I am already back in the states, making my way up north by bus and train. My last couple of days in Haiti were fun and interesting. I spent them in the capitol, Port au Prince, where most of SOIL's action is happening. They are taking a hiatus from building ecological toilets to meet with the various camps who use them, to make sure they are being used and to answer concerns, questions, etc. I thought this was a smart move - sometimes such details get swept under the rug in a big push to get work done!
While in PAP, I attended one such meeting above and met a sweet little girl who is either moving to NYC or just visiting for awhile. I spoke with her mom for a little while too. The meeting was held near the major composting site where the contents of the toilets are emptied and left to compost. (Contents = poop + sawdust + sugar cane fiber shreds [bagasse]). It was hovering around a temperature of 140 degrees, indicating that the thermophilic (heat producing and loving) bacteria are doing their job and making it nice and safe from pathogens. I got to talk to one of the co-founders, Sasha Kramer, who to me is like a rock star.
Another morning I got to go on a "drum run" where they drive around to a number of camps and pick up the full drums with their contents and replace them with clean empty ones (and also replenish their supply of bagasse and sawdust). The hardest was a camp where the toilets were down a significant hill. And because the camp was large, there were 15 or so drums to collect! Each of these probably weighs between 30 and 60 lbs, as some were more full and compressed than others. Literally hundreds and perhaps a few thousand people live in some of these camps, in improvised tents made from tarps. At one camp, there were a number of rather strong young guys hanging out and I talked to them some, wondering if they had a basketball court as they looked like they could be ballers. They didn't and asked if I could pay for one. Oops, I walked right into that one! As I was leaving, one guy asked me for money and treated me like I was the leader of the group. I explained I really was working for the Haitians I was with, and that I don't have money (at least now that is true as I don't have a job...). It was just strange to be assumed that I was the boss largely because I'm white. As if young white people don't have a lot to learn and need to move up in experience, and can't be inexperienced compared to Haitians who have been working in SOIL for a long time!
In the afternoon, most of the SOIL group went to an area of town called Cite Soleil, an especially poor and crowded area for a toilet inauguration. This is where a big party is thrown kicking off the grand opening of the toilets, and staging some theatrics to show how they are used. This gets a lot of audience participation, and in general it's quite a sight because we all get rushed by bunches of young eager kids wanting to play, to hold our hands, to teach us their secret handshake, and so on. One early adolescent girl brought me a young child who was crying so I just took her and held her and she felt better and within a few minutes completely passed out in my arms. I had never experienced that before, and had always marvelled when I would see how konked out little kids could be in their parents' arms. Loud noises, moving around, etc. don't phase them - they are out cold!
Then I met up with a guy from Mennonite Central Committee for dinner in town, with an exciting 15 minute motorcycle taxi ride to get there. We had fun, and when I returned to the house, partied it up with some of the other guys there who were also leaving the next day. (The house I stayed at had people working for other NGOs or as freelance journalists). There were some really neat people there and we had a lot of fun.
So that was the last day and a half in brief. It's good to be back - being so poor at Kreyol was a little overwhelming. I wonder when I will go back again (I want to) and will also try to find some Haitian folks to practice with in NYC.
Not a lot of reflection in this post - I'll take a stab at that later!