Tuesday, August 24, 2010

busy week back in Haiti

It's been a busy 6 days since I returned to Haiti. I got back from Brooklyn last Wednesday raring to go, all pumped up from a good dose of BK love, ready to see this project through to completion. I arrived back to the Port Au Prince airport to join enthusiastically in what appears to be a new sport called "Bikrim Grab your bag off the Carousel Wrestling" I actually filmed a little bit of it before a guard reprimanded me. I can't upload it with this computer however, so you'll just have to wait for the movie version..
A nice guy named Nick picked me up at the airport in his air conditioned Jeep and we headed back over to the GRUB base. The new painting on the gate looks great and was painted by the well known Haitian graffiti artist Jerry.
I arrived back close to the end of the day, so I just got settled in and caught up with folks on what had been happening while I was away. They completed the razor wire fence around the entire compound which a couple of us joked about not knowing if it was meant to keep us in or interlopers out. Of course we are free to leave the compound, ha ha.

The next morning I got to work sorting out my shipment which if you remember, had taken me four and a half weeks to get free through Haitian Customs.

I had a couple volunteers from Global Volunteer Network come and replace the ill fated rice bags that had deteriorated in a couple weeks of the hot haitian sun and intense rains with the hefty sand bags from my friendly Hassidic building supply store in Brooklyn. I came back with my bags bulging with sand bags.

Nephtalie came over and brought an iron to do the last step of the silk screening process for the new batch of DFH t-shirts I made at Bushwick Print Lab when I was back home. Shout of to Ray Cross! Ironing the t-shirts is one way to fuse the ink into the clothe so it doesn't wash off. The other way is to throw it in a clothes dryer for an hour, seeing as how clothes dryers are not exactly easy to find in Port Au Prince, the iron was a god-send. The t-shirts are for crew as well as to sell to help raise money to buy beds for the kids to sleep on in the domes.
I sorted out the nuts and bolts into one dome portions and labeled all of Domes for Haiti's tools gave a few spare tools to GRU to add to their tool library. No, they dont read the tools, silly, they lend them. I also blew up a soccer ball to bring with me to the first orphanage.

here is the tool kit and dome cover all ready to go for the first dome build.

here I am in my tent the night before the first build....

As I mentioned, there is a cinderblock wall all the way around the GRUB base. We are contained safely inside. The security guards stay at the gate all night armed with machetes, a billy club, bright lights and an air horn in case of intruders. But there is a hole in the wall. It's a backwards "L" shaped opening into the back yard of our neighbors. They sell beer, soda and cold water through it. I had mentioned it in an earlier post but some of you requested a photo of "the hole in the wall" which is what we call it. Here it is, with Nephtalie and Nellie's big brother Daniel looking through.

The morning of the first build I was woken, as usual, by the rooster cock a doodling his doo directly on the other side of my tent next to my ear, which is, I have to say, a damn good alarm clock. You dont even need a battery! The poor fellow's days are supposedly numbered, however, according to the hungry carnivores at GRUB. For a hippie commune they sure like to eat meat around these parts. When I got back, I found out the alleged rooster killing weapon which had started as a piece of board and was then a tent pole to be thrown like a javalen had been replaced by a brand new weapon- a sling shot. That poor rooster, I really am going to miss it. I dont believe they will actually kill it. I was just informed by Aaron that he also eats the lizards. He was dead serious, he bbq's them and bites their little heads off. Vicious, I tell you, and he is an Engishman.

I had planned on having a crew the morning of the build which was supposed to consist of 2 North American volunteers, the two Haitian girls from the hole in the wall and 2 of the local Haitian guys, Jo Jo and Jimmy. However, Jo Jo and Jimmy had mistaken hydrogen pyroxcide
for something to drink the night before (despite the skull and cross bones clearly drawn on the side of the bottle), so they were not feeling too well and didn't show up at all that morning. 2 down, I was relieved when 2 Canadian Asian volunteers showed up to help and Nellie and Nephtallie came ready to work. The tap tap driver didnt arrive until 10 am, so we had plenty of time for me to teach the four of them the basics of geodesics and how to operate a crescent wrench. There was some talk of their being a manifestation that day, because it had been announced that Wyclef Jean was not going to be allowed to run for president. A manifestation is a day of protests which are potentially riotous. So word came that the two Canadian Asian volunteers would be returned to their base pronto for their safety. 4 down!

