle in Haiti in ways outside the usual frame of my experience. I loved my time there. That’s not to say the place is easy. It’s hard, and I lived the most privileged existence possible in Haiti—the white visitor. I was treated like royalty, which, if you know anything about the history between our two countries, is unexpected and undeserved.

Everyone knows that Haiti’s standard of living is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, and I have driven through the slums around Port Au Prince. I’ve looked up long roads strewn with trash and lined by shanty town shacks. I’ve looked and looked, because I could not take my eyes away. I’ve driven on dusty roads past three-room homes where I could not discern what the people who lived there could possibly do to scratch out a living.

There is something elemental in the struggle it takes to get even simple things done in the country. It appears tiresome. And yet people manage, because a lot actually gets done there.

My minister today was saying that the key to resilience is not learning to tough out a miserable situation. Instead, the key to resilience is discovering how to retreat and recharge after facing up to a difficult and heartless world. As he said that today, I remembered being gathered in silence with a small circle of fellow travelers in a compound outside Hinche, in Haiti’s Central Plateau, reflecting on a difficult day … and listening to the sounds coming from a modest home nearby. I don’t understand enough Creole to catch more than the occasional word or phrase. What I did make out was the unmistakable sounds of a family working through its daily routines with compassion, frustration, dignity and humor. Those overheard moments told me Haitian people, like so many Americans, find strength in their families that feed their dreams and help them cope with a world that so often appears arrayed against them.

As much as I appreciated my time there, I was glad to come home. I remember saying to a colleague on my second trip, “I’d be less excited if we were staying another week, let alone another month.”

Which is one way of saying that I remain in awe of the resilience of the people I met. Their ability to enjoy their lives, to be aware of the problems and not be defeated by them, amazed me.

Haitians aren’t saints. They’re people. I’ve been the recipient of their generosity. I’ve witnessed them argue violently over an unconscious boy about who was responsible when the boy was hit by a motorbike on a dusty street, without attending to the boy. I’ve worked with them and laughed with them.

I hope to be among them again.

I’ve written a bit about my time, including this poem, called 17 Pilgrims, about my first service trip there. From it:

“Haiti, you trudge to the end of a long day. I expect you to wake tired in the morning. Instead, you are bright smiles.”

I offer these resources as a way to connect with a challenging, beautiful place and its beautiful, worthy people.

2014 Visit
My Favorite 17 Photos
17 Pilgrims, a Poem

2016 Visit
A Whirlwind Start
A Harrowing Day on the Roads
Homecoming
Why Haitians Reject industrial Farming
A Different Take on Education
The Boy on the Road, a Poem
The Amazing Way Power Is Coming to Rural Haiti
59 Photos from My Trip to Haiti

Reference

If you’re looking for some starting points on understanding the place:

59 Photos from My Trip to Haiti

Even though I’ve been back home for nearly a month, people I haven’t seen in a while keep asking how January’s service trip to Haiti was.

My response is along the lines of “Do you want the 20-second version or the 9-hour version?”

They think I’m kidding.

I am and I’m not.

Trying to explain the experience is hard.

So let me run you through a bunch of photos and see if that helps to sharpen the story, and save us about 8 hours and 45 minutes. If you want to know more, click back to my earlier posts chronicling our stay (The Whirlwind Start, the Accident on the Road, the Departure and Homecoming), as well as some thoughts on the big lessons I brought home about education, agriculture, and power—and a poem, The Boy on the Road.

The Amazing Way Power Is Coming to Homes in Rural Haiti

One of the amazing things I learned in Haiti happened in a little room located at the headquarters of the Papaye Peoples Movement (MPP). It was a workshop, actually, where a small team put together and repaired solar panels for use by peasants.

The technicians told us that they have been doing this for several years, that they would prefer to use U.S.-manufactured parts but lower costs had driven them to use Chinese-made parts (they seemed quite afraid we would be offended by this—which would have been hard with a Chinese-manufactured iPhone in my back pocket).

The units they created were mostly small. And the technicians told us that they couldn’t keep up with demand. In fact, they had taken to buying complete charging units from China rather than buying the parts and fabricating the units themselves (which they had done to keep costs down for the peasants).

And why were these units so popular with the peasants?

To power their cellphones, of course.

It was another of those “raise palm of hand to forehead” moments. Of course, it was the cellphones changing people’s behavior. 

For at least a decade, First World helpers have come to Haiti with solar stoves and other contraptions so the Haitian people could stop cooking with wood fires and preserve the forests. A noble goal, but one the Haitians had no interest in. “That’s not how we cook,” they’d say.

