Friday, April 16, 2010

Hi Folks,

I'm off to Miami and then Port au Prince. I have several boxes and bags of donated and purchased items to bring in: shoes, shirts, tylenol, vitamins, coloring books, crayons, soccer balls, tuna fish, tools.... I hope that American Airlines doesn't hit me too hard with the baggage fees. I'd rather take the money that I pay them and buy some goats for needy families!

I will try and post messages when there. I hope you find this interesting and that you don't forget that the need in Haiti is still there and in many cases very desperate.

The top photo is a little girl who came to Thomassique after her family's home was destroyed in the earthquake in Port au Prince. Church had just finished and she wandered over to have a look at me (people here think I'm dark skinned, in Haiti they look twice at the "blond" LOL.
We talked for a bit and I gave her some candy.
The woman with the green trousers and pink flowered shirt comes by the church and washes clothes. She does this for whatever the church can give her whether it is a little money or something to eat. When I left last time, I gave her a 50 pound bag of rice for her and her family. She put it on her head, stabilized herself and then walked home.
The girl in the pink shirt dressed up for the photo in her best clothes. I had met her on my first trip where she was with other children at a food distribution point for orphans. She has a family (last photo). She speaks french well and I brought her a dictionary and some books on my second trip.
I wanted to visit her home and did so before I left. Her father had died between my two trips and it appears the family is trying to figure out how to get by. The light blue house is her home and these are her brothers and sister standing next to their mother. I brought them a 50 pound bag of rice and gallon of cooking oil. I was told by a Priest that this helps families tremendously. It cost me $30, a dollar a day to supplement a family like this. Unreal!

These are some photos I took early one morning on my last trip. I asked to be taken up further into the hills to see the source of the water that travels down a pipe to Thomassique. The top photo shows children playing their water buckets like bongo drums while they wait their turn to fill the buckets at the public faucets.
The second photo shows the water coming up to the surface from the acquifer.
The third photo shows a collection pond before the water enters the pipes and travels to Thomassique and two other towns downhill. Children play, bathe and take drinking water from this point. Animals are allowed in to drink and they defecate and urninate in and near the water.
Obviously this area should be restricted.
The last photo shows the entrance to the source and that it was funded by World Vision and USAID. The system needs to be upgraded; pipes replaced, faucets secured, the main source restricted, routine testing of the water conducted.

This is the Rectory where I stay. The accomodations are very simple. Curtains over the doors help to keep flies and mosquitos out of the main rooms. The nets over the beds keep mosquitos away at night, malaria is common. In the second photo you can see several tennis balls. Children love them, they are easy to bring in and are inexpensive. Hard to believe how tennis balls are cherished as a toy..... In the bottom photo, you can see a deep chest freezer in the background. This is where soft drinks and bottled water are kept. It is kept "cool" at best when there is power from either solar panels or the generator. Otherwise, a large block of ice is bought, chipped apart and placed in the chest. There is a drain at the bottom which lets the melted water drain onto the floor.

During my last trip in March, the Church where I was staying had received donations from the US. With the money, they bought food supplies and planned a soup kithcen distribution in the town of Thomassique. Resources in these smaller towns in the Central Plateau are being stretched due to the increase of people coming from Port au Prince.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

These are 300 gallon plastic water containers that will hold the filtered water. The red one will store water filtered the first time and the green will hold the water that has gone through the process twice.
They were being lifted up and into the filtration room. The room had been built several months ago and then the tanks were bought. Door width of 40" and tank diameter of 48" doesn't work (even I can figure that out and I hate math)....
One option was to break apart the concrete and steel set frame of the door, then repair it all. I got a wild hair and climbed up on the tin roof and thought about this idea. The locals thought I was crazy... It worked and replacing the tin was easy (I think). They did break the caps though... Another item to run around Port au Prince and try and find this weekend...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Well, I need to make some comments about the last trip because I am leaving for the next in just a few days.

The last one was to accompany Lou Hagler. Lou has been working with Living Waters based in Mississippi. They are an organization bringing filtered water to small towns and villages in numerous countries. They have about 20 installations in Haiti. Their site is

Lou asked me top assist in the installation of the solar panels which will generate power for the water filtration system The system should be able to generate 300 gallons of filtered water a day.

Some of the photos are of the solar panels being assembled and mounted. There is a power cord that goes from the panels, through a building on the property of the church and then across a street to the building where the installation will be set up.

