Hand me the tools, please.

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

It is summer time in the Northern hemisphere, and in San Francisco, though the climate is tolerable, there are not any extraordinary weather patterns that make the season singularly discernible within the year. It may be that as a result of this phenomenon the passage of time ceases to stand as a detail of importance on the minds of the city’s populace. Then again, it could be just me.

Since my return from Haiti at the beginning of the year there have not been any dull moments to speak of. Projects abound within the social circles to which I am an accessory, each of them providing an inlet for participation and outlets for creativity. My time is happily filled, such that I have quickly lost track of it. Compounded with a distinct lack of documentation on my part, this busy lifestyle allows one great experience to flow into another seamlessly.

There are many things I would discuss in great detail had I freshly emerged from their throes. Instead, since the lull provided to me on this fine morning is no doubt brief, I will leave the end of this posting spattered with hyperlinks and images. Please enjoy responsibly.

The Regardless at the miss rockaway armada

Paul, Moses, and me in Philly

link to a picture- because I’m lazy
The Relentless as view from the dingy IMG_0629

… I had a lead on a link to the thing in Brazil, but I ran out of time while looking for it. This proves again that things should be documented as they happen. More later

Week to go

Posted: January 24, 2011 in Haiti, Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Initially my trip to Haiti was to last 3 weeks.
Then the country had some political unrest, and American Airlines canceled all flights in and out of Haiti. My initial trip was postponed.
So a week after the planned date of departure I departed on a three week trip to Haiti.
Two weeks into the project I heard that a man would be coming and staying by himself and elected to stay longer.
When I go home, it will be after 6 weeks in the Caribbean.
This is only notable, and to me remarkable, because upon arrival in Haiti I did not want to stay.
Now that has changed.
I wonder when I will come back.

Leogane mountains

Haitian Mountains

Haiti is a beautiful country. When you get off the road and look into the mountains you can see for miles across lush forests and green fields. I’ve been subjected to the city of Port au Prince, and have complained. But in the area that we are staying, things are beautiful. I haven’t much else to say on that subject, except that Haiti- despite it’s problems- is a beautiful country.

Comier River

Comier River near Konbit Shelter project

Yesterday I was working at trying to finish barrel vaults on the Konbit dome. They will function as “wind scoops” so that hot air can escape through the top of the house in the summer. Most of the rest of the Konbit crew have left for their homes in the U.S. leaving just Craig, Moses, and myself here now- plus several million Haitians.

Anyhow, I was up on the dome with the fellows pictured and four others, and their discussion got really heated. Although I couldn’t understand all of it I gathered that they were talking politics. Who should be president, which president has the best platform, which political party should run the nation, etc. The kinds of things that get talked about when politics are brought up. All of the boys I’m working with up there are my age, in their early 20’s. I feel like they represent a majority in the population.

They talked about it all day, mostly- fluctuating between laughter and shouting. One young man in particular- the crew leader Ducken- Said something that made everyone laugh right in the middle of a heated argument. Then they all shut up and thought about whatever he had said. Ducken is a smart guy, and has great leadership. He’s already trilingual, and wants to learn to speak English– which he tells me in English. Whatever happens in Haitian Politics, it is young Haitians like these that will be making the real differences in their country.

Top of dome with Haitian boys

These guys will take care of Haiti

Gentlemen working atop a dome

these guys are cool

Konbit Shelter crown

'Deacon' has led the project from the very start

plaster inside Konbit shelter crown

totally plastered

Konbit Shelter Project in Barrier Judie, Haiti

Closer and closer to finish

Konbit Shelter structure complete

First layer of plaster done

I have been working in the village of Barrier Judie outside of Dufort, Haiti for about five weeks. The project has developed from a hole in the ground to a beautiful rendering of earth and mortar.

I was brought to the Konbit Shelter project by way of my friend John Rinaldi, who recommended me to the project visionary Swoon. I worked with her and three of her friends on the project for the first three weeks. I have opted to stay until February, since two members of the crew arrived just before Swoon left; and because I can’t imagine being in Haiti without friends.

The dome structure is finally finished, and all that is left is to put a smooth coat of plaster over it, and to paint. Afterward, a Barrier Judie resident will have a home. In one week, I will go home having helped to create a useful thing in a part of the world that needs more useful things. If you are reading this, and can donate time or money to projects like this, I will recommend doing so. It is extremely gratifying.

For more information on this project read the Konbit Shelter blog

I have been in Haiti with Callie and crew for three weeks. We have completed the project that was started on the previous trip and are well on the way toward completing the second earth bag structure. I will not get too carried away taking credit for these brilliant accomplishments, however. The people of Barrier Judie have been mostly responsible. Here I would like to share a photo of the fellows that I have been working with on the “community center.” We have become good friends.

