|I'm tired tonight, but otherwise feeling well. Over the past two days it's as if I've been waking from a deep sleep, I find myself having energy during the day and am able to hobble-jump my way up the stairs without summoning up will. The heat and humidity are not something I'm used to, especially after last summer. Although each day seems like an eternity, they slip by and the trip is over halfway done now.|
|At the beginning, standing for the first time in this room, exhausted after 26 hours of travel and dehydrated, I looked at the calendar on the wall and part of me wanted to turn around and walk back to the air strip. That part's gone off on a walkabout now and I'm looking and thinking about when I'll be flying back, back to Haiti. People are glad to see us here, excited by what we can offer them, and, like Robert Frost, we have promises to keep and many miles to go before we sleep.|
Today began early, as most days do, thanks to the traffic. Today was also an exciting day, even more so than MaLaRiA Day because today was both New Shirt Day and New Shorts Day and, to top it off, I made it New Underwear Day as well. Thus adorned with unsmelly, undirty clothes, I came up to breakfast: fresh avocado, bananas, homemade bread, and Haitian peanut butter (a dark, creamy liquid brown).
|However, even after three days of trying, we have yet to get water to boiling, contrary to the claims of the company: "Works well at any latitude at any time of year." This morning, though, we put on some aluminium foil and a couple of water sachets and watched them sizzle till a maurading cloud moved in. The experiments seem to be indicating that solar plastics recycling isn't a feasible solution for Haiti - at least, not this time of year.|
|Michael was feeling sick today (Eric had his sick day yesterday), so he didn't join us on our excursion. Loaded into the open back of a pick-up truck, we crawled through the jammed traffic of Cap-Haitian…|
He's from Chile
|…past the airport, and into realms unknown.|
Second-story buildings became rare and then, disappeared altogether. It was just us and the (mostly) open road and this one, unlike Nationale Highway One, was well-paved! With lane markings! And speed-limit signs! All of which we dutifully ignored, except the massive speed bumps near little towns.
|Outside Cap-Haitian the town faded into a savannah of low shrubs and grass, with the occassional cow, bull, or goat. The mountains Cap nestles against faded into the hazy distance as the truck sped forward through a glorious breeze; people by the roadside waved as we swept past.|
We passed a Haitian cemetary - a little village of miniature houses and churches, gaily painted in Easter-egg pastels - the doors: cemented enclosures for caskets. A UN tank drove by and we pulled out our cameras to get it on film, but the Haitians on the road side all began yelling. Did they not want their pictures taken? or did they not want us getting shot up by the UN? We may never know…
|The ride lasted forty-five minutes till we finally coasted to a stop across from Uruguay's UN compound at the St. Barnabas Agricultural School. The director, Hans/Woodlaw(?) came and opened the gate for us and was nearly run over when our driver got out of the truck, leaving it in neutral. The school was shaped like a U with broad palm-tree-shaped gates.|
The whole structure was a brilliant, clean white on the outside, but we didn't have much time to admire that before we were beckoned into one of the classrooms where twenty students, whose studies of AgroForestry we'd interrupted, stared at us inquisitively. The teacher and Sarah took their time explaining what we were doing with biodigesters as we sweltered and took in the classroom. The floor was dirt-covered cemenet. The windows were numerous slits in the cement walls and the whole room was lit by four plastic-covered skylights. The whole place was dusty or dirty, except the students and teacher. At the end there was only one question: "We have been thirsty for this, when will you start?" Soon, hopefully. Then we repeated this for a second class.
As the rest of the group got to see the derelict John Deere the school hopes to repair, I made an urgent trip to the school's only bathroom, tucked, conveniently, in the director's office. The Haitian toilet paper was rough… and blue. Okay, I can deal with this. The toilet didn't flush (this was not good), okay, I can lift up a toilet tank in the director's office of a Haitian school and flush it. No, there's no water in the tank! I took a breath and stepped boldy back into the directors office. "No flush." He and the person he'd been speaking with (one of our attaches from the school) rose and both came to the door making the universal hand gesture for "pull lever". "No water in tank." The attache entered the office and introduced me to a waste basket which was, in fact, a bucket of water and indicated dumping this into the toilet bowl. The actual process was messier and involved plungers. A price to be paid for luxury, I suppose. The attache and I used the full extent of our vocabularies on our way back to the group: "What is your name?" "M'wan rele, Rickard. Como ou rele?" "My name is Hans."
|We examined their compost pile beneath spreading shade trees and then toured their experimental fields, contemplating the mystery that is the tomato while coming to understand, truly, the blessing of the shade tree.|
|We walked back to the school as Sarah explained that everyone - everyone - left for their homes during the coup; the school's only been running again the past two years and has only 27 students. The entrance requirement is the ability to read and write and tuition is about $300USD per year (thanks in part to Episcopalian subsidies).|
|We took shelter beneath a spreading grapefruit tree as Chris, Eric, Andrew, and a machette-wielding attache took soil samples.|
|Lunch was a large, homemade spread in an empty classroom: shrimpy rice, cashew sauce, beets, carrots, lettuce, plantains, and chicken, along with sodas or water.|
The segregation at left was something which bothered me about many of our interactions, though I'm sure it was at least partly subconscious, and it wasn't always clear whether it was us, or them, or both.
