Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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Archive for December 2009

Vodou Vid

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Cool little vid on Vodou in Haiti that I came across on Youtube. Enjoy!

Gede Greg C.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

December 31, 2009 at 2:30 pm

We believe in Paul Farmer.

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Paul Farmer’s “This I Believe” recording from NPR with photos taken at Partners In Health sites around the world. Learn more about PIH’s work at www.pih.org.

What do you believe? Be a Conversations with the Living patron.

– Marc L.

Visit our Conversations with the Living documentary website at http://www.conversationswiththeliving.org
or follow us on Twitter @aidsinhaitidoc or become a fan on Facebook @Conversations with the Living. You can also check us out on
youtube or vimeo. And there’s always AIM: aidsinhaitidoc.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

December 31, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Erzulie D. & Me = Holy Chemistry

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Yesterday was a really weird day.  A colleague and I  were on our way to close out a consulting contract with a very deep pocketed and very forward thinking potential client for my day gig as an Educational Consultant . Somewhere on the Cross Island Parkway my colleague, I guess he noticed my fidgety hands and abnormally clipped driving and felt compelled to take my emotional temperature. He asked me if I was alright or feeling antsy about meeting with this potential client. I told him I was cool; lying through my teeth, but the business had been wearing me down lately. He nodded. I breathed a sigh of relief. Things were a little deeper than just work.

Let me  give you laymen out there a  little background on the Educational Consultant field that I work in.  For the past two years, the fine men and women like me who provide the NYC and NY State Public Schools with  textbooks, supplemental pieces, Intervention & ESL materials, teacher directed professional development, and administrative advisory services have seen our lifeblood dried up by all the cuts in Public Education that our stellar group of elected officials in Albany have graciously handed down on us plebes. Talk from the  pols in the media about saving the economy through sensible budgeting and economic restructuring really looks like the same old save our asses by squeezing the poor guy policy that New York has been running for years on the lower tax brackets. In our business, we’re talking specifically about straight neglect of the underprivileged and underrepresented kids living and learning in this Rotten Apple of ours.

Backtrack three hours and I’m at home juggling my two daughters while my wife is in the shower. Tuesday mornings are key days for me as that is the day that I serve one of my Lwa Erzulie Dantor. For the uninformed, Erzulie Dantor  is the Petro nation aspect of the Erzulie family of  lwa. She  is regarded as the lwa of motherhood and is overly protective and jealous of her children and those she loves. She is a patron or art, sensuality, love, and sex. This fierce warrior lwa also bestows heaps of luck and monetary success on her people. In other words, she’s a bad lady and nobody to be played with.

About 20 years ago I was chosen by Erzulie Dantor and her Rada nation counterpart Erzulie Freda (more on her at a later post) for my hand(s) in marriage. It was an honor to be chosen by one of these Grand Dames, imagine how mind blowing and numbing it was to get selected by both of them; and at the tender age of nineteen (Steely Dan all the way).

Conditions of the marriage were cool, I had to light the respective colored  candles on Tuesdays (Dantor) and Thursdays (Freda), abstain from sexual activity on those days for the rest of my life, and observe their feast days according to my ancestors’ worship calendar. I’ve held my end of the bargain until lately and I’ve seen and felt their wrath in my business, personal, and mental life. Dantor especially has had a grudge with me for an indiscretion that occurred over a year ago. As a result my life went into a freefall; culminating the near loss of my business, family, and my mind itself.

Recently, through some worship intervention and a re-commitment to my faith, I’ve slowly seen the shards and fragments of my being re-configure. My family life is improving, business opportunities that were once fleeting are now floating across my desk, and my brain is finally coming back together. This is in no small part due to Erzulie Dantor’s intervention in my life and a reward for my commitment and devotion to her. And that’s what made me so nervous that morning.

In between getting my kids dressed, the minor dispute with my better half over shower time, and the unexpected work/complaint call that I had to field, I wasn’t able to say my special luck prayer and I didn’t even get to light the royal blue candle for my wife Erzulie Dantor. I was cutting it close for time, with barely an hour to cover 70 miles of driving to pick up my colleague (the venerable and esteemed Mr. Carey to you) and another 25 minutes to cross Nassau County into Whitestone Queens from that point. I hustled out of the crib with a hustler’s vengeance, burning rubber and risking license suspension all the way to my colleague’s house. As I waited for him to leave his house and get in my car the realization of my neglect and the ensuing paranoia and anxiety hit me like a Manny Pacquiao left hook.

