For our last night in the central plateau, we went down the hill from Papaye to Hinche for an evening in town. Since we arrived here, it’s been easy to forget that the country is in the middle of a very dangerous political moment, and that there are forces afoot that would like to tear the country apart. Strolling through Hinche, the capital of the Central department, we came upon courtyard surrounded by accordion wire.
Peering through the fence we could see a few white jeeps and row after row of tents–portable, nylon roofed Quonset huts, really. The Courtyard was the headquarters of the UN contingent here in Hinche and as we walked up the street and approached the gate, a trio of soldiers popped their heads out of a sand-bagged watch tower. They were smiling and saying “MINUSTAH,” which is the name for this UN mission to Haiti.
We tried to speak to them in Creole, in French, in Spanish and in Portuguese (most of the UN troops here are from Brazil), and we finally figured out that they were from Nepal, and that they didn’t have any language in common with us or with the people that they are here to help.
We spoke with the Mayor of Hinche and with some local delegates to the national government last night, and they were very happy with the work of the UN. They said that the Police in Hinche had been disarmed by members of the former military (which Aristide disbanded in 1995), and that without the UN, the ex-soldiers and the gangs and Chimere in the neighborhood would be terrorizing the local population.
It’s hard to imagine how these Nepalese soldiers would be able to work cooperatively with the community in the event that political violence appears here in Hinche. Tomorrow we are headed to Port-au-Prince, where I fear we will get a chance to see for ourselves how the UN operates in a more chaotic situation (several UN soldiers have died in recent weeks in conflicts with armed gangs and with the former military). We will also have an opportunity to meet with our human rights partners and to hear about the crucial work they are doing to monitor the situation.
Ironically, we will have less access to the Internet in the capital than we have here in Papaye, but if we have a chance, we will try to post our impressions of our visit to Port. Regardless, you should be hearing from Jennifer Lemire and Stephanie Sluka Brauer about their visit to Palestine.
I want to leave you with another more hopeful image from Haiti. This morning we drove to Bassin-Zim, a stunning waterfall in the hills above Papaye. The waterfall is at the headwaters of the Sarama River, and a nearby spring is also the source of the water supply that the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) developed for the communities in the area. The waterfall was in serious danger from erosion and deforestation, but the MPP reforestation and erosion control work in the area — thousands of yards of stone retaining walls and thousands of trees — have reversed the degradation saving the waterfall and beginning the process of preserving the watershed.
The work that the MPP is doing — physical projects improving community farms and repairing Haiti’s devastated forests, and education and organizing work building the power of Haiti’s peasant communities — is vital not just so families will have water to drink and bathe and irrigate a small patch of vegetables, but so children, like the ones we saw today, can hear the sound of water tumbling down the cataract, can climb the rocks of the waterfall and jump into the pool of life-giving turquoise water for years and years to come.