Monday, May 30, 2011

Summer pools being closed nationwide

The Huffington Post's Jeffrey Collins has an interesting article on the closing of public pools across America due to budgetary constraints:

as the Great Recession has drained city budgets across the country, it also has drained public pools for good. From New York City to Sacramento, Calif., pools now considered costly extravagances are being shuttered, taking away a rite of summer for millions.

It's an interesting read. But keep in mind, this is about summer-only pools being closed. It's not about year-round facilities.

Tim White

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A day in the life: some Haitian fruits

There's one particular drawback to living in Haiti that's been a bit concerning to me lately. There's not much in the way of green veggies. Spinach is grown here, but beans are largely canned and imported. And broccoli... not gonna find it at all.

On the other hand, different fruits always seem to be in season. Here are some pix of a few of the fruits currently growing right outside my bedroom window.

I'm not sure what this is. It's not an avocado tree. It's called "zambuk." I think it may be some sort of mango, but I'm not sure.This is called "cashema." The view is from underneath the high-up fruits as I stand on the ground looking upward. When it's ripe, it turns a pinkish-orange color. It's absolutely delicious.Here are a couple pix of either bananas or plantaines. I have no idea how to tell the difference. I just know that I love sweet bananas and have no appetite for dry plantaines. Also, I love the maroun colored leaves that encapsulate the baby fruits until they explode into their well-known banana shapes. Hummingbirds love the banana flowers. I get to see them float in thin air from time to time as they feed.I think we all recognize this as the unofficial symbol of a tropical paradise: the coconut palm.And the last fruit tree bearing fruit at the moment: the breadfruit tree. It's not really much of a fruit. It reminds me of a potato. The tree has enormous leaves that grow upwards of two feet long.The fruit grow to about the size of a cantaloupe.
Tim White

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A day in the life: Tet kale!

Tet kale! is a Haitian saying. It refers to somone working so hard, your hair falls out and you go bald.

It was made greatly popularized during the recent Haitian Presidential campaign. The follicle-challenged candidate, Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelli, won the election with a mandate -- 67% of the vote -- and a well-suited campaign slogan: Tet kale!

So what does that have to do with me? Not much. But since the rainy season began a few weeks ago, the weather has become close to unbearable. The heat is still here and now it's accompanied by thick humidity. It's tough to stay cool.

But worse than the humidity is the bugs that have accompanied it. It's not just the flying termites, but there's flying ants now too. As I sit here writing this, I hear the first drop of rain falling on the corrugated tin roof. Pitter, patter. Pitter, patter. If it turns to a downpour, then two things will happen:

1) I won't be able to hear a thing. Talking on the phone, and even in person, can become futile.

2) The flying bugs will search out the light... and since we haven't had city power for a few days (I'm one of the few fortunate enough to have any sort of electricity... battery-powered) the bugs find me.

And it was a few days ago that I decided the bugs were overwhelming. As I sat I studying, I felt several land on my head. It was probably at that moment that I realized:

Tet kale!

I've been working so hard, I should have no hair!So I went to the barber today and got my already fairly short hair taken down a notch. Funny thing to me was that I asked to go bald, but he refused. I'm not entirely sure why. As usual, there was something lost in translation. But he seemed to indicate that my ghostly white scalp would get scorched in the Haitian sun.

I couldn't disagree. So I thanked him, paid him and went on my merry way... glad to have one aspect of personal hygiene requirements reduced in a place where I'm never sure if I'll have electricity or running water.
Tim White

Monday, May 23, 2011

A day in the life: Haitian roommates

A few weeks ago I was introduced to some new roommates. Apparently they usually always stop by for a visit after a heavy rain. And since the past six months have been fairly dry, I hadn't yet met them. They're called "bedzells." And they're also known as flying termites.

Foul. Absolutely disgusting. I was told that after a heavy rain, "the queen flies." Then the termites hatch that night and fly toward the nearest light. And they're guaranteed to get anywhere there's light.

A few weeks ago I tried to fight them with bug spray. And after a while I won. But I used half a can of bug spray and had thousands of wings and carcasses strewn about. Again: absolutely disgusting.

Anyway, after that happened I mentioned it to my boss who gave me some advice. I took the advice when they returned last night.

I turned off the lights and went to bed.

Avoiding them is actually pretty simple. Though turning out the lights and crawling into my bednet isn't so bad at 10pm. I'd probably be a bit annoyed if they invade at 7pm some night. Oh well.

Here are some pictures of another roommate:There's a bunch of these at my place. Generally, I don't mind them. If they eat the other bugs, such as flying termites and malarial mosquitoes, I'm cool with the spiders. I do keep my distance though. I have no idea if they're poisonous.

This guy on the other hand is most likely poisonous. At least, if my guess is correct that he's a scorpion.Having lived most of my life in Cheshire, CT, I don't have much experience with scorpions. The extent of it is limited to three instances:

1) In Vietnam, a friend got bitten by a scorpion a few inches long. His ankle swelled to the size of a softball, but it was nowhere near deadly.

