Life in Jacmel: a dish of work, with a side of more work, and a pinch of carnival amazingness


06/03/2011 by etiennefish

Okay, so I’ve now heard from multiple sources that they are under the impression that all I’ve managed since arriving in this country has been to sip Cuba Libres on the beach while enjoying the beautiful views. Now, I’d really like to refute this incredibly misinformed statement. Unfortunately, however, I only seem to have taken photos that actually support this incredibly inaccurate theory. So, what I’ve decided, is that the only thing to be done is to try and tell the real story, interspersing it of course, with photos from last weekend’s carnaval festivities. You know, to lighten the mood.

Hanging out on the balcony on rum and coke night. I need a haircut.

Okay, here goes.

Another view

I work a lot here. Like that is basically the only thing I do. I wake up between 5 and 6 every morning (not because I have to be up that early, mind, but because the rest of Haiti seems to arise with the sun, and as I live in the Apartment of Much Magnified Sound, I have no choice but to get up as well). Then I go to work. I stay there usually until 7ish, and then I go home. Work basically exhausts me, so then it’s usually all I can do to attempt to stay up for a couple hours until I’m sufficiently zombie-fied. And then I go to sleep. In order to do everything all over again. So then it’s mostly just rinse, wash, and repeat for 6 of the 7 days of the week. Sundays, we lounge about and do whatever. Carnaval season’s been great here, because Sundays are the big days, and basically allows us hours of free entertainment. I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself once we have to actually sort out our own leisure time. It’s probably going to be disastrous and require vast amounts of effort.

Carnaval preperations as seen from our balcony

Some girls waiting for carnaval to begin, already

Playing with her skirts in the courtyard at Hotel Florita.

What do I actually do at work, you might ask? Well, that is honestly a really good question. I’m not entirely sure, yet, but I’m working on figuring all out. I get frustrated a lot. I was hired as a contractor to work on the response to cholera and to support the national public health system. Basically, I’m meant to coordinate things, help supply things, and do number-y things (i.e. epidemiology: the bane of my existence). Most of this is supposed to be occurring in French and/or Creole. Which probably explains why I feel like the waking dead by like 10 pm. My brain is very angry with me. It doesn’t want to speak French. I am working on forcing it, but we’ve been at a stalemate for the past few days. Only time will tell who wins this battle.

This is how the police are preparing for carnaval. It mostly looks like a lot of fun to me.

Cholera prevention even takes the form of carnaval masks. I am so proud.

More cholera masks. I love how 'cholera' just looks like a giant grey blob.

In terms of what an actual day looks like- all I can say is that it depends. This week we went on a few site visits, one of which included a helicopter ride, attended some meetings, came up with some project ideas, discussed them with other organisations, supplied medicines and materials to clinics and such, moved into our office (finally. YAY!!!), and helped get a new officemate and driver settled in. The weeks pass surprisingly fast. I feel like I’m just always behind and I never get half the things I want done.

I was basically in love with the unicorn pegasus masks. I feel like I need a herd of these for next Halloween. Which I plan to spend in NOLA. If I get my way, that is.

Cooking up meals for carnaval participants in the staging area.


These monsters should be in a horror film

I like this photo because of the girl in the background, and because the style of the masks remind me of time periods gone by.

Do I like Haiti? Well, that’s a hard question. I mean, I think I do. I can’t really say much about it though, because I don’t think I’ve actually seen much of it. And I don’t mean that just in the travel sense either. I mean, I honestly haven’t even really seen my own city that much. We’re not allowed to go to a lot of places, and we honestly don’t have the time either. We don’t really interact with the local population that much, despite being here to help them. It’s a weird and foreign system to me (this whole method of working thing), and I’m often not entirely comfortable with it.

Getting ready at Florita: Belle of the ball. Her costume reminds me of Brazil.

But yeah, I think I like it here, quite a lot actually. What I’m not sure about is the work. I mean, its good work, but I’m not sure if it’s the kind of work I’m meant for. It’s just not quite hands-on enough for me. Which once again, has me thinking of medical school. Or being a writer. Or photography. Or acting. I really just need to make a decision already.  But I digress.

The famous Haitian rum Barbancourt. Now in female form.

The fighter

The streets start to fill with carnaval amazingness, as we watch from some friends' balcony

There are some important things I have learned about Haiti thus far. For instance, Haitian mosquitoes are the ninjas of the mosquito world. Fact. They’re completely silent. And fast. I mean, the mosquitoes of Brasil could definitely learn a thing or two from these buggers. So Brazilian mosquitoes are the kings of dive bombing kamikaze attacks at 3 in the morning while you are trying to sleep, but it is the Haitian mosquito that takes you by surprise. Yeah, none of that annoying buzzing in your ears. Oh and also, they have like superhero strength jaws, or whatever it is that mosquitoes have. I keep getting bit through my jeans. How is that even possible? These guys are assholes. I mostly hate them, but at least I am lucky to have a housemate that goes on mosquito-hunting missions every evening before bed.

Cholera sensitisation in action!

The grin on this guy is priceless

These guys were amazing. They all covered themselves in black paint or whatever, and ran the gauntlet of the parade. It was pretty cool to watch.
A close up
I loved this guy’s grin as well
Not a good photo, but she’s the queen of the day!

