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Friday, January 1, 2010

Haitian Independence Day

January 1 is Haitian independence day. When Haiti won its independence in 1804 there was only one other independent country in the Americas and that country did not want to recognize Haiti's independence because it was led by slaveholders who did not like the example that the Haitian revolution set for those who were not rich, white, property owners in the rest of the hemisphere.

Independence day traditionally begins with a pumpkin soup at 10am, and we invited a group of people to the Matthew 25 house where we are staying to share the soup. We gathered on the rooftop where Paul explained the significance of the Haitian revolution. After eating the soup, Olens Calixste sang us a couple of songs, beginning with one calling for a return to democracy in Haiti. I had more technical problems with my equipment, but I do have a video clip that I'm uploading to youtube.

After the meal, we drove out to the UN headquarters to observe a protest against the exclusion of Lavalas in the February elections. It was a small protest that was scheduled to start at 10am and it was already after 12 by the time we arrived. Most of the people there were people who we had met over the previous two days in our meetings at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. Blue helmeted UN soldiers milled around taking pictures of the demonstrators as well as of themselves with their big guns guarding the UN compound from the demonstrators. I guess it must have been a big thrill for these soldiers on loan from the Philippines.

The demonstration went into meltdown mode when one of the laid off dock workers we interviewed yesterday took the bullhorn to call for the government to comply with its promises for 36 months of unemployment benefits. The people who organized the demonstration shouted them down, saying that they were there to protest funding for the electoral council and holding elections without the participation of Lavalas. After some shouting that left the rest of us a bit bewildered since we don't speak Haitian Creole, everybody just got up and left.

We were now without a demonstration to observe, it was only early afternoon, and we didn't have any more plans for the day. So, we decided to drive through the elite neighborhood of Petionville and up to the top of a mountain overlooking Port-au-Prince. Mostly we just saw smog. I didn't realize how smoggy it was here, but that explains the scratching in my throat.

After looking out over the smog and taking pictures of our group, we headed back down. It was still early and the traffic was light and I wanted to check out the fair trade store Comite Artisanal Haitien with which Cheryl works, but it was closed so instead we went to the Hotel Oloffson made famous by Graham Greene's novel The Comedians (among other things).

After returning to the guest house we had leftover soup from the morning for our supper. Now we're spending a quiet evening. Some of us are tired because of celebrating the new year last nite, and others of us are tired cuz the horrendous noise of the others celebrating the new year kept us from sleeping soundly last nite.

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