Early Friday morning (6:30 AM to be exact) we departed from the AfH house to board a bus for our weekend “getaway” to the Dominican Republic. The trip would be a scant 10 hrs in length, but the scenery would leave a lasting impression. The familiar images of Haiti: trash in the streets, destroyed buildings, shattered roadways and poverty-stricken villages dotted the path to the border. We were greeted at the border with various money-exchanging individuals (of which, none looked too official, even with their well-forged badges). This coupled with the overflowing lake that is on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti were the last vestiges of the most economically inequal country in the world. The Dominican Republic is far better off in most aspects as compared to Haiti. It has roadways, infrastructure, a functioning government and many of the things that come together to make a cosmopolitan existence. It feels incredibly wrong to have crossed an arbitrary border and suddenly, many things are better than they were a mere mile away. This incredible tension is felt in every person as they cross this threshold.
Every week I worry that my posts will become arbitrary, like me sitting in front of a camera recording increasingly ridicules videos, yet every day seems to bring with it something new and exciting. Today we simultaneously prepared for our early morning to late afternoon bus ride to the Dominican Republic, and said goodbye to two of our housemates that we have become quite fond of. Seeing our friends leave, which we have already dealt with a little, makes me wonder how some of the more permanent residents must feel with people leaving after a few months. They must feel like Sam, working at a bar where everybody knows your name, just to have all the regulars leave. I think it will be hard to say goodbye when our time comes next week.
Easter Sunday in Port-au-Prince, the Easter Bunny came for all 20 of the house’s current residents. Easter was a joyous day, we were stuck in the house because all of the driver’s were on holiday. The sun was shining and there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie in the house, as we all cooked breakfast together (a traditional Sunday event at the AFH house).
Monday the reality that we have only 7 days left in the office hit us and the energy has ramped up quite significantly. Team Santo is currently working on three major projects.
Though we will still be on Hispaniola for two weeks, today was actually the last Saturday that we will be in Haiti. Next week we will be in the Dominican Republic on a weekend trip, sure to be a great time.
While we had yesterday off in recognition of Good Friday, we were still expected to be in the office at 8 am today. Most of my morning was spent continuing to work on zoning plans and road layouts for the Santo Development.
As it is our last Saturday in Haiti, there was much debate about what we would be doing today. Most of the discussion focused around either a trip to the beach or to Croix des Bouquet, the metal village. We ended up going to the metal village.
Today we observed Good Friday along with the rest of Haiti. This means that we worked from home today. It was not the most exciting day today so, I will discuss the happenings of the rest of the week. Tuesday is probably the most notable day personally. I was given the charge to visit the site in Delmas 32 again and survey the building adjacent to the one I surveyed last week. I had to have a “hired gun” with me this week to help with measurements so I enlisted Brent. This particular building has a scope of simple refurbishment (plastering over existing surfaces, leveling existing concrete and a new roof). Upon further investigation of the structure, I deemed that it was in need of much more repair. Such details as steel tubing being welded to exposed rebar to support the roof made this a quite easy call. The scope of the project has therefore expanded to being, essentially, a complete reconstruction of the second floor. This made for a much more intense work week as I ended up creating three proposals for the school.
The above-mentioned detail.
The rest of the week was quite uneventful, really. Multiple trips to Giant and the gym are the other highlights. I have no witty anecdotes to spice up any of those stories. I will do my best to “pre-post” next week as we will be leaving for the Dominican Republic early Friday morning.
Over the past few weeks, several of us have been fortunate enough to take several trips out of Port-au-Prince in order to experience the more rural perspective of Haiti. On Monday Emerson and I were able to travel to Leogane with a structural engineer, Rick, from Architecture for Humanity, who was meeting with a potential client for a new school in rural Leogane.
In our initial drive out of the central core of Port-au-Prince, we saw the scenes we have come to be all too familiar with: piles and piles of garbage on the streets (usually with black smoke just billowing from them from the burning), the endless dots of red Digicel and lime green Voila umbrellas that line the streets where vendors have set up to sell anything and everything imaginable-from mangoes to car motors, and the IDP camps that still expand across the city characterized by their blue and white tarps.
However, as we slowly moved out of the city, new scenes started to appear. We started to see the first signs of agriculture. Cows were grazing in open land, people were riding donkeys bringing baskets full of mangoes to market, and groves of plantain trees came into view. Prior to seeing these scenes it was hard to picture the more rural side of Haiti. In Port-au-Prince one is so overcome by the city’s density, that such open space is inconceivable.
In order to navigate to the school, Rick relied on his GPS tracker. (Sorry, google maps doesn’t exist in Haiti.) We took bumpy, dirt roads to get to the school. Along the way we stopped at several places and talked with the local people, who were so friendly and eager to learn what we were doing in their community. The children are always the most excited, coming up to just watch you or hold your hand as you walk around. Some are a little more shy, only smiling and waving and then running away.
