Loading... Please wait...

The Battle of Vertieres

The Battle of Vertieres is celebrated in Haiti today with parades and speeches by prominent public figures.  This sculpture by Julio Balan, called "Dancing in the Street" illustrates the joy and patriotic pride of the holiday.

The Battle of Vertieres is celebrated in Haiti today with parades and speeches by prominent public figures. This sculpture by Julio Balan, called “Dancing in the Street” illustrates the joy and patriotic pride of the holiday.

Today from coast to coast, Americans are observing Thanksgiving, in memory of our early history and a time when colonists and the native population worked together in friendship to insure the prosperity of all.  Their feast of celebration acknowledged the good fortune and security of a bountiful harvest and now, following the tradition of centuries, we commemorate that event with feasting, family, friendship, and collective reflection.

Ten days earlier, Haitians celebrated a national holiday of no less significance in terms of the mark of history upon their country.  The Battle of Vertieres was fought on November 18, 1803 and marked the beginning of the end of French tyranny on the island colony of Saint-Domingue, now Haiti and Dominican Republic, and the birth of the first free black republic in the New World.

General Francois Capois, along with General Jean-Jacques Dessaline, lead the momentous final assault near Cape Haitien on the northeast coast.  In a remarkable act of courage,  Capois rode into a fearsome barrage of French fire, head held high and colors flying.  His horse was killed and fell from beneath him, but the general kept up his charge, drawing his sword and urging his troops onward, crying, “Forward, forward!”  The opposing general, impressed with the unflinching bravery of his adversary, called a momentary cease-fire and sent a messenger, who told Capois, “General Compte de Rochambeau sends his compliments to the general who has covered himself in such glory.”  The messenger saluted Capois, turned on his heel, retreated to his position, and the battle thereupon resumed.

Despite the superior numbers of the 30,000-strong French Expeditionary Force sent by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Haitians gained the upper hand and forced the French to abandon the fight.    This defeat was a major blow to the French empire, having been cut off from its biggest source of income: the profits of plantation slave labor in Saint-Domingue. Immediately following the Haitian victory, Generals Petion, Dessalines, and Clarvaux met at Fort Liberte and laid out the foundations of the republic’s newly won independence.

Today the occasion is marked in Haiti with parades and speeches by public luminaries. View photos of the 2011 celebration as recorded by Adam Bacher in Cap Haitien here: http://portraitsofhaiti.com/category/cape-haitian/


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Dreams of winning the lottery

Lottery ticket boutiques are colloquially referred to as a "banks," because they will take "investment" wagers as small as a single goude.  This "bank" is on the outskirts of Croix-des-Bouquets.

Lottery ticket boutiques are colloquially referred to as a “banks,” because they will take “investment” wagers as small as a single goude. This “bank” is on the outskirts of Croix-des-Bouquets.

Last month, I was in North Carolina riding in the car with my friend Laura, when we passed “her 7-11″ convenience store.  I say “her 7-11” because every Friday, without fail, she goes in and buys a lottery ticket, expectations low, but hopes high.  Striking it rich would be a good way to end the week, after all.  She pointed it out as we buzzed by and she told me, “Do you know, I have a friend that actually won a million dollars there.  He did – ONE MILLION DOLLARS!  He never goes to my 7-11, but he did that day, and he won.  I hardly think that’s fair, do you?”  She laughs, “I actually kind of feel like he won MY million dollars, though I do try to be nice about it.”

So who among us has not fantasized about winning the lottery? Wouldn’t it be great?  Think of the possibilities, even after taxes! (Laura’s friend got $600K after the State of North Carolina took its cut.)  Hope springs eternal the world over and Haitians are no different from the rest of us in their love affair with the possible.  The dream persists – without regard for likelihood – that Lady Luck will smile, a jackpot will be won and luxury, comfort, and leisure will be delivered forthwith.

In Haiti, however, the dream seems somehow more desperate.  It is estimated that Haitians spend between $1.5- 2 billion on the lottery every year, amounting to nearly one-quarter of the impoverished country’s GNP, and it is the Haitian poor that “invest” the most heavily.  Starting at 1 goude/3 cents per number, it is often the only “investment” they can afford. However, because the Haitian State does not tax pay-offs, there is no tax revenue to put into state projects, such as infrastructure and educational development.  Thus, when a Haitian player loses, he really loses.  His goude is for naught.

