Saturday, June 29, 2013


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Friday, March 08, 2013

Say my name, say my name

I felt today was appropriate to address something that has been more and more noticeable and annoying, in particular since it seems to concern mainly women.

In the last ten to fifteen years, it has become the norm to identify public figures, political or otherwise, by their full and complete names. Just not the female counterparts.

So where JFK would routinely be addressed as John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the press, his wife would only be called Jackie Bouvier Kennedy. And this goes beyond reading off some unknown's id for the first time. It is systematic.

Now, before I go into a partial, slightly rambling analysis of this phenomenon, let's do a little Local Naming Customs 101.

For a long time, it was the tradition among the predominantly Catholic population to give their children two or more baptismal names, usually that of the particular Saint the parents prayed to or the one on whose feast the child was born, or the name of a beloved (sometimes deceased but not always) family elder, in addition to what the French call the "prénom usuel" ie the given name the person usually responds to.

The name order used to be that the given name was the one closest to the family name. I have three baptismal names myself, my brother has four (parental enthusiasm towards the first born, obviously). Our names both start with Marie. As does my mother's, and most of my maternal aunts.

In the last generation or so, however, this has changed dramatically. While some people continue to name their children in this manner, whether they are Catholic or not, others have adopted a new naming style.

You see, it has become de rigueur to give birth in North America, that coveted foreign passport being seen as "giving the child a future" as a coworker once told me and so, worth any sacrifice.

Including our old naming tradition which has proved problematic to foreign immigration services.

Think about it. If you remove all the names after Marie, it is impossible, at first glance, to distinguish me from my brother based on our names alone. In order to simplify and adapt, parents now name their children in the Anglo-Saxon style (?) of First Name, Middle Name/Initial and Last Name.

These names, how ever many they may be, are all printed on your birth certificate, your id, your driver's license, passport, voter's card etc.

So how does this relate to the main topic of this post i.e. naming women?

Because the difference when addressing the sexes is so marked. Whenever the government is presented, both the President and the Prime Minister are each announced by First Name 1, First Name 2, and Last Name but the only woman "super minister", as they call them now, is listed as First Name, Maiden Name and Last Name.

This triumvirate, by the way, tends to project the image of being the "only one(s) who do any work".

Yes, several women of that cabinet are simply called by First and Last Name. Strangely enough, some of them are single, married or divorced so the logic escapes me.

Interesting fact: one of them never uses her maiden name because her parent was a high profile member of the Duvalier government. Seems as though she hides behind her husband's name even if my parents never fail to remind me of who she is Daughter Of. Given that parent's bloody reputation, I can almost understand.

However, usually, it seems, men are referred to in a way distinct from women. And given the current government's overwhelming love of photo ops and "good" press, I cannot help but notice this.

Where did this naming fashion come from? I am not sure. A friend suggests that it started with the Ex-President and that it was a way for him to fudge the issue of his real name. Yes, paranoia is rampant around here so both the thesis and the real could be true.

You might have guessed that I personally put a more feminist spin on this issue. Spitting out the entire baptismal name of someone gives their address a certain Old School flair. As if the litany of their names give the men in question more weight or more stature. For those who need it. Who can doubt that certain elected officials (and candidates) are so...unexpected in their posts that they need some measure of legitimacy that elections alone cannot give them?

As for women, I am torn. Either including their maiden name is considered the modern, feminist thing to do by not erasing their identity in favor of that of their husbands.

Or, to the contrary, it is a way of showing that she has political clout despite being a mere woman. Proving her worthiness by way of blood or marriage? That she got this job because of Who She Is (Daughter Of) and Where she Comes From (What Political or Social Sector)?

But how to explain those public/famous women who have only First and Las Name? Should I understand that they are old fashioned and cannot bother with all these verbal gymnastics? that their lineage is so obscure, it isn't worth the bother? or, worse still, that they are just placeholders who do not deserve more than their share of the limelight?

What's in a name? asked the playwright. Good question.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hit Me Baby One More Time

It seems the Cable Company has risen from its ashes. A coworker forwarded me this letter they sent out recently:

And I am tempted.

And conflicted. You see, at times, I hate the cable company. I really do.

Sure, now they have a brand new website whereas the old one was mostly a placeholder. It spells out all the new plans you could sign up for.

(I do find it odd that the website seems to be entirely in English, though. While English as grown increasingly pervasive here, the employees function in Creole or French. Maybe their target audience is the NGO/IO people?):

The major change is that they have now associated with one of my ISPs which might prove convenient. According to their price list, if I chose the double play option, my internet bill would automatically slashed in half.

