Clear municipal water runs through the streets of Mirebalais. The irony of this catches me as it washes over my cool, sandal-covered feet. I am here on behalf of World Water Relief for my first trip to Haiti to visit our project sites and meet our in-country team. Combined with locals, Jean Baptiste and Albert Juin, and Rowen Jin from California, the team has a distinct presence that they have built up in this bustling Haitian town. I arrived tired from my travels but so eager to begin my journey from Port-au-Prince to my final destination I almost rush past the Customs Guard asking for my forms. I finally made it through the throngs of people crushed up against the airport doorway and down the chain-link fence pathway to where Rowen is peering into the stream of arriving passengers. We quickly greet and go through the formalities of introductions where I meet “JB” for the first time. He is an easy-going fellow with a quiet confidence about him. He hustles us on to two scooters waiting for us by the roadside, and we are quickly whisked away into the chaotic Port-au-Prince streets. After an absolutely thrilling and nail-biting ride through markets and between speeding trucks, we make it to the ‘bus station’ where we squish into a van that takes off for the Central Plateau region of Haiti. Immediately, Rowen and I engage in non-stop chatter covering life back in the US, life in Mirebalais, our roots, local Haitian government and other random subjects. We soon lose track of time and arrive in Mirebalais.
We are dropped off just near the Mirebalais town square. Founded in 1703, Mirebalais is a middle-income town with a population of around 9,000. I take note of how similar the town is to those of most African medium-sized towns with its road side ‘street-meat’ vendors, fresh fruit stands, infinite scooter taxis and a continuous buzz of pedestrians out and about on their daily routines. Rowen and I grab a quick bite where we discuss the activities of the days ahead and turn in for the evening.
The morning begins with a wonderful breakfast at Caprofors. Our table is at a central location outdoors surrounded by scurrying chickens, the nice women who do the cooking and several hungry yet polite dogs; we overlook the town of Mirebalais and are situated within a stone’s throw of one of the 3 WWR water stations. Caprofors is a local technical college offering students courses in nursing, plumbing, constructions and photography. Solo, as Albert is called, and Jean-Baptiste teach English and Art, respectively. Solo, who seems to know everyone in town, ironically got his nick-name as a young child because he always played by himself. Our tea, bread, peanut butter and scrambled eggs were quickly consumed and we headed to EFACAP to paint the WWR water station.
Our efforts to spread the word about how important clean water is, and therefore, how critical it is to respect these water stations in the schools still has a long way to go. Upon arrival, teens in the EFACAP summer camp are lounging on top of the station, resting their arms and legs on the spigots. We shoo the kids away, manage to scrap and sand down a good portion of the station and begin to apply a fresh coat of paint.
After nearly one-half of the surfaces are painted and the team of Solo, JB, Rowen and myself are covered in paint we break for a late lunch. We leave Gabriel to finish painting the base of the station. Gabriel helps out around the school and has been assisting us throughout the day with materials and offers to pitch in with a paintbrush while we break. Deal!
Back at Caprofors for lunch, we discover we have a conflict that must be smoothed over. One of our local maintenance/construction men has asked for more money to finish a job which should have been completed with the materials already procured and the time already passed. Basically, because foreigners (e.g. Rowen and I, the Americans!) are involved, the price goes up. Unfortunately, this is a common practice in some parts of the world. In Haiti, the term, “blan” affectionately refers to foreigners borrowing from the French term ‘blanc’ for white.
Problem solved with the help of Chantal, the Director at Caprofors, we return to EFACAP for a nice surprise. Gabriel has finished the base of the WWR water station in a nice coat of green and all that is left to do is the WWR logo and part of the tower.
Rowen and I leave Solo and JB on the task while we take time to visit several of the other sites in town where WWR is present. We visit, St. Lucienne, St. Pierre, Sacre-Coeur and Lycee. The Sacre-Coeur station is yet to be built and we are still contemplating the final solution design.
The absolutely horrible conditions that are in place today for the latrines will be replaced by new WWR facilities. This work should be completed by September 2012.
After we have completed our tour of the sites, we return to EFACAP to clean up and close down our work there. To help our productivity, we solicit the help of a young boy who has been curiously watching us all day in our efforts. We ask if he can find a ladder for us and less than 5 minutes after dashing into the neighborhood our little helper appears toting a ladder twice the size of him on his head! We wrap up, exhausted from the day and head home to freshen up.
That evening for dinner, the four WWR ‘paint crew’ head out on the town. We sample the local Haitian chicken, Bouillon stew with goat and drink their delicious local beer, Prestige, and rum, Barbancourt. Our discussions over dinner covers “Sweet Micky” the affectionate nick-name of the former musician now president, male versus female cooks in the kitchens and restaurants of the US and Haiti, and earthquake relief. I introduce them to the lovely term, ‘sky juice’ which I picked up on a trip to Bequia, near St. Vincent. The juice of the sky being the precious water we are tirelessly preaching about to the folks of Mirebalais. Half of this dinner time chat was conducted in the dark during a loss of electricity without missing a beat.
In the morning, we have a late start running errands before heading to Caprofors for lunch. We make final preparations for Global Kids’ arrival the next day. Solo has invited us to join him on his weekly radio show teaching English to listeners to discuss WWR and other topics of interest. We catch a scooter taxi to his studio and have a blast discussing the importance of water and our efforts in Haiti.
After this, we decide to take some R&R and head into the countryside to visit a beautiful waterfall high in the mountains called Saut
D’eau which has significant cultural relevance. For us, it was a nice way to cool down for the day.
The ‘Day of Service’ includes Global Kids (www.globalkids.org) and the English Club which Solo leads and our own Samual Marseille as a member. The GK buses arrive several hours late, with the GKers tumbling out looking crushed after the ~4 hour journey from Jacmel in the south. We conducted brief introductions and headed out for a tour of the Partners in Health hospital under construction (http://www.pih.org/) just next door to Caprofors. Back on site, the kids eat co-mingled, and conduct a few activities including painting and sanding the water station on site and making local arts and crafts. We facilitate a summary discussion on the day’s events and contemplated how to change the country, “If I were president for a day”. We said our good byes and the kids loaded on to the bus with friendships made and contact details exchanged. We cleaned up and head out to enjoy my last taste of local culinary delights.
In the morning, I say my good-byes and JB and I cram into a local bus that takes us back to the airport. Sadly, no scooter ride on the way back! JB and I bid farewell and I tell him to keep his “heart in his art” and he heads off to run errands in Port-au-Prince for WWR. I waded back into the chaos of the airport and finally settle into my seat. The flight attendant comes down the aisle and offers me a beverage.