Each lottery ticket comes with a set of three two-digit numbers.  The idea is to choose one, two, or all three numbers correctly, with the pay-off being 50-1 for the first number, 20-1 for the second, and 10-1 for the third. Rather than approaching the lottery as a game of chance, however, Haitians employ a rather complicated strategy of dream interpretation to increase their odds of winning.  Though the success rate is dubious, the reasoning flows somewhat logically.  If the ultimate dream is to win the lottery, then one’s nightly dreams, correctly interpreted, will point the way.

In accordance with this method, elements in a dream such as a child or a chair or a feather, or whatever, all

It is estimated that there are 200,000 lottery boutiques in Port-au-Prince alone.

It is estimated that there are 200,000 lottery boutiques in Port-au-Prince alone.

correspond to a specific number.  These numeric correlations are all documented in a book – available at every single borlette (Kreyol for lottery boutique) worth its salt – known as “tchala.” So, for example, if one observes a red feather prominently in a dream, one simply looks up the number assigned to red feathers in the tchala and there it is.  The first wager thus becomes clear.

To the casual observer, this dream interpretation strategy may not seem like it would make much difference to whatever lottery gods there be. Perhaps, though winning isn’t entirely the point.  As Pooja Bhatia put it so elegantly in her April 2010 article for myAiti.com, “The borlette allows Haitians to feel as though their dreams and ideas matter.  As long as they dream, they will play.”

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

America Recycles Day

These old discarded steel drums are soon to become beautiful folk art sculptures.  Recycling at its finest!

These old discarded steel drums are soon to become beautiful folk art sculptures. Recycling at its finest!

I’m going to cheat a little bit and not write a blog this week.  I just found out that this Friday, November 15th is America Recycles Day. (Yes, I live in a cave.  A dark one.  Very little outside exposure.) Because protecting the environment is very near and dear to the hearts of all of us at Beyond Borders, I’m going to pass along these reminders, published by Keep America Beautiful, Inc.  of how we can all do a better job of taking care of each other and our planet by recycling.

Did you know…

1. Half is better than none. You may not be able to recycle your whole pizza box, but in most communities you can tear off the top (as long as it’s grease-free) and put it in your recycling bin.

2. You bet your bottle tops you can recycle them. The caps on your plastic bottles are recyclable, too. Empty your bottle, replace the cap, and recycle.

3. Plastic bag and film recycling: more than grocery bags. Along with plastic grocery bags, recycle the bags from your dry-cleaning, loaf of bread, and newspaper. Remember to take clean, dry bags to recycling centers or retailers with plastic bag recycling bins.

4. A trick up your sleeve. Paper cups aren’t always recyclable because of the wax lining, but don’t forget to recycle the cardboard sleeve!

5. Look beyond the daily paper. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paper and cardboard are America’s most recycled materials by weight. In addition to newspaper, most communities accept corrugated cardboard as well as cereal and tissue boxes. Some accept mail, catalogs and phone books.


Make Recycling a Habit

6. Close the loop. The recycling process doesn’t stop at the bin! After materials are processed and back on the shelf as new items, it’s up to you to buy recycled products. Look for products and packaging with recycled content (and efficient packaging) to do your part as a recycling-conscious consumer.

7. Recycle on the go. Keep two bags in your car – one for your trash and one for recyclables. Pre-sorting makes it easier to transfer your recyclables into a recycling bin once you’ve reached your destination.

8. Recycling: it’s not just in the kitchen. Don’t trash your detergent and shampoo bottles just because you don’t have a bin in your bathroom or laundry room. Keep a plastic bag for collecting recyclables under the sink or take a few extra steps to put your empty bottles in the recycling bin.

9. Reduce and reuse. Minimizing the trash we generate and reusing products reduces our impact on the planet and our resources. For example, consider reusing that plastic bag. Also reduce unwanted direct mail by unsubscribing at CatalogChoice.org.

10. Know your limits. Putting materials in your recycling bin that aren’t collected in your community contaminates the recycling process and creates extra work for recycling facility employees. To recycle items that your local program does not collect, check AmericaRecyclesDay.org to find where they may be recycled in your community.


