Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More about the Market!

I scan the crowd around me for any sign of Denise but she has disappeared somewhere in the sea of people.

As the mass thickens I give up looking for her and instead decide to search for the potatoes and onions I need. It's much easier for her to find me, I think to myself, my white skin is hard to miss, so I shoulder the canvas bag I'm carrying and start looking for the vegetables.

After bartering for the potatoes and onions I resume my search for Denise.

Today Denise and I are really here to buy supplies to get a small business going for her mother. Denise's mother hopes to return to Jeremie next week Friday, but Denise is worried that her mom won't have a way to support herself properly when she goes back. Although her husband is still alive, he is older then her, too old to work, so her mom basically relies on handouts from other family members and friends there. In the past two months since living with
Anoud and Denise she's gained weight and looks a lot healthier then when I first met her. In the hopes of keeping her healthy and eating well, we are helping her start a small business selling spaghetti noodles, brown sugar, juice packages, salami, oil, rice, matches, soap, laundry soap, and chlorine packets. Denise had made up the list of items she thought would be good to sell and we offered to pay for the items to get her started.

This is not the first time Denise and I have shopped together and since she can get better prices if she is not seen with me we had decided to separate. The plan was, I would give Denise money, she would buy the items on the list and we would meet up periodically to check up on each other.

The only problem now is that I haven't seen her for awhile, and it's really difficult to just stand and wait in the market. People nudge me as vendors call out to me trying to get me to look at their wares. After some ladies selling beauty and hygiene items insistently call and beckon me, I finally go up to them and explain I only have enough money to buy onions and potatoes for myself and my husband didn't give me enough money to buy beauty items. They laugh uproariously, it's always a good thing to be funny at the market and I quickly make friends with them. Apparently they had seen Denise and I together in the beginning and not seeing her around now they take me under their wing and find me a shady spot to stand. I feel a little like a three year old lost in the grocery store with all these mother hens clucking around me, making sure I'm okay and I can't help but wish for a minute that I could darken my skin. Although the crowd is thick here, it's just impossible to hide and blend in, and I guess even adults can only take so much pointing, and staring at. At this point I'm a little envious of
Jayden,who could just burst into tears and have his mother pick him up and hug him!

After a little while Denise finds me, really, I'm hard to miss, and we decide to agree on a meeting place. I check the items she bought and then ask her how much more money she needs. After giving her the money we separate again and agree to meet in about 15 minutes. Since standing around draws way to much attention, I decide to explore the market a little more. Holding my point and shoot camera discreetly at waist level I take pictures of whatever I can.

I see chicken parts, including their feet!

I've been told the feet taste like a rubber lollipop, but I'm not quite ready to try it.

I also see stacked up fresh fish,

and some dried fish as well.

I can't help but feel sorry for this poor duck.

and even sorrier for these two goats.

I decide I definitely need some more toughening up before I could eat my lunch while looking at that!

I pass the ladies selling coal and wonder for a moment if I could disguise myself by blackening my skin with coal.

It's tempting, but better not, so I quickly walk on. Before long, I reach the used clothing section of the market and spend a little time looking there.

I then make my way to the second floor of the market and walk into this!

I hadn't seen this part of the market before and since I teach sewing classes this excites me!

What makes me even happier is this!

Zippers, lace, buttons, just the stuff I can use! After snapping some more pictures I make my way back to the meeting place, where one of the vendors, a friend of Denise's is storing everything she buys under her table.

Minutes later Denise returns there as well and I help her carry all the bags. I feel myself sweating as we slowly make our way up the steep incline back to the main road! It feels like I'm carrying a hundred pounds worth of stuff, and my back, neck and arms scream in protest. Half way up the hill, some people around us offer to carry our stuff if we pay them, but we've gotten this far now and neither of us are ready to give up. Am I ever thankful when we find the car, especially when we can't find it and first and we start to think it's been stolen!

