Archive for February, 2010

Haiti update 2

There are far too many experiences for me to capture, and it would be unfair and inaccurate to try and rank them, so I will share some that are top of mind. I will do my best to capture more in the coming days and weeks.

We walked today down to a tiny coastal village several miles from the outskirts of town. there were probably no more that 20 dwellings and fewer than 100 residents, all of whom seem to subsist on fishing snails, crabs, etc. When we first got to the beach (really just a rocky ledge leading into the ocean), I saw a huge conch shell. When I was a kid, we spent summers on the beach and finding a conch shell of this size was exceedingly rare. So I was about to share my good fortune with the group when we stumbled on a second, a third, and a fourth, which then caused me to lift my eyes from scanning the sand to discover huge mounds of conch shells discarded into what seemed to be refuse piles.

It occurred to me that something with such special meaning in one culture is just junk in another.

More to come

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Katie update 2

Anyone who’s run a marathon will tell you, the first mile or so is torture—getting the limbs moving, setting a pace, adjusting to climate.

And the worst is when you pass the Mile 1 marker.

Because no matter how many races you’ve done, you can’t help but think: “only 25.2 more miles to go…”

Today was a bit like that.

Not yet calloused to manual labor, my shoulders ached (oh yeah, all that sledgehammering didn’t seem so “cool” this morning), my hands were permanently clenched in wheelbarrow-grip, and of course, there were the roosters.

But Team Baby Jesus was not about to be sidelined by sore muscles—and the 9 of us hopped on the tap-tap again for the second day of work on the mammoth project.

The marathon analogy applies here too; rolling up to the site was a huge reality check—there was so much rubble to clear.

I think yesterday we were so enthused to be tackling the project that we forgot some of the realities of the situation.

It’s not just the waist-high rubble, the hardest part is that first the entire roof has to be broken down and the rebar removed; tasks both physically and time consuming.

So we labored under 92-degree sun for four hours this morning—a task I would assign to a circle of Dante’s hell; as soon as one pile of rubble is cleared, another appears.

There is nothing moving, inspirational or encouraging about this.

And certainly not when it’s so hot.

One of the biggest challenges has been finding dumping areas for all of the smashed rock—and then showing the Haitian kids (who came back for more “games” today) where to dump the wheelbarrow piles.

They, however, with their universal precociousness and endless reserve of energy and zeal, are the reminders we all need during the moments when it gets trying.

Philip and others tackled the spider-web of rebar, sawing and hacking at the rusted metal under a very active sun.

I found myself shoveling and pick-axing rubble with the kids all morning—a task that tested both my remaining rotator cuff cartilage and my babysitting endurance (put young boys near wheelbarrows, rubble, axes and hammers—and someone’s bound to get in a tussle).

While we were working, a huge line began forming, apparently the UN was handing out rations of food, water and supplies, and hundreds of people were waiting hours in the sun to get their goods.

Despite our own fatigue, it’s sobering to have food and water in your packs while others stand in wait for these basic necessities. Team Baby Jesus paused around 11:30 for a walk through the back field to the GTZ prototype house—and met with the German architects responsible for coordinating the efforts.

They still plan on 1,400 units—to be constructed with pre-fab materials made in Miami.

Ideally, a house can be erected in around 3 hours with minimal carpentry required.

Much like marathoning, it is hard to imagine the miles left to go for these families in order to get them the housing that they’ve been promised.

All that said, it helps to know exactly “why” we’re helping these families clear their land.

After lunch, we wandered to the local “egg lady”—the woman who makes egg sandwiches and also sells cold Coke, and a mysterious beverage called Malta H (think Molasses meets non-alcoholic beer).

Then Philip left with three others to head towards a bank (i.e. three men in folding chairs outside a building; you keep going till someone gives you a 7.75 rate)—…and returned with a bike.

Of course, why not?