Another project we undertook was to clean the water "system" at the church. The system was installed several years ago and consists of a cement cistern (in some previous photos you can see it next to the kitchen). People, generally the women who cook for the church, take water from the cistern. They use a plastic bucket that has a string on it, lower the bucket into the cistern and take water. The water is then placed in several larger plastic tubs which they use to prepare food and wash dishes.

Sometimes, people will dip the bucket into the cistern and drink directly from it.

The cistern is filled very night by turning on a valve to take water from a main line coming down from the hills about 15 miles away. The piping system was installed in 1976 through the collaboration of several vilages, towns and priests living in the area. In my post of April 2, I mentioned this pipe and that I would elaborate....

The pipe is PVC and is above ground in some places and below in others. In some places above ground, the pipe goes through streams, swamps or areas where water collects. Along the way, the pipe has cracks in it. The water in the pipe is under pressure and is flowing at a good rate due to the fact that it is a long distance and is gravity driven. Because of this, where there are small breaks in the pipe, air and external water are actually pulled into the flow of water by a venturi affect. This introduces parasites, microbes and bacteria into the water system.

Additionally, at the source in the hills, the "pool" or "basin" where the water comes up from the underground acquifer is open. People bath in the water, animals defecate and urinate near and in the water.

So, to make a long story short, the water coming into the cistern at the church where we stay is not very clean.

From the cistern, the stored water is pumped up to two 300 gallon plastic storage tanks; each one on the opposing ends of the roof of the Rectory. From here, the water is gravity fed to showers and sinks in the bathrooms. One toilet functions by flushing, another requires buckets to flush.

This system at the Rectory was installed about 6 years ago (best estimate from my conversations) and has never been cleaned.

One of my tasks was to close down the water system, scrub the cistern with soap and water, and spray chlorine throughout it. Part of this cleaning required the two 300 gallon plastic containers to be emptied of water, disconnected from the PVC piping, lowered to the ground, soap and water cleaned and then sprayed down with a water and chlorine solution.

This took 3 days. Finding a brush, finding a ladder, finding a rope... all simple things to find here, took thought and planning.

There is a boy who spends time around the church. There are several children who come and go at the church. They really have nothing to do. Some are in school, some not. Some are beyond school age and since there is nothing to do, they come by the church. I suspect they also come around seeking something to eat. There were times when we were mounting the solar panels and I suddenly realized there were ten or twelve children just standing around watching. I guess watching two guys drill and attached pieces of metal is interesting especially if there is no TV, there are no toys, there are no balls to play with.

Maybe it's their way of procrastinating. Once they get home and change out of their little school uniforms, they have to put a five gallon plastic bucket on their head and walk two miles for water. Or maybe they are holding off as long as possible having to saddle up the donkey and go lug bags of charcoal home so their mother can cook dinner. Funny how kids of 7 or 8 are the same all over the world... hate chores.

So back to the boy.... I don't know his name. I do know that everyone calls him "tete". That's french for "head". I asked and was told it is because he has a big head. My suspicion is that malnutrition at a young age or perhaps poor caloric intake by his mother when she was pregnant may have caused this. In any case, tete is willing to help out when asked, but you really have to stay on him. Besides the clothes on his back (I don't think he has much of a wardrobe), tete's prized possession is a small battery operated radio. If you ask him to do something, he sets off to do it. But 10 minutes later you'll find him tuning in his radio while sitting on the steps.

Tete helped out by climbing into the tanks and scrubbing them. He also went into the cistern and was instrumental in cleaning out the slimmy leaves and capturing the frog that was swimming around the cistern.

After the tanks were cleaned, I asked the Priest what I could give tete or his family as payment for his help. I was told that tete came from a very, very poor family. We agreed that a 50 pound bag of rice and a gallon of cooking oil would be good payment ($30 value for helping out for 3 days).

The Priest was going to another larger town the next day and I asked him to get a few bags of rice and oil. When he returned, another Priest and I took the Toyota truck and drove out to tete's house. Along the way, I had to stop and let the Priest drive as the road had become so bad, I didn't think I'd be able to get through.

Tete lives with his mother, father and 6 brothers and sisters. We explained that tete had worked hard and helped us clean the tanks and that his payment was the rice and oil. His parents were beside themselves that tete was bringing home a 50 pound bag of rice and gallon of cooking oil for helping us.

