Thursday, June 30, 2011

Haiti trip - part II of III

Part picture, part rendering looking into the site with the model of the new building shown.

Wednesday June 8th
Another good night of sleep in the tent makes it official – I’m glad I bothered to pack the tent even though we were limited on baggage allowances. The water tank was overflowing when we woke up, so apparently they just let the pump run all night. What a difference a day makes – feast or famine!
Mid-morning, the contractors Kiki and Don returned to pick us up as promised yesterday. Structural Volunteer Brent and Architect Jim joined me as we piled onto motorcycles (I can’t help but call them bodas) to head out to their site. We drove up the road, which climbs a good sized mountain just a half-mile up the road from the site. The house they are building is on the other side of the mountain about 10 minutes from our site. It was fun to see more of Haiti, and doing so did nothing to discourage my opinion that it is virtually indistinguishable from Uganda (other than the roadside signs in French and Creole).
At the site, we were pleasantly surprised at how well they were building the house. As Brent and I walked around we noted the many things they appeared to be doing well, while at the same time seeing a number of small things that would be easy to do better and could potentially have a significant impact on the performance of the building in a seismic event.
At the end of the tour and after we had told them how well we thought the building was being built, they asked us to please teach them so they could learn to build better. They had mentioned this as the reason for bringing us to their site yesterday, and their humble attitudes seemed to back up their request. So it felt to me like the perfect chance to show them the few small things we had seen that could easily make a huge difference in the safety of the building. So Brent and I showed them things like how and where to overlap their rebar, how far into the concrete to place the rebar from the surface of the concrete, and how doweling can help the building stay together in the event of an earthquake. We also explained to them that using a mixture of 1/2 to 1 to 2 to 4 of water, cement, sand and rock can make their concrete much stronger than simply mixing it up by ‘feel’ or ‘eyeballing it’.
We tried to do it in as culturally sensitive a manner as we knew how, mixing in compliments and pointing out things we noticed that had been done well. In the end, they seemed moderately interested in our recommendations, so it’s difficult to know if we stepped over a cultural line somehow. Maybe they really were interested but were embarrassed to act like they didn't already know what we were saying, or maybe they only brought us to the site to show off their work!

Just like in Uganda, motorcycles are the taxi of choice in Haiti. The ride to Kiki and Don's work site was about 20 minutes up and over the mountain - a beautiful ride. (By the way, I'm not driving, I'm the second of three people on the boda!)

Me, Brent and Jim with Kiki and Don and a couple of their laborers at the site of the house they're currently building.

We boda’d back to the site, but on the way we stopped by each of the guys’ houses. They were very excited to show us their homes and meet their families. They were very modest homes – wood and mud shacks and extremely poor by Western standards. It was an honor though that they invited us in to see where they lived. They also tried to gather as many people nearby to introduce us to!
The rest of the day was mainly a typical work day, though just before our 8pm dinner the water tank ran out again. Fortunately, the pump was working so we started refilling it. But we still had to wait for 2 1/2 hours before there was enough water in the tank for us to start taking showers. Just another day in the life of living in a developing country. It makes you think sometimes, why was I so lucky to be born in a country where I don’t have to deal with such basic concerns day in and day out. I am grateful for it, but it’s hard to comprehend fully. These are people just like you and I, yet they have been dealt a very harsh reality to have to live with. Seeing the builder’s houses today drove this point home even further. Here are a couple of guys who are skilled laborers and have pretty good jobs, living in these mud/wood houses that are dark, reek of mildew and have very few of the conveniences we not only have but seem to replace every few years to get the latest and greatest model of. But I’ve noticed that the Christians I meet in these countries have joy overflowing from them in ways that a lot of people back home rarely or never experience. So really, I suppose it’s reasonable to ask who should pity who? It does bring up a lot of unanswerable theological questions though, such as why I was lucky enough to be born into not only a "wealthy" (by the world's standards, not by American standards) home but in a country where I have every freedom imagineable to work my way up the development ladder. Do these people in Haiti get more grace than Americans do since they've had such a tough life to live? It would seem right to me for that to be the case, but who knows.
Thursday June 9th
I supposed I could’ve mentioned the team members by now. It’s a great team and they are really smoking through the design quickly. I’ve never had a team this big so I was concerned about how it would work out, but so far it has been great.