And who else would head out into an impoverished city, speaking not a word of Haitian Creole, and return with a working bike…for FREE?

Apparently, they met the local Don of the main Rue—a man named Laiyde—wearing tricked out sunglasses, typing on a blackberry and sitting with his posse under a UNAid tent on the side of the street.

Apparently even after an earthquake, Don Laiyde needed his man cave.

Alas, after a few low-ball offers and failed negotiations, Don L “rented” HODR his brother’s bike for a few weeks.

Everyone else was shocked and tickled to see the crew returning with a shiny blue bike (and took it for a few spins around our “dancefloor”)…I could only shake my head and laugh, only a tricycle would have made less sense.

I have no doubt that Philip will be doing a morning bike ride to keep up with his TriLife training…

Team Baby Jesus grew a bit, as we were joined by another rubble team in the afternoon—and worked diligently under an overcast sky; making seemingly triple the progress from the morning.

An occasional breeze, lots of help from the kids, and some swift blows from the sledgehammer…and all of a sudden it was much smoother sailing.

Despite two chipped teeth in the group from errant rebar, a host of blisters and cuts, and stellar glove-tans all around—we seem to have settled into a nice stride.

Dinner was, can you guess?, rice & beans with fried plantains and slaw—after today’s work, nothing could have tasted better.

It stormed for a moment, but is raining now—a refreshing shower that is sure to cool off the air, and no doubt flood the street canals and make a mudbath of our rubble site.

Thankfully, we have tomorrow off and are set to explore more of Haiti—and perhaps go see a beach, or visit another town.

This Blanca is looking forward to a nice few days of smooth running—and though no longer daunted by the vast amount of work to be done, if we’re using the marathon analogy still, mile 23 is still to come… In the words of Ryan Seacrest, Blanca out.

Katie update 2

Anyone who’s run a marathon will tell you, the first mile or so is torture—getting the limbs moving, setting a pace, adjusting to climate.

And the worst is when you pass the Mile 1 marker.

Because no matter how many races you’ve done, you can’t help but think: “only 25.2 more miles to go…”

Today was a bit like that.

Not yet calloused to manual labor, my shoulders ached (oh yeah, all that sledgehammering didn’t seem so “cool” this morning), my hands were permanently clenched in wheelbarrow-grip, and of course, there were the roosters.

But Team Baby Jesus was not about to be sidelined by sore muscles—and the 9 of us hopped on the tap-tap again for the second day of work on the mammoth project.

The marathon analogy applies here too; rolling up to the site was a huge reality check—there was so much rubble to clear.

I think yesterday we were so enthused to be tackling the project that we forgot some of the realities of the situation.

It’s not just the waist-high rubble, the hardest part is that first the entire roof has to be broken down and the rebar removed; tasks both physically and time consuming.

So we labored under 92-degree sun for four hours this morning—a task I would assign to a circle of Dante’s hell; as soon as one pile of rubble is cleared, another appears.

There is nothing moving, inspirational or encouraging about this.

And certainly not when it’s so hot.

One of the biggest challenges has been finding dumping areas for all of the smashed rock—and then showing the Haitian kids (who came back for more “games” today) where to dump the wheelbarrow piles.

They, however, with their universal precociousness and endless reserve of energy and zeal, are the reminders we all need during the moments when it gets trying.

Philip and others tackled the spider-web of rebar, sawing and hacking at the rusted metal under a very active sun.

I found myself shoveling and pick-axing rubble with the kids all morning—a task that tested both my remaining rotator cuff cartilage and my babysitting endurance (put young boys near wheelbarrows, rubble, axes and hammers—and someone’s bound to get in a tussle).

While we were working, a huge line began forming, apparently the UN was handing out rations of food, water and supplies, and hundreds of people were waiting hours in the sun to get their goods.

Despite our own fatigue, it’s sobering to have food and water in your packs while others stand in wait for these basic necessities. Team Baby Jesus paused around 11:30 for a walk through the back field to the GTZ prototype house—and met with the German architects responsible for coordinating the efforts.