2) In Arizona, a friend bought a house. Before renovating it, he went on a nighttime scorpion expedition. Equipped with a black light, he killed about 20 scorpions in the hour we were talking on the phone. I'm not sure if his flatmates were deadly.

3) In Mexico, a friend and I were visiting some family on a ranch outside of Los Mochis. The rancher explained to me that the big scorpions aren't the really dangerous ones. He said it's the little ones. He proceeded to lift up a rock and show me a scorpion less than an inch long. He pinned it to the ground and pulled out its stinger. He said if he had gotten stung, he would've died.

Anyway, I'm not a fan of scorpions hanging out next to my toilet. Which, btw, I'm not sure why all these creepy crawlers like hanging out with my toilet bowl scrub.

My scorpion started to move. Not knowing anything about my particular bugger, I decided that cohabitating was unacceptable. But I didn't know just how fast these guys were... or if they could jump. So I didn't want to get close.

Lucky me. I had a nice, heavy, flat book nearby.

I offered him some bedtime reading. It was a real tear-jerker.

When he was done, he told me he felt the author's pain. He felt crushed.And perhaps not-so-surprisingly, I've got some furry friends. Not rats. Just mice. But I've also begun dealing with them. No thank you.

Tim White

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A day in the life: It's a Sunday, so there's a parade

No, Haitians don't actually have a parade every Sunday. But they do seem to have "processions" fairly often. This one happened by my place today. It consisted of the Brigade. I'm not sure exactly what the Brigade is. But it's obviously some sort of community group that involves both children and adults, men and women.

Here's the parade marshall with the Haitian flag:I'm guessing these are the Brigade's official flags:And of course, whatever the event -- whether it's a funeral or Carnival -- Haitians love their brass band:As for me, I enjoy the omnipresent brass band. It's become part of my Haitian experience.

Tim White

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A day in the life: getting around

I have about a seven to eight minute, uphill walk to work in the morning. It's similar to the walk up Avon Boulevard. In January, I was sweating bullets by the time I'd get to the Klinik around 7:30am. So although I'd never had a bike in my life, I knew I needed some sort of transportation. I recently got this red Jialing 125:

Tim White

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A day in the life: shopping for dinner, but not MY dinner...

When I was in Port-au-Prince, I stopped by the Marche de Fer... the Iron Market. It took about a year, but this was the first major reconstruction project to be completed in PAP. As for the Digicel umbrellas, it's a telephone company here. It's owned by, I think, an American company.The Marche de Fer isn't just an iron market though. Everything is sold here. You can see what's on tap for dinner:Although it didn't shock me, I collected turtles when I was kid. And I still have a soft place in my heart for them. Seeing them on the dinner menu never makes me happy. But maybe even worse than turtles is... see what's tied to the top of the crate?I lived in Vietnam for three years and the Vietnamese eat pretty much everything. And I mean everything: beef, chicken, pork, pangolin, bear, tiger... it was all for sale in restaurants and in the market.

And imagine a pig roast with a spear thru the pig -- from mouth to tail, legs pointed toward the sky -- over an open pit fire. I once saw a street vendor with such a thing in Ho Chi Minh City, except the pig was a dog, maybe 30 pounds.

At least where I lived (southern Vietnam) though, they didn't eat cat. That was more of a northern thing where feline was considered a delicacy. Anyway, that's Tabby tied to the crate and she won't be eating Fancy Feast for dinner... she'll be Fancy Feast tonight.

Like the turtles, the cat didn't make me happy either. But it's Haiti... not Connecticut.

And as for what's inside the crate... quelque lapins... bunnies.

Tim White

Monday, May 16, 2011

A day in the life: my Haitian puppies

Although the dogs aren't mine, we do live in the same place. Here's the proud mommy dog with her litter a couple months ago:And some pix of only her children:

Of the seven puppies in the litter, six survived. The runt died unfortunately. And the remaining six all moved out about a week ago.

Tim White

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A day in the life: microfinance

While I thoroughly enjoy the more hands-on, humanitarian work, I'm a bean-counter. That's the main reason that I'm here. I count beans.

Nonetheless, I do try to have an impact in other ways. One of the things that's fascinated me for a while is microfinance. So when I arrived, that was one of the topics I kept asking about. Does it work? Can we do it?

Unfortunately, while there are some great organizations, such as Kiva and Oxfam, it's a very difficult form of aid to both:

1) provide in a needs-based manner; and
2) properly track and review performance.

Heck, it's difficult to do this in the USA where most of our financial transactions are automated. But much of the world -- particularly where a $25 microloan has a great impact -- has virtually nonexistent automated financial services. And although that's rapidly changing due to improvements in technology, such as cellphone banking, it's still a major hurdle to microloans for many.

Nonetheless, on Friday I was fortunate to help this lady and her daughter in a small way. More specifically, her benefactor in the US helped her with some money to start / expand a business... and also helped a young man with repairs to his motorbike that he uses as a taxi service here in town. And while I'm not getting into the details, I will followup to ensure that the money was spent on the reason for which it was granted.

