Thursday, 17 September 2009

Sirets and cold showers.

Siret (see-ret) = candy in creole.

I wasn't going to use my blog for bitching, but it has come to it that I must. I wanted to tell about the great adventures and all of the good things, but what is "good" anyway? Possibly my irritating and awkward and uncomfortable experiences will be my best later, regardless of how I feel or see them right now.

I haven't said anything in my blog, but for the past month I've been wavering between staying and leaving. Staying because I know how great of an experience it is to be here, leaving because semi-isolation (semi because I'm rarely ever alone) and busting out of my comfort zones in all directions is just super overwhelming when you don't know what the hell you're doing, when you have no solid center to ground you.

My "project" I'm working on is a waste management project. It should be ok. There's a lot going into it; a lot of factors which need to be considered and planned into whatever I think I'm doing. I need to go around town and ask people questions and figure out how they view trash and what they do with it in order to maybe think about a waste management system that would work here.

Other than that, I don't have too much going on. I'm supposed to be adapting to the culture. It's supposed to be my number one priority. Forgive me for perhaps being slightly negative, but boy is it hard or takes some kind of person to push yourself onto people and into their lives when maybe they don't want you there, or you don't know how to get there. I personally really enjoy just hanging out with my host family. So far, they like me enough and I like them enough (though we're having some door closing cultural issues). Besides them and maybe some of their friends, suggestions?

I'm not saying I'm not at some point going to do this throughout the year, but the thought of it right now is terrifying. I'm all for meeting people through organized activities and common interests, but when it comes to poking my head into groups of people who I know nothing about, it is SO scary. It's all part of the learning curve I suppose and learning about myself.

That's all my bitching for right now.

I did go on a bike ride today. Very exciting to have a working bicycle. Automatic mobility. The roads are kind of scary and when it rains there are major pot holes (mud pits). And today I had to turn around because the road I started biking on did not come back around to my part of town. That's about it.

Monday, 14 September 2009

1 night, 2 day trip in Haiti = 3 nights, 4 days p.1

Alas, going on a road trip at first sounded like a good way to get out of the office for a few days and see the Haitian countryside. Oh man, if I had only known.

The plan was to leave on Wednesday morning at 5 a.m. to Port-au-Prince (capitol of Haiti). It's about a 4 - 4 1/2 hour drive. Get to P-a-P and then move on to Les Cayes in the afternoon, sleepover in Les Cayes, get up in the morning, take water samples and then drive back home. Easy as pie. Ha. I packed 2 shirts, 3 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks, and only one pair of pants. Again, if only I had known. I was a little nervous since I kind of knew it wasn't going to be super comfortable traveling conditions, and being a lady, it's a little more difficult going to the bathroom, but I figured it would be fine traveling.

I got up at 4:40 on Wednesday and was outside waiting by 4:55. It was dark and the moon was setting. No one came at 5. And still no one came at 5:30. The sun was coming up and people were starting to walk around a bit more. At 5:45, Gran woke up and was walking around, saw me and was like ah! At that point I looked down the road, and about 50 yards down, the truck was sitting, parked. I went and sat back down. Then at around 5:55 ish or so, the red truck drove right past my house.

I got up and started walking to Javan's house, and as I got closer the truck started turning around. Javan said the driver, Clemmy, thought my house was further down. Uh huh. We picked up a couple people on the way who were also going to P-au-P. And then the drive started. We were in the truck bed, standing on two spare tires at the front. The roads are pretty bumpy, so it was similar to skate boarding or something, in the way that you have to figure out what your center of gravity is and work your way around the bumps as they come. We stopped for breakfast/lunch around 8:30. It was fish and rice. It was good, but not necessarily breakfast food from my Western perspective.

The drive from breakfast was through the last stretch of mountains. At some point the wheels started squeaking every time we went around a corner. It was slightly nerve racking since we were going around turns that had no safety rail and no shoulder and trucks were coming at us from the other direction. However, we made it safely into P-a-P around 10:30-11.

There was a bunch of shopping to do since there was a well broken at La Gonave (island west of the mainland). Going around PaP is insane. The intersections are nuts, and passing is at your own risk, with crazy painted buses carrying 50 people, and tap-taps carrying 20, and cars, and trucks, and mopeds all trying to get somewhere and the majority of vehicles are second hand and on their last legs. Smoke for exhaust, burning garbage, human feces smells kind of absorb into you. It's pretty nuts.

