Tuesday, August 31, 2010


We built Dome Number five yesterday!
this is a water color portrait I made the other day

We are trying to raise money to purchase bunk beds for the domes. I found a location that sells them for 160 bucks US here in Port Au Prince. These bunks come with out mattresses. To buy mattresses will cost about 30 bucks US a piece.
These kids deserve beds. My budget doesn't allow for this expense....
If you feel inspired by this project and would like to help out, please consider making a donation today! The money will go directly to buy mattresses and bunk beds.

thanks for the support!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

dom dulse dom

Where did I leave off? Two Days ago?

So... yea, we got lost, found a different orphanage, built a dome there instead spontaneously and called it a day, lending Henri some of our tools so he could work on stuff before we got back in the morning. I had decided to come back the next morning to do more work there dealing with their significant water drainage pwoblems. (that's not a typo)

In the morning, I sent an email to the orphanage co-ordinator for GRU, Emma, who has been on "holiday" for the last two weeks (shes an Aussie, they call it that). Emma and I had been collaborating on the orphanage assessments and so I had shared my notes with her. So she had the dude from the Upper Room's contact info! The one that I had been searching for when we got hopelessly lost and hopefully found the other joint instead....So I planned on visiting the Upper Room in the Later Afternoon.

The "Dream Dome Teen Team" all showed up around 9:30 and we waited for what seemed an eternity for Gingin, the tap tap driver driver to come come. It was very redundant and he finally showed up claiming "blockage" slowed him down with his sweet smile. I am falling for this guy, he is old like me. (come on, not really, he is married!)

Before we headed back out to Bon Repose to Henri's orphanage I decided to stop at the grocery store on the way and buy some food for the kids. They had no food. I spent like 100 bucks american and it still was not enough at all. I bought a couple huge watermelons off the street too. When we arrived we found that the heavy rains the night before had flooded under the dome because we hadn't dug a trench aka canal in Kreyol.
So they hadn't slept in there. Also, the zipper door wouldn't close. Luckily, I figured out why. When we put the dome together sans the missing strut, it really was an illusion that it was just fine without it. The geometries of geodesics are intrinsically linked! Of course if one strut is missing, it's going to throw off the rest of the gestalt. So it had been stretched out in that part so the skin was too taut to close easily.

Nellie, 'Talli and I set about to fixing that situation while the guys set to work digging a nice trench around the dome for water to be diverted away from under it.

Marco in his Superman Pose

At the same time, the orphanage dude, Henri, had a whole posse of child labor industriously clearing rubble off the foundation where his house had stood pre "event" and filling in under their other tent shelter structure where it had been flooding every night.

(a rat just ran by me, just fyi and there is a rooster walking in front of me with a baby chick. I am sitting under a mango tree listening to Ray LaMontagne as I type this. It's about 4 in the afternoon and the sweat of the day is dried on my hot skin which is turned yet another shade darker today. There is a nice breeze. All is well in the world. Mwe kontan)

I spent some time digging trenches yesterday. I also chilled in the shade with the petit timoun too. Just quietly sitting with them all staring intently into my face, looking for signs of intelligence I suppose. I wonder if they found any. I know I saw brilliance reflecting out of their sweet eyes. They pet my skin like I am a cat. They pull my braids tenderly, fixing the ends of them by braiding the shit out of them to the very tippy tips. I have to admit I love being groomed by orphans. Is that not PC? I dont give a damn ha ha. I am aware that they might have some sort of bugs or other living on them, not by their own fault, but how can I refuse their sweet affection? I dont give a shit if I get lice or ticks or scabies or whatever. I really dont.

I fell in love with two kids in particular at this orphanage. One of them is called "Pastor Wilson" That's his name!! He is Tiny! They call him "Pastor" I think, because he says poetic things is what I am guessing. The name just tickled me to the gills. How can I forget this kid?
Pastor Wilson


The other one is called Jessica and she is just a skinny little girl with dimples on both sides of her mouth. She loves dancing and her and I had a good dance session in the afternoon.

We worked really very hard digging trenches and moving earth and rubble around that day. The kids ate oats and watermelon and some of them worked just as hard as we did!

We finished up, Henri asked if he could borrow some tools again and I said sure and we called up the dude from the Upper Room and he came and met us at the huge yellow church.
He got in the front of the truck with Gingin and navigated us to his place. It was SO CLOSE! We could have spit up into a good wind and it would have hit the goat outside his door square between the eye balls. We all had a good laugh over how close it was while we had been driving circles around looking for it the other day.

