It has been a good week

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A good week

There is an expression in Haiti, “Mountain after mountain”. I think of it often when driving around the countryside. I have come to understand that it refers to all things Haiti; there are many things beyond what you see. When I think about it, it is the same with humankind everywhere.

A project we have been planning is to build a roof structure to replace the tarps we have used for the past several years on the roof of the school where Denise does laundry and cooks. This is also where Emanuel, Bermane and their friends sit in the evening to listen to soccer games on the radio. The tarps usually only last a little over a month before the winds rip them to shreads.

When we first arrived here early September, we asked Fr. Gracia to recommend a “boss” man to build the simple structure for us. He told us he would send Julien, a man that works for him, the next Monday.

That Monday Julien arrived with two more men. They looked over the project and gave us a price of 15,000 gds or a little under $300 US for labor. We asked him how much they charged per day and he replied that they each charged 1000 gds a day. He was estimating the job to take five days. As a non-Haitian, I expect to pay a premium, however this was completely unrealistic. I countered with 500 gds for him as the “boss” man and 250 gds to the helpers. Julien said they could not work for that much, so I told them that was OK, and they left.

The next weekend we went to Kalabat. When we  talked with Fr. Gracia about the wages the carpenters, he shook his head indicating that he thought that it was unacceptable. He then told us that Julien and his helpers wanted to meet with him and us. At the meeting, I offered Julien 500gds for the boss and 300 for the helpers, but at a daily rate, not for five days. Julien stood firm at 1000gds each. We thanked them but said “no thanks”.

Then just before we left on Sunday, Fr.Gracia told us that they had changed their mind, if we would feed them. We agreed.

That brings us up to last Monday when Bermane and I went to town to buy the materials on the list Julien had given me. The store where we went to buy the material is located on a busy market street. On Fridays, which is the main market day, the street is impassable. As it was I could pull up front, but the crowd pressed so close I was astonished that a large truck was able to maneuver around me.

The list consisted of three bags of cement, 22 pieces of tin roofing, five 16 foot 2x4s and three 16 foot 1x12s, plus nails. The boards are rough-cut and full dimensioned.  After paying for the materials, they brought the tin out and loaded into the bed of the truck.  I was then told to back up to another location a block away where the cement and boards are stored. With the crowd pressing around the truck, this was not simple.

It was quite a feat to load 16-foot boards in a truck with a five-foot bed. I folded down the rear seat and loaded the cement in the back. It was a good thing. As soon as we headed home, the heavens opened up with a torrential downpour. We literally crawled; I was driving so slow, the speedometer did not register.

Wednesday, the men showed up and began working. The first thing they told me was that there was a mistake and we were short three boards. Then they wanted to know where the lumber for the concrete forms were. (The roof is supported with three concrete columns.) We had boards left over from the foundation work we did at the center, but that is where the boards were located. So Denise and I headed over to the center.

The boards are all rough-cut boards that were cut by two men and a pit saw from trees that we were cleared from the property.

I now know why they estimated it would take so long to do the project. All of the boards had to be trimmed on both sides to give straight edges and the carpenters had brought a handsaw. Instead of using their handsaw, when I saw their intentions, pun intended, I told them we could use my table saw. I have to use the generator to run my power tools, so I was glad that school was out by the time we started. The generator is very loud and I did not to interfere with classes.

It took about a half hour. It was rough on my blade as the boards had cement on them. I have no idea how long it would have taken if they had done it by hand. They used the lumber to form up the three columns.

They then proceeded to mix the cement on the ground, shovel into five-gallon buckets and then carry it up to the roof. They had completed the process before they knocked off for the day. I am impressed with how hard they worked.

Thursday morning early Johnny and I went to town to buy three more 2×4’s. When we got back, the workers had already taken off the forms and were starting to frame up the roof structure. By lunchtime, they had all of the rafters in place. After lunch, we got the table-saw and generator out and ripped the 1×12 into narrow boards. The carpenters then nailed these boards at right angles to the rafters to support the tin roofing.

