Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 31: Today Is... Thank You.

Sometimes, when you're lucky, those days come. Those rare days where you can't help but smile for being a part of them, for the memory they've implanted, for the fact that you know you were there. Today was that day for me.

Rewind five hours. I've left the field hospital. Sad, because we had to break it down. They lost their funding, and as it goes, they had to go. The only free hospital in Leogane is no more. That is a loss. I'm glad I got to see it, even if I was no more than a manual laborer at the end - moving boxes of drugs and stretchers and wheelbarrows full of casts and gowns. Christina, one of my favorites here at HODR, was integral to that place. She is a nurse, and that was her homebase. Saddest for her, but amazing that she got to help so many people while she could. I promised her a "drown your sorrow" beer once it was done. She accepted.

Jump ahead two hours. Dusk is over Leogane. I make my way to Little Venice, the bar at the end of the road. I find Paddy, Christina, Simon, Jodie and some people from the hospital whose names I didn't know but whose faces I recognized. One other girl is there, I've never met her, pretty, something about her I like. It's instinctive. She's got my attention. Caelin, nice to meet you.

We all settle in, I order Christina a beer, as promised, and myself one as well. Paddy, Jodie and the hospital people depart. Simon, Christina, Caelin and I remain. The sky looms dark, lightning on the horizon, clouds moving quickly in our direction. Black clouds. Big clouds. Clouds that have a point to make. It hasn't rained in a few days. Those clouds have been conserving their energy.

Ten minutes later it begins. The winds hit first. The dirt road is lifted into the air, it reminds me of something out of a tornado movie, only it doesn't spin, it simply lifts and moves horizontally, at us, with speed. Violent, but welcomed. We huddle on the bench, exposed and facing the road, laughing and trying to dodge the dirt aimed at our eyes. BOOM. The thunder breaks. The sky is electric. Mother Nature has shortcircuited herself. The rain doesn't start, it just is. Thick torrents, walls of water falling, but sideways, like the dirt. We huddle closer. The Haitians in the street scatter. It's dark now, headlights from the few moto-taxis and trucks breaking through, illuminating the drops as they crash against the leaky tarp overhead, itself whipped around like a ragdoll in the hands of a goliath. Water is everywhere. There is not point in trying to stay dry, that isn't in the cards for us. We cuddle together, the girls cold, Simon scrambling to stash his electronics in the hut owned by the patron of the bar. I'm laughing and smiling like someone let free. The Haitian kids who have chosen this place as their shelter come into us, on our laps, laughing and clutching for our hands. They scream when the thunder shatters ten feet over our heads. No chance to have a cigarette - everything is wet. I take my shower, outside of the tarp, removing my shirt and opening my arms to the sky. A truck passes, I raise my hands in happiness, wave. The truck stops, its Hatian driver opening the door to come out into the downpour with me. He laughs. I laugh. We embrace. He's back in his truck and gone. Darkness. Everything is perfect. I cannot hide my grin.

And there we were, two hours, huddled, sharing our stories, drinking our beers, learning basic Creole, talking in Spanish. Caelin is tri-lingual. She and I share our Mexican slang, and she translates what the kids are saying, as she's versed in French. Simon tells me about his early years. I feel closer to him. Christina is a pure source of affection. I appreciate her.

The storm passes. Christina departs for camp. We three remain for a while, as the kids start to return to wherever they came from. Caelin bids us farewell. She's left an impression on me. Simon and I head back, and are sidetracked by a street vendor yelling, "Sausisse!". The hunger is there, we tuck under her tarp. A tiny oil lamp half-reveals our choices. We pick randomly. I eat something that tastes good, but must have been brain or intestine. That's just fine. Simon follows suit. We stop quickly at Joe's, have one final beer, and now here I sit, enveloped in the beauty of where I am. I'm still grinning.



Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 30: The HODR Afterschool Program (Video)

A clip from yesterday's afterschool program that HODR runs here and I've been helping lead for a few weeks. This is the very end of the class, when the kids get to do their favorite thing: sing like lunatics.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 28: HODR Leogane - A Day In The Life



MONDAY - SATURDAY

6:00AM - 7:00AM: Awake!

Wake up, surprisingly without the need for an alarm clock or any sort of timer, toss on some shorts and possibly a shirt, and head downstairs. Avoid roof lakes if at all possible. Make sure to zip my tent up behind me (forgot that once, one wet tent later and I will not make that mistake twice...).

6:30AM - 7:30AM: Getting Ready

Prep for the day. Eat breakfast, which includes the following wonderful options:
  1. Corn flakes w/ powdered milk. This is my default since the damn oatmeal always runs out.
  2. Oatmeal (if it hasn't all been eaten yet).
  3. White bread w/ peanut butter and jelly.
  4. Coffee
  5. Lipton Tea
Once breakfast is done, brush teeth, put on the right pair of shoes. If it is going to be a light day I'll usually toss on my sneakers. If rubbling or any sort of manual labor is involved, These New Boots come out to play. Check my email / Facebook. Avoid wandering hordes of fellow HODR Volunteer AM Zombies, who are relatively harmless but do tend to babble randomness like "Hellooo...ooo..." or "Ciiiiigarette.". Fill up my water bottle. Get ready to rock.