When we are finally back home, we show Denise's mom everything we bought! She is thrilled!

I really hope that this will work and that she is able to keep her business going. Denise's mom has become special to me and it will be hard to see her leave after being here for over two months. I never like saying goodbyes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Feeding Program

I check my rear-view mirror and see Jayden securely fastened in his car seat, playing contentedly with a couple of little cars. It's Friday, 2:25 p.m. and we are on our way to help out at the feeding program for street children at the orphanage. Power lines lean awkwardly over the rocky road and I do my best to avoid them.

Since the government is working on widening the roads, there are many broken down walls and a lot of rubble. Who knows when the roads will actually get fixed but at least moving the walls is a start.

A few minutes later we arrive at the orphanage, (the same one I taught sewing classes at) and I carefully park the pathfinder alongside a wall. I help Jayden out of his car seat and then together we make our way to the orphanage gate.

The feeding program hasn't started quite yet and street children crowd around the gate waiting to be let in.

Seeing Jayden they flock around him and touch his super white skin, blond curly hair, and make comments about his big blue eyes. After a few minutes of this Jayden bursts into tears. No one likes being the odd one out, and having a hundred little children stare, point and comment is just too much for him. I pick him up and hug him till he calms down. The children are soon distracted when the gate opens to allow them in.

We follow the crowd and find ourselves in a big concrete court yard. There are basketball nets, volleyball nets, a tether ball and table and chairs set up.

Thankfully the children soon forget the fact that Jayden doesn't look like them at all, and he starts to make friends.

Two little boys that don't look much older than Jayden soon make themselves comfortable on my lap.

As I hug them close my heart aches for them. What if one of these boys were Jayden and I didn't even have enough money to feed him? How heartbreaking for their parents or guardians. These boys are so small and innocent and already at such a tender age their lives are so hard.

I look up and notice that the children have separated into two groups. The older kids now play what looks like some kind of Red Rover game, while the younger children colour pictures.

When game time is over everyone lines up and it's time to sing, pray and listen to a scripture passage read in Creole.

By then food is ready and it's time to help serve.

Big bowls and plates of rice and beans are given to each child.

The children eat their food hungrily.

I don't think I could eat half the serving they get, but their next meal might not be till the next feeding program on Monday, so most of the children scrape their plate clean. It's very touching to see the older children help feed the younger children as well.

If one of the smaller children can't finish their entire plate, (it's a lot of food), it gets passed on to another child who still has a little room left in their stomach. By the time everyone is done there is not a grain of rice left.

When the plates and cups are empty it's time to collect the dishes and clean up. When everything is all cleaned up, I say bye to the children and Dana, who runs the feeding program and we make our way back to the car.

After bouncing over the rough roads we finally arrive on Delmas. Delmas is a four lane, paved, but still bumpy road going through Port au Prince.

We are only on this road for a few minutes before turning off onto a side street again.

Finally we arrive at our street, which I believe is one of the worst streets in Port au Prince. Every time we turn onto it the pathfinder almost bottoms out because the road is so eaten away by flooding.

I honk at the gate and Anoud pushes it open. As soon as I unbuckle Jayden, he runs inside to tell Daddy we are home. As I slowly make my way up the steps to the back door, I feel for a minute like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders. So many hungry children here in Port au Prince, and that was just a fraction of them. It's overwhelming.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Haiti's Malls!

Saturday, November 14
I maneuver the pathfinder through the busy traffic as I chat with Dana who's sitting beside me in the passenger seat. Dana and I have gotten to be good friends and almost every Saturday we get together. This Saturday afternoon we decide to hit the "Haiti mall" since we both like shopping. Although I've been to the mall (aka Market) more often, this is the second time we've gone there together and we are excited! There is just something fun about "Haiti's mall" and if you have a good sense of humor, are not afraid of getting dirty and don't mind bartering, this is THE BEST place to shop!
I turn onto Rue Frere and then slow to a crawl. The street leading up to the market is busy since Saturday is a big shopping day! Parking lots in Haiti are almost nonexistent, especially by the market, so I pull the pathfinder up onto the sidewalk where it sits at a somewhat strange angle. "As long as it's off the road, it should be fine" I say to Dana, as we lock the doors.
The "mall" entrance is, well no need to describe, just look for yourself!