But cellphones. People will do anything for their cellphones, even in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, even in the country’s Central Plateau, where annual household income is around $400. Like all those people splayed out in the aisle at the airport, phone cords wrapped all over the place to re-charge, Haitians are motivated by their phones.

It’s not hard to imagine that people will buy the unit to charge the phone, then purchase a slightly larger one (with a small battery) to power a few LED bulbs at night. Soon they’ll have it power a small fan or a radio. And that is likely how Haiti will power itself into its next phase of development, one cellphone and one solar panel at a time, motivated by what Haitians want, and not what well-meaning First Worlders try to provide.

And for the 473rd time on this trip, mind blown.

(And if you thought solar was a long way from mattering in the First World, this is a fascinating piece from Vox that is really encouraging. It’s closer, and better, than you might think.)

The Boy on the Road

A poem I wrote after our scary Wednesday in Haiti.

The boy lies limp in the dust
Of the road. An argument engulfs him.

The boy’s Papa screams, “Who did this?
What have you done to my boy?”

But no one helps the boy.

Ayiti lies on the road under a midday sun,
Blood from her head, her shoes
Knocked from her feet.
But the crowd does not tend to Ayiti.
The crowd argues over why Ayiti was on the road.
The crowd jostles who will pay for the blood.

The crowd roars, “The boy is dumb.
Why was he on the road?” The father,
spits fury at the motorbike rider,
“How could you be so careless?!?
I cannot pay for the hospital!
All I have is my anger!”

And still, who will care for the boy on the road?

Ayiti lives her life on the road,
Her blood mixes with the dust
And becomes one. And what does
It mean, then, when the dust
Rises and coats every person and
Every place? What does it mean
That the boy’s blood mixes
With the dust and rises and coats
Every person and every place
Along the road?

Ayiti lies on the road under the midday sun.

Who will care for the boy on the road?

This is one in a series of posts chronicling my experience of and response to a recent service trip to Haiti.

A Different Take on Education

There were several times in my time in Haiti when I felt like the world as I had known it was turned upside down.

One of those came on Monday, when the current director of the Papaye Peasant Movement visited with us and explained his group’s take on education, specifically adult education.

This is one in a series of posts chronicling my experience of and response to a recent service trip to Haiti.

MPP calls it Popular Education, and it’s the opposite of sitting in a classroom and absorbing lessons. In many ways, it’s a reaction to the Duvalier dictatorships, which didn’t want the peasants to be educated, so there couldn’t be formal school learning.

Instead, MPP’s organizers, called “animators,” would arrive in a community and teach while the peasants worked. The lessons were not out of a book. They were shared orally, and the peasants would listen, ask questions, and return the next day to further engage the subject. Over three months, the animator would “teach” 6 major themes. At the end of that time, the student/peasants could decide to organize into a “groupment.” This is the foundation of MPP’s organization. Today, there are more than 4,500 groupments, comprised of roughly 61,000 people, spread across the country.

The six themes aren’t subjects like English or Trigonometry (and many thanks to trip participant Leslie Runnels for taking—and sharing—such excellent notes). They are:

  • 1st Theme: Love, Friendship, and Friends.
  • 2nd Theme: One Body. Union & Strength.
  • 3rd Theme. Patience. (There is an old Creole saying: Are you patient enough to see the guts of an ant? Haiti requires patience of the ant-guts variety.)
  • 4th Theme: History, including a significant amount of Haitian history (in discussing, the MPP director pointed out that the lessons expose “today’s slavery” and show today’s peasants that they aren’t really “free and independent,” despite what they are told by the government and media).
  • 5th Theme: Self-Worth and Value. Among the subjects addressed: the value of people, even when not working; how to help each other and maintain solidarity; how church and other social communities matter; and how to invest and re-invest, and keep working together.
  • 6th Theme: Division & Reconciliation.

The six themes and the method of instruction struck me as profoundly different from my conception of what education is. In Haiti, with MPP, education is essentially relational. It is about how we get along. In the U.S., in my experience, education is intellectual and personal. It is about what I know and what I do with it.

I thought about this against the backdrop of many data points that argue that the United States is a lonelier and more self-centered country than it has been over its history (though don’t get too carried away here, this is a matter of degree), and this vision of education that is about and for establishing the Commons is very appealing. While I wouldn’t want my kids to receive only an MPP-style education, there is much I can learn and honor in MPP’s effort to value community and right relationships as foundational to developing as people.

