encouragement in the face of death

Yesterday was the first time I saw someone die. And the second time. One of the people was a young boy and the other was a girl around my age.

Today was another long, tiring day at the cholera clinic. Toward the end of the day we got a double (triple? quadruple?) whammy when a little baby and her littler baby sister came in. After some lightning IV action on the part of the awesome Haitian doctor, we got these two little ones moderately stabilized and then started asking questions. Turns out, their mother was a woman who was already lying on a cot in the hallway in bad shape (Mom had put an IV in each arm when she came in) and their father was a young man who had died our first or second day at the clinic. Talk about sad stories.

But, shockingly, I came away from today feeling very encouraged. Every day, we get into a slightly more organized routine. That is to say, the clinic has progressed from the complete chaos that follows a crisis to some level of semi-organized chaos. And each baby step is a joy to see.

This morning, for example, the head doctor was waiting for us when we arrived at the clinic. He was upbeat and told us that, "Today we are going to be scientific!" He proceeded to outline a patient evaluation procedure--something that sounds basic, but which we had been improvising thus far.

I also think that we (when I say "we" I am referring to Mom and me and a Canadian doctor-nurse couple who came at the same time as us) are getting more competent and confident. We are getting used to the symptoms and Mom, Sandy, and John have all become fairly proficient at starting IVs, something they refused to do at first.

But some still die. The line outside seems never-ending sometimes. The doctors wish they could practice the level of medicine they are used to. It seems like we are constantly on the verge of running out of supplies. We get frustrated with families who don't take care of their patients.

Immersed in this crisis, it is easy to start chanting my own version of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, "Cholera, cholera, everywhere/ And all the IVs dried up;/ Cholera, cholera, everywhere/ Nor any hope for health."

But it's not true. We are sending a lot of people home. It's awesome to see people you drag in unconscious one day smiling and bright-eyed the next. It's amazing what some fluid can do for a dehydrated person.

And we continue to be impressed by the staff who have been doing this for going on a month and still remain quite up-beat. When the Ebenezer Clinic chose to treat the first little boy who came in with cholera, it was actually making a much bigger choice--the choice to open its doors to a flood of mortally sick people. And because of that choice--and even though it is not perfect--it is saving lives.

On the first night we were here, Dr. Steve said something like this: "We are trained to practice perfect in an imperfect world, but when we try to do that, we miss the good."

So when cholera is overwhelming and I feel useless, I have to look beyond cholera and myself and remember to look for the good. And it's always there. Whether it's a patient going home, the forever-calm Dr. Brinvert, the very serious looking father who wears a shirt that says, "Bad Ass Girls Drive Bad Ass Toys," or the old blind man with his neon-orange sunglasses.

**All that being said, Haiti is definitely not out of the woods as far as cholera is concerned. And the Ebenezer Clinic needs lots of help to do what it's doing. If you would like to help the clinic with cholera relief, please contact me for instructions about how you can do so!**


happy thanksgiving

Since my family has moved around so much, I am not attached to rigid holiday traditions. I have celebrated with lots of people in lots of places--last year I was in Vietnam. This year's Thanksgiving, though, was one I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams. I spent the day attempting to be a nurse in a packed cholera ward.

Wednesday morning, when I put my scrubs on for the first time, Mom told me I looked like a nurse. I said that this was a problem, because if I look like a nurse people think that I actually am a nurse--something so far from the truth that it's..well, false.

Since arriving in Limbe on Tuesday night, I have learned the proper proportions of an oral rehydration serum, how to change IV bags, and how to repeat "bwe!!" (drink) over and over again. I usually do the latter as I move from patient to patient--whether they lie on a bed, a cot, or the floor--find their bottle of oral rehydration, and help them to sit up and take a few sips. After that, I berate the patients' family members (if they have them), telling them with my vocabulary of 3 words to help the patient drink!

Most of the time I feel extremely inept and incredibly ridiculous. One of the most frustrating things is not knowing the language, so all I can give are blank stares to the people constantly telling/asking me things I can't understand. Another frustration that is not just mine, but everyone's, is the lack of supplies and infrastructure for dealing with this crisis.

