This week has pretty much flown by. I’ve been rather productive, which has felt good, but it hasn’t left much time for blogging or the like. For the most part things have been quiet and uneventful around here. The workers that are here have been working on a couple projects – the dorm building and the new septic tank. I won’t even go into that here and how lovely it has been having sewer water backing up into the yard, on top of everything else. True to life in Haiti, there is never just one thing to deal with here. It’s always several things at one time. And they are always big things. Little things just don’t even get noticed here any more.
Matt arrived yesterday, and again in true Haiti form, nothing went as planned. See, Chris had a little traffic violation problem to deal with. Apparently there are some rules to the road here and violating them results in getting a ticket. When you get a ticket they take your license and you drive with the infraction paper until you go to the police station to pay said ticket and get your license back. Yesterday Chris learned that it’s not as simple as that though. Chris ended up having to take a 3 hour class yesterday afternoon before he could get his license back.
While it might be easy to complain about the inconvenience, we’re actually happy about the whole experience because it made us very aware that there are positive changes happening within the systems here. When Chris got the ticket there was no hemming and hawing and “I’m thirsty” or “My car has no gas” from the officer that pulled him over. It was all business, the ticket was issued and instructions were given. Haiti’s police system has been so full of corruption it is sickening so this was a positive step forward in it’s own right. Second, the fact that violators are required to take a class to improve their driving skills is impressive. This is the country that has just started putting in stop lights that no one knows how to use. This is also progress.
I sometimes get frustrated with views and opinions of people from the “outside”, meaning, people that don’t live here full time. Granted, I believe that everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions, I just often feel like the thoughts and opinions I hear about Haiti are not well founded. The spin that the media puts on Haiti is only part of the story. People are always talking about Haiti’s issues, how the government isn’t progressing quickly etc. What many people don’t think about is the small changes. When you are dealing with a place like Haiti, where it has taken generations to create this mess, you are not going to fix everything in a year or two. You probably won’t fix it in 20. You can not expect people to create a well run justice system when they have never experienced one. You cannot expect people to function in a new fashion when they have only ever known the broken way that they have always done things. It takes time, education, patience, and in the end, letting people move forward at their own pace. Trying to force it will only create more problems and people, in the end, probably won’t grab on to the concept – the very thing needed for progress to be made in a positive direction.
I often hear a lot of criticism of the UN mission in Haiti. I’m not saying it’s perfect. It has it’s holes and flaws, but what mission of this nature ever is perfect? The UN mission is comprised of several different cultures, trying to work to the good of Haiti. In that you’re going to have your own cultural clashes and issues. There are many stories in the media about soldiers from country X or Y that have done this and that. Most of them are probably true to some degree, but you have to be careful with the media and how they spin things. What you don’t often hear the media talking about are the positive things that the UN occupation here has brought. I guess we like to hear all the nitty gritty so and so is doing this and that with a negative spin more than we like the positive.
If you heard some of the positive you would hear things like the UN humanitarian branch is working with some of our trained technicians to put filters in every prison in Haiti so that the prisoners can have clean water and better health. You might hear people talking about the sense of security and stability that has settled in the country. Yes, the UN has used force to establish this, but they did not start doing this until President Preval gave them the go ahead. Their mandate was to support the new government and give it time to try to claim order on it’s own. Preval made several attempts at that and then finally told the UN it was their turn. Yes, they went into Cite Soleil and used force. Cite Soleil is known country wide as the place where gang leaders were residing and wreaking havoc. To put it bluntly – these are the people responsible for the kidnappings in Haiti. These are the people that received arms from Haiti’s former president. Arms that have been used to terrorize people here. After the UN started getting some of these people out everyone in the country started to breath easier. People started living again, not living in fear all the time.
I wasn’t here for everything that happened in 2004. I only know what I’ve heard from those that were here, and the change I’ve seen in the country since I arrived in 2005. It is noticeable. Chris remembers driving through St. Marc, only 20 minutes away from us, and seeing bodies lying everywhere. That is not peace. The UN, while it may have it’s flaws, is making a difference here. I’ve heard people are saying the UN should pull out and let Haiti figure it’s own stuff out. I have one word for what would happen here if that was to happen any time in the next year or so – ANARCHY.
That was a bit of a rant from a traffic ticket, but it’s something that we encounter often. I think it’s hard to look in from the outside, especially if you haven’t had any direct (you’ve been here) experience over a period of time (months or longer) in a place, and form a well rounded opinion. If you only rely on news sources, you are only getting a part of the story. Progress is happening here, and it’s happening in the right way – slowly. In North America we always want to fix things quickly, but it doesn’t work that way in development work because you can’t force people to conform. So, as for me and my house, we will rejoice in the little bits of progress that we see every day – traffic tickets, graded roads, police doing their jobs, UN patrols, stop lights that still work a year later, people not feeling like they have to look over the shoulders all the time.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system…
Matt ended up having a long day in Port and coming back with our neighbor that had borrowed our other truck because Chris didn’t think he would be home before them. He was wrong. He beat them by about 20 minutes. Today I had to get Liv’s vaccinations and since I was walking I asked Matt if he wanted to come so he could see a bit of the thriving metropolis of Pierre Payen. After our shockingly fast visit at the hospital we decided to walk up to the market. I usually get a lot of attention when I’m out with Liv, but today it was crazy! We stopped to talk to people several times and at one point we must have had about 30 people around us. Part of it is that I’m a white woman with a black baby, the other part is that I have Liv in her sling, which is just a foreign idea here. Most of the attention we get is from women that are super curious about the sling. They all think it’s a great idea. Today Liv got squeezed and pinched – all in affectionate ways – and sat there smiling at people which just made it better for all our new friends. It was pretty entertaining for Matt and I.
I’ve spent the rest of the day doing some gardening, which I haven’t felt much motivation to do recently. I was over at our friends house the other day and they had been doing cuttings from their garden, so I got a bunch of new stuff and in turn some new motivation. It felt good to get out and do it again. I also played with my new toy…my new camera. Chris’ early birthday present to me. It’s fun! I don’t have anything to show yet because I’ve just been trying to figure out the settings for now, but I’ll definitely show and tell when I have it.