The next day, I asked tete and his cousin to start cleaning an enclosed area near the church. I'd like to have it cleaned and perhaps have some people start a garden there. After a few hours, tete and his cousin came to get me. When we got back to the enclosed area, I found several of tete's brothers and sisters and his mother cleaning up the area.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The photo with the large piece of wood in a room with pots and pans on the floor is the cooking area of a home. A 15 year old boy lives here all alone. One parent is dead and the other has moved to another town. This is where he cooks.
The other photos are of the kitchen at the Rectory where I stayed. The one photo shows a window through which you can see the cistern from which water is drawn. The water is contaminated with parasites, bacteria and algae, but it is all they have to draw from.
Check out the stove in the one photo. I don't know if it's ever been used. It's gas and I think the idea may have been to hook it up to a propane tank.... I have to ask if it is ever used as I can not see how when there is no natural gas....

The young woman is the cook at the Rectory of the Church where I stayed. She is standing in the kitchen. Compared to homes, this is a very well equipped kitchen.
The pictures of the dinner table is actually breakfast.
The final two photos are of a family making Kasavah (spelling?). It is a root that is ground down and heated on these two large metal griddles. Each large piece is sold for about 10 cents. It is eaten with meals as bread is.

Above is a goat's head being cooked. The next picture shows the plantain being fried. The covered cooking pot contains rice being boiled. The red mixture is the goat's blood being cooked down. Underneath the pot of boiling blood, you can see the ash from the burnt charcoal.
All cooking is done on charcoal which is made by burning wood. This is an extensive industry as it is really the only source of fuel for cooking. There are no electric ovens or natural gas for the majority of people.
Rice seems to be a big part of the diet in Haiti. Sometimes it is served with dark mushrooms mixed in, other times there are beans. The other common staple is plantain or "bananas". They are rather hard non-sweet bananas that are fried. First, they are cut into large chunks and then "mashed" into flatten pieces. They do this using two blocks (I think they are made of wood) which are the size and shape of hockey pucks. They are then placed in cooking oil.
If there is meat served it is usually goat; it's very common. Unlike other animals, goats eat whatever they can. No need for a diet of fresh grass, grain, oats or hay. Other times there is chicken. All meat is freshly killed the day it is eaten. I am sure that it lasts several days, but the point is that there is no grocery store with the meat all neatly wrapped in cellophane. Perhaps there are stores like this in Port au Prince, but if there are, I doubt there are many (at least not like here). When there is meat, there is also some murky reddish brown sauce to pour over the rice. Floating on top of the sauce are onions cut in rings. I believe it is made with parts of the meat being served.

One night there was a large plate of what looked like crumbled and fried hamburger meat. It was actually the cooked blood of the goat we would eat the next few days.

Most meals that I have had also have a plate of cooked and finely chopped vegetables. These are usually beets, potatoes and carrots. Sometimes there will be shredded cabbage and carrots mixed together.

There are no desserts.

Breakfast is sometimes bread and peanut butter to spread, coffee, a kind of spaghetti with hint of vegetables and a little tomato sauce. Usually there is a large bowl of plantain bananas floating in a thick watery soup.

It sounds rather dire, but I must say, the flavors are really good.

When I have talked to Haitians or when we are meeting people or children at orphanages or at a soup feeding kitchen, sometimes I hear that they haven't eaten in a day, sometimes in two days. Remember this is not Port au Prince, but up in the Central Plateau. This area did not suffer damage from the earthquake, but they are receiving many displaced people from the capital and these displaced people are placing strains on the limited resources of the already poor local people there.

There is no starvation that I have seen, but there is not an over abundance of food. My impression is that a good portion of the day is spent finding / procuring food, retrieving water or making fire to cook. From the look of some of the children, I strongly suspect that malnutrition is common and that many people, young and old pass a day without food.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

This part of the village of Colladere. This is a section of the market in Thomassique.

This is the same market in Thomassique. These are houses along the road, not in a town or village.