If the thesaurus knew what it was talking about, it would list "chaos" as a synonym for crisis. No matter how well prepared an institution is, a situation such as the Haiti cholera crisis will push its stability over the edge. And the Ebenezer Clinic was not well prepared for this. Prior to cholera, the clinic was an outpatient clinic--it didn't have any hospital beds. Now it has close to 80 patients laid out all over the building set aside for cholera--and on the front porch and under the tarp ouside.

And they keep coming. When we came, the clinic was averaging 25 new patients a day. Yesterday, there were 47. Sometimes it seems incredibly random--a person who was almost dead when they came in gets better relatively quickly and someone who seemed to be getting better crashes and dies.

If Mom and I grow weary, it's nothing compared to the doctors and nurses who have been working like crazy for three weeks straight, since the first cholera case came in. They are tired, but show impressive endurance.

Yesterday, Nancy, wife of Steve, the doctor we are staying with, made a traditional Thanksgiving supper. She hadn't been sure whether or not to make it, in light of the crisis. But she did, and her reasoning was that it's necessary to take quiet, joyful times in the midst of the chaos to recenter. Otherwise, you start to think that cholera is all there is in the world.

So even after my unusual Thanksgiving Day activities, we sat down to share a meal, to talk, to laugh. And then we woke up in the morning and put our scrubs back on.


change of plans

As a result of an urgent phone call this morning, Mom and I are catching an early plane to Cap Haitian tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. Our eventual destination is Limbe, where we will be helping in a clinic that is swamped with cholera patients. They have been receiving 40-60 patients a day in a clinic that is not even set up with hospital beds.

I have been in Limbe before, when I was 2 years old. I thought it would be cool to visit there again, but this isn't exactly the kind of visit I was expecting.

To answer the question I'm sure you are asking, you're right: I don't know anything about medical work. Mom used to be a nurse and even practiced a bit in Haiti. For me, however, this is going to be a shocker. I don't have any experience with sick (and dying) people. Prayers are appreciated.

I have no idea how much you will be hearing from me over the next couple weeks. But don't worry--I plan to wash my hands at every opportunity. :)


election expectations

You know how web pages detect things about you and use the information to tailor their ads toward your apparent interests, location, etc? Some people might find this considerate or helpful; Personally, I think it's creepy. However, I can't help but be fascinated by this technological phenomenon that I don't understand.

Gmail does this to me: I write an email about a race I ran--Voila! The ad bar tells me about an online running store. The longer I lived in Viet Nam, the more my ads started to appear in Vietnamese. I even had ads asking me, "Do you speak Tieng Viet?" At first I was really excited--I knew what Tieng Viet meant! Later, I hit a block in language classes and decided that the ad was trying to rub it in. Of course, sometimes even technology can be wrong, like when my ads ask, "Single and bored? Chat with Alyssa (insert picture of large-chested woman) at singleandbored.com!" Yeah, not so much...

Last night, Gmail was half-right. It told me, "Vote for Charles-Henri Baker!" I guess someone was observant enough to pick up on my location, but neglected to detect my nationality. I laughed, thinking, I just can't escape these upcoming elections, can I?

The Haitian presidential elections that are coming up the weekend of Thanksgiving are all around us here. It was actually one of the first things I noticed when we arrived. On the way home from the airport, I noticed that the street walls were plastered with campaign ads. When I mentioned them, Jean-Claude was off and running--introducing us to a few of the 19 (!) candidates (with his opinions on each, of course), and relating stories of past elections--manipulated or accurate, violent or (rarely) peaceful--and the demonstrations that went along with them.

People have rearranged trips to make sure they are in the country to vote. Even young people are interested. The other day at lunch, Jean-Claude's fifteen-year-old daughter Sophie asked everyone present who they were planning to vote for.

With 19 candidates, I don't know about all of them. But a recent poll revealed the main players, people whose names I have become familiar with over the last two weeks:

Mirlande Manigat--this female candidate was on the top. Both she and her husband have been involved in Haitian politics before.
Jude Celestin--this guy is backed by the current president and his party. Apparently, no one had heard of him until six months ago; people laugh at the interesting coincidence that he happens to be very good looking.
Michel Martelly--this guy is more commonly known as Sweet Mickey. He is a famous entertainer/musician who doesn't have any background in politics, but who was involved in various social issues even before he began his campaign.
Jean Henry Ceant--I don't know much about this guy.
Charles-Henri Baker--the guy Gmail told me I should vote for. He seems to be pretty well-respected, but he is very light-skinned, a factor that many think will go against him.

