Toilets are seeming more important than ever with the discovery that several people in the family have been diagnosed with typhoid. Typhoid is generally transmitted by the fecal/oral pathway, so I'll leave it to you to imagine how four of our household might have gotten it. Anna, Thad, and I have been inoculated, but the inoculations are only on the order of 50% to 80% effective -- so we're not assured of anything.
Now the test for typhoid that they use in the clinic here is not particularly sensitive, and can lead to false positives. Only one person in the house had the fever which is symptomatic of typhoid. That's the good news. The bad news is that the fever could also be symptomatic of malaria.
Malaria is also a problem here: the first person diagnosed with typhoid (the feverish one) also had malaria, and just recently I was diagnosed with it (for the second time in my life -- I had it once in Togo). Now that shouldn't have happened, since I'm taking chloroquine prophylactically against it; but my theory is that my defenses were overwhelmed by a vast number of mosquito bites. The cure is significantly more chloroquine, and I've taken it -- except that there's a chance that it won't work, so I'm still a little bit on edge. I'm feeling good today, however, so hope that I'm over it. If not, we switch to quinine, and the side effects get a little uglier. But that's what we'll do, if necessary.
Hand-washing is on the front line of defense against typhoid, as you can well imagine. Another step we've implemented is that dishes are now being washed in chlorinated water. We've been drinking boiled water since our arrival: boiling is about the surest way to treat water (heavy metals like lead aside). One of the reasons that we're taking so many precautions with our water is that there's plenty of bacteria in it: I've used a water testing kit that my brother Steve provided to discover that. We need to be concerned about the ground-level fecal deposition that goes on here (whether human or animal), since our water comes partly from a mountain stream....
Boiling generally means cutting and burning wood, of course, which is anathema to me (and should be to Haiti): so one thing I'm going to do is try some solar disinfection. That's one of many things on my list! Burning wood to make charcoal is a common occurrence here, and part of the reason for the rampant deforestation. On the other hand, when a tree has to come down, then one may as well make lumber or charcoal of it (rather than let it rot in place). I've appended some photos of both activities, which took place here on campus when trees came down. The charcoal-destined tree came down because it was shading solar panels; the lumber tree came down because that's why it was originally planted! That's the way it's supposed to work: plant enough for future use.
So we need to plant more trees. I therefore looked forward with anticipation to the visit of Tom Durant, who's in charge of the reforestation project, at the end of September. He, too, is excited by the prospect of planting moringa trees. We were out looking at the land where they're digging the trenches (see the second hello), and we watched the 20 or so workers sing (a scene out of Oh Brother Where Art Thou) and even dance with their picks while digging. Entrancing! While there, George (the Haitian leader of the project) and I decided on a site for the first Arborloo in Ranquitte, for the use of the workers. Later we installed it, and we look forward to many more.
Tom brought with him plans for a solar dehydrator (food dehydrator), so we're making one of those (tomorrow!). We think that there might be a local industry in that. During the mango season millions of mangoes just rot on the ground, because everyone is saturated; a similar thing happens with other fruits when they come on, because there aren't other good preservation options. Then the "starving months" come, when nothing much is producing, and the people go hungry. So solar dehydration for export sounds like a pretty good idea: the food won't go to waste, and people can make some money for the lean times. We're also planning to try drying pineapple, bananas, papaya, and anything else that sounds interesting!
The fair trade coffee business is booming: Tom took five pounds of "Ivy's Black Gold" home with him (and another visitor took home two pounds a few weeks back). So my coffee ladies are making some money (no middle men, except those of us drinking the coffee). Right now I'm charging visitors (and myself) five bucks a pound:
Nanotte is one of my favorite people here. Give me 20 Nanottes and I could rule the world! She's had nine kids, but still looks great, seems to know how to do everything, works hard, and is always pleasant. If only I could understand a word she says! She's the purest Creole speaker I know, meaning that I can't detect any French in her speech.
Speaking of French and Creole, although I tried teaching some linear algebra in the schools, it turns out that the kids couldn't understand me. So I've given up on one class (the juniors), while I'm holding my own with the other (the seniors). The juniors were a handful to begin with (70 students crammed into a class meant for perhaps 30), and rambunctious. And what I didn't appreciate is that, although instruction is nominally in French, it's often carried out in Creole. After all, everyone here speaks Creole -- well, except the Longs! -- so they just go ahead and teach in that....
It took me way too long to figure out that when a student said "I don't understand a word you just said" it wasn't about the math -- they literally didn't understand my French! Now, as you can imagine, my French isn't all that good; but I did teach in it for about four years in Africa, so I don't think that it's that bad, either! It's clear however that students in Togo are much better French speakers than the students here. The main difference that I see is that the Togolese in a school are often of many ethnic groups, and can't understand each others' languages -- so they're compelled to use French as the Lingua Franca. That's not the case here, where everyone speaks Creole.
At any rate, this will just give me more time to focus on what's really interesting here: toilets, reforestation, good food, clean water, etc.
Best to all,