Sunday, December 19, 2010
this is a large scale drawing 4' x 2'
these are large scale stencil paintings
4 ft by 2 ft
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
I was eager to go directly to Haiti in the beginning of February to help, but I knew I would be just another mouth to feed and body to house. I didn't want to put more of a strain on the limited resources in country, maybe taking away from the people who really needed food and shelter. Instead, I decided to bring something with me to help, so as not to come empty handed.
Being a huge fan of Buckminster Fuller's Geodesic Domes, I began to explore how to build pre-fabricated domes. I thought that a pre-fab dome structure would be an ideal transitional shelter, easy to fabricate, very portable and simple to assemble with a minimum of tools required.
I decided on what seemed to be a realistic number, 10 domes, to not get too grandiose in my plan, so I could actually accomplish it and not get overwhelmed. Ten domes could house at least 100 kids. I also decided to build the domes for orphanages because getting involved in the IDP camps seemed too complicated and giving shelters to individual families problematic on many levels.
I started to make calls, talk to people in my community and things started happening. I had to find a non-profit organization willing to serve as my fiscal sponsor. I contacted Buckminster Fuller Institute, which is located in Brooklyn. Will Elkins answered the phone when I called. When I told him why I was calling, he already knew about my project. He invited me to come the next day to meet with himself and the director, Elizabeth Thompson. They were extremely positive and supportive about my idea and they were willing to be my fiscal sponsor. However, after about a week, it became clear that they would require at least a month to sort the paperwork out. Too long. So I continued to search for a willing non-profit. I found one with a local activist group called "Not an Alternative" They were immediately supportive and took quick action to give me fiscal sponsorship within a week of the initial conversation.
During this time, I was researching how to fabricate the frames out of conduit pipe. I found all the information I needed on the good old world wide web. Anyone can do what I did. I googled it. "How to build a Geodesic Dome". Blammo. Done. I found this website: Desert Domes They had all the information I needed to build the frames on that site. My friends at 3rd Ward in Bushwick gave me access to their metal shop to fabricate a prototype to make sure the calculations were correct to build a 17' dome. The size was chosen because with the calculations, for a 2 frequency dome, there would be no waste from the offcuts from ten foot conduit pipe pieces. David Seigel at 3rd Ward was a huge help in this initial phase. Zach Tucker from Swimming Cities also helped a huge amount- he and I spent more than a few hours pressing the ends of conduit pipes with a hydraulic press at a motorcycle shop in Greenpoint. Many other people helped as well. The first dome build happened at Bushwick Project for the Arts. It was a huge relief when the calculations were spot on and it went up in less than 2 hours!
When you are on the right path, things tend to fall into place without a lot of effort. I was on a roll. Many people were getting excited to donate their resources towards Domes for Haiti. Turtle and Hughes, a woman owned electrical supply company in New Jersey was the first major donor. They donated 3500 feet of 1" EMT conduit pipe.
I needed to find someone willing to do the metal fabrication. After experiencing what it took to fabricate 65 struts for one dome, I knew I had to redefine the meaning of "DIY" to "GSETDIFY" (get someone else to do it for you) John Laidman of Laidman Fabrication didn't take that much convincing. I cold called him and after hearing the words "orphans, Haiti, shelter" he agreed to fabricate all 700 pieces Free of Charge. In a ten minute telephone conversation.
I called up Turtle & Hughes and gave them John's shop address in Greenpoint. They delivered the 3500 feet of conduit pipe the next day.
Then I got stuck. I hit a wall with the prototype for the covers. I had originally thought I could make the covers out of recycled vinyl banners from the tv and advertising industry in NYC. I thought I could do it myself, DIY style. I found a pattern on the wonderful world wide web for a 17ft dome cover and used my position as a stage hand to gather up a large supply of vinyl mostly donated by MTV and Scenic Corps. I found what I thought to be a vinyl welding machine, actually two of them, from a guy that worked at the company I used to work at. It turned out to be a machine designed to melt plastic bags shut, not thick vinyl!
As you can imagine, there was a lot of trial and error over the course of this project.
I decided to glue the vinyl together using this special glue called HH-66 which, incidentally, is super toxic. It basically re-arranges the molecules of the vinyl and melts the shit together.
I found a wonderful pattern maker through a friend who was working for a major clothing label (that which cannot be named) who pirated her own time at work to make us a to scale pattern template. We went into my friend Brett Lord's former place of employment in the fabric district and used their cutting machines and tables to cut out enough pieces to make the first dome cover prototype. (Brett has since moved on to a full time pursuit of his performance career and you can see his ariel expertise in the new production of the House of Yes's Horror Show this week!) I spent the next week staying up into the wee hours every night at Bushwick Project For the Arts, wearing a gas mask, gluing vinyl shapes together. When it was done, it didn't fit the dome, it was too large. It was a horrible week full of toxicity. It was a total bust. But I did learn a lot. Mistakes are valuable lessons. Failure is one of the steps to success, if you keep walking.
I completely canned the idea altogether of fabricating the covers out of vinyl when I learned that when it burns, it gives off poisonous gases. It also off gasses toxic fumes. This was a case of my DIY, dumpster diving ideals not panning out at all. It was a wee bit crushing, but I got over it.
I spent the next forever looking for a tensile structure manufacturer who would not only be willing to prioritize my project but also give us a significant discount in the manufacturing of ten geodesic dome covers. It was a very difficult search. I must have called every tent, awning and dome manufacturer in the states. No one was willing to do it. I was extremely disheartened. I thought my project was going to fail. The momentum we had reached kept me going. We did a bunch of fundraisers. An old friend of mine on the west coast, a dj named Little John, put together an electronic music compilation of some really great artists who all donated their musical tracks to make a compilation for Domes for Haiti. There is a link on the sidebar. Everyone who downloads tracks sends donations to Domes For Haiti.
I kept searching and talking about my project to people. I gathered tools and shipping crates. We packed up the finished struts. I tried to raise more money. It was slow going.
