We are back in the capital, Port-au-Prince. We recently returned from a homestay with a family in the small farming community of Kristan, a 45 minute hike into the mountains from the town of Desarmes where MCC (the organization we are working with) has long-standing agroforestry projects. After busy days filled with Creole lessons and project visits, our host family would indulge our curiosity with many patient explanations, hikes to garden plots, and hands-on cooking lessons. There are some things you can learn by reading, but for others, there is no substitute for the sensory experience: crouching in cramped charcoal-smoke-filled kitchens; hearing the sound of a hoe's blade spark against rocks filling the small garden plots on which many subsist; feeling the welcome rush of a cold bucket bath after a hot walk up steep mountain paths; coming to terms with the humbling reality of clumsy tongues forming words in a new language. Below are a few pictures from our time to share the flavor of the place. We will be thinking of our family and friends far away this Christmas as we celebrate here in Haiti, Merry Christmas!
Saving the Harvest
I have always found seeds kind of amazing. I remember the first time my dad explained to me that these beans we were about to cook could just as easily be planted. Whenever possible, I have planted edible gardens, from using bay trees as decoration in my office, to clandestinely planting cabbages in our front flower garden in Pittsburgh. One of the first things we did in our new home here in Port-au-Prince was to plant every square inch of soil with thyme, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, dill, basil, chives, garlic, oregano, tomatoes, greens, cucumbers, lettuce, okra, and squash. But to be honest, I’d always just bought seeds and never thought too much about the time and steps involved between harvesting seeds from one crop, and planting them for the next. This week, while visiting a project in the rural community of Kabay, Haiti, I got a first hand look at the impact seed storage has on farmers and their families.
3 Families After Hurricane Matthew
High in the mountains above the Artibonite river, we pass through villages and clusters of houses that do not appear on maps, past destroyed houses that will never make it into official calculations of the damage fromHurricane Matthew in Haiti. We are miles from the nearest paved road, many hours from the nearest medical clinic, and nearly a full day's walk to the market where people normally sell their produce to purchase necessities like medicine, oil, and clothing. When I asked the local government official with us, why his region showed zero damage on the latest UN maps, he grew angry, "How would they even know? No one has come up to look. No one has even asked." Working with the local governments, community organizations, and a likeminded NGO, we are bringing the first relief supplies to people whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in this area. Within 72 hours of the rains stopping, all our prepositioned aid (water treatment supplies, blankets, food, and hygiene kits) have been distributed to people in need. This is only the beginning for these families on the long path to rebuilding their lives and their communities.
If you've been watching the news on Haiti, you know of the devastation that Hurricane Matthew has wrought; the rapidly rising death toll, the destroyed homes and livelihoods, the statistics of suffering on a massive scale. But for us, and for our organization MCC, the story both begins and ends with the resilience and perseverance of the people and communities we serve. These are human stories better told through pictures of people, pictures of dignity and strength in the face of loss.
Here are the stories of three families after the storm.
Pittsburgh Style Haluski
Just over a week ago, Hurricane Irma swept past Haiti; bringing heavy rains, wind, and flash flooding to many of the communities we work in. These have been busy days of travel, hearing the stories of survivors, seeing the damage first-hand, and responding with food and emergency supplies to families who lost everything. My final trip last week was to the small community of Goyave, high in the mountains overlooking the coastal city of St. Marc. Goyave is a farming community that had been devastated by Hurricane Matthew last year. I was there to join in the celebration of a successful harvest and the end of an MCC project to help these farmers rebuild their gardens and livelihoods. Each of the 200 families who participated in the project brought a symbol of their good harvest. Soon our outdoor meeting area was filled with piles of beautiful fresh produce: cabbages, militon squash, corn, beans, avocados, onions, leeks, sour oranges, bananas, plantains, passion fruit, pumpkins, bell peppers, hot peppers, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and yams. As we finished our meeting, a community elder stood up to speak, he reiterated his thanks for the project that had helped the community rebuild, and added that we all must remember the Haitian proverb, "Men ale, men vini, fe zanmi dire." This essentially translates as 'reciprocity is what makes for lasting friendships.' He advised that there were times when one needed to receive help, such as after a Hurricane, but that one must always work to give back. "It is bad for friendships if only one side gives," he said. So the community celebrated their rebuilding and their harvest by giving freely, to each other and to our group of visitors. It was humbling and beautiful to witness and receive this generosity. Arriving home late at night, dusty and tired, with a bag full of fresh cabbages and onions, I thought back to other celebrations and shared meals. I remembered many potlucks and meals with friends from our Pittsburgh days, and one of the region's classic comfort foods for shared celebrations -- Haluski. While there is much debate on whether Halsuki is authentically Polish (as is claimed by most Pittsburghers), there is little controversy about how simple it is to make, and delicious to eat. It is comfort food at its best: caramelized onions, cabbage, and kielbasa mixed with buttery egg noodles. A hearty and rustic crowd-pleaser, and a celebration of the season's bounty.
First Days in Haiti
Our first taste of Haiti has been sweet. We have had a warm and supportive welcome, with friendly, generous co-workers, delicious home cooked meals, many helping hands to get us set up for prenatal care, and mountains of patience from everyone around us as we make our first faltering attempts at speaking Creole. We have been loving our first meals in Haiti. A favorite, today's lunch, was a rich and savory pumpkin soup, called Soup Joumou; a justifiably famous dish often served for Haitian Independence and New Years Day. We will be staying in the guesthouse above our office (pictured above) for a few more days until we head to the countryside, north of the capital in Desarmes, for a three week homestay; an immersive experience that will help to jumpstart our Creole and introduce us to rural life in Haiti.
Stay tuned over the next several weeks as we share some delicious recipes we prepared before we left the US.
We have a daughter! It’s a surreal thing to say. We are blissfully happy to share that after weeks of on-and-off contractions and gestation in three countries, our beautiful baby girl, Madeline, was born at 1 am yesterday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, weighing in at a healthy 7 pounds. Madeline is a lively little newborn, and both she and Rebecca are doing well. It’s hard to put words to the feeling of being parents for just a few short hours; joy, relief, shock and happiness. We have been finding ourselves bursting into giddy (exhausted) laughter quite a bit since little Madeline arrived. We will be taking the next month off from work to get to know our new daughter, and look forward to introducing her to her family (even if virtually in many cases), with her first introduction to both sets of grandparents when they arrive in Haiti in just a few weeks!