Wednesday, September 12, 2007

On which side to butter

The biggest bad news to hit us this week is that the price of wheat has risen. According to a spokesman for the State Mill being interviewed on the radio this morning, we import 28,000 tons of wheat a year but the prices are now around 230-237 euros per ton. That grain becomes the total source of white flour (or "Farin France", French flour as we call it) produced and sold in Haiti.

This increase is already felt here in the price of bread. A baguette of French bread as gone from 15 gourdes ($0.41 US) to 24 gourdes ($0.65 US). A messenger boy at work told me that the breakfast egg sandwich has shrunk to a pitiful size on the streets, while it's price stays the same. This is a staple for many Haitians who do no eat at home before they leave for school or work.

Sliced bread, already above the 30 gourdes mark, is sure to tople over into the 40 gourdes or, more dramatically, the 50 gourdes bracket. Unfortunately, I was not able to access the news websites (server restrictions at work) to give you a sampling of what is being said about this situation.

That same spokesman mentioned above tried to be positive and reassuring. Apparently, they haven't noticed any dramatic change in the sales of flour to the bakeries around town.

He goes further to explain this more expensive wheat on...biofuel! According to him, the growing market for ethanol has not only put corn and cane in the spotlight but has put more pressure on wheat since it seems to be replaced by those two other crops.

Notice this is not what the article linked to above says at all.

I'm not a big bread eater so I don't feel concerned yet. But this is bad news for us all, most especially the parents who are already struggling to send their kids to school. I remember eating quite a number of sandwiches over the years.

Tuition is one thing, but lunch is another. When you're lucky enough to get one, that is.

Of course, we've always eaten a lot of root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, green plaintain, yams, bread fruit. I guess we're just going to have to eat them more.

Want to hear something ironic? Last month, the Minister of Economy was speaking to the House of Representatives Commerce Committee about how certains prices were actually lower. Nobody believed her then.

Now? Let's just laugh it off.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Like Taking a Grass Snake to School

According to the Ministry of Education, Monday was the first day of the new school year.

According to real life, it wasn't.

I'm very aware of school issues because I have the (mis)fortune of living on a street that boasts three (3) kindergartens and one (1) high school. So I always know when school is in or not.

Well, it's been very quiet both Monday and Tuesday. This morning, the kindergarten across the street from my house was open but the mustn't have received all their students yet. Though I could hear the children's voices and they played the usual songs about ducks, and boats and cuckoos in the forest, there wasn't nearly as much traffic or even pedestrian activity as on a regular school day.

My mother also works in a kindergarten and she tells me that her back-t0-school day is set for next Monday. And, if things go according to the same pattern as the last few years, she'll still be receiving kids as late as October.

Nothing I've cited above is surprising, or even new. All through my own schooling, the official starting date was almost never respected by the nuns. Parents, for their part, rutinely sent their kids abroad on vacation for the summer, without a second thought for the school schedule.

What is changing, though, is the number of people who cannot afford to pay for school. The numbers are growing and we cannot deny this truth.

Of course, there is the dichotomy between "good", usually private, schools and the state schools.

The more elite private or foreign schools are, of course, proportionally more expensive. A former coworker paid 25,000 Gdes (about $685 US) per semester for Kindergarten for her son at the French school. This was two or three years ago.

And then there are the Catholic schools. About five (5) of them are both elite (and elitist) and have a very good ranking in the national exams. I went to "the best". Well, we were (and still are) fighting for that title with our Arch-Enemy.

They are not as expensive as the other private schools but still more expensive than other, less reputable schools. People, regardless of their religion, are constantly fighting to have their daughters admitted. For that same reason, I try NOT TO MENTION I'M A FORMER STUDENT.

About 800 kids try out every spring for 1st grade at my old school. There are only 80 seats available. You can imagine the pleading, begging and even bribery that goes on. Especially since the nuns give priority to their "legacy students".

The government has little control over these schools, or the prices they charge. I don't even know if the DGI (our tax people) audits schools or not.

As for the state schools, there are too few of them, the quality of the education is terribly poor. I should know, I keep meeting the kids that come out of there. Poor reading and writing skills in French. Even in speach, it's obvious they're working with limited knowledge of the language and its construction. But that another topic for another post right there.

