Category Archives: Uncategorized

Custine and Cavaillon Haiti, November 2012

November 2012 trip to Haiti
Veteran’s Day:
The flight from DFW to Ft Lauderdale and the flight from there to Port Au Prince I was blessed with aisle seats. Not because of the generosity of AA’s ticketing program but happenstance. I was ticketed to sit in the middle of a group of women flying together but one of them had a much better seat elsewhere, we swapped. The flight to Haiti there was only two of us sitting in our row so I sat by the aisle again.
One of the nightmares of visiting Haiti is going through customs, the airport in general. You stand in line to have your passport stamped. Then you have to collect your luggage. After you go through customs which is usually just a cursory question and answer thing you fight the gauntlet of men grabbing your luggage and to walk with you to the parking lot. The men are very good at either bullying you into grabbing a bag or convincing you that they are the ones your group has sent to help you. Once you are in the parking lot the haggling begins for the service they have provided. I was told the first visit to Haiti to pay them two dollars. They begin by asking for twenty. It isn’t any fun.
This time when we came down the ramp there was a nice young man with a paper with my name on it. He had a friend and they asked for my passport and declarations. I didn’t stand in any line. I waited outside and office. It was just a couple of minutes when they returned and we went get the luggage. We went unmolested through the baggage handlers and straight to a small pickup. Marlene and the driver were waiting for me.
We went from the airport to Haiti Communitere to deliver the medical supplies we had brought for Dr. Coffee. I only knew two of the volunteers there. But the Haitians working security and who knew me from before seemed to be ecstatic to see me. It was very heartwarming to see them again. We arranged to borrow an Ubuntublox machine the next morning. I believe Marlene was impressed with the Ubuntublox house. I know I was.
Monday 12th:
It started off running late. The driver was helping another member of the organization who had car trouble and then he got stuck in traffic. We didn’t leave to go to Haiti Communitere until after ten instead of the planned 7:30. We were supposed to leave for Cavaillon at ten. We left the apartment at twelve. Less than ten minutes later we were caught up in the fringe of a public demonstration. I don’t know what the reason was but we went from crawling along in Port Au Prince traffic to backing up in a crowd of people scrambling to get away from the activity. It was very tense for about twenty minutes as we searched for alternate routes around the area of the demonstration.
We drove for the next four hours without any stops to get out. The scenery was fantastic. The roads for the most part were very good. But when they were bad they were very bad. The scenery was beyond compare. We got to see the ocean on both sides of the Island. Four different times we came upon breakdowns of vehicles. They used tree limbs standing in a pot to warn oncoming traffic of the situation. Green traffic cones, figuratively and literally.
Our first stop in Cavaillon was at the Catholic Church to drop off Marlene because she was staying with the Nuns. Then we followed two old guys in a black SUV down one of the roughest roads I’ve ever been on. There were a few big holes but most of it was just softball sized rocks perfectly spaced to jar the truck at any speed. About two miles of that and we pulled up to a walled compound. Inside was what I would consider a mansion just about anywhere in the world. My apartment was the main house.
Yeah. I know. No one has been harder on those who come to Haiti and live like an elite running up an overhead that consumes all of the funding. The service and company I get to keep here is way above anything I could ever deserve. It is humbling and so much appreciated. It is the part time house of a community leader here in Cavaillon.
It is interesting how it worked. Some of the leaders of the Custine community went to Haiti Communitere for a demonstration about Ubuntublox. Their enthusiasm lit the fire of the leadership of the parent community, Cavaillon. It seems we have the whole community in this area behind the project.
Tuesday 13th:
Haitians do the meal thing different than we do in Texas. Breakfast was egg omelet with toast, cheese, and coffee. Lunch is the big meal. We had broiled goat, rice with beans, salad, and potato for lunch. Then for supper we had cinnamon spiced oatmeal in a cup, sip it like coffee, toast with peanut butter, and coffee, they think I drink way too much coffee, proves they’re not perfect in every way.