Even more interesting to me than the actual election (I must admit, I'm pretty much politically illiterate) is the anticipation about the upcoming events, and what this reveals about Haiti's history, a history that affects how Haitians--of all classes--think and live.

Elections are something you have to prepare for. I don't mean that you just have to research and decide who you are going to vote for. No, you have to plan your life around the event. When you plan for election weekend, you plan for the unexpected.

Last night, Jean-Claude and Annouck came back a little late and brought a lot of groceries. After they put them away, Annouck gave a satisfied sigh and said, "Good! I have enough to last through election weekend, so I won't have to go out."

Mom and I went out to listen to live music Saturday night, and people told us that it will be the last night it's advisable to be out until the elections are over. During the week prior to the event, no one goes out more than they have to. It is not that anything bad will necessarily happen; things could be completely quiet and peaceful. But people know the history and plan accordingly, because no one wants to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You might say, "At least all this planning for uncertain events only lasts a short period every few years." But with so many candidates and the Haitian laws regarding elections, it is more than likely that there will have to be a re-vote. To win, a candidate must receive fifty percent of the votes plus one. In the poll I mentioned, the most anyone received was 30 percent.

And all of that is, of course, dependent on whether the election is fair or rigged--a big question in everyone's minds.

I guess it just goes to show that, even in our technological age, there are some things that even Gmail can't predict.

clearing up calebasse confusion

Mom and Leolaine cut open a calebasse

I have received some comments that tell me that I have not been clear enough regarding Mom's project with the calebasse. Of course, I never know how many details you are really interested in reading, or whether such details are a bore. So, I will try to make a short explanation to clear the subject up. This will be helpful for you in understanding future calebasse posts.

Gourds are fruit in the squash family. Those colorful squash that are always falling out of Thanksgiving cornucopias? Those are decorative gourds. The ones Mom works with are the "hard-shell" variety. Gourds have a relative called calebasse (that is the French) or calabash. While gourds grow on vines, calebasse grow on trees and tend to have thinner, harder shells than gourds.

Every continent in the world naturally grows either gourds or calebasse. Historically, both gourds and calebasse have had many everyday uses. For example, many indigenous groups have cut gourds open and used them as water vessels. This is how calebasse were used in Haiti until recently. Those pictures you might have seen of Haitian women carrying water on their heads? They might have been carrying it in calebasse vessels.

Mom is an accomplished gourd artist. She grows gourds and lets them dry. Once dry, the gourds have thick, hard outer shells. She uses many different methods and kinds of equipment to manipulate the gourds into works of art. Mom has won competitions and has her work on display in an art gallery in Round Top, Texas. (See Copper Shade Tree Gallery.)

Examples of Mom's gourd art

When Mom visited Haiti in April, she noticed calebasse on display in an art gallery. Haiti is quite well known for its art. However, while talking to a gallery owner and looking at the art on display, Mom discovered that calebasse art is one of the less-developed art media in Haiti. The gallery owner expressed interest in Mom giving workshops to her artists if Mom should return to Haiti.

So this time Mom came prepared. She plans to give workshops both at the art gallery mentioned above and at an elementary school.

But first she needs the calebasse, which is why she has been hunting them down. The calebasse take a while to dry, so at the beginning of our stay (now) she will focuse on collecting and drying the calebasse. Toward the end of our stay, she will give the workshops.

Thus, the subject of calebasse will probably make a regular appearance on this blog over the next month.

If you are interested in checking out more of Mom's work, visit the "Gourds" page of Mom and Dad's website.


calabasse collector

In between our various other activities, Mom has been hard at work with her calabasse project. She is planning to give some gourd art workshops using native Haitian calabasse--probably both at a local art gallery and an elementary school.

Before she can give the classes, she needs the calabasse, so she has been hustling.