The one good thing the Ministry of Education did was publish the official tuition for the different levels in the state schools.

Can you believe that there are parents who cannot afford the 100 gourdes ($3 US) to send their children to grammar school for the year? Let alone spare another 100 gourdes so these kids can eat at the cafeteria.

Yet, it is true. It even made the front page of the papers last year. The press has also related the trials and tribulations of the parents struggling to send their kids to schools this year.

So it seems the prover was right. For most people getting their kids an education is like taking a grass snake to school.

And affording it is like making that snake sit in class...

Friday, August 03, 2007

Shaken, Not Stirred

It seems that things are heating up in the country as we move into the second half of the vacation months.

On the one hand, the weather has decided to roast us alive. Last night, around 7h pm, it was a murderous 35 Celcius (95 F). I was feeling weak and disoriented, especially since I'd been in those high temperatures since coming home from my AC-cooled office.

Of course, it's hurricane season. Last one was Chantal, but we've moved on to another one in-the-making. Though it should mostly affect the South of the island, it's giving me the worse heatwaves!

I'm also worried about heartquakes. We've had consistently high temperatures so the danger, IMO, is there.

But people are also trying to roast my mind. Here's an overview of the last few weeks:

- My phone is still dead. It's been almost 6 months. I actually got a bill for 992.34 gourdes (about $28). I wrote to them to say I didn't appreciate the joke. I have little hope of the situation changing anytime soon since the head of the state phone company has been trouble from disgruntled employees.

He's been interviewed over and over again over the massive firings going on. Can you blame the guy? When he came into the job, the co had 5,000 employees. Among them, eight (8) doctors, including a gynecologist and an urologist!!! He says he only needs between 750, but is willing to go up to 1,200 employees.

I think he's serious. There's even an ad in the papers looking for a company to restructure the IT department. The proble, as always, is the other people. The director publicly admited that the reason only 25% of the 150,000 land lines in the metropolitan area are working is good old sabotage. I'm pretty sure it's true since a LOT of people suddenly lost their phone service at roughly the same time.

He also promised cable internet for next summer. Oh, I want, I want! But will he (and I) get it? Let's wait and see.

- Major corruption/criminality crack down. Two high-profile business men are being questioned by the police over allegedly selling a man a car that had skipped the whole customs thingie. They seem to have even forged the official papers and signatures. The poor buyer got the surprise of his life when officials refused to give him his car.

Notice my very diplomatice/professional tone. That's because I'm jaded, baby. I don't believe the officials are clean, I don't believe the car dealers are clean, I don't believe this is going far. Unless somebody big has it in for the dealers, this all will die down soon.

Oh, the government is running anti-corruption ads but it's a pot and kettle situation, as far as I'm concerned.

On the other hand, the US DEA has been fishing for drug dealers left and right. Lawyer-types and the common man are incensed at this intrusion. I'm pretty sure some sort of deal has been signed.

Maybe I'm imagining things but isn't surprising that the IADB just gave us $12.5 million US, lump sum even, for "restructuring the government"? And promising us more next year?

- Mr Big Stuff UN is in town this week. You can tell by the volume of UN in the streets, especially when they are blocking streets without any explanation. Mr BS has been up down, crosswise this city. He met with Rinse Repeat first and that was fun: each was talking his own spin and I was LOL myself breathless.

Oh, people are in a tizzy. Mr BS said the city is dirty, people got upset. He said the UN isn't living any time soon (if ever), people got mad. Big Stuff says that they'll not be living until things got better "in the long term".

Rinse Repeat especially doesn't seem to agree with the UN issue. Nationalists agree with him, it seems but what's anybody doing about it? When they first came here, people said it would be for 10 yrs. After that press conf, maybe we should double that estimate...

We're also getting a new head of the MINUSTAH next month, a Tunisian diplomat. He's the first North African in the job. So now we are switching the hot chili peppers for harissa.

- The house of representatives has flushed the Culture Minister. They say he did some funny stuff with the Carnaval money. Rumor has it that Rinse Repeat himself told the Culture Min that he SHOULDN'T give money to the different elected officials usually envolved with Carnaval money ie the mayors, representatives and others.

