Sunday, February 28, 2010

the resilience

It is less than 2 months after the earthquake. Everybody living through such an experience would be devastated, no doubt, and so are the Haitians; you notice it when you talk to them about what happened, to a police man who is guarding the totally collapsed Ministry of Economic Affairs, or to the men who are clearing the rubble from another heavily damaged site; you notice it with the driver when you go downtown and see the enormous damage, and he becomes very quiet, talks very softly.

And yet, Haitian society is bouncing back incredibly fast. Markets are up and running again, Madam Sara's - the ubiquitous market women that dominate a whole commodities sector, whether charcoal or fruit or vegetables - have established themselves on the pavement and in the wooden stalls under colourful umbrellas along the road, the shops have opened where they can. Trade is brusque, multiple stands have emerged around the camps that have been established, and life is returning to what is called 'normalcy'. Now it will take a long time to return to real normalcy, as in what life was before the quake, but it is heartening to see the resilience of Haitian society.

I went shopping the other day, in Royal Market - no doubt recognizable for those who have been here before -, and outside I got to talk to some of the street sellers: a man with a beautiful bunch of flowers he wanted to trade with me for an extraordinary amount of cash and a woman who insisted on selling me mangos at a hugely inflated rate because I am a 'blanc' (the Haitian expression for foreigner no matter your skin colour, my Ethiopian colleague is just as 'blanc' as I am). In the end I didn't buy the flowers, the man understood that my wife was in The Netherlands ("Ah, Kulit et Rikar!!"), too far away to get them - the flowers, not Gullit and Rijkaard - to her in any reasonable time frame. I did buy some mangos, and a papaya, and some avocados, all together for significantly less than the original asking price for the mangos. And we all parted amicably, having enjoyed not so much the trading process but more the social interaction, sharing a joke and a good laugh, satisfying curiosity. The buildings may have been damaged, the spirit of the Haitian people seems to have survived, and as long as that is the case there is hope that this country will sooner or later get back onto its feet.
(1) new business opportunities on Champ de Mars, the largest tented camp in town.

(2) street markets are like before, colourful - albeit a little faded

(3) four quintessential Haitian businesses: shoe polisher, lotto operator, banana seller and, a new development, the mobile telephone operator
and (4) a trader - entrepreneur! - set up shop opposite the UN camp, where else to sell the booze at inflated prices?

the church

Yesterday I wrote about some of the damage to the cultural heritage of Haiti, and I also mentioned the Holy Trinity Church. This church was built in the 1920s, as an Episcopal church, in the center of Port-au-Prince. What makes the church unique is that in 1950 and 1951 a series of murals were painted by some of Haiti's greatest 'first generation' painters. A guy called Dewitt Peters had started the Centre d'Art in Port-au-Prince, an art school to encourage Haitian painters, in the late 1940s. The school doesn't exist anymore, I think, but painting has subsequently developed into a quite extraordinary art movement, and a successful export product. DeWitt Peters also guided some of the most talented, and now most famous painters with the murals in the church. Toussaint August, Wilson Bigaud, Philome Obin and Castera Bazile are some of the painters who have contributed.

The church is no more. The only mural I could find back today was one by Castera Bazile, and another, half hidden, by Philome Obin. Unlike in the past, when the church was dark and the murals not very well visible, now this one was lit by bright sunlight, not hampered by a roof, or an opposite wall. Very sad.

(1) the front of the Holy Trinity Church, with only one wall, the north transept, still standing.

(2, 3) Castera Bazile's "Baptism of the Lord", and part of Philome Obin's "Last Supper", even without a lot of Bible knowledge recognizable, I would say.

For good measure I also add some photos of the Cathedral - no further comments needed. Last time I was in here was in 2001, I think, during the installation (if not coronation) of president Aristide.

(4,5) Port-au-Prince Cathedral.

I promise that this will have been the last pictures of destruction on this blog.... probably.

the city

Long awaited..... I finally went downtown last week, to see what the city looks like now. This is not going to be a pretty picture.

