CEDAN - Haiti Trip June 2011
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.
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.