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Haiti 2008

A week and a half later and things are still going really well, it is hard to believe I’ve been here a month already. To just respond first to your later email concerning the kidnapping. Kidnappings are still an issue, but according to the people who I’ve met, some of whom are UN security and dealing with issues like this, kidnappings have actually gone down recently due to the capture of some gang members. So there is some improvement in this section.
It is true that there are people here that benefit from the current instability, which is probably the reason for the state the country is in still, even after all the aid and UN missions that have been here in recent decades. But, I am careful, and I do have people I can call if I feel like I’m in an unsafe situation. The UN does seem to have improved the situation in some areas, for example Cité Soleil, which was a no go area until relatively recently.

Concerning the prices here, a week ago 25 kg of rice cost 150 gourdes (38.5 gourdes to an american dollar at the moment). But I’ve heard that the prices have risen again, they are now a lot higher than they were during the time of the riots in april. The chances are very reasonable that demonstrations will come again.
What happened in April was organised, there was a demonstration and gangmembers paid members of the community to start the riots and to attack certain targets. This is what made it get out of control. Demonstrations happen here quite frequently, the reason it escalated this time, is because it was planned. If gangs see a reason to throw the country into turmoil, for personal benefit probably, then they can choose to do so during the next demonstrations. Fingers crossed this won’t happen during the time while I’m here, but according to some people I’ve been speaking to, it will probably happen this year for sure. In general though, I agree that rises in prices of basic needs, like food, even just a little can throw a country over the edge. It doens’t need much, especially in a country where the government has no real control.

Prices for petrol have risen as well, I’m not sure how much it costs, but I’ll ask a friend of mine and get back to you on that. A ride in the taptap, which is the cheapest form of public transportation, costs approximately 30 gourdes. If you’re going further, or if you’re carrying large items with you (for example large bags of rice) then you pay a little extra, but I’m not sure how much extra you would pay.
There don’t seem to be any hostels here, as pretty much no tourists come here, I’ll check if one of my friends know how much very basic accommodation would cost if a Haitian would come here. Salaries are low, I heard that a police officer earns about 400 dollar a month, school fees are 1500 dollars for 3 months in most schools, so most people struggle getting their kids to school. All schools are private. With the rising living costs, a lot of families will probably not be able to send their kids to school this year, which is sad as the literacy rate is extremely low already.
My research is going really well, I’ve had 15 interviews so far, including large international NGOs like Oxfam, Christian Aid and Action Aid, a local NGO and many different people within the mission. I’ve also met with the force commander today, which was really interesting. There is a very limited embassy world here,‘I’ve met people from the American Embassy, there is no Dutch or British Embassy. The feeling I got from the American diplomats is that, like most people working here, they are not neutral either. I think in general a lot of embassys don’t tend to be, because they are in a certain country with a clear political purpose, like the UN in most cases. But I don’t know a lot of people in the embassy world. I have now met several people from both NGOs and the UN, who are all interesting to talk to informally over a drink as most have a view about the situation here. I have many other interviews planned and will probably get the opportunity to go to see a little bit of the country as well and talk to NGOs in the provinces.

I have been to Cité Soleil as well, which is one of the slum areas. It was fascinating to drive through, it is relatively safe at the moment compared to how it used to be. You can still see bulletholes in houses however, and there is a lot of poverty. Houses made of metal plates, a lot of garbage and no real facilities. I will add some pictures to give you an idea. I will probably have to send it in different emails, as the internet connection isn’t great here.

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I already feel that spending time here [in Beijing] has made me more independent and given me more confidence in my own ability to adapt to new situations, whether it is standing in front of a class of forty 12 year olds or merely adapting to sleeping with three quilts because there is no heating!

Liberty Timewell, CLGS, 2007

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