Port-au-Prince has changed from how I remember it, of courses. Every city will be different after a massive earthquake. Some of the buildings that played a dominant role in our life when we were here 10 years ago, are no more. The Montana hotel, where we stayed the first 6 weeks, has collapsed. No one is allowed near it, it is guarded by American soldiers, to protect the remains of the people still burried under the rubble. The Caribbean Supermarket, the largest of its kind in the fancy suburb of Petionville, has collapsed. The presidential palace, many of the ministries, churches - including the Holy Trinity Church with its famous murals by Haitian painters -, the cathedral, many schools, hospitals: all have collapsed or are heavily damaged. The palace especially is for me the symbol of a broken country. Yet, somehow, I don't know how earthquakes go about their destructive powers, the devastation in Port-au-Prince is different from my post-tsunami experience, where everything, literally everything had been wasted. Here some houses have collapsed, sometimes in between other houses that are still standing. A corner building in the commercial district may have turned to rubble, whilst other shops of the street seem in tact. In some cases the edge of a building has given way, resulting in the whole building having been tilted, a really odd sight. And of course, it is still unclear how much damage has been done to buildings that appear OK from the outside.

(1) the palace, symbol of a broken nation

One thing that has largely been saved are the gingerbread houses that are all over town. Many (but not all) of these wonderful, mostly wooden structures, sometimes with brick walls in between, with red corrugated-iron roofs and intricate verandas and balconies, have survived the quake: at least some of the cultural heritage of Haiti has been preserved. So has the Olofsson Hotel, a famous old hotel in gingerbread style that stood model for the hotel described in The Comedians by Graham Greene, a brilliant book about Haiti under the Doc dynasty - although I don't think the weekly jam sessions of the rock band RAM have started again. Sadly, the Nader museum, containing probably the most extensive collection of Haitian art, has not survived, and most paintings appear to have been lost.
The city has also changed in other ways. There is less traffic then I remember, despite the influx of large, antenna-wielding 4x4 vehicles from aid agencies that accompany every emergency response. This is no doubt because many of the cars have been damaged, some 200,000 people, perhaps 10% of the population, have died, and another 500,000 have left the city to stay with friends or extended family elsewhere. But other changes, not earthquake related, are also obvious, and for the better. There are traffic light installed at many intersections - the only traffic light I remember from 10 years ago was one downtown, which was most of the time not working because of lack of electricity. Better even, people seem to respect the traffic lights! I have also seen several garbage trucks, including workers throwing garbage in them - unheard of in the past. Haitian police is more prominently present, and seems to be doing a reasonable job in maintaining order. Taptap drivers are sporting a bluetooth earpiece! Blue signs indicate where taptap's, the shared taxis, are supposed to stop: or good measure, these are being completely ignored. There are many more bars and restaurants around then 10 years ago. Some of the roads have been improved - although many others haven't, and I keep on telling my colleagues who are here for the first time that the huge potholes are not a result of the earthquake!
What remains the most visible change, though, is that every free space in the city, every piece of grass, whether a garden, a little square, the local football pitch or the national stadium, is occupied with tents and plastic sheets, with people living outdoors. Let's hope it is just a temporary change.

(2) the Caribbean Supermarket, or what remains,

(3, 4) the ministry of economic affairs, one of the oldest buildings of Port-au-Prince,

(5) Palais Justice, once a building with an attractive neo-Roman facade,
(6,7) what was once the Eglise Sacre Coeur, with stained windows,

(8) a 'tilted' building,

(9) a surviving gingerbread house - but the garden is full of tents!,
(10) and even the national stadium is full.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

the aftershock

Yesterday night, at about 1.30, we had another cracking earthquake - the are called aftershocks, because they follow a bigger earhquake, even if they come 6 weeks later, but they are of course also earthquakes in their own right. This one was 4.7 on the Richter scale, not much, but apparently very shallow, and it did shake the entire house, badly. It woke up my flat mates, everybody in the neighbourhood and no doubt greater Port-au-Prince, Leogane, and other towns along the coast. My flat mates were up and ready to leave the apartment. Outside dogs were barking, people were screaming, many kept talking throughout the night, didn't go back to sleep anymore.

The quake was followed by a second one a short time later, and towards the end of that second one, I woke up, too. I decided that this was a lot milder than the aftershock the night before - which did wake me up, was also 4.7, but somehow not as dramatic as the one last night -, turned around, and fell asleep again.

I missed it all, my description above is second-hand. But I do believe every word of it, I could see it in the faces of our house staff, Molly and Legrand, who turned up in the morning, dazed, visibly shocked. There are still enormous traumas to be dealt with here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

the apartment

Having explained the shelter situation of the earthquake-affected population in Port-au-Prince, perhaps I should also pay some attention in this blog to my own living conditions. As always, some are better off than others. Upon my arrival two weeks ago I as immediately assigned an apartment, which I share with three colleagues. This despite the fact that quite a few staff members have been staying in tents for the past 4-5 weeks - remember the picture of the camping site I posted a week ago? I guess seniority has its advantages, or perhaps it is just consideration for old age that gave me preferential treatment. I am not complaining!