7:30AM - 11:30AM: Go Time

Go time. The entire HODR camp disperses to whatever job they are assigned to. If I'm rubbling, this means jumping on the appropriate tap-tap with the rest of my team and heading out to the rubble site. Rubble sites are all over Leogane, and have a variety of names, based on the last name of the owner of the collapsed house (Paul, St. Juste, Estime, etc.). If I'm working on biosand filters however, go time can mean a variety of different tasks, but I usually stay at base, as our worksite is behind the base, and any training materials, etc. that need to be put together are done so in the office on my computer. Today, for example, I'll be leading the biosand team here with Paddy. We're having a final load of small river rock delivered this morning to finish the foundation of the work area, so our team of volunteers is going to help us spread the rock and flatten it. Once that is done, a local Haitian with a compactor will come in and smash everything down to make it solid. Then we'll get started on building the massive tent (30' x 30' by 20') that will cover most of the worksite. Should be a good day. Today will be a day where I'll be wearing These New Boots (which, while having suffered a wound at the hand of a jagged piece of rebar, are holding up surprisingly well).

11:30AM - 1:30PM: I Like This Part

Ah, lunch break. All teams come back to HODR base to relax for two hours, which is nice, especially if you're doing heavy manual labor, as this is a very hot part of the day. Lunch is usually served around 12PM, and will inevitably include either rice, rice & beans, or pasta. Other sides vary. I'm going to start snapping some photos of all the food here - that'll be a different entry (thank me later Cort!). Once lunch is eaten, most people crash out. Expect to find sleeping HODR volunteers just about everywhere. You'd be surprised where people can seemingly get comfortable and doze off. Concrete slab covered in dust and wood chips and ants? My kind of luxury! Two hammocks are the ultimate score, but those are usually claimed quick. The rest of us do what we can. I don't tend to sleep at lunch though, I'm usually online messing around, or maybe I'll head down to Jackson Bar for a mid-day beer. Cold substance = good. Only one though. Any more than one beer in this heat will make you incredibly drowsy, which you don't want when you're swinging a sledgehammer around.

Even HODR staff get in on the lunchtime pass out action. Well played Miso, well played.
HODR veteran and staff member Chris showing us how it's done son.
1:30PM - 4:30PM: Go Time (Again!)

Aaaaand we're back to it. Occasionally various jobs are AM or PM only, so some people will switch tasks after lunch, but most go back to what they were doing before. If you're rubbling, I find the afternoon can be the hardest part, given the rubble sites have just had two hours to bask in the heat while we were all enjoying our respective shennanigans back at base during lunch. The result is (usually) a hotter work environment. Lots of water breaks are called though, or else you risk volunteers completely gassing out, getting lightheaded, or all together having to just lay down in any shade they can find and breathe for a bit. Occasionally an afternoon storm will roll in. This is a good thing. Even if it doesn't rain, the clouds provide a much needed respite from the Haitian soleil (sun), which would surprise you in terms of how much productivity can skyrocket as a result. The sun really is the enemy here. It is ruthless. I can work twice to three times as long without a break if I am working in shade. If it does rain, well, that's the best. Just watch the tools people - can't have sledges and pickaxes flying around because of wet grips.

4:30PM - 5:30PM: Work Done But Still Have That Meeting... (Oh, And Eating Is Good Too)

We survived! Back to basecamp for dinner and the 5:30PM meeting. Dinner will inevitably include rice, rice & beans, or pasta. Yes, every lunch. Every dinner. Again, a food-only post will come shortly. Most volunteers finish up dinner right before the meeting, or bring their plate to the meeting, as it is outside under a huge tent.

5:30PM - ~6:15PM: That Meeting

The meeting breaks down as follows:
  1. Hello To The Grunts (ie. The New Peoples) - introduce yourself, where you're from, how you heard about HODR, how long you're going to be here, and question of the day (provided by Alan, a Kiwi, and usually quasi-ridiculous).
  2. Daily Work Debrief - team leaders from all the projects stand up and tell how their projects went for the day. "We smashed lots of stuff." (rubble teams) and "Scabies babies." (baby orphanage team) tend to be recurring themes.
  3. Meeting Notes - anyone that has something they want to say tosses a note up on the meeting board and has their chance. Common notes involve misplaced things (cameras, iPods, money) and proper tool storage (South African Steve's meeting note of choice).
  4. Work For Tomorrow - work for the following day is broken out so people know what they can sign up for after the meeting.
  5. Goodbyes - anyone leaving has a chance to stand up and say whatever they'd like. This part of the meeting is commonly filled with "Boo!" and "Oh hell no!" whenever a particularly awesome volunteer is saying adieu. Nobody likes to see the good ones bounce.
Whenever The Meeting Ends - 10PM: Freedom!

After the meeting ends and everyone has signed up for a job for the next day, the HODR hordes are released! In this case, what you're picturing as a "horde" probably doesn't apply. There is no looting and pillaging. As a matter of fact, there is usually quite a bit of reclining on anything you can find, smoking cigarettes, and talking quietly amongst one another. It's a different kind of horde mmm k? Sometimes the horde gets really frisky and puts on a movie or TV show, ending all talking and resulting in a very, very mellow group of people, half of whom are usually passed out.

But not all of us are so docile! Joe's Bar is always an option, and inevitably, HODR volunteers will end up there so you can always find someone to have a beer or flask of rum with. Joe's also has a good sound system and is popular with the locals, so expect to see dancing. The Haitian men are rather keen on the international women, and much (weak) game is spit. Rarely, if ever, do you see one of the (very) persistent locals secure their desired prize.

Jackson Bar or Little Venice, the two other bars down the road outside of camp, are also popular options as they are a more accurate portrayal of a "real" Haitian bar (basically just a tarped area w/ a broken fridge filled with beer and ice) and they are also cheaper. One bottle of Prestige at Joe's will run you 40 gourde. 35 at Little Venice. 30 at Jackson Bar. Little Venice is also a popular cash changing place, as you get a good rate - 780 gourde for $20 American. At Joe's you're getting 760. I haven't tried it at Jackson Bar yet.