We went to Custine after we met with the welder to have him look at the Ubuntublox machine so he can give us an estimate on what he would charge to make the machines for us. I gave him some lenses but am going to squeeze in a couple of hours tomorrow or Thursday to go over making the hoods out of cardboard. He knew what the lenses were for but he never thought about making his own hood. We stopped by his shop the last thing this evening and he had four guys there working with sunglasses instead of welding hoods. Sometimes leading them to water involves a lead rope and a switch.
The road from the main highway to Custine has to be experienced to be believed. I filmed it and will try to get it up on youtube. It’s that unbelievable. But once we got there I was blown away by the local’s enthusiasm. The leaders from Cavaillon couldn’t have come up with a question they couldn’t handle. We are going back tomorrow to meet with the ladies and it should be even better.
Wednesday 14th:
It’s two kilometers, about one and one quarter miles of pure rocky road heck between where I’m staying and town of Cavaillon. This morning shortly after six I was out in front for the house amazed at the traffic. The kids were on their way to school. There might be four 7-8 year olds cuter than bugs in a rug on a moto-taxi, that’s a motorcycle taxi, one or two in front of the driver and two or three hanging on for dear life on the back. I saw couples, probably siblings walking along hand in hand. What warmed my heart was the kids being walked to school by their fathers. It says they are good fathers, contrary to popular misconceptions, and it says they support the education of their daughters. Yeah, I saw as many cute little girls in pigtails as I saw cute little boys looking so grown up, uniforms do that, make the girls cuter and boys more handsome, who woulda thought?
Today is market day. I had noticed a lot of horses, ponies really and wondered if they were a food crop. They definitely are not. They are beasts of burden and I bet that if you took a poll you would find they hate Wednesdays and Saturdays more than anything else. There are also a lot of donkeys. Their donkeys are smaller than ours and their horses are about the same size as our donkeys. All of the food crop animals, goats, sheep, cows, and of course chickens didn’t look as unhappy as the equines.
One particular couple caught my attention. He was wearing a halter but no lead rope. Behind him was a fifty something woman of about 160 in fit pounds. She had him doing almost a trot to keep ahead of her power walk pace and five foot switch. She taught me something besides that I really do need to respect healthy women. If you want an ass to stay in his place hit his shins and not his butt with the switch. Did I mention it looked like he was packing at least his body weight?
I walked down to the river that parallels the road. It was a tight little path that was very steep, about a thirty foot or so elevation drop from the road to the water’s edge. The sound of a water fall is what attracted me. As I turned to go back up to the road I met a man, a woman, and five kids from shin high to chest high on a regular person. They were going down as a family to bathe. It looks to me that a rural Haitian had better know how to swim by the time they are eighteen months.
We had spaghetti again for breakfast. This time there was little chunks of what looked like sliced ham lunch meat in it instead of weenies. Most Haitians like catsup with their spaghetti. Some even put the catsup in first. I’m not too keen on that, but it worked today.
I love strong coffee, but most of the time when you get it good and strong it’s bitter. The cook here makes coffee that looks like diesel oil that’s went ten thousand miles past the recommended oil change. It looks like a paste but pours like water. All of the Haitians here comment about how I drink it without sugar and drink more of it than anyone they’ve ever seen. All I can say is I’m trying to figure out how to break it to my wife that I would like to bring another woman into the house, at least long enough in the morning to make coffee.
Today I was witness to a real dressing down of a young man who had been kicked out of school. He’s eighteen and the Nuns have had enough of his stuff. As I watched him take the butt chewing I had to go back almost fifty years. Good looks and talent can only take you so far in life, sometimes to places you really don’t want to go. I was asked what I thought and I told them when I come back I want him to work with me. There are those who have who will testify it isn’t easy, working with me.
We visited the elementary school in Custine today. We will be talking to them Friday. I was blown away today. I imagine Friday I will experience emotions I didn’t think I was capable of at this stage in my life.
