"Ask not what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive...then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Howard Thurman

Sunday, May 30, 2010


R&R had a whole different meaning before I started working for an NGO.  Now I know that it's the time you are told to take every 6 weeks of working 6 days a week in the field/office.  I've learned that every country has a different policy and it's all based on working and living conditions, safety concerns, level of work, etc.  All of the things that warrant forced time off when working like we do.  

Al and I had this weekend planned on the north shore of the Dominican Republic before I started my job, but it seemed to fill the requirements.  We had a great weekend and I learned what $70 US/night will buy - we stayed at the resort shown in the photo and each had a delicious breakfast both mornings.  We were in a town on the coast called Sosua.  Not the easiest place to reach from Port au Prince but a direct flight from almost anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.  Our biggest decision yesterday was whether to swim in the sea or the pool each time we got too warm.  Very relaxing!

We managed the driving and I was able to navigate myself from the middle of Santiago to the middle of Santo Domingo without getting lost and most importantly not getting hit or hitting anyone, or anything, else! I left Al in Santiago for a meeting tomorrow - he'll be back on Tuesday. 

I'm back home in Port au Prince ready for work tomorrow - no official observance of Memorial Day celebration outside the U.S. and military bases, but I will take a few moments for my own reflection and thanks.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More Key Learnings

  • Small groups of women here smiling, laughing and enjoying small things reminds me that girlfriends can make all the difference in a day.
  • Always keep your rice in the freezer in hot climates.
  • Whatever law in much of the world that prevents people from having different crazy horn sounds is a good one.  Everyone here tries to get the next best wild sounding horn and now that real emergency sirens are used nobody pays attention because they think it's someones horn.
  • Always carry a handful of toilet paper in your backpack.
  • A family of 5 can easily ride on a motorcycle.
  • It is possible for one man to walk through 3 lanes of traffic and parked cars carrying a large dining room table (wooden) and 4 chairs on top of his head.  He was right next to us so a photo wasn't appropriate.
  • When the bus is full just hold onto the outside.  When the outside is full hold onto the back of a truck headed the same direction.  Photo below.
  • It is also possible for two men to carry parts from an entire car at one time.  We've seen these carts (below) for a long time and it's amazing what they can haul - even up the side of the mountain!
  • Most of my observations and photos come from spending way too much time stuck in traffic!

Friday, May 21, 2010

"To look forward and not back, to look out and not in, and to lend a hand." -Edward Everett Hale

Great day today!  I was able to visit one of our camps outside Port au Prince and before leaving was asked to bring a little boy and his mom to one of the hospitals in Port au Prince.  He's had an open wound and the infection is getting worse.  They're not able to provide the surgical care needed in the province, hence the trip to PauP.  He is really sweet and was very scared about leaving his home but after a few tears he must have decided to be brave.  I was able to by-pass the long hours of waiting for admission and had him admitted and into a bed fairly quickly.  Hopefully he'll be okay soon and can get back home. 

I'm always amazing at how peaceful it is in the countryside here.  The camp there is a world away from those in Port au Prince.  I had a meeting in the back of a tap tap (photo is here) - the guy I met with said it was his office while the driver was home and it was sitting in the camp.  It was very funny but really was probably 10 degrees cooler than sitting on the ground outside.  Speaking of being cooler, Peanut (the dog that owns the house we're living in) finally found a cool spot for a nap the other day after it rained.....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Flag Day

We went to Flag Day festivities this morning at one of the camps I've been working in.  The kids have been spending lots of time preparing for their march/dances and had a great time.  Many older kids and even a band participated too.  We left before the football games, DJ and talent show got underway. With humidity the feels like temp is 106!    A little history:  Haitian Flag Day, which is celebrated on May 18th, is a major celebration.  Flag Day here seems to have a pretty special meaning. The reason that I've heard and read most often seems to be rooted in the valiant fight for their freedom and ultimate victory over the three greatest military powers in the world at that time (Spain, England, and France). So Haitian Flag Day becomes a celebration of the Haitian revolution.    It was fun to be a part of it!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

My first week of work went well.  I was very excited to get started and hope I can get ramped up with information quickly so we can start moving forward.  