If you're not drinking beers or lounging, you may be headed down the road to the smoothie people to get your smoothie on. Other than the local bars and the smoothie place however, there isn't much to do in our neighborhood once the sun sets. The darkness in Leogane is pretty thick, given the lack of street lights of any kind. Most volunteers stay local (unless it's the weekend, but that's a post for another time). 

10PM: All Is Good Unti....

...aaaaand the generator just died. Lights out people. Quiet hours. This is a very obvious event, as the entire base goes dark, Joe's music goes silent, and Joe's patrons yell "Aaaaaah!". Most volunteers are ready to retire at this point if they haven't already. The tent city up on the roof and the bunks down below fill up pretty quick, but you wouldn't know it because how dark and quiet it is. For any of us still wanting to mingle, there is a very far removed part of the roof (above the tool shed) that people congregate on, but that isn't all that common. The daily work usually results in lots of bodies wanting rest.

Be sure to pee before you get in your tent. Don't drink lots of liquids before bed. Waking up at 3AM to have to walk the distance between the roof city and the bathrooms is a pain in the ass, especially if it is raining. However, should you find you do have to lighten your load in the middle of the night, at all costs resist the temptation to pee on the roof! One, it's f***ing nasty, since we all have to wade through the roof lakes that your pee will inevitably find its way to. Two, your ass is getting suspended for a week from base if you're found out and identified, as one poor volunteer found out last week. A week of winging it without support in Haiti, while certainly interesting, isn't something most people want to do.

When the time comes for tentage, you have two options - rain flap on or rain flap off. Upon acclimating, I've now been able to sleep with the flap on. However, if you're new and dying of heat, I recommend peeling the rain flap back to give you a fighting chance at sleep. Again, peel it back. Don't take the damn thing off completely. Haiti can and will rain whenever she damn well pleases. If that happens to be a torrential downpour at 1AM and your rain flap is folded up and you can't find your headlamp (you did bring a headlamp right?), well then my friend, enjoy sleeping with a snorkel on. Once you've made your decision, lay down. You'll be surprised at how easy it is to go to sleep. And here you thought you had some energy still left to relax with that book of yours and rea...

Zzzzz.

Exactly.

Coming Up Soon: A Day In The Life - Weekend Edition!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 27 - A Bird's-Eye View

HODR basecamp and surrounding area, a la (slightly outdated) Google Earth.

  1. The entrance to HODR basecamp from the street.
  2. Where my tent is on the roof.
  3. Where food is served (this image is old, there are no more shelter tents in this area, only one large tent for HODR meetings.
  4. Where that large meeting tent is.
  5. The quad area in the center of the HODR base, where we play sports.
  6. Joe's Bar, where we tend to congregate in the evenings for some cold cervezas and music. Joe is the owner of this entire structure, and the large plot of land in the back where the Joint Logistics Base is currently going up. Rich man by Haitian standards.
  7. Behind the HODR base, where the biosand water filter workshop is going to be. 
  8. The area currently occupied by the Joint Logistics Base. Again, this is an old image. It is no longer grassy and open, but rather graveled and full of large tent buildings that are providing support to Haiti (World Food Program, etc.).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 24 - A Video From Before I Arrived

This video, shot by HODR volunteers & staff, has become something of a phenomenon here in Haiti. I thought I'd share it:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 21 - Thar Be A Storm Brewin'!

Writing is a fickle thing. It really is. I sat down about ten minutes ago with the intent to update, and played with a few ways to open up the entry, and deleted them, and did it again, and deleted them again. It has been something of a common theme for me this last year or so - I transitioned away from just writing for the sake of writing (usually about myself) to writing because there's something worthwhile to say. Of course, given I didn't really feel I had much to say that was truly worthwhile, the writing basically stopped. I'm having that situation right now, except this time, I'm in the middle of Haiti doing disaster relief work. You'd think I'd find something worthwhile to write about, but like a said, it's a fickle thing. So instead of writing some inspired something or another, I guess I'll just zone out with the music here, and see what happens. You've been warned.

It's sunny and calm outside today. 12:51PM. Mellow. Not insanely hot. Pretty nice actually. Which I only mention because supposedly, within the next 24 to 48 hours a tropical storm with hurricane potential should spin up here. To be more accurate, judging from the images on Stormpulse.com and The National Hurricane Center, the storm is already on top of us. Could have fooled me. This morning there was a 60% - 70% chance of a tropical storm forming. Having just checked it again, it looks like that has been downgraded. Perhaps that explains the mellow weather. The storm isn't going to make it to its own party. Good news for us and the people of Haiti, although, if I'm completely honest, I am a bit bummed. I rather liked the idea of experience of a tropical storm via rooftop tent. I imagine a tropical storm being something powerful enough to impress, but not powerful enough to really wreck havoc. That's what I wanted to experience. Let's be very clear: if a hurricane of any real strength rolled through here, I wouldn't be so glib about it. That's when you get humble and smart, and do what you have to do to survive it, then help the people that weren't as lucky as yourself. Hurricane season is far from over, and while I pray one doesn't hit Haiti, I've made a commitment to myself to do everything I can to help if and when one does. Haiti is so fragile right now. A hurricane would devastate her.

