Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Haitians are Coming! The Haitians are Coming!

Clovis, Sunday Observer, January 31, 2010

Ever since January 12 when the 7.0 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince Jamaicans have been bracing for an influx of Haitians seeking refuge from their inhospitable island. Finally on January 28, TVJamaica’s 7 pm newscast announced that the first ‘refugees’ had arrived on the North Coast--in Stewart Town, St. Mary, to be precise.

The camera switched to an impoverished looking individual with no front teeth who described how he and some other Stewart Townians had encountered a famished looking stranger riding a bike through their community. His clothes were wet and when questioned by the stalwarts of Stewart Town, he couldn’t provide an answer. In fact he looked at them mutely, dumbstruck as it were.

By this time the residents of Stewart Town were beginning to suspect that what they had in front of them was none other than a real live Haitian who had come to Jamaica looking for help. After days of wall-to-wall coverage of the quake on CNN and the BBC, the dire straits of those who survived the natural disaster was well known and the St. Mary residents were determined to be kind and hospitable to the putative refugee.

In mounting excitement they started gesticulating at the man asking if there had been an earthquake where he came from. According to a newspaper report:

Pearl Cameron, a resident who offered Anderson a bath, food, clothing and money said although he was hungry and weak he appeared to be in good health.

‘He wrote on a piece of paper and told us that it was five of them on the boat and that his family survived the earthquake,’ she told the Observer, adding that she had used sign language to communicate with Anderson.”

The newspaper account continued, saying “The residents, believing Anderson’s story, called the police who took him to the Port Maria Hospital where, with the help of a translator, they tried to question him.”

Meanwhile the nation was shown images of the unfortunate Haitian being tenderly ministered to by the Police; in Portland one Mavis Anderson gasped and jumped to her feet.

“Him a nuh Haitian, him a Jamaican. Mi nuh know weh him a do a Stewart Town. Him usually ride him bicycle to Port Maria, but mi nuh know weh him a do down there.” Mavis Anderson is reported to have told the Observer after retrieving her son from the hospital.

It transpired that the starving Haitian refugee was a famished Jamaican fisherman or as the Observer put it, “a Jamaican mute from Windsor Castle, Portland.”

At this point i find it necessary to issue the disclaimer that any similarity or resemblance to the plot of an Anthony Winkler story is purely incidental. The truth in Jamaica, is truly stranger than fiction...

While we’re on the subject of refugees it might interest you to know that no less than 13 heads of state from Haiti have taken refuge here with four actually passing away on this island. And all of this was between the years of 1843-1871! The first Haitian President to arrive was Jean-Pierre Boyer in 1843. In 1844 his properties in Haiti were confiscated by the new government in Haiti, headed by one Charles Riviere-Herard. And it wasn’t only Haitian Presidents who whiled away their exile in Kingston. As Matthew Smith, UWI historian and author of the book Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957 noted:

“Boyer...was one among a handful of once powerful ex-Presidents who were lying low in Kingston. Among the others were: the colourful Mexican caudillo, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna who, after the crushing defeat at Chapultepec in the final decisive battle of the Mexican-American War in 1848, fled to Guatemala and then to Kingston, where he would remain for two years; Jose Antonio Paez, the heroic leader of the llaneros who fought the royalists in 1819 in the South American revolution against Spain, and who was the first President of Venezuela; and General Juan Jorge Flores, former President of Ecuador who had been forced out of 1843. How exciting it must have been walking around Kingston in 1848! To complicate things even further, Boyer’s successor and archrival, Riviere-Herard, the same man who had confiscated Boyer’s property, was overthrown in May 1844 and found himself living in Kingston at the same time...Later Guerrier, Riviere-Herard’s successor would also set sail for Kingston, though we don’t know much of what became of him.”*

*from "Emperors, Exiles and Intrigues: The Case of Nineteenth-century Haitian Heads of State in Jamaica” by Matthew Smith in Regional Footprints: The Travels and Travails of Early Caribbean Migrants

See? In Jamaica the truth rivals fiction anyday.

PS: This post was originally called "The Haitian Fugee" but after reading Gelede's comment i had to rename it. The Haitians are Coming captures it all...nuff thanks Gelede.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bonjou! Bon dimanch!: "Haiti will Reborn"

This photo of a tap-tap in Port au Prince was pasted on Facebook.

