Shorter update today.

I'm feeling a bit sick. Had diarrhea last night, felt fatigued this morning. Shortly after waking up, I went to the bathroom and simultaneously needed to have diarrhea and to vomit. While I was deciding which to do, I fainted, knocking over a set of shelves and getting a little gash below my eye. I woke up and dragged myself into the nearest bed where Michael found my some time later, sleeping. Needless to say, I spent the morning resting… and vomiting repeatedly. Between bouts, I drank water and ate casino cookies (so addictive). While I was preoccupied, the group went out to the slums of Shada without me at around 8:30. At 10:30, I was able to walk up stairs and read a book "Immaculate Invasion" about recent Haitian history. I've had a bit of a headache all day, but am otherwise feeling much better.
We were talking about cameras yesterday, while waiting out the heat of the day, and, to demonstrate the combined power of my optical zoom and CCD array, I unthinkingly took a picture of a money changer on the street below. The detail was amazing, we could clearly see the bills along with the numbers on his calculator… and the withering glare on his face. Everyone suspects that this must be the reason I got sick. (Note: By the end of the trip, the only person who will have escaped being sick is Andrew Solz… the gods must be saving him for something spectacular.)
We met this afternoon with about twenty technicians and engineers, primarily from the AIDG, to discuss sanitation and plastics. We have a good idea of what's needed here now: paving stones, roofing, siding, and sandals, although, when we asked what was most needed, tennis racquets were at the top of the list. Unfortunately, there's no way the recycled plastic could work for that purpose.

The meetings here uniformly begin and end with a word of prayer - the populace is (I've heard) nearly 90% Catholic. Someone also wrote a Creolian song for the meeting today and we sang through all eight verses (with refrains) before getting down to buisness. It's important to start things right.


Important prices
We went down to the hardware store today and bought a shovel, two pairs of work gloves, a trowel, a 92 lb bag of cement, and a can of black spray paint, for about $730 Haitian - or about $14.60 US. Those in the group who are used to working with cement are astonished at how cheap it is here, although perhaps the surprise is misplaced as everything is built from it. We'll use all this to make some experimental plastic molds tonight or tomorrow.
Sarah left this afternoon for a three-hour motorcycle ride (maybe 10 miles?) to Borgne (you'll recall Borgne's major met with us yesterday). Apparently, SOIL has a tech center there and progress has been stymied by politics. They'd been hoping this would get sorted out on its own, but now people are afraid of being poisoned by the other faction, so that needs sorting out.
Also took a walk down to the harbour to collect plastic from the beach for melting. Picking up plastic on the beach drew quite a crowd, helpfully telling us where more plastic could be found and asking where Sasha was. She's a bit of a local celebrity. Digging through the beach-plastic we discovered that the plastic water sachets, which we'd been focusing our research around, were more difficult to find than anticipated. Pop bottles, on the other hand, were everywhere.

Sasha elected to stay at home for our plastic-gathering trip, so it was just us and our limited knowledge of Creole. (Bennick, a boy who shows up around the house, has been teaching me and enjoying my general cluelessness. I still haven't figured out how much English he actually knows.) Walking down the street, it's not unusual to hear people shouting "blank blank!" (white white!) as an insult or, as we heard from a motorcyclist today, "Get your white ass back home!" So, on the way to the beach we weren't shocked to have someone point and shout something incomprehensible at us. At least, not at first.

Then he stood up, still pointing, and shouted again. His dominos partner, his face disfigured by the clothes-pins indicative of someone losing at the game, also stood up, pointed and said the same words, "Kjehsee! Kjehsee!" Gradually, one by one, the whole cafe began to rise, repeating what we couldn't understand. We began to walk more quickly away from them.

The state department warns travels against going to Haiti and enumerates the many hazards the stubborn travel may encounter. Before going to Haiti we wrote a 58 page safety document running down every possible danger (except, ironically, for earthquakes) and its mitigation strategy. Both the university and EWB reviewed the document before approving our travel. And now my mind darted to page 17: mob violence.

Fearing the worst, we continued away as the cafe-come-mob drifted after us. Ahead of us, a separate group of Haitians joined in and now we were surrounded. As they closed in, Eric O'Hara, who speaks French, if not Creole, had a sudden, brilliant in-sight, "Richard, I think they're saying you're Jesus." I turn around and do the big arms thing, and the mob cheers.

At that moment, 58 pages of safety information seemed incredibly irrelevant. Haiti was ultimately no more dangerous than anywhere else, perhaps safer. The primary danger was what it had always been: ignorance. To round things off, I was mobbed again on the way home by a group of school children saying, "Jeesee! Jeesee!" and touching my ponytail (I had put my hair up to hide my alter-identity).