But this comeback is problematic for me. First, the wording of their email is misleading. They say that the basic plan will give you 25 (the website says 26 channels). However, on closer look, that is a misrepresentation, to say the least. Let's look at the channels listed in the left-most column:

The first one is their own channel. In the past (read: prior to 2010) they had a very light programming. Only the newscast and a couple of talk shows, as I remember it. The rest of the time, the channel displayed Canadian programming and the occasional official live broadcast of elections, carnival etc. The other "local" channel was 3, only made up of program listings and commercials.

The next five channels listed are FREE LOCAL CHANNELS. Yes, I get them now with the bunny ears. How, then, could they seriously advertise them as paid-for channels? So you would actually be getting only 18 "real" channels.

My US readers will recognize most of the channels, I'm sure.

So what is my problem? Let's do a little backstory, shall we?

My father signed up for the cable service back in the early 1970s so we have gone through several mutations, mainly in price. Before the earthquake, we had about 60 channels. Or, should I say, they advertised as much. Some neighborhoods could not get the signal for all the channels.

In the past 10 years, the most note-worthy changes were when they forced us to purchase decoder boxes in late 2003. It cost $77 USD or we were told we would not get any channels. In the beginning of this adventure, they use to black-out more and more channels for every day you were late in payment.

They raised the prices at least 3 times since. Then, in December 2008, they announced we would need a new decoder because the company was going digital. I was puzzled because the US and Fr, which represent the bulk of the channels offered back then, were going digital in June 2010 and November 2011 respectively. Why the rush? I resisted the change, in part also because the new decoder was $88 USD. And they would neither take back the old one, "it belongs to you now" nor give existing clients a rebate.

They removed about 3 channels by the end of 2009, including my beloved HBO.

Then the earthquake happened and we were sure the company was done with. In late July 2010, they sent out an email that I did not receive. The account is still in my father's name and he does not have an email address. The Cable Company did not try to reach its clients in any other way. I emailed and I called, nothing.

What they were offering was a 50% rebate on their new competitor, the Satellite Company. You can see here, highlighted segment were they spelled out the offer:

For those who do not read French, it says that you will get a 50% off IF the Cable Company gives you a ticket.

I never got that rebate. Well, I don't actually miss it since the equipment + service would cost me almost $1000 USD.

But my problems don't just come from miscommunication. Their costumer service was notoriously bad and their practices deeply upsetting to me.

About 10 years ago, the Cable company offered the option of paying at any branch of a local bank instead of coming all the way downtown, I-can-smell-the-sea-from-here-downtown.

Problem was I had my service cut several times because they thought I hadn't paid. I'm always, ALWAYS on time with my bills. I'm the sort of woman who has a budget and a schedule. Seriously. When I called to complain, they told me they had no way of knowing who paid when. Their solution was to ask me to CALL THEM EVERY TIME I HAD PAID AT THE BANK TO DICTATE THE DEPOSIT SLIP NUMBER!!!

I refused to do it but my mother did so religiously.

And then there were the fees. An employee once came to cut our service for overdue fee. They were wrong, of course, as I've said above. But my brother wasn't aware of this, so he paid him. And they billed me for 40gdes + 10% TCA (sales tax) for "at home payment services".

When I moved in 2007, they charged me 880gdes for the move + 440 gdes + TCA for a length of cable, roughly the price of one month's subscription at the time. The technician said that he could not reuse the old cable and that it belong to us. Note that he never came to our old house but went directly to the new one.

So you can understand that, while the local channels I get with the bunny ears are DEAD BORING (don't worry, it's an upcoming post), I just don't want to get into this mess again.

I spoke to an employee yesterday and there are no special considerations of any kind for the old clients. He only mentioned that the 2009 decoder box might be reused. I told him most of what I've outlined in this email and he suggested I write an email. Which I did this morning.

A coworker knows somebody who knows somebody who works for the ISP and right new they are testing the service with about 200 clients and it is not going well.

I cannot wait to see how this unfolds.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Flashback Friday

Yesterday morning (June 24th), there was a "small" quake of 3.5. My stomach contests the qualifier. In fact, my stomach, heart, blood pressure and brain categorically refuse to even acknowledge the Richter scale.

It was scary. It felt like someone had violently kicked my chair. Except they kicked the whole building.

I wanted to run. I grabbed my desk like a sprinter lines up on the starting block. Fortunately or unfortunately, I happened to be alone at the office with the only coworker who never seems to feel any strong emotion. I don't know if it's a high level of fortitude or some undiagnosed psycho-emotional disability, but he treated the whole thing like just another occurence. In fact, he seemed to take more pleasure in asking every single person he knew or met all day long if they felt it.