They still plan on 1,400 units—to be constructed with pre-fab materials made in Miami.

Ideally, a house can be erected in around 3 hours with minimal carpentry required.

Much like marathoning, it is hard to imagine the miles left to go for these families in order to get them the housing that they’ve been promised.

All that said, it helps to know exactly “why” we’re helping these families clear their land.

After lunch, we wandered to the local “egg lady”—the woman who makes egg sandwiches and also sells cold Coke, and a mysterious beverage called Malta H (think Molasses meets non-alcoholic beer).

Then Philip left with three others to head towards a bank (i.e. three men in folding chairs outside a building; you keep going till someone gives you a 7.75 rate)—…and returned with a bike.

Of course, why not?

And who else would head out into an impoverished city, speaking not a word of Haitian Creole, and return with a working bike…for FREE?

Apparently, they met the local Don of the main Rue—a man named Laiyde—wearing tricked out sunglasses, typing on a blackberry and sitting with his posse under a UNAid tent on the side of the street.

Apparently even after an earthquake, Don Laiyde needed his man cave.

Alas, after a few low-ball offers and failed negotiations, Don L “rented” HODR his brother’s bike for a few weeks.

Everyone else was shocked and tickled to see the crew returning with a shiny blue bike (and took it for a few spins around our “dancefloor”)…I could only shake my head and laugh, only a tricycle would have made less sense.

I have no doubt that Philip will be doing a morning bike ride to keep up with his TriLife training…

Team Baby Jesus grew a bit, as we were joined by another rubble team in the afternoon—and worked diligently under an overcast sky; making seemingly triple the progress from the morning.

An occasional breeze, lots of help from the kids, and some swift blows from the sledgehammer…and all of a sudden it was much smoother sailing.

Despite two chipped teeth in the group from errant rebar, a host of blisters and cuts, and stellar glove-tans all around—we seem to have settled into a nice stride.

Dinner was, can you guess?, rice & beans with fried plantains and slaw—after today’s work, nothing could have tasted better.

It stormed for a moment, but is raining now—a refreshing shower that is sure to cool off the air, and no doubt flood the street canals and make a mudbath of our rubble site.

Thankfully, we have tomorrow off and are set to explore more of Haiti—and perhaps go see a beach, or visit another town.

This Blanca is looking forward to a nice few days of smooth running—and though no longer daunted by the vast amount of work to be done, if we’re using the marathon analogy still, mile 23 is still to come… In the words of Ryan Seacrest, Blanca out.

UN distribution

remnants of a UNICEF school

This school is adjacent to our school project and now serves as a distribution point for disaster aid

Katie in Haiti

Being an editor at a renowned publishing house, its a bit of an unfair comparison, but here is her update (not written on a mobile phone, like mine, and not accompanied by pictures, like mine ;- ).   That said, quite a bit more detailed and I agree with her various observations.  Enjoy

**************

The first 24 hours in Haiti has been exhausting—and it’s hard to believe that we left under the umbrella of fat, sloppy snowflakes just a day ago.  It is definitely not snowing here…

Despite a slightly delayed plane, we arrived safely in Haiti; along with a variety of other medical workers, family members of Haitians (seen carrying tents, clothing and other toiletries no longer available here), and a group of Search & Rescue team-members from the Army Corps of Engineers…who provided one of the more sobering moments of the flight when they admitted rescue operations were no longer really needed.  That being said, there was an interesting enthusiasm on the plane—people were eager to arrive and get moving, or find their families, or start helping; you looked out of the windows upon landing not see lush waters or resorts, but almost as gawkers at a car-wreck trying to glimpse the tragedy.  Our flight attendant summarized it best—it looks like one big construction site; the structural elements are in place, or some of them at least, but windows are gone and there is chaos.  Unlike flights to the Dominican, the flights into Haiti drop off passengers and return as quickly as they landed.