Stormpulse.com tracking potentially nasty weather.
The biosand filter project is coming along at a frustratingly slow pace, simply because we are bottle-necked at the worksite development phase. We will be building a filter workshop right outside the back gate of the HODR camp, and while it at first seemed simple enough, I'm learning from the ground up how much work can go into something that may appear to be easily accomplished. Right now we are still only in the planning phase, but it is the most important phase, and lots of variables have to be taken into consideration. The main issue that Paddy and I are going to attempt to tackle this afternoon is planning appropriately for water run-off and drainage. That involves a lot of well-leveled surfaces. At the moment, the workspace is little more than a plot with rubble on it. The Bobcats will eventually come in and level it out, but before they do, we need to know how much rubble they need to remove (or add) and what gradient the surface should have to allow for effective rain run-off. Believe me when I say that, when it rains here in Haiti, it rains here in Haiti. I wouldn't be surprised if the amount of water that drops on Seattle in a month drops on us in an afternoon. The Northwest's perma-drizzle takes the slow and steady approach. Haiti prefers to blitz. It reminds me of Santa Fe, Costa Rica, San Miguel de Allende. The sky in those places opened and poured when it came time to. I love that kind of rain, but it can be problematic if you don't have a system in place to channel it once it makes it down to our level. So yes, that's the big project for this afternoon - try and figure out the best system to handle la pli, and the dlo it brings (that'd be 'the rain' and 'water' in Haitian Creole).

My first attempt at using Google SketchUp to map out what the biosand filter worksite should look like. A little rough around the edges but I'm getting better...
The orphanage edutainment program went really well yesterday. Angie, the kick ass teacher that I mentioned in an earlier entry was running the program, left recently, so the torch was passed to myself, Bobby & Michael. Caitlyn, Angie's partner in crime, came with as well to help us if need be, but took a backseat roll. Michael couldn't make it due to an unfortunate case of upset stomach that somehow led to a pipe breaking in the bathroom, and a lot of flooding. Fun! We left him back at camp, armed with a squeegee and a healthy dose of embarrassment (who hasn't been there before right?). Bobby & I led the activities outside, while Lisa, a new volunteer who will be taking over the orphanage project once I transition back to the biosand project full-time upon completion of our workspace, held it down inside. We divided up the kids by age - nine and above / eight and below - and dropped some food knowledge on them. Mucho flashcards, an expected level of rambunctiousness and a lot of yelling (with, not at) later, and the class was a success. I'll be headed back tomorrow to teach them about nutrition. Wish me luck. I don't know how to say "Food Pyramid" in Creole.

Alright, well then, time to sign off. I managed to locate and procure a solid pair of dive goggles yesterday off of Kyle, a friend of mine here, and all for only a pack of smokes. That's about $1.25. I also secured his air mattress. That was another pack. $2.50 for the both is a damn fine deal. Now, should this tropical storm really get nasty with us, I can be the diver HODR sends down into the bowels of the base to recover food and/or bodies for those of us still alive on the roof. Or hell, if it all goes apeshit and the base goes bye-bye, my new air mattress could surely make do as a raft in a pinch. It's not like I'll have to worry about jagged pieces of rebar, floating nail-infested debris and machete wielding Haitian pirates. Me, my air mattress, my Leatherman and These New Boots. We will overcome. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 20 - Photos

Linking up with the SASH people (Sustainable Aid Supporting Haiti) to replace IDP (internally displaced person) camp tents that got wrecked by high winds. Josh and I hit it off immediately.

The Haitian fellas put in some work to get a massive boulder dug up and out of a tent plot.

Success! The original tents were replaced with Shelter Box tents (the best in the biz so I'm told) and now thirteen Haitian families (~50 people) have a place to sleep at night.

Tap-tap'n with Lauren.

Tap-tap fun!

Incinerator duty brings out the pyro in Quinn. Muahahahaha!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 16 - Spiders & Mangoes & Roof Lakes, Oh My!

To state the completely obvious, I'm not in Manhattan anymore. When night descends on Leogane, the darkness is near complete. The dirt road outside HODR basecamp, which leads down to Jackson Bar & Little Venice (another local watering hole the HODR volunteers like to relax at), is lit almost exclusively by oil burning cook stoves in street vendor lean-tos. Without a headlamp, or the occasional headlights from a passing car, it's far too easy to end up ankle-deep in a puddle. A few nights ago my cheap Hurley sandals broke when I slipped into a puddle next to a massive and disgusting garbage heap (as if San Diego bro culture didn't already give me enough reason to hate Hurley). The end result was my bare foot sinking into the muck. I was lucky no broken glass was waiting for me, or I might have a seriously nasty infection right now. But hey, it's Haiti. Roll with the punches, or slips, or what have you. I finished my walk to Little Venice, drank my Prestige with some friends, then headed back to HODR to wash up.

Haiti doesn't feel particularly dangerous to me. I know, having done the reading and heard the stories, that Haiti definitely can be dangerous, but I also can't help but think that yes, that's true, but the same could be said for New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles or any of the other myriad places I've lived. OK, that isn't a totally fair comparison given, on average, those cities are safer than Haiti, but I will say I would much rather find myself alone in downtown Leogane at night than East New York or Hunters Point or South Central. Obviously, Haiti has a set of health-related risks that are unique (malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, really nasty spider bites, contaminated food & water, etc.) but the threat of inter-personal violence doesn't feel real to me here. Every Haitian I've met is either downright out and out friendly, or if not that, slightly more reserved but curious. I've not yet felt threatened by anyone. Granted, people who know Haiti tell me Leogane is a relatively mellow part of the country. Port au Prince or Gonaives, a coastal city in the north, are supposedly a different ball game altogether. But even taking that into consideration, the more I travel the more I feel like the reported dangers of leaving the safe bubble of First World life are completely overstated, if not all together wrong.  It makes me happy for the chance to see the true realities on the ground, and not what popular Western culture and media would like you to believe is reality.

