I'm awakened to the sounds of passing traffic and voices - minor chaos outside my window. The sun is already beaming down brightly. Since most of the world around us lives with scant electricity, they will wake and sleep with the sun, generally being up and about before we are.


Sun Chart for Cap-Haitien

And there's a scent, present since we arrived, which greets me. It will be odd, at first, but eventually welcome. Months later, when I convert these journals into blogs, that scent will still, at odd times and places, occassionally find me and pull me back.

Breakfast is delicious home-made bread (we have a fantastic cook who makes this every morning, though I never see her working on it), delicious (yet spicy) peanut butter, fresh pineapple, fresh bananas, fresh avocadii, boxed milk, and eggs. There are also sugary cookies called "Casino", which I become addicted to. Oh, and did I mention the orange juice?


Sasha on left, Sarah on right
After breakfast, the mayor of Borgne (a village of 10,000 to the west of here) shows up, along with representatives from two other local development groups. We speak over coffee, soda, and snacks for almost four hours about the projects, their desires, our questions, and more.

"Why are you in Haiti?", you might ask. Let me explain. SOIL, the NGO with whom we're working, builds composting toilets all over Northern Haiti. In 02007 they installed two of these in the borough of Shada where 30,000 people who previously lived without any toilets filled them up in a week. This was problem, since the poop has to sit for about six months before it can be safely removed.

And it's these sorts of problems that Engineers Without Borders can address, so SOIL contacted the University of Minnesota chapter and we said we'd see what we could do. In addition to coming up with potential solutions to the poop-collection problem, we prototyped methods of disposing of it.


A well in Shada
In Shada and Cap-Haitien the standard poop disposal method is to dump the stuff into the river or bay, contaminating the water. Since Shada's water table is mere inches below ground-level, there's very little filtration, so poop that ends up in the water or on the ground ultimately contaminates the groundwater.

Feachem et al., 01983
  A superior method, and the one that SOIL was employing, is to do what's called dry-composting. You mix the poop with a drying agent (such as sugar "chaff" todo), arrange it in long rows, keep it dry by covering it with a tarp of some sort, and occassionally stir it around.
  Now, if you refer to the chart at the left and assume that Haiti's ambient temperature is about 26°C (80°F), you'll see that the poop basically never becomes safe. While most things will die out, Ascaris will live on.
  Ascaris is a genus of parasitic worms known as "giant intestinal roundworms". They can cause morbidity and death by absorbing nutrients (bad when you don't get a lot of food anyway), inducing tissue reactions, and obstructing the intestines altogether. Symptoms include: bloody sputum, cough, low-grade fever, vomiting worms, worms in stool, gallstone formation, liver abscesses, pancreatis, and pulmonary eosinophilia (which is so bad a word no one even knows what it means). So, in short, you don't want ascaris (though 1.5 billion people are infected)… and it's hard to kill!

That's why we arrange the poop into rows. The inner poop is insulated and, as it decomposes, produces heat which warms the whole pile towards the "kill zone". The rows also facilitate stirring, so the cooler poop at the edge has a chance to get sterilized. But since we expect temperatures to still be fairly low and the mixing to decrease the efficacy of the process, we're looking at at least a year for sterilization.

Over that year, we're going to generate a lot of poop…

2.37 acres of poop is hard to locate anywhere. You need the land, you need to put up with the smell, and you need to keep it all dry. Tricky. Oh yes, and there are hurricanes. If the poop-acres flood and wash over the surrounding land, that would be disasterous.

That's why we began working on biodigesters. These machines take partially liquified poop and sterilize it in under 28 days while producing methane gas as a by-product which can be used for cooking. Pictures of these will show up in later entries.

The other reason we were in Haiti was to address the problem of plastic waste. Plastic is ubiquitous in the developing world. Since everything we own or use in the developed world is packaged in plastic, anyhting we sell or donate to developing countries is packged in it. Thus, there's a market for importing plastic; however, there's no market for exporting it. No one wants to buy waste plastic and, even if they did, they don't want to pay to have it shipped out of Haiti or anywhere like Haiti. So it builds up. There is some reuse for holding cleaning fluids, and the like, but the need for replacement containers has long since been met. More plastic-talk will follow.

In Cap-Haitien the plastic and other trash used to cover street corners and roads to a depth of several feet, as demonstrated by distinct lines on telephone poles and building sides. A few years before our arrival, the town's mayor acquired three garbage trucks and began offering a small bounty for each piece of plastic waste turned in. The whole city was rapidly cleaned up. Of course, that didn't eliminate the trash, it just relocated it. The previous pictures and many to follow show where some of it ended up: beaches, waterways, and amid the poor. It also ended up in the cities storm sewers preventing drainage during rainstorms. After every rain we'd see a man below our balcony sweeping the water with a broom in a futile attempt to make it go away.
In the afternoon we venture out. The streets in town are paved and, today, filled with honking horns. What originally seemed to be a disorganized mass of dangerously speeding traffic holding down their horns…
…has resolved into a right-of-way system in which cars on streets parallel the bay are given preference and cars on side streets speed dangerously while holding their horns at intersections. UN tanks driven by Nepalese speed by on occassion and UN foot soldiers armed with guns and a variety of grenades direct traffic at intersections. Haiti is an occupied country.

Our hosts, Sasha and Sarah, are wonderful expressive people, constantly being hailed on the streets and speaking with broad gesticulations. They've both lived down here for a number of years now and had parallel experiences before they met - living alone for months in small communities, learning Creol.

DigiCel, Haiti's cellphone tycoon (owned by an Irish man living in Malta), has a shop down the road from SOIL's house and it is to this shop that we venture. The air here is extremely humid and there are neither screens, nor doors - everything just opens to the outside. Everything but the cellphone shop, which has glass doors and adverts of of smiling Haitians hold cellphones. Inside, the air is insanely cool. We bask in it under the watchful eyes of a shot-gun wielding security guard.

We're sitting about in the main room now with the dog, Tika, and some mosquitoes sipping Prestige Beer, bottled by Pepsi (it's the only thing they have a market for here, everything else is Coca Cola), and setting up the solar collector. We've slathered up on the latest in 3M's nano-tech mosquito repellants and drugged ourselves with chloroquine to prevent the hardier micro-vampires from giving us malaria when they bite.
Sasha in background

Anyways, we're about to watch a movie about the 01991 coup, which is rumoured to have been backed by the United States.




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