After our shopping, we went to a garage to get the tires fixed. The garage could also have been named car cemetery. Cars were littered throughout the walled yard, with a house to the right behind all of the cars and a covered area to the left with parts and tools. That was where we camped out for the next 5 and 1/2 hours while they fixed the car. I'm not actually sure what they did, possibly realigned the wheels. They also changed the brake pads, even though I was skeptical if they were the problem. The head mechanic graciously let me use his bathroom, though it didn't flush and I had to walk by the scary daughter who glared at me while I walked by, but at least I got to use a toilet. With the work done and more money spent than I think the crew had intended, we headed out at 5:30 in search of a place to stay.

We ended up sleeping in a hotel called Rosaline. It wasn't too bad. There was electricity and running water. After traveling in the back of a truck and sitting around a garage all day, it was probably one of my top 5 best showers. That was the first day. I'll write more later about the next few days.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Gifts from Gran

My favorite thing here so far, which I may have already mentioned, is getting food made for me by Gran. Gran must have been quite the hottie in her day. She's got big saggy boobs, and a small frame that is now wrinkly and gray with age. She doesn't have any teeth left, but she always color coordinates her head scarf with her dress.

Since she doesn't have any teeth yet, it's super hard to understand what she says, and when I talk to her most of the time she either doesn't hear me (I haven't figured out yet if she's hard of hearing or not) or she shakes her head and does a half laugh and looks to Wilson for translation. In the morning when I see her and ask her how she slept, it's usually the same thing every time: Not so good, then she rubs her side or head or whatever body part that ached her. That's usually how it goes anyway.

Gran doesn't do all of the cooking anymore, but sometimes when Soulange is at the market or busy with something else, she takes the responsibility of sweeping the back, looking after the kids and making snacks.

Now, the last snack I got was this past Saturday when Soulange was at the market. I forget how is started, but I think Gran waved an ear of corn at me, said something and walked to the cooking hut. At some point, Wilson came and got me and showed me the three ears of corn sit on the flames in the hut. He picked them off as Gran came in with a couple more. She told me to go sit back down and handed me a plate of sliced avocado. I sat down with the plate. Benji was floating around so I gave him part of it and ate a piece myself. That's when she brought out the corn and was like no, no, no. Don't eat the avocado yet. She handed me the corn which was cooked and slightly charred. Eat it with the Kernels. Alix (grandpa) was sitting next to me, watching.

I picked up the corn knowing that eating it right off the cob was not the plan. But what I was supposed to do I wasn't sure. Wilson, Alix and Gran sort of made a twisting motion with their hands, so I followed. The kernels didn't come off, and when that happened, Alix laughed and started doing it for me. He said, "Blan's don't have to do any work!" We both laughed because it was so true.

With shed kernels and cut avocados, I was still at a loss. I started putting the kernels on top of the avocado, but Gran and Alix laughed again and said, no, no, no. Put a handful of kernels in your mouth and then take a bite of avocado. So, that's what I did. My jaw ached for how much chewing was required. I asked Gran and Alix if they wanted any. They said no, no, no. I offered one more time, and Alix was like, "We don't have any teeth." Ha. Right.

The only thing with the kernels is that Gran made two full ears of corn and I felt obligated to finish it since it was kind of like a present. So, I chewed, and chewed, and chewed, slightly against first instinct, until there were only a few left which I gave to the rooster near by. Good snack.

The next offering, I will keep brief. I bought coffee for the family. (Sidenote: Roasting and grinding is done by hand; roasting over their wood pit and grinding with a log-sized mortar and pestle.) I went to into town earlier in the morning, but when I got back Gran had a whole pot of coffee with cup and saucer waiting for me with 3 little pieces of bread. She had set it up in her bedroom, at her table! I felt so honored to sit in her room and drink like the 5 cups of coffee. The first cup she poured, and I drank some, and she kept pouring it until I was like, thanks! But it was pretty great sitting in her room drinking (super sugary) coffee. First (5) cup(s) of coffee in like 2 1/2 weeks, and for someone who drank it everyday, that's a long time. Thanks Gran.