And once again, when I don’t view my experiences in Haiti and the U.S. as polarities, but as expressions of our shared values, I can begin to make sense of it. And that, in one sense, is the point of this kind of travel.

Why Haitians Reject Industrial Farming

Tire garden haiti

One of the most interesting parts of our stay with the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), in Haiti’s Central Plateau, was the group’s principled take on agriculture.

As a child of industrial agriculture (and also as an employee of a company that publishes Organic Life magazine and whose founder, J.I. Rodale, started the organic movement), it was fascinating to hear MPP’s critique of it. At the same time, it was hard to wrap my head around their complete dismissal of it.

The critique is pretty simple: industrial agriculture is dependent on non-natural products (chemical fertilizers, large machinery, oil, GMO and productized seeds) and practices that, if allowed, would exploit the rural peasants of Haiti. It’s unsustainable, not in its yields but in its impact on the planet. And it takes away independence and food sovereignty from native people.

All that is true. And at the same time, industrial agriculture allows for most people to not be full-time or primarily farmers and instead to diversify what people do. Even a couple hours last week were enough to convince me that I was uninterested in devoting 4-6 hours daily to raising my own food. And even if I was, I don’t think enough of the industrialized world is going to be willing to retrace its steps in that way.

So I don’t see Americans moving to MPP’s model any more than the other way around.

And that’s fine, I think. This is not a binary problem; it’s not one way or the other. The answer is a middle way, or hundreds, maybe thousands or tens of thousands of middle ways, that maintain heightened yields while containing the environmental impact and respecting people’s rights to self-determination and food sovereignty.

The middle way lies between Haiti and the U.S. mainland. I set my intention to being open to the middle way.

 

 

 

 

#3: Homecoming

It was the lights of Miami that told me our trip was over. The lights I didn’t take for granted, and that seemed so abundant—excessive and wasteful, even—after a week spent in Haiti’s Central Plateau.

The plane ride allowed for some time to take stock of the past three days. None had the emotional rawness of Wednesday, but they continued the work of understanding this place and its people—and made me aware of how much I have to learn and experience.

This is the third of three posts sharing this service trip to Haiti.

On Thursday, we returned to the school to clean up more rocks for a playground, and played soccer and took photos with the students at recess. After recess, we visited each classroom. In one classroom were four impossibly low tables and tiny chairs, each with a group of 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, respectively, sitting around it. We sang “Old MacDonald” for them, after they provided an animal for each verse.

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We visited this classroom with one table each of 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, at impossibly low tables. Joy!

Other classes sang for us and made room for us to sit with them. The school’s director shared that the school, which was expanded last year, would like to accommodate more older children and asked for our help.

That afternoon, we visited the Bassin Zim waterfall, where young people (mostly boys) scrapped to be our guides along the falls and secure a $1 tip. It was as uncomfortable as that sounds. In the evening, a local dance troupe visited the MPP compound to perform.

Charlot with students at recess.

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Here we’re cutting material to make a compost pile at Eco Village 1.

Friday, we visited Eco Village 1, the oldest of the villages constructed to offer refugees left homeless by the earthquake not just a home but a sustainable way of life.  (This is the village that members of Main Line Unitarian Church helped construct on the first service trip to Haiti three years ago.) While there, we learned how to compost, MPP-style. As when we made natural insecticides with MPP instruction two days earlier, I was struck by how much work goes into sustainable agriculture in the Central Plateau.

That afternoon, we met with the leader of the Women’s Groupment, who shared the group’s work in combating domestic violence. MPP is progressive in its commitment to gender equality, and it backs its talk with actions: during our time in Haiti, I was struck by how many smart, capable women served in positions of leadership at MPP. That includes our handler, Marguerite, who deftly guided us through Wednesday’s craziness and the entire week.

We then met with MPP’s former head and charismatic founder, Jean-Baptiste Chavannes. In a free-wheeling, laughter-filled two hours, Chavannes shared many stories, including how he got his start as a social justice warrior (he went to police to complain that a local political leader had stolen his uncle’s cow and, against all odds, retrieved it and had the official arrested and imprisoned).

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That night we had our final reflection of the trip, and each person shared an object or words. A dress, several quotes, a camera, stones from places we visited, a ukelele, a machete, the covenant that guided the group through the experience. I shared this little poem:

Haiti is not just a country.
It is that setting in Google Photos
Called Vibrance or something
Equally strange, that when
You move it to the right
It makes your photo burst
With color; What looked
Ordinary takes on a strange,
Enhanced quality. The greens
get greener, the details appear
In the shadows—surprise! They were
Always there. And I sit here
Looking at this moment we share,
The Haiti filter on, and I say,
“We will share this forever.
Let us gaze on this image
And feel the heat and the heart,
The connection and its breaking,
And know that this time, this place,
This image, these people, these feelings,
They are not an effect.