The airport was chaos, and immigration was in a temporary hangar, where our bags were unceremoniously dumped into piles.  From there we walked outside and met Al—one of our group members—and fought our way through the throngs of people waiting outside the gate and made it to the car.  Negotiating back into the airport—made only possible by the presence of a US passport, we located our last member, Ben.  Al is a firefighter—a 5’3” bundle of hutzpah from Orlando via South Africa—and Ben, an affable college grad from the Upper West Side.  Both piled into the car with us, our packs strapped to the back—and we began our long trek past Port-au-Prince and into the suburb of Leogane.  The city was indeed damaged, and is a mass of people, and markets, and chaos—but Leogane’s damage by comparison, was so much more profound; with nearly 90% of their buildings rendered unlivable.  The drive was a solemn one—masked by dust, burning trash, and the views of home after home left in shambles.

Our new home is quite palatial—in space, that is—apparently it was the town’s local rec center; basketball court, and…wait for it…nightclub.  Oh yes.  We are sleeping on the dancefloor of a nightclub.  The former stages at either end are now used as raised tent platforms, and the former “lounge” houses our computer area.  That being said, remnants of speakers, DJ equipment and colored lightbulbs echo what this once was…or, perhaps more fittingly, echo the promise of levity to come.  Despite the lack of techno music, our home abuts the local IDP tent camp, and their regular songs and religious ceremonies provide a musicality that is not only entertaining, but enduring.

After a tour and dinner—yes, shockingly it was beans & rice—we set up our own bunk; two lower halves of the bunk beds pushed together, air mattress, and lots of mosquito netting.  Good friends once said the true test of a relationship is making it through a trip to IKEA together…I suggest trying to string up mosquito netting in near darkness, after a long day of travel.  All joking aside, Philip’s reputation as a “prepared” adventure traveler, was a huge relief; and our bunk is most definitely four-star.  (on a side note, speaking of his preparedness, anyone who knows his propensity for dispensing with exercise-nutrition advice will find it unsurprising that camp members are now hitting him up for Endurance Gatorade powder and Carbo Pro).

Ben and Ali remain delightful compatriots—sharing food, laughs and irreverent humor as we set up camp together and prepared for sleep.  A surprising cool breeze comes through at night and in a small way, you all of a sudden remember you’re on an island…

And it would have been a perfect night’s rest if not for the ten zillion roosters crowing at 5 am.  It’s a most discordant alarm clock—but surprisingly effective (take note, Brookstone) if you’re looking for a surefire way to rouse even the heaviest of sleepers.  Shuffles back and forth to bathrooms and bucket showers, followed by corn flakes and tea—and then we were off to our site to clear rubble.

Philip and I were on a team of 9 headed to a small village 15 minutes away, that is part of a German program called GTZ—and if the homeowners clear their land of rubble, this construction company will come in and build their new home.  So our job is to clear their rubble (though a provision of the agreement is that the homeowners are required to assist in the work too).  According to Christof—the team leader I met later in the afternoon—they plan on making 1,400 of these shelters.  The village we are working in, is known as Petit Jesu—a (un)fortunate moniker that led us to name ourselves “Team Baby Jesus.”  If you haven’t already noticed, an effective remedy when wading head-first into tragedy is irreverent humor—sometimes, even with so much hope around you, the reality is still difficult to swallow.

So, Team Baby Jesus—which I’ll call TBJ—spent the morning clearing rubble from a former home.  Though we were operating under welcome overcast skies, our t-shirts were soaked within minutes, and even the darkest hair turned gray under the clouds of rubble dust.  Yoga and meditation aside, I’d highly recommend sledgehammering as an effective stress-reliever. It’s also a sure-fire way to prove your “worth” in the group—and always elicits a few smiles from the Haitian men and women who are not used to seeing women working, much less going all Paul Bunyan on sheet-rock.