Friday, 4 September 2009

My neighborhood and house

Per request of one of my family members, today I am going to write about my house and the neighborhood.

The neighborhood I live in is on the outskirts of town. If you thought of Minneapolis as Pignon (totally not to scale, just for an idea) La Pila, where I live (which is actually still part of Pignon, but is a township, or something. I don't really know) is like Eden Prairie or Hopkins, or some other suburb, but not countryside. Houses line the roads, and there are some cactuses which define the boundaries of each property. The houses are made of cement blocks, then finished with finer cement giving it a smooth appearance. They are also often painted, some pastels, some darker colors, but they tend to be on the bright side. Repairs are far and few between since it costs $$ to get stuff fixed, and if water isn't pouring through the ceiling then it still works. It takes awhile to get used to the shabbier look of the neighborhood, but it's starting to normalize (aka. I'm getting familiar to the feel of things). It looks a lot worse than it feels or what my "standards" for live are used to. There is only electricity in the city, and then it only sometimes runs. When it's not broken or when they have fuel, but that's expensive too.

Roads are used for walking, biking, motorcycles, donkeys, horses, and trucks. There aren't really any cars. Cars would definitely not be able to handle the rugged dirt Haitian roads. In some places, they are fairly impassable, or passable with tons of shocks, 4 wheel drive, and serious skills. Women walk around with stuff on their heads (water, purses, sacks of stuff, huge bowls of laundry, etc.). Men mostly carry things, but I actually have only seen men help women carry stuff now that I think of it. Very curious.

My house is a lot like the other houses in the neighborhood except there are two houses on the compound I live and two little wooden huts. One of the huts is for cooking, and I believe the other is for storing food, but I'm not entirely sure because I haven't been in there yet. The other house is for Gran and Ailix, grandparents. In my house, the kids and Soulange share a bed, and I can hear them from my room. Sometimes there are some funny interactions because Benji can't talk yet.

The houses are surrounded on the left and right by corn stalks, while in the back there is a big shady tree, and sugar cane in the back fields. There are some avocado, mango and orange trees in the back as well.

As for things that my family does...they get water, cook, sit around, Soulange does my laundry (I pay her and she does a fabulous job. I have a white bra that has never been as white since I bought it). Sit around. Gran is kind of old, but she's great. She made me breakfast once (I don't pay for breakfast) and today she gave me an avocado for lunch. I was greatly touched by these gestures. I felt looked after. Yea, and more sitting around, take naps when it gets super hot during the day. Market is on Saturday. Soulange goes into town and sells stuff. Of the two weeks I've been here, they haven't gone to church, but they've talked about it. That's about it for now. If I have more to add, I will later. This wasn't too exciting, but I hope it helped with the visuals. I will post some more photos on facebook.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Poop! (A fair warning if you're not up to reading this)

I hate to talk about it, but it's so important and people in the US and other developed countries are too uptight about it anyway. Thus, I will inform you all of my adventure of 24 hour (possibly more, I'm still sort of working it out) of really uncomfortable bathroom issues.

It all started on an unfortunate day, a day like many other days, mind you. I had breakfast and already something was astray. Morning passed (no pun intended) without much events. Lunch was slightly more precarious, slight tinges of wobbliness deep in my belly. Then dinner. Feeling the need to indulge my host mom and be polite, I chowed down on french fries, fried plantains, a spicy cabbage salad, and avocado. Such a bad idea. That night I tossed and turned until I could take it no longer. I thought maybe I could wait until morning to use a proper, flushing, American toilet. When I looked at the clock it read 9:26. Nope.

I mustered up the courage, and my toilet paper, and ventured outside to the cement pit of doom. Cockroaches like to reside there after dark. However, I was told if I shined a light on them they would scatter. Normally, this situation would totally not be ok with me, but when you gotta go, you have to go. Scatter they did and burst forth the evil demons in my stomach. This happened, not once, or just twice, but for the rest of the evening. Awful.