|After taking a brief look at jhatropa plants (whose inedible oils may one day facilitate the recycling of plastic here), we drove back in, skirting a range of grass-shrub covered mountains and crossing a wide river where many Haitians were digging for clay, denuding the banks, the brown soil washing into the brown river, flowing past brown skin.|
Back in Cap, we dropped by the hardware store. Wood! An expensive comodity: $60 for a 4x8 foot of plywood. "Como bien?" "115 Haitian Dollars". "We'll be back." "I am waiting for you." You never know how much English they know and whether the grammar is intentionally creepy or innocent, though I suspect the latter. Sarah came down to negotiate prices and we had a heated discussion about compost-house design in the BLISSFULLY AIR-CONDITIONED hardware store.1 The wood was purchased and Justin spent the next hour doing dangerous things with SOIL's newly-delivered table saw.
|Then it was back on the motos and off to Shada (Michael, feeling better, joined in). Dark streets engulfed, turns beguiled, and then emergence! onto the roof and the sweet breath of air at the surface of the rusty-tin-roofed sea. We were back and this time, we had screws, nails, hammers, and braces for the creaking, rocking benches of the Shada Tech Center.|
Amid a crowd of helpful (and not) children ("Jehsee, Jehsee!"), we pulled rusty nails, took off ineffectual lumber scraps and shored up the little school's benches till they were rock-solid. Just as the kids were about to rap for us, the city power went down (for the third night in a row), so we'll be going back.
Being referred to by Jesus by a swarming cloud of children who seem to expect to be understood is a powerful incentive to learn Creole and I intend to work on just that before coming back. Madam Bwa sent us off with a handshake and a kiss tonight, pointing skyward and telling me I was a good thing while laughing. But, really, I'm not sure. There are promises we've made here that are contingent on yet-to-be-developed technologies, SOIL's continued ability to work with us, our own availability to take time away from school and life, and so on.
Additionally, while the Haitian adults know that I am not Jesus, I'm not always sure if this is the case with the children and leaving them with the vision of Jesus as a privileged white person who can't speak Creole seems tragic. Even beyond this, the image of CaucasianJesus has been pasted up all around the world, though there seems to be little reason why he would have been white. Yet the Christian missionaries who spread this image were, themselves, predominantly white. Perhaps this is just a further expression of the power differential between us.
Back at home I felt the immediate need to disinfect.
We spent the evening testing out nutrient-absoring urine collector, discovering several design flaws. The idea is that activated charcoal, or, hopefully, just charcoal, will absorb nitrogen and other nutrients out of urine as it flters through. This can then be buried as a soil amendment.
The remote thermometer laser I brought with has been a source of great amusement as the house dog (ex-street dog) Tika is fascinated by it, while President Barrack Obama (the cat) doesn't even seem to notice. Tonight, I decided to play with the real street dogs and stood on the balcony, toying with them. In all, 5 of 15 dogs did so much as turn their heads. All of them seem on a mission, walking straight down towards towards, or parallel to, the harbour. They look neither left nor right in their quest for food and water. As I learned last night, on my moto ride to retrieve my camera, they sleep in the middle of the street. One dog, however, did pay attention and ran up and down the street and around light poles for us before giving up and reverting to its zombie-like mission. We all shared the same thought: that the cold hand of Darwin was reaching out for this one.
Saw the moon for the first time since coming here tonight - big and bold before sinking behind the mountain.
I want to touch briefly on aide. The power which has been going off for a few hours every evening is an improvement over the ten- to twelve-hour blackouts Cap-Haitian's had for the past several years; the change comes courtesy of Hugo Chavez, whose country built that plant and set it into operation this year. Less obvious is the fact that 90% of Cap's doctors are from Cuba. UN forces from Chile, Uruguay, and Nepal are directing traffic in the streets and augmenting Haiti's own police forces. The U.S. approach - at least the visible part - has been to build two parks in the city (more on this later).
Instant Hand Sanitizer is a gift from God. The Europeans lived on the edge of a vast continent home to myriad animals and their human companions; disease was common-place, frequently jumping from animals to humans (as we fear will be the case with bird and swine flu). The Europeans, as a result, had immunity - lots of it. This was only bolstered by dense living conditions which encouraged the development of robust immune systems. The Native Americans, descendents of Ice Age crossings through latitudes to cold to permit disease, had none of this immunity (let's not forget the odd Chinese or Phillipino sailing venture - pre-Columbian Pacific crossings happened regularly, if rarely).
The first contacts Europeans had with the new world (Columbus and such), released diseases into a population with no natural immunity and led to 97% mortality, so it was no wonder that the New World seemed sparsely populated and ripe for the taking. It's an odd situational reversal that my germ-ladden ancestors decimated the Haitians and now I'm paying homage to Hand Sanitizer and five other vaccines or medications which keep me alive in a hostile environment. Our, or should I say, my, world is so… clean.
I'm going to sleep now, because it is late, muggy, and the mosquitoes are about. Looking off the balcony I can see the street dogs roaming on their secret missions beneath ever-watching Orion… or are they more like wolves, waiting?
1 Reading back through this, I noticed that I was rather put out about the heat on this day. Retrospectively, this is probably because of a Rule that I have: never stop in the sun or shade. Naturally, only the first part of this is applicable when its warm and sunny out - the second part is reserved for the winter. Why intentionally tax your body's cooling capabilities and water reserves when you have the choice not to. Of course, in this instance it was somewhat unavoidable: the Haitians are well adapted to their milieu.