Monday, September 20, 2010

pa pli mal

I can't believe I am still in Haiti. I believe it, but it's kind of amazing that I actually believed I could finish this first phase of the project in 3 weeks. It's been 2 months and 2 days. I am not done yet. Somehow, the finishing touches on this, the first phase of my first humanitarian effort, are hard to bring to a close. Things keep popping up to do.
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:

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


  1. I checked back in on you sis, and enjoyed reading. I love the creole mixed in...always think of that Mexico thing...."dos"!!!
    Keep on keepin on. love you.