By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
That's the Haitian way, though: Improvise solutions with what little you have. It's very different from America, where, Wolff notes, "Our ability to solve problems comes at our mother's knee. We have resources. In a land with nobody to ask and no stuff to buy, you can't solve the problem."
Most Haitians cook their meals in iron pots over a charcoal fire. Electricity is spotty. There are no newspapers. Most of the roads were built during the American occupation in the 1920s and '30s and haven't been repaired since. And, adds Jamie Rhoads, MFK's agricultural-development specialist, "The wonderful, corrupt government makes things even more tricky."
MFK has experienced its own share of disasters. For several years now, Wolff has been working to bring the factory up to international food-safety standards. It's a necessary measure so that MFK will have credibility with UNICEF and USAID, which are accustomed to Plumpy'nut's First World facilities in France.
"We needed stainless steel," Wolff recalls. "There's no stainless steel in Haiti. It all had to be imported from the Dominican Republic. The Easter before our audit, there was a fire. The plumber had hooked up the propane fridge wrong, and there was a leak. On Sunday afternoon — kaboom! The whole place went up in flames. There was nothing left. Everything had disintegrated. That was two years ago. We had to replace everything in the lab and restore the house to its previous status. It cost $30,000, a huge amount of money for us."
Neighborhood bucket-brigade members who had put out the fire had also made off with MFK's car keys. There was nothing to do but fly back to St. Louis and organize a fund drive so they could start all over again.
"The culture of work is different," Wolff reflects. "It's difficult to get across the idea that the American idea of work is much more strict. We've had to impose our idea of work — and the Haitians consider it imposing. Showing up to work for a boss is a foreign concept. A lot of Haitians work for themselves. The employment situation has an underlying theme: We will never be slaves again."
One morning last month, Wolff and several staff and board members went to a Haitian notary's office to buy a one-and-a-half-acre parcel of land for the new factory. They brought with them a pile of paperwork and a check for $157,500. They left an hour later, without a deed for the property. The paperwork was insufficient, the notary told them. They needed to fill out more forms and produce more signatures. The owners needed to be present.
It took two more weeks for the deal to go through. Although Haitian law states that the notary fee should be 1 percent, the notary tried to charge MFK 5 percent, an additional $7,875, for his services. Wolff negotiated him down to 4 percent on the grounds that MFK is a nonprofit.
"If it had been Haitian-to-Haitian," she says, "it would have been 3 percent. But that's the way things are done. It's a Robin Hood idea."
Last August the peanut butter factory finally passed its international food-safety inspection. Still, it received the rating "adequate but suboptimal" in so many categories that the phrase has become a joke among the MFK staff.
That it exists at all, says Lori Dowd, a documentarian working on a film about MFK, "is a fucking miracle."
Shada is the worst slum in Cap-Haïtien. It sits on what used to be a mangrove swamp. Now there's a riverbank made of garbage. The air smells like the inside of a Dumpster, with top notes of human waste. Naked babies sit by themselves in the dirt alleys, playing in shit. No one in Shada has a job. No one goes to school. A little girl wearing nothing but a T-shirt dances for money. Her hair has turned red from protein deficiency.
Madame Bwa, the neighborhood midwife, has organized classes on hygiene and sex education, but she can't treat worms, tuberculosis or malaria. None of her patients can afford the 50 cent taptap fare to the Justinien clinic.
A doctor who comes to Shada holds office hours for two hours a week. It's not nearly enough. Usually there are more than 100 patients waiting to see him.
"It's hard to see kids die of malnutrition after getting called in the middle of the night to bring them into the world," Bwa says (in Creole, with Rhoads translating).
The Shada clinic rarely receives medika mamba. A 1.1-pound bag costs $2.50. Few residents can afford to pay for it, and MFK can't afford — at least, not yet — to donate it. In addition to the $2 million for the new factory, the organization requires $66,000 a month just to stay afloat.
"We need to keep growing," says Steve Taviner, MFK's director of development, who works in the St. Louis office. "This is what makes the new factory imperative. We've hit the wall for how much we can make. With the new factory, we can make four or five times as much more cheaply and efficiently. In five years, we want to be the primary supplier of RUTF in Haiti."