Life in Jacmel: photos, observations, and some meanderings.

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21/02/2011 by etiennefish

Today I woke up at 3 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I thought at first this was due to the fact that my room felt slightly stuffy and warm, but then I thought it might be because I’d finally been formally introduced to Haitian rum and as happens whenever I drink, I wake up a lot in the night. But then I realised what it actually was; it was quiet. Like completely and utterly, blanketing, still. Not even one of the many confused roosters, located of course in strategically placed positions around every single window was trying to crow in the ‘morning,’ despite the fact that it was more likely to be any time of the day/night but morning. There was no constant blaring of horns, or motorbikes speeding up the street sans muffler, you know, to appear extra cool. There was no one shouting away for no reason in particular. I couldn’t even hear a cricket. So I lay awake in bed until it was time to get up. First, I just listened to the quiet, and then I listened to the stirrings of various creatures as the sun rose and they began to start their day.

I’ve been putting off writing this post for days now. I’ve wanted to write. I’ve had a million things to say, but then it would just get too overwhelming (plus work takes up the majority of my waking hours and the internet generally hates me, sooo…. yeah), and I’d put it off for another day. Now, I also have a million photos to post, so of course it’s even more overwhelming…. Sigh. Oh well, as this is the only way  get to sort of have contact with most everyone, I guess this means I’ll write a long post. And probably forget 3/4 of what I wanted to say. But at least I’ll add in a bunch of photos to sweeten the deal.

So, I’ve been in Jacmel for almost 2 weeks now. We’ve moved out of our hotel, and into an apartment. And it’s fabulous. We’re no longer staying on beachfront property, but I think that a mere 2 blocks to ocean views is fairly reasonable… We’re also basically in the thick of things, town- wise, and I’m once again surrounded by the type of architecture I found so appealing in New Orleans (in fact, I’ve been told that the buildings here in Jacmel were the inspiration for the ones there. Which, I find pretty cool). Things here, are of course more run-down than in New Orleans, and as this was one of the places hardest hit by the earthquake, many buildings that were once beautiful (if decaying) landmarks, are now just piles of rubble. This was a World Heritage Site, but no one’s coming in to restore it to its former glory. They say that this place is too corrupt, and too disorganised. I say it’s a huge shame. It’s absolutely beautiful here, and it could be even more so if people would just give it a chance.

Below are some photos from around our new home:


Our street in one direction


Our street from the other.

Home sweet home! We get the balcony! This makes me happy.

Views from the balcony


More views. The blue balcony belongs to the hotel La Florita across the street. I love that place, and we basically live there.
I live here
Beautiful columns everywhere
Our second home- the hang out area at La Florita. And yes, that is most definitely a giant hole in the ceiling.


I love the green of these doors. As seen from my perch at La Florita

Burned out tap tap (truck taxi thing that hauls around seemingly impossible amounts of people) down the street from ours. I’m sort of obsessed with it. Bear with me…
This thing is just so awesome!
Sorry, I swear this is the last one.


There are a lot of artists in Jacmel (one of the reasons tourists used to come here). Most of them do very literal, often fairly violent and disturbing stuff (even if quite beautiful). This guy is set up across the street from us. I find his work is crazy/amazing/terrifying.


A closer look

This is a fabulous open-air gallery in a shell of a building that I absolutely love. Something about it, says a lot to me about the Haitian spirit.

Moving on, I took a few photos on a beach-side jaunt, just down the street from us:


So pretty. But so dirty… It makes me sad.
Walking down the beach barefoot. Definitely not my cup of tea.


A closer look

Once again, it could almost be paradise
Some carnaval masks in progress being constructed along the beach
I didn’t manage a very good photo here, but that figure thing on the left is a voodoo alter set up in front of some tent houses on the beach. Super interesting.

Life hasn’t really been about sightseeing though. I’ve actually spent most of my time thus far shuttling between meetings, the office, and trying to figure out what’s going on. I’ve gotten to visit some of the CTCs and CTUs in the immediate region (where they are treating cholera cases), and I’ve been meeting up with loads of people just trying to network.

There’s also been some excitement around here because of all the demonstrations and protests that have been occurring. Some of them have been directed at Minustah, but most have just been in the way of getting anywhere. It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. Here’s some work-related photography:


Learning about bio-sand filter construction at an NGO field site

Making the cement forms for the filters

UN peace keepers preparing to deal with a protest outside the gates of Minustah

The rain is coming. As seen from the (borrowed) office window

Taking a break. The joys of radioactive yellow, banana cola.

Empty beds at a cholera treatment unit. This is a good sign.

One of the teams from the Cuban Brigade. They are doing amazing work all over the country here. I've been uber impressed by them.

