I went looking for purpose… but did I find it ? (part 1)

So, here we go. I’m attempting it. A three part blog post on looking for purpose.
Here’s the topic for part 1: “suffering is a universal, human condition. Its forms and depth vary.

I will now explain what I mean.

It’s 2014, and I’m living and working in the Caribbean. It’s November, and it’s hot. I’ve left snowy Canada with a suitcase filled with skirts and shorts. To the outside world my life is milk and honey. I’m 25, young, healthy and curious, and on a Canadian-funded internship in Haiti where I’m meant to help out local farmers better market their fair-trade coffee. Sounds fun, right? For the first month we young interns (there are 2 other Canadian girls there with me) are meant to integrate into village life and learn Creole. We all speak French, but the villagers don’t. It’s warm, the local coffee is yum and we spend our hours meandering about the Haitian bush attempting to chat with other young women while munching on sugar cane. Chew, chew and spit out the cane. Sweetness in my mouth. Except that further inside, I’m not OK. Actually, I’m deeply disturbed by what I’m experiencing. I’ve never been to a place this poor before. It feels like I’m in a parallel universe. I keep telling myself that it’s the 21st century and the people around me are often illiterate and pumping water from a well in the village square daily. Their houses are comprised of mud bricks and metal sheets. Their loos are holes in the ground behind the houses. Dusty half-dressed kids run about and are fascinated by our white skin and unkinky hair. Beautiful palm trees sway in the breeze, and the drive down the mountain from the village into Cap-Haitian is lovely (if you divert your gaze from the piles of trash lining the road..). Everywhere people sit about gazing at us and I get the distinct impression that they are waiting for hand outs. I’ve never been this far out of my comfort zone, and it’s agonizing. I have no idea how to sit with any of the paradoxes that I’m experiencing. How can a place be so similar to paradise and to hell all in the same breath? I’m feeling the next layers of my own naivety stripped away. For the first few months I cry myself to sleep at night while attempting to learn as much about Haiti and her history by day. The other girls have international development degrees and some experiences in Africa already under their belt, and they don’t look to me to be so affected by where we are. I’m either at a disadvantage with my cushy business degree, highly-sensitive, over-analytical or a combination of all of the above. I mostly feel isolated and alone. My supervisor at the Quebec NGO who we are meant to report to about our well-being chortles when I tell him that I need my own room because I have no where to practice meditation. I’m thinking that I’m going insane inside of my own head from trying to understand the seemingly incomprehensible while he thinks I’m foolish to try to get any peace in hot, mosquito-swatting and villagers-hanging-about-everywhere village environment. He tells me to just relax and let it be. He might as well have told me to sit sit on hot coals. I actually contemplate ditching the whole project 3 months in (unheard of contemplation from the hitherto undaunted Katalina), but out of pure grit I choose to stay and see it through to the end of the 6 months.

Early on I meet a young Haitian man. He is someone unique and he also has something very precious to me. He has something that I want tremendously. He makes me aware of a need I didn’t even know I had.

He has purpose.

I have a degree. By then, I had travelled pretty extensively throughout Europe and North America. I have loving parents and good friends. I have opportunity. But I sure as hell have no idea what to do with my life.

He and I strike up a friendship. A deep friendship. While my privileged story unfolds (for regardless of being a Polish first-generation immigrant in Canada, I still consider myself a participant in the privileged layer of society) he makes me aware of things hitherto unknown to me. I learn about the third passport I had no idea I had: my white skin. I see that I am treated differently because of it everywhere I go in Haiti. This preferential sort of racism disgusts me most of the time although I’m the first to admit that it is occasionally highly useful (jumping the line at the Cuban medical clinic when I get typhoid or getting a seat in a busy restaurant). We chat, we get to know each other. He’s young too, but he knows “the other world” well, he has spent over 8 years already in Montreal, only to return to Haiti to pursue his purpose – building business and bettering his home country. A deep envy grows inside of me, for despite all of my privilege, despite all of my education, travel and advantages in life this profound sense of direction and usefulness to the world eludes me. I want purpose, I desire it with all of my being. I begin to wonder whether I’ll ever find it. There are so many choices. I’m not clear on what my talents are. But what I do see, what I do recognize, is that there is great need everywhere around me. Maybe I can make myself useful here. Maybe Haiti is my purpose.

For a while, I dive into a better understanding of the visible village life around me. Not having enough money, enough to eat, or a decent home to live in are certainly very uncomfortable states of being. The local medical clinic is terribly under-equipped and understaffed. I hear of stories of women about to give birth who have no other choice than to get on the back of a local moto-taxi and make a 90 minute journey to the nearest hospital to give birth. What an ordeal. Our village doesn’t even have electricity yet, and only those with extra means can afford generators and the gasoline to power them. And yet I observe the people to be generally calm, pleasant and smiling. They have each other, and no one is ever alone. There are even 2 or 3 “village crazies” as we call them, mentally sick individuals, who meander the streets often talking to themselves or shouting. They are mostly left alone although they are not excluded. They receive food from neighbours and they are even respected – local superstitions often link their altered mental states to those of the Spirit world. There are no asylums here. How curious. Oftentimes in the morning I can hear the teacher next door expound very basic lessons to her young charges comprised or repeating Christian prayers and French verbs, it all seems quite useless from an educational standpoint, but the kids are happy and laughing and playing together. No one is excluded or bullied or left alone in a moment of sadness. There is a sense of relaxation, peace and togetherness in that village which, in some ways, makes it feel like the safest place on Earth.

While I stay in touch with the “developed” world and my friends and family in Canada, USA and Europe, I start seeing the contrasts in what people are struggling with. These are the so-called “first world problems” we laugh at. They are trivialities such as a slow high-speed Internet and the wrong type of cheese when you order your fancy meal at a five-star restaurant. I scoff at these problems. But I don’t scoff at the mentions of depression and isolation. So many people are deeply sad, and they feel caught up in a painful, money-powered system that they can’t get out of. So many people, much like myself, have lost the something intangible, beautiful and nurturing – that sense of purpose. They aren’t even sure they ever had it to begin with.


Fast forward 2 months later, and I’m in our NGOs office in Cap-Haitian enjoying a local coffee and chatting to our gardener. He’s a bright, middle-aged fellow and eager to exchange with the “blancos”, as we are often called there. As so many Haitians do, he begins our conversation with asking me how I like Haiti. I tell him that I like it very much, at which point he says, again in typical Haitian fashion, shaking his head in sadness “ah yes, but there is so much misère“. I pause, for something inside of me is urging me to steer this conversation into a different direction than usual. I nod once, looking at him. “I don’t deny that there are many problems in Haiti”, I tell him, and I take a deep breath and plow on “but please understand that we also have many problems in the West”. He gazes at me, and I continue. “In the West we don’t generally have the same kind of problems. Many people have enough water, and electricity and food. But many people also feel lost and sad and isolated a lot of the time. There is a problem called depression, like a long-standing, deep sadness, which is on the rise.”, I explain to him, and I add for emphasis, “we also have some people who are so sad and feel so hopeless that they commit suicide.” He gazes at me, the eyebrows rising. “Suicide almost never happens here.” he states, and then he asks me “why are your people so sad if they have so much?” I smile to myself at the simplicity and depth of this question. “I think it’s because we are overwhelmed by choices – because we can do everything, we are unsure of what to choose, of what is best for us and our families. It’s very difficult to know what to choose.” and I continue, scanning the courtyard strewn with sunshine and flowers as though searching for my own answers, “and I think we feel isolated because we are taught to value our own individual success and so we easily feel separate from others.” I finish. The gardener nods wisely and reflects. Then he adds: “Here we have big families and always there is someone to talk over your problems with. You never feel alone.” he smiles at me. and I tell him that I too have noticed this and I value it very much. I also thank him for taking a moment to chat with me about this.

While this conversation took place over 6 years ago, I have often thought of it.

While it is a beautiful pursuit to improve the lives of those who do not have enough material means, I no longer think that it is a nobler or better pursuit than other pursuits. Ultimately, suffering exists everywhere, only its form varies slightly. Ultimately, intentional kindness and service to others brings value whether we are feeding bellies or we are feeding souls. We humans need to intake nutrients on many levels, and we need it regularly.