The next day I took a stopper-upper. That helped with the ghastly flow, but sometimes that's not always the best thing. I only ate some bread and peanut butter at lunch, and when I got home I had to explain to my host mom that I couldn't eat my favorite meal so far (mashed potatoes, chicken and spicy BBQ sauce) because I felt sick. The sickly feeling came back. Unfortunately, when it did come back it was down pouring rain; full blown, angry thunderstorm. I had to sit it out. Finally, not wanting to have any accidents, I put on my poncho, grabbed kleenex (I had run out of TP), flashlight and succumbed to nature yet again, and the cockroaches.

Back in my room, I lay on my bed and listened to the noises my stomach was making. I have never heard so much distress and angst in a belly in all my years. It was really quite horrendous. I hope that it didn't frighten my younger host brothers, perhaps thinking at night I turn into a beast, growling, frothing at the mouth, waiting to eat them when they are unawares (I maybe would have thought that as a little kid).

Yeah, so that's about it. As I said before, I'm still sort of working it out. I just hope it's not worms or something. I'm not sure how many days you're supposed to wait before you do something about it. Eh, oh well. Ta for now. (Hope I didn't offend anybody's sensitivities...)

Monday, 31 August 2009

Mousekapades (spelling?)

Last night was pretty good. There was a local soccer game between the main town and the outskirts of town. I'm not entirely sure, but I was told the Pignon, the city, won. However, I heard the outer-parts of the town won as well. This latter information came from my host brother, Wilson, though, and the entire time he was running around chasing girls. So, I'm going to go with Pignon winning.

Other than that, it was an early night. Lights out with the sun, and I stayed up to read a little bit. However, in the middle of the night I woke up to the sounds of scampering and scratching. Now, the acoustics of the house are weird. I don't know if I've mentioned this, but there could be something way far away, and it sounds like it's in my room. With that said, I tried to discount it as just another random noise outside. But then it was under my bed. I felt it. A few times, actually.

At that point, even though it was in the middle of the night, I got out my little mini, yet powerful flashlight, turned it on, and the sounds stopped. Turned off the light. The scampering started again. I did this a few times until I heard it (by this time I deduced it was a mouse. For two reasons: 1. It was squeaking. 2. I had been here a week and no mice. Time was up.) run under my door. I got out of bed and shoved a washcloth under part of the door I thought was big enough for the mouse to squish through.

Unfortunately, he/she must have been using the entire door crack because I heard it run under the door and run into something in my room. I turned on my light and actually saw it scatter under the door. At this point, I grabbed my towel/piece of cloth/whatever and shoved it under the door.

The door it was running under is attached to the kitchen of the main house on the right of my room looking out from my bed. After I shoved the cloth under my door, it started running on the plates and silverware, plastic bags, and once or twice tried to get under the door again. It was one of the most rambunctious mice I've ever dealt with. It wasn't so much scary having a mouse in the room, it was the scratching and scampering noises in the pitch dark that were more unnerving. I'll try to keep the door under wraps from now on, but my guess is that it's inevitable.

As for work, Neil is stuck in the Dominican Republic today. His car broke down, and then he locked his keys in the truck. He should probably be getting back sometime tonight. My work is going slowly. I'm thinking about working on some sort of trash management system. This is way more work than I had originally thought. I'll see how that goes. It's still sort of in my interest range.

There is also a tree nursery plan that's in the works. So, I'm putzing around on the internet and sort of reading up on business plans and waste management facilities. That's all for now.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Outskirts of the office

So far, after lunch I've gone on a walk after eating. It's a good way to get out of the office and check out this side of Pignon. Mostly, it's grassland with mango trees randomly spaced on the footpaths. There are also some seriously equipped trees with massive spikes. They could totally take out an eyeball or testicle if you got too close.

Today, Javan and I explored a bit further than we did yesterday and we ended up in someone's sugar cane field, and then their corn field without a good way out. I sort of felt like a trapped goat. Eventually, we got around, but not after mildly surprising a man and his kid working on the field. I don't know if he was actually surprised or slightly amused. His kid was laughing.

We also made our way down to the river past a couple bulls and a kid on a horse. I have still yet to be fully ok with seeing people bathing in the river. I know they don't care, but there's that first glance at a bare chested lady and I can't help looking somewhere else. However, after she asked us for money, everything else fell right into place and, naked or no, things were a-okay.

