Haiti will not perish! The title of the book by Michael Deibert kept replaying itself like a consistent mantra during my recent visit to Jeremie/Haiti, a place that I had lived and worked in for 23 years, until Covid and the mounting insecurity forced me to return to Chicago. I took a good while before making the decision to go back to Haiti for a visit. I finally decided to go. I was nervous, but once I was on the plane I was excited and happy, wondering how I would find things.
There were no issues with my flight, and we made it to PAP on time. I had made reservations at the Servhotel. A young woman from the Servotel met me at the airport and took care of everything for me. Once the passport was stamped, and $10 entrance fee was paid, she guided me to the small van that would take me to the hotel. Of course, a well-armed security guard was in the van also. The room was quite acceptable and the food was absolutely delicious: lambi (conch one of the local Haitian dishes). The hotel was full. There were no more rooms available, and a number of foreigners were also there, conducting business.
Early the next morning, the hotel van brought me to the domestic airport for my flight to Jeremie at 8:05 am. I was surprised to see President Jovenel’s photo still up.
Sunrise Airlines worked very efficiently, and since I had little luggage all went smoothly. In 30 minutes we were in Jeremie. A friend picked me up at the airport, which was much nicer than I remembered it. Lots of amelioration in the waiting area and reception.
Once we left the airport I was amazed at how much the road had improved. All asphalted until we reached Jeremie. Lots of people on the road, especially downtown, but not much change.
There is another hotel that is being built, not sure for whom, since there are enough hotels already in Jeremie, and no tourists or NGO people.
The road to my house is not paved yet, but after 2 years the house looks fine. It could use a new paint job, but that can wait until I return. The internet signal is not working, and the telephone connections are very poor. The only time I get to check emails is in the evening when I sit on the roof. Communications have definitely deteriorated. Jeremie has not had any electricity since January of this year.
I have a new house guest, a dove.
A friend gave it to me as a present.
I also have a new dog, Rocky. He is a great dog, very young but perfectly trainable. He loves petting and belly rubs. He already comes when I call him. I am falling in love with him.
I have contracted with Guerline to make lunch every day that I am here, so today she prepared a feast. Pwason roz (red snapper), with a lots of avocados, and akra, my favorite and fried plantains. Absolutely delicious, and totally unexpected. Life is good. I am somewhat embarrassed to say this in a country that is suffering so.
My first visit was with Fr. Jomanas, the Dean of the law school where I used to teach English. We had a very interesting conversation about Haiti and the mentality of fear, a result of past history, which is so prevalent among the people. The problem is difficult and even Jeremie does not escape it. No answer as to what the future might bring.
On the roof of my house, watching the sunset, it seemed so peaceful with the view directly on the ocean, but my friend received a message that one of the Catholic sisters he knows, has been shot and killed in Delmas 19. She has worked in Haiti as a missioner for over 20 years. That is so sad. Insecurity is rampant and never lets up.
One of my friends came by to visit and we had good discussion about the political and economic situation. While Jeremie is relatively secure, weapons are coming in, AR 15 and others. It seems like the so-called politicians are heavily into the arms race and distributing weapons. It is not a good situation, and my friend feels that civil war is a possibility. This friend is my right hand for many of the projects of Haitian Connection. We talked about the summer program which we will have in 5 communities in and around Jeremie for children 7 to 14 years of age.
I had a very pleasant visit with my friend Bette. Place Charmant, her and her husband’s hotel, has not lost its charm yet. Things are going well for GADHA, the organization that Bette founded, and they will train Haitian doctors to do breast biopsies and Cuban medical personnel are doing ultrasounds. This is a great step forward for Jeremie, and avoids having to go to Port au Prince for these services. GADHA is seeing a lot of patients. Bette also has no idea how to this critical situation will end.
The market in Jeremie has plenty of food. If you have money, you can find whatever food you are looking for. It also looks as if the floating bridge will be ready in July or shortly thereafter. Bette feels there is more danger from gangs in the countryside than in Jeremie proper. Interestingly many of the gang members in PAP are from Jeremie originally.
Elcie, another friend and a nurse doing well, but her son’s situation is weighing on her. He is 28 and no job. He got computer training and some other training, and is thinking now to go into business for himself. That is weighing on him and on Elcie also. She got a new gate for more security. And her house has new paint. She does a great job as one of our mental health agents. She told us about a woman who is pregnant with twins and just lost her husband and her oldest child. But she has 4 other children and now twins. She was at the end of her rope. HIV is still an issue, but the medication is coming in regularly. Also all employees of HHF have to be vaccinated, they were given the choice of either that or losing their job. HHF has a car stationed on the other side of the river, which helps with transportation, but it is still a difficult effort to cross the river especially with a newborn in tow. Then we went to See Rose Nalda. What an amazing young woman. She finished nursing school and has a job, but quite far away from Jeremie, and stays there and comes only home on the weekend. She has to pay for lodging and food and transport. She also rents the house in Jeremie for herself, her brother and her mother. She basically is the support of her family. She had a horrible accident via an electric shock. It is amazing how she recovered, and how she manages all her responsibilities. Chapo ba for her. Her contract is almost finished, and she will need to look for another job. Amazingly she still smiles.