I went to the “third world” searching for my purpose and while I don’t regret a single minute spent in either Haiti or in Senegal, I no longer see my purpose as being tied to a place or to an action. I see it now as tied to a meaning – and for me that means healing and opening human hearts, everywhere and in every which way. The “how”of how that happens is secondary. At least I found my Why.

Inshallah-ing my way through life

I’ve been reprogrammed. I recognize it and.. I like it! At least this one specific program which has been rewired within me.

And the root of this wisdom lies in the Arabic term of “Inshallah”.
Literally translated it means “If God wills it”.
Translated to life it means that you can do everything right, you can be the best you can be and yet.. and still.. you have no guarantee that you’ll get what you want.
You may end up where you want to go or you may not. You may even end up in a very nasty situation despite your best intentions and efforts. Aha, you say: “C’est la Vie”..
aha, I say.. “Ça… ça c’est l’Esprit”

Please allow me to explain the rewiring process.

It began in Haiti with the Creole expression, one of the first I learned back in 2014 and it goes something like this: “Si dye vle”. It means, once again, “If God wills it”.

Naturally, as so much of what is beautiful and pure on this planet this wisdom has been abused. Myself, like most Westerners working in Haiti, found it incredibly frustrating to hear from a team member “Si Dye Vle” as an answer to a seemingly basic question: “Are we having the meeting tomorrow at 10:00” or “will you be here for the presentation next week”. A simple “yes” or “no” would suffice.. we would say to ourselves angrily. Referring to God’s will when your own will seems to be enough looked to me like a fancy excuse. No one ever said “I never made it to that meeting because God did not will it” and yet that’s how we were meant to interpret a no-show?.. Oh my…

Many developing countries function in survival mode and insecurities around everything from politics to the economy run high. The Western world however lends itself to the illusion of control over one’s own life and destiny (great organization and functioning systems can do that to you!). “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up” and variations on this theme are expounded to us daily, especially in America. While I’m all for self-actualization, I also recognize the deep Mystery and Spirit that pervades all and that has a schedule far different and far greater than our small self-centered understanding of our lives. I once heard a quote that goes something like this “Woe and misery come to the one who gets everything that he wished for”. Analyze it for just a second and you’ll see that there is so much truth to that. I have countless examples from my own life when I thought I knew what I wanted and something far different, and far better, came my way. Thank goodness! – said I. Thank goodness there is a wisdom and a Spirit far wiser than my own limited mind that cares for me always and carries me forward.
Side note: I now do my best to remember to wish upon others (and myself) all manner of goodness and blessings, but not necessarily what they think is best for them but what is truly in their Highest Benefit.

Which is why “Inshallah” is now a consciously added element to my own intention setting.

After 3.5 years in Senegal I’ve heard it used and abused quite as often, if not more, than the “Si dye vle” in Haiti. Then again, I have also seen it used wisely, by deliberate, intelligent people who have plans and a strategy to their lives. They move forward with purpose, they find the information and the contacts they need in order to succeed. And yet, through all of this, they remain humble. They state a project and a plan and follow it with a gentle… Inshallah. They take time to acknowledge that which is powerful and that pervades all – the ether, the Spirit, the Mystery within all that ultimately, plan or no plan, strategy or no strategy, will determine whether the tree bears fruit this year and whether your plans will come to harvest.

This rewiring of my own Western programming by spending significant time in more God-fearing lands such as Haiti and Senegal is a strength to me, a sobering element within me that reminds me as always that there is much beyond our control. It allows me to see beyond the systems designed for our comfort, and to continue to see just how much all of life hangs by a string. So fragile, so temporary, so fleeting. Most importantly it drives the message home that despite our best intentions things don’t always turn out as we thought (or do they ever?).

And you.. what is your version of “Inshallah“? How do you make sense of the unpredictability of life? How do you feel you are being guided forward by that which is truly best for you?


Image courtesy of Urban Howl.

Typhoid is typical and everyone is an electrician

As I write this I’m laying on my bed and flailing my legs above me as I let the fan bring some air to my body and liberated nether regions. I take in this very full, and very social day in Haiti. My feet are heavy with the heat and humidity.  It’s summer in the Caribbean and we are somewhere between 35 degrees Celsius and open fire.

Continue reading

24 photos for the 24th of March, 2015

I decided to document my day in photos, with a bit of commentary. Just an ordinary-miracle kind of day, here in Fort-Liberté, Haïti. Beautiful sun, shared laughs and plenty of sweetness 😉



Wake up to blue skies and my room, as seen through the mosquito netting.


My first thought is to see my plants. Here is my mini balcony garden, and view from balcony (into the neighbouring high school).


I recently planted a baby avocado tree (about 5 months old) which inspired me to start more avocado trees. This is how you start ’em… prop the seed up in water until it sprouts roots and leaves and then transplant to soil (in pot or otherwise).


and I get excited when the beans start to flower.


This is my bathroom. No more to say here. Y’all know what these are for 🙂


This is my morning yoga session on the roof.


This is the panoramic view from my roof. Ahh. Mmm. Yay. The Bay in particular is yay.

Hello. Meet Nadege, my housekeeper and cook.

Hello. Meet Nadege, my housekeeper and cook.

10-car and street


My car (shared with colleague) parked; our street.


Rodlin, nephew of the manager of the house I’m renting. Helps us out plenty. Like when we need to pump water from the underground bassin to the storage tank on the roof. This morning he took care of that for us too.



The little store across the street. Nadege smiling from ear to ear as she heads back from the market with fresh food… potatoes, spinach, mangos, papaya…

I’m at the office now. Here’s Olivier behind the receptionist’s desk printing out some docs…



and here is Pono enjoying a morning coffee. He’s our go-to guy for just about everything… power, mechanical stuff, rental, errands, cheque deposits.. you name it, this guy can do it.



Myriel, the cleaning lady at the Chamber.



A rare treat, vice-president of the BOD stops by for a morning visit. He’s headed to an important conference in Limonade.

18-lunchA rare day where I get to enjoy my lunch at home. Nadege has prepared delicious spinach and beef casserole with fresh potatoes. So good !!

19-ruelapaixThis is ‘Rue la Paix’ (Peace street) that I walk up and down a dozen times a day to get from home to work and back again.


On a conference call, in the (relative) quiet of home.


Needed to get to the library to extend a book loan. I met Jean who gave me a lift. Turns out he speaks Spanish even though he’s never been to a Spanish speaking country. “I have a ton of books at home and I learned all of the vocabulary like that”. I am freakin’ impressed by Jean’s linguistic abilities.

22-honeyNext to the library there is a small TV and radio station. This is Willinx, who runs the show and also happens to have bee-hives on top of his building. He promised me honey last week, but his wife gave my bit away to someone else. So today I got my fresh honey harvested for me right in front of my eyes. Fresh, unpasteurized, straight from the hive. Sooo good !!!

Here’s Willinx suiting up for the extraction.


He says he took over the bee-keeping tradition after his father passed away.



All of this delicious honey for me !!! Here it comes, comb and all. We were snacking on it in the meanwhile, of course.



Here’s a view from Willinx roof, right near the entry to Fort-Liberté.  Here you can see beyond to the rice fields past the city. And way yonder… the mountains.



Back at home and winding down the day with colleague, friend, roommate, Ruth.




List do białego na Haiti: 5 różnych sposobów na bycie nazwanym ‘blanc’

Drogi obcokrajowcu w Haiti,

‘Blanc’ może mieć kilka znaczeń. Nie istotne czy mówisz po francusku, kreolsku, bądź w żadnym z wymienionych. Będzie to pierwsze i najważniejsze słowo, definiujące Twój status na wyspie Haiti. Oznacza ono nie tylko biały kolor, ale również białą skórę. Może oznaczać obcokrajowca; może odnosić się do kogokolwiek kto jest innej rasy niż czarna. Jest wiele sposobów na usłyszenie i powiedzenie “blanc” – wszystko w zależności od kontekstu, momentu i osoby adresującej ten wyraz do Ciebie. Przedstawię tu pięć moich ulubionych.