Today, in fact the President is meating with the House. Is he giving them what-for? or just cold hard cash? Rumors are flying. Some say Rinse Repeat will NOT get rid of his BFF Minister. Others think this is the beginning of the end for either Rinse or the House.

See what I mean when I say my brain is set on broil? And we haven't even got to the State Examen Results yet. School is in a little over a month away. Gas prices are high, there's very little electricity, everybody is broke (ok, that's not new).

I need a liquid nitrogen bath, quick!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

So Fresh and So Clean

I'm posting this specifically for my Third World Readers, both here on the island and across the American Continent.

"FDA Advises Consumers to Avoid Toothpaste From China Containing Harmful Chemical

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today warned consumers to avoid using tubes of toothpaste labeled as made in China, and issued an import alert to prevent toothpaste containing the poisonous chemical diethylene glycol (DEG) from entering the United States.

DEG is used in antifreeze and as a solvent.

Consumers should examine toothpaste products for labeling that says the product is made in China. Out of an abundance of caution, FDA suggests that consumers throw away toothpaste with that labeling. FDA is concerned that these products may contain "diethylene glycol," also known as "diglycol."
FDA is not aware of any U.S. reports of poisonings from toothpaste containing DEG. However, the agency is concerned about potential risks from chronic exposure to DEG and exposure to DEG in certain populations, such as children and individuals with kidney or liver disease. DEG in toothpaste has a low but meaningful risk of toxicity and injury to these populations. Toothpaste is not intended to be swallowed, but FDA is concerned about unintentional swallowing or ingestion of toothpaste containing DEG.

FDA has identified the following brands of toothpaste from China that contain DEG and are included in the import alert: Cooldent Fluoride; Cooldent Spearmint; Cooldent ICE; Dr. Cool, Everfresh Toothpaste; Superdent Toothpaste; Clean Rite Toothpaste; Oralmax Extreme; Oral Bright Fresh Spearmint Flavor; Bright Max Peppermint Flavor; ShiR Fresh Mint Fluoride Paste; DentaPro; DentaKleen; and DentaKleen Junior. Manufacturers of these products are: Goldcredit International Enterprises Limited; Goldcredit International Trading Company Limited; and Suzhou City Jinmao Daily Chemicals Company Limited. The products typically are sold at low-cost, “bargain” retail outlets.

Based on reports of contaminated toothpaste from China found in several countries, including Panama, FDA increased its scrutiny and began sampling toothpaste and other dental products manufactured in China that were imported into the United States."

This reminds me of the whole syrup tragedy of ten years ago when almost a hundred children died. Yes, it was a Chinese product then also (Nevermind that China is one of our Best Friends 4 Ever).

So you've been warned. Pass the word. Don't let that minty fresh feeling be your last sensation on this earth!

The Heat is On

Today is the official first day of Summer.

The typical reaction here to this announcement is a very bored : "So What?"

How else to react when you've been feeling the heat for weeks now. I personally don't walk into my house after a long day at work.

No, instead, I swim through a room-full of hot air. Sauna hot. Iron forge hot. The skies are overcast and gray but there's no rain. Or if it does rain, it's not long enough to cool us off. It's the hurricanes-in-the-making, obviously, but what does that knowledge do for me? Nothing!!!

It's also amazing how difficult living out of the range of a fan has become. Brushing your hair, coming your teeth, getting dressed, eating, sleeping: if it can be done with a fan on, you do it. And you're always sure to stay in range of the wind. Wouldn't want to drip sweat all over the floor, now, would you?

Don't have a fan? Must be that you are either a fish in the sea (the problem is then moot) or you're rich enough to have AC. If that's the case, get out of my face (sometimes resentment rimes!)

If, like me, you had the misfortune of your aged, trustworthy and faithfull fan dying, buck up. It's going to cost you a sweet 1,500 gdes ($41 US, give or take) to get a standing fan. Almost makes the heat seem nice.

But what worries me the most is the fact that our electricity regimen is usually linked to sporting events (like the Gold Cup, World Cup or Olympics) or political doings.

Are we going to fry alive with none of those things to stimulate the Electrical Company's output of energy?

Looks like it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gypsies, Thugs and Thieves

Note: I was supposed to post this last week but, some days, inexplicably, my server hates Blogger. So I changed a few verb tenses, cleaned it up a bit and posted what you'll read bellow. Still working on getting links in English.