One day I was looking online at the good old world wide web. I was on Facebook, looking at Grassroots United's photo albums. I saw a photo of a beautiful canopy tent that looked kind of like a circus tent. It was in Haiti. There was a note on it that the tent was made by Nantucket Tents. I immediately called them up and introduced myself and Domes for Haiti. They were very friendly and they told me that they didn't make the tent themselves. They refereed me to a sail maker in Massachusetts named Matt Sperry who has a company named Sperry Sails.
I called Matt up. He showed an immediate openness and enthusiasm for the project.
He agreed to build the covers, to prioritize the project and to give us a great deal on the price.
Even with the huge discount he was willing to give us, it was the single largest expense we had encountered along the way. He needed a little over $11,000 to manufacture the covers.
I was overjoyed and stressed at the same time. At the time, our total budget that we had raised for the entire project was under 5 grand. But we didn't give up.
I told him to go ahead with it and we'd raise the money somehow.
My friends Swoon and Ben were working on another Haiti project called Konbit Shelter.
They were having a drag benefit dinner presentation for their project and they invited me to come do a presentation of Domes for Haiti at the event. That is the kind of community I live in. People work together to help each other realize their dreams. It's an amazing place, Brooklyn, full of amazing and wonderful artists. Most of them are absolutely crazy and totally beautiful. Many people in this community spend most of their time working and building collaborative art projects without pay. People here have been known to occasionally eat out of dumpsters so that they can do what they are passionate about. Art. The DIY mentality is deeply rooted here. It was during this presentation that my friend Will Etundi got inspired to help me raise the money I needed to pay to have the covers manufactured. I had been asking him, pestering him actually, for weeks to throw a benefit party for Domes for Haiti. He is a very successful underground party promoter. His parties are called " the Danger"
He strolled up to me after the dinner party. He said to me, "Lopi, I had no idea you were so close to completing your project. Let's do a party for you"
We set the date. 3rd Ward gave us the use of their warehouse space. I called all of my friends and invited them to do art installations for the party. Will called all the musicians and performers. We built 3 large domes inside the warehouse and 3 small domes and set about creating installations on the theme of "Home, Water, Trash" I made an installation of my interpretation of a post disaster home.
My friend Arielle Bier made an installation inside another dome of a waterfall.
Bobby Dangerously made a sound installation to go with it. Olivia Katz and Brett Lord made the third dome installation out of found objects and trash.
Ryan O'Connor joined in the fray with his sculptural expertise and did an installation of a camp fire. Anna Ieggio came and worked on the small domes. We invited the Konbit Shelter crew to do an art auction on the first floor. It was an all out community wide effort to throw a huge benefit party for Haiti projects.
The night of the party, we somehow completed everything just in time. We left to go get cleaned up and have dinner. When we came back to the party, there was a line all the way down the block. I couldn't stop crying for joy all night long. It was a huge success, beyond my wildest dreams. I had been wishing for a long time that I could inspire my community to get into doing humanitarian work and this night was extremely moving and inspiring to me. The possibilities for future projects are limitless when we work together.
The next day Will and I sat down to count the money. I had never seen that much cash in my life. We counted it and there was $25,000. We paid out a bunch, donated some to Konbit Shelter and I walked away from it with a little over $20,000, dizzy with excitement.
I would now be able to not only pay for the covers to be made, but also fund my entire project in Haiti.
my Cat Joe protecting the cash
From the inception to this point, it took from February 23rd to June 7th. That amount of time would have been cut in half if I had had more experience, if I had had funding and if I knew what the hell I was doing. All of that ultimately doesn't really matter. I did it anyway, with the help of community support and my own personal insanity. Giving up was never an option because each person or business that donated their time, services and goods would have been disrespected if I had given up. It's about integrity and follow through. I was super committed to finishing this project at all costs. I was obsessed. I couldn't get the kids in Haiti out of my mind. I was stressed out that everything was taking too long and in the meantime they were sleeping in the mud or standing up all night long every night to avoid the flooding in crappy excuses for shelters.
I was next confronted with how to get the entire shipment of struts, covers and tools into Haiti. I found, through my friend Kara Blossom, a willing company named Atelier 4 who agreed to ship everything from Brooklyn to Miami free of charge if we could pack it up nice. We set about packing it all up. I had crates and boxes and shrink wrap coming out of my ears. 3rd Ward continued to give amazing support by allowing me to utilize their warehouse to pack up the whole thing. We packed it. They showed up and picked up the shipment and I kissed it goodbye. Another mile stone in this project. Each milestone gave me more inspiration to keep going.
I found more support through Mutual Aid for Disaster Relief They provided airline travel vouchers for myself and my friend Kara Blossom to fly to Miami and on to Port Au Prince. Kara and I got all of our shots and gathered up our camping supplies and headed for Haiti on July 17th. The shipment was sent via cargo plane by Amerijet on the same day. I was given a generous 40% discount in the shipping costs by them.
I was eager to arrive in Port Au Prince and to meet our in country hosts, Grassroots United who had contacted me months prior to offer up their base as a place to land and work out of. They are an organization that supports small NGO's by providing a secure home base with camping accommodations and internet access. The accommodations were kind of crappy, but compared to people living in the camps, we were well off and protected by a high wall of concrete blocks with razor wire on the top. At the time we arrived there, GRU was housing several great organizations. European Disaster Volunteers, Give Love and Kleiwerks. Micheal Reynolds from Earthship Biotecture had just built an earthship on the property. They had a geodesic dome and two container houses, a regular house and plenty of tents that volunteers were sleeping in.
There was a feeling of camaraderie present in the air. It was a great welcome that we received.
Kara Blossom and I unpacked, set up our tents and got acclimated.