This is a storage house for grains, rice and other harvested food. It is up on stilts to keep the rats away. The white sacks underneath are full of "charbon" This is coal and is used to cook. It is an industry all of its own and is the reason why the country is experiencing soil erosion. People cut down trees which they burn to make charbon. Charbon is then sold as an energy source. The result is deforestation and poor soil for agriculture. It would be great to end this practice, but then an entire industry would disappear and thousands would be unemployed. That is why "Public Works" projects are needed. If electricty becomes the norm, then chrabon is not needed. Some of the people traditionally making charbon can be trained to move to the installation and maintenance of electricity. It should be solar as this is on a micro level, the majority of it will be outside of government control and will require local expertise in it's installation and maintenance. Ownership would be local (individual homes or Community Centers and public streets and roads maintained locally.

So, I covered water the other day. I may think of more things about water and make comment about them later.... I think I'd like to talk about food.

From what I see, rice seems to be a really big element in the Haitian diet. There are large 50 pound bags for sale along the sides of streets in towns, not so much in villages. Let me stop and try and make a distinction between towns and villages.
There really is only one city I have been in and that is Port au Prince, which is a story all by itself. One of the big differences between larger towns and smaller ones or villages is that the price of goods in larger towns is about 10% to 15% less than in smaller towns and villages. The reason for this is the poor condition of roads, the wear and tear on vehicles that ride these roads, the time it takes to get to these villages. It then makes sense that most everything is less expensive in Port au Prince.

A village is like Colladere located about an hour to an hour 15 minutes north of the large town of Hinche. Colladere has a church, a school, a water distribution point and 10 to 15 homes.

I guess there are maybe 50 to 60 people in the village. Small homes outside the immediate village have another 100 to 200 people. Out of a couple homes, or in the front of them, the owners sell small items (gum, twine, some candies, evaporated milk, canned corn, canned peas, soft drinks, bars of soap, dishwashing liquid, toilet paper, aspirin). Don't think Target here (LOL), think a few bars of soap, several cans of corn, etc. It's displayed on shelves made in the backyard out of whatever material is available.... This village has a solar lamp. Just one. It was installed a couple years ago by the government. It has 6 lightbulbs and only three work. I wanted to change the ones that did not work, but there was no way to get up there. The lamp is probably 15 to 20 feet in the air. I suggested to the local Priest that we could ask a dump truck driver (I'll try to explain these dump trucks later ... again I must take pictures...) if he could stop for a few minutes under the lamp and I could climb up and see what was needed to replace them. Once we knew, we could get replacement ones (and required tools) and then hail another dump truck as it passed later to stop and we could replace them. I think he thought I was nuts, but in two weeks I'm going to attempt this again.

Needless to say, with only one solar lamp and only three bulbs burning, this village and many more without lamps are virtually pitch dark at night.

So that's a village (pretty much). Towns are bigger. They could be 20,000 to 60,000 to 100,000... it really is hard to calculate how many people there are. I have been told that Thomassique has 60,000. I suspect 30,000, maybe 40,000. Hinche is bigger than Thomassique and I guess if Thomassique has 30,000, then Hinche has 75,000. If Thomassique has 60,000, then Hinche has 100,000. Sorry if that sounded like a statement on an SAT exam.

Towns have more activity including the sale of food: bags of rice, vegetables, milled corn, flour, cooking oil, cane sugar, canned fish (sardines and mackeral). There is an outdoor market where goods such as plates, utensils, tampons, knives of all sizes (remember people slaughter their meat: Pigs, goat, chicken.. it's fresh kill), deoderant, plastic food covers, flip flops, tin cups, tin pans, tin plates, various plastic storage containers, etc. are sold.

Plastic Food covers... Gotta digress yet again. These are large plastic netted covers which are placed over the food when it is on the table prior to eating. It also covers uneaten food or food that has been cooked and is being stored for the next meal. Remember, there is no refrigeration so food is left on plates on counters or tables and these plastic net covers keep insects off before the food is served again. They are everywhere; for sale and in people's homes. No shortage of these.

In villages, people pee and crap (sorry, that's how it is...) in ravines, on the ground towards the back of where they live, in shallow holes they have dug. In towns, there are usually toilets in the houses (at least in the houses along the bigger streets). The sewage then flushes into a channel which runs along the side of the road between the house or store and the street. This means that you have to step over this sewage ditch to get in the house or store... And flushing these toilets is with a bucket of water, not pushing a handle.

Towns also have some paved streets; not asphalt, but blocks (not bricks) laid out over the road.
It is common to be on a rutted dirt street and suddenly pass onto a "paved" street for a few blocks and then back onto a rutted dirt road.