I also toured two homes that the community believes would be great candidates for replacement with Ubuntublox houses. I agree. The bigger my world gets the smaller big people become.
We visited Les Cayes yesterday afternoon. It is almost as bad as Port Au Prince with one huge difference, four wheeled vehicles. Motorcycles and bicycles out number cars and trucks at least forty to one, maybe a hundred to one. There are enough cars, SUVs really, to make parking on the narrow streets awkward. But on the road they are the traffic.
Cavaillon is such a clean place and that magnifies how dirty, nasty really, that Les Cayes and Port Au Prince are. Of course one has to consider the filth of the city is a phase of progress. Construction is everywhere and the population is huge. There is the chaos of projects in progress without much credit. So a project is started and when the funding is gone it sits idle until more funding is found. The rule applies to both homes and businesses. An unfinished house even after two or three years of inactivity is evidence of progress and appreciated for what it is.
Thursday 15th:
It is wide awake daylight at six a.m. here. So I went out for a morning walk. Walking the rocky road between our house and Cavaillon is as treacherous as it is in or on a vehicle. I wanted to get some photos of the biggest tree I’ve ever seen besides the giant redwoods in California.
The river that parallels the road is also a water source for the poor, it is also a bathtub. I saw different groups and individuals taking baths in the river this morning. Modesty is either an acquired trait or maybe it is considered optional here for the men and children.
We are going back to Les Cayes this morning. My hosts here seem to be the real powers that be. I told them last night that I believed we could find enough material, foam dinner trays, in Les Cayes to do the project. We know there isn’t enough in the immediate Cavaillon area. Take out is a luxury of the middle class. So we are going back to Les Cayes with important people. I assume to meet other important people.
I am overwhelmed by the hospitality. Last night I sat under the stars with some old guys, in their sixties and early seventies, old guys, and we discussed Haiti, the US, and people. They have all lived and worked in the US, one of them an east coast university of some renown professor. They all share a love for Haiti and a hope for a better Haiti. Their relationship is to be envied. I have friends like this but activities and distance prevent regular evening chats with Haitian music in the background. It was the best of the old and new, great conversation with music from a docked IPod in the background.
I am concerned that they think I am someone much more important than I am. I worry that they see me as having more power than I have to make a change for the good in the place dearest to their hearts. What alleviates the fear a little bit is appreciating that the journey so far has been powered by the faith of others in me. Their confidence I believe is another recharge in the battery that fuels progress.
The keyboard of my laptop is alive with spiders not much bigger than pencil points. Insects are a reality in Haiti. The sight of the spiders makes me think of my mother. She suffered from the terror of spiders.
My young escorts are two young ladies. I assumed they were late teens or early twenties. The younger one is thirty two and the mature one is twenty eight. They are assigned to me for interpreter purposes and also to insure I don’t get into too much trouble on my own. The relationship is complicated. I’m the old kid and they are the in charge daughters. Then there is my driver, he stays in as much trouble as I do and not of his own making.
Vetiver. Remember the name even if I haven’t spelled it right. It’s a plant cultivated here around Cavaillon and Les Cayes. The roots have an oil used in the perfume industry. The roots are boiled down to extract the oil. It’s a two boil process. Then the roots are burned because they have no use to anyone.
I was talking to the Haitian old guy assigned to shadow me, yeah, I have four shadows, the two young ladies, the driver, and Hans. That is Hans as in hands, not Hans as in German. He made that absolutely clear the first conversation. He’s sixty five, old guy.
There are basic problems with doing Ubuntublox in rural Haiti. The biggest one is foam trash availability. Foam trash isn’t here in the quantities we need locally.
Since I’ve been here I have been working on plan B. What if getting the plastic trash is too difficult to procure? What then?
I started thinking about the vegetation trash they burn around here. If we could start a drying and bailing process we could maybe go that way. Hans told me about vetiver. It’s an environmental disaster and there is almost an unlimited amount available.
