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Haiti’s Presidential Elections

How I feel after the third presidential campaign phonecall of the day.

AAAGH! Election time!

Here we are in the United States, nearly 12 full months before we cast our ballots and nearly everywhere we turn, we see, hear, and receive phonecalls “from” the candidates. Three Democrats, fourteen Republicans, and one Green Party candidate are persistantly vying for our attention. I suppose if my glass were half full, I would feel honored and immensely empowered because my vote is so important. But on this point, my glass is half empty. We have hardly even gotten started and instead of feeling honored and empowered, I feel inundated and irritated.

Before I cry into my coffee too much, however, I must recall the election run-up that we witnessed in Haiti. We were there in early October, a mere two weeks before their preliminary presidential elections. Yes, you read that correctly. Preliminary. There were 54 presidential candidates in the running, a situation which usually necessitates a run-off, unless by some miracle, a majority is won by someone in the first round. The run-off elections were already tenatively scheduled for Dec. 27th.

Campaign ads everywhere in Port-au-Prince

One of the more clever and artful of the zillions of campaign ads on the streets of Port-au-Prince.

I didn’t listen to any Haitian TV or radio while I was there, and hadn’t read up on the elections beforehand, so I had formed no opinions about which candidate might prove to be the next president. However, the enormous amount of street signage lead me to conduct a very unscientific experiment. No Gallup pollster worth his salt would ever rely on my methodology, but what the heck. Based on the huge number of times Jude Celestin appeared in my hundreds of photos of that trip, I predicted that he would be the winner, and that Jovenel Moise, who appeared almost as frequently in my photo record, would finish well.

Now, a little over a month later, it turns out that I’m not so far off. Because of the complicated and somewhat convoluted (to put it mildly) calculations of the Oct. 25th election returns, the early results have just been announced. Out of the 54 Haitian presidential contenders, the candidate backed by the current government, Jovenel Moise actually won the greatest margin in the preliminary race with 32.8% of the popular vote. Jude Celestin came in second with 25.3%. So I got it backwards, but out of 54 possibles, I called the top two. Not bad!

Haiti's streets covered with presidential ads

Smiling faces of presidential hopefuls cover every available surface.

(For more election results, click here.)

So what does my experiment suggest for the current candidates in our country? Crank up the laser printers! Simultaneously, we voters can look forward to a landscape filled with signs of the candidates displaying their winning-est smiles for months to come, along with our honor and empowerment being constantly and steadfastly reassured – assuming our glasses are half full, of course.


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Being Grateful

Wash day.

Wash day.

Thanksgiving is a reflective time, as we all know, and it is good for the soul to pause and do that reflecting. There are all kinds of things for which to be grateful. Friends and family of course, home, community, opportunity, comfort, security – all of those are strong candidates for topping the list. But I realize that also right up there for me is my washing machine.

Perhaps providing a little background information is in order.

Washing clothes in a plastic basin in water carried from the village pump.

Washing clothes in a plastic basin in water carried from the village pump.

A little over a month ago, my faithful washing machine of 21 years and three moves quit. I had a home warranty policy, which covered such catastrophies, but I was having a terribly hard time convincing that company’s customer service representatives to honor the coverage. I was polite, I was calm, I was persistent, I was patient, and then I hit the wall. I called 20 more times. I asked to speak to the supervisor. And the president. I became furious, I raged, I fumed, and every week when I took my mountain of laundry and $27 worth of quarters to the coin-op laundry mat, I was in danger of spontaneously combusting.

And then I went to Haiti.

It was a buying trip and we stopped at the home of one of our artists, who offered us a couple of chairs and invited us to sit down while he went into the back of his shop to bring us his latest designs. While we were waiting, I noticed a woman next door, face impassive, handwashing her family’s laundry in a battered plastic tub. The bubbles had nearly been exhausted, but on she scrubbed. Clearly, when you carry your own

The clothes line.

The clothes line.

water, five gallons at a time from the village pump several blocks away, you don’t empty the basin prematurely. Diligently, she wrung the skirt, blouse, and tee-shirt one by one and then methodically hung them up to dry on a line strung between rafters across the front of the house. I watched in silent awe and admiration as she walked resolutely inside and continued with the tasks of the day.

When I returned home, I got a new washer, I just did it; my battles were over and so was my fury. What was I even mad about? Was it because I “couldn’t” do my laundry? Now I load my clothes into the washer, push a few buttons, and 40 minutes later, throw them into the new matching dryer where they tumble for a while and come out, more or less clean and perfect every single time. For that, I am grateful. And even more, I am grateful to that dignified woman in Haiti who, in the simple act of washing her clothes gave me perspective.


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Reading Veves

Last week, Casey sent me a letter from a customer, who was inquiring about the meaning of one of our veve sculptures. Veves, like this one at

veves symbolize the Voodoo Spirits

How do you read this veve?  There are lots of clues!


the right, are symbols for Voodoo spirits, or loas. Each loa has a veve, and when the presence of a loa is required, a veve is drawn to act as an invitation to the loa to come to the Crossroads between the Natural World and the Spirit World.

The customer’s question was an interesting one, which I dug into with relish. However, after looking at several references, I found that many loas have two or more veves. Furthermore, this particular veve matched nothing that I had reviewed. Some of the lines of the piece writhe, snake-like, which could indicate Damballah, The Creator. The triangle at the bottom might further that possibility. Yet the rooster on the left is the favored animal of Papa Legba, The Protector. It is also favored by Ogun, The Guardian of Truth. Couldn’t this veve indicate either of those as well?

Curiouser and curiouser. I had to stop and think a bit. There was an answer somewhere, but I had come to the realization that I wasn’t going to find it in a book or online in black and white. I had to summon my inner Sherlock Holmes and use the available clues come to a logical solution.

First clue: Voodoo is not a religion with a book. No Koran, no Torah, no Bible and therefore no single set of rules. It is a religion based on oral tradition. Ever play “The Telephone Game” as a kid? The one where you start out with a single message and whisper it down the line and see how the message changes from beginning to end? Well if you did, you know what happens: Inevitably, some details get rearranged. That explains the variations on particular veves, of course. A variation, then. Maybe that’s what this is.

Second clue: Voodoo has hundreds of spirits. While there are a couple of dozen that are commonly invoked, dozens upon dozens more are only common in the vernacular. Like a local accent, they are recognized in small, localized areas and not by the entire body of Voodoo practitioners. It could be a fairly exact veve, but one that didn’t get on the academic (ethnographic? ethnographical??) radar because of it’s relative ideological isolation. A symbol for a minor spirit, then. Hmmmm….Maybe that’s what this is.

Third clue: The sculpture was created by an artist. Ever heard of artistic license? Sure you have. Artists take liberties all the time, bending their work to fit their own view of the world. It could be a an abstraction, a commentary, or even a synthesis of several veve symbols. An artistic interpretation, then. Ah, maybe THAT’S what this is.

So, Sherlock, what’s the the answer? Well, Watson, it could be anything. Maybe not a brilliant deduction on my part, but at least it’s honest. Guessing does no one any favors. Still, the possibilities are intriguing, are they not?


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

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