  1. Dzieci będące w grupie i krążące wokół domów obserwują Cię, gdy przechodzisz niedaleko nich. Będą krzyczeć ‘blanc’ (lub ‘blanco’) w Twoją stronę (tak – blanco z hiszpańskiego oznacza biały i nie – nie mówimy tutaj po hiszpańsku) jeśli zdecydujesz się je zignorować i iść dalej, ciągle będą krzyczeć. Im dalej odejdziesz, tym głośniej będą to robić. Są po prostu podeskcytowane z powodu Twojej obecności, na swój własny, specyficzny sposób. Zagwarantowałeś im chwilę rozrywki.
  1. Dzieci na poboczu drogi ścigające się z moto-taxówką, krzykną ‘blanco’ raz ale radośnie. Z jednej strony chcą zdobyć Twoją uwagę, a z drugiej pozdrowić Cię jako gościa. Są zaskoczone i ożywione Twoją przelotną obecnością. Nie do końca zdają sobie sprawę z tego co widzą, pomimo odblasku bieli, który jest nieomylny. W momencie gdy docierasz do następnego łuku drogi, kolejna grupa dzieci Cię zauważa.
  1. Dzieci lub nastolatkowie idący wzdłuż drogi za Tobą albo obok Ciebie, będą mamrotać między sobą po kreolsku. Usłyszysz słowo ‘blanc’ przeplatające się między innymi słowami. Jeśli mówisz po kreolsku i coś do nich powiesz, będą mocno zdziwieni, a dziewczyny będą chichotać. Jedno z nich może zwrócić się do drugiego i poinformować dosyć głośno swojego znajomego, że ‘blanc’ mówi po kreolsku… tak jak gdybyś nie rozumiał tego co mówią.
  1. Jest 6:00 – 7:00 rano. Starszy rolnik (około 70-latek, nie wyglądający na nawet o dzień starszego niż 40) w za dużych gumowcach, z huśtającą się u boku zwyczajową maczetą mijając się z Tobą podnosi dłoń w przyjacielskim geście. Oczekujesz nadchodzącego ‘bonjou’, a w zamian otrzymujesz radosne i głośne ‘blanc!’. To takie oczywiste. Jesteś obcokrajowcem, więc musiał się tak do Ciebie zwrócić. Dodatkowo, jest on szczęśliwy, że widzi Cię na nogach o tak wczesnej porze (co jest rzadkością dla nas, białych). Spoko koleś.
  1. Czasami ‘blanc’ zostanie zastąpione przez dłuższe i bardziej formalne zwroty odnoszące się do Twojej białej skóry i Twojego cudzoziemstwa. Coś takiego może zdarzyć się podczas jakichś większych spotkań/przyjęć towarzyskich (z własnego doświadczenia włączyć w to mogę prezentacje, wesela, wydarzenia w szkolnym audytorium). W takich sytuacjach zostaniesz poproszony o powstanie, uśmiech oraz niezręczny ukłon, w momencie gdy mówca przy mikrofonie będzie wszystkim przypominał, że jesteś wśród tłumu. Tak jak gdyby ktoś mógł by Cię przeoczyć wśród morza czarnych – przecież pasujesz tam jak wół do karety. Tym razem usłyszysz ‘blanc’ szeptane za wieloma rękami dzieci, prawdopodobnie usłyszysz to również od dorosłych.

Jesteś biały, obcy, w Haiti. Twoja obecność tutaj, będzie zawsze, w pewnym stopniu, zdefiniowana Twoim statusem ‘blanc’. Możesz być pewny, że od czasu do czasu będą Ci o tym przypominać.

Przypis: Dozorca w naszym biurze w Sainte-Suzanne nazywany jest Blanc. Słyszałam, że nazywa się tak czarnych, którzy nie są tak czarni jak reszta… Tak czy owak, ten 80-letni, uśmiechający się Blanc jest tak czarny jak czarny może być czarny. Piszę o tym, jako przykład, że Blanc nie zawsze musi być związane z Tobą, drogi obcokrajowcu w Haiti.

Miłego pobytu z noirs  i noś swoje kolory blanc z dumą! Nie uciekniesz od tego 🙂

Tu nie ma miejsca na zasady

Właśnie opuściłam Haiti po 6 miesiącach pobytu w tym kraju. W Cabarete, w Republice Dominikańskiej , dzieliłam się cappuccino z włoskim emigrantem. Pracował przez jakiś czas jako fotograf i odwiedził Haiti już kilka razy z różnych okazji. Piłam wspaniałą kawę, tak wspaniałą jak jego otwarta, spokojna energia uwalniająca stres z mojego ciała. W pewnym momencie spojrzał mi prosto w oczy i powiedział “Haití es una vergüenza para la raza humana.”

Wstyd dla rasy ludzkiej?

Niezrozumiały wstyd.

Czasami jestem taka naiwna.

Moje myśli przeniosły się do pewnego popołudnia z przed kilku miesięcy. Żyłam wtedy w odosobnionej górskiej wiosce na północnym-wschodzie Haiti.

Pamiętasz ten dzień, gdy szłaś z tą młodą dziewczyną w Saint-Suzanne? – Zapytałam sama siebie. Patrzyła na Ciebie, gdy głaskałaś głodującego konia stojącego niedaleko bramy Twojego biura i domu. Ktoś, prawdopodobnie jego właściciel zostawił go tutaj, żeby zjadł trochę trawy. Byłam zafascynowana reakcją konia na mój dotyk… nie był on przyzwyczajony do dobroci. Spoglądał nerwowo na moją dłoń, jakby tylko czekał, aż wymierzy mu ona cios zamiast kolejnego delikatnego głaśnięcia. Głaskałam go tak przez kilka minut, aż w końcu chociaż trochę się uspokoił. Ciągle miał się jednak na baczności – nie jest głupim koniem i 10 minut pieszczot nie wymaże z jego pamięci kilku lat bicia – pomimo tego, troszeczkę się uspokoił.  W pewnym momencie jego oczy zaczęły się nawet zamykać ulegając tej rozkoszy… Gorące opary tropików osiadły na naszych ciałach. Poczułam, że zrobiłam coś dobrego, chociaż raz.

Dziewczyna obserwowała mnie cały czas. Stała kilka metrów ode mnie i od konia. Jej wzrok podążał za moją poruszającą się ręką, skórą i twarzą. Jej uszy, tak samo jak szkapy, wyłapywały moje ciche mamrotanie po polsku. Szeptałam słodkie słówka w matczynym języku do godnego współczucia stworzenia stojącego przede mną.

W pewnym momencie przestałam i spojrzałam na nią, a ona na mnie. Powiedziałam do niej spokojnie po kreolsku – “Chodźmy na spacer”. Ruszyłam w stronę potoku, ale gdy do niego dotarłyśmy, zauważyłam z niepokojem, że ostatnie deszcze zatopiły kamienie, których używałam, aby suchą przedostać się na drugi brzeg. Moja towarzyszka była boso ale rozumiała, że chciałabym aby moje sandały pozostały suche. Wskazała miejsce, gdzie wystarczy zrobić krok aby przedostać się przez potok. Nie wahałam się i zdałam na jej intuicję i doświadczenie. Miała rację i po chwili byłyśmy na drugiej stronie.

Kontynuowałyśmy naszą drogę wchodząc pod górę, mijając po drodze “plantację” kapusty (około akra ziemi), nad którą opiekę sprawują moi koledzy. Szliśmy dalej, ciągle  w górę. Poruszaliśmy się wąskimi, żwirowymi ścieżkami prowadzącymi do domów, a właściwie domków składających się z bambusowych tyczek i metalowych dachów. Wszystkie ukryte pomiędzy wzgórzami, ale każdy wie, że tam są, nawet jeśli ich nie widać.

Nagle naszym oczom ukazał się dom i rodzina małej dziewczynki. Siedzieli przed domem łuskając groszek. Poszła wymienić z nimi kilka zdań, podczas gdy ja czekałam na nią na ścieżce. Wpatrywali się we mnie ze zwykłą ciekawością. Moja młoda koleżanka wkrótce do mnie wróciła i mogliśmy kontynuować nasz spacer. Pomachałam na pożegnanie do jej rodziny.

Rozmawialiśmy trochę podczas spaceru. Zapytałam o jej imię, ona o moje. Przedstawiła mi klika nazw roślin rosnących na uboczu.

Wtedy poprosiła mnie o pieniądze.

Oczywiście nie prosiła o wiele. Ale chodzi o samą zasadę. Wprowadziło mnie to w lekkie zakłopotanie. Dotarłyśmy do jednej z głównych dróg – żwirowej oczywiście, ale dużo szerszej – tak rozpoczęliśmy schodzenie z powrotem do serca wioski.

