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.

The roosters in the village are broken.

They don’t crow first thing in the morning as rooster tales would have you expect. They crow just past midnight, or right before I’m about to fall asleep. It’s peculiar and somewhat comical, when our nearest rooster is tone deaf. Never mind… it’s better to report that morale is high in our little group of Americans. We are helping to get lots of work done on the community center and the new dome, and we’re well received when we trek to the work site each morning. I can count on a trail of children to follow me from storage shed to community center, and everywhere else I go.

I made a pair of stilts out of 2×2 so that I could reach higher places when painting. They totally loved it. I wish I had caught a picture of it.

Haven’t much time to write, now- so know that we’re well here.

The site where we are working is not in a city, so today I made the trip to Port au Prince to retrieve supplies. It is not a pretty place. I went with a driver named Jean-Guardie and a translator, Vanya. Whenever we make the trip we have to leave at 6:00 AM, else we’ll be stuck in traffic for most of the day- getting nothing done.

It had been four days since my last trip, and I feel that I am adjusting to the culture in the village pretty well. The people here are really friendly and eager to communicate. They are hard workers and have ingenious methods for getting things done when resources are low.

Here is a photo of the “earth bag” building method that is being implemented by the crew.



The first two rows of earth bags are placed below ground level to make a sturdy foundation. Barbed wire is laid on each row to get a grip on the bag above it, then the mixture of earth and cement is compacted and allowed to set. Row by row these bags rise into a dome.

It’s an inexpensive method for building, but some things must still come from the city. My trip today was less stressful than the ones last week, mostly because of my guides. Jean-Guardie taught me how to say “you are my friend” in Kreyole, and having Vanya in our posse lightened my spirits. We laughed a lot about communication barriers as we trapsed around the crumbling city looking for hardware in various stores.

Still (and I think the following images will explain), Port au Prince is exemplary if you ever wonder how bad things are in Haiti. There is one highway leading into the city from the south. It is narrow and in poor shape, at one point devolving into a pitted gravel mud pit for half a mile before retching out into the outer reaches of the town. Everything has been crumbled, and there isn’t much economy to speak of. The roads are few and really bad, and vendors crowd the edges with commerce. These factors lend themselves to really slow traffic which, when combined with burning piles of trash, create a volatile air quality. I remind myself constantly that people live in this mess every day.











Despite the bad of Port au Prince, it’s not everywhere here. The surrounding country is equally poor, but not so crammed together in a serviceless maze. Here is one more image to show how wonderful the people here are. Next post I will have better things to say.

I’ve been in Haiti for 7 days. It feels like much longer than that. During my first three days here I was elected from our group to travel to Port au Prince for supplies. It is a very stressful place, and being there is being stuck there. Not only has the city been leveled by earthquake, it is also covered in trash- every square inch. The air quality is very bad due to sewage, traffic that does not move for hours, and a Haitian tendency to burn trash. It is a city choked with pollution and waste. I would almost prefer not to dig up feelings about those trips, and yet have volunteered to go back for supplies again tomorrow.

The place I am staying would be about half an hour south of Port au Prince if the one highway wasn’t in such poor condition and traffic was not reliably terrible. I have spent several hours in standstill, suffocated by exhaust and dust from the road. All along the highway for miles, pedestrians sell their wares and services- clogging the small road, shouting at drivers when they are stopped. When the road is moving, people drive at terrifying speeds, completely disregarding the safety of others.

I have learned, though, that Haiti is not all bad. Through and beyond madness there is a culture populated by beautiful, kind people in a landscape worth seeing. I still consider myself very fortunate to be staying outside of Port au Prince. If you would like to read about the project I am working on, there is a blog here being maintained by all of us.

Relentless!!

Posted: September 10, 2010 in Hoboating

Summer, 2010 drifted by quietly like a mallard on the downstream paddle.  I  had to reach for that simile; hoping that my experiences this summer could attain the appearance of nonchalance while sticking to the nautical theme that was solute through so many days.  All in a single sentence involving a duck. I’ll lay semantics aside and get on with tales of summer.

A friend and mentor of mine (again, semantics aside) sought out and purchased an old boat in the Sacramento River delta.  Our purpose in the venture was to create a space on the water for performance, initially for the Seasteading Institute‘s informal event “Ephemerisle”; further to be shared with the greater S.F. Bay area.

Months got out of hand as a great amount of work had to be done to the boat just to keep it’s existence legal.  The process was well documented on a blog put together by one of our friends in Oakland, Anja Ulfeldt. In fact, glancing through it I’ve realized this post could be redundant if I don’t move on to other summer subjects.

My friend, John Rinaldi- mentioned above as the purchaser of the Relentless- threw an event in Northern California called Camp Tipsy. Again, I’m approaching redundancy due to a blog.

My involvement in those projects required a great deal of time and effort. When we were not plying the freeways between San Francisco and our vessels, we were accumulating resources or dumping them into the floating retreats for which they were gathered. The payoff received was a drifting, mallard-like summer. (Now back to the analogy!)

The warm months did not give me an uncommon experience, for there were many participants; the time was not presumptive of any grandeur; and I got to float around lazily in beautiful marsh and lake environments, loving life for the simplicity that can be gleaned from complex productions on the water. A mallard is not uncommon, nor is it presumptive; and though they work hard to eek sustenance from their environment, they appear to enjoy great leisure in life.