This last week has been very eventful, hence the gap between updates. That and the internet here is anything but predictable. Some days updating the blog is easy, other days not much at all is happening in my browser. The biofilter project is ramping up now - Paddy, Leah, Will, Henri and myself (the five people who are the core of the biofilter team) have been running our respective duties. Leah put together the training materials we're going to use to get the local and international volunteers ramped up on what we're doing and why. Will has been running a lot of the logistical stuff - putting together checklists, helping figure out the layout for our work area, etc. Paddy and I, and occasionally Henri, have been the two in charge of sourcing everything. I really like it - cruising around Leogane and the outskirts looking for sand, gravel, carpenters, tools, etc. We also built a sand sift today, perhaps one of the easiest carpentry jobs ever, and came to realize we both should really never be near any woodworking projects. Ever. And yet, somehow, we finished the damn thing, only to have another volunteer put his foot right through the mesh not more than twenty seconds after we were showing it off to Henri (the project leader). Luckily for us, that volunteer just so happens to be a handy with all things wood, so he'll likely fix it and improve it all in one shot.

The big push before the project can really kick off is building the workspace for it. The biofilter project is one of the more substantial projects HODR is taking on so  we need to plan and develop a place to actually build them. After running over some ideas with Mark, the operations director for HODR and top dog here at HODR Leogane, we got everything finalized, and supposedly the Bobcats will be out tomorrow for a half a day, leveling the plot of land adjacent to our building so the concrete teams can come in and lay a work slab for us. I'm excited. A lot of the volunteers here have expressed interest in the biosand program, so it'll be good to get prep done and the filters actually coming off the assembly line.

Sand hunting for the biofilters led us here, where we found the sand we needed. 

Getting a local carpenter to make us a prototype lid for the filters.

Another project I've recently gotten involved with is the orphanage education program HODR has. This last Tuesday and Thursday, I've headed out to what is essentially a big UNICEF tent in the middle of a field that serves as a classroom for kids from the orphanage, and the many neighborhood kids that also opt to come to be part of the fun. Tuesday was challenging - I've come to realize that, while I do love kids, I sometimes just don't have the patience for them. The kids at the orphanage range from very young (four or five) up to maybe twelve or thirteen. When you get forty of fifty of them together, it can get hectic, and not knowing enough Creole yet to calm them down or regain control of the classroom, sometimes it feels a bit more like loosely moderated chaos instead of a learning environment, or so was my first impression. Thursday was a different situation though - the kids were much more focused and wanting to engage with us, and the project leader, Angie, was incredible. She's a teacher by trade, and it was clear she was in her element. She actually managed to get the entire tent quiet. And here I was becoming convinced that was an impossibility... Well played Angie, and Caitlyn too, Angie's partner in the orphanage project. We ran a finger-painting activity and, as simple as we may think that is, the kids just became completely absorbed in it. I doubt many of them, if any, get to do that often, if at all. By the end of the class, the kids didn't want to leave, and our tap-tap was late, so Nathan (another volunteer) and I entertained some of them by trying to hit trees with rocks. They laughed every time we missed, but I managed to knock a coconut loose and they laughed as I did my American football end zone dance with it. Hacking the coconut up with a machete later back at camp proved to be a lot more difficult than it looks.

Teaching Haitian orphans (and plenty of neighborhood kids too).

Apt pupils.

Scattering for the day after class finishes.

I'm loving being here. My appreciation for Haiti and the Haitian people grows daily. During the meetings we have at HODR basecamp every evening (except Sunday) any volunteers that are leaving have a chance to say whatever they'd like. A volunteer today said something I loved - "No matter how much we give to Haiti, we can never match what Haiti gives to us." It felt so true. I've only been here just over two weeks and something inside me is already changing, growing. I'm starting to feel that this type of work is truly where my focus and drive want to be applied. I had always assumed as much, but being on the ground now, I get to experience it and test that assumption. We shall see as the months go on, today is Day 16. If I remember correctly, I'll be here until Day 201, assuming I opt not to extend. I'm just beginning this adventure. Many, many experiences lay ahead.

And yet, in the middle of the beauty of the people and the places and the work here, there are stark reminders of why I'm here to begin with. Today, while Paddy and I were motorcycling around Leogane (motorcycle taxis are the transportation of choice for one or two people) we stopped at the shop of one of the carpenters we have making prototype lids for our water filters. As Paddy worked out some things, I took a look around the neighborhood. Across the street was a big building, a factory or something by the look of it, with graffiti scrawled on the side in big black print - "SOS. 180 MORTS." 180 dead. One building. Bodies are no longer being recovered at this point, but if you look around you, the reminders are there.

8:19PM now. I still need to shower. Today was a busy day. I started by building the aforementioned terrible sand sifter this morning then worked with Paddy and Will on finalizing the biofilter work site proposition for Mark. After lunch, we had a lull in the biofilter project so Paddy and I jumped on the tap-tap headed to the Rochelin rubble site and got our smash on. Actually, I hurt my shoulder doing some heavy sledging last week, so I got my shovel / brown recluse hunting on to give it a chance to heal. Brown recluses are common here in Haiti, and I've already come across two of them. Inevitably, some volunteers get bit. When they do, they're immediately sent to the hospital. At Rochelin, something like six or seven recluses came out of the rubble piles. I only saw one, but kept my wits about me. Paddy had one crawl up his boot before he killed it. Yet, while I knew to expect recluses, the threat I didn't expect today was death by mango. OK, I exaggerate, not death, but at least a healthy headache. The high winds that rode in on the storm that hit today shook the mango tree we were working under, so suddenly and without warning, my little shoveling session was interrupted by mangoes crashing to the ground all around me. It was hilarious - seeing all of us rugged looking volunteers scrambling for cover to avoid getting cold-cocked by fruit. When in Haiti...