After I finished helping the workers, I cleaned up, then Denise, Johnny and I went to town. We cannot access the internet with our laptops from our apartment, so we went to Sr. Pat’s house to use their Wi-Fi.

By the time we returned to our apartment, Julien and his helpers had finished for the day, having completed the framing and half of the tin roof installed. The men completed their work in a few hours Friday morning.

Johnny and I cleaned up the area. The new space is larger than the tarp covered, so we also brought up a new foot table and folding chairs we sent on the shipping container.

We christened the new space by serving lunch, (my famous  pizza), followed by a meeting with Sr. Pat, Matt, a new volunteer working with the Sisters, Johnny, Delise, Denise and myself. The purpose to the meeting was to discuss an agenda and dates for our fall agricultural workshop.

The tentative dates are October 12,13 and 14. The first day will be only workshop leaders. That day the leaders will discuss the material to be presented and decide how best to share it. The next two days will be the same actual workshop presented to two different groups. We will hold one workshop at The Fr. Jim Agriculture Center, and one at Grèpan, the agricultural center where we held the workshop last fall. Having the workshop in two locations will make it more accessible to more people.

This week I was also able construct a a storage shelf for supplies we need to keep close at hand and a desk for our bedroom, and a storage shelf unit for the workshop from the shipping crates we built and sent supplies in last spring.

Thank you all for your prayers and support, Bob

 

Update from Denise

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September 17, 2015 Living with very little water This has been an interesting study of living with little water. There are times we have some running water and some water in buckets. Then there are times that we pay people to go down to the road and get a bucket of water for us. How we are so spoiled to take water for granted. This is not even water you can drink; it is for washing, flushing the toilet, watering the gardens. Before using the bathroom you need to be sure that there is a bucket of water available, after using the bathroom you need to seek water to wash your hands.  Several days go by that the whole village has very little water so washing clothes is out of the question. Although this morning we had some water and I did wash a few things. I also need to mention it is very hot here and you sweat a lot, so the need to bath and change clothes seems endless.  I am wearing cotton dresses and trying to get two days at least out of them, sponge bath one day and a shower from our can using about a gallon and a half of water the next day. I will certainly enjoy standing under my wonderful shower when I get home! The people in our community are very proud of our truck, usually when we return from anywhere there are two young boys that wash it for us. Yesterday they wanted to wash it because we had some water; we said no we need to conserve water. The problem is the spring capture. In the past all the water from the spring went into the capture or reservoir, now the water has diverted it’s self and only a small part is going into the reservoir.  We are going to talk to Fr. Gracia this weekend to see if he can help with the project of redirecting the water back to the reservoir. Jon Lwi has presented us with a list of materials needed for the project and in talking to him last night I am somewhat skeptical of him being in charge of the project. I am glad it will be up to Fr. Gracia to decide. It seems we are making progress toward getting our solar electricity working. Elwood and Anita came over a couple of days ago and Elwood was able to help Bob get the batteries charged enough for the inverter to come on. The batteries are charging, and seem to be holding the charge. We still need to start the generator at night, but progress is being made. Now if we could figure out why the internet is so slow you time out before you can down load your e-mail life would be grand. So as for now I have to go somewhere else for internet. I will stop whining, no one said this was going to be easy. The ladies who make the rugs have all come and gotten paid for the rugs we sold and are very happy. They are going to start on new rugs for me to take home this November .We are selling fruits from the center, and the vanilla is growing well. My language skills have improved and I can communicate with most people. I am still studying each day and don’t consider myself fluent, but the Haitian people will say that I speak Creole so that makes me feel good. Thank you for your interest and prayers, Denise

Getting adjusted

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Things here are still pretty difficult. Some ways that is to be expected. It usually takes a couple of weeks for things to settle in.