After I got a bit acquainted with the place, the next morning, Sam Block, the director of GRU drove me to a customs broker to explore my options for getting my shipment out of the Amerijet warehouse it was being held at. The customs broker informed us that the normal waiting period for a humanitarian shipment to get through customs was anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months. For a commercial shipment, it would take 3 days and approximately 10% of the overall worth of the entire shipment. For Domes for Haiti, that meant somewhere in the ball park of $3,000. It was absolutely out of the question. That was half of my entire budget for the second phase of the project. We thanked him and got back on the blistering hot moto seat and drove off. I made a note to never wear shorts while riding a moto again. Owch.
Shipment in Jail
The following day, Sam had arranged for a man to come over who was not your normal customs broker. He was a Haitian man, a mercenary who runs a business that hires out body guards to the government and other NGO's. He claimed he could get my shipment out in 48 hours. He talked on and on about his commitment to helping humanitarian shipments into the country and how wrong it is that they make it so much harder to get donations in then commercial goods. He claimed he had donated a whole shipment of food from Miami himself shortly after the earthquake and that the customs officials had cut open his food containers, spilling the contents out and ruining the shipment. For his services, he would charge me the modest fee of $1500 US. "How does that sound?" He asked me.
"How does free sound?" I asked him. I told him that I didn't have money in my budget for that much. He said he couldn't do it for free. I offered to pay 300 US. He said he'd do it for $500 US. I agreed to the price, but with the stipulation that I would not pay him until I had the shipment in my hands.
48 hours passed. No shipment. I asked the Sam to call the guy. He did and was told "tomorrow for sure" This was repeated ad nauseum. For two weeks.
My friend who was supposed to be my project director, Kara left. I was getting desperate, but I was making productive use of the time spent waiting. I hired a translator who was introduced to me by Mike Hague. His name is Julian Noze and he turned out to be a great guy who lived for many years in Brooklyn.
Grassroots United provided me with a list of orphanages.
Julian with Desamour, one of the orphanage's Directors.
I needed a motorbike to ride if I was ever going to get anywhere in Port Au Prince traffic. One of the long term volunteers at Grassroots United had a motorcycle. It was Pauline Paris's bike.
She was super generous with it and let me drive all over Port Au Prince on it. I hadn't driven a motorcycle since I was 15.
I had not been able to find orphanages while I was still in Brooklyn because the orphanages I wanted to help did not have internet access let alone websites. The list GRU provided was crucial to finding those places in need. I set about doing site surveys with Julian on the back of the moto, clinging for dear life. We drove through the craziest most chaotic traffic I have ever seen. We drove through herds of goats, cows and people in the market place. I did not die.
I attribute our survival to angels, however fantastical that sounds, I dont care. Angels are the only plausible explanation I can come up with.
We visited about 20 orphanages and assessed their needs. We decided on sites for domes based on various criteria. Did they have a lease or a deed for the property? Were they an official orphanage and did they have paperwork to prove it? Did they need a shelter? Did they have space for one? These were the main concerns we addressed.
The man we hired to get our stuff through customs turned out to be a real jerk. He showed up one day, urgently demanding $250 US in cash. On TOP of what I already agreed to. He said there was a government official he needed to bribe. I was dubious. I didn't want to give it to him. Especially considering how long I had already waited to no avail. He had promised 48 hours. This was like at the 2 week marker. He demanded the money. Sam, the director, told me to pay it! He told me "things are done differently here in Haiti" Not only did he urge me to pay up, he told me to get in the SUV with the Mafia dude and his two gun toting henchmen and go and deliver it in person to the "official" down by the duone (customs). Everything in me was saying "NO" but Sam said, "Do it" and reassured me that I would be safe. I didn't feel safe. At all. I got in the SUV anyway. It was a strange display that this a-hole of a man was orchestrating for my benefit. To prove to me that he was bribing someone, apparently. We promptly got stuck in the worst traffic jam I've ever witnessed. There was no order in the streets of Port Au Prince. Cars, trucks, UN Tanks, motos, old dudes pulling giant hand trucks with enormous piles of twisted metal on top, goats, skinny cows, street kids all wove in and out of each other going every which way. Then it was just stopped. An enormous pre fab house on wheels was stuck in the mud. We were across from the slums. It was a miserable shanty town, mud everywhere, people squatting in the mud selling fruit that was in a pile inches from huge piles of garbage. It was insane.
The dude, who is going unnamed because he might try to kill me if I name him, was prattling off endlessly about how Aristede killed his father and how much he hated him and everyone around us. He mocked a deranged looking woman who walked by. He mocked a hungry looking pregnant woman who passed by. His driver nearly ran over an old lady. They were vicious evil men. I prayed for the traffic to clear up, just to be done with this dubious delivery to not be in his presence any more. We passed by a blown out cathedral. I asked if I could get out and take photos of it. They said, "no" but I got out anyway. The two body guards got out too and followed me like I was some kind of visiting royalty. I disappeared into a hole in the wall, snapped some shots and came back out, nonchalantly got back in the car. We finally got to the customs office and this man in business slacks and a button down shirt with a tie was standing on the sidewalk. Dude that wont be named handed him the envelope with my cash in it. We drove back to the base. The dude made some more empty promises and left.
A week later, when Brenda called to check in on the progress, he started screaming over the phone at her. I couldn't take it anymore, I decided to take the bull by the horns and get my stuff out of customs without that dude. I have documented the entire tedious process in this very blog. If you've a mind to, you can read all about it by going back to the links in July and August. I found out that the main delay in getting it out was because the dude, the big impressive macho guy who took my money and delivered nil, he had filled out the paperwork improperly and it took awhile to get to that. The Madame at the Ministry of Finance had a headache or was muy fatique. She would wave me away like an irritated royal.
I finally got my shipment free on August 11th, just 6 days shy of a month from when I first arrived. I am thankful that it didn't take three months.
I decided to fly home to Brooklyn and get recharged for the next phase. It was a wise move, I arrived back in Haiti, ready to tackle the building of ten domes, re-energized by friends, good food and the cool air in Brooklyn. I felt strangely patriotic during my brief visit home. That was an unfamiliar feeling for me.