The storms are almost daily, and I had to relocate my tent yesterday after I came back to base to find my little roof-lake front property had become just roof-lake property. Half my tent was floating. Luckily, it has a bathtub bottom on it, so the water didn't leak in, but until I can secure a good chunk of cinderblocks, I had to leave the neighborhood. For shame, I rather liked my neighbors...

Alright, always more to share, always more to write, but my eyelids are getting heavy now, and tomorrow I'm headed out to a tent camp set up by one of our sister organizations here, SASH (Sustainable Aid Supporting Haiti), to replace ten or so tents that got wrecked by yesterday's winds. I'm looking forward to meeting the rest of the SASH team (they're small). I met a few of them when I went camping at Jacksonville Beach last weekend, as it is right next to their camp. Good people.

Goodnight all.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 12 - Hot Days & Perfect Nights (cont.)

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...

A Haitian girl at Jacksonville Beach.

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...


The youngest member of the family that owns Jackson Bar slurping down a bag of water.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 11 - Hot Days & Perfect Nights

What a wonderful weekend. Last night, after a full day at Project Paul, sledging the holy hell out of rubble and doing our best to make our team leader Jen proud in her absence (she got really sick) a few of us on the team decided to reward ourselves and camp out on the beach. At 9PM about ten or twelve of us piled into the tap-tap (small pickups outfitted to carry as many people in the back as possible) and headed out to Jacksonville, a beach basically in the middle of nowhere, off the national highway. Predictably, much rum was had, although I wasn't in the mood to drink so I only had a few swigs while floating around in the ocean. The water had luminescent tiny somethings in it which only lit up when you moved around. One of the people with us brought a facemask, and we took turns putting it on and diving under, swimming through the darkness as it lit up with dozens of lights at every stroke. It was beautiful and surreal. It had an ethereal, space-like quality to it. Incredibly peaceful.

Oh wow, just got nailed with extreme drowsiness. It's very hot here, and I'm supposed to rally to catch the World Cup Final in thirty minutes at a local watering hole down the road. If I keep writing this instead of getting up and moving around I'll fall asleep, no question about it, and miss the festivities. This post will have to be continued later...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 9 - Support Clean Water for Haiti

Alright, after a long and always interesting roadtrip down the national highway (please, let go of any preconceived of what a highway is supposed to be) we've landed back at HODR basecamp here in Leogane. It's dark now, and I'm tired, so this won't be much of a post, but I wanted to encourage anyone that feels they'd like to to support Clean Water for Haiti, the organization I was just with for the last five days, to do so. Here's their website, which has a link to donate if you're feeling so inclined:

Clean Water for Haiti
http://www.cleanwaterforhaiti.org

Also, if you're curious as to another Westerner's perspective on being in Haiti, here is a blog you might find interesting. It is written by Leslie, one of our two hosts at Pierre Payen, and little Olivia's mom:

Rollings in Haiti
http://rollingsinhaiti.wordpress.com

Alright then, time to duck over to the bar next door (Joe's) and see if they have pizza on the menu tonight. Got here too late for dinner. Starving. Until soon...

Dusk in Port au Prince.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 8 - Wrapping Up in Pierre Payen

I write this sitting here in Pierre Payen, belly full of rice, beans, chicken and a tart onion salad of sorts, topped off with a Haitian Coke (think Mexican Coke). Truth be told, I've been eating better here than New York it seems - the portions are ridiculous. I have to reign myself in or else I'm far too food coma'd to really function during our after lunch biofilter training. I also can't help but feel a bit guilty - a blanc (that'd be white guy) stuffing himself whilst huge portions of the population here struggle to find food.

We (the HODR volunteers - Paddy, Leah, Will and myself) leave here tomorrow after lunch to head back to HODR HQ in Leogane, four biofilter molds in tow. We've learned how to make them and install them, and with the molds and the resources at HODR HQ we should be set to start to roll out production and begin training other HODR volunteers in all things biofilter. It is exciting to me. Yes, the overall problems Haiti (pronounced Ay-EE-tee in local tongue) are enormous, almost impossible if you take a negative view of them, but, as I was told by Chris & Leslie, the missionaries that have been on the ground here for years, if you allow yourself blinders of sorts, it helps. Break it down to the basics - every filter built and installed, and every family educated on its usage, results in less sick people, and especially, less infant mortality. That's no small thing. One child saved as a result of a filter I build is already leaps and bounds more valuable than any online ad I've sold or product I've pitched. I came here telling myself I wanted to get into the work from the ground up, start small, get my fingernails dirty. In that I'm succeeding (and, not surprisingly, the small bit of fingernail I actually have is, in fact, filthy). I value that. I want to know the realities on the ground. I'm very much looking forward to going out into local Leogane communities to install the filters and see firsthand how the Haitian people really live. I also want to learn Haitian Creole as soon as possible. I get incredibly frustrated when I can't communicate with locals that want to communicate with me - the Haitian guys who are here training with us for example. Spanish has actually been an unexpectedly valuable resource. Some Haitians have spent time in the Dominican Republic, which is Haiti's eastern neighbor here on the island of Hispaniola (named by Columbus). Their specific dialect of Spanish is very different than any I've heard before, being mixed with Creole and French, but I can stumble through it for the most part. It's a start anyway, as my Creole improves.