Again, I'm not getting into great detail on this. And it was a gift, not a loan. But that's the reality of microfinance. While it can work well, it's so incredibly time-consuming... at times it's simpler to offer a gift, then simply followup to make sure the money is getting used properly... rather than reviewing financial records and requiring reimbursement.

From my perspective, the key issue is ensuring the money is used properly and to better someone for a lifetime.

For more on microfinance, see here.

And here's a picture of the mother and daughter who intend to start / expand the family business with some newfound financing:

Tim White

Friday, May 13, 2011

A day in the life: My phone minute salesmen

I think it was the summer of 2008 -- right before The Bailout -- that I decided to start cutting back on my monthly recurring expenses. First thing to go was cable TV. I went cold turkey and cancelled TV completely. Sometime soon after, I reverted from the common $45/mo lots-of-minutes plan, circa 2010, to a less expensive I-got-my-cell-phone-for-an-emergency plan, circa 1995. But even that plan was around $25/mo. And after not having gotten a new phone since 2002, I finally needed a new phone and made the switch to a prepaid plan.

Switching to the prepaid plan made total sense to me. Not only did I get a new phone, but I was able to further reduce -- and better control -- my expenses. PLUS it made the switch to Haiti much easier. The only way I can call home -- my parents still don't use Skype -- is by buying prepaid minutes. And it really couldn't be much easier here.

There are "phone minute salesmen" seemingly everywhere in Haiti. They not only sell minutes, they also charge cell phone batteries. Fortunately for me, I'm in a situation where I normally don't need to pay to get my phone charged. Although it's not uncommon for me to have no electricity at my place, the office consistently has electricity (often using a generator and car batteries). And the cell phone salesmen may provide other services. I'm not sure. But I do know that they are ubiquitous. They were a particular smock and you can even flag them down while they driving around.

Using a phone in Haiti is easy-peasy.

Here's are some pix of my cell phone crew:

And here are some pictures of "the office." It's not something you'd see in Cheshire, but I figure it's not all that different from any street vendor you'd see in NYC:
Tim White

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Death penalty repeal is dead... for the moment.

CT News Junkie's Hugh McQuaid is reporting:

Speculation about the fate of the bill began early Wednesday when Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said she would not be voting in favor of repeal.

Prague had strong words for Komisarjevsky.

“They should bypass the trial and take that second animal and hang him by his penis from a tree out in the middle of Main Street,” she said.

Thank you, Senator Prague... and Senator Maynard too. Both have switched their vote and ended the discussion of repealing the death penalty during this session. And though it will most likely come back next year, hopefully the clarity of thought will continue.

I completely agree with the notion that government should not take a chance on putting an innocent man to death. I suggest passing a law which requires "absolute certainty," for the death penalty. It'd be a more difficult bar to cross than "beyond a reasonable doubt."

We all know exactly what these two murderers did. With them, there is "absolute certainty." So they would still be executed. And they should die, although death is too kind for them.

Tim White

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Voodoo art in Port-au-Prince

Although I'm not a big fan, on the way to Jeremie I pretty much have to spend a night in Port-au-Prince. When I was there recently, I stopped by this voodoo artist's workshop. Some of it is interesting, some is scary, some is probably illegal and some is simply perplexing.

Here's the owner of the workshop, Andre:Along with this close-up of some of his personal work:This is the type of stuff that *may* be illegal. Just today I was told that it's not uncommon for graves to be undug, so thieves can steal and sell the bones -- particularly skulls -- for voodoo ceremonies, etc.

I found this one -- and all of the baby head on soda bottle pieces -- a bit disturbing though. Kinda reminded me of the Chucky slasher films:Coupling the disturbing doll head soda bottles with the assorted baby shoe artwork left me feeling a bit off:But here's one piece of work that I found interesting:

Tim White

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Constructing a cholera outreach tent

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to help construct the first of ten cholera outreach (education & healthcare) tents. We located it in a small village, Carrefour Prince.

I got there with two fellow employees, Moise and Nixon. Nixon drove there.

Here are a few pix from when we arrived:Here the villagers tear down what appears to be the old "community building." It had no roof. And I'm uncertain if a "community building" is an appropriate description because my Creole is still that of a two-year old. But it certainly seemed to be some sort of structure -- without a roof -- on community property.Here Nixon and Moise begin breaking down the boxes with the tent materials:A Carrefour Prince resident:The locals were initially hesitant to help. I'm not sure why, but at least some waited for direction:Old meets new:More construction pix:This boy wasn't helping in the construction. But I asked him for a pic of him as he passed by riding his donkey and he obliged. Everyone was very helpful.The construction continued:And the job was done after several hours in the Haitian sun. I certainly got some color that day while working!I drove back to Jeremie down the dirt road using the 4WD and going very slowly. Parts of the road's shoulder are simply a cliff. And there's one switchback -- immediatately before fording a river -- that requires a multi-point K turn for even the best of drivers. Regardless, I got back to my place and was glad that I had finally had the opportunity to drive here. It is chaotic, but it gave me a bit more nerve to buy my bike...

Tim White