Now all I had for a crew was two sisters and I am all for girl power, but I knew I needed some brawn to complete the work we had to do in digging trenches and leveling the ground on the site. So I was a wee bit stressed out. Nellie went to find a couple friends to gather up. She brought back Marco and Lolo. Kind of like Marco and Polo, come to think of it.

The tap tap driver finally showed up. Aaron told me to avoid busy intersections and call him every couple hours to let him know we were ok, we loaded up the truck with all the tools and misc parts needed and we set off to Desamour's Orphanage to build her a dome.

On the way, we hit several hills which we discovered the truck could not make it up! We actually all had to jump out of the truck and push it up the hills. This happened several times. We stopped and bought six watermelons which made the load even heavier, but I could not show up at the orphanage without bringing something to eat.
Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of us all pushing the freaking tap tap up the hills, but I did get a photo of the flat tire we got along the way. Here it is:

nothing is easy in Haiti!
But everyone has such a good attitude about things going wrong, it's really quite contagious.
Here is Marco and Lolo:

This is Nellie hanging out in the tap tap as the driver was jacking it up to repair the tire.

This is Nephtallie ready to go to work with her wrench sticking out of her pocket. Looking like a capable stage hand, actually.

When we got to the site, we first measured out the circle with a half a ratchet strap and one of the anchors pounded in the ground in the center.

Using it like a giant compass, we drew the circle in the dirt. We then set about the hard work of leveling the ground and digging a trench around the spot for water runoff and drainage so the dome wont get flooded when it rains. Which it does, frequently. The kids were very excited by all the tools and activities and some of them were eager to help out. Here is one little dude with a shovel.

The kids all got quite a kick out of my hat, which has a bike inner tube nozzle sewn onto it.
I pretended it was used to fill my head up with air, mimed my head getting really large and me floating away. They all laughed pretty hard at that. I also showed them all each tool and told them the names of them in English and they told me the names in Creole.

We took a break shortly after arriving to eat the watermelons. The kids eagerly ate melon.

We drank a bunch of water and got back to work. It took alot of the day just to prep the ground and have a lunch break, but mid afternoon, Nellie and I started putting the frame together. I put her in charge of instructing the other crew members on how to assemble it.
She has the makings of a great crew lead. So we put the pentagons together and then it was time to put the whole thing together. "It's like the five pentagons are holding hands in a circle" I told them. They quickly grasped the concept and we set about making the circle.

Everyone got involved, but we had to shoo the little kids out of the way. They are called Petit Timoun. Little kids. It's too dangerous to build with them under foot because the struts can become unruly even in experienced hands.

We got the sides all connected and then came the part that would prove to be the most challenging. Putting the final pentagon on top. Nellie said to me "you forgot the ladder" I said, "no, I didn't forget it, I never had one" So we stacked cinder blocks on top of two chairs and myself and the tap tap driver, who had pitched in all day, turning out to be a very big asset to the process, thank god, got on top of the cinder blocks on top of the chairs and had them pass the pentagon to us. I really should have bought a ladder! Then one of the bolts got stuck and we couldn't undo it to reattach the final connection. It was slightly stripped from rubbing on the struts. I will have to show the kids how to not strip the bolts before the next build. I was wrenching on it, the tap tap dude was wrenching on it, neither of us could get it to budge. So I asked the driver's driver (i know it sounds weird but you'd get it if you were here) for some engine oil. He went out to the truck and came back with a container and carefully poured a little bit in the cap and handed it up to me warning me not to get it in my eye. I looked at it and it did not look like oil. I touched it and it did not feel like oil. I asked to see the container. "brake fluid" was printed on the label in english. So I asked the ladies for some cooking oil. They brought some out and I put it on the troubled bolt and nut relationship and waited a minute and then wrenched it and it opened! What a relief.

