Friday, September 17, 2010

Ang Proteje Nou

Me and Eva at the orphanage site...... she is a real sweetheart

Finishing up in Port Au Prince was not a simple task. What could have been simple
under normal circumstances became another obstacle maze to navigate. We
finished off both domes with front porches and sand paths leading up to
them, but we had to make a shade structure and the anchors needed to
set over night. I had been given a deadline to leave GRU because of
irreconcilable incompatibility. More about that later....

David and I had decided to go on the motorbike on Sunday to attempt to
construct the shade structure between the two of us. So, after packing
all morning into the early afternoon, we finally got on the bike to go.
After we were driving for about ten minutes, the bike started to swerve
back and forth in a somewhat alarming way. The back wheel had gone flat,
leaving us swishing back and forth like a drunken fish. I managed to
pull safely over to the side of the road. It being sunday, everything
was closed. But a couple friendly guys on the side of the road told us
in creole there was a place just a short distance ahead. So, I
determinedly started to push the bike, arduously in the hot sun towards
the distant wheel repair spot. The guys watched as they were
walking and then they started to tell me something in Creole. I figured
out that they meant to start up the bike and put it in first gear and
walk next to it, it would be easier. So I did, only I didn't realize you
could just let it idle, so I was sort of run/walking next to the bike,
clumsily trying to keep up with it as i gave it little bursts of gas.
David was walking behind and watching me.

The men started shouting at us again in Creole. We figured out again
they were saying you dont need to put the gas on, just let it idle and
it would go at a better speed for walking. Sometimes communication is
such a simple thing. Words just get in the way.

So, we go to the spot, I negotiate a price with the dude, quite badly,
actually, which creates an instant camaraderie because we are both
laughing at me and we agree on 150 gourdes which is just about 3 bucks
American, and they commence to fixing it. When Haitian tire fixer
vendors fix tires, they have an entirely different method than
Americans. They have this little contraption that you light up and then
it heats up a sort of metal press. They stick some gummy looking stuff
on the tire where its busted and shove it under the hot press, leaving
it to melt for a very scientific amount of time. In this case it was
exactly how long it took the dude to pry off the tire from a ginormous
truck rim. So he gets it all fixed up, i pay him, we get back on the
bike and drive away. The sky looks pretty ominous at this point and then
I go over a bridge and realize I am not going the right way at all. We
are lost! So, I ask David if he is hungry and he says yes, so we decide,
fuck it, lets go to the store and buy some food and go back to the base
and cook a vegetarian dish. We are both tired of the psuedo vegi food
we've been being fed for weeks now. Haitians dont really get the concept
of a meat free dish. They think as long as you pluck out the chunks of
goat meat or cow or pig or chicken or fish that its good to go. My
standards have definitely loosened since being in Haiti. I realized that on my
flight back to Haiti after my last visit to NYC when suddenly the airline was serving food
(surprise surprise) and then it was a chicken and pasta dish. I asked for a vegetarian
option, of course there wasn't one and I was hungry. So I just plucked
the chicken out of the pasta and ate what was left.

So we head back to the base and make dinner. It's my last night at GRUB.
BZ and Emma are cooking in the kitchen. We join in for a kitchen party.

David and I stay up late talking about building container houses out of
old containers with old cars attached to them in odd ways to create
bedrooms and chill out spaces. He is working with Give Love on Humanure and container houses. He is very into shit. He calls himself the shit man.

The next morning, David and I set out to make another attempt at
constructing the shade shelter before noon when Pastor Abraham is coming
with a truck to get me and all my gear and the last dome to bring it
all to Jacmel.