It's hard living with this stress. I know it's been over a year. I fooled myself into thinking I was getting over it. But I'm not. I'm as sick over it as I was in january of last year.

My boss called me on my phone shortly after but the call didn't go through. He came up about fifteen minutes after it happened and asked me why I hadn't evacuated the building like most of the employees. He wasn't here when the Goudougoudou happened so I could tell he was shaken and trying to hide it.

By then I was outside on the roof. Yes, that's the other reason I'm freaked out. My office was relocated to converted space literaly on top of a five-story building. You're not supposed to use elevators or stairs during a quake. How do I get down? I didn't even know people were outside. There is no alarm, there is no speaker system.

So I stayed on the roof for the better part of an hour with a couple of coworkers who had run up instead of down.

Nowhere to run is such a familiar feeling in this country, I should be used to it by now. Except I can't.

I also don't know how I'm going to survive all this stress. Kidnappings have started over again. After fifteen months of suspense, we still don't have a government, though we have a president. And now I have to deal with earthquakes again.

It's not that we have not accepted the fact that this island is on shaky ground. It's that NOTHING has changed between last January and today. Yes there are public service announcements about security measures and building construction safety.

Yet there is no Building Code and people are building all over the city. There is no Rescue Service that I know of. We still have the same set of hospitals plus health NGOs

At work, they told us last year that the three staircases were the exits to use in case of emergency.

Yeah, you read me right. I'm in a tall building and I have to use stairs to get out.

I don't know how we'll go on living like this. Whenever there's a noticeable quake, I want to run, I don't want to eat, I just wanna go home and stay there. In fact, today, I have to go out and I am scared of leaving the house. It's completely irrational but there it is.

Tragedy changes you. Permanently.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Thrill of It All

This morning, I didn't go directly to work. I had a couple of errands to run in Midtown so I took a detour from work.

My appointment was on time, if lengthy, but I came out happy and feeling optimistic. One of my errands just didn't happen.

So, this morning, I took the bus up to the Golden Suburb. Public transportation here, just isn't. It's private, communal transportation really. Which might explain the lack of standards and the haphazard nature of it all.

This morning, I spent a good third of the ride on some accomodating stranger's lap. He was very kind and respectful but I still felt compelled to drape my upper half over the back of the bench in front of me.

This morning, it turns out, I was not only sitting on a stranger but I was actually, and more importantly, sitting next to an armed homicidal thief.

It happened when the bus stopped at the last big intersection halfway between the two cities. I was texting so I don't recall all the details. Except when I looked up, this guy got on the bus while that man, my former seatmate, was shouting directives from the door. I didn't see the gun but others did. One had on a brown shirt, the other had a striped polo.

When the victim, sitting directly in front of me, resisted, Striped Polo said to Brown Shirt "Just kill the bitch and grab the fucking bag". The victim's neighbor, a cool-headed lady, threw the bag to the thieves. They both got down, climbed onto a motorcycle and drove off with a last angry glare at us all.

Some of the passengers told the victim to go back to the bank and ask the director to get her money back, convinced as they were that the teller must be in on it. Others thought she should go to the police. I told her to get the police and go to the bank. Brown Shirt, in a random act of kindness, had flung back at her feet the bible in which she'd hidden the US dollar cash withdrawal she had just made.

This morning, I rushed home in a daze and burst into tears recounting the event because this man, this armed and cold-blooded stranger sitting next to me, plotting this crime, was both willing and able to kill this woman for money. In front of me. Inside a bus full of regular people, squeezed in tight and dripping with sweat now that the tropical heat had defeated these past weeks of rain. At 9h30 in the morning, on a busy thoroughfare.

I spent the day with a lingering headache. You see, I was supposed to go to the bank myself. Maybe not to take out thousands of dollars in cash but I do unfortunately "look like money" as the other guy once said.

This morning, I was reminded of how exposed and alone we are in the face of crime in this city.

This morning, we all walked away alive if shaken and scared.

But what about tomorrow?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Note: I originally wrote this about a month after the earthquake. I never published it, despite my promises to everyone. I just couldn't reread this without bursting into tears. I apologize for the grammar or spelling errors. Thank you for understanding.

Some things I can’t forget. Like all the people coming towards me out of the white mist, pale faces, eyes wide and empty, screaming and crying their fear and despair. At least, I think they were screaming, I couldn’t hear them. The world had gone mute. Or, if I could, indeed, physically hear their voices, my brain was unable to process the stimuli.

I was on my way home, hitching a ride, as I usually did, with my coworker N. Since her niece worked at the Ministry of Commerce, a few blocks from my house, she drops me off almost every day.