Trust the Brits to do the right thing. While our newswomen and men are contorting their mouths reproducing peculiar versions of the Queen's English, British broadcasters are broadcasting to Haitians in their mother tongue--Kreyol. The BBC is doing what the University of the West Indies Linguistics Department has been recommending in Jamaica for years. Of course here in Jamaica where most of the middle class dismiss their native Patwa as 'yahoolish' (and no doubt the people who speak it as yahoos) there are NO newscasts in Jamaican.

The BBC newscast in question is Connexion Haiti, a 20-minute daily program that "focuses on practical information and public health advice. The aim is to provide a lifeline to the survivors of the tragedy and to try to bring information about missing people."

Haitian Cat at Roktowa in Kingston, brought back from PaP by Melinda Brown, two weeks before the earth quake

Apparently this is the first time the BBC is broadcasting in Creole, Haiti's national language and the new programme "is being produced in Miami by a multilingual team assembled especially for this task."

Nicholas Laughlin has also drawn my attention to "a Creole-language humanitarian information broadcast" by Internews which you can listen to by clicking here.

The program,Nouvelles-Utiles(News You Can Use) will be produced daily and distributed to local radio stations, which are eager to air it.

Thursday’s program included stories refuting rumors that there was an imposed curfew in Port-au-Prince, and notice of water distribution locations, bank re-openings, and waste management services. Information from the Red Cross discouraged hasty and uncoordinated disposal of bodies, and dispelled rumors that dead bodies cause disease.

Late last year when i arrived in Miami for Art Basel Miami i noticed while waiting to be processed by US Immigration that instructions were displayed in four languages. English and Spanish were easy to recognize, the third was either German or Italian, i really don't remember, and the fourth language i thought was Dutch. But as i stood there staring at the sentences in different languages (what did they say? I don't remember. Probably things like No Photography allowed. No Cellphones etc) i started to have a doubt about the language i thought was Dutch. i noticed that it seemed to take less words in that language to convey the same information as the sentences in that tongue were always shorter than the others.

Slowly something about the way the words looked and the sound they made when i tried to pronounce them made me wonder if it was Haitian Creole.

Fortunately i didn't have to wait long to find out. I was after all en route to Little Haiti and Edouard Duval-Carrie's studio. As soon as i arrived i asked if the fourth language was Creole and found out that it was indeed 'kreyòl ayisyen' and that the French had been quite miffed when the US decided to substitute Kreyol for French at the Miami airport. Of course it makes absolute sense as more Haitians use that airport than do the French.

Meanwhile locally the Haitian earthquake victims are very much on everyone's mind. Jamaicans from all walks of life are gathering together to do what they can to aid their neighbours. One of the best conceived efforts has been a massive shoe drive:

ODPEM [Jamaican Office of Disaster Preparedness] has forged an alliance with Well Heeled Jamaicans to stage a massive drive and sorting two day exercise this weekend. Target 10,000 new or slightly worn shoes. "You can bring other donations. We were moved like many other Jamaicans to extend a helping hand in to the people of Haiti - From our Soles to THEIRS"

The National Gallery of Jamaica is planning a fund-raising art auction and Roktowa, Melinda Brown's initiative in downtown Kingston is raising money to bring a group of artists here for a three week stay out of which a limited edition book of the work they produce here will be published and sold to raise money.

The Haitians have a tradition of painting and carving as renowned as Jamaican music. If its music put Jamaica on the map, equally "Haitian art is what makes the international eye see us," as Joseph Gaspard, a member of the board of directors of the College Saint Pierre museum, said recently. Significantly both traditions are by and large the products of Patwa-speakers and the oral tradition in their respective countries. The news that Haiti's Centre d'Art has been destroyed along with several other art institutions that have suffered extensive damage is not to be dismissed lightly. While it's true that artworks can never be as important as a single human life, it would be a tragedy if Haiti lost its visual heritage as a result of the killer quake.

As an LA Times article put it:

"Inevitably, art has caught up to reality. Frantz Zephirin, whose work graces the cover of this week's New Yorker, has already incorporated the earthquake in his art.

He ambled into the Monnin Gallery, his newest creation tucked under his arm.

It is a swirl of blue and green, with lots of eyeballs peering from the canvas, and a collection of outstretched hands reaching for help.

"I wanted to show Haitians in a sea of blood," Zephirin said. But amid the hands in the sea of blood, Zephirin has painted "Haiti will reborn."

