Saturday, November 5, 2011

One great mad dash

Late to the airport I missed my flight!  Back to the office to finish a report and back to the airport on 4 hours of sleep.  Now a direct flight to Miami, left the airport during my layover to pick up a power chord I'd mailed to a Miami hotel and back just in time to catch my flight to Haiti.  Out the airport in Port au Prince where Anthony was waiting for me.  To save time we each hopped a motorcycle taxi to the bus station.  I nearly lost it bouncing through an especially large pothole but made it in one piece with all my bags.  Then smashed in a taptap with 12 other Haitians we zipped up to Hinche on the newly paved road!  One more moto taxi and we were just in time for a killer dinner of Louisiana fried okra, rice and pork chops at a missionary compound.

This morning to the chagrin of all at the compound I just walked out the gate with no plan to get to Pignon.  I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat before I was again back on a moto taxi.  I arrived in Pignon just in time to meet the missionary flight which I could have been on had I recieved an email in time, oh well.  Kiki, my pseudo-adopted 8-year old son was all smiles when we met.  We walked hand in hand out to the airplane to drop the power chord with the pilot who would see it to it's rightful owner.

Within the hour I was in a pickup with Sarah and Raynold out to Saint Raphael to plan work for the upcoming week.  We hiked up the mountain to the site of our planned retaining wall, the break pressure tank and springs.  The wall will hold a steep hillside in place and prevent erosion above our pipe.  We'll be tapping the existing tanks to install new and larger pipes.  Then a quick downpour to drench us while we planned piping around the two spring sources.  Finally we stopped by the reservoir near town to plan the new pipe connections to that tank.  Raynold was soaking up engineering sketching skills like a pro and soon we were back in the pickup to Pignon.  One last stop in Pignon to review Gidel's plans to install a temporary water tap while the system is under construction.  All in the span of 2 days, it has been one great mad dash.

I'm back in Haiti for a week to check up on the Pignon and Saint Raphael water projects.  It was amazing to see the progress they have made in just the past 4 months since my last visit.  Sarah is doing a wonderful job of mentoring Raynold and Gidel.  The two of them, being Haitian, are drastically more efficient than either Sarah or I at working out the details of construction.  That was my dream and so far they are living it out.

The plan for my week is jam packed.  Tomorrow starts with a trip to Ronkit with Cory to conceptialize the layout and site conditions of a planned school.  Then I'll be off to Saint Raphael for 3 days to work with Raynold on the construction of that water system.  I'm not looking forward to the scant rations, bucket showers and steemy nights but there is nothing like watching the harmony of Raynold and his crew digging and setting life-giving water pipe.

I'll be out in the sticks for a few days but hang tight and I'll be back with an update as soon as I can.

Chow for now... Dave

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The River Crossing

This week in Haiti had all the elements of a great story.  We had hope washed away by a great rain.  Then a renewed energy diverted to an angry mob, slashed tires and one in jail.  All were meek as lambs as their ring leader sat in the clink.  They worked like a well-oiled machine and beamed with pride as the last piece of concrete was cast 4 feet under the riverbed with no more than picks, shovels and a few rice bags doubling as sand bags.

Sunday night I packed a few belongings into a small backpack and hopped on the motorcycle with Raynold.  We headed to Saint Raphael where the water system we are building is nearly 40 percent complete.  Our task for the week was to bury a water pipe, cast in concrete, under a small stream.  We stayed the night at a simple missionary compound on the outskirts of town.  It was back to Peace Corps-like living conditions, a sweaty mattress, bucket showers and crackers for dinner.  I wondered how many more years my old bones will take dumping cold cups of water on my head while monster-size cockroaches crawl over my feet.

5 AM is the wake-up call.  On the road by 5:30, these guys are serious.  We had scouted the plan the night before and knew where to start.  Dig a new canal for the river to flow along one side.  Build a dam at the head of the crossing and another to hold the water out of our trench.  There were diggers everywhere, it was chaos.  Don't tell me Haitians are lazy when I see 30 of them  banging at rocks with picks and shovels at 6 AM.  But we only have room for 10 diggers at the crossing.  Raynold did his best to widdle the list to 11 men.  But there were arguements all morning from those who weren't chosen.