We stopped at a small operation and he let me sample it. Then we went to a large operation in Les Cayes and they gave us two large bags full of it.
The roots are a mass of fine roots all entwined together with a lot of strength. It’ not the kind of thing you would want to dig out of your yard by a long shot. And it is dense, very dense. I made a block and what it looks like is a straw bale made in an Ubuntublox block press out of some of the nastiest grass on the planet.
It’s already dried out and sanitized if you think boiling twice as a sanitizing process. The block is lightweight and cheaper than cheap to make. An industry can be created around the production of the blocks.
There is a house in town where I can call my wife using Magic Jack and it cost no one anything. But it only works if she is answering her home or cell phone. Today it didn’t work. I went online and facebook and discovered I’m not in fashion at this moment. Everyone but the spammers must think I’m not available online.
The keyboard on the computer there has the p and apostrophe out of commission. It’s easy to write without an apostrophe, just a couple more letters and the message is clear. P? Now that is another story. There has to be a line that can fit in there about the important of Ps.
I sent an email to Owen Geiger telling him about the discovery today. If anyone knows if this is as good as I think it is it will be him. The old men think it is a wonderful idea.
Tomorrow we put on the demonstration. Then tomorrow night we will have a party. The agreement is they can have alcohol and no one will say anything about my drinking the coffee. One of the first comments about me when they talk about me is my love for their coffee, and without sugar. At night they say a cup will keep them up all night. Keep in mind they are talking about a tiny cup that I drain in one sip. I told the cook that I was taking her home with me just to make my morning coffee. She said her husband would have to come along too. I don’t need another husband around the house, got that handled just fine thank you. Hopefully she will share the secret if I’m nice.
I did a power walk to town this afternoon. It was tough getting through the handlers but it happened. A lot of people just stared. I guess the sight of an old blan wearing jeans and a red t shirt picking them up and putting them down isn’t that common around here. The little kids would first stare and then turn shy when I waved or said “how are you?” I believe they are taught “how are you?” and love to use it on a blan when given the chance.
I met a walking companion. I would guess she was close to my age and was working with purpose. I do believe she could stay with me but only because I’m not going to let a girl out walk me, not even an old one. We both broke into that smile comrades in arms share when I said, “bonsua madame”. “Bonsua mssr was her reply.
It was a wonderful walk except the road is a mess with the rocks. You can’t look away for an instant or you will turn an ankle or trip and tear up something else. When someone tells me they had to walk two miles to school I will think of the little kids who walk that over one of the meanest roads I’ve ever known, and smile.
Friday 16th:
There was one mosquito in the house last night. She prefers Texas red.
The mosquitos I’ve met in Haiti are about the size of Texas gnats. But their ferocity matches that of the Wisconsin mosquitos that I’ve heard stories about.
I’m a morning person. The Haitians who work at the house, there are six permanent employees, are all morning people too. It makes the morning the best part of the day, it is cool and there is lots of laughter. Their English is better than my kreyole but three words are always better than two. Three of the young ladies have told me this morning that I am beautiful and look sexy. That tells me two things. It tells me Haitians like blue collared golf shirts more than they do red pocket T shirts on an old white man. It also tells me more than I want to know about the white men who have visited here before.
My gawd that tastes good!!!!
Haitians put sugar, their brown sugar, on everything. They rattle on something fierce every time I decline it. They can’t imagine coffee without it, evening porridge either. So when I saw we were having corn meal mush for breakfast I thought they would be pleased when they saw me put on a very light dusting of sugar on it. First thing is the ladies think I don’t eat enough. So they don’t allow me to fix my own plate anymore. I asked what the brown sauce was she was putting over the too much on my plate corn meal mush. “Fish sauce”, she said.
“Oh boy”, I thought, “this is one day I can’t get sick.”
“My gawd that tastes good” is all I can say. The avocados slices on the side taste good too.