We have still been having trouble with our solar system.  I was beginning to believe that we were going to have to replace the batteries. We have at least one that I didn’t think was holding a charge.  Earlier this week my friend Elwood brought over his battery charger and we got the system partially going. Then his charger quit. After he left I found another charger in the depot and tried it, but it didn’t work.  Elwood suggested we disconnect them and take them to town; there is someone there that can charge and check them.  The next day I decided that before we went to that much work, I would go to Gros Morne to buy a battery charger, and can you believe in a town of over 20,000 there was none to be found?

As I was returning from town Elwood called and volunteered to come and help me. Since I was in town at the time I picked him up so that he would not have to drive.  The battery charger I had found in the depot was in our truck and Elwood asked about it.  I told him it had buzzed for a minute, and then stopped altogether. He said the switches looked corroded, so we shot a little WD40 in them and worked them back and forth.  We got it working enough to bring the batteries up to where the charging side of the inverter was working and we finished charging them all the way up with the generator. As of know the system seems to be working. Keep your fingers crossed.

We are without water part of the time. John Louie is in charge of the water system here. He took me to look at the spring which is our water source. It is leaking around the spring capture and we do not have enough water pressure to reach the second story where our apartment is. We have a tank on our roof, but it has sprung a leak and our reserve water has all drained out.

John Louie came to me later with a list of material to repair the spring capture; he listed 35 bags of cement!  That’s how much we used to build the new spring capture in Kamatan. He was disappointed when we told him we would give the list to Fr. Gracia. He then told Denise it might only take 10 bags. How about that?

It is amazing how much we take for granted back home.

We have unpacked the shipping container crates. The difficult journey damaged several crates. It looks like we lost some school supplies and soccer balls as well as the inside bucket to an ice cream maker. This is the first time I can remember loosing anything besides when we lost our shipment during the double hurricanes around seven years ago.

Now that I have started unpacking, people know that we have shoes, and everyone is asking for a pair. I cannot blame them; most people wear worn out shoes.  However, it is not my place to distribute them.

We plan to build a roof shelter to replace the tarps we use for shade on the school roof where Denise does our laundry and cooking. We asked Fr. Gracia to find us a “Boss” man and a helper. When they showed up there were three men. When we asked them what their daily fee was, they told us it was 1,000 goudes apiece and that it would take them five days. I know that it should take less time build it. I also know that I can hire a boss man for 500 goudes and a helper for 250. I sent them on their way. We came to Kalabat today and I talked to Fr. Gracia about this. He was disappointed in the men. He plans to talk to them

We did not know if we would be able to take the truck to Kalabat. We heard that the “road” is too rough right now. Therefore, when we left our apartment we only took what we could carry in case we had to walk part of the way. We left our apartment around 10:45 and when we were about half way to town we were flagged down by Johnny. He was bleeding from his forehead, standing next to a man with his leg bleeding. They had just had a motto accident. Johnny had been driving on his way to see us when another motto came towards him and forced him to drive over a large rock, dumping their motto on the ground.  They were not seriously hurt, but pretty shaken up. The man with the injured leg found an aloe plant and tore off a leaf. He then opened the leaf and spread the gel on his wound.

We suggested that we all go back to our apartment where Denise could clean the wounds on both of them and apply anti-biotic cream and bandages. On the way back to our apartment, Johnny told us that people had been working on the road and it was not drivable all the way to Kalabat. Therefore, when we returned to our apartment, while Denise treated the injured, Bremond and I loaded up the back of our truck with supplies from the shipping container.

We strapped down the load with ratchet straps and ropes and when Denise was finished with the patients, headed back down to town. As we reached the top of the first hill, a motto came up beside us and pointed to our load. One of the straps had come loose and we had lost a tote box. The location could not be worse, bluff on one side of the road and a steep drop on the other and no place to turn around. Therefore, I backed down about a 100 yards to a “wide” space. , then made about a six- point turn. This all made Denise very nervous.

When we reached the bottom of the hill, someone flagged us down, this time because some people had picked up the tote box and had taken it inside their house. They brought it back out and we reloaded the tote and re-strapped the load down. We turned around again and headed back to town, stopping a few times to make sure that the load stayed secure.