When I got back to Haiti, I hired a team of 5 Haitian teenagers to be my crew. The crew was headed up by two sisters, Nephtalie and Nelleke. Nelleke
They are 14 and 15 years old. I put them in charge of the build crew.
There was a fair amount of flirting going on within the crew, but that's what you get when you put girl teenagers in charge of hiring the best workers. They hired the hottest guys they knew and then had a great time every day working with them! Lucky for me, those guys were hard workers and strong . We had a portable ryobi radio that kept us dancing as we worked. These kids mean the world to me and I plan on staying connected to them for the rest of my life. I paid them and fed them in exchange for their labor and enthusiasm.
We put up 9 domes in Port Au Prince at 8 orphanages. One orphanage received two domes to accommodate the amount of kids being served. 1 dome was built in Jacmel, down on the coast at an orphanage that was in great need there.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong over the course of the month that it took to build the domes. I got malaria, tires blew out, I got in a bike accident, trucks broke down, got stuck in the mud, thunderstorms, bad roads, ran out of gas and we got lost more than once. That is Haiti. Haiti is Hard.
This project challenged me on every level of my being. It drew upon resources I didn't even know I had.
Looking back on it now gives me a great sense of accomplishment. I am also nagged by a persistent feeling of incompleteness, a feeling that I am not finished in Haiti or maybe Haiti is not finished with me. In light of the current cholera epidemic that has been rated a level 4 emergency I am brainstorming ways to help in future projects.
I am keenly worried about several of the orphanages I built domes at. They were the more destitute of the 9. Their water sources were very sketchy. They had no support in terms of ongoing regular food or medical. Look for more details on each orphanage we built domes at in my next blog post.
Thanks, as always for reading.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
My community here in Brooklyn are as active as ever. Three different groups are putting together various sized art and performance projects. After an initial burst of visiting all my friends, I've been a bit of a shut in inside my studio, working on some large drawings and stencils of kids from Haiti. I will be putting together a show of my new work sometime in the next couple months.
I got word the other day that they built my tenth dome in Jacmel! It went up without problem, they built up the ground first with rubble and dug a good drainage ditch around it and anchored it in with the rebar stakes and cement. It's solid and kids are sleeping in it.
They sent me these photos.... The kids look kind of bored except the one on the right, he is totally psyched! These are boys from Pastor Joseph's orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti. His kids have been sleeping, eating, having classes and everything else in a tiny room. Now they can sleep in the dome!
Thanks to Adam and Kara from Living for A Cause and Dave from Calvary Chapel for project managing the tenth dome build for me! Meeting them the last week I was in Haiti was inspiring, they are totally sweet people doing really good work in Haiti. They are missionaries. I am not a missionary, but I dont see any conflict of interests in collaborating with people who share the same focus of working with Haitians to improve their situations.
I know that Dave from Calvary Chapel just scored an entire wood shop's worth of tools that some organization donated to his mission in Jacmel. They are building a wood shop!
I am in the preliminary stages of planning my next small project in Haiti. As I mentioned previously, I plan on commissioning some Haitian builders to construct 50 bunk beds out of bamboo for the orphanages I built domes at. Many of these places had no beds besides dirty old mattresses that the kids shared and were simply laid out on the ground for them to sleep on. I will be headed back to Haiti soon to visit the orphanages and check the domes.
It will be a quick trip to assess the domes and make arrangements to start the bunk bed build in motion. Rest assured that if you feel inspired to donate any amount of cash, it will be utilized towards this goal. I am hoping that I can get the price down to 30$ US for each bed. I am negotiating the price now with a potential partner in Jacmel.
Keep an eye out for an announcement on here for a slide presentation/ potluck which is coming soon to Brooklyn where I will show some of the highlights of my trip and outline future plans. It will be probably the first week in November at my friend Will's loft in Dumbo.
Try telling these three about your problems. Watch your problems dissolve in comparison.
I met these kids at the orphanage we surprised one day with no prior warning. We found them because the walls in their neighborhood were painted with arrows and the word "orphelinat" and we just followed the arrows. You can read that story here
Thanks for reading!!
Monday, October 11, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
I keep thinking about the abandoned and gutted school buses that are all up and down the sides of the roads in Jacmel. I have this idea that they could be made into a giant art piece.
The good thing about this art piece is that it has a dual purpose. It is also a shelter or a library or a school.
I have this vision of taking a group of sculptors from the US and bringing them down to work with Haitian welders and see what they would come up with.
I was picturing building a library out of the school buses arranged in a star pattern, stacked up in the middle, held at the sides with posts, which would also make it impervious to floods.
I think the best solutions for Haiti have to involve utilizing what is already there in the country. Using gutted school buses and cars welded together would address two problems with one solution. Cleaning up the environment, turning trash into a usable building.
One of the problems with building shelter or libraries out of old school buses is without insulation they are hot. So combining bamboo with the buses a paneling of bamboo slats could be added to the interior of the buses with an air pocket in between the outside metal and the inside bamboo. It could be further insulated with styrofoam or even dirt. Dirt might be a good insulating material, creating a thermal mass on the inside of the bus structure. Further cooling could be added by building some sort of roof to go over the roofs of the buses that would attach to the roof itself but be made out of bamboo poles and palm frond thatch. That would likely cool it down considerably and look nice as well.
Of course the buses could be painted with murals and bright colors, like the colorful tap taps that are the Haitian public transportation system.
This project would be a huge undertaking and would require consultation with engineers and architects to weigh in on the feasibility of building permanent structures out of recycled buses. It is still on the boiler plate and would be a project that would require the acquisition of land and books and major funding to realize. I am open to finding interested collaborative partners for this project. There is plenty of incentive to inspire artists to come build a giant art sculpture/library in Jakmel which is located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. The funding for it could come from both the art world and NGO's or government funds.
I am wishing that art could merge more with disaster relief and third world development.
The DIY mentality needs to be applied to the reconstruction of Haiti.