The EMI team: (L to R by faces) Kirk, Brent, Jeremy, Stacy, Clare, Jim, Phyllis, Brett, Gary, Alan, me and Ken

The team at our dining table in the church.
The architectural team is Jim, Phyllis and Jeremy. Jim lives in Eagle, Colorado up in the mountains and is a really great guy who has really added the confident experience in design that the team needed. Phyllis is a former intern who has been amazing in modeling the site in 3D. Jeremy is on staff with EMI as a draftsman. He was on my very first project trip in Uganda back in 2006 and this is our third trip together. He’s also really good at the modeling and will be an instrumental part of us finishing the project this summer.
The civil design team is Alan and Gary with intern Brett helping. Gary is a semi-retired professor from Ohio University who is one of those guys who has a positive attitude about everything. His experience and knowledge are only surpassed by his humility. Gary also helped by doing the survey. Alan is also a really solid guy from Oklahoma who is outside the U.S. for the first time in his life. Like me, he battles missing his family on the trip but he has done remarkably well for a first-timer. Intern Brett is a very willing helper with a servant’s attitude. He’s a really solid young man.
The electrical data gathering is being handled by Kirk Singleton, who is actually a trained aeronautical engineer. Kirk is gathering the data for Jim Cathey, my long-time volunteer electrical guru who has designed my last 7 or 8 projects. Kirk wanted to come in a learning role since it was outside his normal discipline, with hopes of being able to do the design for a project next time after he learns from Jim on this one. Kirk is a really nice and capable guy who reminds me a little of my brother Bret, which of course makes me naturally drawn to him.
The structural design is being handled by Brent, another former EMI intern who originally served in the India office. Brent is a fun guy to have around with a great sense of humor (it's 'great' of course because I think he’s funny!). It is really nice to have him along so I don’t have to do the structural design! He is being helped by interns Stacy and Clare. Stacy has added a lot of comic relief to the team too (she reminds me a little of my niece Danielle who lived with us in Uganda). She has also been doing a great job leading the team during our worship times. Clare is on her second trip as an intern (she’s been in our office since January). She’s from the UK and has given some balance to us crazy Americans.

Interns Stacy, Brett and Clare (L to R)
Last but not least is Ken, as in Ken Berry, my father-in-law. It’s been really fun to have him along on the trip. As the senior member of the team, he has been fully game for whatever the team is doing – even sleeping in the tent camp in the back building and going on a walk/hike up a steep road with some of the team to see some of the region from above. His role on the team has been varying day to day, but he’s had a great attitude and willingness to do about anything. So, that's the team.
We had a busy work day today, but by the end of the day we are in really good shape for finishing most all our work by the presentation on Saturday. It’s really fun to be a part of a group of talented people using their skills, especially when it’s for the noble cause of helping this local ministry. I do feel blessed to be a part of what this EMI team is accomplishing here.
Friday June 10th
This morning we awoke to a sunny day – the first one of the trip so far. The weather has been pretty uniform – cloudy and high 70’s/low 80’s with 90% humidity all day and night, but with afternoon rain that knocks the humidity down a bit and cools things off ever so slightly. So seeing the sun this morning isn’t necessarily a good thing – it makes me wonder how uncomfortable it might be this afternoon.

Overlooking the Acul du Nord area in northern Haiti. Beautiful, lush, and green .

By comparision, Cap Haitien is a pretty dirty place that appears to difficult to live in.

