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.
In my early twenties, I worked at a homeless shelter in New Mexico. During evening shift, the most critical task was dinner for the shelter's 70 guests. The evening meal prep would start mid-afternoon when, most often, a passel of grey-haired church ladies would descend on the shelter kitchen. For the next few hours, the kitchen would be a chaotic mess of aproned volunteer cooks, hustling to prepare and serve the meal. On the occasional night when volunteers and groceries failed to show up, I would be left improvising with a pantry of mismatched items and hungry people to feed.
One night, just as I was starting to worry about the absence of both volunteers and food, there was a hesitant knock at the back door. A young man, about my age, was standing there with a huge pot in his hands. I helped him unloaded pot after pot of red and green chile from an old car parked out back. With the chiles bubbling on the stove, he set to work rolling out and frying the traditional sopapilla accompaniment.
Complementing him on the meal as I was helping him pack up his now empty pots, I asked him how he heard about the shelter. He told me that he had been homeless this time last year, and had stayed the night many times in our shelter. He said, “I figured since cooking is something I can do, I should give back.”
Gratitude has been linked to everything from longer life expectancy to better relationships and happiness. Tomorrow, we will be sharing a Thanksgiving feast with loved ones, and we hope that many of our American readers will as well. On a holiday named for gratitude, we also recognize that great disparities exist. This evening, 610,000 Americans will spend the night on the streets, one-quarter of whom are children. Tonight, 49 million Americans will not have secure access to food, and millions more will not be safe in their own homes. This Thanksgiving, there are countless ways to show gratitude.
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!