My young escorts tried to get me to go swimming, actually it’s a bath, in the river yesterday afternoon. I declined because even if it is a sizable body of water and it is moving swiftly, it is downstream from somewhere. Cholera is a concern. This morning they have put out thirty yards of hose and a pump and are filling the cistern for the house water out of the river, oh well.
This visit to Cavaillon I am experiencing service and luxury that most Haitians will only have heard about. I do feel guilty. But it has allowed me to see an aspect of the Haitian culture I would never have expected. They are a charitable people top to bottom.
In the States I see an attitude by the haves that have nots get what they deserve because of the way they are. Here the rich describe the poor as “less fortunates”. That expresses an appreciation of blessing and an understanding of others. Admitting that most of your advantages are unearned is beyond the American psyche I believe.
We had a great day today. Actually it was better than that. And it is about 6:30 and there is supposed to be a party tonight. Around here Friday nights are for music and a little alcohol consumption. They are bringing music and the alcohol. We’ve agreed that I can have my coffee and they can do the Haitian thing. It ought to be different.
We had red snapper, salad, potatoes, and white rice with green peas. They put lots of the sauce from the fish over my rice, not bad at all.
We have had a light sprinkle since about five. This has brought out the mosquitos like I haven’t seen them this trip. I left the mosquito repellant in the bag back at PAP of course.
I took photos and videos when I could today. The Haitians didn’t do well with the cameras for the most part. I got a lot of video and pictures but not near the quality or as much as I wanted. But we got some really great stuff in spite of ourselves.
I had one of those wonderful experiences most of us miss because we’re too busy experiencing to do any appreciating. We had done one block and were preparing the block for the second bag. We secure one end with a string and then fill from the other end. What I try to do once they are doing that part correctly is introduce turning the bag inside out after the knot is done. This makes for a cleaner appearing block and is usually easier to work with. But I consider that an advanced lesson.
We tied the knot in the end as usual and then a young man of ten to twelve years asked to hold it for us. I handed the bag to him and he automatically turned it inside out. This made me do a double take and look at him much closer. The most obvious thing was he didn’t have a school uniform shirt on which at that time of day screams out he doesn’t attend school. That hit me hard.
You see my whole life has been about the faith of others making me much more than I really am. When I saw the kid that was so sharp and with that kind of analytical mind it just broke mine to see him not getting the chance to get an education. I broke away from the group and got my camera. I came back and focused on him and asked for his name. Then I walked away and spoke into the camera about how this kid was the kind that would make a difference and someone needed to step up and help out. I planned on putting it on Youtube and see if something couldn’t be done.
I told the power group tonight about the kid. They asked for his name. I got out the laptop and played the video I had made. The consensus was that he was a less fortunate and too poor to go to school. I was assured it was handled. They would take care of his education. That was huge for me personally.
Yeah, I had supper and drinks with the power group. Let’s just say I won’t be pulled over by a cop in this town and if I am he will be in more trouble than me. Today was day five and we are family. All they ask is for me to come back and bring my wife. They want to meet her and explain that I’m not good enough for a queen like her. Oh, and I have to bring some of her trail mix too. I don’t leave for Haiti without it.
The kids were great. There was a nice paper banner made welcoming me and thanking the Memnosyne Foundation. Everyone in attendance signed it. Those who couldn’t sign their names had their names written by those who could read and write. I’m taking the banner back to Dallas and I hope the Memnosyne Institute has a place for it.
Tying knots is a bear for me because of the missing pad on my right thumb. It’s a blessing though in these training sessions because the ladies can do knots so well. They almost have to sit on their hands to keep from shoving me out of the way to get it done right. They have their own knot and it is every bit as good as mine. I love it.
There’s so much more but we are off early to Port Au Prince. It is a four hour drive and I’m supposed to be at Haiti Communitere tomorrow evening. I’m too old to need beauty sleep but I do need my rest.

