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.
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.
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.
It looks like today that the women will start processing material and making blocks. Monday went as planned, the women were given an introduction to Ubuntu-blox from collection of materials to building a house with the finished blocks. We were expecting 24 women and only 18 actually showed up. We consider that a good turnout.
Monday while the women were here they were getting messages to hurry up and come home because of unrest in the community. Cite Soleil has about 300,000 residents. Our women are from different communities in that community. When there is unrest everyone wants to be close to home. The day ended early and yesterday was canceled because of the unrest.
The women are building a block with one of the two machines we made last summer while here.