Actions You Can Take Now

11. Can it! Metals are among the most valuable materials in the recycling stream. Aluminum and steel cans are always welcomed by recyclers, and most metals can be recycled again … and again … and again.

12. Answer the call to recycle your wireless phone! More than 100 million cell phones retire each year to sit in our drawers or closets, according to the EPA. Do you have out-of-use phones in your home? Consider donating them to a local charity or visit AmericaRecyclesDay.org to find a recycler.

13. Recycling: don’t exclude your food. Start composting your food waste. If you aren’t quite ready for a compost bin or pile, consider tossing a few biodegradable items into your garden or window boxes instead of the trash. Egg shells and coffee grounds enrich soil and break down easily.

14. Do your homework. Different communities collect different materials for recycling. Visit AmericaRecyclesDay.org to find what is recycled in your community.

15. Spread the word. Now that you’re an expert recycler, consider hosting an educational recycling event in your community. See AmericaRecyclesDay.org/toolkit for ideas and resources that can be downloaded.


About Keep America Beautiful, Inc.

Keep America Beautiful is the nation’s leading nonprofit that brings people together to build and sustain vibrant communities. With a network of more than 1,200 affiliate and participating organizations including state recycling organizations, the organization works with millions of volunteers to take action in their communities. KAB offers solutions that create clean, beautiful public places, reduce waste and increase recycling, generate positive impact on local economies and inspire generations of environmental stewards. Through programs and public-private partnerships, KAB engages individuals to take greater responsibility for improving their community’s environment. For more information, visit www.kab.org. To join America Recycles Day, visit http://americarecyclesday.org.

Outside a workshop in Croix-des-Bouquets, recycling is in progress.

Outside a workshop in Croix-des-Bouquets, recycling is in progress.

For your reading pleasure and personal edification: “State”

A new book by Robert Arnaud and Paolo Woods reviewing the meaning of "State" as it applies - and doesn't in Haiti.

A new book by Robert Arnaud and Paolo Woods reviewing the meaning of “State” as it applies – and doesn’t in Haiti.

A new book by Arnaud Robert and Paolo Woods entitled, “State” was released in France in September and just this week has become available for pre-order on Amazon. It has been generating a good deal of attention both here and abroad for its examination of the national identity forged in Haiti in spite of the State.  Through photos and text, Robert and Woods show how the country of Haiti is actually held together by resistance, humor, creation and culture.  It articulates a nation in the absence of State.

Their choice of Haiti as a subject was hardly a good one from the perspective of news. Photo editors complained that they had had their fill of images depicting the ravages of the earthquake and the cholera epidemic that swept the country. Misery reporting overload obliged Woods and Robert to stay away from the photo stories that had typically come out of the island. Working on pieces for a variety of European and American publications from a new location and a new perspective, they based themselves in Les Cayes and thereby escaped the usual tug of the news cycle in Port-au-Prince. In so doing, they were able to delve into several topics of great importance that had been largely overlooked.

Among the many aspects of Haitian life that they took on, the one that has generated the most controversy is also perhaps the most intriguing. Woods and Robert spent a great deal of time with Haiti’s moneyed elite. On the instituteartist website, (Click here to view: http://www.instituteartist.com/) Woods is quoted as saying, “The country’s top-tier wealthy citizens have been denounced as corrupt profiteers, but I have a strong respect for them.  They are entrepreneurs who have made their fortunes here and could have easily taken their money and moved to Miami to lead very comfortable lives.  But to stay, to live and work in Haiti is not easy.  You have to love your country enormously to do that.”  In fact, he points out, the top 500 taxpayers in Haiti represent 1% of the population, yet account for 80% of their tax revenues. (How’s that for a tax burden?) Woods believes that wealthy individuals may well represent the winds of change for Haiti; change for the better that outsiders have tried and failed to accomplish.  Perhaps outrageous, and definitely inflammatory, it’s an opinion that bears consideration. Change born from within instead of imposed from without. It might be the change that succeeds.

“State.”  Buy it or borrow it, and then read it. At least look at the pictures and see what you think.  (I feel another book club coming on…)

One of a kind "Reading Angel." by Edward Dieudonne

One of a kind “Reading Angel.” by Edward Dieudonne

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Sign up for our newsletter

  • Information

View Cart Go To Checkout