Utilizing bamboo for future projects in Haiti is important because it stimulates the need for bamboo farming in Haiti which is good on many different levels.
The Taiwanese government sent a bamboo expert named Jimmy Jine who is paid by the government of Taiwan to serve as a consultant for a Haitian Organization called Complex Bamboo located in Kay Jakmel. I met him while I was visiting Jakmel.
They support the reforestation of Haiti with bamboo, improved poultry production and the cultivation of tropical fruit trees among the peasant farmers in Haiti. They have a bamboo nursery, a bamboo furniture factory and they also raise chickens.
Many, if not most of the orphanages we built domes at still need beds.
This is where my next project starts. Bamboo Bunk Beds.
This is a short term project and one that would be very simple to realize.
All I need for this project is funding because I already have the connections in Haiti to build the beds and the locations for the recipients are my dome sites in Port Au Prince and Jakmel.
Bamboo is the perfect solution to building good strong bunk beds for orphans.
Not only is it lightweight and easy to transport, they can be made pre-fab and easy to assemble on site. Further benefits are the lack of customs and importation hassles, as well as supporting the economy in Haiti from the ground up. Bunk beds are good for domes because you can stack up more kids in one dome and they are up away from the ground to avoid any potential flooding.
I spoke with Pastor Abraham about this idea and he loved it. He knows everyone in Jakmel, or rather everyone knows him. I am sure I could realize this project rather easily if I had funding. I do have a little bit of money left over in the budget which is a start towards this aim. If you are thinking about donating money to Domes For Haiti, your donation will go towards the building of these beds. So far I have about $2000. I have to work up a budget to see how much I need to make this happen. I think the beds might be able to be built for under 50$ each, but this requires more research.
With funding, I believe the bamboo bunk bed project could be realized pretty quickly. It also would not require my presence for the entire build. I could go down to Haiti, make arrangements for the beds to be built and then return to deliver them when they were done. It wouldn't cost alot for operating expenses, the money could all go to the actual beds to be built, thus making more beds for the money. However, knowing how long everything takes in Haiti, I would double any time estimates. If you are interested in helping with this project, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
thanks for reading!
Countries that are reading this blog include: Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, South Korea, Chile, Haiti, Dominican Republic, UK, Japan, Germany, Canada, Hungary, Croatia, Australia, USA, Denmark, France and Russia. If you are reading and you are in one of these countries or another country I failed to mention, please post a comment saying what country you live in!
Friday, September 24, 2010
Got rained on. Road a moto into town. Gave red leather to an old shoemaker. Received the sandals he made for me after looking at my sandals for 5 minutes, made out of 1/100th of the leather I gave him. I brought an interpreter who helped me talk with him about collaborating on some sandal designs. He is really good at what he does. It seems like a nearly lost art to know how to make shoes by hand.
Met with Abraham, who was building a wooden stage for the funeral of his Father tomorrow morning, early. Talked with him about the possibilities of working with the bamboo workers to make beds. He loved the idea and promised to ask the govt people about using their warehouse to build bunk beds out of bamboo for orphanages in port au prince and jacmel.
We talked in the truck without brakes while moving my container into the Calvary Chapel storage place. It's a relief to have a save space to store it so I can access it when I return in a couple months.
Met another artist dude, rasta on the street. Gave a soccer ball to Peter, who I randomly ran into in the ghetto playing soccer on the street in the rain. Drew our names on the ball.
Walked in the rain with dreadlock artist dude and went into a woodshop where they had a coffin they had made. Ducked in out of the rain in Jackson's house, who lost a leg in a car accident before the earthquake and is part of an artist organization that involves alot of the artistic community here. They will email me their project information as soon as they get it translated into English so I can post it here. Many of the artists I met are involved in this collective.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Yesterday my friend Badio took me to meet a shoe maker. He was not home, but I met his son. Today after I visited with Joseph, I went by Vie De France to pick up some of the leather I brought in from Brooklyn. I took it to the shoemaker and gave it to him. He was asking me in creole, "how much?" and I said "zero" and ou bezwen? wi mwe bezwen he said.
I think he is making me some sandals. I need to go pick up the rest and carry it to him.
My job right now is super fun. I get to give things to people. What a fun job!
I was walking after the shoemaker scene and this lady shouted out her front porch at me. "My Blan!" they call me "my white!' i stopped and said to her "mwe pa blan" and "mwe chan" which means I am not white i am tan. She really thought that was funny. She repeated me with gusto and soon we were both enthusiastically shouting "mwe chan!" at the top of our lungs. A few minutes later someone said "how are you?" to me and I turned and there was a very tall, very black young man walking next to me. He had a deep scar on his left cheek. He said in English, "what i need from you is a verse" I said "you need a verse? you mean you want a poem?" he said yes. I said to him "this is the first time anyone has asked me for a poem!" and "Everyone just asks for money and things" I talked with this guy, whose name, it turns out is "cool dog" and he is a rapper. I interviewed him with my little camera and then he spit a rhyme for me.
He loves snoop dog and I told him I met him before and then he said "please blow me up"
The building of the last dome is in good hands.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I am at Cine Institute right now. It's a Haitian Film School located at a beautiful old hotel by the ocean. I met with Zaka, the filmmaker I mentioned a couple posts back, to talk with him about his work and ask him for any leads he might have on an orphanage that might need a temporary shelter. The orphanage he had mentioned to me the other day, turns out, doesn't need one. The director is a famous French Filmmaker. I dont know his name yet. Apparently, though, he has plenty of financial support and backing from France.
Zaka is a bright kid. One of his films is here: Cine Institute He told me that for this film, he wrote a screenplay, but the actors , who are some local guys he knows, cant read, so he told them basically what he wanted them to do and say and they improvised. The film has a documentary feel and follows these dudes through one day in their lives. Check it out. Zaka is headed to Vermont this weekend to do an installation of his work there.