From left to right: Vixon, Bathol, Whistlerson, and Raul.

Vixon speaks a little bit of english, so he’s my go to guy for explanations. Believe it or not, he’s 33. I thought he was 22. Bathol is patient and kindhearted, speaks only Kreyol, but works at anything with full intent.
Whistlerson is a painter by trade, speaks Spanish and Kryeol, and runs the crew when I go away.
Raul is the oldest, and a Mason. He also speaks Spanish.

This is only a small chunk of the total crew, but these four are my homies.

For five days we laughed about communication barriers as I learn bits of Kreyol and they try to get things across with gestures and Español. The community center is looking really good- and you can find more info on the Konbit Website.

There are a few people from another organization staying in our house. Their goal in Haiti is to facilitate emotional healing for people who did not die in the earthquake. It is a noble goal. They are working to organize people in the village as a more unified community, and to provide productive outlets for them. I was fortunate to be asked to help them design a memorial on which the names of loved ones were painted in loving memory.

In the village of Barrier Judie there are a lot of kids. As a matter of observation, most of the people in Haiti are young. Every day we head up to the work site, stop for a load of cement, then drive into the jungle to start building. All day we are the focus and fascination of the local children. They don’t have much else to do than watch us work, and trail us between tasks- trying to hold our hands and shouting our names at every opportunity.

These kids have no curricular or extracurricular activities. The boys have no structure, and the girls spend a lot of time carrying water from the well to wherever. They’re pretty fricken cute- but I’m getting a reputation as a grumpy person, because it’s really hard to work on creative solutions when you’re surrounded by children shouting in a language that sounds like flubber.

I’m starting to be in charge of a little crew of people, and I’m finding that the adults didn’t grow up with much structure, either. Of course, it doesn’t help to get them organized when I don’t speak flubber very well. Big hand gestures, and lots of words in english that don’t apply to what you’re doing. I should try monologuing about bacon and chocolate while showing them how I want the place painted. Is that wrong?

Many of us consider ourselves to be blackbelts in the DIY dojo, but how would we fare in a situation short on resources? Can you fix a flat tire with burning hunk of another flat tire? Can you make your lights come on in the house without a switch? Can you fix your fuel filter when there are no auto parts stores anywhere?

These and many other skills are necessities when living in the third world. I’ve been here for almost two weeks and I’m constantly impressed by the ingenuity of the people in Haiti. They get by with what they’ve got, which isn’t much. Is it politically incorrect to say third world? Whatever.
The place that I’m staying has a DSL modem that takes power from a bank of 16 6V batteries and an inverter. When the batteries get low they switch a couple wires and run a diesel generator for a few minutes to charge them up. The cook stove is of the conventional sort, but it’s run on propane that we have to fill once a week.

Our light switch used to consist of three red wires that were bent so that you could hook them together.
This house is a first rate upper class palace compared with the rest of the country, who cook with charcoal and melted plastic.
Here is a picture of a Haitian tire shop:

Flat tire solution in Haiti

Roadside tire shop, Haiti

Gad. I’m getting used to Haiti. Tonight found me in the back of a crappy diesel pickup truck with six people driving through the crazy back “streets” of the town on our way to a christening. We got off the only highway and drove through a crowded dirt track through the palms and improv shelters and toppled cinder block buildings to a church that seemed to be held up by faith alone.

It was covered by a tin roof on rough sawn sticks which were tied to the re-bar of a pre-existing building. The decorations were bizzarre- some balloons and taffeta paper bows hung on and around the pulpit. The priest looked nervous in front of a bunch of kids who didn’t speak Kreyol or French, but went on bravely about God knows what. The manager of our local crew translated the christening from Kreyol to Spanish so that some of us could understand what was being said.

With my rough understanding of romance languages I only understood about 5% of the words, but I think I got 100% of the intention. The two artists running the project have taken a vow to protect the child if anything ever happens to the mother. They became Godparents.

The ceremony took less than ten minutes. When it was finished there wasn’t much mingling to do because of the communication barrier, so we all shook hands and smiled and nodded and exchanged the few we knew mutually. We piled into the truck and drove back through the jungle town to the village where a supper was prepared to celebrate. We ate fried plantains and chicken at a table in the middle of the construction site under the light of a CFL drawing from an inverted car battery.

All told, it wasn’t nearly as strange or exciting as the voodoo ceremony that we attended on christmas eve. Nobody rolled around in a bucket of water and shredded leaves, but smiles were shared in celebration of two christenings. That of the child Betsy, and of the home that will be created for her and her mother.

To read more about the project, click the Konbit link in the blogroll at the top of this page. Our group is maintaining that blog collectively.