Sunday, January 31, 2010

Searching for land to rebuild

Since the earthquake, Andre's stepfather Mathieu has made several trips up to the mountain village of Athis, about 12 miles from Port-au-Prince, looking for land. Several people are willing to sell land, but the cheapest piece that is suitable for building is $10,000. From what we understand, it's about 11,000 square feet in size, which is more than enough, but the owner won't subdivide it.

To get to Athis by road, you take the Route de Kenscoff from Petion Ville to Fermathe (about 8 miles). This is the location of the Baptist Haiti Mission, which we visited in June 2009. The woman hugging me in the top photo is Mathieu's sister-in-law who lives in Athis and works in the cafeteria at the mission. This photo was taken in BHM's gift shop. They also have a hospital, schools, and housing. I'm trying to get in touch with them to see if there are any houses to rent in Fermathe while we are collecting money to buy the land and build a house in Athis, so Andre's family won't have to camp on the streets of the capitol.

Before we went to Haiti last June (my third time to Andre's homeland), we purchased 6 dozen toothbrushes through our dentist in Santa Cruz. In the bottom photo you see Andre handing out toothbrushes to schoolkids on the road to Athis and Duval.

Originally, Andre's family was thinking to rebuild on his grandfather's land in Duval, but for several reasons they prefer Athis. First of all, Duval is even farther from the Route de Kenscoff. Secondly, the mountain road ends before you get to Duval so you have to travel the last mile by foot, making it harder to bring in building materials. Also, there is electricity in Athis, but not in Duval, so the quality of life (and value of the house) would be more in Athis. And the latest reason is that they've heard there was earthquake damage in Duval and very little in Athis. If his family is leaving Port-au-Prince to avoid damage from earthquakes in the future, they want to rebuild in an area that wasn't affected.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Two weeks after the quake

I can't believe it's been two weeks since the earthquake first hit and Andre's family is still camped out on the street in Port-au-Prince. We've been able to send money twice and luckily they got it easily because his brother the police officer went to Western Union with his stepfather. Another Haitian friend in Florida said it took her relatives two days to pick up the money she sent because the lines were so long.

Andre's stepfather walked up to an uncle's village in the mountains a few days ago to inquire about land to build on. He found one lot that he liked for $11,000, but we're hoping he can find something cheaper. The other alternative is to build on his grandfather's land in Duval village, but because it's even farther off the Petionville-Kenscoff road and there's no electricity, it's not ideal either. I'm afraid that after living in the capitol for so many years, they won't be happy living in such a remote area. So we asked Andre's stepfather to look for cheaper land in his brother's village.

After four days without any contact, we're now able to get through to an uncle's cell phone because he gets better service for some reason. It's wonderful to be able to talk to Andre's mother, grandma, and other relatives. They're hanging in and surviving, although sometimes they sound more desperate. His grandmother, especially, says she is ready to go back to the village.

We asked about the relief efforts. They told us there is an American base about a half mile from them, but there were so many people that they had to fight just to get a bottle of water and cookies. Even though the stores have been destroyed, little by little there are more street vendors with food for sale. So Andre's family prefers to buy what they need, even though the prices have doubled and tripled. The money we've sent them has been used up quickly because of inflated prices and because they've been sharing with his aunts, uncles and cousins. I don't know if other relatives are planning to go back to the mountain villages or stay in Port-au-Prince. I'm glad that Andre's family wants to leave the capitol. I don't think it's going to be a nice place to live for many years to come. Not that it was that great even before the earthquake. I've always preferred the mountain villages.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

Andre and I were in Mexico on vacation when the earthquake hit. We were driving with Daniel's brother Mario and his family in the town of Itzlan, Nayarit. Andre heard Haiti mentioned on the car radio and the word "terremoto" which means earthquake. I said, "That can't be good news. If an earthquake hit Haiti and we're hearing about it in a Mexican village, it must be huge."

We went to an internet cafe to see the news online. One of the first images we saw was the National Palace in ruins. I couldn't believe it. That's like the White House in DC. I can't imagine ever seeing the White House in ruins. At that point they were still trying to locate President Rene Preval. The first reports said "hundreds" feared dead under the rubble. I knew it had to be way worse than that.

We tried to call his family on Skype, but couldn't get through. For three days we couldn't get through. It was horrible not to know if they were still alive or not. We called all our Haitians friends and relatives in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, and Dominican Republic. No one was able to get through.

We still had a few days left in Mexico before our Guadalajara-Tijuana flight on Jan. 15. It was really stressful, not knowing anything for sure about Andre's family, even though some Haitian friends in other countries were saying that they'd heard they were okay. We were afraid to get our hopes up.

We spent two days in Compostela with Maya's dad Daniel. Throughout all this, I was grieving heavily for Maya as we were approaching Jan. 16, the 3rd anniversary of her death. It was nice to be with Daniel and his family. We all went out to dinner together on our last night in Compostela. Then we had a nice memorial for Maya in their home.

Originally, we'd planned to spend another day in Tijuana with my friend Cecilia. I had hoped to go to the medical clinic where Maya was born on June 17, 1997. But because of the earthquake in Haiti we crossed the border straight from the Tijuana airport.

When we got to my dad's house in Chula Vista we connected on Skype and made some calls. A Haitian friend in Canada said that he'd been able to get through to his brother. They're neighbors of Andre's family. He said Andre's family was okay. Still, we wanted to speak directly with Andre's family.

We called the brother in Port-au-Prince and miraculously he answered his cell phone. He told us to call back in a half hour and he would try to find Andre's family in Delmas. It took us over an hour to get through to Billy again, but this time he passed the phone to everyone in Andre's family: mother, stepfather, grandma, two brothers, two sisters, and his brother-in-law.

Andre spoke for 40 minutes or so. I could tell that a heavy burden had been lifted. We found out that their house was badly damaged, so they were camping out on the streets with everyone else. Over a million Haitians are homeless because of the earthquake. There were 40 aftershocks in the first week, one measuring 6.1. A neighbor called us in the wee hours of the morning that time to tell us that Andre's grandma wasn't doing so well. She's 82.

We were glad to hear that the family was planning to move back to Duval, the mountain village where Andre grew up. Andre and I visited Duval in June 2009. I really liked it. It's very remote and rural, yet you can walk there in two hours from Port-au-Prince. They still have some family members living there. Some of the village houses have been destroyed by the quake, but overall it doesn't seem as badly affected.

Through a mutual friend from Cabrillo College, a reporter from the Santa Cruz Sentinel got in touch with Andre. So far she's written two articles about his family's situation. As far as we know, Andre is the only Haitian in Santa Cruz, so our local community has been very interested in his story.

Josh Brown, founder of Action Santa Cruz, read the first article in the Sentinel and contacted us to help. He has been organizing fundraisers to help Andre's family rebuild their house in the countryside. Minorsan, where Andre practices martial arts, has also organized a fundraiser
for Feb. 21 at their studio at 1320 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 458-0900.