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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

There and Back Again

Going to Haiti was probably one of the most eyeopening and life changing events that I will ever experience. I was incredibly nervous about going; the drive to the airport was complete with sweaty palms and jitters. I couldn't believe it was actually happening. Once I arrived and saw a few of the girls and Dr. Russell, I instantly calmed down. I wasn't doing this alone. The flight was long and the layover was tiresome, but we finally arrived in Santiago. We really didn't see much of the city until the next morning after eating breakfast, loading up the bus, and getting on the road. The views were varied. At first it was more of a small city...beachy with palm trees, but filled with a variety of stores and businesses. We stopped at a little resturant called La Madonna where we ate a delicious lunch of rice and beans, plantains (yum!), chicken, and goat. Yes, goat. Of course, I didn't eat the latter two. As we ventured closer and closer to Haiti, the scenery changed to farmland, beautiful mountains, and a much more poverty stricken community. When I saw this, I thought, "Wow, this is what they were talking about." Little did I know, it was only the tip of the iceberg.

View of the houses in the mountainside
and Haitians loading up on a truck 
Street market
The closer we got to the boarder, the more people we saw...and more and more and more. There were SO many people: walking, riding motorbikes, selling things, buying things, riding in trucks, riding on trucks, carrying a dozen chickens, carrying things on their heads, carrying children, you name it, there was probably someone doing it. The streets were crowded with merchants selling foods, clothing, shoes, furniture, and animals. It was market day. The Border opens up two days a week for people to buy and sell between the countries. It was overwhelming and seemingly impossible to drive though, but our bus driver was amazing and he navigated though like it was nothing new. At one point we were nose to nose with another truck! I didn't sit so close to the front of the bus after that. The scariest part was probably when our passports were handed over to a stranger (Allen and Branly knew him) and we watched him walk off into the crowd while we continued to drive though it. Apparently, he was an official that was taking them ahead to the immigration office so we wouldn't have to wait as long, but it was a very nerve-wracking moment. While we waited for our passports to come back, there were people coming up to the bus and peering in, trying to get our attention, or trying to sell us things. It was a bit intimidating, and I almost felt like an animal in the zoo: people walking past my cage, peering in with faces close to the windows for a better look, then walking away when they realized I wasn't that interesting to look at.

Fruit vendors 
Seeing Haiti for the first time was shocking. So many people, still, all over the city. The shops and homes were rundown, paint peeling, rusty tin rooftops, and the garbage..the garbage was everywhere. I couldn't believe how much there was. The lack of infrastructure in Haiti has lead to no sanitation system. The streets are overflowing with the leftovers from breakfast, lunch, dinner, birthdays, holidays, and every other day. Even the beaches (even the one we stayed on, although they kept up with it and cleaned daily) were littered with washed up trash. The ocean is like a human body; it purges the things that are foreign and disagreeable. It's a very sad sight. When I saw the city, it seemed as if the people had just given up; they just didn't want to try anymore. It wasn't until I was outside of the confines of my zoo cage that I really saw Haiti and saw it people and saw their hope.

Children excited to see us as we hiked up to the Citadel on 12/31

Throughout the week we visited the several of our partners. On Friday, it was Let Agogo with Ewaldy Estil from Heifer International. Heifer is an organization that aids agriculture communities in other countries where poverty is rampant. They provide community members with animals and in return, they must "pass on" the animals first offspring to another community member in a ceremony called "passing on the gift." Unfortunately, we did not get to see this ceremony, but the previous years class happened to be there for it. I do not know if this is true for all Heifer projects, but in this community in Haiti, the members are required to give one gallon of milk to Let Agogo each day. Let Agogo uses that milk to create a milk product that has a very long shelf life and does not require refrigeration to be used in children's school lunches. We really got an idea of what Heifer was doing for the community. We also had out first experience interacting with the children that lived nearby. I was a bit nervous to interact with them and kind of hung back and took pictures. I'm not great with kids to begin with, not to mention the complete language barrier. This, of course, changed.

At UNAF, making faces at us from
outside the bus
On our way up the mountains
 to the hotel
Our next stop was the hotel we would be staying at for the week. We stayed at Cormier Plage, a lovely little resort type place right on the ocean and surrounded by mountains. Each day we were able to experience a very bumpy and frightening (the road's edge wasn't too far from the cliff's edge!) drive with some of the most beautiful views. The gorgeous ocean and mountain views were on one side of the road and on the other, rundown homes with children, animals, and adults sitting and watching us go by. The hotel was very nice and the beach was beautiful. The food they served us was always so delicious and they staff were more than accommodating and kind.