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but there is something about the way that people dress here that I really enjoy. Not everyone of course. There is a mix of styles and cultures and clothes, just like anywhere else. But in the rural areas especially, and in the vast array of school uniforms, it’s like looking into the past somehow. There’s a formality that’s out of place in my vision of the world I grew up in. It sort of reminds me of the 1950s or before. Or at least what I assume like it looked like then. I don’t know if there’s a reason for this, or if it’s just part of the culture or style of Haiti, but I find it endearing and wonderful all at the same time.

C'mon. Show us some fang.

My pegasusi. I love them. Unfortunately I missed their unicorn leader in this shot though.

Dancing heads

I miss a lot of my freedoms here. It’s not that it’s particularly unsafe in my region, but there’s still a lot of things I can’t do. I can’t drive, I can’t walk after dark, all the fun weekend places (clubs, etc) are off-limits to us (it’s like there’s a restriction on fun here,  the result of which is not unlike the fun tax of Geneva), and I can’t even go running in the evenings. It’s not bad here by any means, though, I just miss my autonomy a bit. Ooh, and that being said, I would just like to also say, that having people to drive you around and to cook and clean for you, does not actually make your life easier at all. In fact, it makes it infinitely more complicated and stressful. This is mostly (probably) due to the fact that neither myself nor my housemate/co-worker are accustomed to this type of thing. It makes us both a bit embarrassed and uncomfortable, which makes our driver and cleaner embarrassed and uncomfortable, and so we just stand around and laugh awkwardly at each other. Like every time we interact. Basically, it adds like an extra 100 pounds of stress to my day. Its weird. I don’t really like it and it’s stressing me out just to think about, so I’m going to change the subject now.

Taking pictures of people taking pictures. I couldn't help myself

So bright!

The lions and the other jungle cats were awesome. I couldn't get enough of them.

So I have rediscovered my love of rum. At least Haitian rum. This is mostly unanticipated, as my aptitude for rum drinking disappeared a long time ago on a night that included one of my oldest friends and a hot tub. If you are reading this, I’m sure you know who you are. But yeah, Haitian rum is delicious, even if they make their drinks strong. I mean, I’m not going to hold it against them.

Who knew they had giant white bat things in Haiti?

I'm pretty amazed by some the detail that goes into these things

Mr. Ed!

These kids seem confused

This guy was amazing. He kept going around to everyone and terrorising them with his whip. He almost did it to some military guys that were patrolling. I had my camera at the ready but I think he lost his nerve at the last second.

So I’m speaking a lot more French these days. I mean, I don’t actually think I speak French any better than before, per se, I’ve just gotten over the whole, I don’t know how to say it correctly so I’m not going to say it, thing. I have good French days and bad French days, but I’m not really letting it get in my way. I just sort of pretend in my head that it’s everyone else’s fault that I’m saying something completely incomprehensible, and therefore, I don’t actually need to worry about it. It’s working surprisingly well. I am planning, however, to start taking French classes at Alliance Francaise, starting in about a week, so that will probably actually help my French improve. Oh, and PS- I’ve now given two, count em two, presentations in French. They were definitely not perfect, but they were both 20-30 minutes, and people seemed to understand what I was saying. Which I feel pretty good about. Yes.

Scary face

not so scary face


Haitian food portions are ridiculous. I mean, they are like what I’d normally eat in 3 meals. At least. The scary thing is that I’m sort of getting used to it. I may leave Haiti a lot rounder than I found it. Oh and speaking of Haitian food, it is good (if lacking in the wide variety department), but if I can’t get some more veg in my life soon, I may throw a tantrum. And anyone who knows me knows I’m totally not above this. It will be done. Even if I can already tell you it’s going to have mostly no real effect on my vegetable-consumption. At least it will make me feel better. This is what counts (I am so mature).

Keeping out of the sun

Yet another post with a RAWR photo

Sometimes you just need a break

Baby Tiger

Even tigers' shoelaces come untied.

I am running out of things to say. Mostly because I don’t have a life beyond work that doesn’t involve me wishing I were asleep. I also take too many photos. If I took less photos, I wouldn’t have to carry on thinking of things to say. Sigh.

Sorta Blurry, but this wouldn't be complete without a photo of my co-spectators on the balcony

I don't know what the significance of the funeral procession was, but it was definitely interesting

More of the funeral

This sort of looks like some strange cult to me

A parade of beauty queens

These images were all taken as we walked back to our side of town. I enjoy the effect.

Shooting into the sun

So, the actual carnaval starts this weekend, culminating in Mardi Gras on Tuesday. This will likely mean I will have to bore you with at least one more post of carnaval photos. Sorry in advance. It also means, I get at least one day off work (Tuesday)! Which is good because it will make up for the fact that I have to get up at like 4:30 am on Monday in order to drive a million miles on horrible roads, across the department, to assess a cholera clinic that’s being built. I’m already looking forward to Tuesday. Even if I sort of wish I were in New Orleans right now.

One thought on “Life in Jacmel: a dish of work, with a side of more work, and a pinch of carnival amazingness

  1. Ruwan says:

    Back in PaP with finally enough internetz power to see what I was missing in Les Cayes. Very cool images and the whip guy is amazing. Definitely different to the every day in the Sud….. g’luck to you both.

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March 2011
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