While we were still in the States, Mom found a contact who was able to harvest around 40 calabasse and put them out to start drying for us. On Sunday, we met Odines, our contact, and he took us to the edge of the city to meet his friend, who brought us the calabasse. This excursion was an example of how anything we do is really an excuse to make connections. In this case, through getting the calabasse we were able to spend an hour or so talking with Odines. He turns out to be a delightful guy. He speaks English pretty well, although he never had formal lessons. He works for an organization called Food for the Hungry, and has an evident passion for working to help his people.This morning, we were able to procure another batch of calabasse. Caroline, sister of our host and administrator of the school where Mom plans to teach, took us to a tree in a neighborhood nearby.

When we arrived home with the calabasse, Jean-Claude shared a Haitian proverb: Those who walk around searching will always have supper.

Jean-Claude and his family have welcomed us and our calabasse with open arms (and lots of laughter!). They have made space in their courtyard for us to spread the calabasse around to dry in the sun. If they think we're crazy, they haven't mentioned it yet.

And whether or not it is due to Mom's calabasse-scavenging activity, we certainly never go hungry living in this house!

Scrubbing the calabasse
Experimenting with the calabasse


a view from the other side of the mountain

Sorry about the delay in posts! It is not that nothing has been happening here in Haiti; on the contrary, as soon as I finally started to feel like I had lots to write about, our computer got a virus, and we have been struggling with it for days. So I have been going nuts, feeling like I haven't been able to do what I came for. Typical, I suppose, a little hint to "Chill out, Calah, you aren't as in control as you think you are." Or, to put it another way, an opportunity to notice and appreciate the kindness of others! The computer I am typing this on is a generous loan to me while Mom and I work on getting our laptop cleaned up. (After many frustrating attempts, we have finally admitted our inability to do this ourselves and are awaiting a chance to give it up to the experts at a shop!)

On Monday, Mom and I went on a spur-of-the-moment overnight trip to Jacmel, a little beach town over the mountain. This trip exemplified a reality I have already felt strongly in my week here: Haiti is a place of extremes.

Driving in Haiti is something of an adventure; there is a reason most vehicles are 4x4 (and why they are in the shop more than out of it). But this wasn't what exhausted me. Rather, as I gazed out of the window, I felt like I was being pounded repeatedly over the head with a heavy board. To get to the beach, we drove through downtown Port-au-Prince, passing millions of tents, including some set up in the median of the highway; past a huge, smoking rubbish heap; by Cite Soleil, one of the largest slums in the Northern Hemisphere (even before the quake); and through the town of Leogane, which is located at the epicenter of the quake and was 90% destroyed by it.
Even though I had been in Haiti for a week already, this 2-hour tour of devastation and poverty struck me like a cinder block. After this scenic tour, I decided that visiting Haiti could either break my heart or turn it to rock; I was somewhere in the middle, teetering on the brink of one of these two options.

In general, I have been shockingly unemotional, even when I see things that are probably supposed to shock me. When I saw my first tent village, I was actually impressed by its relative cleanliness and order. Our media prepares us for these things. What has boggled my mind is the scope of the poverty.

Then we finally reached the end of the cities and started to climb the mountain. As the cities dropped away, I saw the other Haiti: a land of exquisite beauty and vast resources, a jewel that various countries lusted and fought over during colonial times. Of course, there was plenty to pull at my heartstrings in the countryside too; if Haiti's countryside is gorgeous now, it is nothing to what it must have been before colonization. Deforestation and its effects are obvious. Yet I was still surprised by the beauty I saw.

Why was I surprised? As John, the man we were traveling with, said, "Everyone focuses on Haiti's devastation. People take pictures of the the trash heaps, not the mountains."

And it's true. Even though the view of poverty hit me hard that day, I was not unprepared for it. And, like the good journalist I was trying to be, I snapped as many pictures as I could of collapsed buildings, smoking heaps of rubbish, literal rivers of trash. I suppose that this is what we think the world needs to know about Haiti--its great needs. But the view from the other side made me think that this other Haiti is one that needs to be shared too. And maybe more importantly, the connection between the two, the fact that it was literally Haiti's abundance that led--through a series of events of human greed and corruption--to its apparent lack.Things are often so much more complicated than we like to think.