It has been interesting to watch how the local Haitians here with us interact with one another and us blancs. Leah, the only girl of the group, has been getting more and more frustrated with them, as has Paddy. In Leah's case, many of them simply don't treat her as someone who can do the work we're doing, which is anything but the case. Leah's completed officer training in the British Army and is looking at a career in Search & Rescue. She's solid. But still, they'll come and grab the shovel out of her hands and insist on showing her how to mix concrete correctly, for example, even when she's already doing it correctly. Other times they'll interrupt something she's working on (screwing on a mold, etc.) and simply jump in and finish it. I chalk it up to a cultural difference, and don't let it bother me, but then again, I'm not in Leah's shoes. She gets very frustrated, as does Paddy when they come and take tools he's in the middle of using. It is almost as if there is a bit of a competition between everyone - who can build a filter the fastest, who can do the work the "best", etc. It certainly has a bit of machismo to it, which I'm familiar with, having grown up in Mexico. I recognize machismo, and the pointlessness of it, and I suppose I let it roll right past me.

Little Olivia, the two and a half year old Haitian girl Chris & Leslie adopted, is adorable. I've posted pictures of her previously, but one thing I find totally irresistible about her is her insistence on changing outfits multiple times a day. She will swap out clothing four, five, six times a day. Right now they've taken her hair out of the little braids they had it in - she's rocking her natural fro - and I can't help but want to grab her and play. She's wonderful. I just took a quick webcam shot of her here:

Olivia, fashionista to be.

Love that kid.

Five minutes and it's back to work. Time to wrap this up. Hasta pronto.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 5 - Photos

After arriving in Pierre Payen we got to work learning how to build water biofilters. Stage one - sand sifting.

The production area for the biofilters.

After sifting the sand it's time to wash it.

Olivia swings by to say hi.

Next stage, sifting the gravel (and hopefully, having Quinn pull his shorts up...).

Aaaaaand, but of course, washing the gravel. My fingertips hated me. Luckily this closed out day one for us.

Hanging with Olivia at the Pierre Payen property where we're staying.

Olivia, her mom Leslie (one of our hosts) and a damn fine cook whose name I can't pronounce or spell.

Olivia checks out the waterline.

What we're actually building, a biosand water filter.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 4 - These New Boots Stay Behind

Aaaaand the scenery has changed again!

I'll tell you, I'm starting to think that, if I'm lucky, I'll have the chance to crawl all over Haiti before I leave it. So far I've scratched the surface of the capital, which truth be told is not really a place I'm all that interested in digging into (labyrinthine, insanely hectic, and potentially dangerous) and started to learn the area in Leogane near HODR HQ. Now I'm sitting here in a missionary home north of Montrouis, literally steps from the Caribbean, covered in Deet (it burns!) to ward off the mosquitoes, and relaxing for the night before class begins tomorrow. It will soon be time to learn all things portable water bio-filters. In this environment, I don't need These New Boots at all. They're staying behind guarding my tent, which I'm praying will be dry when I return. No cinderblocks yet I'm afraid...

Our hosts here are Chris and Leslie, two Canadians that have been here in Haiti for quite a while now, and their adopted two and a half year old Haitian daughter Olivia, who is one mad bundle of smiles and energy. We established a game over dinner tonight in which she runs away from me, then turns around and waits for my queue (a devious laugh/growl whilst maniacally curling and uncurling my fingers) to set her into a full on sprint at me with her arms up, screaming. I of course then throw her up into the air, tickle her, maybe flip her around a few times, then put her back on the ground, only to repeat it. I love young kids. I like the purity of their emotions. They're like dogs. No masks yet.

I took my first swim in the Caribbean, and needless to say the water was welcoming. Warm, although I'd be fine with a cold ocean around these parts, but unfortunately cloudy because of river silt runoff from up-tide. Chris told us there is a reef a few hundred feet off shore. I really would love to go snorkel out there to see it, but I doubt that will be possible given the murkiness. This part of Haiti is remarkably different in terms of earthquake damage than both Leogane and Port au Prince. In both of those places you get used to seeing a completely destroyed building for every two or three still standing, many of those themselves cracked or missing large chunks of wall. Here there is almost no easily visible damage. Quite on the flipside, where I'm staying practically feels resort-like. I almost feel guilty, sitting here writing this from an actual bed with an actual mattress, with electricity, a flushing toilet, a CEILING FAN(!!!), with a cool dip in the ocean just a few steps away. Yes, these are shared men's dorms, so myself, Paddy, Will (another HODR volunteer) and three local Haitian guys are all bunking down here, so it isn't private, but screw privacy. I didn't come to Haiti to keep to myself.

And yet still, amongst the comfort, you definitely know you're still in Haiti. When we came in we were greeted by a guard carrying a shotgun. He gets a partner at night, and they patrol the barbed-wire boundary of the property together. Last year, a few guys who used to work here got fired and returned in the night to torch the family van and leave a note which threatened to kill all of them. Clearly I'm currently enjoying the lifestyle of the haves and this is a country where the vast majority are have-nots. But it isn't always about economics. Chris told us a story about how some Haitians drove up to the home of their cook, which is right on the national highway, and completely destroyed. They brought with them a tire and gasoline, which would suggest they were planning a particularly horrific execution (trap a person in a tire, arms at their sides, then fill the tire with gasoline and set it ablaze). When questioned by the police, the perpetrator said he did it because she (Chris' cook) had put a curse on his wife that killed her. Voodoo is a very real thing here.

But those ugly things aside, I'm finding myself really liking Haiti. I cannot wait to begin to have a grasp of Haitian Creole. It is very frustrating for me not to be able to communicate. I really just want to talk to the locals, get an insight into how they think. Right now I simply can't, but Haitian Creole doesn't seem particularly hard to pick up, and this week, considering it is going to be spent in a largely bi-lingual teaching environment, should be a perfect opportunity to start the process.