It was amazing how dirty it was, even compared to Kampala (Uganda) which I thought was very dirty. The harbor in Cap Haitien gave new meaning to the word.
In my bible reading and devotion time this morning, I was praying about being a better father (as I often think about on trips when I'm away from the boys). I was thinking about how most of the time it seems that I get stuck just living situation to situation with my boys, instead of being more intentional about imparting wisdom and building depth into their lives. I feel like one of the biggest responsibilities I have as a father is to model living a life of faith for them and encouraging them to become first and foremost, young men whose hearts and lives are patterned after that of Jesus. It sounds kind of flowery when I write it out like that, but it really is not. It’s a practical reality of learning to live each moment with God involved in your life. Spending time with Him reading the bible and praying each day is important, but I think far more important is involving Him in our lives throughout the day. One of the volunteers on the trip, Alan, quoted something his pastor said that really stuck with me. His pastor said, “I rarely spend more than 20 minutes at a time praying. But I also rarely go 20 minutes without praying.” I think that’s perfect! Too many of us Christians feel that how long or well spoken our prayers are determine their worth or even effectiveness. But I think a brief, bumbled prayer communicated from our hearts is what God is really eager to hear.
Today being our last full work day, everyone got to work in the morning after our devotion time. (Actually, 4 or 5 team members have been going on early morning hikes with Nicely, the #2 guy here at CEDAN who grew up in America and speaks perfect English. They’ve been getting up to leave at 6:30am to hike up a couple of the mountains around here.) We are really in great shape work-wise, and probably could present today if necessary. But having this ‘extra’ day will really help us finalize the report in this shortened intern semester – our goal is to complete the report before the end of July.

Me with Nicely, the guy who gets stuff done at the CEDAN site. He's about my age and is a really neat guy, speaks perfect English and has a great sense of humor.

Workin' in the work room - it was pretty dang hot and muggy in there, so it was nice when the power was on so we could have the fans blowing on us.

I’m really impressed at not only how fast the team has pulled everything together this week, but at the quality of work that’s been produced. I’ll attach pictures of the 3D site model Phyllis and Jeremy worked on – it’s amazing! Funny story – many of the Haitian workers for the ministry have seen some of the drawings the architects have produced on the computer. So today, a few of them gave us hand drawn floor plans of the homes they hope to build someday for themselves to see if volunteer Phyllis would draw them up on the computer!

The wet area of grass at the lower left corner of this picture was still wet after 3 days of no rain. The cap for the existing septic tank is near the lower right corner of this picture. Since it's never been pumped, we suspect the wet spot may be from seepage from the septic tank. The kids you see in the picture play in the grass everyday.

The wall at the bottom, made out of mortared round stone, was existing on the site before CEDAN moved there. It had actually failed just beyond where the building above was built. Still, the builders built two and a half stories of the new building on top of this wall! The rebar you see is the beginning of their idea to stregnthen the wall, which isn't a bad idea but should have been done before the building above was built! We are providing them with a design for how best to fix this situation.

Volunteers Kirk and Gary guest lectured at in an English class for adults offered at CEDAN. Gary is a retired professor from the Univ. of Ohio, and Kirk teaches some at a Jr. College in Colorado Springs.

This is how we were transported around the country all week - crammed into the back of a pickup truck. This is me, straddling the back tailgate as we drove to town, sometimes at up to 40mph. I stayed ready to jump at all times!

Monday, June 20, 2011

CEDAN - Haiti Trip June 2011

From the air, Haiti is a lush Island in the Carribean Sea, some of the most beautiful water in the world. The small agricultural crops mixed in with the dense bush in the low lying areas are a hint of the potential of this once tropical paradise...

On the ground, sadly, it's a much different story. This is the view our team was greeted with as we drove through the Cap Haitien harbor on our way out of town to the CEDAN site.

Part I of III

Sunday June 5th
The interns and one of our volunteers who lives in Colorado Springs showed up at our house at 7am to leave for the airport. For the first time, Alisha and the boys drove me to the airport since Alisha’s mom was flying in later that afternoon. It was nice seeing them for a little longer this time. After dropping me off, they parked and then came in just in time to give me another hug and kiss goodbye before I headed into the security line. They watched from above as I got selected for the ‘special screening’, and then as me and the others disappeared down the escalator to head to the gate.
When we landed in Florida, stepping off the plane was my first experience with humidity (something I would become very familiar with over the coming week!). We shuttled to the hotel and waited for the team to arrive, which happened over the next couple of hours. After walking across the street to get dinner, we met and shared our stories to get to know one another before heading to bed early – the shuttle was coming at 3:30am!