Students showing us a Level-A
The next day, Saturday, we went to UNAF, an agriculture college. We met with students, and we were able to socialize with them for a few hours. I met several girls and gave them the bracelets that I made. I also handed out candy that I brought. "Almond Joy" candies were a big hit!  We saw their gardens where they practice the things they learned in classes and how they create them. A few of us, myself included, were able to help them build a "level A" which is used when making their plots. I got to use a machete for the first time. I wasn't very good at it. Katie and Morgan also were able to help build the level. The Dean of Agriculture was there to tell us about their work and how they differ from American farmers. I was really interested in this because when we think about farming, the first things that come to mind are tractors, combines, harvesters, etc. They don't have those things; everything they do is either by hand or with tools that they create. It's really amazing

UNAF students welcomed us with their president, Gedeon Eugene 
Caroline and me with some of the UNAF students
 Thanks to Matt and many other students, We had over 100 textbooks to bring to the university. How amazing it was to be able to give the gift of knowledge. After visiting with the students and trying to get through struggled conversations with our little abilities to speak Creole and their fairly good abilities to speak English, we found that music was a common bond we shared. It's amazing, actually, to think that even though we live such different lives and speak different languages, music is something that joins us all together all over the world. Some of the girls showed them how to do the "cupid shuffle" (I think someone has a video of that!) and we listened to songs on each others phones. Most of the students were very good at speaking English, and they were all self-taught with the help of American rap and R&B music.

Me, Moriah, Erica, Maddie, Casey, Kyrsten, and Kim at UNAF

Purdue University and Universite do Antenor Firmin

Alex (center) and two other children at the orphanage

After UNAF, we went to an orphanage. It was honestly overwhelming at first. Right upon entering, most of the kids latched onto one of us. There were quite a few of them. A 12 year old girl came up to me right away and held onto my arm for most of the next hour. She showed me her room and around their building. I had bracelets that I made to give out and as I started to, there were a few girls that kept asking for more and more. They had plenty, and there were several children that did not receive one. I found this a bit upsetting. They actually started to become more aggressive about it and were shouting "GIVE ME ONE" over and over. I had to tell them I did not have anymore. What really bothered me was that they were hiding them and trying to tell me that they did not get one. They also snatched some away when I was trying to give them to other girls. It was not all of the kids, just two girls in particular. Their behavior, while I understood it, almost ruined my experience there. I didn't see any of the other students with these types of children. There is clearly a hierarchy in this orphanage (and in most, I assume). Please don't get me wrong, I really liked the girls. They were sweet and very fun, but I really just did not care for some of their actions.
Me and one of the children
There one one young boy, Alex, who was VERY thin. It was unbelievable. At one point Branly was handing out crackers and the children swarmed him in excitement. I took a few and wanted to give them to Alex, but these 2 girls grabbed a pack each and I was able to toss the last pack to Morgan to give to the boy. I walked over to him a few minutes later as he was munching on some crackers. There was a lollipop on his lap. Another boy came over and sat next to him and reached out for the lollipop. Alex snarled (best way to describe the sound he made) at the boy and then started to cry. I heard from someone else later that he did not talk. It was so sad to see. We all took pictures outside and played clapping games, a few of the girls even got new hair styles. We presented the children with many many gifts: toys, food, candy, clothes, toothbrushes, eyeglasses, and more. The experience was great and really fun, and it's something I won't forget.

Sunday was UNAF's graduation ceremony and we all got to dress up and go. When we arrived, it was a bit shocking. The ceremony was held in a very nice church that was FULL to the max with families. We were led in down the center isle...almost like a wedding party. Everyone stared and some even took pictures! It was definitely not anything any of us were expecting. We sat in the very front right next to the graduates. The ceremony lasted 2 hours and it was all in French. Gedeon welcomed us (in English) and told the crowd who we were and how we had brought all of the textbooks to the university. It felt really good when everyone applauded us. Dr. Oliver gave a speech (with Branly translating), Dr. Russell shook hands with the graduates after they received their diplomas, and apparently we were all on TV! None of us realized that it was being broadcast LIVE! I mean, we SAW the guy with the camera..he was right in front of us...I even waved! But I assumed it was just to make a video for the students or whoever wanted one. Oh well, I guess I'm famous in Haiti now :]

Part of Northcoast farms
Bee hives at Northcoast
Monday was a VERY busy day. First, we went to visit Northcoast Farms. This is a new, large company started by a man named Andy English (I believe he is American). The farm is focusing on growing various crops such as Aloe and Lemongrass, goat farming, and beekeeping. The bees are a really versatile area of production because they are able to collect the honey and also the wax, which they use to make candles. Some of us got to make candles with the workers. My group went to see the bee production first. The beekeeper showed us their hives and opened one up for us to show the comb progress. It was really cool to see, but because we didn't all have the bee suits, we couldn't get very close. I actually had a bee get stuck in my hair, but the keeper came and pulled it out before the bee stung me. I was a little scared that I was about to get stung in the face! After seeing the bees, we found out that Ewaldy had arrived and wanted to take the Heifer group (my group) to see a Bee CoOp that Heifer was helping start up and they wanted us to present the information we had gathered for them.