For now, however, I have a great book I need to get back to. Check it out, "Mountains Beyond Beyonds" by Tracy Kidder. Goodnight.

Day 4 - Change of Plans

Alright then, change of plans.

Instead of doing the mayor project I mentioned in my last post, I was approached yesterday by Henri, one of the staff here at HODR with a new opportunity. She knew I was going to be onboard with HODR for a while and wanted to recruit me for a project she is trying to get implemented. Essentially, I'll be leaving HODR basecamp here in Leogane for a week, starting today at 1PM, to go meet up w/ a husband and wife missionary couple and eight or nine local Haitians to learn all about portable water filtration systems. They are biological systems, running off of sand and microbes, which makes them perfect for Haiti given the lack of high-tech filters, etc. The other benefit is when they've been built and installed correctly, and the owners taught how to use them, they can be effective for years. The missionary couple has been using their filter here in Haiti for over ten. Once we've learned all about them, we will return to HODR basecamp in Leogane and start building and distributing them, first to schools and other high-priority areas, and then to at-risk families and what not. All in all, I'm really looking forward to learning about something entirely new. The fact that one of my closest friends, Paddy, whom I met in Oxford almost ten years ago, is also on the project (he is here until mid-late August) is icing on the cake.

I do feel bad about bailing on the mayor project though, mostly because Kim and I have become friends and I was looking forward to doing that with her. Truth be told, I really didn't have any idea how many opportunities there actually are here for the longer-term volunteers, and I shouldn't have told anyone I wanted to jump onboard with anything until I had more time here to see what interests me. Live and learn.

I still feel like I have so much more to write about but I really want to brush my teeth, take a shower, and get organized a bit before I take off. I'll get that done then snap some photos of the basecamp to post up here. Hasta pronto!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day 3 - Acclimating

Wow. This marks my second full day in Haiti, and my spirits are great. I'm smiling as I write this. Yesterday, my first full day, was a bit overwhelming, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't for one second consider whether or not I had gotten myself in over my head. The actual work at the rubble site (Project Paul - see photo below) was incredibly hard. I was gassing out. Sledging is not easy stuff, and I didn't have my form right - I was trying to put all my strength behind every swing, when it reality you really just want to let the mass of the sledge and gravity do most of the work for you. I was sucking wind constantly, and felt like a car with a busted radiator. So, so hot.

Project Paul though, from what I've been told from the more veteran volunteers, is a particularly nasty rubble site - a big two story house (likely owned by a rich man) that collapsed on itself in such a way as to create big slabs and beams angled awkwardly. Anyway, not to bore you with minutiae but suffice to say, swinging a sledge sideways or at an angle is a lot harder than the straight up, straight down. The people leading the team were very cool though, and were totally understanding. They encouraged me to pace myself, ease into it, particularly given the length of time I'm going to be here. So I did, and today was much better. I'm really looking forward to what's to come. 

I've volunteered to join a small HODR team that will be rendezvousing with the mayor and his staff here in Leogane to try and establish a more efficient and effective relationship between the local government and the nonprofits here. Kim, one of my new friends here at the camp, assures me it will be nothing if not challenging - government here in Haiti is anything but easy to navigate. That isn't a judgement call, simply the way it is. We shall see...

The Haitian people are great. As I mentioned in my first post, we have local Haitian volunteers that come out with us to the work sites, and I'm gradually learning their names. So far I've gotten to know a guy named Ga, 26, the best, simply because he speaks Spanish so we can communicate. Haitian Creole isn't exactly in my verbal repertoire (yet!). Ga is hilarious. I saw him sporting a pair of familiar looking sunglasses yesterday at Project Paul and he told me they looked too good on him. "Black on black. The way to be." And while I did have to concur they looked damn sharp on him, I also had to steal them back. I may not be able to rock the black on black ensemble, but they don't look too shabby on this white boy as well. I'm looking forward to getting more time to pick Ga's brain - he was here during the earthquake, "Lots and lots of dead." I didn't press in, but I do want to know more of the firsthand experience. As we get to know each other better I'm sure we'll have the chance.

In other news, The World Cup is the greatest sporting event in history. By default the Haitians all back Brazil, but given Brazil (Brasil!) is out, they've divided down German and Argentine lines. Out at Paul whenever Germany (Aleman!) scored you could here the neighborhood erupt. Little kids would run down the dirt road past us, or stop and dance to some of the MJ tunes we were playing on our portable iPod dock. I attempted, very badly, the Thriller shuffle. They laughed. On the ride back into HODR basecamp for lunch, packed into the back of the small pickup trucks (called tap-taps), parts of Leogane were celebrating and making some noise. I joined in - "Aleman! Aleman!". Lots of waves and laughter. Makes you forget Haiti is supposedly a dangerous place. These people have the greatest smiles.

On that note, lunch break is wrapping up. Paul still has quite a beatdown coming to him - I imagine at least a week or two left on that project - so I need to grab my gloves and find my team. Until next time, Aleman!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 2 - Photos

Port au Prince airport - baggage claim.

Waiting at the airport for the HODR shuttle to Leogane w/ Margot, another HODR volunteer.

Port au Prince road.

The outskirts of Port au Prince.

The roof at HODR basecamp in Leogane, where most of us with tents camp.

First full day on the job @ Project Paul (every project has a name). Smashed lots of things. Sore as hell.

Lunch. Actually damn tasty, some sort of beans, rice and fish concoction. I took more than I was supposed to, didn't know it at the time though. Live and learn.