So I have my own room, with a comfortable bed. Not much light, but who needs light when you use the room predominantly to sleep, after working days of 12 hours or more? There is a large living room, with large sofas, and a balcony with a view, all very pleasant. The shared bathroom has hot water from a boiler most of the time. Also most of the time we have no town electricity, and we are depending on an inverter, a series of batteries. If there is town electricity, one can have a real power shower; otherwise it is just a dribble, with pressure dependent on how full the tank on the roof is, but generally sufficient. Power sometimes comes on at 7 in the morning, sometimes not, so one needs to balance the opportunity to have a power shower against the risk that, being last in the bathroom, all the hot water has been used up.

Two Haitian house staff come at 6 am to cook breakfast for us, which can be anything from fried eggs to boiled potatoes to spaghetti with spicy sausage, and fruit. Especially mangos, Haiti has the best mangos in the world, and is also the only country where mangos grow almost year round, everywhere. Somebody tried to set up a mango export business some time ago, but failed because the mangos were too big to undergo reliable fruitfly treatment, a requirement for import in the US. Apparently, the fruit needs to be treated with ultraviolet light, or something, but because of the enormous size of the Haitian mangos the light cannot penetrate deep enough into the fruit within the maximum exposure time, which otherwise damages the outside. Or something like that, I cannot remember the details, but the result is that there is no shortage of mangos here.

But I am drifting. After breakfast we depart for the office, at around 7.30 am, if we can get a car. Transport is often difficult because of lack of cars, lack of drivers, lack of planning or lack of communication, or a random combination of the four. In the time we are away from the house our staff clean, wash up, do laundry, buy food and cook us dinner, which we find ready to heat up when we come back home at around 8 pm, sometimes later. We have been blessed with an excellent cook, Miss Molly, who can even make tinned chicken taste nice, and with a friendly man, Legrand, whose name unfortunately is not a reference to his intellectual capacity. It took Legrand three days to have my mosquito net put up - after the first attempt the net was hovering about 5 cm above the mattress, 'genial' he found himself. But both of them are very nice, and they are only mildly ripping us off when we give them money to buy our food, so who cares?

For a while we had another occupant in the apartment, too. I had been finding droppings in the kitchen and in the bathroom, already for a few days, indicative of either a very big mouse, or a rat. One night one of my flat mates was woken up by persistent scratching sounds, which turned out to be our rodent trying to break down her bedroom door - the proof was on the floor in the form of wood shavings, and as toothmarks in the door post. The following evening when we came back to apartment we indeed found a sizable rat wandering around. It took us most of the following hour to try to get the animal out, opening doors, blocking other escape routes with boxes and painting frames, and chasing him with sticks towards the door opening. Somebody had told us that rats were extremely intelligent, well, ours was the exception, as he kept on running in the wrong direction. It was quite a scene - quite noisy as well, as it was accompanied by the appropriate screams every time our friend took an unexpected turn -, until we suddenly lost all trace of him. Last we saw was the rat shooting up into the curtains, and then he disappeared completely. Maybe he did, in the end, escape through the open door, unseen despite four adults paying keen attention, because since that evening we have seen no trace of him anymore. Or maybe he was intelligent after all, and decided to leave of his own account.

Bottom line: accommodation is quite comfortable, very close to Montaigne Noire, where we used to live 10 years ago, a little up in the mountains, which makes it pleasantly cool in the evenings, no need for air conditioners. We are well taken care of, well fed. I am writing this on a Sunday morning (our official day off), on the balcony, in shorts. Every hardship is relative.

photo: the view from my balcony on a Sunday morning, if it is not hazy (which it is on most other days, including Sundays)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

the shelters (photos)

I did go out yesterday, and I did take some photos. More about that later, but some of the pictures, posted below, relate to the shelter issues I wrote about a few days ago.
(1) people staying in make-shift camps in their streets, not wanting to sleep inside - and thereby also blocking the traffic through their streets, of course.
(2, 3) the large, open and green park in the center of town, Champ de Mars, is now filled with an estimated 500,000 (!!!) people staying in tents and under plastic sheeting, not leaving an inch of green unused. (4) a row of portable latrines have been placed, there is obviously no space, and no wish, to dig them underground (apologies for the poor quality photo, taken from a driving car)

(5,6) military presence is required to avoid food distributions and the like turning into a free-for-all grab; here with a food distribution in Petionville - MINUSTHA troops, petty heavily armed, not a very inviting sight if you come to pick up your rations.