Viv Ayiti! (Long Live Haiti) -- I'm indebted to @carlpedre for these Haitian phrases

Mavado and Wyclef's dubplate for Haiti is a remake of a tune called
that had been released a few months ago. Indebted to @cucumberjuice and @touchofallright for drawing my attention to it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

So. fucking. thirsty. #Haiti

Clovis, Daily Observer, January 20, 2010

Clovis, Jamaica Observer, January 17, 2010

How can you be sitting there
telling me... that you care?

--Bob Marley, So Much Trouble in the World

In the first 24 hours after Haiti's 7.0 earthquake on January 12, there were two tweeters who steadfastly transmitted information from ground zero. @RAMhaiti and @Carelpedre. The latter also posted some of the earliest images out of the devastated country on Facebook. @RAMhaiti, the twitter name for Richard Morse, a musician and owner of the handsome Hotel Oloffson was a fount of information, not just of death and entrapment, but also details such as the information that everyone slept outdoors after the earthquake. In fact you could distinguish between those who arrived afterwards and those who lived through the quake, by the fact that the former slept indoors, while the latter slept outdoors, in driveways, parks, squares; anywhere but inside a structure that could collapse and kill them while they slept.

@Dooneystudio memorably captured the effect of Morse's messages: "Like a dark poem unfolding amidst the dread: Richard Morse tweeting during the earthquake in Haiti." Her tweet links to the Guardian story How Haitian writer Richard Morse gave an hourly account of earthquake through Twitter.

Yesterday i found my day interrupted by the following tweet from @Carelpedre, billed as one of Haiti's best and most popular radio & TV hosts:

@carelpedre: It's sad! It's Been 4 days now and we're begging for some water on twitter!

This stark tweet reminded me of the gap between virtual reality and the REAL, constantly reminding us that no matter how empowered we feel by the new technologies there are too many people out there at the mercy of nature, without so much as the crudest tools at their disposal to withstand its ravages.

It reminded me of the darkly brilliant Tweeter who created the StarvingAfrican account. Her/his periodic tweets are sent out as if they come from a starving person, reminding you that they are still hungry.The account only has a handful of followers because who wants to be reminded that people are starving, right? I can't help but link what's happening in Haiti to StarvingAfrican. See below for StarvingAfrican's recent tweets.


hungry. still.
about 24 hours ago from web

fucking hungry
1:14 PM Jan 7th from web

hungry. really. hungry.
1:09 AM Dec 29th, 2009 from web

merry fucking christmas. still hungry.
4:36 AM Dec 27th, 2009 from web

3:22 PM Dec 23rd, 2009 from web

surprise! still hungry.
1:57 PM Dec 23rd, 2009 from web

5:48 PM Dec 22nd, 2009 from web

could eat a horse.
5:32 PM Dec 22nd, 2009 from web

lunchtime. **crickets**
3:22 PM Dec 21st, 2009 from web

vultures are circling overhead. still hungry.
12:46 PM Dec 21st, 2009 from web

1:57 AM Dec 21st, 2009 from web

time for dinner. **crickets**
12:26 AM Dec 20th, 2009 from web

fucking hungry.
12:23 AM Dec 20th, 2009 from web

6:13 PM Dec 19th, 2009 from web

so. fucking. hungry.
2:50 PM Dec 19th, 2009 from web

belly distending. vultures circling overhead. hungry.
2:36 PM Dec 18th, 2009 from web

starving to death.
2:33 PM Dec 18th, 2009 from web

2:09 AM Dec 18th, 2009 from web

feed me.
5:14 PM Dec 8th, 2009 from web

So. fucking. hungry.
10:19 PM Dec 6th, 2009 from web

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kidnapped from Facebook...Jamaica's Great Earthquake

The following was posted by Kei Miller as a Facebook note. I found it compelling enough to repost, with permission of course...

Kei Miller: (Odd..just last week I had been reading this striking account of Jamaica's Great Earthqake in 1907. The scenes seem like such an echo of today. Here are some excerpts from Caine's account)

Jamaica's Earthquake...

by W.Ralph Hall Caine

The strong breeze began to lose force until, at about 3.30, it had faded into nothingness. For two minutes there was not a breath of wind, no doors banged, no blinds moved, curtains fell back to their places, not a sigh lifted a leaf on any bough. Nature had seemingly withdrawn for her afternoon siesta.