This is life, lived from a deep place
Of love, and fear, and hope.
And as we part, please,
Do not adjust the settings.”

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On the final night, we created a circle and each put what we wanted inside it. That’s my notebook …

Saturday was the long road from Central Plateau to Port-au-Prince, to a tchotchke shop, to the airport, to Miami, to Philly. It’s 15 minutes till touchdown. I am tired, but incredibly moved by the people we met, the beauty and joy and heartbreak and sheer unexpectedness of Haiti, and the deep ties formed within the group itself. If this was service work, I pray it benefited those I met for the first time, and the thousandth time. I too have been served. Now it’s time to serve up some shuteye.

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Kelly with translator Majeeda atop the Catholic church in Hinche.

#2: A Harrowing Day on the Roads

Trip co-leader Mike Carpenter warned us at Tuesday night’s evening reflection that if something is going to go wrong during our time in Haiti, it’ll happen on Wednesday. He was right and wrong.

The day started with a visit to MPP’s schoolhouse, which was expanded in the past year with a generous gift from the Unitarian Society of Germantown. We helped with the grounds and met the children, who were full of wonder, then headed to our vehicles.

And that’s when Wednesday struck.

This is the second of three posts about a service trip to Haiti Jan. 9-16, 2016.

On the road back, we came upon an accident. A motorbike with a passenger clipped a boy crossing the road. The boy was lying still where he fell, and the bike fell over too. One of the young men limped off the road.

Our caravan stopped and two members of the group jumped out to aid the boy. Monica Perme and Nuala Carpenter are a nurse and retired physical therapist, respectively, and cared for the boy, while the boy’s father and others incited a loud, angry argument over who was to blame for the accident. The argument howled above the boy, Monica and Nuala.

Amidst the furor, the boy regained consciousness.

Eventually Monica, Nuala, the two injured Haitians and the boy’s mom went to the hospital in one vehicle, and the rest of us headed home in the other two.

So often we ask ourselves why we’re in a place like Haiti. It’s not an easy question. Today we knew. We weren’t there intending to help in this situation; we were just there. We have no way of knowing if what we did prevented something worse, though it kind of felt like it did. What we do know is that at a terrible time in a young boy’s life, when he was surrounded by confusion, and anger, and noise, he received compassion and skilled care and he was delivered safely to more care.

The reflection this evening centered on that event, and several other out-of-leftfield experiences that seem to happen more here than at home. And on the joy that comes with doing this work of living together.

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It included Monica remembering something that one of the youth, Julia MacDonald, said while gathering rocks to clear a space for a playground at the school what seemed like a lifetime earlier. Julia said, “I wish I had bigger hands to help.”

May all of us have the hands and hearts to help, wherever and whenever we’re needed in this world that so often confounds our plans.

#30

Other posts from this 2016 trip:

#1: A Whirlwind Start

#3: Homecoming

Our Trip in 59 Photos

And from the 2014 trip, My Favorite 17 Photos from Haiti

#1: A Whirlwind Start to Haiti Trip

We are settled in with our Haitian hosts after a whirlwind day and a half.

The 13 members of the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice service learning trip to Haiti arrived in Port-au-Prince Friday and Saturday. Most of us are from the Main Line and Wellsprings congregations in suburban Philadelphia.

This is the first of three posts about a service trip to Haiti Jan. 9-16, 2016.

On Sunday after attending an evangelical Christian service, with more than 2,000 Haitians in the morning, we took a brief tour of the country’s national history museum. Then we climbed into three vehicles for the three-hour trip to the headquarters compound of the Papaye Peasant Mouvement (MPP), our hosts for the week.

The trip took us past a vast ghetto of makeshift housing near Port-au-Prince, through the mountains and into Haiti’s Central Plateau. To see the depth of poverty here, to be so close to the people who live their lives here, is a world-rocker.

We shared our feeling of heart-opening and -breaking at the night’s reflection. A house away, we could hear a family going through its paces—talking, laughing, a child calling out. For me, it was a reminder that our circumstances may be so different, but our humanity is identical. We live, we dream, we fear, we grow angry and despair. We persevere.

