Haiti – Days 10 thru 12

Posted by Ted on Mar 16, 2010 in Causes, Travel

My time here in Jacmel is coming to an end. Today was my last full day of shoveling crumbled concrete. Tomorrow I will be sitting in on a Croix Rouge ‘cluster meeting’ in the morning, and I leave for P-au-P on Thursday to start my voyage home.

Sunday started off with a trip to the market in a different section of town than I’d been yet. There was a main street and a couple of sidestreets, choked with shoppers and vendors selling everything from meat and produce to toiletries and charcoal. The most exotic item I saw, different from what everyone else was selling, was a pathetically small pineapple for $5H.

Then it was off to the beach, but this time I went out with some of the Haitian volunteers to the local party beach. There were hundreds of people lounging in chairs and swimming in the warm Caribbean water, food vendors selling grilled fish, and beverage tables where you could get sodas and Barbancourt. I got to watch three of the guys use an REI inflatable sleeping pad as a raft, which I’m pretty sure is outside of their intended design specs. After frolicking in the waves, I relaxed on shore, alternating between reading my book and watching a soccer game.

The last two daytimes have been pretty much the same as last week – clearing rubble from La Trinitie, a college in town where there were 500 students, and at least a dozen of which died in the earthquake. We’ve been excavating one L-shaped section towards the back of the school, moving over 4000 square feet of concrete uphill to the street, all so that there is someplace for the ceilings that need to be dropped can be deposited. All of our work has simply created a buffer to be filled. I haven’t picked up the sledge again, but I’m getting pretty handy with a pickaxe. I’ve taken to doing that in the morning, and relaxing into shoveling or wheelbarrowing in the afternoon.

After seeing what these buildings are made of, I’m surprised that there isn’t more damage. Everything is built with concrete blocks that are so poorly made that even freshly-molded they crumble to the touch, and they are held together with substandard rebar that is thin, easily bendable, and breaks with any sort of shearing force. While these cheap materials might hold in a single-story, they are dangerously inadequate for the two and three story buildings that line the streets. The worst part? All the removed rubble just gets remixed into new cement, perpetuating the problem. SIDR has developed a much stronger mix that doesn’t even crumble when dropped off the back of a tap-tap, but it is more costly, and thus will beat hard sell to the general populace. This is one reason they are focusing on schools and hospitals – to make sure that at least the sick and the learning will be safe.

My evenings are at least a bit different from each other. Last night I took a walk around the block, which takes me past the airport, down a bit of the main street through town, behind the IFRC compound, and alongside the walled village that houses our U.N. neighbors. The quietest of the roads is the dirt path behind the Red Cross. While there was one building that had clearly fallen down, what surprised me where what looked like several ruins that had standing columns and walls, but no roofs. I took some long-exposure pictures of them, and later found out that they were simply unfinished homes. The fact that they were saved them.

Tonight I learned a new trick-taking card game and had a pleasant break from the usual spaghetti with ketchup and mayo that the Haitian volunteers eat every night. Laura gave me a couple of MREs – veggie lasagne and peach mango applesauce. While the directions for how to use the heating pocket took me a few minutes to parse, I was impressed at both the technology and the quality. Then a few of us headed down to the Speakerman to listen to some salsa music and share some Barbancourt.

I am looking forward to going home, to seeing my wife and kitties and sleeping in a real bed. But I have to admit that Haiti has grown on me a little. I have made some new friends, and have experienced a place, a situation, and hard work, that has given me yet another perspective on how crazy and wonderful our little blue marble of a world really is.

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An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. He is also managing editor for Rolf Potts' Vagabonding, where he curates a Case Study series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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