Some final observations about my life in Haiti thus far:

  1. This place is dusty. SO dusty. Jacmel is better than Port au Prince in this respect, but I always go to bed with my eyes feeling like they’ve been rubbed with sandpaper
  2. Its amazing to be out of a hotel, even if it was super nice there. We live in a fantastic part of town, have a nice place, and I can feel slightly more settled. That being said, however, our house was only furnished with the bare necessities. We’re going to now have to buy pots and pans, and figure out where to get food, and perhaps get some more bed linens and things of that nature, which I’d really rather not have to do deal with…
  3. Buying a fan and a towel was one of my best decisions since arriving here (note: we have no air conditioning). Since there aren’t really many shops in this town, this is where we had to go to find said towel:

    The market.

  4. Also, I love the apartment (I’ll take more photos soon), but it is loud. Actually this country is loud. Like ridiculously, completely gratuitously, loud. Pretty much constantly. We don’t have actual glass in our windows at the apartment either. Only screens and bars, so its basically like living in a sound bubble. I sleep with my headphones on…
  5. I am also impressed that I have more access to hot showers in this country than in Geneva. This is mostly because our water supply is heated by solar power (yay!), and the sun can’t help itself but shine on this island, pretty much at all times. I’m not going to complain about it. 🙂
  6. In the same vein, I have far more access to wireless than in Switzerland as well. Unfortunately, quality of that connection is generally dubious, and I often can’t even get my email to function.
  7. When ordering a Cuba Libre in Haiti, please keep in mind (in terms of any subsequent plans for your day) that they will fill your glass 3/4 of the way full with rum and then hand you a bottle of coke. I’m not going to lie, it’s sort of amazing (as is their rum).
  8. When reviewing my notes after the meetings I go to, I often laugh at the mix of languages they’re written in. Its generally a mix of 3-4 depending on the day. Its a good thing no one has asked to borrow them yet.
  9. I’m planning on taking some language classes. There are free creole lessons on the Minustah base twice a week. As there is sadly no french ones, I’m also going to see about taking French at the Alliance Francaise here. I feel its sort of a necessary investment, and is right next to where I live.
  10. The rain on the tin roof of the office (and at chez nous as well), is amazing. They have the kind of rain storms here that I totally love. And have missed since moving to La Suisse. You know, the kind of rainstorms where the sky just sort of opens up and rain falls in hard, pelting sheets, everything is washed clean, and then the sun just comes right back out again.
  11. The manifestations situation (demonstrations/riots) here is interesting, although I’m not exactly sure what they accomplish for anyone. The people protesting like to set up roadblocks and such a lot though. I enjoy that they choose to hold most of these demonstrations at an area in the road where they can just pull these ancient, burned-out school buses across it, effectively blocking traffic for as long as they feel it necessary. It’s amusing, because it’s not actually the most strategic location, necessarily, just the one that provides the least amount of effort on their part. On the other hand, they are extremely obnoxious, because they are affecting my ability to get to many of the sites that we need to visit. What with elections, carnaval, and the general chaos of life here, I don’t see these manifestations stopping any time soon. Sigh.
  12. The amount of plastic (generally plastic bottles) littered about this country is terrifying, and makes me never want to drink something from a plastic bottle again. You can’t even see the ground or street half the time because of them, and I have yet to see a beach even remotely free from their presence.
  13. The other day in the heat of the midday sun, I saw an entire leg of some sort of large animal pass by me on a wheelbarrow also carrying construction materials, and being pushed (with much effort) by a small boy. The health part of me, was seeing visions of infectious disease outbreaks and utter chaos. I’m hoping/assuming that all went well.
  14. Speaking of food, vegetarianism is something that can’t exist in this country, because Haitians don’t seem to make food without meat in it. I mean, I don’t think it counts as food to them. I am mostly coping. Also, I have never eaten so many fried things in my entire life. At night, I dream of grilled veggies, tofu and vegetarian sushi…
  15. Mornings are optimum people watching time here. I especially like all the different school uniforms and the many people zipping around on motor bikes. It’s actually impressive how many people you can fit on those things. Today, I saw a guy shuttling, who I assumed to be his daughters, to school. There was one girl in front of him and two clinging on with their backpacks behind. I’m hoping they got there safely.
  16. Today, we’re getting our own office (I think) (yay!). We’ve been nomadic and sharing the offices of others since our arrival, because in the shuffle of switching out personnel, the base here didn’t know if WHO was coming back. I’m very excited to be able to leave my notebooks and papers and such somewhere. This constant toting back and forth thing is totally putting knots in my shoulders.

So, yes, there’s many, many more things I could talk about, but I think this post is plenty long for the time being. I have about a million and a half photos of this weekend’s exploits (specifically in terms of carnaval amazingness!!!), but I’m going to post those separately, so as to keep you on the edge of your seats begging for more. Yes, yes, I know. What a terrific cliffhanger. It’s true (although it’s really mostly because I know that the majority of you reading this haven’t even gotten to these words I’m typing right now, as your attention span is only slightly longer than my own).

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February 2011
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