Haiti Water Project Sept 2012 Journal
Day 1, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012
We left for FFL at 4:30AM to catch our 7:13AM flight. We were a bit nervous knowing our solar panel and water pump were over weight and over sized for normal luggage. At the counter the agent was very helpful and charged us $25 for the over weight, $20 for the over sized and $45 for the extra suitcase we hadn't counted. The plane seemed brand new and it was only about 2/3 full. Steve was able to move over one row and stretch out. Rick mentioned the water project to one of the (male) flight attendants so he went to the back of the plane to chat which turned out really well. It turned out the flight attendant has a non-profit and was looking for help installing an array of solar panels and LED lighting system that were donated to a school. They exchanged emails and agreed to contact each other when we return from Haiti. Having mentioned we had a concerns about the solar panel we had in the luggage compartment, the attendant introduced an airline executive in the first row who said they would have the baggage handlers take special care unloading it. There definitely is an angle watching over us.
We landed on-time, all our luggage made it fine and we were helped by a helpful porter. At customs our large solar panel attracted too much attention and we were taken out for a baggage inspection. After some pitiful negotiating in creole/English Rick ended up paying $70 tax for importing the panel. We were happy, as we expected to pay more and also be charged for importing the pump.
We headed outside down the long walkway to the parking lot where we waited about 10 minutes for Aimond. His truck was too large to fit through the parking lot so the porter had to help us walk to the next lot where Aimond was waiting. We loaded our cargo, got in and as were on our way.
After moving only 10 feet a UN official stopped us and told us to stop. It appears Aimond clipped the fender on a UN vehicle coming into the lot. All the vehicles we in a NO PARKING zone so it's no wonder he couldn't make a U-turn without hitting one. after 2 hours of talking, yelling, photo taking and negotiating we were allowed to go with any incident.
We made a few stops to pick up ice, water, beer, food and finally arrived at Aimonds at 1:30PM. We were exhausted.
We unloaded, unpacked, took things out of Aimond's storage room and reloaded the truck for our journey tomorrow. Everything was inspected, inventoried and organized. We were nervous not knowing what we likely forgot. The well crew stopped over and we negotiated to have them meet us in Verrettes on Sunday. They would take a 5hr tap-tap ride.
There was no electricity so we all found some shade outside and tried to grab a quick nap. After some sleep we did a little work on Aimond's car and checked the truck. At 4PM we headed back out to make some small hardware purchases. Most places close by 5PM because it would be dangerous to send employees walking home in the dark. So we took our purchases and headed back to Aimond's for dinner.
Marta is a 26 year old woman who lives on Aimond's property who cooks and cleans in exchange for housing and food. Kanole is 19 year old man who lives on Aimond's property who does handyman work in exchange for housing and food. He also pays them a small amount when he can. She was very nice and a very good cook. She made us rice, plantains and goat and Aimond prepared us a salad he hand washed with bleach and soaked in vinegar to ensure it was safe for us to eat. We talked about the project, the work, the plans, the trip, current events, home, life and the world. It was great to see Aimond and catch up on things. At 12:15AM the electricity came on so went up to Aimond's 2nd floor living quarters and found our spot. We all took showers and cooled off. Steve slept on the couch, Aimond put a mattress on the floor and Rick & Cordella got the bed.
Day 2, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012
On our trips it's very common to wake to the sounds of rooters, dogs, church bells and people walking by in the streets announcing they have things for sale. We usually wake with he sunrise. Aimond made coffee and toast. Everyone composed themselves gathered their items, helped load the truck and prepared for the 3 hour drive. Aimond, Rick and Cordella went out to purchase a few more items we realized we needed and we exchanged some money into Haitian Goudes.
We had planned to arrive in Verrettes by 1PM, so as things go we headed out of the gate from Aimond's house by 2PM to begin our trip. Sometimes God laughs at the plans we make.
Port-au-Prince is a maze of paved roads and dirt-road shortcuts. There have been many visible improvements since our first visit in 2010. We saw many work crews sweeping the streets which were almost absent of litter. We saw trash trucks picking up the trash that accumulates in the trenches along the streets. But the traffic, cars, trucks, donkeys, people, goats, motorcycles, dogs, and tap-taps create a constant chaos that makes it difficult to navigate the streets. As the city faded in our rearview mirror the countryside emerged in front of us and the air cleared of the ever present dust cloud that hovers over the streets. The rice fields were a welcomed site. We passed through a number of small villages as we headed North at about 50mph. We were about half way when we encountered a police check-point and Aimond was told to pull over. Steve, Rick and Cordella spent about 45minutes standing on the side of the road as we watched Aimond, talk, yell and negotiate with the police. The police check-points are intended to catch illegal cargo, kidnappers and car thieves, but they also offer an opportunity to extort bribes from honest people who get swept up in the net. Aimond refuses to pay bribes so after 45minutes he was given a ticket for not wearing his seatbelt which he would rather pay to the government than pay a bribe - and were back on our way.
