Monday, April 19, 2010


Today was so crazy I’ve just got to get it off my chest, so here goes. It actually started last night, I had worked until midnight to put together a proposal for a new project. A priest near Hinche contacted us and said he has funding to drill some wells. But he wants them to have our community management model to go along with the new wells. I have been writing proposals for larger donors these past few weeks and trying to teach our local staff how to do it as well. Well this was a good opportunity to do it with a small project. I got the proposal about 80 percent done last night.

This morning I walked into the kitchen and the cook reminded me that I promised to show her how I make French toast. So I spent the next 45 minutes making French toast, which was a hit. I made 15 slices, the 5 guests at the house ate 7 of them. But when I asked for 2 more for my friend Henry they said they were all gone. Apparently when you pay someone to cook for you in Haiti you also feed them, their family and the neighbors.

Then I walked to the office and started putting the finishing touches on the proposal. A guy came to me and asked for the results of some water testing that I had done for him. I went to the lab and was explaining to him the results when another guy showed up, lets call him Ronald. I’ve been advertising for a student engineer to work with me the last 2 months without any luck. So here was Ronald willing and able to do the job. I told him to come back at 1 PM for a test and interview. Then back to the proposal.

Results of bacteria testing of a water sample. Yellow means negative, black means positive.

About 10 minutes later another guy, Abdias came to me and said some white guy is working on our water project in Pignon. I called the guy, his name is Jim and asked what is up. He said he doesn’t want to follow the plan we had worked out with the community and has just decided to do it his way. Our staff was in a panic, Jim was undermining all the hard work they had done for the past year. So they drafted a letter and hand delivered it to the mayor. Then back to the proposal.

A few minutes later Arronce beckons. The office is so full of people he’s taken a desk and set himself up in the garage area. Arronce is the guy I went to Leogane with a week ago to teach how to disinfect wells. He had the lab results with him for tests taken after the wells were disinfected. We used a lab that a German NGO had been operating as part of disaster relief. And it was great news! All 5 wells we disinfected had bacteria too numerous to count before our work and were completely clean a week after we disinfected them. I was so happy that it actually worked, I was on cloud nine for about 10 minutes.

The guy I was writing the proposal for, Roger then plants himself and his laptop down right next to me. Roger is the head of our community development team. He’s a great guy and really smart. But he takes awhile to understand new concepts. I spent the next 2 hours explaining for the 5th time how to estimate the cost of his employees time for a proposal. I think he’s finally getting it.

Then about noon this other guy, Samuel who just got married on Saturday comes to me and says he would like to take my motorcycle into town to get some medicine. PS he used to come to work in jeans and a t-shirt but today he’s wearing all black polyester and a gold chain necklace, he looks like a pimp. Apparently he’s still on his honeymoon. Back to the events of the day, I don’t just lend my motorbike out to anyone so I said I would give him a ride. It turns out his new wife wants him to come home for lunch every day instead of eating at the restaurant right in front of our office. (The restaurant is cheaper than the taxi would cost to go home for lunch). But I sympathized for this newlywed and agreed to take him home anyway. I dropped Samuel off and went over to talk to Jim working on the water system.

Jim was friendly enough. I’ve been trying to win him over with kindness. I’m always an optimist and I hope we can work this out and just work together. We all want water in town, we just have to communicate or we’ll be defeating each others work. After I saw Jim, this guy Ati saw me on the street and asked if he could borrow my shovel. I said I’d bring it into town after work. Then I went and got Samuel and we went back to the office. Ten minutes on the proposal and it was 1 PM, Ronald was here for his interview. I took him over to the guest house and found him a quiet spot to take his test. I talked to him about the job and gave him a bit of direction what I was looking for on the test. I grabbed a quick bite to eat, then back to the proposal.