We stopped in, scoped it out and told him we'd be back the next day to build them a dome.
When we got back to the base, I was totally wiped out but with a good feeling of satisfaction.

We got an early start this morning, left the base with our truck all loaded up by 9am, headed back to Bon Repose to the Upper Room Orphanage to build them a dome.

This is becoming routine. We are getting used to this daily ritual. I go to work each day with a group of teens and a nice guy driving us all in a pick up truck full of gear and dome parts. It's not your typical 9 to 5. My day starts usually at about 6am, but the funny thing is, I dont need an alarm clock. I dont even look at the time in the morning. I just get up and fill up a bucket with cold water, walk over to the shower booth and then pretty much just dump the thing over my head. Then I go in my tent and get dressed. After that I go to the kitchen and make tea and I've been making chia seed pudding every morning. Yum. Beats spaghetti by a stones throw.

The thing about chia seed pudding is; one, you dont have to cook it, just add water and let it sit for five minutes, voila! Also, it gives you tons of energy and also, well, it makes you shit.
Speaking of shitting, I want to tell about the outhouse here at GRUB. It's a composting toilet located next to the earth shit I mean ship. It's basically a 55 gallon drum with a toilet seat on top. It's quite a throne and when your done with your bidness, you throw sugar cane bagass in on top of it. When the drum is full, it is emptied on a special compost pile where it is again covered with another layer of bagass. It will sit and compost for 6 months at which time it is ready to be used as fertilizer on fruit trees.

It's funny to go to the shitter at night when it's dark out. Someone installed a motion detector light on the palm tree next to it. So when you approach it, the light goes on so you can see the throne. You then are illuminated by the light while you sit on the toilet. It's like a broadway show in there! Also, there is a strategically located window that you can gaze out upon the yard through. Thing I always wonder is, how much of me can someone looking in see? Is it like I am Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street and you only see me from the chest up? I sure hope so!

We went to the orphanage, the Upper Room. We built a dome.

this dude's hat is the shit

While we were at the Upper Room building a dome, the director stopped by to meet me.

A nice guy named Jean Raymond.
He is a pastor too, just like Pastor Wilson.
He spoke with me in English, which was a relief, honestly.
I've been learning alot of Kreyol, but sometimes its just a relief to not have to struggle

Remember a few weeks ago when I met the man with the typewriter under the tree?
I swear to god I met his predecessor today! Out of all the kids, this kid was the only one with a crisp, button down shirt on like someone would wear in the office, or under the tree with a typewriter:

This is Kerlyn, the Mom of the orphanage with the Pastor in their real office. She wants me to paint a mural on the wall when I come back. When I come back. Notice she didnt say "if"

This is the cook:

When we were done with the dome, the kids were all in their cool little dining hall eating, so I didn't get the requisite, "kids standing in front of the dome" photo. I got this one instead:

So here is Dome Number Four:

We left and drove the short distance to the Random orphanage that we dropped a surprize dome on the other day to pick up the borrowed tools and say hi to them.
Just a word about driving. Again. I keep skipping over this part and just saying that "we drove here we drove there' but the driving itself is ALWAYS an event, an adventure. The roads we've been going down are positively rivers and lakes and mud ponds. We have been using the truck like a boat at times. It's really exciting!
So, today, my thing was to open the door and jump out unexpectedly and start walking away. When the kids in the back look at me, I say "later" and "peace out" and act like I am leaving.
I dont know why I kept doing that, but it was entertaining to me. I was really just wanting to walk a little bit and usually you can walk pretty much as fast as the truck can carry all of everyone.

So, when we got close to the orphanage, I did the, "later" gaff and then told them, "allie, allie" which means "go" I was admiring the dome from a distance and I wanted to take a photo of it.

When we got over to the orphanage, Henri and his partner were Beaming at me. They couldn't wait to show me the work they had done using the tools I lent them. It was actually quite remarkable what they had accomplished! The whole back had been a pile of rubble formerly known as "house" What I saw today was a cleared out area that was elevated and flat with a nice stone floor.

He was so proud of it and I was totally touched. He asked if he could borrow the tools for another day. How could I say no??? Everyone needs tools, actually. When I am done with the dome builds, I am going to be giving tools away to some deserving people like Henri. Probably Henri himself. Haitians are funny, by the way, they are always mistakenly calling a he a she or vise versa. It's because there is only one pronoun here for male and female. It's "Li"

I am also looking forward to after I finish all the dome builds. I have other things I brought to give away to people. Like leather. I have a bunch of leather I got from Materials for the Arts. The last few days on the way driving, I noticed a shoe maker sitting in the same place everyday. He looked like a really cool, kind of earthy crafty guy. Maybe I will drop off some of the leather with him.