We are in our current house on a temporary basis and while it's a beautiful home it takes forever to get anywhere.  We're probably only 5 miles across the city but it takes 60-90 minutes of stop and go traffic to get to and from work.  Our poor driver takes almost as long to get here,  so to get us there by 8am means a very early morning for him.  Needless to say, transportation and housing options remain our biggest needs.  

All of the aid organizations work in office/camps 6 days a week so we're enjoying our day off by staying out of the car, catching up with each other and even had visions of a nap but we forgot about the chorus of dogs and roosters in the neighborhood.  Today must be a special day because another neighbor is also sharing a radio program with the rest of us.  When you're not busy/moving around the heat does tend to make you very drowsy so hopefully we'll be able to catch a few zzz's anyway!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Random Thoughts

                                                                                                                                                                 Public transportation in Haiti consists of medium-sized buses (shown here) and small-sized buses called Tap Taps that are all (as you can see) ornately decorated.  This particular one caught my eye, but after I took the photo I also saw one with Tupac.  Many have religious sentiments and pictures.  

Buses and Tap Taps are usually jam packed with passengers.  Today I even saw a live rooster board the Tap Tap shown below.  I missed capturing the guy carrying it in the photo - he must have seen an open seat in the front because they both quickly disappeared inside.
The guy in this photo has a very popular treat - in the middle of the cart is a large block of ice that he shaves into a small cup.  The bottles you see on the side are filled with flavors he dumps on top.  After school you see moms buying their kids a refreshing treat for their walk home.
Completely random photo, but made me wonder exactly what they'd do if they got a flat?!  Hard to believe that they haven't noticed that their spare has completely disintegrated!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Day at the Beach

Following a Haitian proverb, "tan ale l'pa tounen" or "the time that is gone never returns"  the opportunity of a day with no meetings seemed perfect for a trip to the beach.  It's easy to forget that Haiti is an island in the Caribbean with everything else top of mind.  

Getting to the beach is another issue.  Driving past the makeshift tents, the air filled with dust and pollution and noise levels I can't even describe.  The tents in the photo here are built on the small strip of concrete between the two lanes of traffic.  It's hard to reconcile the fact that we're in swimsuits on our way to having fun with the lives that millions are struggling to live.

Arrival at the beach is another story.  It's filled with people that could pay the $3 US admission fee, different music coming from every direction, and my favorite part - the guys that sit in their boats with various options of food/beverage.  

The guy on the bottom left has coconuts which either had a hole poked in to drink the milk (as seen in the photo) or cut in half with a piece of the shell removed to use as a scoop.  The guy on the right was putting pieces of raw squid in a small plastic cup and pouring what looked like tomato juice over the top.  They all wait for someone to signal to them and they row close for the sale.  Just like concession sellers at a ballgame.

For the price of admission to the beach you are shown to a table under one of two (with a third under construction) shade shelters.  There is food and beverage table service provided.  Over the course of the day our group of four had three bottles of water, two rum punches, a coke and a large plate of fried plantains for a total of $16 US.

Most of the beaches further out of the city have beautiful sand beaches with palm trees so while we had visions of taking a nap at one of those, we still enjoyed the day!  The sun is intense - even with three separate sun screen applications we both managed to get sunburns on our backs.  Last thing for today - check out the ladder the construction guy used in the photo below....