(7, 8) this is one af the main drains from Port-au-Prince, pretty full with rubbish in the best of times, but since the establishment of the camps filling up with a lot more, like plastic bottles and styrofoam boxes. Despite the fact that this is being burnt regularly, it will likely significantly affect drainage once the real rains start.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

the shelters

One of the most pressing problems here is shelter. I already told you that many people live in tents outside their houses, or in small camp areas in their neighbourhood, because the houses have been destroyed, or are badly damaged. Often they are too afraid to go back inside, even if the house looks relatively OK (what does that mean, "relatively OK", when you live in an earthquake-prone area?). This has led to the establishment of many camps in the city, some very large, and relatively well managed, but many small, ad-hoc, makeshift shelters without any structure. The large camps have been provided with tents, and there is a regular supply of water, which is tankered in and used to fill rubber bladders or newly constructed storage tanks. Latrines are being built, washing space is being created, and with a bit of luck rubbish is centrally collected - not necessarily taken away, but at least put somewhere outside.

The immediate problem is with the smaller camps, especially the ones in densely populated neighbourhoods with little space in between the houses, collapsed, damaged or otherwise. There is no space to put up proper tents or plastic sheeting that give people better protection against the rain. Constructing a latrine in such a place would only create a further health risk. Besides, many of these places are on slopes, and as soon as it starts raining seriously, the whole camp will just wash away. In the mean time drains, already poorly maintained in better times, are now partly blocked with rubble, and are filling up further with waste generated in the camps.

And rain it will! We have had the first showers at night, yet many people haven't received the standard shelter pack - plastic sheeting, wooden poles, rope, and possibly jerrycans, a bucket and a hygiene kit. The rainy season is supposed to start end March, early April, but I think it is unlikely that all needs will have been addressed by then. Distributions are tricky, often require military protection to manage crowd control and to avoid a run on the goods, so need to be planned carefully, one reason for the often-mentioned delays. Having said this, there is also a sudden surge in availability of tarpaulins and all sizes of plastic sheets on the market.... and they look remarkably similar to the ones that are being distributed to the people in the camps. I suppose the market system is slowly restoring itself - which is a good thing, let there be no misunderstanding, people who receive something can either use it, or sell it and do something else with the money they get for it: it is, and it should be, their choice.

The longer term solution needs to come from the government, who must either allocate government-owned land to build temporary camps - this means camps that can house people for 6-18 months, at least -, or provide a legal framework for renting land for camps from private individuals. But of course, much of the government, whether infrastructure, systems or actual government officials at all levels, has been destroyed, and what has been left of government is acutely aware of the fact that this is an election year: elections, due this February, may have been postponed, but they will happen (later, perhaps, rather than sooner, in this case, but anyhow). Even if such land, and such camps, become available, it still needs to be seen whether people will relocate voluntarily, abandoning their belongings however deeply buried under the rubble, abandoning their neighbourhood, their source of income, their children's school, for an uncertain future in a camp. After all, if you are emotionally attached to a place it is a lot more difficult to see the logic of relocation than if you work for the government, the UN or for an NGO.

So, plenty of challenges ahead. The rainy season is only the beginning, after that comes the hurricane season. Tents actually don't work very well in such conditions, plastic sheeting is much better - but many people keep on pushing tents. There is not enough time, even if camp sites are swiftly identified and people are encouraged to relocate, to build more durable shelters in time. And with the shortage of architects, engineers and skilled construction labour, and the destruction of the institutions that teach them, rebuilding Port-au-Prince is going to take a lot longer than 18 months, or 5 years, or even 10 years. Sadly, we may see a lot more misery - and a lot less visible to the world than a sudden earthquake - before things get better.

no photos this time, I will try to find some suitable pictures to add tomorrow, but I just haven't got the time to get out and see for myself...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

the laptop tribe

The Save the Children office was a relatively small outfit, on January 11th, this year. With the rapid response to the earthquake of the 12th, the place became quickly totally overwhelmed. Where there were perhaps 150 staff countrywide, with 4-5 senior managers, of whom two were expatriates, now there are some 60 expatriates, all of whom consider themselves a senior manager to some extent; and we are already employing some 450-500 people so far, soon to be ramped up to 900 or more.