After talking with Zaka, I gave Dave from Calvary Chapel a call. He is a good man and I trust him and his commitment to do good work with orphans. Pastor Abraham is an associate of his as well. I spoke with him about the possibilities of collaborating on getting this last dome up and occupied. It looks like he would be able to project manage it next week with some of his volunteers. It's not my first choice, but if I can't get it together to build in the next two days, I will fall back on the plan "b" to give him instructions and let him and his crew do it without me. He said it would be no problem and he'd be happy to document it with photos.
I would very much like to build it myself, but the time is slipping away and I have to get back to Brooklyn. Haiti time is not conducive to a "get er done" mentality and I am feeling I have reached a point where I really need to go home. Now. Sometimes one has to realize there are certain limits to their resources and let the ego go. As long as the dome is up and occupied, then my mission is accomplished. I really wanted to have the last photo of me, covered with mud, next to a dome with the number 10 on it, but it would be at my own detriment to do so just for a photo op and my own sense of victory.
Pastor Abraham lost his father a couple days ago. He was very sick with both Malaria and Typhoid. He is busy constructing a mausoleum for his Dad and planning the funeral for Saturday morning. I called him just now to offer my condolences. He sounded ok, but very sad. He told me that I am welcome to store my tools with him so that when I come back I can use them to continue my work in Haiti. This is a big relief. I can also leave my personal survival kit with him as well so when I return in a couple months I will be already set up.
So I am trying to tie up all the loose ends and get myself home by Saturday night.
Things are happening here that are not good and I cant really post about it other than to say I was assaulted this morning and it was pretty scary. I need, for my own safety, to leave as soon as possible. I will fly from Jacmel to Pap and catch a flight from there to arrive in NYC by Saturday night.
People that seem your friends are not always your friends. I think Bob Marley said it really well in that song "who the cap fit, let them wear it" Give it a listen.
thanks for reading. Au fum
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I went to tell the lady, the manman, that the dlo was coming in. I first consulted my creole book to see how to say it. la pli a ap vini nan chanm mwen. i said it a few times to get used to the sound and went to talk to her. Manman means Mom in Creole. Man man. Kind of like kava kava or tap tap. Man man! When I told her about it, she just said "un plus?" which means basically "alot?" and I said "wee" and thought something would happen, but she sent a dude to walk over and look at it, when we got in the room he was staring at the ceiling in the middle ignoring the torrent on the side. He then went outside and climbed up in the tree and waved the branches around a bit and then went back up to the front house to watch rap videos.
After a while, nothing else happened, so I looked into my book again to figure out how to ask for a different room. So I went and asked and they understood me and I got a new room.
I spent a bunch of time working on my budget and then we were supposed to go to complex bamboo to talk about getting beds made. I tried to shut my door but then it fell off its hinges.
The Manman and the Man were both gone for the day by then and I wanted to lock my door so I started to try to fix it myself. The wood was completely rotten, so there was nothing for the screws to hold on to. I managed to pound some nails into the wood using bottle caps as washers. It sort of closes now.
While I was working on my budget, Benoit was hanging out with me trying to sew patches on his jeans. The maid came and the little girl, the daughter of the manman. The maid girl really believes I am some sort of mail order catalog, I swear. Every day she is asking me for things. Yesterday she said to me "Lopi, give me the money" "The Money" Not "money"
Today she asked me for a bathing suit and some new jeans. I asked her if I am a mail order catalog. She said "oui" and I said to her "where is the money? Give me the money"
I tried to explain to her what she didn't bother asking me, which is why I am in Haiti.
Benoit helped with the translation. He is French so has an advantage with the language.
She didn't really get it, I dont think. I am sure tomorrow she is going to ask me for a Porsche or a pony or something. Maybe she will ask me for a unicorn.
We went and spoke with one of the craftsmen at Complex Bamboo. It's way more complicated than I thought it would be. My only question is when will my persistent belief that things are going to be easy die? When will the reality of making stuff happen in Haiti sink into my psyche further? I am still in a fantasy land, apparently. I dont have that much out of common with the maid girl after all. It is going to take awhile to set up bamboo bed production. I believe I can though. There is a warehouse where some craftsmen make bamboo furniture. It is owned by the govt, they take a percentage of the workers commission for allowing them to use the space. I am going to go speak with the minister tomorrow to see if they can donate the space to start making bamboo beds for orphanages...
If I can get it set up, many many beds could be produced. At the same time as making nice beds for kids, we could be giving good work for the craftsmen and creating demand for more bamboo to be grown in Haiti. All good. I think I can get this set up and then head back to Brooklyn. It will take about a month to have about twenty bunk beds made. I think they will be a good price, like around $35 bucks American per which is a whole hell of alot cheaper than the metal beds in carrefour. If I go back up to BK I can get access to "the money" and then come back down in a month to deliver beds. Nothing is instantaneous and although they need beds NOW, I am sure they will still need them then. Necessity is the manman of invention.
The two orphanages Dave took me to the other day need beds. Especially the one, poorer of the two places. It was pretty destitute, but at least with Dave's help they have a supply of food. The kids were really dirty but one of them was painting, I assume because he had paint all over his arms. The other place is the orphanage for kids with Aids and it is pretty well set up. It looks nice, its clean, there are already a bunch of beds and three nannies full time. I will help the needy one. I want to have a larger impact. I want to do so much more than I can with limited funds and limited time. There is also the problem of my own sustainability. I am sure all of this can be solved. Time. Patience has never been my strong suit. It's getting stronger though. My patience muscles are sore so that means they are getting bigger. Soon they will be huge and I will be like Buddha. Laughing all the time and dancing.
Last night I went back to this place in town by the beach where they have a big trailer set up for dj's on the weekend. This place makes great, clean food. By "clean" I mean it isnt fried and it isn't cooked in meat. It's boiled yams, bananas and avocado salad. I love it. When I got there it looked closed. Monday night is not hopping there. The chairs were wearily leaning against the tables. I went around to the side where the kitchen is and greeted the ladies. They were so nice to me. The manman there remembered me from the night before when I was trying so hard to say salt. "Sal" i kept saying, she kept saying "sauce?" i was like, no "sal"but I found out that salt is actually "sel" which is only one vowel off from what i was saying.