Once we reached the school site, a whole new site of Haiti opened up to us. Before our eyes was a beautiful vista of lush agricultural land, tree coverage, livestock and mountains in the distance. Haiti is such a beautiful country, it is just so unfortunate that such a culture of sitting garbage exists. You still see garbage lying around in the rural areas, but not to the extent one experiences in the city. In the countryside the small amount of garbage on the ground is lost by the towering mountains and vegetation that surround and mesmerize you.
The school, which served grades K-6, experienced structural damage due to the earthquake. The building pretty much sunk a few feet on one side, leaving classrooms unsafe for the children to inhabit. The school is currently building a new structure, but unfortunately it is being built with the same unsafe construction techniques that were used prior to the earthquake. A new structure with classrooms for K-12, may be proposed.
While we were on the site we also took a tour of the nearby church and missionary house. As we walked through these structures it was apparent that individuals were still occupying the spaces. I was scared to even pass the threshold because it seemed like the buildings could give away at any moment. The most astonishing scene was from the church. The entire back wall and a significant portion of the front wall of the church fell in the earthquake. Several structural columns are just currently hanging with rebar poking out of the middle. To our surprise, the church still meets every Saturday and Sunday for church services. It was truly a surreal sight. Haiti never ceases to amaze me.
That’s all for now,
Last week on Thursday I had the opportunity to go with some of the AFH staff to a school in Delmas 24, to make cranes with Haitian students. The reason for the cranes is centered around Students Rebuild, a non-profit orginization that is attempting to engage students across the world in the fundraising for the relief effort in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
“Help Japan by making paper cranes. These simple yet powerful gestures will trigger a $200,000 donation from the Bezos Family Foundation - $2 for each crane received - to Architecture for Humanity’s reconstruction efforts in Japan. Once we reach our goal of 100,000 submissions, the cranes will be woven into an art installation - a symbolic gift from students around the globe to Japanese youth.
Why Origami Cranes?
Cranes are sacred creatures in Japanese culture. According to legend, anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes will be granted a wish by a crane. While anyone can contribute to the virtual mosaic on Facebook, our goal is to collect 100,000 origami cranes from young people to represent 100 wishes of support and healing for Japan. A list of wishes will begin to appear when we receive the first 1,000 cranes by mail.”
Architecture for Humanity has taken on this challenge and has attempted to engage the students of Haiti who have a unique perspective on living in a post disaster context.
The experience of the day was memorable. As I was sitting in the office last Thursday morning, I was approached by Stacy McMahan (one of the AFH design fellows) about helping teach students to fold cranes. We went to a school in the Delmas 24 area, described by our Haitian guide, also the pastor at the school, as a slum equivalent to infamous Port-au-Prince slum Cité Soleil.
The school, which has students grades K-12, serves approximately 200-300 children depending on the year. It survived the earthquake, but I must admit, walking on the plywood floors that creak ominously and occasionally allow a sliver of light through the gaps where the boards don’t quite meet, was slightly disconcerting. In the US we take for granted that a building is structurally sound when we step into it. However, in Haiti, the construction techniques vacillate between, perfectly acceptable and dangerous. Life inside a building takes on new and unexpected dimensions when you don’t or can’t trust it’s soundness.
At first the student’s seemed hesitant, and unsure of what we were doing, but as our time progressed the became excited and enthusiastic about the task. (and even more exited about having their picture taken).
Our contact to the school came through an AFH staffer, Carl, who is Haitian, and whose father is the pastor at this particular school. Driving through Port-au-Prince with these two was an eye opening, and informative experience that gave me insight into numerous topics, ranging from Haitian driving, to national politics. One fun anecdote concerns the naming of items in Haiti. At about the same time as Obama was elected in the United States, a new type of public transportation arrived in Haiti. Large white buses with the word Dignité written on the front and side are generally used for regional transportation between Haitian cities. These bus have been renamed “Obama” buses, because of when they arrived. I asked Carl and his father about this and they just laughed, saying that the naming was purely a coincidence of time. Carl’s father, explained another example of this phenomenon: name of used clothing coming from the US that is sold on the street are called “Kennedys” because they first appeared during his presidency.
I was truly inspired by the work the Carl’s father has been involved with in Port-au-Prince, and found the trip informative and fun. I never realized how difficult it would be to explain folding a crane in French, but in the end we collected nearly 150 cranes from this school visit alone. And the students we taught not only received a well needed break from their afternoon studies, but were able to make a small impact in the recovery of an area dealing with many of the same issues that Haitians face every day.
Sending our thoughts to Japan, from Haiti,
It was decided while clicking away at a plethora of architectural software this morning that we were going to take advantage of the few weeks that we have remaining in Haiti. A small tour of downtown Port au Prince was in order with stops at the National Palace, the National Cathedral and the newly renovated Iron Market. Though we were hot and sweaty, packed in our SUV, we were all very excited to see more of the city.
Our first stop was at the Presidential Palace. During the earthquake it had suffered extreme structural damage, and remains standing with only its first floor and third floor domes intact, the second floor was completely crushed. We got out of the car to look at the large white building that appeared very much the same as it did on Jan 12th. Though not much of the building had changed, it was clear that there were workers were removing rubble. We were unsure what was to become of the rest of the building and the site, but our driver told us that he had heard that parts of it might remain a ruin, as a monument to the earthquake.