Zaczęłam więc moją głupkowatą dyskusję. Z perspektywy czasu, mogę winić tylko i wyłącznie brak doświadczenia i moją naiwność. Mój wykład był bezużyteczny. Nie z powodu tematu, ale dlatego, że mówiłam o czymś co w ogóle nie miało miejsca w jej świecie i rozumieniu przez nią świata. Powiedziałam jej, że pieniądze nie będą miały żadnej wartości jeśli je po prostu jej dam. Pamiętam, jaka byłam dumna w tym momencie, z moich wzniosłych wartości i ciągle poprawiającej się znajomości lokalnego języka. Pomyślałam sobie: proszę bardzo moja droga, tak właśnie wygląda spontaniczna edukacja. A ona spojrzała na mnie obojętnie, ponieważ nigdy nie słyszała słów “pieniądze” i “wartość” użytych w ten sposób w jednym zdaniu. Była głodna więc mogłam kupić jej coś do jedzenia, proste. Ach, ale ja oczywiście kontynuowałam swój monolog. Możesz je zarobić oferując jakąś usługę bądź produkt, tłumaczyłam. Wtedy miałyby one wartość! – mówiłam podekscytowana. Popatrzyła na mnie z lekkim niedowierzaniem i zdziwieniem słuchając tego co mówię. Widziałam, że moje słowa napotykały blokadę, mocną barierę w jej umyśle – biały człowiek ma pieniądze, więc białego człowieka stać aby podarować pieniądze – ot i cała filozofia. Ona w swojej głowie zastanawiała się tylko jak poprosić o nie wystarczająco uprzejmie. Oczywiście, łatwo zauważyć, że ich potrzebuje. Pomasowała się po brzuchu obrazując swój ból, aby wyraźnie zakomunikować swoją sytuację – tak w razie czego, gdybym do tej pory nie załapała. Obserwowałam ją oraz to, z jaką desperacją próbowała mnie usatysfakcjonować, robić to czego od niej oczekiwałam. Zapytała mnie czy potrzebuję jakiejś usługi, co mogłaby zrobić, aby zarobić te pieniądze? Dręczyłam swój mózg, aby myślał szybciej, no i wreszcie zasugerował coś. Może mogła by dla mnie pozamiatać mój pokój? Nie żeby mój pokój wymagał zamiatania, ale chciałam trzymać się swoich zasad i wartości. Moje podobno ratujące życie, a w rzeczywistości gówno warte zasady. Widać było że moja towarzyszka nie czuła się dobrze pomysłem sprzątania, a ja zdałam sobie sprawę z tego, że dozorcom w centrum, gdzie mieszkałam, nie spodobała by się nieznajoma 12-latka, wchodząca do pokoju białej kobiety. Poderwała się w swojej nowej myśli i powiedziała: “Ale przecież pomogłam Ci przejść przez strumyk!”, jakby wreszcie udało jej się znaleźć lukę w moim prawie. Chciała, żebym jej za to zapłaciła?

Myślałam, że jesteśmy koleżankami, powiedziałam.

Nic nie odpowiedziała, idąc dalej obok mnie do samej bramy.

“Jestem głodna”, powiedziała ponownie.

“Nie mogę Ci pomóc”, powiedziałam. Czy musiałam się wdrażać w szczegóły tłumacząc, że kucharze przygotowują dla nas posiłki, a ja dosłownie nie miałam w tym momencie żadnego dostępu do jedzenia?

Nieważne, nawet gdybym to zrobiła, nawet gdyby ona dzisiaj zjadła, powiedziałaby innym dzieciom, a my od następnego dnia prowadzilibyśmy kuchnię zamiast centrum badawczego.

Odwróciłam się i poszłam do domu. Siwy koń już nie stał w bramie.


I permanently deserted and whole-heartedly committed to Haiti about a dozen times today. With every abandon there was a new joy; with every comfort a new irritation. And so it went, split right along the middle.

Before beginning my day I took the time to organize my room and to meditate. And all was right with the world. Then, in the morning, in the office, there was talk of earth houses and solar pannels and progress. I could all but smell the sweet scent of development. Excitement pulsed.

Only a few moments later I got sucked back into a political game, had to write several strategic and tactful emails (in French nonetheless; which has to be the most diplomatic and roundabout of all modern languages), and made the necessary calls and verifications with the locals so as to make sure to adhere to the local customs and not tread on any toes. A tiring pursuit for someone who enjoys professional informality. And so in my heart I left this mess to bubble and steam without me. Forget it, seriously, why invest time and energy into something so futile, I reasoned.

Nearer to lunchtime I was gifted a beautiful baby avocado tree, sitting proud and perfect on my balcony. It was just looking at me, leaves curled up into delicate, green smiles, inviting me to stay here and plant trees for many years to come. I was easily convinced; my bags were unpacked, my passports and suitcases tucked away. This was good, this was right, this was beautiful. With lunch time came the fresh, local and delicious foods that convinced me fully that I was happy and settled here. Tomatoes sprinkled with rosemary and scrambled eggs blessed with sea salt will do that to me. I was smiling again.

Early afternoon rolled around, and political massaging continued until I didn’t know if it’s a work event I’m planning for next week or the commemoration of the chefs of state of the most important nations under the sun. I had temporarily forgotten that less material wealth can often equal more pride and inflated egos. I was once again ready to leave this place seemingly full of peacock feather fluffing. Irritation ran high. Mentally, I was one foot out the door.

Ater some time I left the office and walked the short distance to my house. I needed to see about a broken water pump – the reason that recent showers and dish washing have been a cold water bucket-and-bowl event. While waiting for the repair guy to show up I sat outside and was thus invited to converse by a local who, I admit it, impressed me by his knowledge of Europe and especially by naming nearly all of the countries constituting former Yugoslavia. Then, we talked about whether or not it’s advantageous for Poland to join the Euro zone. My partner in conversation just happened to be there, and conversation just happened to flow and a little spark of interest and contentment in me burned a little brighter. That is until the repair guy showed up and started fixing the pump, and then the pump not working, and parts missing and waiting for the parts and needing to purchase more water to fill the bassin and more waiting and thus spending nearly 2 hours in the hot sun teasing our own shadows. I again decided that this place must be the biggest waste of time I’ve ever witnessed. Just then the adorable kids next door walked by and gave me big smiles, melting my heart along with the rest of my sweaty, hot self.

By that time however, I was tired, angry and hungry. My roommate wisely suggested we simply close our place down for an hour and get a bite to eat elsewhere. Over a beer and some pasta my strength returned to me and my thoughts turned again to motorcycles, guitars, hiking, beaches and sun. In short, to the pleasures of life I so enjoy here.

After dinner I headed home, but I was surprised to see a car full of people next to my front door. The repair guy had disappeared but these strangers were keen to speak with me. After pleasant introductions (they were family members of the house owner) we treaded into unpleasant waters concerning the rental of the house. Something about removing certain pieces of furniture, and exactly what we were paying for, and in general wouldn’t we like to pay some more. Voices were raised. More Haitians added their voices to the mix. My roommate showed up to defend our cause. I experienced a curious sensation as if I was distanced from all of the yelling and squabbling, and I was simply left to observe how sad the poverty-mentality really is. We’d already paid one month’s rent and now the managers were busy inventing ways we could pay some more before next month rolled around. Previous verbal contracts, respect and common human decency mattered little in light of scraping just-a-little-more. We argued some more in the gathering darkness. Someone forgot to point out amid the finger pointing that our precious life energy was currently being spent on this pathetic and disrespectful argument. How sad. I saw the starved birds flutter down after crumbs only to find pebbles and turn on eachother in frustration. I swore this wasn’t for me and that I was better off seeking higher ground.

I climbed the stairs into my home, and came inside to sit on my bed and write this note. While listening to the women’s sweet singsong voices discuss small and bigger nothings out in the street, I was tucking away for a delicious sleep. Only to do it all again tomorrow.

Today I committed, and refused to commit, to this place called Haiti, about a dozen times.

Północny wschód na pieszo: Wspinaczka na Fort Capois i szczyt Sarazin

Wśród aury porannych mgieł.

Więcej zdjęć dostępnych na Flickr !

