I am in Canada for the next few weeks. I had planned to stay here until the end of June, but with the situation in Haiti deteriorating quite rapidly (no hydro, iffy phone service, airport closures, manifestations (protests) gun fire), I don't like to be away from Haiti for too long. A group of visitors planning to come in May has postponed travel until the situation improves. I am glad to hear this, as this is not a good time for first time visitors.
I had been dedicating our solar power to running the fridge, and only occasionally disconnecting it to use the internet. I don't know how much further prices can escalate. There is so little left to purchase that those who have stockpiled goods are making a fortune. And the gap between rich and poor widens yet again.
When M. Brutus arrived to collect rent one morning at 7 a.m., he said that he had walked from town (about 5 miles) as no taxis or tap taps were operating that day due to gasoline shortage. Some taxis and tap taps started operating again a few days later, but gas now costs $100 Haitian a gallon ($14.50 US).
Only a few stations were open with very long lines and very short tempers. Most of those in gas lines also had drums they fill for reserve. One day, I went to town, and traffic was about half its normal frantic self. Our taxi driver said that he sat home all weekend as no one was travelling. He is single and supporting his mother, brothers and sisters. The price of gas later dropped to $80 Haitian per gallon ($11.50 US). I don't know where it is now. Taxi and tap tap drivers are more casualties of the current situation. That means many of the small middle class are now directly affected by rising prices and scarce commodities.
The announced 15 % drop in taxes on rice is a mere drop in the proverbial bucket when we are paying 3 and 4 times what we did last September. This only lowers the price of a sack of rice by $20 Haitian ($3 USD) Last year, we paid $120 Haitian ($17 USD) a sack. Currently, we pay $400 Haitian, so this tax cut only drops the cost to $380 Haitian per sack. Yet even so, the store still charges $395 Haitian ($60 USD) a sack, so we doubled up on cornmeal instead.
The tax cut seems to help only those who purchase in huge quantities. The poor who purchase rice by the cup (gode) receive NO relief whatsoever. Once again, the rich will get along and the poor will be worse off. With scarce commodities and high prices, staff no longer have enough to provide for their families. They need double their salary now just to eat and we do not have the resources to give them a pay raise.
When we sent Camiose and Edwina to the corner clinic for stomach pain and gas, they came back with requisitions for lab work ( testing for gastric ulcers, anemia, intestinal parasites, vag. infections), and the PRICE OF LAB TESTS HAS TRIPLED SINCE LAST WEEK, quite possibly because there is no electricity therefore the lab must need to run machines using a gas-driven generator. If this keeps up, we won't be able to afford school tuition etc. -- just a little food with medical and dental support. Again, I shake my head.
Sen Rafayel News
The week before I left, Jeff (USA) came to visit for 2 days. I had hired a driver and kamyonet to take us to Sen Rafayel. The village had been cut off completely as the road was blocked by burning barricades, part of the country wide protest. Schools had been closed in Sen Rafayel as demonstrations continued, and may still be closed. The road was opened for a few hours on the Sunday so although the staff chose to go to Sen Rafayel, Jeff and I decided not to make the trip, a difficult decision, but certainly the correct one given the tension.
Auguste (one of the staff who did make the trip) had never been up the mountain before, and, as Director of Education for Starthrower in Cap-Haitien, he needed to see what we deal with in Sen Rafayel. Although he himself is one of 'the poorest of the poor', he was very shaken by the misery he witnessed there. He thought it could get no worse than Cap.
Auguste talked at great length one day after work, asking me what more we can do to support (ie feed) our current young people, and also take on the many who wait. Much of our energy is directed here in Cap-Haitien, and so Sen Rafayel seems forgotten, except for school fees and uniforms. This is an SOS -- We should at least establish a food and water program there as well.
We can't do full scale food distribution as in Cap-Haitien, but we will hire Kesner's teenage sister and one of the women in the village to make sandwiches in our Sen Rafayel branch office Mon-Fri. We will also purchase and distribute Tampico (juice) every other day. The alternate days, students can bring in their empty bottle and fill it with potable water which we keep in the office.
Those who attend school in the morning can come to eat at break time (rekreasyon). Those who attend in the afternoon can come before class. We will send a list and have our sandwich makers check off names each day. It is a baby step but better than spinning our wheels. (if we had wheels to spin, that is)
The good news is that fundraising is underway in the US for our new water purification system. AJ and Frank (our water experts from NJ) were here for the week. (Since the Port-au-Prince airport remained closed due to unrest, and buses had not been running between Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince as the road had been closed at Gonaives by manifestations, AJ and Frank were fortunate in getting seats instead on Lynx and flying to Miami. Travel plans, currently, must be flexible and day to day).
At the request of staff, AJ and Frank tested the water in two katiye-yo (zones) -- Auguste (Haut de Cap) and Jacque (La Boul). Auguste's water is okay for bathing and laundry; Jacque's water supply is as contaminated as ours -- poison for every activity.
Jacque is devastated by the info that his water is so contaminated. With 2 daughters (ages 2 and 6) and 3-4 thousand people using the same supply, staff here have seen the illnesses and deaths. Of particular concern is the high nitrate level, extremely dangerous for children. Jacque tells us most have constant diarrhea, skin infections etc . Many die of undiagnosed illnesses.
The Sante Publik (Dept. of Health) tested the water and said it was okay for everything, although best not to drink if possible. How do the poor purchase potable water when they haven't enough money even for food?
As a result of the water testing last week, we are now providing gallon jugs of potable water for staff living in La Boul. Our staff and students living in that zone have an inordinately high number and frequency of abcesses. After the water testing, we now know why. Jhennie had an abcess the size of an orange under her right arm. We had been using homeopathics and antibiotic cream. It finally broke (pete) on the weekend and she is able to once again to move her arm freely.
Education is so important, and our staff members are becoming very knowledgeable about water borne illnesses, and they do a great job of passing on what they learn to our students. They now have a good understanding of WHY potable water is critical to the health of a country, and are passing that on.
This water testing process has been a great learning experience for me as well as staff. Our centre, and Jacque's katiye (zone) are microcosms of the macrocosm that is Haiti, as is Haiti for the poor of this planet. Purchase and installation could take a while but we are already reaping the benefits in education.
About the vehicle we are trying to purchase (thanks to a generous US donor who understands the need): I sent Jacques and Auguste to check on what's required. After spending a frustrating morning at DGE trying to get a kat d'identite, it seems I must go to Port-au-Prince for a permis de sejou and register the organization before I can even buy a USED vehicle.
Daniel (who works for the UN) told me that the government is phasing out those requirements, as I had heard also from other reliable sources, but no one, apparently, has told the DGE employees. The bos mechanisyen said the Isuzu needed work, which Daniel had told us. He also said he wouldn't guarantee it. So the search coninues.
I am working on a new list of things we need, and will post it as soon as possible. I have a tremendous amount of work (speaking engagements, moving to a smaller apartment, Starthrower administration, and purchasing supplies) to finish before I return the end of May.
Thanks to all those who donated money and goods to Starthrower. With your help, we CAN make a difference!