Last week certainly lived up to it's full potential of madness and pain. Let me break it down for you:


Started off with a bang! No 1 Bank had live entertainment and fireworks. The police blocked off the streets, traffic was crazy, but mostly everybody was wondering WTF was going on.

From what I've pieced together, a man and a woman tried to cash a fake check in US dollars at the main branch, smack in the middle of The Golden Suburb. The man, rumor says, had already cashed a similar check the previous work day (Saturday?) and the bank teller was suspended.

So they were waiting for him. The bank security tried to detain him, he broke down the (front?) door, shots were fired, the police came. Both are under arrest but an unfortunate bystander was wounded to the shoulder.

Up to now, no official commentary from No 1 Bank's Management. Not surprising, nobody likes to explain anything in this country. This isn't the first time a spectacularly public crime has been hosted by No 1 Bank, either. Last time was back in 96 or something and there was a hostage situation, if I remember correctly.

No 1 Bank's arch-rival, No 2 Bank, must be enjoying this. Of course, this is nothing compared to the white-collar crime(s) being committed daily, I'm sure, at both banks.

Maybe I should take my money out of there...

Find out more here: (scroll down, Fr) (Fr, again, sorry!)


By now, we all knew this week wasn't going anywhere good. Particularly since two events were converging : the Certificat (official 6th grade exam) and the Public Transportation Strike.

The result was chaos, as you might imagine. I was insanely late for work, no buses or taxi. I think most of those kids must have been late for the exam.

I understand the drivers frustration, the price of gas is insane: 95 went from 173 gourdes to 209 gourdes. 91 went from 171 gourdes to 205 gourdes. Diesel went from 103 gourdes to 109 gourdes. Only kérosène (used for lighting and cooking) hasn't moved.

The rise in gas prices comes on top of the whole license plate issue. (More on that later). The last time the prices went up, the government got envolved and fixed the fares. Some of it was normal, but some prices were insane. The negotiations included promises but I have not idea which; evidently, they weren't kept or we wouldn't be here...again.


Day two of the bus strike but the streets are so free that, as always, the population as adapted. I myself had to arrange a ride with a neighbor. Couldn't afford to be so late to work again.

I wonder how this turmoil will translate in the exam grades?
This wasn't the real news of the day. No, instead what really had people talking was the death of gang leader Yoyo Piman in a shoot out with the Police and the UN.

This 25 year-old thug was wanted for murder, kidnapping, rape, auto theft, among other things. The French wanted him because he's accused of killing a Haitian-French business man.

Besides the obvious reasons, this caused talk because people are a little torn over the whole UN envolvement. On the one-hand, one can't complain about them being passive anymore; on the other, the police still can't do it's job like a grown-up.

Either way, the kidnappings are still going on.

Read more here : (Fr) (Fr)


Foolishly, I thought it was all over. Nothing more to talk about this week.
Uh...not really. Because for the last week or so, Baby Doc has been in the news again. Apparently, some sort of statue is up in Switzerland and so a bank there is getting ready to hand over 7,6 million Swiss Francs to our dear former dictatorial heir.

People are not happy. Especially NGOs against corruption. Here, it's a split. Some don't care, Baby Doc is history (well, it's been 21 yrs). But on the other hand, what about all the people who died? or lost their land/business under his regime? Aren't they entitled to something?

I can't help but wonder how much road those millions would build. Roads it was Baby Doc's JOB to build after all.

I also think those NGOs are right to say that Swiss laws have to be changed. The one thing I cannot stand is for all these generations of criminals and murderers to leave here and just start a brand-new, quiet, prosperous, honest life elsewhere.

Ah, life just isn't fair is it? Never thought so.

Read more here: (Eng!)


By then, I just couldn't care anymore. Of course, most people were too distracted by the Gold Cup to care much one way or the other. Maybe I should do like them, and enjoy the massive amounts of electricity in ways other than worrying of my future.

Well, the work week did end on a sort of high note. The junior football league is whole once more.

[Note: in case you didn't know, the term "soccer" is considered an un-democratic abberation. So I don't use it. Ever]

The story speaks for itself but I really think, as I always do, that someone needs to teach officials and public figures in this country about the importance of good PR. And Spin. It's an urgent need. Really. Dumb statements like "they were probably kidnapped" (13 kids? really?) or "we got lost at the airport" (how does an accompanied group of minors do that, anyway?) just make you look like a fool.

