Six months. That's how long it has been since the earthquake hit Haiti. The daily HODR camp meeting has been moved forward today, to 5PM. At 5:17PM, the moment the earthquake hit on January 12th, we will observe a minute of silence to pay respect to the people who died. Over two hundred thousand people. That's hard to comprehend if you really think about it. Haiti is a small country. Wikipedia has it at 27,751 square kilometers. To put that in perspective, California is over 423,970 square kilometers. Wikipedia also has the 2010 Haiti earthquake as the tenth deadliest natural disaster in recorded human history, at 220,000 dead. That is an incredible amount of suffering in a very small space. A minute of silence to recognize that is important.
To finish my last entry, and risk an awkward transition from my first paragraph, this weekend was beautiful. As I wrote previously, I rubbled all day on Saturday, smashing up Project Paul to the point of near completion. I'm getting a lot better acclimated, and swinging the sledge is now something I find almost rewarding. It's something incredibly primal - just watching your energy result in something else getting smashed to pieces. There was one touching moment that I didn't even catch, but another volunteer on the site, Mike, pointed out to me as we sat catching our breaths. That day on the site, the son of the owner, a teenager or early twenty-something by the looks of him, was with us, helping sledge and clear rebar. As the Bobcat started moving big rubble piles, pieces of his home started showing up - things that had been buried for six months. A mattress, a water bottle for a water cooler, a chair, a table. As the son began to gather them, Mike (the volunteer sitting w/ me) turned to me and said, "I know that look. It's the same look I had when I went through the remains of my house after my fire." He was dead on. I wasn't paying attention to the son, but when he said that I did, and the look was definitely one of sadness. Loss. I don't know if anyone in his family died in the earthquake, but even just to find memories of a prior life, hidden from view under a mass of collapsed concrete for half a year, was enough. He gathered the things up, and threw them away with the rest of the rubble.
Once we wrapped up at Paul we hit the beach, where I got to swim around with the fluorescent something or others I wrote about before. That night, while a good portion of the camping volunteers opted to go the rum and nudity route, I took a stroll solo down the beach and then found a little plot under some trees to attempt to sleep outside on. After blowing up my camping mat and covering myself in bug repellent, I went to bed. It was very cool to fall asleep under the open sky, even if I did have some nagging little voice in the back of my head warning me that some nasty spider or centipede would find its way to my face. None ever did, but the more annoying, less scary bugs certainly didn't leave me in peace. My elbows and knees were a feeding ground - I eventually had to get up and crash out in a tent with my friend Lauren. Slept like a babe until morning.
Evening tap-tap ride to Jacksonville Beach. Personal space not an option.
And what a morning it was! Supplementing the Caribbean for your AM shower is something I highly recommend you all try one day. I was up and swimming around by 7AM, maybe earlier. The water was warm and clear and, being half-fish, I had to explore so I left the other swimmers near the shore and paddled out to where the Haitian fishermen were floating in their little ramshackle boats. "Bonswa!", I shouted. "BonJOUR.", they corrected. Bonswa = good afternoon. Bonjour = good morning. Or so I'm led to believe. My Creole will get there eventually...
As it turned out, the fishermen were actually flanking a huge reef, parts of which were so shallow they actually popped out of the waterline during the lulls between the swells (calling them swells doesn't really seem right, at least if compared to the Pacific). It was incredible. Unfortunately, I didn't have fins or a mask, something I've now put very near the top of my "must somehow find here" list. If I had, I can't even imagine how beautiful the reef would have been. Even without them, I could hover with my eyes right above the water and look down to get a pretty decent idea. Opening them underwater also provided rough outlines of what was around me. Some parts I'd swim over with six inches to spare (you don't want to rub up against a reef unless cuts are your kind of fun) and other parts would drop out into the open ocean - dark water with no bottom. I dove down to some of the lower regions of the reef, but finding true bottom wasn't something I could do free diving. At one point, swimming back to the beach to tell the others about my discovery, a school of small blue fish followed me. It reminded me of when fish in the bay at Tossa de Mar (Spain) did the same thing nearly ten years ago now, only then I had a mask and could really appreciate them. Regardless, the entire experience was amazing. Lauren followed me back out for a second pass, and she loved it as well, even when her phobia of sharks finally got the better of her and we spent the next fifteen minutes paddling back to shore talking about all the horrible ways a shark could have its way with you.