As we enter the market our feet are sucked down by the gooey, sticky mud; a mixture of dirt, rotting vegetables and animal feces. There is a reason I don't wear flip flops here!

We walk through the mud until we reach a steep cobblestone street. It's easier to get into the market this way, so we carefully make our way down.

I can hear the people around me say "blan, blan" (white, white), but I just turn and smile at them. White people are a rarity at the market and the Haitian people like to make observations out loud. I remember shopping with Denise when she was expecting and the people all around us called her "gwo vant" (big stomach)! So, like I said, anything unusual or different will be commented on.

As we reach the bottom of the steep street we turn a corner and are completely surrounded. Vendors are all around us, proudly displaying their wares. The paths between the vendors are narrow and full of people. When in Haiti, do as the Haitians, so we push our way through the crowds while making sure we don't step on anyone's wares.

Minutes later we reach the top of the concrete stairs that bring us to the clothing department.

It doesn't take long for us to find clothes we like and we start to shop.

No dressing rooms available, so we try the clothing on over top of whatever we are wearing.

I used to just look at the items and buy it if I thought it fit, but then would be disappointed later when it didn't. So now we decide to just do what everyone else does and just try it on in public! Dana and I can't help but laugh as we struggle to try the clothes on, especially when we notice the many eyes watching us. When we find clothes we like and that fit we start to barter. Bartering, all though foreign and frightening at first, can be a lot of fun. I know that all new shirts should sell for about 300 Gds (7.50 USD) and skirts for about 350 Gds (8.75 USD), so that really helps. However, the Haitian vendors don't know that we know this, and tell us everything is closer to 1,000 Gds (25 USD). After explaining that we buy clothes at the market more often and that we know the shirt is really worth only about 300 Gds, we put it back and walk on. Not even a second later, I feel a hand on my arm and hear the vendor shout, "Vini" (come) and the bartering process goes on. She then goes on to tell me that if she sells it for that she won't make any money on it and it would actually be a loss. This isn't true, since they would never sell anything without making a profit, but it's all part of the game. We just shake our heads and start leaving again until she finally lets out a dramatic sigh, acts as if she is doing us a big favour and accepts 300 Gds for the shirt. After the deal she smiles happily, she still made a good profit, and we walk on.

Now that we've purchased something, everyone wants us to come look at their setup. Each vendor has their own specific style of clothing and we soon find out that if there is one thing we like from the vendors selection of about 35 items, chances are there are more things we like as well! Dana and I also find out that we have a similar style in clothes and often find ourselves trying on the same things!

Before we go home we spend a little time looking at other things the market vendors have for sale.



Even Christmas decorations!

Since the clothing department is on the second floor we also have a good view of the rest of the market from above.

At the end of our two and half hour shopping spree we have a total of six clothing articles and spent about 22 USD each. As we drive home we share with each other what we heard the Haitian people say about us. The funniest thing, we thought, was that they thought we were from the Dominican Republic. I guess seeing two North American girls bartering and shopping in the "Mache" (market) is rather uncommon and since we both had dark hair they decided we must be from the Dominican. We had to laugh when they tried to speak Spanish to us and it was even funnier to see their expressions when we replied in Creole! We really had a great time!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Trip to Les Cayes!

I strap on my back pack as I give our home a final once over. Doors are locked, windows closed, fans off, computer off, hot water off, check, check, check. Looks like everything is in order. I help Jayden with his shoes, as Jason, all dressed up in his pilot uniform, grabs the pack and play.