One vowel can ruin your whole day if you let it. Ask Vanna White.
I got a delicious meal, her kids sat with me and we communicated the best we could. I showed them my little water color and the boy, Peter was really entranced by it. He stared at it and it was like his eyes were caressing it. I drew a picture of him in red pen on my pad. He liked it, but said "pa senblan mwe" which is "it doesnt look like me" I agreed. I gave him the pad to draw on and he made two drawings of people with funny arms. One had a giant bowl of fruit on their head. He wrote by it "Pilo" and "Peter" He thought my name was Pilo, which is fine with me, I like Pilo. Maybe I should change my name again, it's been 20 years at least with Lopi.
I also went off the vegetarian wagon because I tried conch. It's called Lambi here. Oh my god it's delicious! It tastes like gourmet mushrooms.
I will call Zaka tomorrow and ask him to show me the third orphanage. I am all about wrapping this stuff up so I can return to the states. I love Haiti, but I really am beginning to think I will never get out of here. It's like trying to swim in quicksand all up in this piece. It's surreal at times. Today walking up the road in the rain the neighbor girl walked with me. She had a giant metal bowl on her head full of green bananas and a giant leaf from a palm as her umbrella. I walked with her and was washed over with this feeling of being in a dream world.
My old life was a frantic running from silence. The speechless full moon comes out now. (rumi)
thanks for reading me. for now, photos are a no go. comments are appreciated!!
My phone number in Haiti is 509 3110 7529
would love to hear from anyone out there reading this glob
Monday, September 20, 2010
Build beds out of bamboo, build one more dome, network with NGOs in Jacmel...begin plans my next project,,,,
I almost no longer believe in the random. Things happen that are supposed to happen.
Without getting too woo, I am starting to trust the universe more. Ok, that was pretty woo.
Yesterday, I was wandering around Jakmel, a lazy Sunday, looking for artisans, artists and shoemakers. I found the place of a shoemaker who I am going back to visit today. His name is Watson. I am going to bring him some leather and talk to him about designing sandals.
Lately I have been getting upset at people here who are constantly overcharging me because I am white. Almost every single person I meet tries to squeeze me. Its depressing. I basically quit my job to make a project to help Haitian orphans have shelter and instead of thanking me they charge me triple.
Occasionally I meet a Haitian person who gets it and offers to help me for free. Like Aldy. He came out on the last build in PaP and though he knew I was paying the crew, he said "I'm like you, if you are volunteering, so am I" I paid him anyway, because he is always working for free volunteering for other NGO's and I know he needs money. Also, Pastor Abraham gets it. He drove all the way to Port Au Prince and back to carry my project and me down to Jakmel and he didnt even ask for a penny. I tried to give him money for gas and he wouldnt take it. I like paying Haitian workers, that was part of my plan to stimulate the economy. But I am on a tight budget and unlike the other NGO"s here in Haiti, I cant afford to stimulate the economy that much!
It's a relief when I meet people who want to help because its a good project, not because they look at me and see dollar signs floating around me like amoebas. It's an illusion. Those are actually lice, home boy. That's what you get when you hang around a bunch of adorable orphans. I dont mind them, actually, they keep me company at night, the lice.
I was hoping to meet a certain artist here in Jakmel, but I had lost my phone, so that makes things more difficult. He is a friend of an acquaintance of mine and she had given me his name and phone number and encouraged me to call him. He is a member of an artist collective here in Jakmel. His name is Badio Joseph Junior. So I was wandering around, looking at the makeshift galleries by the bay and then walking on the beach taking photos of old boats. This dude who looked like Bob Marley came up to me and started talking to me in English. He seemed really nice and said he was an artist. I asked his name and he said "Pheonix" So I told him that a friend named Keely gave me a number of an artist to call and it turned out to be him. Its just the nature of the non - randomness of things. He showed me around at an ateliar of young artists and showed me some of his work.. He makes sculptures, collages, out of found objects. I love this type of art and I really enjoyed seeing things normally considered "garbage" come to life as something aesthetically interesting. He also makes paintings of a surreal nature. I took a bunch of photos, but am having some internet issues today (normal) and cant upload.
Yesterday I met another young Haitian artist named Zaka. He is working as a filmmaker. He studies at the Cine Institute. He is doing a documentary about an American artist who died in the earthquake. She was from Vermont.
This is an article about him in the globe and mail
He told me of an orphanage he knows of and I will call him in a bit and ask him to introduce me to the orphanage. I am also going to hire him as a translator so I can call all the orphanages I built domes at so far to check and make sure they are still ok, dry inside etc. I am also hoping to send more beds before I leave Haiti. More on that later in this blog.
So, on the way to town this morning on the back of the nice moto taxi guy who didn't try to double charge me, I see the two big school buses of Vie De France parked outside of this big place. I ask the driver to tally a bit and we drive inside. Vie De France is my friend zamni mwen Pastor Abraham's school. So I go inside and there are about 100 school children, orphans, and a bunch of white people wearing matching teeshirts and sporting fancy cameras. I see a large bag of soccer balls. I see Jean Claude, Abrahams driver and we hug each other. I love that guy, he is so positive all the time. He is the one who taught me "ang proteje nou" means Angels are protecting us. I believe it's quite possible that angels are protecting me and all of us. I mean, I can't prove it, but I can't prove otherwise either, so I might as well imagine angels flying around. It's fun to picture what kind of clothes they might be wearing. My angels wear vests for sure and suspenders and cool hats and cowboy boots or old funny shoes from the 30's
I turn and meet the only white guy there who is not wearing a matching teeshirt so I guess he is in charge of the teeshirt people. He has a sweet silver goatee and reflective sunglasses, so our entire conversation I am looking back at my own reflection and trying to imagine what his eyes are saying. His name is Dave Bird and he is a pastor. He instantly reminds me of my Aunt Mary for some reason. He has some sort of similar vibe about him.