We arrived in Verrettes at about 7:30PM and it was dark. We were met by Zachary and Vestal who directed us to the house where we would be staying, but we still had one more challenge - we had to park the truck. With all our equipment onboard, we thought it would be safer to park the truck in the compound where we usually stay which consists of a school, utility building and a house. In the dark we tried to guide Aimond to a spot far back on the property but the trees, potholes and mud made it impossible. After about 1 hour waving small flashlights and yelling at one another we opted to park on the cement basketball court in the compound. We took our bags and walked back to the house where we would be sleeping. It was a very nice 2 story home with 4 bedrooms. We washed up and they had dinner ready for us. We ate by light from an oil lantern because there was no electricity. The meal was delicious: pumpkin soup, goat, rice and salad.
After dinner we made 2 trips back to the truck to retrieve some of our cold drinks and a few items. The pitch black sky was full of amazing stars. The walk back to the house through the field with our small flashlights was a bit scary as we watched for animals. We were startled when we stumbled upon a small cow sleeping in the grass.
The house belonged to the local preacher who was in Port-au-Prince for a wedding. Rick and Cordella took the master bedroom with a mosquito net hanging over it like a canopy bed. Steve and Aimond took 2 other rooms and Rick offered them the mosquito nets he had brought. We were exhausted. To Aimond's disappointment no one had energy to go for a walk as we usually do in Verrettes.
Day 3, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012
The next morning Steve awoke covered in bug bites. He was up most of the night swatting mosquitoes with the zapper racket. Aimond had a few bights. Rick had bites on his elbow which pressed up against the net on his bed and Cordella had a few bites on her as well.
We had breakfast of coffee, hard boiled eggs and toast. After eating Rick and Aimond left in search of a metal pole to mount the
solar panels. They went to several welding shops and got tips on where they might find one. They returned and went to get the truck. The truck was fine but they found the basketball court covered in rice which was being sifted and sorted by fieldworkers. There was also a group of school children on the basketball court reciting morning prayers and the pledge of allegiance. They carefully guided Aimond around the children and rice, back through the trees, a narrow gate and headed out to the road. We drove around town looking for a metal pole until we finally found 3 outside of town behind a shack. We negotiated a price for the one we selected and agreed to transport all 3 back into town for the welding shop. Everything in Haiti is negotiated and comes with extra agreements as part of the payment when someone has a truck.
We dropped off the pole at the welding shop and spent about one hour negotiating how we wanted the solar panel frames constructed. It was a 21 foot, 6inch diameter pole weighing about 500lbs. We brought in a solar panel, took measurements, sketched out the design we wanted and shook hands. Optimistically it would be ready that evening. We went back into town and bought some 90 degree channel iron, cement, rebar, water and ice. We dropped off the channel iron for the welder and then went to Zachary's house to pick up the equipment he had been storing for us since January. We loaded everything in to the truck and headed to our well site.
The newly constructed utility building was a welcomed site. We unloaded the equipment, tools, water tanks, pipes and got to work right away. There were 5 workers waiting for us and about 10 school children watching us. Aimond and the workers mixed cement for the floor in the utility building. Steve and Rick worked with the water pipes and electrical conduit. Cordella spent time making friends with the students. The roof on the school had been damaged from TS Isaac so Rick spoke with Pastor Philip and arranged to have a work crew come and fix it. As the day quickly slipped away the heat zapped the energy from everyone and Rick almost had heat exhaustion. We managed to get the floor poured and got things in order for the next day when the well crew would arrive. We worked until dark and returned to the house in Verrettes which is about 15 minutes away. This time we decided it was OK to park the truck in front of the house. We cleaned up, had dinner, talked about the next day and rested. After dinner Rick and Aimond went for a walk into town while Cordella and Steve opted to stay at the house. By the time Rick and Aimond returned the electricity had come on. Everyone took showers, put on mosquito spray and turned in crawled under the mosquito nets for the night.