We took the predictable route: up from downtown via rue Pavée. There was a lot of traffic that day. I told N. that it must have been due to the launch of another long series of protests the Association of Layed Off Workers had inaugurated that day on the Champ de Mars. We had left work late enough that day for this unusually large number of cars to be noted.

We turned up in front of the Presidential Palace, right at the National Museum. N. is a creature of habit so she would have turned left on Ave Magny except there were students burning tires at the next corner. We tried the next street over, same situation

N asked me where to turn so I suggested going past the old US Consulate to circle back towards the Champ de Mars towards the Ministry of Commerce. This is were it happened.

I didn’t know it was an earthquake. I just know that chaos erupted, people were running around, cars and trucks left their lanes. And we weren’t going forward anymore. This big bus was coming towards us and I got scared. I asked N why we weren’t moving. She said it wasn’t her, the car was shaking. I stupidly thought that her transmission was shot. Of course, this didn’t explain why we were shaking like a maraca.

N told me to get out of the car, which I did. I could see smoke coming from the roundabout. I ran towards the X-ray clinic and squatted in front of an old Datsun. Red, I think it was. I laugh now at my strong conviction that this was some consequence of the riot. I remember thinking “why doesn’t all this tear gas burn my eyes or throat?”and then I said aloud “Funny, I don’t hear gun shots”.

This was when the man standing next to me said “Miss, this is an earthquake”. All of a sudden, things made sense. I saw his arm was bloody. “the wall fell on the candy vendor next to me” he said. I looked around, looking for N. It was then that I noticed how diverse the crowd was: young, old, all with wild or dazed faces.

We got back into the car, N and I, and turned around to drive up Rue St Honoré. The entire wall of the Enthnology faculty was lying on the street. We drove up the block to rue Capois but a traffic jam had already formed. N told me we had to go get her niece at the Ministry. The usually calm and collected N was looking a bit frantic while I felt dazed and detached. This young man came up and told us to stay calm, he would accompany us. I turned around and the Champ de Mars was white. People, like Gede worshippers, their faces and arms powdered with what would turn out to be dust
from the Presidential Palace and the surrounding Ministries. Some were stained red from their bleeding wounds.

I remember seeing five Muslim UN soldiers, three kneeling, two standing calling to Allah to protect

We circled around the lower corner fo the square. When the Ministries came into view, I had to grab on to N or she would have gone running towards the site. The building was gone! In fact, I kept looking for buildings that were not there. Like the Palace hotel .i was in such shock that I couldn’t understand what my eyes were seeing.

N. ‘s niece was alive but she had received a violent shock to the head from falling debris. She would go into shock later, in the car. I thought she was going to die. We must have spent an hour trying to care for her wit the help of a young med student and his sister. I don’t even remember their names now but I am grateful.

I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. I don’t know CPR and don’t know how to drive. At one point, this man got out of the small SUV in front of us and told us he needed to get his brother to the hospital but didn’t know how to drive. I tried asking people going by for help but was ignored.

I was dropped off at home around 6h15 pm by my estimate. The padlock was still on the smaller outside gate so I know my mother wasn’t home. Night had fallen and in the half light of dusk I could tell the house was destroyed though the façade was standing. I looked through the car gate and could see rubble in the driveway, the French doors of the living room. I called my dogs and my cat but they didn’t come. I tried not to think about that too much.

I decided to walk up the nine blocks to my mother’s work. At the neighbor’s house at the opposite end of our street, this SUV stopped. The driver got out, a man about my age with a red shirt. I remember well because the burst of color was a shock to my eyes after all the white and black fo the square. I remember also because of what happened next. He joined the rest of his family in the yard, took one look at the fallen house and ran away. They called his name, he looked back, eyes wide, but kept running. I thought he would fall or get hit by a car. I walked on, all the while trying to get my parents and aunt on the phone without success. I stumbled over the bricks of the Sacré Coeur church; the steeple was in the middle of the street.

The street was full of crying people, walking up or down, cars trying to drive around the wreckage, other vehicles abandoned.

I took a detour towards the old family home to check on my Great-Uncle. For some reason, my mother answered finally while I was standing across from the house, looking at Uncle’s slight frame sitting, as always, on his galerie. A typical scene if not for the fact that the upper story had collapsed on one side. I’ve never cried so hard in my life. The minute I heard my mother’s voice on the phone, this wail bent me in half. I almost couldn’t speak, I couldn’t even stop this animalistic sound. She told me she was safe, in a neighborhood not far, with other employees.