Obviously this has had an impact on the office space, which at least in Port-au-Prince has not changed yet. It would be an understatement to describe the situation in the office as somewhat chaotic. In every small room we have multiple desks against multiple walls, and in the larger rooms we have installed a number of huge tables, around which mostly expatriate staff members are huddled - the laptop tribe. I have no idea how emergencies were handled in the pre-computer era, but these days large numbers of people are grouped around tables, all with laptops in front of them, happily, and seemingly continuously, hitting keys whilst at the same time talking to their neighbours, to people that walk in and out of the room, or in their cell phone. Others are sitting on the floor, back against the wall, or on the steps in the garden, all with a laptop on their lap - indeed that's where the name comes from. At times someone wants to show something on their screen to someone else, so picks up the laptop and walks into one of the rooms, to add to the general conversation. Did I mention the VHF radios that constantly crack in the back?

And yet, despite the apparent chaos, an amazing amount of work has so far been done, four weeks after the earthquake. The seemingly random conversations are in fact highly targeted, and people hear what they need to hear and run with it. A program team has already started distributing food, mobilizing mobile clinics, installing latrines, creating child-friendly spaces, and much more. Procurement people have already ordered massive shipments of tents, jerrycans, buckets, blankets, plastic sheeting, and whatever else you need after you have lost about everything; logistics specialists are busy arranging freight, clearing goods and getting trucks and warehouses organised to handle the enormous amount of stuff being moved; and a team of recruiters tries to find the people nationally and internationally to staff such an operation. And all of this in an environment that has changed dramatically from what it has been before, among a hundred other agencies all trying to achieve the same.

A small detail is that everybody is also looking for accommodation to house their newly mobilised - deployed, in the jargon - international staff.... in a place that has just been flattened by a massive earthquake. Half of our people are still staying in tents, in the office compound, others are sharing a house or an apartment, cramped, but infinitely better than a tent. Of course, many of the Haitian staff are also living in tents, having lost their homes in the earthquake....

photos: (top) this could be any camping site in Europe, but in fact it is the staff accommodation in our compound. Hopefully we can secure some more houses next week, some people have been sleeping here for four weeks already. (middle) But everything is relative, if compared to the situation, for instance, on Place St Pierre, once an attractive square in Petionville, just above Port-au-Prince, (bottom) or to one of the larger camps in Delmas, another neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

the arrival

Arriving by air to Port-au-Prince immediately shows you what's in the mind of the people: from above you clearly see a tent or some plastic sheeting next to almost every house, people don't dare sleeping inside anymore. They don't know how much their house has been damaged. They don't know what the next aftershock is going to do to them. But they also will not leave their possessions behind, inside the damaged house, unprotected.

The airport itself is no longer the chaos it was shortly after the earthquake. In fact, going through the airport gave me an acute sense of familiarity. Immigration was a low key affair. Multiple porters were available, and most willing, to help with luggage. And outside the terminal building it was the usual pandemonium of cars and people waiting. Just like before, just like almost 10 years ago, when I arrived here for the first time.

Driving from the airport to the office also was immediately familiar. The Bougainvillea in the gardens, the pigs going through the rubbish that has been collected and left at the street corners, lots of people in the road, the taptaps - the pick up trucks serving as local transport - slowly inching forward, blocking the traffic whenever they let people in or out. But directly outside the airport is the first tented city, here fairly well organised. That wasn't there before. Further down there are lots of make-shift tents, tarpaulins, in every open space imaginable. Streets seem to have been largely cleared from rubble, in fact most houses here are still standing, but the occasional compound wall has collapsed, and big cracks have appeared in others. Then I also see individual houses that have collapsed, often the roofs just fell down; some multiple storey buildings are now no more than multiple concrete slabs. There is no way anybody inside would have escaped, would have survived the collapse. Strangely many of the neighbouring houses are still standing, appear undamaged, obviously better constructed, less sand in the cement. And a little further the effects of the earthquake seem invisible again, except for the handwritten signs of the local population, asking for help, asking for food and water in three different languages - hoping to attract the attention of one of the many aid agencies whose vehicles pass their street corner.