Day 4, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012
We awoke to the sounds of roosters, dogs, church bells and singing coming from the nearby churches. The music was a mix of familiar hymns being sung in Creole and what sounded to us like Cajun zydaco. Aimond attended the 2 hour service but the rest of us were to shy to go, being the only white people in a non-tourist town. Looking back, I wish we had attended with Aimond and we will next time. When Aimond returned we loaded the truck and headed out. We stopped by the welding shop. The pole wasn't ready but what was completed looked great. We test loaded a panel into the frame and it fit perfectly. We then went to a local construction store and bought more cement. We went to the local outdoor market and bought rope and a few small items. We went back to the center of Verrettes and found the well crew waiting for us having been on a tap-tap since 4AM. They were as happy to see us as we were to see them. We stopped for soda, water and ice and headed for the well site and quickly got to work. The roofing crew were already busy cutting down small trees by hand using machetes to hand make the beams to repair the roof. We off-loaded all our equipment and everyone started their tasks. Rick and Cordella pulled wire through the conduit. Steve and Aimond installed the water tanks, batteries and directed the teenagers where to dig the hole for the pole that would hold the solar panels and trench for the wires. The well crew started to remove the handpump from the well. It was a very busy job site for several hours. As help was needed everyone would stop and pitch in together where needed. The school children made it a bit hectic as they were running around so curious to see what was being done so we tried to give them tasks to do to keep them occupied. AS the day went on the beams for the school roof were installed, the wires were in place, the batteries and controller switch were installed, the tanks were anchored down, the site was prepared for the solar panels and the well was cleaned.
The well turned out being a much bigger job than expected. Our plan was to remove the handpump, clean the well, install the submersible electric pump, re-install the handpump above the electric pump and chlorinate the well. As it turned out this was not possible. We had to rent an irrigation pump from a local farmer which we connected to our pipes using innertubes and every fitting we had. It took a combination of gasoline powered pump and hand pumping 60ft of pipe to draw the mud and sand from the bottom of the well which was left from when the well was dug. After 5 hours of exhausting work we felt we had removed all that was possible. We luckily met a man from Delay Beach Florida who now lives in Verrettes and we could not have accomplished what we did without him. He helped us get the pump, he helped work, he had the local connections we needed to get the workers we needed and he spoke creole and English. The well crew did way more work than we or they had planned on doing. They replaced a section of pipe, repaired the plunger and installed a check valve in the well. We reassembled the handpump pumped it until the water ran clear. Unfortunately, it proved to be impossible to retro fit the well with an electric pump and keep the handpump operational. There wasn't enough space in the 6inch pipe to accommodate our one inch pipe and the 5.5inch handpump mechanism. It wouldn't fit, plus it needs room so it won't rub together as it operates. Our only option is to drill a second well. We were very disappointed but optimistic we will complete this project with one more trip in November.
We cleaned up the site and packed it in for the day. The well crew opted to stay overnight with us and we would drive them back to PAP the next day. We went back to the house, cleaned up, ate a delicious dinner and spent time talking with the crew about the water situation in Haiti. It turns our Michaund is 68 years old and former University professor. Fanfan (BigRed) was his best student so that is how they ended up starting a business together. We told them about our work in Florida with the flood control system and we found a lot of common ground. It was such a pleasure to share experiences and points of view on the world. Aimond, Rick, Michaund and Fanfan later went for a walk into town and enjoyed the evening air. Cooler yet still very warm. Steve and Cordella opted to stay at the house to wash-up and rest. There was no electricity so everything was done by flashlight.
Day 5, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012
Again, we awoke to roosters, birds and many unfamiliar sounds. We had breakfast, packed, paid our hosts for their hospitality and loaded the truck. We were anxious to go to the welding shop. The pole was ready, we paid the workers, took pictures and then loaded the 21ft pole into the 17ft truck. We used every bit of rope, strap and a tire for cushion. We stopped for ice and soda and then carefully drove to the site without incident and offloaded the pole. Steve pointed out we were working among poisonous candle Habra cactus so we used cardboard to cover the cactus and carefully maneuvered the now 650 lb pole into place. Cordella and Rick snaked wire through the pole and the conduit back to the utility room. With help from everyone on the site and among much yelling the pole was moved to the hole and raised. It was braised by rope and wood poles as the women and students carried buckets of cement to the hole. One minor detail, we weren't paying close enough attention but we luckily soon realized the panels were not facing south as they should - they were facing north. We stopped filling the hole with cement and everyone lent a hand as we turned the pole 180 degrees. Thanks to our Guardian Angel we were able to turn the pole - with much yelling in English and creole. With the panel in place we made the electrical connection and were excited to see a 48v 2amp current charging the battery bank which will deliver enough power to run the electric pump providing approximately 600 gallons of running water per day. We finished off the connections, cleaned up, inventoried the tools, took pictures and said our goodbyes. We were on the road heading back to PAP by 3PM. We made a few stops for food and water but were not surprised by any police checkpoints and we thankfully did not suffer any problems with our truck. The roads are very rough in Haiti and take a tole on the vehicles which age very quickly. There are numerous vehicles along every road broken down with flat tires and broken axles. We arrived in PAP shortly after dark. We dropped off the well crew near their homes and returned to Aimond's house.