Heading to the Bee CoOp
We piled into the Heifer truck with Brandy and Ewaldy and headed a few miles down the road to the CoOp. When we arrived there was a group of older men and women waiting for us. We sat in a circle and Ewaldy introduced us and also the CoOp members. The president of the CoOp explained their mission and progress to us. We found out that they were relatively new to beekeeping and had mostly leaned how to beekeep from other members of the community (we do not know where they learned from). They currently had about 20 hives behind a cornfield. We were able to see these hives a few days later. They were fairly old and beat up, but they seemed to be doing well. The bee keeping community consisted of all older people, and they explained that the reason for this is that younger people are not interested in keeping because they do not have the proper clothing and do not want to get stung. We brought with us two large, filled up binders of information on beekeeping from Purdue entomologists and on goat farming. Maddie also donated a beekeeping starter kit complete with a smoker, gloves, screen hats, and several tools. The members were VERY excited about these items. We also donated eyeglasses and I left the children's clothing, shoes, and toys that my mom and I had purchased with Ewaldy to give out to children in the community that he knew could use the things.

Pinguin fibers that will be
made into rope
Some of the beautiful candles they make
at Northcoast. The black color is achieved
by adding charcoal.  
We headed back to Northcoast Farms and found that the other groups were helping put shredded sugarcane around Aloe plants to help keep moisture in the soil. We helped with this for a few minutes, and they told us about how they made candles and saw the goat breeding project. Apparently, last year when the farm started they had about 10 goats. Now, they have over 30. They also had about 40 bee hives. The farm was REALLY nice and seemed to be doing very well. They also made clothing in the same building (note: this building was about the size of a 30-40 student classroom) and used old fashioned singer sewing machines. There is this really amazing cactus plant that grows in Haiti called Pinguin. It is used almost everywhere as a fence because it grows straight up and can be planted close together. The coolest part about this cactus fence is that you can harvest it. I saw several houses with cactus fences with perfectly cut tops (like you would trim hedges with a hedge trimmer). The cactus fibers are used to make different things including rope! This is just one example of the resourcefulness that I found in the Haitian community.

Candle making explanation

After we left Northcoast, we headed to the Citadel. The Citadel is a very old fortress that was built in the 1800's to protect Haiti from the French when they returned..they never did. There are hundreds of cannons and cannon balls neatly stacked in different places in the Citadel. It's so beautiful and old, but there's a's located about 3000ft up a super steep trail that was only about a mile and a half long. We rode the bus as far up as we could but stopped in a parking lot. The rest was up to us. When we got out we were immediately swarmed by people wanting to sell us souvenirs or to ride their horses up to the top. We were NOT riding horses. The poor things were soo thin and had such awful saddle sores. :[ The previous class that went on this trip were asked to ride the horses to give a report on the experience for future tourist. One student reported that their horse was wiped over 100 times and most of the students got off the horses half way to the top and walked.

Even though we did not want to ride the horses, a large group of people followed us up on foot and on horse. The people on foot were "guides" and they talked to us and pointed things out. A young boy designated himself as my guide. His name was Joselyn (not sure if I spelled that right). He spoke very good English and he told me about himself and asked me questions about America. He showed me different landmarks such as a large basin that was used to hold water and a smaller stone building that was a lookout tower. He took my picture for me a few times also. The road/trail was made of stone so it was pretty uneven, and it was VERY steep for the most part. It was really hot out and sunny on and off. I don't think I've ever sweat so much! I made it to the top though and I was so proud. The view was absolutely breathtaking. Miles and miles of mountains were all you could see. The citadel was so old and the stones were moist and had a lot of moss on them. It looked like something out of The Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit. We all took several pictures while waiting for everyone to reach the top.While we were waiting the winds brought in a cloud...we were that high up! It was really cool at first because I had never been in a cloud and you could see the air swirling around in it, but it also brought colder air. It was a nice relief at first, but it started to get kind of chilly. We had a tour guide who took us through the large rooms of the Citadel and explained what everything was and the history of the place. It was pretty cool. There were cannons from Spain, France, and England.

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