In Haiti, long-haired people are commonly stereotyped as druggies. In the U.S. Haitians are depicted as dangerous and poor. As both the Haitians and I know, there's more to it than this. Despite what benefits my resemblance to Jesus may have for both the trip and I, it's still unfortunate that we both resemble the Caucasian male known as much, if not more, for his work subduing and exploiting the developing world as for his work helping it. We are symbols not just of peace, but also, unintentionally, of colonialism and I'm left wondering to what extent the Jesus-as-Caucasian-male depictions promote a sense of cultural or racial inferiority. I hope they don't.
A school poster and I

Last night Sasha spoke to us for a long time about Aristid - exiled and ousted twice, but popular enough that peasants say they'd die for him and, in Sasha's words, "they would". The latest coup - facilitated with 20,000 U.S. M16's - left him in the Congo, where none of his U.S. supporters could find him for weeks. The Bush administrations - both of them - are not popular in Haiti (given their associations with these coups), especially the most recent. Clinton was viewed favourably and Obama is adored - to the point where SOIL's cat is named "President Barrack Obama."

Each morning Sasha or Sarah comes up with an engineering problem for us to solve. (Electricity just went out, our back-up batteries have kicked in with a bang, but the whole city's gone dark.) So far, we've figured out ways of spreading drying sugar cane chips onto human waste in public latrines using bicycle wheels, and a cheap way of making household urine absorbers using biochar, rice bags, and five gallon buckets.

The group of people I'm with is pretty fantastic - passionate and intelligent - and no real frictions have developed yet. Hopefully I remember to speak more about them later.

Oh, we've seen two parades since being here - they seem to just randomly stroll down the street at no particular time, along no particular route, for no discernible reason. Generally there are instruments and music involved and troupes with batons.

Other notes. This year's Haitian equivilent of the American Idol champion, Rosamond, a 16-year-old from Cap-Haitian, met us our first day here before going to a recording session and has dropped by a couple of times to visit since. On Friday, he says he'll sing for us.

Woolan, a literally crazy boy in the neighborhood, escorts us around. When people insult us, he insults them back and sometimes tries to hit them. He stands over sewer-holes so we don't fall through and carries everything. He's also fascinated by buttons, so we have to watch our cameras and the phone. When we were walking home from the harbour today, there was a man sitting by the curb drinking Toro (the Haitian energy drink); Woolan grabbed the bottle, finished it, and threw it over his shoulder - the man just laughed. So, with Sasha's celebrity status, Woolan's insanity, and my own beneficent visage, we get around pretty well.

Now ALL the power's gone out. Everything is black outside!

I'm sitting on the porch now, playing pennywhistle as the rain falls outside inviting in lush, cool night air and preparing to go out to a new restaurant at a hotel somewhere above the city.

We walked to supper tonight through the darkened city on the wet rainy roads and made it without anyone falling into the sewers (and without my being called Jesus too many times). Sasha did this once at 2AM after a concert and was pulled out by Toni - our security man and money changer - and the mayor of Borgne. The lane up to the hotel was pretty much the steepest road ever, but once we made it to the top of its cobblestoned length, we found this white-walled, wood-ceilinged hotel which was strangely reminiscent of a Bond-film set. The hallways, lobbies, and bars had no doors and wandered freely beneath and out from under roofs. We sat by a pool listening to two Haitian men sing with their guitars, reminding me of the Buena Vista Social Club. (A track of Steve Brunache's music, "Cimenlanmou", is here - it sounds a little like they might have.)

As we were sitting down to dinner, a group of white girls jumped into the pool and we were struck by the thought that they were rather out-of-place (there have been no other Caucasians since we've been here). We talked for a while, as a large leaf-shaped beetle scuttled by, and found out they were missionaries from South Carolina (Charlotte) come to aide in the orphanages here for a week. They told us they were staying at the hotel and traveling to a different orphanage each day. As I spoke with them about our work and how we do it I began to sense that they wished they were us. I don't think either the misisonaries or EWB is free of Illich's "Good Intentions" (this link is well worth a read), but I do feel that EWB's on a better track.

The walk home was uneventful, although we cut through some alleys and side-streets to pick up Haitian cigars in a little general store. The mayor of Cap-Haitian was relaxing out front and invited Sasha to bring us by later in the week. The two aren't on the best of terms (she feels he exploits the city somewhat), so we'll see if this works out.
Justin wanted this picture taken

I'm feeling quite well right now and will go look at stars from the roof for a while before popping off to bed.

Everything is wonderful.

Take care!
~Richard~




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