We took showers and sat outside hoping the electricity would come on. Steve called his mom and Rick called his mom to let them know we were safe. We then went out for dinner. It was late, Monday night and it had rained earlier so there weren't many places open. We found a restaurant who had one dish left - goat, rice and plantains. We had a good meal with cold coca cola and they turned off the lights as we left. Back at Aimond's the electricity came on at 12:15AM. We turned on the electric fans and we all went to sleep.
Day 6, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012
Our last full day in Haiti. We awoke later than usual - 7AM. After a good nights rest we had coffee and toast sitting outside in the shade. We offloaded the truck, inventoried everything and packed everything away in Aimond's storage room. The well crew stopped by. We had planned to clean the public well outside Aimond's house but we could not locate a pump or a compressor so we couldn't complete the job. There are several very poor people who live just outside Aimond's property whom we have met and talk with on each visit. We have tested the well they use and we would like to clean and chlorinate it for them. Since we couldn't do the job the well crew collected their final payment. We sat for a while and talked about hiring them to drill the new well in Verrettes before we return on our next trip. We exchanged contact information, negotiated price and details about the job, said our goodbyes and then they departed for another job.
Steve and Aimond worked on Aimond's car for about 5 hours which needed some power steering repairs. Rick worked with Kanole to helped fix a broken window in the car. The day went by quickly as everyone worked and took frequent breaks from the heat. To test the car Rick and Aimond went out to buy propane so Marta could cook. Around 5PM we all went to downtown Port-au-Prince to give Cordella a tour. We saw the Royal Palace which was damaged in the earthquake and is now being torn down. We saw the catholic and episcopal cathedrals which were both destroyed in the earthquake. We drove around San Mash, the central park and then Rick and Cordella went inside the hotel (The Plaza) where Rick, Eric, Rio and the Wandoff's stayed on their first visit in 2010. Outside the hotel Rick and Cordella visited the craft/art market. It was the end of the day and they were the only customers so they were mobbed. They found an English speaking vendor who helped them select pieces of metal work from many of the stalls. After selecting many pieces and getting the first price offers, Rick explained he was only an assistant and his boss was waiting in the car out on the street. They took the art out to the car where Steve and Aimond examined each piece and proceeded to negotiate more reasonable prices. It was quite a site. Steve hates to negotiate prices on anything. The vendors were very anxious to complete the sales a larger crowd formed to watch and Rick stood by on the sidewalk. In the end the vendors all appeared to be very happy with the sale. Collectively we spent $100 among 6 vendors. We had our art work to take home as gifts and to sell to help raise funds for the final trip. We then headed back to Aimond's section of the city. We stopped to buy some food items and made it back to Aimond's house by 9PM. We sat outside and were treated to the best meal of the trip. Marta made the best plantains, delicious chicken in sauce and jonjon rice. We washed it down with our favorite Haitian beer, Prestige and ate by solar lanterns under the banana trees in Aimond's yard. We talked until mid-night and finally turned in when we accepted the power was not going to come one this evening.
Day 7, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012
Rick was the first to wake. He sat outside in the coolish morning air while it was sill dark and saw shooting stars and two satellites pass overhead. As everyone woke we made coffee and toast. We packed our bags and loaded the truck making sure we had plenty of time to make our 10:15AM flight. The ride to the airport was without any surprises. The traffic was heavy as always but we had time and we were packing light. We said out goodbyes at the curb and everyone looked sad as Aimond drove off. We were relaxed having plenty of time, made it though ticketing, immigration and made our way to the waiting area. The plane was only half full and it took off on-time. It's only a 90 minute flight which is barely enough time for one soda and time to fill out the customs forms. Cordella, always the geographer took pictures of the land formations and clouds as they passed under the plane. We arrived in FFL and we were immediately smacked back into the modern world of rigid process and procedure. Two immigration booths open for two full plane loads of passengers, welcome to smaller government. We collected our bags, got the car and Steve treated us to a delicious welcome home meal at THE FIELDS, Irish pub in Fort Lauderdale. As we arrived at Steve's house Many and Julia greeted him with WELCOME HOME signs and cheers in the driveway. Rick and Cordella then went straight to Rick's parents in Boynton Beach.
We accomplished a lot and this project is one step from being completed. We didn't complete the pump installation as we had hoped which was very disappointing. We plan to discuss our plans with our supporters immediately so we can give authorization to begin drilling the new well and return to Verrettes in November to make the final installation. We made valuable contacts working with the Grundfos pump company, Sun Electric solar panel company, the welders, the well crew and the locals in Verrettes. Having made 5 trips we are now being recognized and remembered by many of the local merchants who treat us very well. We have gained invaluable experience which we will apply to our next project once we complete our project in Verrettes.