Oh yeah, the proposal needs to be done by the end of the day so Roger can meet with the client tomorrow. (Roger just told me about the project and requested the proposal last Friday afternoon.) So I sat down with our financial secretary and hashed out a new form that Roger can use to give clients to estimate the cost of his community development staff. The form required a phone call to the priest in Hinche, which I had to get Henry to do because I didn’t have the patience at the time to bother with my Kreyol over the phone with someone I’d never met.
Every half hour or so I headed over to check on Ronald. He seemed to be doing great. I gave him 90 minutes and he finished the test. I’ve given the test to 4 other people and nobody has finished it yet, so things are looking up. I organized three of our top Haitian staff to conduct the interview for me. We all sat down and 20 minutes later poor Ronald was about shaking in his boots. Our guys are pretty into the water business and were talking over his head quite a bit. I had to keep saying, don’t worry man, we’ll teach you what you need to know. But this guy was sharp.

Ronald got the best score on the test of anybody who has taken it and he has the least education. He’s fresh out of high school and the other guys all had engineering degrees from universities in Port au Prince. Ronald also speaks the best English of any Haitian I’ve met.

Back to the mad scramble to finish the proposal. We got enough put together for Roger to talk intelligently about. But we’ll have to do more work before we submit a final copy. Finally it was 5 pm and most everybody headed off for home. I cleaned up after some tests in the water lab and called it a day. But not before strapping my shovel to my motorbike and running it into town for Ati to use. He’s digging a hole for a latrine. I told him he can use it for a week and then I’ll be back for it. If you don’t give a Haitian a timeline like this you might not ever see your shovel again.

I’ve been working like this most of the past 2 months. The demands on my time have been increasing as the staff get to know me better. Some days the victories outweigh the defeats and others it’s the other way around.

Henry said he’s going to Cap Haitien tomorrow to pick up the mail. I’ve been promised the gaskets I need to fix the pumps on the Pignon Water system are on that shipment. I ordered them on March 2 and I’m still waiting. Every time I go to work on the water system it seems everybody thinks I’m the guy to get the water going. I sure hope those gaskets finally arrive and that they’re the answer. I’ll be waiting on the tarmac tomorrow for that plane.

I’ve got a million things I could work on tomorrow instead of going on a trip with Henry. But I need a break and there’s a rumor they have ice cream in Cap. I’ll let you know…


  1. What a day... but productive... the million things will be there the next day too - enjoy the trip for Ice Cream!

    Here in US - MN - 10pm... time for bed... and son realizes his baseball uniform needs to be washed... purples and whites! Together? for some that might be successful. I'll wait up. In the mean time... the hunt for the cell phone that is turned to silent - well - beep mode. A necessary task, as it is the reliable wake-up device with 5 different alarm settings.

    Got the honor by being invited to share in a welcome home for a soldiers family. New aquaintences - parents are gas station owners. With the F150 Truck - a 165 mi round-trip commute - I usually frequent the station multiple times a week. "Mom" has shared her sons letters with the customers. From training nationals to protect their own country... to the camels giving birth. Son and grandson are back from Iraq, Daughter-in-law retiring from 23 years service w/ National Guard. A lot of sacrifices - being made daily - in hope for better lives in all parts of the world.

    On the other hand... a simple smile... can be used to better lives of those immediately around you. Hope that you get some with your trip with Henry... and the ice cream. Go for it!

    Time for another load of laundry. and the endind of a day... craziness... but not soooooo crazy...

    Prayers continue... for coordination of community... and workers... and supplies... those to step up and take over their own countries demands. Sue Loose

  2. Dave:

    Back hear in the US of A we take so many things for granted. You inspire us all! The ice cream sounded so good I went to Coborn's and bought everyone in the office ice cream. Paul told me to put yours on your desk.:)

    My daughter, although very young at the time, remembers living in a two room dirt floor house with her foster family in Colombia. The kids took baths in the street in a 5 gallon pail. There was no hot water. I don't even know if they had electricity. Today, about 12 years later my son stays in the shower until all the hot water is gone! He doesn't remember where he came from. Too young and taking things for granted! I see the picture of the little Haitian boy and I think of the first time I saw my son. Have a good day.

    Karl A