Well, the beach was lovely. I slept better that night than I have since we arrived here. I was woken from my amazing slumber at 6 am by Mom, who was so eager to go swimming that she, in contrast to me, could not sleep that night! I complained a lot, but the ocean really was worth it.

On the way back, we stopped to buy some fruit at a roadside stand. I had assumed that buying fruit from a roadside stand would entail getting out of the car and walking the five feet to the piles of fruit, but I was quite mistaken! The car had barely stopped rolling when it was swarmed by over a dozen fruit sellers, each shoving a platter adorned with a pyramid of fruit through a window and repeating her price over and over. A overwhelming cultural experience--I was glad I wasn't the one making the transaction!
Later, when we got back to Leogane, we stopped to visit an old friend of mine who is there with a church group building houses. (Those of you reading from Waco might be interested to know that this group is an outreach organization of Antioch Church.) It was great to meet up with Jay and encouraging to see the work his group is doing in Leogane. They have already erected 40 semi-permanent houses, with a goal of completing 60 more. (For more info or to contribute, see Antioch's website about the project here.)

Even as I was impressed by the good work at the site, I was reminded of the incredible complexity of everything related to rebuilding Haiti. The reality is that any decision anyone makes is really a choice between many ills. The most simplistic way of breaking these decisions down is to say that Haitians and relief workers alike are constantly forced to chose between the immediate need, which is massive, and long-term development, which is forever. Often, it seems that addressing the immediate need is destructive to long-term development, while investing in long-term development appears to ignore the immediate need.

It is apparent that Haiti as a whole is entering a time of transition of focus; while the immediate needs are still great, it is necessary to think about the future. While many aid organizations remain, many others have started to pull out of the country or to shift into more of a maintenance mode. This relief work was invaluable immediately following the quake, but is not sustainable in the long run.

Like I said before, the scope of the need is mind-boggling; the complexity is astounding; and for those in charge, the decisions must be painful.


cholera outbreak

Considering the amount of cautionary advice Mom and I were given before we left the States, along with the number of worried emails I have received since I've been here, I thought I'd better write this entry.

There is a cholera outbreak in Haiti. Most of you probably already know this.

We knew about this before we left the US, but were not worried about our personal safety in coming because we knew that our friends here would tell us not to come if they thought that we were in grave danger. In addition, we had the benefit of having Dr. Dad to give us advice. In the worst case (and unlikely) situation that one of us would get cholera, Dad said, it is a highly treatable disease. And we knew that we would be staying about a mile from a hospital (and next door to a physician) while in Haiti. We have the knowledge--and more importantly, the resources--to prevent this disease. We have access to clean drinking water, safe food, and good hygiene.

I do not say all this to belittle the outbreak and its danger for the Haitian population; I think the death toll is above 900 now. The outbreak is definitely not something to be taken lightly, especially now that it has reached the tent villages. But I do want to encourage you not to worry about Mom and me. We are doing our best to be safe. Obviously, we are not immune to infection, so prayers are always appreciated. And please pray for those for whom preventative measures are more difficult. But please don't worry about us. :)

The good news is that education about cholera prevention is occuring. Today there was a large-scale radio broadcast that included speeches and interviews with various people, including the president, about how to prevent cholera. And today I heard a cute story closer to home: Jean-Claude's sister took a little girl shopping with her and offered to buy her whichever kind of candy she wanted. The girl hemmed and hawed over the difficult decision before arriving at her conclusion: she opted for a bottle of hand sanitizer instead of a candy bar!!


greetings and tremors

This morning (Friday), I walked into the kitchen and said, "Bonjou!" Jean-Claude was very happy with me and immediately started rattling on in a highly-entertaining manner, as he is apt to do. He informed me that he had meant to tell us how important greetings are in Haiti. He said that he had once worked in a diverse company in which there were misunderstandings about greetings, or lack thereof, to the point that the boss had to call a meeting to discuss it. He also mentioned that you can get more things done or get better service in a store if you are sure to greet people well, ask them how they are, how they slept, etc.

We learned about this yesterday, too. We received a sort of cultural coaching from a woman named Carla, a blan (white person) who has lived in Haiti for twenty-plus years. At the beginning of our mini-Kreyol lesson, she mentioned a common Kreyol proverb that states, "A beautiful greeting is your best passport."