From that point my mission for the day changed completely. No matter what happened at that meeting, I had to hightail my ass back the f**k home and light my candle and ask forgiveness for my sorry ass.

To make a long story short, the meeting was a smash and we closed the deal in style. The client even raised our commission base by 5%  and told us he would advance us payments if we were in a pinch. I couldn’t dream of better results. To top things off, he pulled me to the side and told me that he liked my vision and had a few friends that would be in contact with me for similar types of deals. I smiled inside and said a silent prayer to Erzulie Dantor for helping me and staying by my side and never abandoning me even in my darkest hours.

Epilogue:

The ride home was cool, no major traffic or interference by Highway patrol. I got home and the kids were asleep. My wife gave me the “I forgive you” look and planted an ooh la la kiss on me that reminded me why I snatched her up in the first place. Things were looking really good for me and her in the morning.  Oh, and my candle was sitting right where I left it that morning on our dresser; at a 45% angle from my lucky green lighter. You know what I did next. I thanked my Petro wife for sparing me the rod and the staff and blessing my meeting that morning. I said my prayer  and lit my candle; looking forward to what the next day and my next Lwa where going to bring me.

Gede Greg C.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

December 30, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Exclusive Gede Key Chain

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Conversations with the Living: Gede Key chain

Exclusive keychain with the vodou lwa Baron Samedi for the upcoming documentary, Conversations with the Living.

– Marc L.

Why not be a Conversations with the Living patron?

Visit our Conversations with the Living documentary website at http://www.conversationswiththeliving.org
or follow us on Twitter @aidsinhaitidoc or become a fan on Facebook @Conversations with the Living. You can also check us out on
youtube or vimeo. And there’s always AIM: aidsinhaitidoc.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

December 30, 2009 at 11:45 am

Goodbye 2009, Hello 2010

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Dear Friends,

As 2009 closes, we hope you will remember Conversations with the Living in your year-end giving plans by making a financial contribution.

Your gift of any size will help us in our efforts to shed light on the deadly effects of globalization and the HIV/AIDS crisis on the Haitian community as well as the valiant struggle everyday Haitians and dedicated health care workers are waging against the disease. In the direst of circumstances, Haiti has become a beacon of hope. It is a story worth documenting for posterity, but we can only do it with your help. Conversations with the Living depends on the generous support of our friends and corporate donors.

You can give directly via our website. It’s quick, easy, and painless.

You can also pay by check. Please make payable to “International Documentary Association,” including “Conversations with the Living” in the memo line of your check.

Mail to:

International Documentary Association (or IDA)
Attention: Fiscal Sponsorship Coordinator
1201 West 5th Street, Suite M320
Los Angeles, CA 90017

The Conversations with the Living crew appreciates your continued support and wishes you and your loved ones a prosperous 2010.

Happy New Year,

Conversations with the Living

Of Pigs and Men: Revisiting the Creole Pig Disaster

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Violence takes many forms. Ask any Haitian. Sometimes it assumes a physical manifestation – a punch, a kick, the slice of a knife, or the shot of a gun. Other times, it assumes the more abstract form of structural violence as first espoused by Johann Galtung and later by Paul Farmer and Philippe Bourgois and characterized by a set of conditions that indirectly result in physical and mental harm. Many other times, the violence falls somewhere in between, as in the case of what is commonly referred to as the Creole Pig Disaster.

While a disproportionate percentage of the Haitian population resides in its city centers, the majority of country still consists of rural hamlets where livestock plays important and versatile roles. In this environment, a good pig is worth its weight in gold.

All over the globe and throughout history, pigs have been recognized as Nature’s jack-of-all-trades farming utility. As scavengers, they consumed a large variety of human and domestic wastes, ate weeds, wild plants, and roots, and often went after all sorts of worms and insects that might infest gardens and farms. They also served as sources of food – though it was often a hard decision whether they were more valuable as tools or food.