And then I live that moment now without murmur or warning, from the Blue Mountains beyond, or the still bluer heavens above, or the ground beneath our feet, there steals down upon us some intangible, impalpable monster, before whom the very earth reels and groans in violent agony and despair.

The heightening roar is of eternal memory; it was as though some vast herd of tigers, with warm blood already on their tongues, had been suddenly robbed of their prey. A giant had seemingly seized upon the foundations of the structure in which I sat, and was shaking the building with brutal pertenacity…

At the first movement of the earth the ceiling began to fall about my ears, covering me with small particles of mortar and dust though not till long afterwards did I notice either. I stood up with a certain dazed sense of danger that is near, but none of fear. Some guardian angel seems to whisper, "It is not now." Ah, yes; I know!

That moment, amid the clatter of broken glass, collapsing floors directly above my head, tumbling walls of brick, and falling masonry, the instinct Came "Escape."

I have heard how the universe seemed to revolve like a child's top for four or five seconds, and then stop with a frightful jerk. But no one has described to me the dancing earth as I experienced it at that moment. The circular movement was there, close under my feet, but the upward move-ment was not less marked. We seemed to rise and fall as though embarked on the surging sea. Heavy walls swayed like an insecure bad stage setting,and at the same moment the earth rose and fell, bringing down masses of debris at every plunge into some hidden gulf, breaking floors like so much match-boarding, and tearing every holding from its socket in wrathful violence.

At 3.32 Kingston was happy and well. At 3.33 the city was seemingly a hopeless wreck, with the very sun itself obscured from our vision. All man's handiwork of a generation, nay, of a whole century or more, was instantly flouted. A whole community lay in ruins and in tears, in suffering and in death.

Many efforts have been made to measure the disaster by some standard of significance to the understanding: the roll of death, the area of destruction, the small proportion of buildings left standing, the happening in mere duration of time... How vain!

Some have said the earthquake was all the work of twenty seconds. May be so. But who among us can count the passage of time in the moment of a cataclysm, when the mind is living a vast eternity every second, and the tablets of the memory are crowded with so many conflicting impressions, impulses, and memories?

Any languishing sense of bitter resentment towards any one, at any time, anywhere, falls from us like a discarded cloak. I think of such as near and dear to my own heart, and ask, "Where? Whence? Alone? Why am I not seeking? saving? doing?"

Words cannot picture a scene of such desolation and despair as befell Kingston within that brief and awful space of time. The thunder of falling masonry stuns the air. Solid brick walls bulge, and then collapse with a crash ; great structures of iron, wood, brick, and stone sink like a house of cards ; roofs built entirely of wood glide away from their holdings into the street; entire buildings become in a moment a mere mash of debris.

There is a tiny moment of silence, in which people are trying to realise what has happened. And then out of all this ruin, with the very sun itself obscured by blinding dust, there comes the pleading cry of the helpless, the dreadful oaths of the bitterly hopeless, the swooning and only half conscious groans of the dying. The call for help is everywhere, the plea for water here, the agonised appeal for release from broken timbers there. …

Written 6 hours ago · Comment · Like · Report Note
4 people like this.

Annie Paul Unbelievable. This is eerily similar. i'm speechless. Thanks, its awe-inspiring to read it today, in the 21st century. Where did you find it? Would love to post on my blog...
6 hours ago ·

Kei Miller Annie, I found it in a little book I bought at Sangsters called 'Old Jamaica Memories'. (part of my revival research). The book i's apparently part of a series that includes 'Old Jamaica Journeys', 'Old Jamaica Conversations' and three more. Feel free to repost.
6 hours ago · Report

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti, We're Sorry...

from Jamaican designer Ruth Francis, thinking of Haiti from the snowy distance of England

The-National Presidential Palace of Haiti on January 11, 2010

Haiti's famous National Palace a day later

I don't have words to convey my emotions at the devastation in Haiti or Ayiti as it is also known. The Haitians are a gallant, hardworking people with an incredible history of overcoming adversity. But now it seems as if they really have the worst kismat in the world. As my Facebook friend Unsociable Bastard exclaimed:

"Why [is] Haiti like the Good Friday Bobolie... always getting licks."

A Bobolie is the Trini version of the straw man that everyone likes to take aim at and beat the shit out of.

