All continues to go well here for us. We've now just about completely settled in, having moved from our upstairs lair into a first floor room (to accommodate a double bed, which just now arrived). We have become very comfortable with life around here. One dramatic change last week is that Thaddeus has started preschool -- let the Creole lessons begin!
The older kids started school two weeks ago, which means that I've taught for two weeks now. I'm still getting used to the school system, which is slightly different from my Peace Corps school. One difference is that I've only got one 8-foot board, and the kids here listen while I fill it, then copy (while I impatiently tap my foot): in Togo, we had three boards, and as you were finishing up the third board, a student would be erasing the first so that you could go non-stop! I've had to reduce my agendas....
A few weeks ago we went to Bahon, a town about seven miles from here. Going there isn't too bad (although it took us about an hour and a half): it was all downhill! Coming back was a different matter.... We were going for the market, and enjoyed the walk and the visit. We had to cross several creeks and streams on foot (more on the way back, as we took the shortcut). I've appended some photos.
We had two visitors from Danville last week, and one of them (Glen) is great friends with the Baptist pastor, Jean-Pierre. So we joined the Baptists at their service, in a church which is going to be one of the two most magnificent in Ranquitte (along with the Catholic Church). Glen also introduced me to the rural school out at Savane Coq (a "bedroom community" for Ranquitte), which he's been supporting for a year or two. I append a few photos below. Imagine doing your elementary education in such a place!
In my last "Hello from Haiti" I promised a fuller discussion of my "poop project". Public sanitation is problem here, as it is in Togo, and in many other places in the world. Even in Kentucky, there is still far too much "straight-piping", in which sewage flows directly from a toilet to a stream.... George, my reforestation friend, is running for Mayor of Ranquitte, and so he knows a thing or two about the area: he estimates that 90% of people in the Ranquitte area do not have access to a toilet at home (or do not use one, at any rate). That means that they take care of their needs wherever they can, which can make for a very unsanitary situation (as you can well imagine).
There are various ways of dealing with this: we can encourage folks to dig latrines, for example, but that's a lot of work and expense. And many people just don't see what the problem is: they've been doing what they're doing for all their lives -- what's the advantage? what's the bang for the buck? There are many different types of systems we could consider for Ranquitte, of course: we could just install a city-wide sewage treatment plant, if we had a million dollars. So if you've got a million dollars at hand, please call.
More appropriately, we could encourage the use of latrines, of any sort: traditional, septic systems, composting, etc. But I've discovered a toilet that seems to solve more than just the sanitation problem: it's called the "Arborloo", which turns human waste into trees ("arbor" and "the loo"). Human waste makes for good fertilizer, it just happens to be slightly dangerous because of the risk of spreading disease. Well, we've got that risk already with the current "system", so we're not engendering any additional risk. The Arborloo is a "walking toilet": you dig a hole, put the toilet over the hole, use it for a few months (while adding leaves and other compostables), then, when it's about 10 inches from full, you plant a tree and cover the waste with soil -- then travel on!
So our program will involve ten families to start (including one family on campus, which will be our demonstration family -- I'm part of that family!). I'm working with two people: Roger, a carpenter, who will design the toilet platform as well as the privacy part of the outhouse; and George, who will select the ten families to receive an Arborloo. We'll hire someone to "dig to spec" the holes for them (different holes depending on what kind of tree is desired -- e.g. narrow and deeper for those trees with a tap root, versus shallower and wider for those that want to spread), and to help the family move the toilet cover. George will assist with tree selection and tree location with each family.
I hope to have several Arborloos working at the campus, and to get the students involved. Some of us think that a line of trees along the fence line would be nice. And with over a thousand kids at school, we hope that we can fill the holes relatively quickly! We spent a few minutes coming up with some interesting slogans for our campaign, but I'll leave them to your fertile imaginations....
Onto more sensually appealing affairs.... A week ago, we had the pleasure of listening to a vocal group practice here on campus ("Los Angelos del Ciero"). It's composed of eight women, several from Ivy's household (Mama, Fedrina, and Carline). On Saturday Los served as the choir at the 7th Day Adventist service, so we made sure that we'd be there. They do their own arrangements, and, sing some beautiful stuff. If you've got the bandwidth, I'm putting an mpg video of a snippet of a song on-line.
Other appealing aspects of life here in Ranquitte: the exotic calling birds (and the black hummingbirds that buzz me in the morning); the food (such as this lunch, prepared by Nanotte and Fedrina); the banana trees; the storms (even when we have to put buckets all over the attic to handle the leaks); the tarantulas; and the little boys taking showers in the great outdoors. Thad continues to live each day to the fullest, occasionally collapsing at the table during a game of some sort (here a game of Oh Hell)....
Next time I'll tell you about the acrid smell of charcoal-production, in contrast to the marvelous aroma of Carmen and Nanotte's special blend of fair-trade coffee we call "Ivy's Black Gold".
Best to all,