The next step was to put the cover on. Normally, I would have done the anchors next, but the day was nearly over and we definitely didn't have time to do ten anchors, and I could not leave it over night uncovered because it looks like a giant jungle gym to kids, even some "grown-ups" I know. While that could prove to be quite fun, with fun often comes danger and that one I was not willing to risk having one of the timoun get injured having a blast climbing on the dome. So cover it was. We dragged out a large tarp to unfurl the cover on top of. Unrolling the cover was a moment of discovery for all involved including myself. I had not seen the covers yet either! I have to say that Matt Sperry's crew did an excellent job of fabricating the covers, turns out. You can see his blog here: http://www.sperryfabricarchitecture.blogspot.com/ Thanks Matt!

So, not to set a bad example, but out of necessity, I climbed up to the top of the dome to pull the cover over it, which turned out to be an unintentionally dramatic moment for everyone else. So, just to satisfy them, i did a little victory dance on top of the dome. Then we carefully pulled on her dress. It was a very tight fit but we managed to get it over the dome. She is fat though.

It was getting dark as we finished and we were all exhausted.
Some of the women who had been around all day, Nellie, Nephtalie and Desamour the Madame of the Orphanage went inside the dome for a photo.

from left to right Nellie, Desamour, a friend, Nephtalie, Me and another friend
Here is a photo of my crew for the day including the tap tap driver on the far right and the tap tap driver's driver on the far left. I am in the viewfinder.

End of Day One of the first dome build. The crew was very tired but in high spirits and we all went and had dinner together.

I've got alot of ground to cover and this is going to be a very long blog post. Perhaps you might consider breaking it into edible portions....

The next morning was Saturday and we got going bright and curly with a stack of mattresses on top of a car to go back to Desamour's place to finish it off.

We didn't need a truck for this day, mattresses are light!
Our goal for the day was simple, to make ten anchors for the dome using the cement and rebar anchors we had left over at the orphanage the day before. We ratchet strapped the mattresses and the post hole digger to the roof and shoved the rest of the gear in the trunk, piled in the car and were off! The kids were happy to see us when we arrived. I was beginning to feel a bit ill after we arrived and it was a particularly hot day, so I asked to use their "twalet" and while I was waiting for Desamour to make it presentable to me, the kids all crowded around to say hi.

It was a wee bit overwhelming with my stomach aching the way it was... They were saying to me "hey blanc, hey blanc!" Which basically means "hey whitey" which I know they dont mean offense by, but I dont necessarily like it anyway, so I made a point of telling them, "mwe reli pa blan, mwe reli Lopi" and I persisted and said it a bunch of times.
which means "my name is not whitey, my name is Lopi"
They started repeating my name, which was really cute. I am learning some Creole, but still cannot understand most of what is being said. I get by with miming. One of the kids was pointing to my hands and to their hands, saying "blanc" and I sort of guessed he was saying something to the effect of "look our hands are white too, just like yours" so I had them all put their hands out and I took a photo of them

It was a cool moment, but I have to admit, I was very relieved when Desamour showed me to the john. I was really starting to feel ill. When I came out the kids were curiously waiting. Yes. Everyone poops. I love that book. Have you seen it? It's a kid's book!

So, we set about marking the spots for the anchors and then we had to shift the entire dome to get at the spots to dig the holes with a post hole digger. The crew had never used one before, so I had to do a little demo for them.

The guys got the hang of it pretty quickly and dug ten holes about a foot and a half deep.
While they were on the outside digging the holes I had Nellie and Nephtallie on the inside of the dome putting padding on the bolt ends to make it safe for the kids not to get poked by them.

Next we had to mix the cement which is made from sifted aggregate sand , cement and water.