Monday June 6th
Waking up at 3:00am (which was actually 1:00am Colorado time) wasn’t fun, but the team was all up and ready to go for the shuttle. We arrived 10 minutes early at the airport to find that we weren’t even the first people there for the flight! Another group looked as if they’d stayed at the airport all night. Check-in didn’t take too long, so we had plenty of time to kill. But as we were waiting, these two Haitian guys carried in two crates of chickens who were making all kinds of noise to voice their displeasure! It was funny, sitting in a US airport and hearing roosters crowing (even before dawn!) – it was a reminder that soon we would be landing in a place that was a world apart from the US.

In the airport in Fort Lauderdale. Each of the two wooden boxes contain 5 chickens, all of which were noisily notifying us what time of day it was! I wouldn't have thought anything of it if I were in Uganda or Haiti, but it was a little surreal experiencing it in Fort Lauderdale, Florida!

The flight to Cap Haitien was surprisingly smooth given the small, double-prop plane (30 seater). When we landed and checked in with immigration, we discovered that our bags hadn’t made the trip – we were told they would follow on a later cargo flight. We finally found the ministry contact, a young guy named Nicely who had grown up in Florida but returned to Haiti after college. He spoke perfect english, so that was nice since most everyone to that point spoke very little. We all piled into a large pickup truck bed and held on for the hour-long ride to the site.
Driving through Cap Haitien I couldn’t believe how much it reminded me of Uganda. Everything from the sites, sounds, smells – even the boda bodas everywhere. In fact, as the day went on, the only difference I noticed was the language.

Riding through the streets of Cap Haitien with ministry contact Scott and Nicely, a Haitian-born US citizen who was a tremendous logistical help for our team throughout the week.

I could have easily been in sub-saharn Africa. The similarities with Haiti were striking.

Arriving at the site, we were greeted with a lot of busy-ness. Kids running and playing everywhere, adults sitting around in the shade watching – privacy was definitely not going to be a part of the next week of our lives! The site is about an acre or so, with three large existing buildings and several small ones scattered around the perimeter. The guest house is at the front of the compound, with the front wall being the perimeter wall of the site. The road passes just outside the wall so it can be very loud with the trucks driving by. Because of that, Scott recommended that we bring tents and sleep in the new, open-air church building in the back. Some of us will do that while others are choosing the guesthouse.

From the Guesthouse at the front of the site looking to the back. It is a rare picture to not have 100 kids plus adults filling the site. The white building is the one being torn down and redesigned by the EMI team. The concrete building in back is where we pitched our tents.

We dubbed this 'The Boy Scout Camp' - me, Brett, Alan and Alisha's dad Ken each slept in tents. The ministry brought out some carpet to put down to protect out tents - fortunately the rainstorm on the first night showed us exactly where and where not to set up our tents.

Every morning, a group of arriving school kids would come and just watch us in our tents around 7:00am. Since I only had screening for walls, it made getting dressed tricky. I finally just started waking up earlier to avoid the crowds!

Some notable events of the day:
* Their new wireless internet connection wasn’t working, so who better than a bunch of engineers to fix it! After a few hours of tinkering, a couple of our volunteers had it all setup and working great.
* It poured rain right before dinner, so we all got drenched running from the guesthouse back to the church to eat dinner. Soon water had covered most of the site and was even seeping into the church building. Fortunately for us, we had yet to set up our tents so by the time the rain was over we could see exactly where *not* to set them up! I think that little blessing was from God, as He knows how much I hate camping in the rain. If my tent had been drenched on day 1, that would have made for a long week!

The site, under seige from a big rainstorm. By the time it finished raining, the entire area you see was underwater. I heard the next day that some people had died down in Port au Prince from mudslides caused by the storm.

