About an hour east of Port-au-Prince, just off the the road that leads to Santo Domingo, sits Mòn Kalvè (Calvary Mountain), a pilgrimage site during Holy Week here in Haiti. Starting just after dawn on Good Friday, a friend and I hopped on motos and made our way to the base of the mountain. We joined the faithful making their slow pilgrimage to the top. Stopping at each station of the cross along the way, people prayed, sang, lit candles, asked for healing, paid penance, and remembered loved ones. Kneeling side-by-side to pray in the crowd, I was moved by the candor of sorrows and joys shared. Some had walked days in hope of a miracle. Others came to sell food, candles, hats, and herbal remedies to the pilgrims. For me, it was an opportunity to reflect, give thanks, and to stand in wonder of this beautiful new country we call home, and the indomitable spirit of her people.
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.
Praying for Haiti -- Hurricane Irma
This evening, Hurricane Irma, a category 5 Hurricane and one of the largest on record, is churning westward towards Haiti. The most serious of its effects will likely reach Haiti Thursday evening. Across Haiti people are praying for a miracle. While the eye of the storm is unlikely to make landfall in Haiti, its winds and rains are expected to bring tremendous suffering. In river valleys across northern Haiti, families are bracing for floods. On windswept mountains, people are looking out to sea, praying for protection. New parents are holding their children tight, praying that their roofs will hold during the storm. The farmers we work with across the Artibonite and Central Plateau are anxiously watching their crops, hoping they will not be washed away. We pray tonight for the safety of our staff, for our partners across Haiti, for the tens of thousands of people in the storm's path without protection or a safety net. We pray that in the months ahead, Haiti and her people will have the strength for the slow and painful work of reckoning and rebuilding. Just eleven months after Hurricane Matthew, we pray Haiti has the resilience to struggle back to its feet, once again. Please pray with us.
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.
Cooking lessons in Kristan
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!
Cashews: Journey to the Table
As people who love to cook, it's easy to focus on food's transformation in the kitchen. But living in Haiti, and working alongside farmers, reminds us that the vast majority of the risk, effort, and artistry that goes into food's journey happens long before it reaches us in the kitchen. Take cashews, a nut I've always found delicious. You can find a thousand recipes for what to 'do' with cashews in the kitchen, in fact we have a few on our blog, but today I want to focus instead on their journey to the kitchen -- from fragile seedlings in mountain-top nurseries, to the freshly roasted cashew nuts for sale in market stalls.