How does one forget such overwhelming fear and sadness? None of us slept that night. I kept either pacing back and forth, or sitting, blankly staring at the walls, and the electric cables or the gate. I had joined my old neighbors by then. We spent the night in the street, sitting on chairs and benches. While time seemed to drag on for me and dawn seemed to take forever to come, others in the group felt it rushed by. I couldn’t even close my eyes, too afraid that a big tremor would bring the houses down. The ground never seemed to stop moving that first night. Every couple of hours, the gate would knock against the wall. One could hear the screams of fear coming up from the Champ de Mars, like a wave, with every aftershock.

Today still, some images will rise up inside of me, unexpectedly. Like this woman in Ti Four, a boy and a girl firmly in each hand, saying over and over again “I can’t leave him down there. I have to go get him from school. He’s my son, I need to get him” while walking towards the city center.

Like the corpse of this street vendor in front of Five Stars Market, one arm embracing the electric pole on the side walk, seeming asleep but unequivocally dead.

Like the muffled voice of this woman, the day after, calling out from beneath Saint Louis Roi de France church. And the reassurances that she would be saved by the neighbors frantically pulling away the bricks. They did save her. She did make it out.

At least, I hope so.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's the little things

So now we are in the last days of the electoral campaign and things are getting interesting. The violence everyone had feared is starting to rear its ugly head and we are all bracing ourselves.

I confess I haven't been following the campaign as religiously as others around me seem to have. But that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion.

Instead, my days and nights and thoughts are full of my routine.

Let me tell you about my day. I woke this morning to the sound of the cola depot next door's generator. They had been stacking boxes since 3 am at least, as usual.

Then, at the evangelical church next to the depot, the prayer guy with the crappy voice and crappier bullhorn started in on his litany.

This was 5am in the morning.

I was happy to see there was electricity but I had prepared several outfits for the week, in case I didn't get any. This also meant my spaghetti lunch didnt'spoil, always a good thing.

So I got dressed and tiptoed my way throught the junk in the alley, up the stairs. The pigs were in good shape and the pile of metal scraps the local junker was amassing managed not to crumble on my head. So far so good.

I went up the stairs, dodging the dirty water pools and random litter to wait for my ride on street level.

Now, I do this every morning: I stand about a quarter of a block away from the bridge/ravine but it didn't work this morning. Some guy was already climbing over the railing with two pig carcasses. The improvised slaughter house in the ravine had been working seriously early. I'm just glad I missed the actual deed. I'm a meat eater but I don't want the details! Thankfully, he put them in a wheelbarrow, tied them up and promptly pushed off for the nearby market.

Lucky me, my ride was late today so I got to people watch: street vendors setting up their wares on little tables; moto taxis carting a mother and her two kids; what seems like hundreds of school kids in uniforms walking together, eating fried street food and drinking energy drinks; people talking on their cells, men wearing crocs and no helmet on their bikes.

Of course, leaving Petion-Ville at 6h50am means you get to enjoy a traffic jam all the way downtown. Thankfully, once you pass what used to be the school district, things clear up pretty much by the time you reach Champ de Mars.

The tent cities that cover all the squares have become part of the scenery. The prude in me is still a bit startled to see people bathing on the sidewalks, though, to their credit, people keep some form of underwear on while doing so.

The city is still busy. Junkers are still digging throught the rubble for scraps. You recognize them by the backpacks they wear. Of course, I'm not really happy to go to work. After the aftershocks on three consecutive days last week, I worry that some of the damaged buildings might be shaken loose. Nothing has happened yet but only fools drive idly under something like Hotel Nova Scotia. Of course, one is amazed by just how many qualify as fools...

Once I'm at work, it seems pretty normal. Except employee parking is now on the site of one of the fallen office buildings. And we still only have a handfull of neiboring businesses around us. But the streets are full of people.

I'm lucky that I can go on the roof and look out on the city. The view of the bay is breathtaking...until you look down. You can trace the Boulevard by the permanent cloud of dust that covers it. It intensifies further North to the point where I thought it was smoke at first.

Things are as close to normal as we can manage at work. Of course, all the electricity is from generators. But at least a number of phone lines have been reinstated by the telcom company. I stay in my office all day long but I remember going to the bookstore or the departement store fondly. Ah, the good old days.

At the end of the day, I pass by all these things in reverse and it stays the same: I'm shocked by the same things, inured to the same spectacles, worried about the same dangers.

If I'm lucky, and the traffic wasn't too bad, when I get home it's still light, they're not burning great heaps of trash in the ravine, the pigs are alive (for now), the church is quiet and Abner is leaving the colas alone for a bit.

I'm just not that lucky that often.