We Are In Haiti, Again

We arrived yesterday, Sunday, Veteran’s Day.  The flights were on time and uneventful.  When we arrived at customs Marlene Mathurin had arranged VIP treatment.  Anyone that has flown into Port Au Prince knows that one of the great frustrations of Haiti is going through customs and collecting baggage.  It was a breeze because it was handled.  I am spoiled for life.

We will be here until Thanksgiving Day.  Our objective this time is to evaluate availability of materials and if Ubuntublox is an appropriate building system for a library/community center in a community about twenty minutes from Cavaillon.  This project is with  We have high hopes.

As in all good things, there is a great conspiracy, some call it collaboration.  We wouldn’t be here without the support of The Memnosyne Institute.  Their passion for positive change in our world is the wind beneath many wings.  Here in Haiti we will be working with locals to help them with their Ubuntublox projects.  Part of our time will be spent at Haiti Communitere and we will be helping Global Groundwork for at least one day on their welding classes in Cite Soleil.  We are so fortunate to be with so many good people.



We can use polypropylene pulling twine instead of wire for making the blocks

There are two reasons to consider using the polypropylene high strength pulling twine instead of 14 gauge wire for making the blocks.  First is because the twine is so much easier to work with than the wire.  No special tools are required and it is less physically demanding.  The second reason is the cost.  The 14 gauge wire can be purchased in Haiti for $80.00 for 5,800 feet (100 lb coil).  6,500 feet of the twine can be purchased at Home Depot for $39.95.  We can buy it in bulk, 1,000 lb minimum, for $.0001per foot or less.  The polypropylene isn’t strong enough to replace the wire in the construction of the house but it is more than adequate to replace the wire in building the blocks.














The twine is cut into lengths 66 inches long.  A loop knot is tied in one end.  The knot is used to locate the twine in the end plate of the Ubuntublox block making machine.  The twine is placed inside the spaces in the bottom of the machine just like the wire.  Sometimes the twine is difficult to place in the space.  I have found using a stick or piece of wire to place the string in the opening helps.

After the block is compacted and the covers are opened up the twine is used to secure the block.  No special tools are required.  I have found that a wire bent with an hook on one end makes pulling the end of the twine through the end of the machine very handy.  My wife watched me fight it and then told me I needed to make a tool that was like a hook out of wire.  I did as I was told and once again am glad I have such a smart wife.

The end of the twine is placed through the loop and pulled tight by hand.  The twine is too strong to be pulled apart by hand.  But pulling the end too tight can cut the loop.  It needs to be pulled tight but not too tight.  The block is already compressed into shape and the twine is supposed to hold that shape.  The twine isn’t supposed to compress the block further.

What I have found that works well is to pull the end through the loop and then place a finger over the connection of the end of the twine and the loop.  This will secure the twine in place while a half hitch knot is made.  Once the first half hitch knot is made then the finger can be removed and a couple of more half hitch knots can be added.

I secure the middle twine first and then the ends.

The reality of it all

It’s been 5 months since I left Haiti Communitere and Haiti.  I expected to be back in Haiti working with the community down at Wharf Jeremie where We Advance has their clinic and Hands Together has their school by now.  My plans were to get the women working on building their own  houses as a community.  If we can make it work in the poorest community then we can make it work in all but the more affluent ones.

We have the house in the Haiti Communitere compound.  It is a wonderful house.  Few Haitians will ever see it.  No average Haitian will ever experience living in it because it is rented out to foreigners at a rate only the rich Haitians can afford.

I was told the other day that it was a test.  The house was built to test Ubuntublox in Haiti.  That hurt my heart.  Ubuntublox has already been tested for earthquakes at a rate that is over ten times greater than the one that destroyed Port Au Prince January 2010.  A free standing Ubuntublox wall was subjected to 90 mph winds with a rain rate of almost six inches per hour.  The wall stood there for thirty minutes.  It was certified to have suffered no damage of any kind.  The testing has been done.

My vision was to go to Haiti Communitere, build a house.  My only line in the sand was that women had to be the builders.  There needs to be a project in Haiti that concentrates on empowering the women.  We empower the women the same way we empower men.  It’s called wages.  Women already have jobs.  The sad thing is those jobs don’t pay wages because those jobs are just work that has to be done.  I thought that if we built a model home in the Haiti Communitere compound and trained the women we could take the compaction machines and knowledge into the community and the women would take it from there.  It was not to be.  Haiti Communitere decided to have the machines in the compound and build a factory to build the blocks there instead of the community.  It was explained to me that if the community made a bad house then it would ruin Ubuntublox forever in Haiti.  Ubuntublox has to be controlled and the best way to control it would be to have a factory making the blocks in the Haiti Communitere compound.

I disagree.  Make that, I really really disagree.