Friday, May 7, 2010


I'm not sure many people that haven't been here understand that with enough time and money you can buy almost anything in Haiti.  I've had several trips to two different markets for food and found one store to buy housewares.  One of the markets reminds me (for anyone that remembers) of Cub Foods in 1982.  Warehouse style where they put your food in a box as you check out. There are also all of the street vendors that sell everything from basic grocery items to beauty supplies to hardware, furniture and used tiresOur neighbor (pictured above) sells delicious fresh baked bread like my grandma used to make AND you can get a haircut or a pedicure.  I have never shopped for clothes here but there are a wide variety of options available from a street vendor (like in the photo) or a small boutique-like store.  I walked by a store yesterday with a shirt that Al might wear but haven't seen anything that caught my eye for myself (mostly because the sizes look like they'd fit on one thigh). 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Hopefully this little girl will bring a smile to your face, as she did to ours.  We met her today and her spirit was contagious.  She was so happy to walk she was giggling the whole time.  We also met her PT -  A woman from the US who has been volunteering in Haiti on and off for almost 20 years.  You could see the bond the two had developed.  It was really fun to see.

We spend much of our day stuck in traffic and I thought this photo might help you see part of the problem.  The city is so dense many people have nowhere to put their tents, so they've set them up in the road.  Of course this reduces the amount of space available for cars and there are more cars brought in by all of the aid organizations.  At least these streets are open.  There are many that are closed because tents are set up across the entire road.  We see temporary shelters being built and rubble being cleared so hopefully some of these families will have a better place to call home soon.

We are listening to and watching a storm roll in and are very thankful for a roof over our heads, although I will admit that after the 4.4 aftershock on Monday I completely understand why many Haitians do not want a concrete roof over their heads.  I find myself making an exit plan when we go deep inside a building. 

On a brighter note, it's Al's birthday tomorrow - we're going out for dinner with two friends tomorrow night.  We're looking forward to it!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Happy Monday

Great progress today - both in terms of reinforcing why we're here and in me finding a job.

We were able to spend some time with a few patients at a small field hospital near our home.  The staff was playing music to get everyone up and moving - in North America it's called Physical Therapy.  In Haiti with one PT to cover everyone it works.  Even one of the girls we first saw that looked quite sad when we arrived was up swaying to the music on her new prosthetic leg. 

We had some new friends over for lunch which was fun because we rarely eat lunch so it was nice to indulge.  I'm learning my way around the kitchen here and have been successful in two trips to the market.

At 1:30, as were preparing for our 1:00 visitors to arrive (right on time in Haiti :)) I had a phone call wondering if I could make time that afternoon for a second interview with an organization that I really admire.  I phoned Jonial, the man that's been helping us navigate the city, and within 1 hour he made his way here.  Another hour in the car to go a few miles and then what I hope was a great interview.  Will know more soon.

I arrived home to see a woman with a new prostheses in our courtyard.  Al offered to help get her up and moving and watching her smile and laugh as she walked around the house, backward and forward, shuffling side to side, and up and down the stairs was enough for me to know we are in the right place at the right time.

Of course there was the following three hours when we discovered her ride home had broken down and we were scrambling to find someone to take her home,  With a neighbor to the rescue, we had another reminder that we are, after all, in Haiti and most people are willing to lend a hand.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Points to Ponder and Random Observations

This beautiful Sunday morning has allowed us some time to reflect on the week and among other things, we have been discussing:
-  "How can Haiti consider itself a free country when we have to borrow money to hold elections?" Stated by one of our Haitian friends this week.

-  Why is new sheet metal being used to build fences around big business and churches instead of to build homes?

-  Are the 50 roosters living next door used for cock fighting?

-  Are you also finding yourself already instinctively knowing when to hold your breath/not inhale when we're on the street and we're approaching a particularly bad smell?

-  Did you see how the faces of the other people with amputations lit up when the young girl put her new prostheses on and started walking with so much joy?

-  What to do about transportation?  Port au Prince is even more difficult to navigate than ever.  So many roads are filled with tents/closed and traffic is worse than ever so we really need a driver, at least short term.  We have one that we really like but he's very expensive ($110 US) and his vehicle isn't very reliable.  Do we buy our own truck and have him drive it for a while?  Prices are so inflated right now and how do we know whatever we buy would be reliable?  Do we find someone else who is less expensive?  

Enough of that - it's time for a workout, another language lesson and then we're off to an orphanage for the afternoon.