Jeanna wasn’t home when we got to her yard on Tuesday morning. One of her older daughters was sitting in front of the house, holding the baby. She explained that her parents had gone off to their field to plant. It had rained in the past days for the first time in six months — an unusually long dry season — and Jeanna and Nelso didn’t feel they could wait to get they first crops planted.
The drought has been a problem in much of Haiti, and it’s been especially severe in the area around Gwomòn. It has become difficult to find grazing for livestock. Most of the wild plants that would normally make up the diets of goats and sheep have dried up. One of the principal advantages that goats and sheep hold over pigs is that they normally find their own food. This year, however, folks in some neighborhoods have resorted to buying pig feed for them. In others, they’ve just resigned themselves to the fact that their animals will be hungrier, and consequently less healthy, than they usually are. Livestock gains have been minimal so far for the women in Lawa, and though one cannot be certain that that is because of the drought, it is a natural assumption to make.
Jeanna’s case manager and I ended up meeting up with her towards the end of the day. We were ready to head back to downtown Gwomòn, and we passed by the meeting of the local Village Savings and Loan Association on our way. Jeanna was there. She had run from her home to get there early, having heard that she missed our visit to her home. She wanted to make sure she saw us before we left.
It is hard to convey how much effort it involved for her to hurry to meet with us. She left the hillside plot she and Nelso were planting when a neighbor yelled to her that her case manager and I were there. She then descended the slope, hiked up the steep ravine opposite it, hiked down into a second ravine, and then up to her home. She then retraced her steps, hiking up and then down a steep hill once more to come back towards the meeting, which was between their field and their home. And the hike was especially hard because, unfortunately, Jeanna is pregnant again.
She is a young woman, not yet 30, and she and Nelso have seven children already. They would have eighth, but they lost one. She was hoping that her current baby would be her last child, but during the CLM team’s early talks with her about family planning, she complained that the three-month shots that are commonly available to women in the area make her feel sick. We began speaking with her about other types of planning that she could use months ago, but she always put us off. Now we know why. She was pregnant already.
Her livestock has increased its value a little bit since she received it. Her sheep had a lamb, and one of her two goats had a kid. But her most important progress has been completion of her home. Nelso himself was able to do much of the work. That meant not only that she and he were able to avoid the debt that some of her neighbors have accumulated through expensive deals with builders but also that they themselves received the stipend that the program offers to the builders who work on members’ homes. They used that money to buy extra roofing tin, which enabled them to build a larger home — a fact of considerable importance for a family as large as theirs.
Jeanna’s plan had been to go into small commerce as soon as possible. She does not want to return to her old business, which involved spending months at a time in Senmak, away from her husband and children. But she also knows that any business she tries to run out of her home is likely to struggle with the expectation that she’ll sell to her neighbors on credit. She knows that that could easily kill any business she attempts. So her plan had been to set up a commerce that she could sell in the local markets. The market in nearby Moulen is once-a-week. The larger market in downtown Gwomòn is farther away, but is held several times a week. But at seven months pregnant, it will be a while before she starts hiking back and forth with a load of merchandise on her head.
With Jeanna lacking any sort of commerce, the couple’s opportunities for cash income are limited. And that’s important right now because the extended drought means that there is no harvest to count on. Their best-case scenario would be a good crop of corn in about three months. For now, they buy what they eat, and Nelso must find the cash to pay for it. Jeanna generally buys groceries on credit, and then the couple pays when Nelso earns some cash. He works some in neighbors’ fields, but he tries to earn his main income by selling natural remedies that he makes from local ingredients. He is a “medsen fèy,” or an herb doctor, though Jeanna says he’s not a very successful one yet.