Monday, April 12, 2010


On Thursday noon Naton and I set off on our motorbikes for a journey I’ll not soon forget. It’s a 4 hour tumble down the busted dirty roads from Pignon to Port au Prince. Naton was on one motorbike and I on another. We stopped for repairs in Hench and photos at the lake in Peligree.

We spent Thursday night at the Nazarene compound in Port au Prince before heading out to Leogane Friday morning. Our mission: meet up with Arronce and disinfect 5 wells that have been confirmed contaminated with bacteria. It’s another 2 hours of bumpy driving through mud puddles from PAP to Leogane. We finally arrived, met up with Arronce and were off to our first well.

In addition to disinfecting wells, my mission was to teach the guys to look out for contamination sources and educate the community to eliminate them. Also, to increase everyone’s understanding I had Naton collect a water sample before disinfection and run a bacteria test on it. Here’s Naton in one of his makeshift field laboratories.
And here's Naton explaining bacteria to the ladies... he's got definite engineer potential.
The first well had such a strong undercurrent that any chlorine we put in it was whisked away before we could pump it to the surface. We had to leave telling the community that they will need to treat their water for drinking in their homes with chlorine tablets, available locally here.

The second well was damaged by the earthquake. The well casing had cracked and the well was pumping sand. There was also a latrine just upstream of the well that was the likely source of contamination.

Two more wells on this day and two on Saturday were full of teachable opportunities for me and the guys. But it was the night between that was a learning experience for me. Leogane was the epicenter of the earthquake. I’d estimate that nearly 90 percent of buildings either collapsed or had serious structural damage.

The people are all living in makeshift shacks like these:
And this was my shack for the night, the one in the middle:

We dined on goat head stew, took a bucket shower in the crumbling ruins of a nearby house and laid our heads on the dirtiest, stinkiest mattresses I’ve ever slept on. I wasn’t planning on spending the night so I didn’t bring my own sheet. I had to wrap up with the fitted sheet on the bed, more for fear of mosquitoes than anything else. Leogane has some of the nastiest mosquito borne diseases on earth. Flariasis and all the worst forms of malaria claim many lives in this area each year.

Everyone has been wondering what the people will do when the rainy season starts. Their shacks are not at all built to keep out the elements. Well, on Friday night I learned just how porous one of these shacks can be. The rain started as a light sprinkle on the tin roof. Then soon it was a downpour both outside and inside our shack. Not only did the rain pour through the cracks in the walls but it also rained down through nail holes in the recycled tin roof.

All told I probably managed 3 or 4 hours of sleep. The rain finally quit after midnight, but not before playing a Chinese torture on my body. The roof dripped from so many places I gave up trying to avoid them. I just fell asleep with the drips going pitter-patter on my red hat. I woke up at 3 AM and wanted it to be over, then again at 4 but no luck. Then finally little rays of sunshine shone through all those little holes in the roof and cracks in the walls. I went for a walk.

Saturday afternoon I zipped back to PAP for a quick cheeseburger and fries before heading up the mountain to visit my host family from my time in the Peace Corps. Near the top of the mountain I stopped at the Baptist Haiti Mission to chat with the missionaries there and indulge in one of their glorious banana splits at the café.

Then I was off for another 45 minutes of rambling down another really busted rocky road to Greffin. It was funny how different the road seemed from the perspective of a motorbike. During my time in the Peace Corps I’d walked this road so many times I had all the potholes memorized. I also knew many of the people who lived along the way. I stopped to chat with a few of them and was surprised that they all remembered me!

As I neared Greffin I parked my motorbike to walk the last half-mile or so along footpaths to my host family’s house. I picked up a small army of children, the real escort of kings. Surprisingly I remembered which way to go at every fork in the trail. Then, as I neared the house, all the kids just sort of melted away into the forest. It was just me walking. I passed the neighbor’s house where a group of people was sitting around a circle. I glanced over at them and thought I recognized a familiar face getting her hair done. Yes, it was my host mom! I looked at her and called her name. She was shocked that I knew her name. Then it occurred to her who I was. She cried out oooohhh my!

We did the traditional two kisses on the cheeks and then I saw her. To my left, and a little taller now… Youl! I called out. All the old ladies gasped that I remembered this little girl’s name. Tears came to my eyes when I saw her precious smile again. Youl was about 3 years old when I lived here. And every time she saw me she would come running and hug my legs or jump into my arms.

I never had a picture of Youl all these years but never forgot her smile. I always wondered if she was still alive. Children don’t always make it here in Haiti. And now there she was right in front of me. She’s a shy 9 year old girl now and didn’t come running as she used to but I saw the kindness in her eyes as greeting enough for me.

We sat on the porch and talked of the events of the past years. Many of the nearby houses collapsed in the earthquake and some people were killed. There was also a landslide at the water source down the mountain that killed 20 people and buried the water source. Now the people have to walk another kilometer down the mountain to another spring. They showed me the cracks in their own house. They are living in a makeshift shack in the front yard.

Then just before dark we snapped a few photos and I was off, my mind a tangle of thoughts from the encounter. What would happen to Youl, how would my family rebuild, when would I ever return? Only the Lord knows. Although I’ll do my best to help, they are ultimately in his hands. What a wonderful, wonderful day this has been.

1 comment:

  1. When we were building the house in Juarez, Mexico... it was replacing a house made of some cinderblocks - but primarily box spring mattress's with cardboard attached or woven into it. I did make us think about the people when "the rains come" as it thunderstormed that night... However, we were within the protection of a school building. Not quite as hands on as your experience.

    Though camping... been stuck in a tent w/o the rain fly over (got in too late to set it "all up", and didn't expect it). Spent the next day in the laundry mat drying everything out... Guess we were fortunate to have a laundry mat! Also, with rain then predicted for another 24 hours... found a motel. MAN DO WE HAVE IT GOOD! The sun came out as we were departing for home. There was the beautiful landscape of Utah... rain enhances the colors of rocks!

    You have some beautiful landscapes there also! Continue to "raise your gaze" and share a smile... but take in the beauty of the lake, the perhaps one flower struggling to come out of the rubble. Pray for the "ruined". SueL