Friday, March 15, 2013

The good, then the bad, in Haiti

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Berthony arrived at 8:30 AM with Julio, we picked up Marie at the church, and then headed for the project to meet the contractors for a job walk so that they could better bid the work and know exactly what we wanted.   Marie also needed to interview the local people to find out how we might best organize the hygiene training. 

Haiti is so much different than West Africa.  Their slums are all concrete walkways and houses, except for the occasional tent/tarp or tin house.   They all have electricity.   Jim said that we’d be walking on paved roads.  He was right, except that he didn’t mention their crumbled condition.  Today I felt like I was actually working because I got all hot and sweaty as we walked up broken concrete stairways and paths.  Some places were rather steep so we got our exercise.
A view from one of the streets in Fort National, the area of our proposed water project.

The other day Jim and I were joking that these houses were so close together that they probably had to walk through someone’s house to get to theirs.  Imagine our surprise when one of the contractors (who is Haitian but has lived most of his life in the US) told us that this actually happens sometimes with those closely built houses on the hills!

We were so pleased with our progress, the contractors seeing what needed to be done and Marie interviewing all the influential people in the community.  They said that they had a bad reputation but when they know why an outsider is there, that no one would bother them as they did their work.  We have heard various conflicting reports about working in this area.  One contractor told us that they had to pay off gangs so they won’t sabotage the job while they do their work.

The job walk took all morning so we were happy at last to be able to leave and find a place to eat and cool off.  The buffet was not being served at the hotel we went to yesterday and Julio really likes to eat, so we went to another hotel with a buffet.  The serving area was open to the swimming pool and we could see that this hotel was a favorite of NGO’s and humanitarian and aid workers, or just kids ‘doing their thing’ for two weeks.  I was jealous that so many of them found time to use the pool.

I was intrigued by the Haitian people and asked Marie what their ancestry is made up of.  I have noticed many that look like Africans, some like Americans with dark skin, and many other varieties of distinguishing features.  Marie said that it was because they had so many conquerors, that there is a huge melting pot of cultures intermingled with the people.  I noticed that the women here aren’t as diligent in going to the hairdresser as they are in the parts of Africa we have been to.  In Kenya and Sierra Leone even in the villages they were rarely without a wig or hair piece weaved into their hair or at least braided.  They do all that here too, but I saw many women and older girls that just pulled their hair into a short ponytail in the back.

After lunch we met with Mr. Mouscardy who was to take us to DINEPA, the government ‘water’ people.  The man we were looking for was at another building so we had to leave and drive to another place, but we eventually got to visit with him and his colleagues at about 4 PM—only one hour off our schedule.  We were finished at 5 PM.

Marie and Berthony interviewing a man near one of the water tanks and kiosks that we want to bring water to.  Right now a man pays to have water trucked to the tank and then sells it.

I wish that was the only part of the story to tell, but when we got there we received the same treatment we usually get from government people—they don’t care much for their people, unless it benefits them.  We had to sit there and listen while they said that all of a sudden the water ‘wasn’t available’ and that they wanted to give us a BOQ (bills of quantities) for the job we wanted to do.  This means that they intend to use their contractor, and in fact we think it is Mr. Mouscardy that is the contractor and is the one that brought us to the project in the first place.  I was so tired at this point of the day that I had to chew gum to stay awake, but at the same time I think if they could have gotten site of me (I was hidden behind a computer screen) they would have seen steam coming out of my facial crevices.  On a previous trip, Jim said that they told him to give them the money and they would do the job.  Jim told them that we don’t work that way.  This is their way of getting the money, so they think.  If need be, we will have to walk away, and after all this work and preparation by everyone.  I get so frustrated by 3rd world governments.

We found this family sleeping in one of the kiosks, along with another family.  We found another kiosk being used by two businesses, but we were able to solve these problems—if we bring water, they will leave or at least sell water for us.  A few kiosks had been taken over by individuals buying water from trucks and then selling to the people. 

I was alternating between being very mad and praying.  Julio whispered to Jim that this was the time to give a ‘good speech’.  Jim did not let us down.  He said later that his inclination was to get up and leave, but instead he gave this eloquent speech.  He let them know that we had money to spend every year in Haiti IF our first project is successful.  He also let them know that we had a budget that we had to adhere to (meaning we doubt if we will ever use one of their contractors with their overblown prices).  We hope they got the message.  It was our intention to meet with them the first day, which would have saved all of us a lot of work. But Julio told Mouscardy afterwards that this project was funded in 2012 and that if we couldn’t use it, it would be gone, and if it wasn’t within the budget, it would not be used in Haiti.  We are sure he will take this back to the others.

We are now here at the hotel and tomorrow I will actually get to enjoy the facilities.  Jim is going with Berthony and Julio to check out an area where the church wants to drill a borehole in time for a youth conference this summer.  Luckily, it does not belong to anything DINEPA has their finger on. 

What a day!  I’ll take a shower and go to bed early…I need to lose my desire to strangle someone…

Love, Jim & Karen, mom & dad, E/S Greding

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