1. Fort Capois. 05.12.2014

Wyjeżdżamy z Sainte-Suzanne o 6.30, odbieramy naszego przewodnika i kubek gorących, świeżo prażonych orzeszków, którymi zajadamy się w drodze do Fort Capois – tego samego szczytu, którego jako bazę używał legendarny Charlemagne Péralte. Tej samej góry na której został zdradzony oraz zabity prawie 100 lat temu podczas inwazji USA na Haiti. Jedziemy wyboistą, żwirową drogą poprzez Cotelette i dalej, razem około 11km do początku naszego szlaku. To trudny, stromy start naszej wspinaczki do celu, czyli szczytu, który widzimy w oddali na horyzoncie. Niezrażeni, rozpoczynamy wspinaczkę. Po drodze mijamy ogrody. Niektóre bardziej rozbudowane, inne mniej. Mijamy wiele intensywnie zielonych skwerków o takim rodzaju gęstej roślinności, która powinna występować w całym Haiti. Byłoby tak, gdyby nie systematyczne wycinanie drzew na opał oraz przygotowywanie ziemi pod rolnictwo. Nasz cel znajdujący się na górze płata figle naszym oczom. Przewodnik tłumaczy nam, że ani ten szczyt, który widzimy, ani kolejny, tylko ten trzeci -najwyższy jest celem naszej podróży. Kontynuujemy naszą drogę w stronę szczytu! Mijamy również kilka wiejskich domków i rodzin, machając do tych, którzy obserwują naszą wspinaczkę. Będąc na szczycie poświęcamy chwilę aby dobrze poznać postać haitańskiego bohatera, dla którego ta góra tak wiele znaczyła.

Charlemagne, Péralte – (1886 – 1919) – legendarny, haitański przywódca partyzancki, który przeciwstawiał się inwazji USA na Haiti w 1915. Peralte pochodzi z miasta Hinche, zlokalizowanego w centrum Haiti, ale podczas okupacji USA stacjonował w Leogane, pracując jako szef wojska w mieście. Kiedy odmówił poddania się obcym wojskom, zrezygnował ze swojego stanowiska i wrócił do rodzinnego miasta, gdzie dwa lata później został aresztowany za nieudany atak na posterunek żandarmerii. Chociaż został skazany na 5 lat pozbawienia wolności, uciekł z niewoli i zebrał grupę nacjonalistycznych rebeliantów, aby rozpocząć wojnę partyzancką przeciwko amerykańskim wojskom. Wojska Péraltego nazywane „Cacos” (nazwa upamiętniająca partyzanckie wojska haitańskie z XIX wieku) stwarzały tak duże zagrożenie dla USA, że najeźdźcy zostali zmuszeni do wzmocnienia kontyngentu US Marine na Haiti i do zwalczania partyzantów zaangażowali samoloty. Przez pewien czas Péralte prowadził skuteczną wojnę przeciwko USA. Udało się nawet ustanowić rząd tymczasowy w północnej części kraju. Został jednak zdradzony i zamordowany przez jednego ze swoich generałów. Żołnierze Marines chcąc zniechęcić innych do podobnych powstań, zrobili z Péralte przestrogę dla innych, robiąc zdjęcie jego ciała przywiązanego do drzwi i rozpowszechniając je na obszar całego kraju. Péralte pozostaje jednak haitańskim bohaterem; jego podobiznę można zobaczyć na haitańskich monetach wydanych przez rząd Aristide w latach 90. Szczątki Péralte zostały odkopane po zakończeniu amerykańskiej okupacji w 1935 roku, a obecnie znajdują się w Cap-Haitien.

Słuchając historii o Péralte oraz historii walki o Haitańską niepodległość, ruszyliśmy ponownie szlakiem, pozostawiając jego północną górską bazę oraz miejsce jego zgonu. Nasza podróż powrotna przebiegła bez specjalnych atrakcji może poza przystankiem na pyszne pomarańcze otrzymane od pobliskiego rolnika. Świetna i bardzo przydatna przekąska!

At the start of the trail

Na początku szlaku

beautiful views

Piękne widoki

The mountain rambles in the North-East just keep getting better!

Górskie wycieczki na północnym wschodzie są coraz lepsze!

2.  Pique de Sarazin (Szczyt Sarazin). 14.12.2014

Wyjechaliśmy około 7:30; w końcu jest niedziela. Przed nami niewiele drogi, bo od centrum Sainte – Suzanne do rozpoczęcia naszego szlaku jest około 1km. Z poprzedniego wypadu na Fort Capois nauczyliśmy się, że należy wcześniej zaopatrzeć się w przekąski, większą ilość wody oraz w plecak, aby to wszystko w czymś nosić… no i wszyscy tym razem mają na sobie długie spodnie. Na samym początku szlaku w tle słyszymy wodospad, oraz widzimy rzekę, która kieruje się w stronę wioski. Nasza wycieczka rozpoczyna się schodzeniem z górki; to tylko chwilowe ułatwienie, ponieważ przed nami wiele wspinania. Po drodze nasz szlak dosyć często przecina rzekę. Czasami trafiamy na polany, na których obiecujemy, że kiedyś zrobimy sobie piknik. Od czasu do czasu idziemy w gąszczu rozgałęzionych drzew. Przechodzenie przez rzekę czy strumyk możemy nazwać swego rodzaju zbawieniem – niektórzy turyści pochylają się, aby przemyć sobie ręce i twarz; inni zdejmują buty, aby poczuć przyjemną zimną wodę na swoich stopach. Jeszcze inni dobierają kroki tak, aby przedostać się po kamieniach na drugi brzeg mniej lub bardziej suchym. Nasza droga trwa dalej, wijąc się pod górę. Będąc w centrum Sarazin przypadkowo spotykamy dwóch lokalnych mężczyzn, którzy godzą  się poprowadzić nas na szczyt góry. Idąc dalej, mijamy wielu mieszkańców zmierzających w przeciwnym kierunku na mszę. Po każdym spotkaniu w naszych uszach dzwoni „bonjou” i „pa pi mal”. Jeszcze trochę stromej wspinaczki i dochodzimy do niewielkiego płaskowyżu, z którego rozciąga się wspaniały widok na dolinę oraz Trou-du-Nord na horyzoncie.

Wspinamy się jeszcze wyżej. Podczas zbaczania ze szlaku aby przedrzeć się przez wzgórze nasze narzekanie zamienia się w protesty (gdyż idziemy scieżką dla kóz). Prawie jesteśmy już na szczycie ale niestety kilka bananowców i rosnących słodkich ziemniaków zostaje zdeptanych podczas naszego marszu. Przewodnik zatrzymuje nas ruchem ręki. Najpierw musimy złożyć hołd duchom, które utrzymują tę górę, poprzez zaoferowanie wody i zaśpiewanie specjalnej piosenki. Będąc na szczycie zauważamy mały okrąg z głazów; potencjalne miejsce do odprawiania ceremonii vodou. Schodzimy z góry innym szlakiem, nawiasem mówiąc, bardzo stroma alternatywa. Kilka odcinków trasy pokonujemy zjeżdżając na tyłkach, śmiejąc się przy tym jak dzieci. Ach jaką przyjemność sprawia ubrudzenie siebie! Czuję się jakbym znowu była na nartach w Górach Skalistych  i utknęła na trudnym szlaku zjeżdżając od boku do boku przy 70-stopniowym nachyleniu… i zbierając przy tym sporo brudu. Więcej mgły, piękne widoki oraz szansa na przerwę i przekąskę ze świeżych grejpfrutów i bananów. Wkrótce potem natrafiamy na zbiór trzciny cukrowej. Kilka krzyków w stronę gór i właściciele pól z trzciną cukrową pozwalają nam na odrobinę słodkości. Z nieba pada mżawka, a my kontynuujemy naszą drogę, każdy ze swoją trzciną w dłoni. Odgryzamy duży kawałek, który pęka pod naciskiem zębów. Żujemy, dalej żujemy, rozkoszujemy się słodkością, po czym spluwamy resztki. Słodka, niechlujna, najlepsza przekąska na pobyt w górach. Mżawka zamienia naszą ścieżkę w błotnistą i bardziej śliską drogę. W sumie to prosty schemat: idziesz, ślizgasz się i tak w kółko. W końcówce naszego szlaku znowu rozkoszujemy się przeprawami przez rzekę. Powracamy do Sarazin, świadomi, że przed nami jeszcze trochę wędrówki zanim dotrzemy do Sainte-Suzanne. Po drodze wykonujemy kilka telefonów… chcemy mieć pewność, że lunch jest już w drodze. W końcu już po 12.