After the reflection, we star-gazed. The sky is both darker and brighter here, and bursting with light. May that be a good omen for seeing what is ordinarily hidden from us.

Monday we will hear more from our hosts, hopefully including MPP’s founder, Jean-Baptiste Chabonnes, who recently abandoned a presidential  campaign. And we move one day closer to understanding and being in relationship with the people who live in this complicated, difficult, wondrous place.

Please keep us, and our hosts, in your thoughts.

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Once Again, Trouble in Haiti

I am headed back to Haiti in early 2016, with my youngest son and members of local Unitarian Universalist congregations—including my own, Wellsprings—so I have my eye on what’s going on there. And the news is not particularly good:

I hope the country can hold fair elections and resolve the issues with its island neighbor—and that we can be assured of a safe trip in January.

 

 

 

 

17 Pilgrims, a Poem

Editor’s note: Something I started writing when I awoke very early one morning in Haiti’s Central Plateau, trapped between my mosquito net and my racing thoughts.

17 Pilgrims

Seventeen pilgrims on the road from Port-au-Prince to the Central Plateau.

Haiti is life lived on the road, in full view.

It is a hot, dusty iceberg. The mystery resides in the heat and the dirt.

The water is there, but ― did I mention? ― don’t drink it.

Haiti is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a plantain husk.

It is a mosquito buzz at midnight.

It is the fear your net is tattered.

Haiti is a heart pumping in the hot sun.

It is families separated.

It is drums in the night.

Haiti is the roosters who practice dawn all night long, it is the cries of ya-ya-ya that dance with the drums in the night.

///

Haiti, I met you just a week ago. I’m not sure my mom would approve. I’m not sure I approve. I doubt this will last.

But I thought that about my wife of 22 years. As then, I’m intrigued.

///

Haiti, you are a Dickens novel with a Kreyol accent, a plume of dust rising from a single road to fill every nook and cranny of every home in an entire country.

You are life lived on the road and drums in the night. You are a geography of risk. You are a rich man’s house hard by a tent city.

Haiti, you trudge to the end of a long day. I expect you to wake tired in the morning. Instead, you are bright smiles.

Haiti, the sound of your yearning excruciates. It is the sound a dump truck makes as it tips over with a load of rock, the sound of a hungry child looking to you for food.

I landed in Haiti an adult. I leave an awkward adolescent, upset with my frustrated wants.

Haiti is not solved. Rather, it dis-solves.

Reach for certainty in Haiti and it is gone.

Haiti is a parent’s children settled in the States. It is drums in the night. From where are they coming? you ask. No one will say …

///

Haiti is one step forward over uneven ground — with a sloshing bucket of water balanced on your head. It is the road crew drove the electric pole through the water line. It is “Who are you?”

Haiti is tires full of tomatoes. It is children walking to school in pressed uniforms. The boys in plum pants. In early evening half-light, they press and spin against the wall as a van speeds by.

People say that before you die, you see your life in a split second. From a van’s back seat, I watch people’s lives blur by, left to right. Haiti, I have seen YOUR life pass by in a single week. Tears and laughter. Chatter and sweat. A plume of dust rises from a dusty road.

I am at a loss.

///

Haiti is one step up and a Voudoo dance backwards. It is tarantulas in the rockpile. We roll back the rocks together; you laugh when I squeal at the site of eight hairy legs moving into the shadows.

Haiti is a warm night sleeping next to your lover. She will leave before dawn.

It is a waterfall with child guides who are bullied out of their meager earnings by a cruel caretaker. Sullen, broken stares. Can’t one thing not be negotiated over this gradient pitting abundance against limitless need?

In Haiti, you pay with your conscience, not your wallet. And for what?

Haiti looks in to you with dark, round eyes. It reaches to you in the market. It accosts you on the street. What it wants — and what you want — are the same. Haiti wants a piece of you. And though Haiti is exhausted from 22 decades of not getting what it wants, it gets this.

Seventeen pilgrims on the road from the Central Plateau to Port-au-Prince.

A geography of hope.

Papayas growing thick on the trees, thicker in the market.

Promises unfulfilled.

Drums in the night.

A plume of dust rising from a dusty road.

And a question, Ki jan ou rele?

My 17 Favorite Photos from Haiti

I completed a weeklong service trip to Haiti on Saturday, and my head is still trying to make sense of all I saw and heard. Someday, I’ll try to turn the experience into a cogent post (or 10), but for now, I’m just going to share 17 photos and explain them as best I can. (The one above was taken from the van on our return to Port-au-Prince. Two of the things I noticed about Haiti was the fact that everyone walks along the country’s roads, and so much of the urban country is behind walls.)

