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Mary Resk’s Haiti Journal, Part III

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THESE ENTRIES ARE EXCERPTED FROM A LARGER BLOG. SEE THE REST AT:** www.freespiritedfreelancer.wordpress.com

EASTER—SUNDAY, APRIL 8, 2012

Last night after dinner we had a meeting for new volunteers and I had an enjoyable conversation with Sister Maureen, a British nun who has been here together with Sister Ann since 2009. Sister Maureen is a spirited older lady who was very excited to find out I’m a teacher, and she wants me to tutor (CRUDEM medical director) Dr. Previl’s daughters in English when I have some time.

I slept through the first night a lot better than I expected, save the few loud music and bird calls in the middle of the night. We arrived late to breakfast (eggs, toast, grapefruit) and then had a pretty leisurely morning. I worked out with Donni and Hank doing a Tabata makeshift workout next to our dorm area, and the security guards thought our “moving” was hysterical. I imagine when most people are trying to conserve every calorie they consume, moving around to burn off excess seems illogical. Donni and I sat outside our compound watching families go to church in their finest Easter clothing. People jetted in on motor bike, tap taps, and on foot, clutching bibles and wearing the whitest of white dresses and bright bows. Amidst the dusty, muddy roads and potholes, I have no idea how they keep their clothes looking spotless and unwrinkled.

“Komon ye” is my new kriol word for the day. It means, “How are you?” Michel is teaching me a little bit every day. He is inspiring. On the way to the cockfight he told me more about his background. He grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Milot. He didn’t stay long in school and said he had trouble with it, but he is an enterprising fellow and has been creative in eking out a living. Like many of the people we have met here, Michel has learned all of his English through interaction with tourists. It’s incredible that many people here speak multiple languages (some even four or five) but they cannot find work in Haiti. Michel is a jack-of-all-trades. He had the opportunity to learn pottery in the ‘80s, and he has applied his skills both as a tile-maker for reconstruction work on the Citadel, and as an artist, selling pottery and paintings to CRUDEM visitors. He also works as a power operator for CRUDEM, guides tourists, and owns two gardens to support himself and his family.

Michel became very animated when I asked about his family. He has four grown children. One just finished medical school and two others are completing medical studies. Two are living in the Dominican Republic. Michel has worked hard to give his children opportunities, and in return he expects a lot of them. He says this is because he has seen a cycle: his parents worked very hard as farmers and he wanted to do better. Since he didn’t have much education, Michel has been successful by working in a variety of capacities. He now hopes that by providing for his children they will be successful, have good lives, and they will take care of their parents in their old age.

After lunch (another tasty combination of chicken, spiced vegetables, beans and rice) we got a group together in the afternoon to walk the loop around Milot—a 3-4 mile circuit where “a different kind of poverty” abounds, according to Treasa Smith, a permanent employee of the lab here who is from Colorado. Despite rudimentary conditions, we saw kids and families smiling, playing, and showcasing their creative capabilities through their use of makeshift toys—one group of kids was hard at play “making movies” by using a homemade video camera made out of a stick and a Pepsi bottle. Recovery room nurse, Donni Reddington Vognild, who is also a videographer, noticed how serious the kids were with their roles as director, subject, and crew. They even carried a script through their scenes! Other children played happily with remnants of balls and rope. We even saw a unique interpretation or perhaps social commentary on local Catholic customs meeting contemporary public health policy as a toddler played with a balloon made out of a condom.

Amidst the muddy track and the banana tree-lined hillside, I talked more with the lab employee, Treasa, who has been in Haiti for most of this past year. She has some innovative notions about tourism growth, and she is an animal advocate. She has combined the two interests by helping to show people here that an overpopulation of feral animals is a public health threat and will keep potential tourists away. Treasa has convinced the Humane Society in Port-au-Prince to come to Milot and do a clinic to spay and neuter dogs and cats. She is also working on getting animals healthy and adopting them out of the country. She says there are plenty of people caring about people here, so she’s choosing to help the animals. Theresa is also utilizing her lab skills to connect animal concern with human public health issues. She suggested that I talk to her friend, Ben, from the lab, who is from Milot. When Theresa moved here almost a year ago, she noticed all of the vendors on the streets, saw the two UNESCO World Heritage sites within walking distance, and noted the immense potential for tourism. She figured there must be some sort of local business bureau or chamber of commerce. No such luck. When she asked Ben about it, he suggested that she talk to the vendors directly. That is not her forte, but I wondered if our Rotary members might lend a thought on this.

There are a few B&Bs in town (including a very attractive luxury B&B right downtown) and I just really have to wonder who their market is. There is all of the potential in the world for this beautiful area rich with historical structure and significance to attract tourists, but they do not have the infrastructure now to do so. This got me thinking quite a bit about problems associated with tourism. Last year when I visited South America I was pretty well focused on the potential challenges that occur to a country post-tourism—like at Macchu Picchu and the Inka Trail in Peru. There is a lot of good that can come from the dollars that tourists bring to the area, but when does help turn to harm as more than 10,000 tourists a day pass through Macchu Picchu, potentially decimating a site and setting a local developing nation up for failure to maintain a symbol of their cultural heritage? And so Haiti, especially Milot, with two UNESCO sites in their territory, is plagued with an entire different set of pre-tourism challenges. Who can they get to come here? How will they get to come here? How will they get here when the roads are iffy at best? What services can the town provide that tourists will want and use that can bring money back to the town? How can people work together to cross promote and then promote to a wider audience? And can this kind of idea even be discussed when food is a #1 concern?

It’s remarkable to me to even be discussing these problems when many people just simply need to eat. It’s impossible to me that with the prevalence of cell phones here in such a poor nation, sometimes people choose communication over food as their number one solution. And to think that in Wenatchee the current major crisis is discussing whether to add a seemingly minor inconvenient sales tax (for many) to save ourselves from the Town Toyota Center fiasco!

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