It is only when we get near the office, which is located on the same hill as where the Hotel Montana stood, that I get my first glimpse of what really happened. From below one has a good view of the slope, and of all the houses that have either collapsed or have been damaged beyond use. The picture illustrates what I mean: there has been an earthquake here, and it was a big one. I dread further exploring Port-au-Prince.

the journey

Sunday evening by high speed train from Arnhem to Frankfurt, I fell asleep even before the train pulled out of the station, then finding my way at massive Frankfurt Airport, check in with Condor - an airline for holiday makers, but the only one that flies overnight to Santo Domingo. Small shock at the counter, as I had only a one-way ticket, which requires that you have a visa or a contract. But once again, mentioning Haiti did wonders, suddenly there was no problem anymore, not even with my slightly overweight luggage. Boarding, and once again, asleep even before take-off, and I slept for most of the 10-hour journey to Santo Domingo.

The difference between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, at least from what I remember, is striking: for two countries sharing the same island, the DR is fairly well developed - my taxi to the hotel took a five-lane highway into town -, but the people are not nearly as friendly, not nearly as helpful, and also not very talkative. In contrast, Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere by far - and even worse so after the earthquake, no doubt -, has an incredibly friendly population, always smiling, helpful, hospitable. Of course there are many more differences, the DR being largely colonist-descendent, for a long time ruled by Spain, whilst the Haitians are more than 90% slave-descendent, and liberated themselves more than 200 years ago from the French, the one and only successful slave revolution. Both countries have been at each other's neck many times in the past, but at least nowadays the Dominicans do feel for their Haitian neighbours, and actively support the relief efforts. Santo Domingo has become a second hub for flying in supplies and also has irregular commercial flights to Port-au-Prince.

I got on one of those flights, in a small plane that seats 18, Monday afternoon, and 45 minutes later I arrived in PaP.

Friday, February 5, 2010

the preparations

The responses I have received so far are incredibly nice. Obviously the friends and family are all very encouraging, they never believed in my retirement at 50 anyhow. But what strikes me most is the response of absolute strangers: I have been pretty busy in the past week with cancelling whatever I had committed to in the next six months, suspending subscriptions, changing insurances and what have you, and whoever I email or speak to is unusually helpful. People are prepared to bend the rules - unheard of in over-regulated Netherlands - and they are trying to be as accommodating as they can. Nothing to do with me personally, I am sure, but all to do with an acute awareness of Haiti and the earthquake, even though there are days now that the country is not frontpage news anymore. Everybody is prepared to do their bit, even if it is just to make my life easier. Really nice!

In the mean time the local newspaper in my village has got hold of the story, and has interviewed me for next week's edition, complete with professional photograph (of which I have used one to update my profile). The Montferland Journal may not yet be world-wide exposure, but nice enough, no? How many of you have made it to the papers? At the same time it is maybe good to put things into perspective, too: I am just going to do a job, for which I happen to be qualified, and for which I get paid. After all, I have done this type of work before, and perhaps it is not such a big deal as some people make of it. Well, I don't tell that to the ones whose support I still need in the preparations, of course, but anyhow ....

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the idea

It all started the day after the massive earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January. My wife Sofia and I have lived there for three years, from 2000 to 2003, and we still have a strong emotional band with the place. In addition, in a later life I have managed disaster response programs, a.o. after the 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, so the idea to go and help rebuild was not more than a logical step. Through my friends and acquaintances in Haiti and in the development and disaster response sector I let it be known that I was available at short notice, and it subsequently didn't take Save the Children long to get back to me and recruit me for their team in Haiti.

So now I am all set to leave for Port-au-Prince, next Sunday 7 February, for a period of 3-6 months, in principle. They say you either hate it in Haiti or you love it. I have to admit that going back scares me a bit: we loved it. I remember Haiti as a charming place, with its gingerbread houses, its iron market, its busy and lively streets full of market sellers, colourful people, noise. Sure enough, also with the smell of rubbish in the streets, with poor neighbourhoods and muddy and potholed streets, and with bare, deforested hills, but still, the country had something very special, not in the least because of the Haitians, with their resilience, their friendliness and warmth, their hospitality. I wonder how much of this special feeling is left. How resilient can a people be, what does it take to destroy good humour?

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

the test

This is a test. Having just created this page, I now need to see how it looks, with a first real piece of text. I have never done this before, blogging. I used to send the occasional email, with an update of how things were going, what we were up to, but that was to a selected audience only. I suppose I really need to be careful what I write now, as everybody could potentially read it - not just selected friends and family who I have chosen to copy, like I did in the past. No more silly jokes that can be mis-interpreted, no more off-the-cuff comments that may inadvertedly be construed as offensive.
But hey, it is 2010, and a bit of a traveler maintains a blog these days, so let's see how this goes. My guess is that those who will read this are still a selected audience, of friends and family, who I have told about this page.