Already well into our hike, entering the town centre of Sarazin

Wchodzimy do centrum Sarazin

Looking down into the valley and Trou-du-Nord

Spoglądamy w dół na dolinę i Trou-du-Nord

Navigating through the mists!

Nawigacja przez mgłę!

The North-East on foot : Hiking Fort Capois & the peak of Sarazin

In the aura of early morning mists.

There are plenty of photos available on Flickr !

1. Fort Capois. 05.12.2014

We leave Sainte-Suzanne at 6:30, pick up our guide and a cup of hot, freshly roasted peanuts that we munch on our way to Fort Capois – the same peak that the legendary Charlemagne Péralte used as a base, and the mountain on which he was betrayed and killed nearly 100 years ago during the USA invasion of Haiti.

The drive is bumpy on the dirt road through Cotelette and beyond, and we traverse about 11 km in total to the opening of our hiking trail.  It’s a daunting, steep start to our hike with our final destination appearing very far in the distance.  We start climbing.  We pass gardens, some more elaborate than others, and many intensely green areas of the kind of dense vegetation that should be present everywhere in Haiti, if not for the systematic felling of trees for making charcoal and for clearing land for agriculture.  Our mountain top destination is playing tricks on our eyes, and our guide tells us that it’s not the peak we see, or the second one there in the distance, but the third, furthest and highest point that is our destination.  We continue our climb!  We also pass a few rural homes and families and wave to the families watching our ascent.  Once on top of the mountain we take a moment to truly acknowledge the Haitian hero for whom this mountain held a lot of meaning.

Charlemagne, Péralte – (1886 – 1919) : a legendary, Haitian nationalist leader who opposed the US invasion of Haiti in 1915.  Péralte came from the city of Hinche in central Haiti, but at the time of the US invasion was stationed in Léogane, working as the military chief of the city.  When he refused to surrender to foreign troops without fighting, Péralte resigned from his position and returned to his hometown where he would be arrested for a botched raid on the Hinche gendarmerie two years later.  Although sentenced to 5 years of forced labour, Charlemagne escaped his captivity and gathered a group of nationalist rebels to begin guerrilla warfare against the US troops.  Péralte’s troops, called “Cacos” (a name reminiscent of Haitian rural troops of the 19th century) posed such a threat to the US that the invaders were forced to upgrade the US Marine contingent in Haiti and employ airplanes for counter-guerilla warfare.  For a time, Péralte waged effective guerrilla war against the US and managed to establish a provisional government in the north of the country.  He was however betrayed and murdered by one of his generals.  The US marines, wishing to make an example of Péralte, took a photograph of his body tied to a door and distributed it widely throughout the country so as to discourage similar insurgencies.  Péralte remains a revered Haitian hero; his portrait can be seen on Haitian coins issued by the Aristide government in the 90s.  Péralte’s remains were unearthed after the end of the US occupation in 1935, and currently lie in Cap-Haïtien.

Amidst the story of Péralte’s history and fight for Haitian independence, we take to the trail again leaving behind his Northern mountain base, and place of his ultimate demise, behind us.  Our return journey is uneventful aside from a treat of fresh oranges by a nearby farmer. A delicious and much needed snack !

At the start of the trail

At the start of the trail

beautiful views

beautiful views

The mountain rambles in the North-East just keep getting better!

The mountain rambles in the North-East just keep getting better!

2.  Pique de Sarazin (Peak of Sarazin). 14.12.2014

We’re out by about 7:30; it’s a Sunday after all.

We’ve very little to drive this time since the trail head is just about 1 km away from the centre of Sainte-Suzanne.  We’ve learned from the previous experience at Fort Capois, and this time we’re armed with snacks, more water, a backpack to carry it all… and everyone is wearing long pants.  Oh, the bramble.

Early on in the trail we can hear the waterfall and see the river below the path winding its way back to the village.  Our hike starts off sloping down; this is only a temporary sense of ease as we’ve still got plenty of climbs ahead.  There are lots of river crossings, some out in open clearings where we vow to return and enjoy future picnics, and some under the long arms of overhanging trees and branches.  Crossing a river or a stream is always something of an event – some hikers dip down religiously to wet their hands and faces; others take off their shoes to feel the cool water on their feet.  Still others find the right stepping stones to get across and stay more or less dry.

Our path continues, meandering up the mountain.  Once in the town centre of Sarazin we find two local men who agree to guide us to the top of the mountain.  Continuing, we pass many church goers heading the opposite way with ‘bonjou’ and ‘pa pi mal’ ringing in our ears as we great everyone we come across.  A steeper climb and we come unto a small plateau from which we have a spectacular view of the valley below and of Trou-du-Nord in the distance.  We’re climbing even higher now, with our small bouts of complaining turning into fully fledged protests as we leave our path (nothing more than a goat trail) to scramble our way up a hill that is obviously somebody’s garden.  A few plantain and yam plants get smashed in the process, but we’ve almost made it to the top.

Our guide stops us with a motion of his hand.  We must first pay respects to the spirits that keep this mountain, by offering some water and a special song.  Once at the peek we see a small circle of boulders; potentially a regular spot for Vodou ceremonies.  We continue, coming down the mountain via a different path… and a very steep alternative.  There’s some sliding down the hill on our butts while we’re laughing like kids.  Oh the joy of getting yourself so very, very dirty! I feel like I’m skiing again in the Rockies and stuck on a double black diamond…sliding down a 70 degree incline sideways… and taking a lot of dirt along for the ride. 

More mists, beautiful views and a chance to take a break and nibble on snacks (fresh grapefruit and bananas).  Soon after, we come across a spattering of sugar cane.  A few shouts across the wide valley and the owners of this sugar cane plot have given their permission for us to enjoy some of the sweetness.  We continue on the road, a slight drizzle coming down, each person with sugar cane in hand.  You have to crack down with your teeth, pull apart a big strand, chew, chew some more, enjoy the sweetness and then spit out the remaining strands.  It’s delicious and messy, and a favourite snack for when you’re out and about in the mountains.  Personally, I haven’t figured out yet how to eat sugar cane in a dinner-and-table setting.  It dribbles down my chin at every bite. 

We’re continuing along – the drizzle turning our path somewhat muddy and that much more slippery.  For a good, long while it’s simply walk, slip and repeat.  The river crossings are enjoyed again, and we return to Sarazin, ever conscious that we still have quite a trek before reaching Sainte-Suzanne.  We make a few calls ahead…to make sure that lunch is on the way.  It’s already past noon.

Already well into our hike, entering the town centre of Sarazin

Already well into our hike, entering the town centre of Sarazin

Looking down into the valley and Trou-du-Nord

Looking down into the valley and Trou-du-Nord

Navigating through the mists!

Navigating through the mists!

Startups4Charity: services modernes offerts gratuitement aux ONG

Un jour un group de jeunes polonais à Varsovie se sont posé une question importante : “Qu’est-ce que les Startups font pour participer au développement ? Est-ce qu’elles pourraient collaborer avec les ONG ?”.  C’est ainsi qu’est né le projet de Startups4Charity.  Entre autres, on peut y trouver des services gratuits (ou à prix très réduit) de la conception des sites web, du codage ou programmation, surveillance des réseaux sociaux, de traduction et des jeux interactifs d’apprentissage.

Qu’est-ce une “Startup” ? 

“Startup” est un terme issu de l’anglais qui signifie “démarrer”.  Une startup est définie comme une jeune entreprise à fort potentiel de croissance dans un stade d’implémentation et d‘expérimentation.  De nos jours les startups sont surtout liées aux entreprises technologiques qui testent rapidement et agressivement de nouveaux produits et services baser sur l’émergence d’un des plus grands outils de nos temps : l’Internet.

Les startups les plus connues et les plus accessibles de nos jours sont les compagnies comme Facebook, eBay et WordPress – des compagnies jeunes, fortement investi dans la technologie et entièrement du monde de l’Internet.

Qu’est-ce que les Startups puissent faire pour les ONG ? 