So, I make sure to get really good directions from Aldy and we jump on
the bike and go. I am driving and I am remembering the way. I am
notoriously bad at directions. I can drive somewhere 100 times and still
get lost. It's not that I am unobservant, I am overly observant, I
notice odd things, expressions on people's faces, bits of trash, a
skinny dog, an ancient man pulling a giant wooden two wheeled cart...
those things are not always good landmarks, though. This time I dont get
lost. I see all the landmarks. The UN, the painted wall, the police
station, the park with the clothes hanging in the trees, the broken down
hearse with the american flag in the garbage in front of it... Dr Roberts orphanage is on the way and we pass that too. Suddenly, the bike just stops. Out of gas! Brilliant.

So I coast up to a dude with a shelving unit on the sidewalk with diesel
fuel on top and gas on the bottom in plastic half gallon jugs. He puts
one half gallon in and then attempts to charge me the equivalent of 7
bucks american for it! I swear most Haitians equate "Blan" with "Lejan"
which is money, gat mo mo. I sometimes feel like I dont look human at
all to these people but more like a dollar bill with arms and legs. The
legs are only there to carry me to them and the arms are only there to
hand them cash. My head is just a bobbing bauble babbling bad Creole.
But it's getting better.

I definitely know enough Creole to shut them up when they start asking
for money. Mostly I say "Mwen Pov" which means "I'm poor" which they never believe and they usually respond with "Ou pa pov" or "blan pa pov" or "Mwen POV" to which
I respond "Nou Pov" which means "We are poor" But there are many
variations to this exchange and it sometimes attracts a crowd as I get
more and more animated.
I am better than tv, apparently. That's not saying much, tv sucks.

Anyway. I hand the guy 150 gourdes and say "Fini" and we get on the bike
and drive away. We have a shade structure to build! I drive for about 5
minutes and the bike starts feeling weird again. I pull over to the
side of the street and look down and sure enough, the back tire is flat!
Again! The scientific method from the day before failed! Marde!

These days when shit happens, I just deal with it, I dont even get upset
anymore. It's just Haiti. David and I theorize that the tire dudes are
throwing nails in the street to pop our tires to get more business, but
it's hard telling, no knowing. So, we look around. There are no tire
repair places in sight but there is a bicycle repair situation across
the street. So we push the bike over and indicate the pwoblem. They say
they cant repair it, they point across the street where I can buy yet
another inner tube for this bike tire. I had to buy one a week before in
Jacmel where we had a similar patch job go south. That was a two flat
day, that day in Jacmel. It was splendorous. Aldy and I ate in a fancy
restaurant while we waited for the guy to fix our tire. They had real plates, metal
silverware, ice cubes in glasses! The luxury was over the top.

So, we walk across the street and I buy an inner tube to go with my
inner teen who loves driving a motorbike so much. I go back across the
street and then the dudes tell us they still cant repair it. One of the
bicycle dudes, who are my people, incidentally, says he can find someone
and leaves to go retrieve a fixer upper out of the crowd of people in
the market across the street.

He comes back with a short kid with a big crescent wrench. I mean, he
is short because he is a kid, he is not a particularly short kid. The
wrench looks even bigger in comparison to him, though

You give a kid a tool and they can do wonders with it. This kid set to
work removing the back wheel while a group of grown men stood around
watching. Us Blan went to chill in the shade of a big tree and drink Tampico and
smoke cigs. Bad habit I picked back up in Haiti. The cigarettes are good here, no
chemical additives. David and I have alot to talk about.

Give Love responded immediately when I introduced the new orphanage
site. They set up a site survey the very next day to assess the
possibilities of the proposed site. Kevin from Kleiworks came out to see the site as well.
When they saw the positive potential they followed through with making
contact with the Director
I am happy to report that Give Love is negotiating to build a
compost toilet at the street kids orphanage. I love Give Love. David
tells me that I remind him of another woman he met from Brooklyn when he
was in Costa Rica, where he is studying permaculture. I ask him how I
am similar to her and he says "she was unstoppable" I take it as a

I look over and one of the dudes standing around nods at me indicating
that the job is done.
So we get up and stroll over. This happy dude starts saying Rastafari
and Hali Salasie to David and grinning because David is a Swiss German
dude with Blond Dreadlocks.
We laugh. The bike dude says its 100 gourde and holds his hand out. I
take out 100 gourde and give it to the kid. They all laugh. I pick up
the used inner tube and put it around the kids neck like a rubber scarf
and give him the equivalent of a high five, which in Haiti is a fist
pound and then you punch your heart. We get on the bike and have no
pwoblems and we get back to the orphanage.