We had not planned on stopping for lunch in town, but we also thought we would be in Kalabat by now. We stopped for lunch for egg sandwiches. Johnny then told us that one of things he was supposed to do was pick up some things from the market for the funeral.  We headed down to the market. The market is on the other end of town, vendors are so close that sometimes they move their wares to allow us to pass. Driving through the market reminds Denise of playing car driving video games were you have to maneuver around obstacles. It is, but my goal is to get through, not how fast.

While waiting for Johnny, a large crowd gathered around the truck to watch Sadie, our little dog. She is an anomaly. All of the dogs here are village dogs, all the same shape and size, only sometimes does the color vary. They usually live on the fringes. The only pets we know of our owned by Americans.

Leaving the market Johnny then informed us he had to stop at the print shop to pick up the programs for the funeral. He had stopped on his way to see us, but the owner said he had to pay up front so that he could buy gas for his generator. Now when we arrived, he had not started yet. We waited for about twenty minutes and realized he had not started the generator yet. Johnny arranged for a friend to deliver the programs next day.

This is where Denise took over driving. She has driven to Atrwel before, but this time she drove all the way to Kalabat. The road is passable; until the next time we have a big rain. We arrived in Kalabat after 4:00.

We plan to return to Garcin; Lord willing and the creek does not rise, Sunday afternoon. Johnny’s Aunt died and her funeral is right after church.

 

Blog from Denise

September 12, 2015

This time coming to Haiti was harder for me to leave my family, my freedom

and the comforts of living in the Us.  It was hard to know I will miss the

grandchildren’s birthdays, their soccer games, helping with school work. I

will miss my children and their spouses. I will miss my friends, I will

miss my freedom.

Here in Haiti Bob and I should not go anywhere alone, the Priest we work

with has someone with us 24/7. I am not sure if this is really necessary,

but Fr. Gracia thinks it is.  We know other Americans that travel around

Haiti without this protection and have not had problems.  Although we have

been in a few situations where we did not know what to do and the help of

our friend was good (usually it is to give money).

The fears here in Haiti are mostly because of Voodoo beliefs; even if a

person does not practice voodoo they are still afraid of its effects.

These fears run deep and control most aspects of Haitian life. So they

also affect our work here. Last spring a beautiful garden was started here

at the school we live at. Much work was put into preparing the soil,

planting and watering the garden. Then there was voodoo symbols found in

the garden, they are believed to be powerful symbols and the garden was

abandoned. It is believed the symbols made the garden unsuccessful and in

a sense it was because the garden was not cared for and did not produce.

But the people believe the voodoo destroyed the garden.

We have asked Fr. Gracia if we could have a prayer service and bless this

garden spot and try again. Father said we could but the lack of fencing

around our compound makes it difficult to keep people out, so this could

happen again. We are trying to have gardens at each of the schools to help

offset the costs of the feeding the children and we will keep trying. Bob

and I are planning to hold a meeting at each of the schools to involve each

of the parents in the schools and part of this will be helping in the

gardens

Sunday Sept 12th

Upon arriving at our apartment we faced many problems, no water, no

electricity, no internet, and my new phone won’t accept the Haitian sim

card. Bob has been working on the electricity with help from our friend

Elwood but has not solved the problem yet, so we run the generator for a

couple of hours each night. A local man has worked on the Water and the

problem is at the spring capture so we have water sometimes.  We have a

couple of meetings in the morning but are hoping to go to Gros Morne

tomorrow to solve the internet and hopefully the phone issue.

We have had many people come to greet us and many have brought gifts of

coconuts, avocadoes, and a fruit called kinip (grape like with a hard

shell and big seed). The welcoming has been very nice. Tomorrow we will

visit the Center for the first time in many months I am looking forward to

seeing the progress there.

I was feeling pretty lonely this morning and a bit over whelmed by all the

problems. Bob suggested I call our daughter and it did lift my spirits.

