Thursday, March 4, 2010

An African slide show and one big pipe dream

Most of the past week I've been plugging away on my computer writing a proposal to fund some work we have already started around the earthquake epicenter. I finally got the latest version off to our office in Minnesota last night around midnight. So this afternoon I had a Skype call with Dale in Minnesota to discuss some questions he had. The office is a little noisy to make the call so I ran the chord to my computer out the window and set myself up on a chair on the front veranda of the office. It wasn't long before I had a few curious kids watching me tinker on my computer while I waited for Dale to call.

As the Haitian people are largely descendants of Africa I thought it would be fun to show the kids photos from my trip to Africa this last Christmas break. I had pictures of giraffes, elephants, hyenas, lions, hippos, zebras, water buffalo, wildebeests, warthogs, leopards and about every other big game animal on the African continent from a week long safari. The kids were completely enthralled with the photos. One little boy would try to act out the noises and motions he thought each animal would make, he was hilarious.

Haiti has very few wild animals. Mostly all the people know are farm animals. Cattle, goats, donkeys, pigs and chickens are about all they can relate to. Just about every picture I put up they would call it a cow, a horse or a dog. Then when I finally started my Skype call they were fascinated by the conversation. They could see a photo on my screen of Dale and it was like they were part of the conversation. They could also pick me out of every photo I showed up in. Then the cutest little girl, about 3 years old saw the photo of me on the Skype screen and started giving it a kiss. I know it wasn't good for my computer screen but I couldn't stop her.

A pipe dream. Last week I was in a rush to finish a design of a large water system so my boss, Neil could go to the Dominican Republic to buy the pipe. He left on Thursday and thought he'd be back by Saturday. He's done this before many times but this time it was a much larger order then usual. He spent all day Friday going from store to store trying to find one that had enough materials to fill the order. Saturday was to be the day to buy everything but it turns out it was Independence Day and all stores were closed. Monday when he went to pay for the pipes all of his credit cards were denied. Neil had his wallet stolen the day before the earthquake and his new cards had not yet been approved for international purchases.

By Tuesday, one of his cards had been approved but it first would only allow a $2,000 purchase, then a $1,000 purchase. He kept being denied and charging smaller amounts until finally all $15,000 was cleared. Then the race was on to get the materials to Haiti. The store in the DR would only haul the materials to the Haitian border. So Neil arranged for a truck to drive to the border from Haiti and get the materials.

Wednesday morning they were off to the border. But the transfer of materials from one truck to the other, customs and rain delayed the process until after the border closed at 4PM. "None of this really bothered me," said Neil, "except all the bribes that my Haitian friend had to pay to get the stuff across the border." The Haitian customs officials had nobody else to attend to except Neil and his stuff. It still took them all day to determine a customs fee, $7,500.

Chew on this for a moment. He wasn't importing televisions or refrigerators. He was importing water pipe, wood and well parts that will save lives. And not just any lives, fellow countrymen of these very Haitian customs officials. On top of that, the Haitian truck driver tried to double his price for hauling after they got the materials half loaded. Neil had a few choice words for him and he came down a little but still took advantage of the situation. And the water pipe is for a water system that will serve the truck driver's house, virtually at no cost to him!

You hang around Haiti long enough and you learn not to let this stuff get to you. You just swallow it, try to limit the damages and live to fight another day.


  1. Dave, Dave, Dave. You live an interesting life! Somehow I do not find the bribery thing that surprising. These people are just trying to make a living anyway they can. When my wife and I were in Colombia adopting the children we bribed the judge’s secretary to get our paperwork on the top of the pile. We bribed lawyers. We were handing people money all the time. It did irritate me for a while but I got used to it. Money was the grease that got things done. The man with the truck knew he had you by the short hairs. He's going to get his water whether he extorts money from you or not!

    Have a nice day Dave, Karl

  2. There are some that will take advantage of the situations... but there are others that give everything to help another. Seen that here with the tornado and flooding situations. I'm sure there too amongst the Hatians... as well as those taking time to "come in and help"! Those are the situations that keep you going. Can't always change someone elses attitude and position... but you can keep yourself in check! Keep working hard... with your pleasant attitude... gradious smile... and that will last generations!!!! Sue Loose