Minutes later we are bumping across the dusty roads on our way to the Port au Prince airport. The roads are busy as usual and traffic is slow. Street children run up to wipe our vehicle with dirty rags and then beg for change. I check my purse, but can't find any money so I shake my head. Normally we keep coins in the car to give out, but today the console between our seats is empty as well. I make a mental note to remember to refill it when we get back. It is very sad to see these children running all over the busy street, begging, and no matter how long I'm here it still always breaks my heart.

45 minutes later we finally arrive at the terminal. I shoulder the back pack again and then with my right hand grab Jayden's little left one. The gravel parking lot is full of holes and big muddy puddles, so we carefully maneuver our way over them until we reach the pavement. Jayden is clutching his little monkey with one hand, and as we put our belongings through the airport scanner he refuses to give it up. The man behind the scanner insists, so I place the monkey in a plastic bucket where it then proceeds to disappear through the flaps. Jayden is quite upset but is easily consoled when the monkey comes through the other side. He quickly grabs it from me and hugs it close. Life at two can be confusing!

As we walk across the hot tarmac, I can feel myself start to sweat.

I stop for a moment and grab Jayden's sunglasses out of my bag to protect his eyes from the bright glare. Since we are only taking a few things with us it doesn't take long to strap our belongings down.

Minutes later, after completing the check lists, Jason starts the engine and we taxi to the runway. As the small aircraft gracefully takes off into the brilliant blue I can't help but smile! I love to fly!

A half an hour into the flight the weather changes and silky white clouds start to breeze past us.

Jason maneuvers the airplane around them and then changes altitude as they begin to thicken.

It doesn't take long to pass the cloud mass and the sky is clear again. As we approach Les Cayes, I look outside in wonder. Acres of green forests hug the mountains and fertile valleys.

This must be where the small percentage of Haiti's surviving forests are! Looking past the mountains and forests I see the gorgeous coastline. Large masses of coral reefs hug the ocean bottom reflecting their brilliant colours in the turquoise waters.

Haiti's untouched, natural beauty is truly stunning!

Up ahead I now see a narrow landing strip. The runway is actually paved and Jason lands the plane smoothly. We are in Les Cayes!

The airport terminal, all though small, is well maintained and nicely decorated.

It doesn't take long for our ride to come pick us up. The roads are not only paved , but also smooth and for the first time in a long time I actually sit back and relax as we drive!

20 minutes later we arrive at the mission building where we hope to spend the next few days.

MAF serves many different mission organizations all around Haiti, and twice a year we have the opportunity to use an MAF aircraft, free of charge to visit a ministry in a different area of Haiti. MAF especially does this for the pilots wives so they can see what their husbands see every day and meet the people MAF serves. Some friends that stayed with us for a few days and then went to do mission work in Les Cayes, invited us to come down, so we took the opportunity to visit.

Out time in Les Cayes flies by. We learn about the mission organization we are staying at, visit schools and have the opportunity to attend two different church services.

We also walk around the city, spend time with the people there and walk to the beach. Although Haiti's untouched areas are stunning, it's touched areas can look pretty awful!

Here pigs root in the garbage on the ocean's edge. Jayden thinks the pigs are pretty neat and has fun copying their little noises.

Although the ocean is still beautiful, the smoking garbage contaminating the shoreline is disgusting!

The streets are nicer then Port au Prince and we enjoy walking through the city. The roads are wider, security precautions seems to be less of an issue, since we don't see as many gated homes and barred windows, and there is definitely a lot less traffic.

Before we know it, it's time to go home again. Our trip back is quiet and uneventful.

On the way back John Pipkin, our friend who is a MAF pilot volunteer flies the airplane back and Jayden gets to sit up front with Jason in the co-pilot seat for a few minutes.

He does get a little worried when he thinks his Dad isn't paying enough attention!

45 minutes later as we touchdown and land I silently thank God for a safe and enjoyable trip.