Bruce Lee is there working and we are happy to see each other. David and
I start to construct the shade shelter. We take the giant tarp and spread it out
and roll up either side to the center mark to carry it over to the spot where we have two bamboo posts prepped to go up with the tarp attached to it. However, we happened to choose the windiest day I have witnessed so far in Haiti to put up a shade structure with not enough people and not enough time. The neighbor dude joins Bruce Lee and his builder friend to try to assist us. They start shouting at us in Creole.

We stop and go sit in the shade to show them our drawing. We have it all figured out.
Bruce Lee's broken English collides with my broken Creole and David's Swiss German to make quite a shit stack. The neighbor suddenly jumps up and runs to get another neighbor and returns with a well dressed guy who, it turns out, speaks English, Creole and Swiss German! What are the chances of that?

I am getting nervous because Pastor Abraham is on his way to pick me and my entire project up from GRUB to bring me to Jacmel. I call him and luckily he is stuck in traffic. It is buying me more time, but not enough to really build this thing. But I have 100 american dollars in my pocket. So I offer the dudes a job. They accept.
We explain it all to them, I give the builder dude my tape measure because he doesnt have one and I have two and we leave.

I get back to the base, have lunch with David and do last minute packing. Sam checks my suitcase and boxes to make sure I am not stealing anything. Thank God! I would hate to be accused of taking things that dont belong to me to help Haitians rebuild their country.

I visit and say my goodbyes to Kevin from Kleiworks, Lucho from Give Love, Emma from GRU, Joanne the cook and Aldy. Pastor Abraham shows up and we load up his truck. I meet Jean-Claude his driver. We set out for Jacmel in their truck heavily loaded with Domes for Haiti's tools and last dome.

The trip is spent well with Abraham and I having a great conversation about God, service, education and community. I really enjoy talking with him even though I am not a religious person. To me, God is not some dude in white robes sitting up in the clouds. God is a concept invented by humans. My version of God is simple.
God = Love

On the way, before we hit the mountains, we are driving at quite a clip and suddenly there is a truck coming right for us. Jean-Claude expertly navigates us off the side of the road just in time to avoid hitting a person on the side of the road and the truck coming at us! Then I learn a new Haitian phrase. "Ang Proteje Nou" which means Angels are protecting us.

I have been in Jacmel for a few days now. Internet access is spotty.

I will update more tomorrow or the next day to let you all know what I have been up to here in Jacmel.

Briefly I will say that I am still looking for my last site. I have decided with Pastor Abraham that my tenth dome could have a greater impact at a different site. I am currently networking in Jacmel to meet artisans, future project collaborators and to find an orphanage that needs a good temporary transitional shelter.

I am coming to the conclusion that my next phase is going to involve transforming the domes I have built so far into permanent structures by removing the skins and adding concrete. I am still planning this.

I am expecting to head back up to Port Au Prince on my way out of dodge for two days and buy some more beds for my orphanages and check in on them before heading back to brooklyn

Today I went to a shelter cluster meeting which seemed like a rant session but they did serve us a great buffet! I also met a great lady from SIDR.

more later..... thanks for reading.


  1. Right on!!

    Whatever way you wrote this one it messed up all the formatting which was distracting, but WOW great stuff. love ya Di.


  2. yeah, i know, i wrote it off line so that when I had the internet for five minutes i could post it. but it looks all weird and i dont have time to fix it. ha ha
    i am sitting in a really nice cafe/restaurant called the Florita Hotel and i just looked out the door in time to see a burro running by without a person, laden with goods. only in haiti
    love you silas!