Also we had a visit from our friends Anita and Elwood and that was very

nice. We will start a full week of work tomorrow. The laundry has

accumulated and will take the whole morning if I have water to catch up

  1. We are working on sorting the shipping container and have a lot more

to go. Saturday Bob was working on it and pulled a muscle in his back. It

was scary because he felt the pain in his chest first. We were scared he

may be having a heart attack. But after some rest it was apparent he must

have pulled a muscle.

Thank you for your interest and prayers,

Denise

  1. If you have e-mailed me and I have not responded I haven’t been able to go

on the internet all week.

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Back in Haiti

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Flying over the northwestern coast of Haiti I look down and once again realize that our planet is fragile. Instead of lush green tropical rainforest,  barren land is being stripped of what little soil remains and is being washed into the Caribbean Sea, turning the blue coastal waters an ugly brown.

Thankfully the cancerous spread of deforestation has not spread completely across the country. But vast areas are virtually lifeless, except for the people who have no place left to go; people with few choices, their only concerns are daily survival.

Landing in Port au Prince, my concern is our luggage. We booked our flight late, were the last group to board and our carryon luggage was taken and checked because the overhead bins were full. Our seats were in the rear of the plane and we were the last to disembark, the last through customs, and the last to reach baggage claim. The last time I was in this situation my luggage was rifled. I lost my cell phone and my jump-drive for internet access.

When we reached the baggage claim area, Denise went to the carousal while I went to retrieve a cart. I was immediately joined by a man insisting on helping. That’s OK, juggling for a spot next to the carousal and off-loading our two large checked bags, two large duffels and two carry-on bags, and getting them to Denise and the cart is difficult.  As soon as we were loaded and ready to clear customs, my new found friend told me I needed to tip him now, and that I would not have to pay anyone outside. I told him that was a lie, I know better. He asked me how much I was going to give him. I told him $8, and he said $10. I told him that I was here to help his country and that I would not give him money that can feed children, if he didn’t think that was enough; I could do without his help. He took the 8 bucks.

When we cleared customs, after a stop to buy new sim cards for our phones, I was overwhelmed with men grabbing my cart to push it to the parking lot. Whewww, this gets old. Thankfully someone was waiting for us from the guest house, Matthew 25. He was so helpful that he got $10.

Believe it or not, this is an improvement over past years. Welcome to Haiti.

When we have teams come in, we make sure that they are met to avoid these kinds of experiences.

We arrived in Garcin Wednesday. As Typical, a few problems awaited us; this time no water, problems with our phones and internet, and the solar system is not working. At least now we are able to take it all in stride. We carried buckets of water from the courtyard until Thursday night when the water was restored. The electricity, not so easy. I think that something may be wrong with the charge controller or inverter. But, that is above my skill set. I am trying to locate a qualified technician. That is not easy either. In the mean time we are running the generator when it gets dark. We run it until bed time.

Thursday night, just as we were setting down for supper, Fr. Gracia arrived to greet us. After we ate, Fr. Gracia asked me to help him drive his truck up to our apartment. Recent rains have partially washed out the short road to our compound. As we walked down to where his truck was parked I could hear angry voices. Our friend Johnny was trying to drive the truck up short rise that is always difficult. He was trying to get the gathering crowd to help push the truck over this spot and people were arguing about helping. As often the case, there are people that have still not accepted the changing of priest, and that group was complaining that if our previous priest was still here, he would have cemented this difficult spot and they did not want anyone to help. The just wanted to complain and cause trouble. They neglect to remember that he was here for 16 years and did not fix it.

Johnny tried several times, but was unsuccessful. As the crowd got angry, Fr. Gracia decided it would be best if he returned to Gros Morne. At that point I told Johnny to let me try. I do have a lot of experience with this spot. I also was unsuccessful and kept having to back up and try again. The people began shouting, not necessarily nice things, and I became angry. I turned off the truck and stood on top and banged the hood and called for quiet. It worked.  I then discovered that my Creole is better than I thought. I asked the people if they wanted us to leave, and the crowd shouted “NO”.  I told them that I came to help them, and now I needed their help. Suddenly the crowd got behind the truck and helped push the truck up the hill! When we got to the top they cheered.