Four hours of work later, two Nalgene bottles consumed, and countless wheelbarrow trips back and forth dumping off rubble—we hopped on the tap-tap (a pick-up truck with bench seating in the back…um, of course there are seatbelts…) and headed back to lunch; an event that largely consisted of eating as much rice & beans as possible and then crashing into bed for a siesta.

Back on the road, we headed to a site across the street (having pretty much handled the demolition of the first home)—a site that is the largest HODR has tackled to date.  A full-size home, even by US standards, it had completely fallen under—with concrete, rock and rebar in various states of mangled array.  We expect the job to take at least another 2 days optimistically (or realistically, see note about Philip’s nutritional plan above), assuming we can demolish the roof and rebar tomorrow and clear the rubble the following day.

In between carrying loads of rubble to the dump site, one wheelbarrow at a time, you pass the tent camps, the burning trash, the goats eating the trash, and remnants of former normalcy—dishes, lamps, stuffed animals, clothing… All of which are sobering no doubt, but tempered by the laughter and cunning of the Haitian children who Philip and others commandeered into helping.  I now understand the cruel tricks of parenting—anything can be done if you pretend it’s a game.  For example: let’s see who can lift the biggest cinder block (and then put in the wheelbarrow); let’s see who can push the rubble to the pile the fastest (quickest way to dump the rubble)…there’s not much a young kid won’t do when promised a wheelbarrow ride as a reward.  In contrast to the many people not helping out, I hope that these young kids will take pride and ownership in what they did to help out their families.

Another four hours later, a bucket shower under a blue tarp so refreshing it rivals any spa I’ve been to, and more rice & beans…it’s all left us exhausted, with hands and forearms tired from gripping axes, wheelbarrows, and shovels…(though you’d think it would stop me from typing so much).  Separated from creature comforts, especially those of us from large cities, you start to appreciate the art of conversation, and new friends, the simplicity of water, and the taste of melted chocolate has never been so flavorful—in short, you become thankful. Not for what you have, but what you carry with you—remembering to “bend from the knees” when you shovel snow (in this case rubble); having encountered that spider at Girl Scout camp made dealing with the baseball-sized tarantula a bit easier (ok, that’s a lie—it was still awful.  I just remembered not to squeal this time); and most of all, carrying with us the energy and support from each of our families and friends.  We may be here working, but we are certainly not alone.

So, with that, this blanca (Haitian for Gringo) bids “bon nuit” and am off to an assured good’s night sleep…that is, until the roosters start singing.

Haiti Update 1

I am writing from my mobile, so will keep this brief.

As I sit on the roof of the HODR compound, it is easy to find examples of disaster-induced misery or incredible human resiliency. We are surrounded by makeshift camps of tents (referred to as Internally Displaced Peoples – IDP camps). Nearly 100% of people are living in camps or temp shelters on their properties, because even the few remaining structures are not trusted by the residents.

In the IDP camps, you hear children laughing and playing, people singing, and see signs of routine life.

There is also a large soccer field immediately outside our walls and I am watching dozens of men and boys playing freely.

Today was the first day on the job sites and our primary role is to clear rubble down to the foundations, which make the families eligible to receive new semi-permanent housing which should protect them against the rains and storms that start in late spring. One German organization that plans to provide 1400 of these is building a prototype adjacent to the sites we were clearing today, so hopefully we will get to see these go up while I am still here.

The Haitian people seem very appreciative of the outside help but there is also a palpable sense of resignation. When you experience these conditions and consider that it will be many years before all this is cleared away, its easy to relate to that outlook. Many people will watch us clearing home sites (theirs and their neighbors) without offering to help and sometimes resisting our invitations.

At other times, as reflected in these pictures, many family members of all ages will join in and put in hours of labor alongside us, which is extremely fulfilling.

Dinner is being served, so I will sign off for now.

Cheers.


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