It's Earthquake Awareness Week in Jamaica and the slogan on the Earthquake Unit's banner was prophetic: "Learn, plan, prepare. The next big quake could be near." It was 103 years since the temblor that levelled Kingston on January 14, 1907 and 17 years since the last somewhat big one here on January 13, 1993. I was at my desk yesterday, January 12, at the University of the West Indies, at minutes to 5 pm when the monitor started swaying from side to side and i felt the earth move under my feet--very gently of course--unlike Haiti where it erupted like an enraged beast. From that moment onward i've been glued to Twitter with my first tweet simply announcing TREMORRRRRRRRR! That was at approximately five mintues to 5 pm. On my way home 15 minutes later i heard that Port-au-Prince, Haiti, had been hit by a 7.0 earthquake. As a friend said in a Facebook chat this morning:

my first news of any earthquake was ur tweet!

and that was before u knew it was in haiti!

twitter amazin

Twitter certainly IS amazing. As the evening progressed it turned out to be the only reliable source of images and live information from ground zero. Ironic that my last post was ruing the backwardness of the Jamaican media in not adopting this protean new medium. As Global Voices Online pointed out:

The Caribbean blogosphere is busy tonight, discussing very sad news - an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale struck off the coast of Haiti, causing major damage and loss of life in the already besieged island nation.

Twitter emerged as the fastest, most time sensitive vehicle through which to report on the catastrophe; Facebook was also full of wall comments on the disaster, from both French and English-speaking Caribbean netizens. One user in Trinidad and Tobago was already collecting “foodstuff, blankets & clothing for Haiti”, asking donors to “label all bags”. Others, like Jamaica-based Annie Paul, quoted lyrics from calypsonian David Rudder's ode to the island: “Haiti, I'm sorry…but one day we'll turn our heads, restore your glory”, following up with links to video of the earthquake, which she found posted on YouTube:

Regional bloggers soon followed with more detailed posts, the most compelling of course, coming from within the island. The Haitian Blogger did a good job of posting regular updates with critical information:

General Hospital in Port-au-Prince is down, Palace is damaged.
No one knows how many dead or injured. The aftershock is reverberating. People can only see dust,
Obama is sending in military troops.
Phone lines that are working are: Haiti-tel and Voila.
All windows are shattered in houses in la plaine
Houses are falling down everywhere.
All the poor on the mountains, whose houses were build on the mountains, all tumbled down, one on top another…
A terrible situation! Devastating. There's NEVER been an earthquake of this magnitude in Haiti. Major aftershocks happening…
The quake was quickly followed by two nearby, strong aftershocks of initial magnitude of 5.9 and 5.5, the aftershocks were major earthquakes in and [of] themselves.
This is catastrophic. Changes everything.

For the full article go here; and for Global Voices consolidated coverage of the earthquake see here.

I made the point in my last post that Jamaica's musicians unlike Jamaican journalists had taken to Twitter like ducks to H2O. And to reinforce that point the earliest information on and from Haiti came from musicians there: @RAMhaiti is the Twitter name of Richard Morse (how ironic! Morse, as in Morse code). "Morse and his band are famous in Haiti for their political songs and performances critical of the Raoul Cédras military junta from 1991 to 1994" (Wikipedia). The other musician was @Wyclef, the famous Wyclef Jean. Between the two of them and a handful of others the earliest calls for aid and reports from the site were transmitted to the world.

One of the last tweets from Morse said: when my batteries die I will no longer be able to's going to be a long night..our prayers go out to everyone. Update: he has just started tweeting again. This was his most recent tweet: RAMhaiti 12:55PM, 13 Jan 2010..I am hearing the siren of an ambulance for the first time as I right this note..

The reason the quake was felt as far away as Jamaica is because as Dr. Paul Mann of the University of Texas puts it:

The Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault extends from the island of Hispaniola to the island of Jamaica and to the west of Jamaica. The fault has been recognized for many years along with its hazard to cities along it.

The Gonave microplate is wedged between the much larger North America plate and the Caribbean plate. This means that there are two parallel zones of strike-slip faults in this part of the Caribbean (cf map below); the northern zone called the Septentrional-Oriente fault extends along the northern coast of Haiti to the southern Cuba and along the Cayman trough to Central America. The Enriquillo is the southern zone extending from Hispaniola to Jamaica. The two zones merge near the Mid-Cayman spreading center.

I'll be posting more information as i get it.