Dave tells me he has a project called Calvary Chapel. They are working with orphanages doing a feeding program, building shelters and they play soccer with the kids. From the look of it, they are doing some great work.
I tell him about Domes For Haiti and he says he knows of two orphanages that might need help here in Jakmel. He says to call him later and he can come pick me up and take me out to visit these joints. I say sweet and go to get back on the moto. About 6 dudes shake my hand as I walk to the bike, "I'm Jose, I'm Frank, I'm Doodaddy" I get back on the bike and continue to struggle with the conversation with the moto dude who speaks dominican spanish. He shows me his little bottle of "cuervo" and (its about 8am)
takes a nip. He explains he likes to drink while he is working. His work is driving, so basically, I am getting a ride with a drinking driver. Awesome. Buenas Dias! I shout to him in the wind.
I get to town, buy a new phone to replace the old phone that a dude found after it fell out of my pocket while driving the motobike in PaP in a particularly hairy series of pot holes. The dude wouldn't give my phone back and I have been phoneless for about two weeks. Its made things unduly hard in an already arduous world, so I finally broke down and bought a new one and replaced the sim card so the dude with my old phone will not be using my Haiti number anymore and when I come back to Haiti I will have a phone already on arrival. The number is 011- 509 - 3110 - 7529 incidentally, and if you call it from the states, it is a fact that it charges my phone minutes up. So, please feel free to call me to say "hello, you are an insane weirdo" or whatever you want to say to me. It will add minutes! In Haiti, you buy as you go on cell phones. Call me, ask me smart ass questions, go ahead, I'll answer them the best I can.
I am hoping to wrap things up here pretty quick so I can get back to the states and figure out my life and start planning for my next project.
I am hoping to hire some furniture makers in Jakmel who work with bamboo to build some bunk beds for the street kids orphanage and the orphanage down here in Jakmel
I love bamboo and I want to support cottage industry utilizing bamboo. The furniture they make is so pretty too and its light weight, so it will be easy to transport it back up to Port Au Prince. The money people have been donating since Joan's article will be spent towards these new beds. My last little burst of goodness before I go back to Brooklyn will be to purchase as many beds as I can with the money I am finding in my paypal account. Thank you to all of you who are making such generous donations!
Joan is writing a follow up article about Haiti and will be featuring my budget in there, I think, so if you are curious about how the money has been spent, please have a look at the National Catholic Reporter in about a week. Or email me. I would be happy to send you a copy if you are curious. This project has a very tight turn around when it comes to donations. We hadn't been receiving any donations while I have been in Haiti until Joan wrote that article. It stimulated interest and we saw an immediate result. Thank You Joan Chittister for writing about this project! I am currently trying to figure out how to turn that money into cash in hand in Haiti so I can buy some more beds.
I will be going to meet with the bamboo people soon to negotiate the job of building bunk beds to bring back to the orphanages in PaP. I hope to get at least 5 made each for the orphanages that need beds. How many I can have made depends on how much money I find in my paypal and if I can manage to access my funds via a bank here. It should be doable.
I apologize for the lack of photos lately, it's very challenging to upload photos on limited internet access. It just doesn't work that well down here!! When I get back to Brooklyn, I will be uploading many many photos and some videos too. You can also take a look at my flickr account here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lopilaroe/
The possibilities for networking here are immense. I keep meeting people from various NGO's that are in high positions. I hope that for my next project I have more support from the inception because having no funding last time really slowed me down considerably. Shout out to Will Etundi for helping me to raise the much needed funds to get this project off the ground!! Thanks Will!! Thanks to 3rd Ward and all of my Brooklyn Peeps. I love you guys.
I went the other day to a Shelter Cluster Meeting. It was pretty posh, the chairs had satin covers with red bows around them and they handed you a pad of paper and a pen when you walked in the door. The moderators were speaking Upper Class Creole which is very close to French. I sat near a man with beautiful grey dreadlocks who was translating for a blond american woman. My new friend Laura from SIDR and I sat close to him so we could hear what was going on. It was alot of ranting about bureaucracy and status and then they got to the really good stuff. The promised funding. They listed huge sums of money and what it was to go towards. This is what they call "soft" money. It's not actual "hard cash" but promised donations. It seemed rather dubious who would actually put their hands on the money and when but they were encouraging the NGO's present to make proposals for building permanent shelters with the funding. Very few actual permanent structures have gone up. I am amazed at the types of construction that I see on the ground here. Tin roof shacks which will splinter like toothpicks in a hurricane are prevalent. I met a man named Marco from World Hunger. The man with the grey dreads is from Konpay. His name is Joe. They are building shelters as well. I had a conversation with them about using bamboo.
I left the meeting to use the loo and couldnt help but notice what looked like a pretty good spread being laid out for the NGO's. Free Lunch!! Oh yea, it was yummy too, lots of vegetarian choices.
The problem with the current bamboo situation here is that the bamboo that is prevalent in Haiti right now is not good for building with. It has too much sugar in it, so it attracts termites. Cultivating a new strain takes time. Thinking long term rebuilding of Haiti, Bamboo cultivation is of the highest priority. In about 10 years they should have a really good bamboo farming industry here. It has to be cultivated in a certain way, so that the older stalks can be accessed with out cutting the younger ones.
Getting access to the money from the paypal is going to be an interesting challenge. There are no ATM's in Jakmel, apparently... I am probably going to western union some money to myself to pick up here.
I just phoned Dave from Calvary Chapel and he is on his way to pick me up to take me to see some orphanages. It should be good. I hope to visit an orphanage that accepts only kids with AIDS.
I just got back from the orphanage visit with Dave. He showed me two. One of them is in pretty bad shape and it looks like they could use a new shelter. Score! Also, they have no beds. Score! Looks like I have some work to do now. Maybe I will finish this project soon after all....
thanks for reading me. comments are always welcome!
paz y luce