Une ONG ‘typique’ n’est pas forcément connue pour son innovation technologique.  Quand on observe les ONG haïtiennes travaillant dans l’agriculture, l’environnement ou les services médicaux on se rend compte que ces organisations sont moins connectées et moins modernisées qu’elles pourraient l’être.  Les méthodes de travail, de communication, d’apprentissage et de gestion les plus pratiques sont à jour chez les grandes entreprises des pays développés et sous-estimés par les ONG aux pays en vois de développement (ou simplement inaccessibles).  Faut-il accepter que les outils les plus modernes et les plus innovateurs de nos jours resteront exclusivement entre les mains des organisations à but lucratif ?

Pourtant, les organisations à but non lucratif doivent aussi faire face aux réalités de nos temps.  De plus en plus on trouve que les ONG veulent créer leurs propres applications et veulent profiter de la communication offert par les réseaux sociaux. Elles aimeraient avoir accès aux outils d’apprentissage virtuel.  Elles profiteraient d’un nouveau site web.  Mais souvent ces outils coûtent chers.  Encore un projet à justifier devant les bailleurs ? D’où la nécessité pour un service tel que startups4charity – l’accès gratuit (ou à prix très réduite) aux services modernes désirées par les ONG.


Quelques exemples d’offres actuelles

Sur le site web il y a environ 30 produits offert par des Startup divers. Entre elles:

  1. Brand24

Creer pour surveiller votre marque, produit ou mot clé sur l’Internet et surtout dans les discussions et forums de Facebook, Twitter et Blip.

lien: http://startups4charity.com/offer/brand24


2. Edustation

Votre propre plate-forme d’enseignement et d’apprentissage virtuelle.  Vous pouvez y créer des leçons et présenter vos propres cours. Combinez les réunions traditionnelles avec l’enseignement et l’apprentissage en ligne.

lien: http://startups4charity.com/offer/edustation



Un logiciel de chat en direct sur votre site web. Vous pouvez parler avec votre public directement sur votre site.

lien: http://startups4charity.com/offer/live-gecko


4. Turbo Translations

TurboTranslations offre des traductions authentiques, professionnelles et rapides. Soyez en mesure de diffuser vos mots partout dans le monde.

lien: http://startups4charity.com/offer/turbo-transaltions

turbo translations
À noter:

  • Startups4Charity ne fonctionne qu’en anglais (actuellement)
  • Pour que les ONG puissent y créer un compte il faut fournir un numéro d’identification fiscale

Image en bas – le fondateur de Startups4Charity Mac Zielinski



Some more Haiti after the fact – connections in Calgary

In the in-between land of Calgary, after leaving Haiti and before returning to my home country of Poland, I had the opportunity to share about my experiences in the beautiful, island nation that was my home in the Caribbean.

Mount Royal University - 24/04/2014

Mount Royal University – 24/04/2014

Firstly, at Mount Royal University Melanie Rathburn, an associate professor at MRU, and I were able to share about our coffee love in the world of Fair Trade and coffee cooperatives – my own in the North-East department of Haiti and Melanie’s in Honduras with the very impressive Café Capucas.  Thank you once again to the Diana Fletcher and Mike Quinn for organizing this event!

Also, the Haitian Association of Calgary (who were kind enough to help me prepare a few Haitian dishes for a private soirée organized for friends and family!) welcomed me to their general meeting to give those that know their own country best a quick update as to the Haitian coffee industry and the role of Fair Trade.  Also a great evening and a chance to exercise my Haitian Creole muscles (they insisted I could go easy and use French or English… but I couldn’t pass up such a great opportunity to practice Creole 😉

With the Haitian Association of Calgary - 26/04/2014

With the Haitian Association of Calgary – 26/04/2014

Calgarians: the Haitians in C-town are getting together for cultural events this summer where you can discover something more of the rich Haitian food, culture and music – stay tuned with http://www.haiticalgary.com

How to celebrate Agriculture Day with a paintbrush (and etching tool)

It was a coincidence (or was it?) that I headed out to Fire Escape (the pottery painting place in Calgary) last Thursday, May 1st.

May 1st also happens to be Labour and Agriculture Day in Haiti.  I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to pay my tributes to Kouzen Zaca, the patron Iwa of farmers.  His symbol is painted on the underside of the black and white tree-themed dish I painted.  Enjoy some of the following creative process via photos.


(1) dividing the piece into 8 pieces; drawing with pencil first (which comes off in the kiln so no erasing required !).  Most of my design is complete before applying black paint.  Inspiration came from this stock image.



(2) Using strips of masking tape means I’ll get straight lines when painting my black sections over.  Once the paint is dry you pull of the tape to reveal perfect lines underneath. A quick photo of my own pencil sketches before painting over with black means I’ll have a reference for  what I later need to etch out in the paint.



(3) Etching tool lies next to the complete piece. Before burning in the kiln and getting it’s glaze, the black paint appears grey.


(4) The completed piece! Loving the blend from skewed painted lines to etching in the black paint and back again. 8 sections, 2 colours, 2 trees intertwining and the continuous whole represented. Where does it start and end? Even I couldn’t tell you 🙂



(5) and the underside bears Papa Zaca’s symbol

No place for Principles

I have just left Haiti after 6 months there. In Cabarete, in the Dominican Republic, I was sharing a cappuccino this morning with an Italian expat. He had worked for a while as a photographer, and had been to Haiti on several occasions. I was drinking up the delicious coffee as well as his open, calm energy feeling the stress of that other place leaving my body. At one point he looked me right in the eyes and said “Haití es una vergüenza para la raza humana.”

An embarrassment for the human race?
An incomprehensible embarrassment.

I can be such a naïve fool.

My thoughts drift to an afternoon several months ago. I was living in a remote mountain village in the North-East.

Remember when you walked with that young girl in Saint-Suzanne?…I ask my own memory. She watched you petting the starving horse standing near the gates of your home and office. Someone, presumably the owner, had left him there to munch on some wispy grass. I was fascinated with the horse’s reaction to my touch…he was obviously not used to affection. He kept waiting in nervousness for my hand to deal him a blow instead of the next soft rub. I kept at this for quite some minutes until he calmed down just a little. He kept his guard up – he’s no stupid horse and 10 minutes of petting wasn’t going to erase years of hitting – but he did relax just a little. At one point his eyes even started closing a bit in laziness. The hot haze of the tropics settled down on us. I felt that I had done something useful here, for once.

The girl watched me the whole time. Standing a few feet away from me and the horse her eyes roamed my moving hand, my skin, my face and her ears, just like the nag’s, pricked up to hear my soft murmuring in Polish. I was whispering sweet nothings in my mother tongue to the pathetic creature in front of me.

Suddenly, I stopped and looked at her. She looked at me. We moved and spoke slowly, and I said to her in a calm and clear Creole, Let’s go for a walk. I moved in the direction of the stream, but when we arrived there I saw to my dismay that the recent rain had eradicated my usual stepping stones used for hopping across and staying dry.  My companion was bare foot but she understood my desire to keep my sandals intact. She pointed to the places where I could step to get across. I didn’t hesitate, choosing to trust her experience and intuition. She was right after all, and we were across.

We continued uphill, past the cabbage ‘plantation’ (about an acre of land in total) that my colleagues were caring for, and up the hill. We were on and passing tight, dirt paths that led to people’s homes, little huts built of bamboo rods with metal sheet roofs. They are all hidden among the hills, but you know they are there, even if you can’t see them. Quite suddenly we came across this little girl’s own home and family. They were sitting outside shelling peas. I stayed on the path and she went to them to exchange a few words. They stared at me in open curiosity, but my young friend soon came back and we continued on our walk. I waved a goodbye to her family.

We spoke a little as we walked. I asked her name, and she asked mine. She told me the local names of some of the plants on the side of the path.
And then she asked me for money.

Mind you, it wasn’t a large sum. Nope, it wasn’t about the money; it’s the principle in itself that bothered me. We had arrived at one of the main roads – packed dirt as before simply much wider – and began our descent back into the heart of the village.