Getting back to HODR basecamp from the beach was an adventure unto itself. We left in small groups, some people opting to stay behind longer, no doubt encouraged by the Haitian family that showed up with a cart full of small rum flasks at just over a dollar a pop. I was sunburned and starving though, and rum didn't fit the bill, so Lauren and Margot and I hit the side of the road with our packs and tried hailing down a public tap-tap, which was easier said than done given it was Sunday morning and the locals were headed to church. We did eventually get one and piled in the back, but had to pile out again when the driver (who told us he could take us to Leogane) stopped at a crossroads to tell us he wasn't going to Leogane. I paid him two-thirds of the agreed upon price, given he came up short of our destination, then headed across the way to find another tap-tap. Luckily, a nice man, likely Haitian but with very good English, and likely working for another aid organization, saw us and told us to jump in his truck, he'd take us into Leogane for free. We took his offer, and five minutes later were at the Leogane bus station. From there we jumped on two motorcycle taxis and within another five minutes, the three of us were at the gates of the HODR camp. I found the entire process a lot of fun, and it made me more confident in my ability to manage aspects of the Haitian lifestyle, even with my non-existent Creole.
The tap-tap ride back from Jacksonville Beach. Shoutout to my brother Cort - it's a grown up mosca!
After lounging around HODR camp for a while, being tired, I rallied enough to write the previous post, but clearly didn't quite finish it, and then re-rallied to get down to Jackson Bar (literally a tiny little hut off the side of the dirt road, with an icebox full of beer, soda and water, and the always-present bottles of Bakara (the local rum) to catch the World Cup Final. It was a sauna. Jackson (I'm guessing that's the name of the owner) had made it a private showing - ten gourde admission (about $.25) - and dropped tarps over the building to keep the glare off his TV. That alone would have made for a toasty environment, but toss in roughly forty or more people, both HODR volunteers and locals, and no moving air, and it was a sweatbox. I made it through though, cold bottles of Prestige (the local beer) playing a pivotal role, and watched the team I was rooting for take the win in the last few minutes of overtime. Viva Espana! All in all, a great event, and a unique experience.
World Cup Haiti
That evening, after the match, I came back to HODR basecamp as some particularly menacing storm clouds formed around us. The lightning seemed to flank the camp, some streaks so bright they illuminated the cracks and crevices of the structure that our night lighting system simply doesn't have enough power to reach. The wind kicked up something fierce and all of us anticipated the coming storm with excitement. I went up to the roof to double check that my tent was all buttoned down and ready to handle the weather that was coming, and to make sure my still-drying laundry was pinned to the line. Once I got into my tent though, I loved the feeling of it - the wind battering the fabric, it flapping and shaking, and the darkness shattered every few seconds by the lightning. I hunkered down, grabbed my book. I didn't have to wait long. The rain started slowly at first, but soon unleashed itself in a torrent. It sounded and felt like my tent was getting bombarded by a barrel full of marbles that had tipped off a skyscraper. It was incredible. I closed my book, turned my headlamp off, and just lay down in the middle of the tent and let nature do her thing. Perfect way to close out a damn fine day.
Today I kicked off a new project, which will likely be more short-term than the biosand water filter project, but rewarding I'm sure. I'll be joining a small team of volunteers that go out to a local orphanage twice a week and help educate the kids after their formal schooling gets out. Today we put together our project for tomorrow - teaching the kids the basics about disasters that can and do affect Haiti (fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake) and how to be safe during them. I was also approached by Dave, one of the more senior guys around here, and he asked me if I'd like to join the Mentor program here at HODR, in which international volunteers connect with local volunteers and teach them both English, and relevant trade skills as a way to make sure they know how best to help their own communities, and to set up future job prospects. I definitely want to do that. The local guys are always here at HODR, they are part of the team, but they tend to be separate, both due to language barriers, and the fact that they aren't allowed into the camp proper (theft issues I'm assuming...), but they are great people and I want to get to know them better. During the beach camping run, three or four of them came with us and we all had a blast. Plus, it'd be a wicked way to amp up Creole learning. After I told Dave I was interested and just needed to verify my coming schedule w/ the biosand filter project, he swung back around and asked me if I'd in fact like to run the Mentor program with him. "I'm something of an irritable, grouchy bastard," he said in his Aussie accent, "and you strike me as someone who's a lot more easy going and people friendly. I could use that." I like Dave, spent a night chillin' with him early on here (at a local Haitian home w/ a swimming pool & rum distillery actually - good times) and we hit it off. I'm definitely planning on taking that offer if my biofilter schedule permits.
Anyway, closing in on five now. Time for the meeting. Until later...
Anyway, closing in on five now. Time for the meeting. Until later...