By mid-afternoon we had diverted the river, dug the trench and were ready to lay the pipe.  But our work was interrupted by a deluge of rain.  We had maybe 2 inches of rain in an hour.  All our meager efforts to dam and divert the water were nearly washed away.  We retreated to our homes for the night, cold, wet and discouraged.

The next morning the same scene, 30 guys fighting for now 8 positions.  Raynold again did his best to mitigate the situation.  But the arguing went on all morning, an hour of work, an hour of arguing until it finally came to a head.  A mob formed and the ring leader slashed the tires of our 4-wheeler.  I had a feeling the situation was going downhill so positioned myself well out of the rucus.  I was sitting on a hill overlooking the now vacant project site when Raynold approached rather distraught.  He said, "They cut the tires!"  What do you mean, they cut the tires?  "They cut the tires of the 4-wheeler because they are mad, but at least they didn't burn it to the ground."  I guess it could always be worse in Haiti. 

I said, first call Henry and tell them what they did to the 4-wheeler.  Then get a local mayor and a work supervisor out here to mitigate the argument.  And finally, put together a written contract that nobody can argue.  This is all our standard operating procedure but for some reason Raynold wasn't following it here.  He followed orders and soon the men were back working, the police arrived, arrested the criminal and put him in jail with orders to repay  the cost of 2 new tires.  By the end of the day we had laid pipe across half the river and cast it in concrete. 

The third day we diverted the river back over the pipe we had already laid, built our dams and dropped the new pipe into place.  It was soon cast in concrete and left to cure overnight.  The work was exhausting, always trying to stop leaky dams and digging hundred pound boulders out of our path.  By the end my clothes were torn, dirty and rancid.  My feet were wrinkled and sandals torn.  I can hardly lift my arms from all the heavy lifting.  But the challenge of laying a pipe 4 feet under a flowing river in Haiti and cast in concrete has been overcome.  We learned a lot about laying pipe through a river crossing but we also learned how important a clearly negotiated agreement is to preventing utter chaos among a Haitian work crew.    

One might think that was enough work for one week.  But Raynold scheduled 800 feet of pipe to be laid in the town distribution grid the next day.  And he did it, all 4 feet deep and pressure tested to 45 psi.  His reasoning? "I don't want to waste a good working day."  I don't know how he handles the constant barrage of complaints and requests for his time.  At 22 years old he is quite a young man, one I am very proud of and I hope learns from our lessons of the past week.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Back in Haiti for a week

To all who follow this blog, you may be wondering what has become of the red hat water guy and this Haiti experience!  Well, plenty has happened during the past year and I hope I can paint a quick picture for you here.  During past blog posts you heard about the Pignon water system and a new student, Raynold.  The Pignon water system received funding from the Haitian government and is being built by local labor and managed largely by Raynold and Haiti Outreach.  The success of this project led to another large water project in Saint Raphael, which is also being built under similar conditions.  Raynold now has an assistant and lays about 700 feet of water pipe a day.  The trenches are dug by hand to a depth of 3-4 feet, the pipe layed in a bed of sand and pressure tested to 50 psi to check for leaks.  The pressure tests led to an overhaul of the traditional methods Haitians use for glueing PVC pipe together.  Here are a few photos of Raynold and his crew in action!

I am now back in Haiti for the fourth time in the past year.  I've been trying to keep a regular schedule of visits to check up on the progress of the Pignon and Saint Raphael water projects.  Each time I am blown away at the progress that has been made and the maturity of Raynold in these few short months that he has been working on water systems.  But I continue to push him to either develop more skills or find people willing to do the work so that my services are no longer necessary.  This, I am learning is neither a short nor easy road.  But I am committed to the task and hopeful that we will be able to recruit and teach more students like Raynold. 

During the next week we will be laying a pipe under a small stream in Saint Raphael.  We have a plan and I hope all the tools necessary to make it happen.  I'll keep you posted...