When I got back home to Texas I found a lot of people wanted to help me get back to Haiti so we could build with Ubuntublox.  The problem was they all seemed to believe in the big lie about entrepreneurship that is so popular these days.  It seems anyone and everyone can  be an entrepreneur.  Bullshit.  I know entrepreneurs as well as anyone and entrepreneurs are the one group of people in the world that don’t need a helping hand.  An entrepreneur will make it happen because they have the keys to entrepreneurship.  They have the drive and they have the risk tolerance that it takes to accept, make that, embrace failure as part of the process of succeeding.  Most of the population on this planet don’t have the risk tolerance required.  The drive is pretty common in us.

Here’s the reality of Ubuntublox.  Millions and millions of dollars will be made with Ubuntublox.  But no one person or entity is going to make a million off of Ubuntublox.  The women who make the Ubuntublox and use their training to build great homes will make money they could never make any other way.  Their life will be better.  The same will be true of the thousands of welders that make the equipment like the  compaction machines and foam shredders.  They will all make money but it will not be an individual or entity that makes all the money.  The community where the women are making the Ubuntublox and building the houses will be so much better off. That’s because this is the only way these communities will be rebuilt in a sustainable manner.  The way men work and men designed housing has done nothing to help the community.

It is really frustrating.  I look at the big NGOs in Haiti and they are all about a bureaucracy that’s primary mission is self sustainability.  If they are faith based they seem to be all about fragmenting the community with projects that isolate their followers from the community at large.  The big NGOs that are USAID oriented seem to be all about corporate interests first and foremost.  And faith based or international NGO oriented they seem to share the irrational fear of Haitian control.  They want Haitian boots on the ground but blan butts in the office.



Haiti Communitere is building an Ubuntublox factory!

Read all about it on Facebook at the above link.  They also have some great pictures of the Ubuntu-blox house we were a consultant on in their compound.

The great thing about ubuntublox is it is open source.  That means the idea belongs to the world.  Anyone can do anything with it because no one can own it.  Haiti Communitere decided their vision of ubuntublox was to have the factory at their compound and have all the blocks built there.  The community brings the material to the compound, uses the equipment, and takes their blocks homes to build with them.

We are not only consulting with Haiti Communitere we are also working with a group that is wanting to build a factories in the communities.

Ubuntublox is such a wonderful thing.

Local television videos about Ubuntublox!/news/local/Turning-Trash-Into-Treasure/140642633  this video went all over North America in one form or another.  A lot of stations picked it up. this was from this year’s Earth Day Dallas.

Haiti Communitere

One of the things visitors to Haiti Communitere are first to point out is the enthusiasm of the women of the community have towards the work.  They are a wonderful bunch.  Hopefully by next week we will be in a situation were the walls will start going up and we will get to see their enthusiasm level go up by ten at least.

I was told the Haitians wouldn’t pick up the trash styrofoam along the streets and in the ditches.  They were wrong.  In fact every morning when the bus arrives with the women there are bags of foam plates etc that the women have picked up on their own time in their community.

I was told they wouldn’t clean up the dirty foam pieces they had picked up.  They were wrong.  The women are doing an awesome job of just getting after it in the cleaning.  There is one caveat there we have to mention.  Her name is Roxanne and she is THE FORCE we all have to reckon with.  No bigger than a minute but capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound.  No one can work around her without putting out their best.  Her efforts insure that yours are going to be the best you have to give.  Rox is closer to being a third my age than she is to being half of it.  She is the parent in this relationship.

When I designed the system I had Owen Geiger and Ronald Omyonga all over me about making sure the jobs were women friendly.  That’s because 70 percent of the most impoverished are female.  We had to make the tasks where small framed people could do the work efficiently.  Today their wisdom came home to me.  I figured small handed people.  I never figured the hands might be as small as some of those I’m working with now.  Yet those same small handed people have hearts the size of Texas and they don’t let tiny hands get in the way of gettin’ her done.

One of the jobs that is critical is making the eyes in the wires that make the blocks.  My friend Bob Warner came up with the original idea and I’ve only modified it a little for making those eyes.  I’ve told the women that by this time next week they will be turning out works of art when it comes to the eyes.