* I never knew what humidity was until now. It’s between 90-100% humidity at all times here right now. Even though the temperature is only in the 80’s, it is very uncomfortable!
* I used a big chunk of my baggage weight allowance on a 10-inch fan with 8 D-sized batteries. I was thinking it was excessive, but when I layed down in my tent to sleep with the heavy, wet air, I was so happy with that decision!
* We did our usual walk-through and programming meeting, and the architects were already plotting their schemes at night. Tomorrow will be the first main day of work.
* The team is great – my biggest yet at 12 people. We have a lot of professional experience here so that is a big blessing. They all have really good attitudes too, which is crucial since Haiti is not an easy place to come live for a week.
* Funny story: One of my jobs with EMI now is to teach the cultural training session during our 10-day orientation for new staff and interns. In this training, we talk about many of the different cultural continua that exist around the world, including how in some cultures ministry leaders or business CEO’s do not delegate tasks to subordinates, but rather do everything themselves. Haiti is very much one of these cultures, and we have seen this first hand. We had been trying to get ahold of Henri, the director of CEDAN, for over an hour today to start our programming meeting, but we could not get him over to the room. Every time we got him, he would get a phone call or someone would stop to ask him something. Well, when we finally got him to the table and started the meeting, but sure enough about 10 minutes in he got a phone call. He answered it and was quiet for a second, and then proceeded to spell, “B-u-s-i-n-e-s-s”, and then hung up! We were in hysterics - someone in the ministry had actually called just to ask him how to spell a word! I realized then and there that his time would be at a great premium this week.

The work room.

Tuesday June 7th
Sleeping in a tent in the back building turned out to be a good idea. Bringing a 10” battery powered fan turned out to be a great idea as I slept straight through the night. Without the fan, I probably would have really struggled to go to sleep in the hot, muggy and still air. After reading a bit and writing up the blog from the day before, we gathered as a team and sang some worship songs before doing a devotional on Psalm 139. The team continues to impress me with their openness and good attitudes. It’s always nice when people are willing to be vulnerable early on in the trip – it makes for quick relationship building and unity on the team.

Work-wise, today was a very productive day, with all 12 team members plugged into their roles and getting to work. It was still very muggy but not quite as hot as the day before – mostly because it started raining early on and that keeps things cool.

Alisha's dad (left) with volunteer Gary surveying the site, the 'old-school' way!

Volunteer Alan and I explain the percolation test procedures with CEDAN ministry director Henri. Henri spoke pretty good English, but Creole is the native language to Haiti so most people we met outside the CEDAN compound didn't speak English.

Working on a site with 160 school kids running around much of the day was challenging, as volunteer Alan and intern Brett learn first hand in this picture.

Checking in with Henri after some initial design concepts were created. Henri was so thankful to have us there that he didn't want to give us any negative feedback on the preliminary, even though we essentially begged him to tell us what he might like to do differently. In the end, he remained in that posture despite our best attempts to reassure him that we wanted him to critique our plans to ensure our design met their specific needs.

So here are some more highlights (and lowlights).
* The two contractors who built two of the existing structures showed up on the site today – Wildon (‘Don’) and Daniel (‘Kiki’). We walked around with them for a couple of hours, talking and asking them questions. They were very humble and wanting to learn, but I explained to them that we wanted to learn from them too so our designs would be useful to them when it came time to build. They asked us to come visit another work site tomorrow to see a house they were building right now.
* The power was out all but an hour today, so we were consistently having to turn on the generator to charge laptops.
* The water ran out this evening too, and then the pump broke, so we were without water for a few hours. We weren’t sure if it would be on tonight, so we had nowhere to go to the bathroom for awhile and couldn’t shower. After a muggy day, not being able to shower would make for tough sleeping, but not having a toilet to use for an extended time could have been really bad. Fortunately, they were able to get it fixed around 9:30pm!
* I’m really enjoying getting to know and observe some of the Haitian people, especially the guys working within the ministry. There are so many similarities with the Ugandan culture I very easily forget where I am.

The new building we're designing includes a medical clinic so procedures like this one don't have to take place in unsterilized environments.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Off to Haiti!

Me and 11 other team members have landed safely in Fort Lauderdale for the night. We awake at 3am to go to the airport to fly out to Haiti at 6:30am. We'll be in Haiti until next Monday June 13th. Your prayers for a safe and successful trip are appreciated! Updates of the trip to follow after we return...