Read more here: (Fr) (Eng)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Flip it and reverse it

Let's try something different today. Instead of my version of the story, why don't I let you see a different perspective.

People, meet Celine. I promised to blogroll her months ago and shamelessly forgot. So I'm showcasing her. Please visit her blog,

A Bee Bumbling Around

I've met her in person but I have to say, reading her blog has been very eye-opening. Experiencing this country from someone else perspective has done me some good.

I couldn't stop there so I tried to find you guys other blogs written from Haiti about Haiti. It wasn't easy. Most of the blogs I found were by UN or NGO workers. Here's what I found so far:

Martin Baran's Fotoblog (check his sidebar for more pix)

Yon Ayisyen (hasn't been updated but whatever)

From Haïti (MINUSTAH guy, in spanish, his sidebar is worth a look)

Haïti chez Guy (this one is in cache but I found it interesting)

Circles of Change (this is an NGO guy, more of an announcement blog, don't know the thing)

Ben Terrall (outdated but another poor misguided activist...IMO)

Haïti Recto Verso (not sure if it's an NGO or what but check it out anyway)

Kiskeyàcity (A Woman! Check out her archives, she did something on Haitian bloggers. And, she knows about me. I'm thrilled!)

You might notice that most are foreigners, and most of the foreigners are outside of PaP. Still can't find an active, 100% haitiano-haitian blog but still looking. I was also surprised by the number of blogs (mostly political or activist) that talk about us. Usually with an agenda to push but still...I always feel like, when things are bad here (or even when they're not) that nobody but our diaspora cares out there. I like to think that their are many Afghan, Iraqi, or whatever suffering national who must feel like that too.

Feel free to browse around what I found for you. Blogroll, aggregate (I'm a GReader addict myself!) and I shall do the same...eventually.

Inner musings :

Somebody tell me I'm not the only lazy (female) blogger on this island, please!!!!

Whatever you say...

I had an interesting experience this week. My brother had a son earlier this month and this past Wednesday he took me to the Bureau d'État Civil so I could sign as a witness for the birth certificate. And boy, what a great experience that was!

This public office is unfortunately situated right smack in the middle of a market. Hundreds of people coming and going, cars honking and practically rolling over your feet. You even get the crazy UN driver actually doing reverse in this milling nightmare!!!

So we go in. I'm leading our little file, followed by my brother and his other witness, D. I walk right in, through the lobby, up the stairs, down a corridor and into this small room, our final destination. Why is this weird? Well, for the number of people we meet all along the way, NOBODY ASKED US WHAT WE WERE DOING HERE.

Several dozen people, on the front steps, in the hall, on each step of the narrow stairs: no questions, a few comments (what kind of sick fool tries to pick up a woman on a stairway, anyway?) but most were content to just lean again the walls or tables. Probably their version of technical support...

Let's take a pause here. Because my hitman fantasy kicked in right about then. You see, whenever I go into formal settings, I think of crime. If I go to the bank, I think of armed robbery or a heist. When it's a public office, it's usually more violent. This is what happened here. Something by Tarrantino. We would all be wearing dark suits and sunglasses. Our guns in metal briefcases. Surprise. Panic. Chaos.

I love it.

Ok, back to reality. The room we go in has two tables. On the right, two women with what will turn out to be the registries. On the left, The Public Official himself.

We go in, wait our turn after these two ladies, and sign at the both of a page in each registry. Another mystery: how do they expect two people to sign on the dotted lign when the space is barely big enough for one signature in the first place???

The Public Official signes and seals the certificate, gives it to my brother and we leave.

That's it. The kid has been declared.

Now the title of this post came to me later, when I actually read the birth certificate and realized that nowhere on there is there mention of any ID number. Not for my brother, the father; not for either of us witnesses. My Sister-in-Law tells me that they didn't even ask for some sort of proof from the Maternity: a bill, a receipt, an affidavit from the doctor. Nada.

Basically, my brother could have named any woman, declared any gender of child, cited anyone as witnesses, they would take his word for it.

I mention this to a coworker who had studied law. Apparently, this has always been the case. Worse, there are two (2) types of birth certificates : the mother's and the father's. Wait, it gets better.