I showed them the ratios and Nellie took the lead again and mixed up the cement, which I was relieved by because I was starting to feel rather feverish as well as nausea. Not a great day for me, honestly, but I was determined to get through it.

Nellie was not feeling great either. She thought it was from the chicken they had eaten the night before. Nephtellie had a really bad crimp in her neck all day too. We were quite a team!
Good thing Marco and Lolo were feeling fine.

This is how the anchors looked after we filled them in with cement. Ten of them at regular intervals all around the circumference of the dome.

After we were done with this part, we were almost finished. I had Nellie go into the dome and zip tie all the grommets to the bottom struts while I sat with Desamour and this other guy and they told me that I was now the official Godmother of the Orphanage. They presented me with a very official looking document with a stamp from a notary public on it and everything. I was as gracious as I could be while wishing I could be at home curled up in a fetal position in abdominal pain. I really wish I could have relished that moment more, but you have to take what life gives you. So I did the best I could and we took some more photos...

I love this one of everyone in a pile on the floor of the dome. What a sense of accomplishment after our first successful build. I am now the Godmother of all of these kids! What a huge responsibility!

you can see me in my pre-malarial state leaning on Desamour.

These two boys were playing with the soccer ball I brought for the orphanage. They really wanted me to take their photo.

one more shot of the teenagers, the best crew!

The first dome, ready to be occupied by the kids!

We load up the car, pile in, the kids are in a great mood, I feel like I am on fire, I am getting more ill by the minute, I cant wait to get back to the base. So we get back and I pay the kids, pay the driver, we unload all the gear and I hug the kids, they each say "wow" in that drawn out way that Haitians say "wow" its like a two syllable word for them. They are all impressed with how much heat is coming off of me. I go collapse in my tent and then I call Aaron. From my tent. I tell him, I am in my tent and I cant move. He sends Les to come see me. Les is from Brooklyn and he is a solid guy. He recently got in a motorcycle wreck, so he is hobbling around on an injured foot. He comes and ducks into my tent and asks me whats up. I tell him I have fever, I have a thermometer but I literally cant move. It's like I expended every ounce of energy just to complete the job and then I couldn't move I was in that much pain. Les was golden, a blessing. He took my temp and it was 103.8 degrees. He called up Big Paul to come and take me to the hospital right away. Big Paul is a fashion photographer in normal life but is also an EMT

He took me to the hospital after Les put an IV in my arm and started some saline solution into me right away. Andy came out and asked me if he could give me some water, I asked him to pour it over my head. I was in a hot heat, no sweat at all. He poured water over my head and it felt so good. Big Paul is a character. He was non stop making me laugh the whole time even though I was in terrible shape. He brought me to Medishare, which is a hospital of sorts in Port Au Prince. They did a rapid malaria test on me right away. BP and Les had already taken my vitals. My blood pressure was extremely low. A guy was brought into the emergency room while I was in there that had been stabbed in the chest with a machete. He was lying on a bed next to me, totally naked. He looked not alive. It was really intense. A bunch of EMT's and MD's from all over the states were standing around him talking in medical talk and working on him. He was making gurgling noises and I really thought he was dying.
After a while, Big Paul came over and peered into my face. "Is he dead?" I asked Paul smiled, "no, he is not going to die" I am just not used to this kind of stuff, I dont have what it takes to be an emergency doctor. I do like to take care of people and know a little bit about natural medicines, but when it comes to blood and stuff, not the best at that, honestly.
Thank God for the medics of the world. So, I ended up testing negative for malaria but they said that often the test they do comes back negative when the person actually has malaria. TIH, is what people here say, "this is haiti"
So the docs decided to treat me as if I had malaria because all of my symptoms were pointing to that. Including my extremely low blood pressure and sudden spike in fever. Plus I had not taken the anti malarial drugs when I came down here because the first day I did them, they made me so ill! I wish now that I had done them because Malaria sucks. It was a horrible 2 days. I want to publicly thank the people at Medishare for caring for me, thanks to Les for making a special trip down later to check on me, thanks to Big Paul for keeping me in good spirits by making horrible jokes. Thanks to all the GRU folks who came down to see me on Sunday too. I was very lucky to have such great support.