Haitian farmers were no different and relied heavily on their pigs. Quite often, a good pig symbolized a source of prosperity. It was said that the domestic pig served as the rural Haitian’s bank account. It was a tangible source of value that could be sold, traded, or used in place of money. That was why the U.S. Government‘s insistence on the slaughter of all Haitian pigs in May 1982 was such a source of pain, devastation, and suspicion.

Here’s some context.

African swine fever struck the eastern side of the Dominican Republic in 1978. In 1979, the disease appeared in the Haitian Artibonite region. The disease presumably travelled via the Artibonite river which physically connects Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Usually, the mortality rate for the disease hovers around 99% but as chance would have it, the strain of the fever that emerged in Haiti was far less virulent and many pigs survived or were not infected. The outbreak on the island peaked in 1980.

It was not until 1982 that the United States – citing fears that the outbreak spread to American farms – demanded the slaughter of all Haitian pigs and of course, when the superpower of the region makes a demand, a tiny nation like Haiti has no choice but to comply. And so it did – amid the protestations of Haiti’s hard-working and perpetually impoverished farmers who made their case against the slaughter.

The country has been rife with rumours that the pigs were sacrificed for no good reason, and may Haitians have questioned whether the disease was even threatening their pigs. Among villagers discussing the pig eradication programme, some said it was unneccessary; that there had been no disease, that it was a plot. After all, their black pigs had lived for 500 years uner extremely poor conditions and had become immune to most diseases… It was perfectly adapted to some of the most miserable raising conditions in the world and could go days without food. (Bernard Diederich, “Swine Fever Ironies”)

As a way of “helping” Haitian farmers, the United States orchestrated the importation of American pigs (all bought and paid for) to fill Haiti’s farms. Unfortunately, the pink American pigs were so fragile and unaccustomed to the Haitian terrain that most of them died. The ones that survived could not roam free. Yes, they were pigs, but they were different types that thrived within small pens. As a result, Haitian farmers with little or no money had to somehow pay for the construction of pens made for these types of pigs. Presumably, American know-how was employed (and paid) in the process. Making matters worse, the new pigs were not scavengers like old Creole pigs. On the contrary they needed to be fed very specific feed that farmers had no choice to buy from – you guessed it – American corporations. The pig food was so expensive that it was commonly said that the pigs ate better than their owners. And after all that, Haitian farmers concluded it would take years for the delicate pink American pigs to become “Haitianised,” if it happened at all.

The slaughtering of Haiti’s pigs resulted in much bitterness and further exacerbated the country’s impoverishment. Over 13 months, roughly $23,000,000 was wasted on the eradication. One American veterinarian involved in the re-population program said, “In monetary terms, it’s a loss to the Haitian peasant of $600,000,000.”

In the end, the loss was incalculable. A Haitian economist put it best when he said that as a result of America’s actions, Haiti’s peasant economy was “reeling from the impact of being without pigs. A while way of life has been destroyed in this survival economy… This is the worst calamity to ever befall the peasant.”

Whether it was a conspiracy or not is debatable – as conspiracies tend to be. However, what is not debatable is that American Agri-business benefited monetarily from the Creole pig disaster and its aftermath while the Haitian peasant lost what little money he had.

– Marc L.

Why not be a Conversations with the Living patron?

Visit our Conversations with the Living documentary website at http://www.conversationswiththeliving.org
or follow us on Twitter @aidsinhaitidoc or become a fan on Facebook @Conversations with the Living. You can also check us out on
youtube or vimeo. And there’s always AIM: aidsinhaitidoc.

Exclusive “I <3 Haiti" mug

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I ❤ Haiti Mug. A Conversations with the Living exclusive. Buy now!

Show your love for Haiti with this exclusive mug for the upcoming documentary, Conversations with the Living. It’s the perfect compliment to a steaming brew of rich Haitian coffee.

Why not be a Conversations with the Living patron?

– Marc L.

Visit our Conversations with the Living documentary website at http://www.conversationswiththeliving.org
or follow us on Twitter @aidsinhaitidoc or become a fan on Facebook @Conversations with the Living. You can also check us out on
youtube or vimeo. And there’s always AIM: aidsinhaitidoc.

Written by conversationswiththeliving

December 25, 2009 at 11:48 am