Another friend mentioned that a gang tried to take over Jeremie but all the motorcycle drivers and the population with lights and candles stopped them from entering and they did not try again. Yesterday the people stopped a guy from steeling a motor cycle, and killed him. Since the justice system in not working, people take matters into their own hand. Also police were part of the motor cycle steeling gang that there was so much protest that the police stopped. But even my good friend and former co-worker is discouraged about the situation in Haiti, but he feels that Jeremie will stay peaceful. His daughter is going to law school in Jeremie, because he does not want to send her to PAP. Stress is a constant companion, because everybody has family in PAP and nowhere feels safe.
Madame Love and Kendy came to visit. Another wonderful visit. Kendy is so amazing. I wish him great success for his youth empowerment program in July. He works very hard; I do not know when he sleeps. He would like to study international affairs. He is going to an international school in Germany. Via Instagram he established contact with the school on his own and qualified for a complete scholarship. He will have an international baccalaureate once he is finished with school, and then they will help him to go to a university here in the US. But he is determined to return to Haiti and help with the development in his country. That is what his youth empowerment program is all about.
Lopino, a small hamlet outside of Jeremie is where Fr. Maxime is working now. Lopino has a gang with weapons, so the area is insecure. They steal the peasants’ livestock. But the peasants in turn have killed two of the gang members.
Reginal, a medical student now finished with all of his classes came to my house. What a pleasure to see him. He is awaiting another internship and then a year of internat, then he is finished unless he wants to go into a specialty. He also said that it is serious that Aristide will form a transitional government, but Aristide has not 100% decided.
The medical school that Reginal is attending was conceived by the Aristide Foundation. Some people feel that the talk about Aristide is a diversion by the current Prime Minister so he can hold on to power longer.
I also had a chance to visit Shelky who is finishing the last year of nursing school. Haitian Connection has supported her throughout her schooling.
We visited with Pastor Alfred and his wife. She is one of our mental health workers. Both Pastor and his wife said that mental health issues are on the rise. Fr. Maxime also confirmed this. Pastor Alfred also spoke of the fear that people are experiencing. Nonetheless both their twin daughters are at the university in PAP, Quisqueya. No solution in sight regarding the situation in Haiti according to them.
Blanchard, another friend, works in Macaya up in the mountains. He said malnutrition is very visible, because the land is not very good. Primarily it is plantains they have but other crops do not really take. Right now they are trying to revive the coffee production. Covid also had a great impact, but more people are beginning to be vaccinated. He also mentioned that maybe one day he might not be able to leave their house, so they need to stock up on supplies. Other people I talked to say the same thing.
I had a great visit at the University of the Nouvelle Grand’Anse where I worked as the Vice Rectrice for over 10 years. I am now on the Advisory Council.
A number of new buildings, all well maintained. 360 some students. They now have a guest house for professors, also a solar pump for water. Many of the trees we planted have grown a substantially. The campus entrance gives a good appearance. We had a meeting with Decimus, Blanchad, Magalie, Vladimir, Jean-Rony, and I made a commitment to help look for an internet solution. Their biggest problem is still finances. But they are able to have electricity during the day with inverter and solar panels.
I also got to meet Melchie, a Haitian Connection scholarship student. She is in the 2nd year of agronomy. Very likable young lady.
Blanchard was a good guide, and I really appreciate the way he paved the way for me. He also gave us a chance to visit the bridge to see how things work there, and we also visited the floating bridge. They are working on it, but when we visited the work had stopped.
Right now the way it works is that motorcycles and 3-wheelers stop on one side of the river and take loads from trucks, cross the damaged bridge with the goods, and on the other side of the bridge load trucks which then can deliver the goods. The bridge was damaged during the earthquake in August of 2021.
I also got to meet Stacy, the scholarship student Haitian Connection is supporting for her studies in culinary science at ECAM. She is also 3rd year student at UNOGA in management/ administration.
A good visit with wonderful people. They were appreciative that I came to visit despite the insecurity and difficulties of traveling. But in some ways, the visit was bittersweet—seeing how so much more difficult life has become. While the suffering and anxiety regarding the insecurity is always present like white noise, Haiti will not perish; it cannot, the people will persevere.