Yesterday it rained pretty hard at the end of the day. Being a fan of thunderstorms, I got fairly excited about the hour of lightening and thunder prior to the rain and then the rain came. We were all tucked under the office's over hang, waiting it out. The secretary walked out in the middle of the storm with her green umbrella. It got pretty bad after that, but she showed up for work today, so I know she made it ok.

After getting back home and sleeping for a few hours, there was another outburst. I'm not sure how hard the rain was coming down, but I put my pillow over my head because it was coming down so hard and was super load on the tin roof. Then, as quickly as it came, it stopped; I rolled over on my bed (which I can feel the springs through, yay!) and went to sleep until the really loud rooster started making a raucous at 5:30. Good times.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

First week of work

So, not only did I get a new family, living quarters, town, bathroom, climate, etc., I also got a new job. It's funny because I've never really had a real office job. Now, it's only the second day and I know this will not be the typical office job by any means, but this is the first two days in a row that I've been parked in front of my computer looking up stuff. It's not too shabby thus far. There's actually cold water, by means of a water fountain (no on has yet to chat around it), a nice bathroom with educational reading (Neil gets the Economist, one of my favs, even though I only ever read like 3 articles in the 75 pages each week). All of my other jobs required more walking around, and no sitting. I kind of like having an office portion of the job. It's a new experience for me sharing an office. I can all of a sudden relate to all of the office jokes now, or can see myself maybe being able to relate to them.

The direction I hope to be going in with my stint in Haiti is some sort of way or another is trash, whether it be organic or non-organic. I kind of think organic would be more beneficial to the area, but I don't really know yet. It's only my second day at work. I'm pretty sure it will just run its course.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

My first night in the new digs.

Let's just say it was a bit of a surprise when I got to my new house and there was no ceiling on the shower and no door on either the toilet or the shower.

The house is in a very pleasant location and my host family, thus far has been nothing but hospitable. My room has a bed, a mosquito net, a mini bed stand that the Matt prior to me made, a table a two chairs, one which is holding my luggage/dresser of the ground. My host mother's name is Soulange (which I mentioned earlier), and there's Gran and Alix (I think that's it, but the pronunciation is a bit different). I'm not particularly clear what it was, but the second Soulange put the biggest plate of spaghetti and hotdog on my desk last night, I completely broke down and didn't eat any of it. Dinner is served in my bedroom at a little table with a chair. Eating alone, and not being hungry, and dirty and basically aimless, I had what you could say a meltdown.

Ha, the funny thing is I tried closing the door, but I got a knock and it was Soulange asking me if I was sleeping. No, then open the door. Oh man, I was totally embarrassed not only becuase I had red puffy eyes, but I didn't eat any of the gigantic plate of pasta she made me. That's when i decided to go take a shower at the guest house, a 30-min walk away, with about 45 min of sunlight left.

The shower has no windows, so I had to leave the door open, which was fine because only the older guard was around. Shower good, phone call to sister, good. Walk home, dark. I knew where I was going , but not really where to turn off. There was a woman with a chair on her head who asked where I was going and I told her, and she walked with me for awhile, and before she turned off, she shouted at someone behind us.

After walking for awhile, a man starts walking up behind me with a bottle in his hand, and I thought, well if he was going to do something, he would have already. Anyway, it turned out to be Javan's host father, and he walked me home. Oh and I forgot to mention it was lightening the entire way home, illuminating the path momentarily as I walked. Right as I got home, the whole family was out and waiting for me. Oops. And it started to rain.

Javan came over, and we chatted for awhile, and then right before he left, with lamp on his head, he lit up the biggest spider I've ever seen on my wall. He killed it, but needless to say, I was sitting in my bed for the rest of the night listening to every single sound from bug, animal or whatever else was out there. At one point there was something bright flying around and it scared the shit out of me because I was like, who's in my room. Ah, duh, it's a lightening bug.

Anyway, this is super long, and if you made it this far, good job. I think if it doesn't start raining soon, there's a soccer game in town. So, that should be exciting. Again, as for photos, I'll take some more, and then load them all up at one time. Ok, ciao ciao.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Eating un-ripe mangoes..

Thus concludes my cushy life in the guest house.

