Notes from a Haitian Neophyte

An oil covered reveler celebrating Carnaval in Jacmel, Haiti

This place is crazy. And it was just Carnaval. So multiply by that x 100. It’s loud, dusty, dirty, unorganized, under resourced, over priced, confusing, dangerous, beautiful, luring and despite it’s chequered history, completely full of life. The kind of zest that is difficult to find in most developed nations yet beyond the smiles and laughter, the need for clean, disease free water is so imperative that without it it will be difficult to get this nation back on it’s feet.

Fresh off a couple of weeks on the ground here in Port au Prince makes one’s head swim. In some ways I realize that I’m not doing it too hard as I’m not living cheek by jowl with other unfortunate IDPs in a tent camp but instead I have a roof over my head, clean sheets on my bed and access to good food when I need. Oh, and, not to mention the internet.  But I have been out in the field, learning and helping as much as I can with the installations of various LGF Haiti clean water projects all of which are located in struggling neighborhoods where people often walk great distances just to get dirty water out of a dirty truck. It’s amazing that these projects get completed because everything is so much more difficult than you would ever imagine. I have traveled quite a bit globally and had some inkling of what I was getting into here but the traffic here was the first aspect that I had completely underestimated. What should normally take 20 minutes could easily be a couple hours often stuck in bumper to bumper amongst a loose interpretation of lanes. Cars and trucks are so twisted they appear to be driving sideways on things that resemble tires. Potholes here are more like sinkholes. It’s like an ad for “4 Wheeler Magazine” and when you’re stuck in it, the street kids approach your car often rubbing their bellies with one hand while the other is open and empty. “I’m hungry.” It kills you. But they’re working it and getting things done in their own little orb. We have some Haitian friends who talk about  what Port au Prince was like in the 70’s with a population of around 300,000. Now some estimate it to be over 3 million and the proper planning for such an expansion never happened. But the earthquake did and there’s still more than enough evidence of it’s destruction as you make your way around the quagmire.

Left? Right?

When I look around, I can’t imagine where to begin. Should I pick up that piece of rubbish? Where to put it? But reliable sources say that the city is so much cleaner than even 6 months ago with various recycling and waste removal programs in tact and the tent cities are shrinking. It’s a good reminder of the fact that the last person was moved out of their tent 10 years after the Kobe, Japan earthquake. And that’s an industrialized nation. People talk about ‘reconstruction’ here in Haiti. When it comes to water and sanitation infrastructure, it should really be referred to as ‘construction’. There was little to no infrastructure prior to the earthquake so we’re all starting from scratch here. So to focus on the smaller picture sometimes is best and building out these clean water kiosks as businesses seems to make good sense. A few of the recent kiosks are now being powered by solar arrays which is an exciting piece of the puzzle. Off grid is pretty good when the existing grid is unreliable at best.

The in-country LGF Haiti team is wonderful and very hard working. It has been a pleasure to finally place the faces with the names and they are doing a fantastic job with all of the training that goes along with setting up these kiosks. Eager locals lap up all the information behind the technology and how to sell the water to profit their community, clinic or school as well as build their own business. We have been working with the World Bank and Sean Penn’s organization J/P HRO on some recent projects with schools and clinics. They have been fantastic partners as well which in this challenging environment is the only way to achieve anything.

Then there’s Chicken Alley. Chicken stand after chicken stand lining the street with vendors fanning the flames with paper plates, yelling and vying for business. Jim loves it there and in the darkness of the night, it looks like a gnarly film set but I will tell you this…..the chicken was very, very tasty indeed. And the next day?…… all was well.

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