The flooded shelter was all built up with the rubble they had moved. No more flooding!
Then the real moment of fruition for me came. They showed me the inside of the dome.
It was Beautiful. They had put all the bunk beds in there and covered the floor with the scraps of vinyl I had given them and a bit of rug here and there, but it looked AWESOME. The one guys wife was in there and she came up to me and kissed me on the cheek.

I think today was the day I have been waiting for since February.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

tout sa ou bezwen se ami

Two more domes went up in the last two days.

this kid's name is Giovanni and he kept whispering to me in the cutest voice.

Two more domes went up in the last two days.
Wednesday we got a surprizingly early start, considering how long you normally end up waiting for a hired tap tap driver to show up, but this one, Gingin, he is different, he showed up at 8:30 am, ready to go and we were ready for him, my crew of 5 Haitian teens and I. I had invited Hannah, who is visiting from SF, to come along on what promised to be a really great day. We were going to visit Judy, who I had met on my 3rd day in Haiti, about a month ago now.
this is Judy
She was one of my favorite people I had met so far in Haiti and I was anxious to go and see her and her kids and build them a dome. So, we loaded up Gingin's tap tap (why is everything being repeated? it reminds me of kava kava. is it not the same as kava? but i digress......)
When we got it all loaded, Gingin looked dubious at the weight of all the stuff, but we talked him into going for it...
It was an easy build, there was not alot of prep needed at Judy's place, she has a well drained yard and honestly, she has a really good scene there. She has a good support network, the kids are well cared for emotionally and physically.
this kid's name is Nixon. He was very curious about how the dome was put together. He helped out.
these guys were having lunch on a little table behind the dome
I decided that I was going to kick back and take it easy on this build, not only because, well, I had just gotten over an alleged bought of malaria, but more importantly, I wanted to test the kids and see how well they were learning how to build the domes themselves without me.
So I chilled and talked at length with Judy, who speaks English really well and admitted to me that she speaks French better than Creole. "but if anyone else said that to me, I would be mad!" she laughed.

i still haven't gotten a ladder...
All I can say is Nellie, Nephtalie, Marco and the two new kids, Madson and Watson (i am not kidding) did a stellar job. They kicked serious ass and needed minimal guidance from me.

I still had to be the one to climb up the dome when it came time to pull the cover over it, but otherwise, I let them figure it out. Nellie had a few ideas on how to do things and I let her take charge. Marco is totally always one step ahead of the game.
'Tali is pounding the sledge and keeping up with the boys just fine, laughing the whole time.
Hannah chillin' in the shade..

The two new crew members, Watson and Madson, are keepers, they work hard and are total sweethearts. They live next door to the sisters and they have all grown up together like siblings. I'm having a great time hanging out with these kids.. On the way back from the job, they were getting a kick out of teaching me to curse in Creole and laughing their asses off when I said the words with angst and made up songs using the new lexicon at my disposal.

On the way back we stopped at the grocery store so I could buy some spray paint. I am planning on doing a little beautification project on the side while I am here....
We got back to the base and the kids unloaded the truck, I paid everyone and they left.

When we pulled into the compound I saw a dude with about 20 cans of spray paint lined up on the top of an SUV. I knew right away it was Jerry, Haiti's #1 graffiti artist. I am a huge fan of his work I have seen on the streets of Port Au Prince. So I was totally excited to meet him and I showed him my stencil painting of Joe, my cat, which is on one of the palettes that my stuff was shipped here on. We had a great conversation about Banksy and turns out both of our favorite stencil artist a french guy named Christian Guémy who is also known as C215. He paints all over Brooklyn, actually.... Anyway, Jerry was there painting some portraits for the Give Love Project's Container House's outhouse. He painted Bob Marley, Che Guevera and Patricia Arquette. And then he invited me to come out with him the next time he does a street piece. That was really exciting for me.