This is an example of a good eye.  A good eye is critical for a couple of very good reason.  Mechanically it is important because this eye won’t break under the stress of tying up the block.  If there is a knot or a kink in the eye it can break and then it is a pain in the butt to repair.  But I also believe a good eye is important for the maker’s own pride.  I believe they will feel better about their work and themselves if we encourage them to strive to make the best eye they possibly can.

The are finding the use of tools a little intimidating at times.  Their world hasn’t involved much mechanical work and stuff that would be obvious to some men is foreign to them.  The wire eye fabrication is a good example of that.  The placing and twisting is something they are working at doing proficiently.


Mistakes are opportunities, righttttttttt

2/29 we left the house for the airport both of us asking the other if they had gotten this, that, or the other.  It wasn’t until we were checking that we realized we had forgotten what was one of the more important pieces of luggage.  It was a box 8″ high by 12″ wide by 36″ long.  It had the welding lense kits made by the high school students in Wisconsin, the picker upper thingys we had bought for the Ubuntu-blox women to use picking up trash, and some bulk items, three pair of jeans and a denim welding shirt.

We were both almost ill when we realized we had missed the biggest and most unusual thing in the kitchen in our hauling-butt to get on the road.  My wife went straight home and took the package down to the U.S. Post Office in Wylie, Tx.  It cost about a hundred and $140.00 to ship it to Haiti Communitere Express Mail with a three to five business day delivery.

Five business days later a man leaves a message at the front gate at Haiti Communitere that my package was ready for me to pick up.  The reactions of the volunteers and Haitians at Haiti Communitere involved my good luck, it was like winning the lottery and only buying one ticket, ever.

Having the box at the post office and having it in hand after passing through customs is like  the difference between having a tire versus having a car.  The process is almost as complicated but a lot more entertaining.

I started with a start fee, 100 gde.  From there it went to a walk across the street where my ID was matched up with the package address, this was at customs.  Customs walked us back across the street where six of us, custom agent, myself, and four Haitians with the post office, opened up the package and did an inventory.  Second fee, 150 gde.  These two fees went to the post office.

Back at Customs we sat down to wait for the suit to arrive.  Once again my ID was checked and the inventory sheet was closely inspected.  My ride had continued on at that point so we were in that gawdawful-wonderful place where broken english meets butchered Kreyole, confusion is the language of the day.  It was us against communication skills and no one won.

The suit’s electronic calculator didn’t work.  He finally started doing long had math on a sheet of paper explaining the duty for the package.  My ability to understand was only cured when the number became manageable.   Funny how that works sometimes.  I gave him $27.00 US which set him free from one of more horrible experiences of his week.  I hope the next guy who walks in isn’t old and with a beard.  I can see the headline, “Customs agent goes postal in Port Au Prince”.

I walk back across the street with the magic papers for the Post Office in hand.  I need the paper my friend has.  So I go back across the street to get whatever paper I don’t have from my new friend at Customs.  I’m met halfway with the explanation that the papers are the ones my friend who brought me there has, basically the receipts for the 250 gdes.

My ride arrived with a different driver and no receipts.  OOPS!!  About an hour later he returns with the receipts and we get the package and hit the road.

Before we left I went over to the man who had watched everything closely and was obviously in charge at the Post Office.  I thanked him for getting the package to me in a timely manner.

Lost a pair of work jeans to the laundry war

The way it works is you have your laundry ready on Tuesdays and some ladies from the community wash your clothes and hang them out on a clothes line for you.  You are responsible to pick them off the line.

I was warned that my work jeans would be free of stains when the ladies are done.  Of course we both understood my work jeans might only survive a couple of washings with that kind of thoroughness.

I’ve often joked that my wore out permanent stained jeans were the real deal in the land of phony wore out permanent stained fashion statement wear.  Evidently someone agreed.

The culprit should be easily identified.  They will be the ones with the fashion statement that requires two belts to keep in place.

Edit 3/9:  the jeans magically reappeared on the line yesterday.This reaffirms my faith in the fashion genetics that guide us. It is nice to see that even though jeans around your knees can be a fashion statement, jeans around your ankles isn’t yet.