In the midst of our lesson, which took place at Carla's place up the mountain in a village outside Port-au-Prince, a girl in a school uniform came running up the mountain, limping. When Carla asked her what was wrong, she told us that there had just been an earthquake at her school and that she had caught her foot in a desk in the frenzy of students running out of the building. At first we thought she was crazy, because we hadn't felt a thing and people here are--understandably!--quite paranoid about the recurrence of earthquakes.

But we got the same story from the other students who followed her up the mountain. There had, apparently, been an earthquake at the school on a road a few miles below us, and we hadn't felt a thing. Some of the students actually had to be sent to the hospital with broken bones. These were not, however, a result of any falling objects, as the earthquake wasn't very strong. Rather, children broke their bones in their panicked scramble to get out of the building.

After we heard about this event, the men we were with--one of whom was a father of a student--began a heated discussion about the school building. It is a two-story building with a concrete roof. One of the young men, whose home in Port-au-Prince was destroyed in the quake--with him inside of it--kept insisting that the children should not even be going into the school building with its concrete roof. Aside from his anticpation about the danger of the situation, he asked how the students could be expected to concentrate through their contstant fear.

After we had discussed the building, Mom asked Carla to tell the four men about her new strawbale house and to ask them if they would consider building with straw instead of with concrete. (Previous to this, Carla had told us that she doubted that most people would even consider building with straw, because building with natural, traditional materials has a stigma of being lower class, whereas concrete is considered an elite material.) The men replied that they would consider this method. Carla asked further questions and they responded that they would have never considered building with straw before the earthquake, but that now they definitely would. However, they did say they would want to see pictures of such a building first. Of course, Mom jumped on that idea, and showed them pictures (via facebook) of our house, and particularly ones of the building process. They were interested and asked lots of thoughtful questions.
This exchange was a glimpse of the fear the Haitian people still feel as a result of the quake. This glimpse was broadened and hit home for me later that night during a casual conversation at home. Mom asked Jean-Claude about a certain ice cream company that used to have vendors who pushed trolleys down the streets. Mom saw these trolleys when she was in Haiti more than twenty years ago, and wondered if they are still around. Jean-Claude remembered them and began to talk about a man who used to push one of the trolleys to their street every Sunday. Jean-Claude added, "I haven't seen him for awhile, though. Maybe he died, I don't know."
At first this comment struck me as very odd. To me, it seems rather pessimistic, or downright morbid, for your first assumption to be that someone has died if you haven't seen them for a while. But then I realized that he was serious, and that that is a valid assumption here. Somehow this little conversation put things into perspective for me. (And I must admit, I never recall a conversation that started out about ice cream and ended with such sad revelations!)

This story kind of makes yesterday sound like a depressing day altogether, but actually, it was pretty good. Probably a lot of its goodness for me came from the fact that we were busy. :) I think my favorite part was taking two tap-taps (Haitin public transportation comes in this form--pickup trucks with cabs on their beds that are painted with brightly-colored designs and slogans and are packed with people) to the base of the footpath that leads to Carla's place, and then hiking for about thirty minutes the rest of the way. We did this with two of Carla's Haitian "sons" to show us the way. It was fun to get some exercise and to get to know the guys a little!
On the way back, we briefly drove through one of the tent cities (the one that Sean Penn started, in case you were wondering). On our way from Carla's to the tent city, we came accross a calabasse tree from which we managed to procure a calabasse! Here is Mom cradling her green baby. :)


anpil bloke

I learned a haitian word today: bloke. It means traffic jam. We have experienced anpil bloke--many traffic jams--since we arrived in Port-au-Prince, not the least of which has been in my own head.

As far as traffic goes, we had to wait a while for Jean-Claude, our host, to pick us up from the airport on Monday night because he was caught in a bloke. Then it took us over an hour to make what can be a twenty-minute drive to Petionville, where we are staying. Port-au-Prince is the capital of Haiti and a decently large city, so I would assume that the traffic was not spectacular even before the earthquake, but it sounds like it is significantly worse now. Part of this is that some roads that used to exist are impassable. Some is that the whole flow of the city has changed since then. There has been a huge influx of foreign organizations, all with their own SUVs driving around the streets. This has also affected the public transportation system considerably.
I say all of this not because it is surprising, but because it is an issue that has largely defined our first two days here. It is difficult and expensive to get around. It is complicated to know how much of the advice we receive about what we should and should not do (ie, walk places) is simply realistic, and how much is over-protective. And for two highly-independent women, it is, honestly, frustrating to feel restricted. As we make plans, the transportation challenge will surely continue to be a bloke, but hopefully not an insurrmountable one.

