Note: I started this before the visit of my mom and brother (and friends); and am finishing it a couple of weeks after their departure.
My mom and brother are coming in three days, and we're very excited about that! It's going to be great to see them, and to get a chance to work together on some interesting projects. Mom's done so much to generate interest in and funds for Haiti that she should get the red carpet treatment: but we'll probably just show her the dirt path, instead.
Miss Ivy, who has been in the States for the last two months, will also be coming with this group. The household has run pretty smoothly in her absence, but we'll be getting back to normal for the rest of our stay.
This group will be occupied with three major projects, and some smaller ones: the major projects are
Smaller projects and activities will include
Update: The trip was a smash success. This was a great crew, consisting of team leader Steve, my mom Lyn, our pastor Terry Webster, fellow church member Carol Winkler, fellow Presbyterians MJ Hayman and Harold Rogg, and a couple of ringers who weren't part of the group, but traveled up with our group and stayed through much of the visit.
George Derval and I chartered a small plane down to Port-Au-Prince to meet the group, and to help them navigate customs, etc. -- only they arrived before we did (our charter was an hour late), and we ended up meeting in the small airport that serves the local airlines and charter services. It was a joyous reunion, and all went well. Team Leader Steve admitted that all would really only be well once we were up in the air, in their charter, so shortly thereafter all was really well. He did a great job, doing many things at once and managing to look calm and cheery (to the outside observer!).
We arrived safely on the Rotary Club's luxurious grass landing strip in Pignon, Haiti. From here it's an 80 minute truck ride to Ranquitte. That evening, following dinner, the team was entertained by a short concert by The Ranquitte sisters (Rita, Reena, and Reba), here singing "He Arose", an old family favorite.
Although the McGuire water treatment system was installed, with much PVC cement and PVC cutting and giant water tank shuffling, it is not yet operational; the next group in is to put it "on-line". In the meantime, we've added an extra 600-gallon tank into our water system. The additional water capacity is great during this period of seasonal dryness. The group also put float valves (like you find in flush toilets) on the tanks, so that they now stay full on their own, without unnecessary valve opening and closing. That is a marvelous improvement. Thanks!
The solar panel project was completed with much risk to life and limb. Our objective was simply to reposition the panels so that they faced south, at a better angle than before. Then I would watch the data carefully, to see if there was sufficient improvement to justify doing the same to the other systems on campus. Terry and I handled the first pair that I wanted to move, and, although I'm not sure that it has made much difference, we apparently managed to "do no harm" either. I appeased and encouraged Terry by agreeing to his demands to have his name included on any papers I should produce using the results of the experiment....
The town water testing provided some good news: all of the city wells we were able to test came out okay (we used a microbial test, which tests for a harmless indicator bacteria commonly associated with dangerous microbes).
Many of the other activities went great too, especially the home visits. We did two kinds of home visits: visits to poor folks, and visits to sick folks (who are usually also poor!). These visits are often psychologically challenging, since we rarely see such abject poverty in the US, and also because the hikes were pretty strenuous. I was proud of my mom, who made five strenuous hikes during her visit (sometimes to her regret, I fear!). She was a trooper.
We went on an Arborloo tour, and I've included some photos below. We toured those on campus (and some of our visitors even used them!), and also went out to see some of the 100 Arborloos that we've been putting in. The project is going great guns: the 100th arborloo toilet has been poured, and in another week or two every one of the 100 arborloos will be operational (the diggers follow the mason 10 days after the loo is poured, so there's a lag). Next comes the followup, as I was discussing with our project agronomist: we need to make sure that we're ready with the trees that we promised, when the people using the loos start filling them up. The most requested first tree is a coconut: everyone loves coconuts, evidently.
There were so many wonderful times that it's hard to talk about them all: going to church, playing cards, hanging out on the porch, grandmother and grandson, etc. I'll simply include a bunch of photos below to give you some idea of the fun that was had.
In other areas of life, most continues to go well. I'm making slow but steady progress in the preparation of the materials that I'm preparing in fulfillment of my sabbatical; Anna's garden is responding well; Thad is having a ball.
One of the "down" spots for me is the class I'm teaching (linear algebra, once per week): I continue to be frustrated by the lack of initiative of the students. I don't believe that they're doing any of the homework problems that I'm giving, and I really don't believe that they're learning much. I've never been as frustrated in a class. One problem is our inability to communicate easily: none of us speaks French particularly well, so there's a wall between us (and for those who never cared much for math, as many of these students don't, imagine how that would have affected your own situation).
One bright spot of a recent class was a "field trip" to the solar panels Terry and I repositioned: the students and I went out to inspect a roof with ill-positioned panels, and I showed them how one can use linear algebra to better position the panels. I believe that practical illustrations of the value of a course's material make the material more interesting, and it seemed to hold up in this case.
I can't detect any French because Nanotte doesn't know any French. Furthermore, she's illiterate. It took me awhile to realize this: I once asked her to sing something (since her children all sing so beautifully), but she demurred. Then, in church, I noticed that she had neither a hymnal nor a Bible. Seventh Day Adventists are more likely to have either or both than other denominations in town: reading the Bible and singing hymns are both encouraged. So it was a little odd that she had neither hymnal nor Bible. Finally I got up the courage to ask her, and she said that in fact she can neither read nor write.
So: one of the few things that Nanotte can't do is read or write. We're hoping and trying to change that. We've engaged a teacher, and last week Nanotte started "classes". She's a busy lady, so it was hard to convince her that she should take an hour out of her day to learn to read and write. One of her arguments was that "I don't know anything!" (in the sense of "I'm stupid!"). What's true is that she doesn't know French, and has had no formal education. But who cares if she knows French? She's still my favorite lady in Haiti.
It strikes me as really odd that the Haitians have adopted as an official language the language of their oppressors (although they're hardly alone in that). Why not just throw out French at the same time as they threw out the French (in 1803!)? But retaining French served a useful purpose: to build a wall between the aristocracy and the people, and that wall is still there (as are the aristocracy and the people). Tear down the wall.
Curiously enough, the Seventh Day Adventists here use materials in French rather than in Creole. They read the Bible in French (although it's been translated into Creole), they sing hymns in French, they do Bible study using materials in French. I asked my buddy Roger why they don't study in Creole, and he had two responses:
Since my family's group we've had two others, the current one being a group of 17(!). It's fun to meet folks, but does keep us hopping. The water system, the electrical systems, the food service: everything is put under greater strain, and sometimes things break rather than bend. It's nice to see so many people coming down to try to make a difference in Haiti. Thanks to you who have come, thanks to those who will come, and thanks to you who've supported them all!