The mother can declare her child herself and name a father. Except this birth certificate can be contested by the real/fake father. Not so the case of the father's certificate. It's permanent.

As my coworker said, in a country of Miraculous Births, they figure any man willing to acknowledge a child, must really want to.

They'll believe you, whatever you say...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

And when the party's over...

I miss last month, I really do. Last month afforded me 10 solid days of denial. From the chocofest of Valentine's day to a two-day work week (finally Rinse-Repeat did something I can actually enjoy!), what's not to love. As a bonus, the Carnaval was even pretty and (somewhat) on schedule this year : streets full of costumes, inaugural ball on Saturday night at the Presidential Palace, beautifully decorated stands on the plazza, only a few dozens wounded (well, at least according to the police but whatever)...

But it's back to harsh reality ever since. And boy, do we have stuff on our plate!

The banking scandal is dead. It think I can say safely say that. After all the special commission said it interviewed dozens of people and found no proof of Whistleblower Senator's allegations that several senate members were bribed into voting the decree concerning Socabank.

That story is almost dead. The Senatorial Special Commission said it didn't find any proof. Are you surprised? Even better, Whistleblower might even get sued over this.

My take on this is simple: I think he told the truth. I just don't know why or for whom he did this. This is not a country were the truth is made public. I wonder who was coordinating this behind the scenes...

The new thing is that Rinse-Repeat is talking about amending the 1987 Constitution. And wouldn't you know it? The two main issues are citizenship and money.

Note : For those who don't know, the law doesn't allow double citizenship. But the Haitian diaspora (who, last year alone injected, some 1.65 billion U.S. dollars in this country, 77% of which went to food and lodging for the families receiving these transfers) is limited by this law and it's been talked about a lot, especially in the last 10 yrs or so.

Back to the story. The best part of this is that the law doesn't let us hold referendums. So basically, the gvt can do whatever they want to the Constitution and we, the citizens/electors/tax payers will just have to live with it.

So I might just wake up one day and discover that the deal is done and that the "haitian dollar" as ceased being fiction and turned into cold hard cash. Or that all my Canadian, US, French or whatever else friends and relatives will legally be Haitians too! Wonders never cease, I tell you.

All this is part of the great virtual reality show called Haitian Politics.

Real life, as I live it, is a little more basic.

Kidnappings are as popular and lucrative as ever. A friend of mine's mother was the victime of a kidnapping recently. Except this time, they broke into her house in the middle of the night and drove away with her in her own car. The initial ransom was $300,000 USD, I think. Her family negociated a drastically lower price and so now they are broke.

I was very surprised by this b&e technique but it turns out that this is the new modus operandi. Other people have been taken the same way. My aunt's neighborhood was ringing with gunshots recently. Luckily, the people ran away in the night and escaped their fate.

There's something incredibly scary about being attacked at night. This is blackout country, people. So if you have to run for your life, you'll probably have to do it in the pitch blackness. Unless it's around the full moon. Otherwise, zero artificial light. I know several people who've lived through this and they are scarred for life.

But being attacked and abducted day and night isn't the scarriest part. It's the rape and torture part that chill my blood. And the killings. Quite a few kidnappings have been reported on the news.

Recently, they found the victim's decomposing body in the water cistern of an empty house. The neighbors had smelled something rotten. There were also two men, bound and gaged inside the house. The dead man's family had paid twice, for a total of $34,000 USD. They still killed him.

Last night, another coworker was kidnapped. Asking price : $800,000 USD. There are several witnesses, she was with friends.

I'm torn between fear, anger and disgust. I can't be the only one who wonders why this isn't over yet? The UN are allegedly cleaning up the slums of gangs and criminals. And yet kidnappings have never stopped. It's going to be 4-5 years since this started and it only gets worse.

I don't sleep well at night. It's been a while since I had this problem. About six months, I would say. So I bought exercise DVDs and it helps. A little. I drink tea at night. I blog.

Except the problem doesn't go away, does it? I still have to go to work everyday. And come home everyday. And go to bed everyday. And hopefully wake up safe and sound, everyday.

And people get kidnapped and killed. Everyday.

P.S. Sorry the links are all in French, couldn't find them in English.