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We arrived at Port-au-Prince originally, then traveled 2 1/2 hours northeast to the Central Plateau, near the town of Hinche, where we were hosted by the Mouvman Peyizan Papay (the People’s Peasant Movement), led by Jean-Baptiste Chavannes. That’s him in the black shirt, showing us the gardens at the MPP compound.

Chavannes is an agronomist by training who grew into a social justice leader. MPP’s vision, among other things, is to build self-sustaining eco-villages, and to lure back people who moved to Port-au-Prince over the past two decades. That, in short, is “repeasantization.”

The tour ended with an amazingly candid talk about his—and Haiti’s—past, including his views on former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (Chavannes said Aristide at one time called him brother but later was corrupted by power), the thought behind his movement, and his sometime difficult dealings with the government, including periods of exile and hiding and one time when he had 12 guns aimed at his head.

It was an extraordinary afternoon.

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I took this at our work site, where we were helping lay the foundation for 10 homes that will make up eco-village #5. I was taking a break in the shade of a storage building when I noticed the sideview mirror on a motorbike gave me a view on to the worksite.

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I went to Haiti thinking I would go and try to meet people as much as possible as person-to-person. But that is just naive; there is no escaping the imbalances of wealth and privilege that bedevil an American visiting Haiti. This was less true when we were with MPP, as we created relationships that could supercede this sort of “default” framing. Just about every interaction we had outside of our MPP bubble ended up influenced by the fact of our American affluence. Traveling in the van was often another version of “the bubble,” largely because there was no relationship between those inside and those outside—but occasionally not, as when this gentleman popped up looking for a 5-spot for his painting on canvass.

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The busy streets outside the market late on an afternoon in Hinche, in the Central Plateau.
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You can find fresh fruits and veggies at the market. In the countryside, there was a fair amount of fresh food.

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Kelly and his new friend David both were fixated on getting machetes while in Haiti—in fact, they came up with a list of more than 100 things one can do with a machete (from harvesting papayas to shaving, they had it covered). Their collective wish was fulfilled in the Hinche market. For inquiring minds, the going rate for machetes—at least those sold to American suburban teens—is $5. These had very dull edges, so there was little danger of injury. Thankfully, there were no questions in customs.

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The Catholic cathedral in Hinche. Pretty building, though the gates were locked on a weekday afternoon. About 80% of Haitians identify as Catholics.

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We visited a young farmer who is also a member of MPP. That’s him, sitting to the left, front row. His name was Maccenje. He worked very hard, had more than three dozen tires he used as improvisational raised gardens (an MPP staple), and had planted trees throughout his property. Trees are a big issue in Haiti, as the land has been thoroughly denuded and the need for wood to cook far outstrips conservation and planting efforts. I sent this photo to Maccenje so he could post it on his Facebook page. I kid you not.
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There was wifi at one end of the compound, and there were ritual checkins throughout the day. This photo makes me wish I was a better photographer, to get the lighting a bit better. But you get the idea.

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These are tire gardens in eco-village #1, which we visited on our last full day in Haiti. I loved how green EV-1 was, with trees that afforded shade and an abundance of papayas. But the green-ness wasn’t the whole story. When we met with the 10 families that live there, they were interested in having more services nearby—especially health and education—and said the farming life was very hard.

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The work sites were a lot of work, but folks had fun, too—dancing, singing, and fooling around. Here, two of our youth dance with team co-leader Mike Carpenter, of Main Line Unitarian Church.
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Sometimes the fun spilled outside the work site. I took this photo in Hinche, and the guy in the middle is minister Evan Keely, doing his best Caribbean island strong man imitation, complete with machete-wielding body guards. A little irreverence was a good tonic from time to time.

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The boys dancing with their machetes in a Hinche bar. They were largely alone on the dance floor, thankfully.

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These are the children of EV-1, who coveted our plastic water bottles as toys. They have sufficient water from a nearby well.

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Some more of the children. There are 32 of them in EV-1, among 10 families, and there were quite a few newborns. When we asked why one would choose to live in the eco-villages rather than in Port-au-Prince, the moms said it was safer in the countryside. They feared their kids being caught in a crossfire or assaulted back in P-au-P.

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We were walking through EV-1 when I looked down and saw a small toy Santa Claus that looked a lot like our team leader, Mike Carpenter. “Mike, they’ve got a doll of you here in Haiti!” Tell me I was wrong?

That’s a start on my trip. More to come.