Last night I took the last round of the chloroquine. I made sure to have something in my stomach before I took it so as to avoid the horrible nausea and diarrhea that comes with it. Then I watched "Lost in Translation" on my tiny laptop. I found that to be very comforting. I love Bill Murray. it's an excellent movie. I felt somewhat better as I was falling asleep, but I had no idea what the dream world had in store for me. Apparently this drug is notorious for the psychedelic and sometimes terrifying dreams it invokes. I had the most insane dreams last night. I had a group of women flying me around in the air with crazy eyes. One of them had a face which seemed to be molded out of grey clay with huge alien eyes, she said to me, remember that you were dreaming but you were awake in your dream. It gave me the chills. I had a giant woman singing to me while removing face after face layers of faces and even parts of her face revealing other faces underneath. Like she removed a normal looking face to reveal a giant beaked nose which she took off to reveal a smaller nose under it, she removed her eyes to reveal other eyes underneath and so forth. I kept waking up and thinking, holy shit, this is crazy. It was unclear to me when I was awake and when I was dreaming. At one point I thought I was awake and I was looking outside my tent window and saw all kinds of stuff flying by, like newspapers and debris, then my entire tent was flying through the air, spinning around like dorothy in the wizard of oz. I woke up from that like woah! then I fell asleep again and thought a few guys had come into my tent. They had a list of drugs written on papers and they were asking me if I had taken them, I said no to each one. Then they said something like, she wasnt supposed to know how to read and started saying mean things about me which I did not like, so I told them to shut up but it was hard to form the words, so I had to say it very forcefully which caused me to wake myself up by shouting why dont you just shut up! I really didnt want to go back to sleep after that because the guys voices were really evil sounding and scary I remember the last thing one of them said was "where did she go?" and another said "she went back to the highway of the mind" which was pretty epic but I still was totally creeped out by it, so I tried to stay awake, but failed. Next I found myself on a trip to the land of the dead where everyone had really strange heads. It was underwater and I had to walk down a spiral staircase which wound down and through this weird guy's room. The guy was weird because his head was a giant brain without the normal skin outer covering, but I had to pretend he was normal. I said, "sorry, just passing through" He answered me in a normal voice, "oh, thats ok" I said, "nice room" he said, "i keep it neat" I said, "yeah its nice, no clutter" and made my way down. Next I saw a handsome blond pirate hanging by his feet. His hair was dry even though we were under water. He told me he was not supposed to be dead yet. The people there were all very nice although they looked hideous and strange. I said I didn't want to leave, could I stay? The king of them told me "no, it's not your time yet" I sailed back with the pirate to see if he could come with me back to the land of the living. There was a dude at the gate who granted me permission to enter with loud dramatic music, but I woke up before I found out if the pirate made it through. I woke up feeling rather tired.

Today I feel somewhat better. I have spent almost the entire day writing this blog post. I am hoping to go to Judy's orphanage tomorrow to build dome number two.

thanks for reading me


  1. Wow. Yipee! Poor. Phew!

    So much to comment on, I better email you...

    I am glad you are feeling better and I feel nostalgic reading your writing like the old days of letters, too bad it's not your handwriting.

    love you

  2. Hi Lopi,

    We are so glad to see that the domes are working the way they should! Thanks for doing such a great job down there. We're so happy that we could help with this project, and we love being able to keep up with your progress on the blog.

    When I write a blog entry about the domes, is it alright if I borrow your pictures? I'm going to link to your posts and website, and I'll make sure to say where I got them!

    Admiringly yours,

    The Sperry Fabric Architecture Web Elf (Lindsay)

  3. hi Lindsay
    Yes, you are more than welcome to use the photos and link to my site
    thanks so much