Towns also usually have a money changer, numerous stores (selling cooked food, sodas, miscellaneous items), hair cut places, pharmacies, concailleries (small poorly stocked hardware stores), etc..... I realize I have to take more pictures on my next trip.

There are also people who live in what we would call a "rural" environment. These are small single dwellings away from towns or villages. They can be made of mud and straw walls, thatch roofs, open windows with cloth covering them (no glass or wood). Other buildings are made of hand made mud blocks, scavenged wood planks, sticks woven to create walls, sheets of tin (either as walls or roofs). Some have doors and some do not. Floors are usually compacted earth. These homes you see along the road or off in the distance from the road. They are usually individual dwellings or maybe two or three of them clustered together.

Wow, I started out to talk about food and I digressed to towns, villages and rural dwellings... I guess I'll get around to food tomorrow.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

This is a distribution point along the pipe to Thomassique. There is an elderly man who is responsible for turning on the faucets at this location. It was around 7 am and people were lining up for their water. I can not help but think that the amount of water in one of these buckets is not enough for drinking, cooking and washing for a family even if the family has just three or four people. I'm going to ask next time, but I think there are at least two trips to get water a day. I also want to find out how far some people are walking. From my calculation of clusters of homes along the ride and the water distribution points, I'm guessing a mile to two miles.
Take a look at the road in the one picture. This portion of the road is in very good condition compared to other parts. I really need to focus on capturing things better with my camera.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Well, I am now back in STL. It was an intense trip to Haiti. We did not have power much and when we did I was either busy helping Lou, too tired to put my thoughts together or the Priests where I was staying were trying to get caught up on messages on their laptops before the power went out.

I'm going to post some pictures and comments... I met some interesting and resilient people. Before I left for this second trip, several people made comments about why people (in Haiti)have so many children, where is the government, why don't these people do something to help themselves? So I thought I'd spend some time posting how most Haitians live and who they are. Most of this is based on what I see, but I have also talked to some people and have had them tell me their thoughts.

From what I see, the reality is that for the average person, the day starts around 4.30 / 5 am. That is when (at least when I've been there) it starts to get light. During daylight hours, it seems that people are very busy getting things done: collecting water sometimes (and I think frequently) it's quite a walk to and from. Water is carried in buckets (kind of like the orange Home Depot buckets in size) mostly white, some yellow, some blue. They appear to have originally been used for paint or some kind of material. In houses, water is in another smaller container, sometimes in a gallon jug which is usually a reused "Ti Malice" cooking oil container. Most times the cap is still around and the jug can be sealed.

So back to collecting the water. There are lots of women and children who collect water. There are men, but it seems like women and children carry water. Men do other back breaking work and "bric a brac" work... I'll get to that later......

The five gallon buckets are usually carried on top of their heads. Even children carry buckets on their heads. They may not be as large, but a 7 or 8 year old boy or girl will have some container on their head carrying water (and it's a size which I don't think any of us reading this could carry).

The water sources are several. For the most part, I go to an area where there is a pipe coming down from the higher hills where there is a natural water source. This whole topic is a rather long story and I will get to it, but for now I just would like to talk about the water "resources".

The pipe has off shoots and ends in the town of Thomassique. Thomassique is a rather large town about 15 miles from the Dominican Republic. I have been told it has 60,000 people in and around it... I could not even begin to guess if that is right. All I know is that more people are coming up from Port au Prince since the earthquake. I'll post a picture of this little girl from Port au Prince..... I wish I was a photographer....

This water is contaminated to a degree that causes some illnesses among young and older people. It has been tested and in all reality is not intended for drinking. But, they drink it because it is possibly the cleaniest there is.

Another source is streams. There are some streams outside the town. On my way in the first time, there was a little water, but it was not flowing. People were still bathing, taking it (home to drink and cook with), washing clothes in it. You could see algae along the sides where it came to the road or the dirt banks.

The second time I went through, there was more water in the streams and there was flow in some of them. People were still in the water or walking heading to it. This time though, there was a stronger smell of sewage and I suspect it was highly contaminated. It makes sense though because there is no sewage system anywhere and all that waste (including animal waste ... I hope to remember to explain this when I talk about the pipe carrying water) goes into the streams.

The other source of water, and this is from all indications much less common, is wells. I have been told that wells are rare because the drilling costs are high and sometimes it takes a few drills to hit water. Also, I've heard that once water is hit, it is not always clean. In short the costs outway the benefits.