Friday, August 27, 2010

Scraping by on Mud Cookies

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Aug 27, 2010 (IPS) - At six in the morning in Cite Soleil, the poorest zone of Haiti's capital city, the sun is already up. It's the start of another workday for Lurene Jeanti, making cookies from mud, butter and salt. She's been mixing the ingredients on the side of the road to sell to her neighbours for the past eight years.

"The mud helps me take care of my children," she says matter-of-factly.

Jeanti is a slight, muscled woman, one of millions of Haitians who have migrated from the countryside to Port-au- Prince over the past decade. She left her hometown to find a way to feed her five kids.

"My children have no father. I am the mother and the father of them," Jeanti told IPS. The father is gone and Haiti has no statutes protecting women who are abandoned with their children.

Jeanti grew up in Anse D'Hainault, a remote town in Haiti's southwest near Grand Anse, known as the "city of poets". Ezer Villaire, one of the great Haitian poets, was born and raised there.

Unlike other parts of rural Haiti, trees still populate the mountains and little plateaus where yams and cacao are grown. "Have you visited Anse D'Hainault? It's really nice. You should go," she told IPS. "I used to farm. I am a farmer."

But the income from farming small crops wasn't enough. Unemployment rates rise to 80-90 percent in much of the countryside.

Now Jeanti lives in Cité Saint Georges, a tiny district within Cité Soleil. The concrete canal running through the neighbourhood is full to the brim with plastic bottles.

She sits in a dirty corner near the entrance to a narrow corridor where people come to buy mud cookies or a gallon of water from a neighbour. Most the houses are made with concrete blocks and unfinished.

During her first two years in Port-Au-Prince, Jeanti managed the products she brought from Anse D'hainault. But it wasn't enough, so she started baking and selling mud cookies herself.

"I buy two bags of mud for 500 gourdes (12.57 U.S.). And I made 100 gourdes (2.50 U.S.)," she told IPS.

Mud cookies are big business. The mud mine is located in the central of Haiti. A cookie-maker like Jeanti has to buy the mud from middle-man who purchases it from someone with access to the mine, then brings it to Port-Au-Prince.

Jeanti wants to go back to her town Anse D'hainault to take of her mother. She is the only daughter. "I want to come back to my home. My mother is getting old. I have to come back to take of her. I am her unique daughter," she explained.

But she is worried about how she is going to support her five children, plus her mother. "I have one problem. I can't come back with 2,500 gourdes to Anse D'ahainault. It is not going to help me. But I am getting old as my mom. I'm 49. And… I have to come back to Anse D'Hainault," she said.

Jeanti knows her story is like those of many Haitian single mothers. "I am not the only one who is making mud cookies to sell. There are many women here who are doing the same business like I do to support their children." She points to a group of women drying mud cookies on top of the roof.

The voice of Lurene Jeanti is the voice of many hundreds of thousands Haitian women who left their towns to come to Port-Au-Prince in the hope that life will smile on them. With 1.5 million people living in tent camps months after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, it doesn't appear their situation will improve anytime soon.

While 5.3 billion dollars was pledged by international donors to aid in the rebuilding, less than 20 percent has been disbursed.

Best regards
Wadner Pierre
Photojournalist, Haiti

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