I got into Pignon on Wednesday evening and I was told that I wasn't going to be able to sleep at my house until Saturday because Soulange (I think that's how you spell her name) my "host mother" didn't have the food to feed me and needed to wait until market, which is Saturday, today. There was a group staying at the guest house from IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology). They were pretty great and nerdy engineers (if you guys read this I mean it with all sincerity).

The project they were working on involved setting up electricity to the town's high school. They were going to set up light and outlets, but as time had it, they only set up the lights. But it's pretty awesome since no other buildings in the town are hooked up to electricity except for a few people who can afford generators. The group needed to set up the solar panels to a battery or charger or something, and then hook it up to the rest of the school and feed the wire and set up the light switches and the circuit boxes for the light bulbs. I will not look a light fixture the same way.

Not knowing much about electrical currents and blah blah blah, I stripped wire, picked up trash and fed wire to people. I did get to set up a couple light fixtures, which I thought was very exciting.

The best part of them being (apart from their amicable personalities and senses of humor) was the weir (spelling?). The weir measures the flow of water in a stream. Without being too verbose about the experience, we drove for 40 min, then walked for 40 min, in which we crossed three streams (one we had to take our shoes off, roll up our pants and wade across), and several corn fields.

The stream was in a mini valley with banana trees every where on the sloping hillsides. The stream was about 3 to 6 feet across, and very clean. We drank from it. Oops. Everything so far has been fine.

As for the cushy life...all of my meals have been prepared by the Haiti Outreach cooks, and they did a fabulous job. The bedrooms were all furnished with Ikea bedding and towels, the showers were warm to hot and the toilets flushed, and there's wi-fi.

Today, I'm moving into Soulange's house. I'm fully prepared to decorate my mini room with my tapestry and photos on a ribbon (idea from Aria). I think Javan, the other intern, and I are going to go to the market later today. That should be interesting. Oh, and I'm going to set up a bank account possibly; not sure, however, since the line is super long and it's only open until like 11:30.

Other than that, I've been getting up and 6:30, if not earlier and going to bed at like 9, since everything kind of stops when there is no sun (no electrcity).

Kids roam freely who yell "blan" and ask us to give them something. Mostly, it's just a conditioned response to seeing white people, I think, sort of like another way of saying hello. Goats roam freely as well, and sometimes even baby goats. They are highly entertaining, as are the kids.

Pignon is surrounded sort of by moutain/hills, so not as hot as in Port-au-Prince. And I have to mention that right now I have two kids peeping in the window watching me type. It's funny because there is always an audience here. It's pretty great. But, yeah, other than that it's pretty beautiful. Such a lame description, but that's all I got right now.

I'll post some photos when I find my camera chord. It's lost in the abyss of my luggage. Ciao, for now.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

First day in Haiti

Ah, yes. First day here and we already got a mini tour of part of the city. No joke, it took like 45 min to an hour to get probably 8 miles to where we were going. Crazy mad traffic.

The flight this morning was at 6:30am, and if anyone has ever needed to get on a 6:30am flight, they know how much it totally blows. It actually wasn't that bad, and there was a pretty sweet ass sunrise to watch when we got to the airport. The flights were mostly uneventful. There was a handsome young man who sat next to me who I believe asked me if I was going to Columbia. I said no, but he still gave me a present at the end of the flight: a book note (I'm too tired to think of the real word right now. A thing that holds your page...) with his e-mail on it. Oh yea, baby.

Then layover, then flight. We got out luggage without any problems and the plane wasn't even late. So, all in all it went pretty well.

The mini tour was induced by the need of the two women I am traveling with at the moment, Peg and Jewlie, board members of Haiti Outreach, to get some art pieces from the iron works area. And as I said before, it took us at least an hour to get where we were going. We got turned around a couple times, but our driver (who was super chatty, wanted to practice his english), asked people walking on the street and we found it no problem. Jewlie and Peg went hog wild and got like 10 pieces of art, all for a reasonable price of $65. I think it's reasonable since it probably took them forever to make them.

And then we can back to our hotel, which is super swanky. I'm saying, high class Haitian, and like very decent American style. They have free wi-fi which is more than Starbucks can say.

That's about it today. Sleep is something I long to return. Which reminds me, the sun sets at like 6pm every night and rises at 6am. So, I do believe that my sleep schedule will be changing a bit once I no longer have electricity. Yup, that's all for now.