So I started my silly discussion. In retrospect, I can only blame my inexperience and naivety. My discourse was silly not by principle but pointless because I was speaking of something that had no context or place in this girl’s understanding of the world. I told her that there was no value in the money if I simply gave it to her. I remember I was proud in that moment of my high-flung ideals and my continuously improving command of the local language. Initially, I gave myself a little mental pat on the back thinking, well there you go my dear, that is how spontaneous education happens. She looked at me blankly, having never before heard ‘value’ and ‘money’ used in the same sentence. She was hungry, and I could buy food, it was really very simple. Ah, but I continued my monologue. She could earn it, by rendering a service or a product, I explained. This would have value! I cheered in triumph. She looked at me in mild disbelief amazed that I was saying this. I could see that my words were coming across a blockage, a firm barrier in her mind – white man had money and therefore white man could afford to give money – that’s it. In her mind it was only a question of asking politely enough. Obviously, I could see that she needed it. She rubbed her belly and voiced her hunger as it to emphasize and very clearly communicate her situation. As if i didn’t know it already. I observed her and how desperately she was trying to please me, to do what I wanted her to do. She asked if I needed a service, what could she do to make that money? I racked my brains thinking fast and finally half-heartedly suggested cleaning, perhaps she could sweep my room for me? Not that my room needed it, but I was still holding fast to my principle. My supposedly lifesaving, in reality bullsh*t principle. But she wasn’t comfortable with this cleaning idea, and I already knew that the groundskeepers at the centre where I was living would be uncomfortable with a strange, 12 year old girl entering one of the white girl’s rooms. She perked up at a new thought and said ‘But I helped you across the stream!’ as if finally she had found the loophole in my law. She wanted me to pay her for that?

I thought we were friends, I voiced.

She said nothing and continued walking next to me right up to the gate.
I’m hungry, she told me again.
I can’t help you, I told her. Was I going to get into details to explain that cooks prepared our meals for us and I literally didn’t have access to food right at that moment?

Regardless, even if I did, she would eat today and tell all the other children and the next day we would be running a soup kitchen instead of a research centre.

I turned away and went back home. The grey horse was no longer at the gate.

Involving cellphones and time: an intro to Digicel in Haiti

The American woman sitting next to me in the CaribeTours bus – we are headed to Cap-Haitien from Santiago in the Dominican Republic – smiles at me knowingly and nods “Yup, it’s true, if you thought that Haiti is primitive now, it’s nothing to how it was 5 or 10 years ago”.  My eyes widen in surprise; I’m having a hard time putting an image to what this stranger is telling me.  She continues, “10 years ago a lot of these roads weren’t paved, the kids didn’t wear shoes, ever… and cellphones and Digicel have only been around for about 5 or 7 years you know”.

Actually, I didn’t know.  So it’s thanks to Digicel’s intense investment in Haiti that I’m enjoying cellphone coverage in the remote mountains of the North-East department?  I was intrigued, and decided to investigate further.

Digicel, owned by Irishman billionaire Denis O’Brien, is a telecommunications giant in the Caribbean, Central America and Oceania regions.  The mobile phone network provider operates 31 markets, is incorporated in Bermuda and based in Jamaica; they first stepped into action on Haitian soil back in 2006.  They intensively developed the infrastructure network needed to provide Haitians with cellphone service.  The result: a currently estimated 4.8 million customers in Haiti (about half the population), making it Digicel’s largest customer base in the region.  Meanwhile, the Digicel Foundation is investing millions in education and athletics throughout the Carribean; they contributed roughly $5 million USD in aid during the devastating 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake.  When Digicel first came on the scene only about 5% of Haitians had access to cellphones – now we’re over 60%.  The improved communications affect life and the local economy on every logistical and practical level imaginable.  Additional competitors such as NatCom are present, as Haiti is now one the Caribbean’s fastest developing telecommunications markets.

My personal experience with Digicel?

Well, ever since I decided it would be a good idea to dupe my locked iPhone to function in Haiti I’ve been on a cellphone whirlwind of improvisation and creative thinking.  The crew at Digicel have been with me every step of the way, helping me get the best possible deals and calling in reinforcements when needed.  The result : my turbo-boosted iPhone now works on Digicel’s network, but none of the star functions (you know *120 or *150 and so on) work (don’t ask me to explain; I’m no expert – but it’s something to do with the turbo not using the regular GSM network).  So I’ve switched from pre-paid to a post-paid plan, as I wouldn’t have been able to check my phone credit anyways.  Originally, it was supposed to get me just a few GB of data a month and a meagre amount of local and international minutes.  Turns out for the equivalent of around $45 USD I have around 17GB of data, hundreds of minutes and SMS and I magically don’t get charged when I call Europe.  Seriously?  My dear customer service guy, Sylvèstre, assures me that it’s perfectly normal that I can make no heads or tails of the details of the plan that I am on.  The form explaining all of it, the one I am waving in his face, is outdated, he calmly tells me.  Are you sure I won’t pay five times more next month? I keep asking him, doubtful of how long my good fortune can last.  Everything is perfectly fine, he assures me.  I can’t help but begin to smile as I turn to the security guy by the entrance, relaxed and leaning on his machine gun in the air-conditioned room – I tell him in my improvised Creole that, as per usual in Haiti, I don’t understand what’s going on.  We laugh at this together, and I shrug my shoulders.  At least, it would seem that the incomprehension is to my advantage.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a phone plan this good.  Sylvèstre smiles from ear to ear and tells me that he likes it when I come to see him (to pay my mysterious phone bills).  Really?  You always leave here smiling and laughing, he says, and that’s a good thing!

Just as I may not be fully versed in the inner workings of telecommunications in my host country, so too I don’t get the singular phone plan I am on.  Am I worried about this? Nope, not too much, as it seems that both are serving me and Haiti quite well.

Additional Reading:

“Irish cellphone entrepreneur banks on a smarter Haiti” http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/16/us-haiti-digicel-obrien-idUSBRE90F0AQ20130116

“How an Irish telecoms tycoon became Haiti’s only hope of salvation” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/09/haiti-anniversary-denis-obrien-vulliamy

“IFC in the Caribbean – A Caribbean Success Story” – Digicel, Haiti http://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/region__ext_content/regions/latin+america+and+the+caribbean/strategy/ifc+in+the+caribbean+-+a+caribbean+success+story+-+digicel,+haiti

cover photo: typical Haitian street with Digicel tower in background – credit

Biochar…please be my Valentine!

While you may have been getting cosy and lovey-dovey with your romanic interest this past Valentine’s Day…I was getting up close and personal with a hot interest of my own: biochar!

That’s right, a few lucky individuals from our IRATAM office headed out of Cap-Haitien to Quartier Morin bright and early Friday morning to learn all about biochar and green charcoal from the local experts – Carbon Roots Haiti, subdivision of Carbon Roots International (CRI) http://www.carbonrootsinternational.org

First important fact to make note of: Haiti suffers from massive deforestation – only 2% of natural tree cover remains – and this is due mainly to cutting down trees for wood charcoal (as the primary cooking fuel) and the clearing of land for food production. Reforestation efforts have to first addess the issue facing Haitian peasants – access to an alternative cooking fuel. Thus enters green charcoal into the scene, charcoal made from agricultural and green waste (just about any dried husk or residue will do: think corn husks, mango tree leaves, dried grass and the very popular and abundant sugar cane husks, called ‘bagasse‘ in Creole). In an oxygen deprived environment this green waste is transformed (burned) into char which can later be transformed into briquettes of charcoal ready to be used for cooking. No need to change stoves or cooking habits, and most importantly, no need to cut down trees for wood charcoal.

But the trick is that char can be transformed not only into green charcoal used for cooking in Haitian peasant homes, but it can also be used as a soil amendment in the garden. This is what we call biochar – the same dried husks and Agri waste turned into a carbon rich material that acts as a sponge, a moisture and nutrient retaining body, in the soil. Perfect for use on a variety of crops in Haiti where the soils are more acidic (which is typical of the tropics) and irrigation systems rely on praying and hoping the rain will come at the right time (aka, there are very few irrigation systems in place).
As a soil amendment biochar changes soil structure and texture and provides a stable carbon source which does not require reapplication. Plants and crops are thriving on it – by just how much we’re not quite sure of yet as the test plots and controlled experiments at the CRI site are not quite finished yet. But I do remember seeing a wacky photo on the CRI website of a banana tree planted with biochar next to one without it…and it was 2-3 times bigger in the same amount of time!

We proceeded to participate in the charring process – one drum filled with bagasse and the other with dried grass, just for comparison sakes.

Below the step by step process in photos:

1. all materials laid out


2. our team getting ready to burn some bagasse!


3. laying it down horizontally makes for a more even burn


4. burning!!


5. burning and smoking away, now with cover and chimney on


6. the final product, spread out before us + Cassava growing – this one has been treated with biochar