Especially NOT now that it is snowing!
“Clean water and health care and school and food and tin roofs and cement floors…all of these things should constitute a set of basics that people must have as birthrights.”
Words from Dr. Paul Farmer in Mountains Beyond Mountains
On Thursday, Abby and I (since Cody was working on a J/P HRO project) made our way over to Carrefour again to visit Collége Mixte LaConcorde Orphanage. It took us especially long this time to reach Carrefour since National No 2 is currently under massive construction. Our car was at complete stops along the way. However, crisis turned into an opportunity because street vendors were walking along the cars, so we were able to buy fried banana chips (quite delicious I must say) and watch the construction crews putting in concrete walls and culverts along the road. When we finally reached LaConcorde, to our surprise a massive pile of rubble was sitting outside the main gate of the orphanage. A nearby building was being torn down and workers were carrying broken-down rubble, pail by pail, and dumping it into a pile that took up half of the street. It will be interesting to see next time we visit the orphanage if the pile of rubble was cleared from the street or not.
When we walked into LaConcorde the children were busily engaged in their morning classes. It was interesting to see the classes taking place because we had always visited the orphanage in the afternoon when the children had free time. However, now we were able to experience the logistics of the children’s classes. There are three classrooms, all fitting within a 20’ by 20’ area, with classes divided by age. One teacher circulates throughout these three “classrooms,” which are really only divided by several large movable chalkboards.
I am writing about Wednesday’s activities as Amanda, Brent, Jim, and myself had the opportunity to attend a community design charrette for the about 100 members of the Santo community, located near Leoganne, approximately 30 miles from Port-au-Prince. We rose before dawn to prepare for the day away from the office. After a brisk breakfast we met up with members of Habitat For Humanity and SODADE (a local planning and architecture firm) who Architecture for Humanity (and through them us) are working with on the Santo Community Development.
As we left Petionville and entered Port-Au-Prince in the early morning you couldn’t help but notice how extraordinary the landscape of Haiti really is. Between the mountains and the ocean Port-Au-Prince really is surrounded by beauty. Unfortunately as we approached the shore from our mountain nest the conditions, as we have observed previously, became drastically worse. The rain storm the night before had insured that the streets had a steady supply of water, and that mixed with the abundance of garbage and street market made for a unsavory morning drive. Entering Leogane we saw immediately how harshly the earthquake hit. Located closer to the epicenter than Port-Au-Prince, Leogane suffered more widespread devastation. Around 90% of the buildings were damaged beyond repair or completely destroyed. We saw some of this when we visited the Santo community site, however then we only saw the edge of town. The charrette was at a local university in Leogane which led us through downtown Leoganne for the first time. The university was modest consisting of only a few buildings. The grounds were also was being used as an IDP(Internally Displaced Persons) camp, and we could see some tents located near the building.
Sitting back on the patio after supper looking out at the mountainside - across the valley where the very noisy and busy Route de Kenscoff runs with traffic day and night. The trees are rustling loudly, a tall palm framing the left side, and even taller conifer and fan-like palm on the right.
Above, the thick air turns darker as mottled grey clouds move in over the mountain from the south. It feels like there’s going to be a good rain tonight. I haven’t slept out in the tent yet, should have done that the first week before we started to get rain more regularly. Someone even mentioned thunderstorms tonight, that would be exciting. The patio has about a 5’ overhang to sit back protected and watch from within, but out in the rain is even more fun. The first heavy rain that pounded down last Friday flooded the patio. Four little drains, mostly clogged, couldn’t keep up and at least a 6” pool of water formed. Brent, Cody, and I couldn’t resist the temptation. A hot day, warm night, and slightly cooler rain made for an amazing game of rain puddle keep-away with a flat soccer ball and hoop hanging on the balcony above. It was a dangerous event - full body contact, high impact splashes, and wet terrazzo. Brent and I collided heads, he was fine while I earned my first black eye. A couple of times I sat down in the middle of our pool, exhausted and panting, but thoroughly happy. It’s hard to plan, but so wonderful when it happens, when you lose inhibitions and just find yourself living in the moment - like child’s play.
You are not hallucinating, it is NOT Friday. Abby and I have switched this week to keep things interesting. That and I had a rather unique experience today which I would like to share. I was presented with the opportunity to help out one of the design fellows at AfH last week with some work he is doing for Sean Penn’s J/P HRO (Haitian Relief Organization). The project involves helping with construction documents for a rehabilitation of the Ecole Mixte Bethesda in the much-maligned Delmas 32 district in Port-au-Prince. For those of you new who may be unfamiliar with Delmas 32; it is perhaps the most densely populated area in all of Haiti, as the buildings are essentially one conglomeration that continue to grow on top of one another. It is a quite unique condition and opportunity to do some design work in such a dense area and it is something I am really looking forward to sinking my teeth into.
The incredibly dense and beautiful Delmas 32