Today we did manage to get out and about, which was nice. We are spending this first week trying to make some connections and get our bearings so as to make a more specific plan for the rest of the time. One big connection that we made today was with a woman who runs an art gallery. Mom had met her when she was here in the spring, and she is very excited to have Mom work with some of her artists, sharing with them some of her gourd-art techniques. (Mom is a gourd artist and they have a similar plant in Haiti called the calabasse, a material which Haitian artists utilize to a certain extent.) Before we got here, Mom had made contact with someone who was able to procure some calabasses that Mom and the artists will be able to use. The callabasses are drying right now and we hope to pick them up this weekend. We are excited about this and other possibilities for our stay.

Here are a few pictures from our visit to the gallery and the rest of our day:

A gourd decorated by a Haitian artist.

A graffiti artist has painted many walls around the city in the time since the quake. The paintings tend to reflect the strong emotions after the quake and to present a message of hope.
Steetside walls are plastered with campaign ads for the elections that are coming up at the end of the month.


we're here!

Our trip was uneventful and we made it. We are tired and ready for bed, so that's all I have to say for now... :)


we're not afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.

Those of you who have known me a while have probably heard about my parents' in-progress strawbale house in Texas. And about half of you probably asked some variation of the following question: "What if the Big Bad Wolf huffs and puffs...?" The other half of you probably asked about either mice or fire. Well, to answer your questions now that I have seen the house that has recently been completed (or as completed as a self-built house gets), I haven't seen hide nor hair of a mouse since I've been here. The fires seem to stay put in the furnace of the hot tub and in the wood-burning stove. And even though my parents live on a hill that receives a constant breeze even on the calmest days, its huffing and puffing has been so far unable to get this house down!

In fact, the little cabin has a very sturdy feel. This might be because its strawbale walls are nearly two feet thick, as you can see from the below picture of the kitchen window sill.

So to answer your next question--why strawbales?--I'll ask you to look again at that huge window sill. A traditional house has an insulatory R-value of around 19. This house? 50+. Thus it requires minimal heating and cooling. With this and the fact that the strawbales themselves are a sustainable, natural construction material, strawbale building is about as "green" as it gets.

Anyways, after about three years of work, my parents completed their house, so last Saturday we had an open house/ housewarming party both to celebrate and to allow some of the people who were extremely curious after hearing about (and trying to imagine) this house to finally see the real deal. Part of the reason we worked so hard to have the housewarming party before Mom and I leave for Haiti is because we gave it a dual purpose, asking that people consider donating to our Haiti-funds rather than bringing gifts. This may seem like a random event to use to fund raise for Haiti, and I suppose it is. But for something coincidental, the party and fundraiser fit together surprisingly well, because while in Haiti, Mom intends to research the feasibility of strawbale construction there.

This is only one of the many things on our "Very Flexible, Broad To-Do List," which may completely change when we get to Haiti. Speaking of getting to Haiti, the countdown is certainly on. Only three days before we leave, and I can't even believe it!

I am finding it challenging to prepare for this trip as prep for Haiti also includes prep for after Haiti. We will return to the States on Christmas Eve, so I have been doing weird things like making a Christmas card on November 3rd. This is quite out of character as I am usually the person who considers it nothing short of sacrilegious to even consider decorating or listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.

Along with our preparations, we are dilligently watching the weather, wondering whether our departure will be impeded by Tropical Storm Tomas, which is presently approaching Haiti. At the moment it is looking like Haiti might miss the brunt of the storm, yet Tomas' effects are still certain to impact the already-fragile conditions on the island and the tent cities in particular. We are still preparing for the trip, Tomas or no Tomas. Before even having started our journey to Haiti, I am getting a shrewd impression that "flexibility" will be a keyword for our stay there.