I was not as prepared for the next day, this morning's build because last week I had left my notebook in this other tap tap and never gotten it back. Inside the notebook is all the notes on every assessment I have gone on since being here. Which is fine, mostly, because I still have the list of all the orphanages telephone numbers and addresses, except one. This one that I promised a dome to. I really liked the guy running the place alot and I feel really bad that I lost his contact info. His name is Roberto and his orphanage is called the Upper Room. The only person I know who knows where it is is Julian, my translator friend, but he got a job in Jacmel so hasn't been around. He told me the other day he really feels like he should be with me, we are the ones that went around together and assessed all of the orphanages and he is very involved in the project. So I called him up this morning and asked him did he think he could explain how to get there over the phone to the driver well enough to get me there and he said "sure" So I decided to show up unannounced at the Upper Room and just throw up a dome for them. We loaded up the tap tap and drove off after Gingin had a conversation with Julian over the phone.

I dont know why I felt so confident. Haitians are notoriously bad at giving directions! They also inexplicably and pretty universally can't read maps. So we drove really fucking far and got really fucking lost. We were sweating our asses off too, of course and everyone was getting a bit frustrated. We were asking people on the streets, everyone was telling us different ways to go, we were following arrows spray painted on walls until we pulled up in front of the most destitute orphanage I have ever seen.
this is where the arrows led us

We asked them did they know where the Upper Room Orphanage was. No, they did not, but they obviously needed help, more help than the Upper Room, honestly. The kids were sick, the shelter was flooded, they had no food to speak of, some of the kids were naked, I assumed because they had no clothes.

petit fleur
I spontaneously decided, after the man, Henri, showed us around a bit, and showed me a significant amount of official paperwork including a Haitian Organization Quittus and the deed to the land in his name, to build the goddamn dome right there instead! It was a blessing that we found them at all. I felt like maybe it was providence that guided us there. Who am I to argue? I apologized to Henri for not having more to offer but a few jars of organic peanut butter and some liquid Dr. Bonner's soap. We went up the street to have lunch and when we got back, unloaded the tap tap and the kids got to work building the dome.

I pulled out the soccer ball and made friends with the kids. They were shy, but affectionate. One or two of them spoke English, but my Creole is getting a little better, so we had fun.

My crew needed even less guidance than yesterday. In fact, when Nellie would ask me a question, I would tell her she already knew the answer and then she would realize she did.
Half way through assembling the frame, there was a major pwoblem, though. A blue strut was missing! The dreaded missing strut! It showed it's ugly head and we were way out in the middle of no where. No chance of running back to get a spare back at the base. So, we improvised. We put it together with a large door opening and it worked fine.
What a relief!

After the dome was nearly completed, I found Nellie sitting alone on the sandbags, holding a small naked child and looking really sad.

His stomach was totally distended, he had scabs on his knees and his eyes looked deeply sad.

Nellie said, "look at his ears, they are so dirty"
We both started crying a little, feeling so desperate to help these kids. I reassured Nellie, "dont worry, we can help them now that we've found them"

On the way back to the base I called Big Paul to see if he could send a couple nurses with me tomorrow to do a de-worming on the kids and he told me to call him back in three hours, which is right about now. Hold on, while I give him a ring to see if he can send a medical team out with us tomorrow when we go back to fix their water drainage problem....

I just got off the phone with him and he said he wasn't able to find anyone available to go out there with us in the morning, but to write down the directions so they could try to go at a different time. Directions? Directions in Haiti is insane. There are seldom any street signs and the landmarks move around constantly. You can't say turn left at the cow and hang a right over by the giant puddle next to the pile of rubble and expect anyone to know where you are talking about. But we will try.

I am going to stop at the grocery store on the way over there tomorrow and buy them some food. I can't show up with nothing knowing that these kids dont have anything to eat!

Henri and this other very sweet man showed Nellie and I the back area where they have this make shift shelter with a row of bunk beds in it. The floor floods everytime it rains. It's raining right now, incidentally. He also has a bunch of rubble where his house once was. So we described to him how he could clear out all the beds, bring in the rubble to build up the floor, dig a ditch around the whole thing to divert the water away from the beds and then he told us he has no tools. So I said I would give him one of our shovels. But I knew that was totally insufficient for the job.

So after a little thought, I told him we'd be back in the morning and would leave a couple shovels with him so he could get started. I asked him to have all the beds out by the time we get there so we could get right to work. I am staying on track because I just did an assessment, found another dome site and built dome number three all in one day!

When you are basically a one person organization, you have the freedom to make spontaneous decisions and see instant results. I like it that way. These people woke up this morning without any idea that they were going to go to bed in a new house. They got one today just as soon as they realized it was going to happen, it did. Life should be like that more often.

I wish I had more resources available to me to pass on to people like this.