Tuesday, December 14, 2010

All Hands Base Camp

Just a bit about our base camp. This is probably the best layout we've had yet - especially for a large number of people. The first pic below shows the central courtyard. To the left and right are overhangs. The one on the left holds about 40 bunk beds, the space open to the courtyard. On the roof above it people have set up tents as well.

The overhang to the right has the internet cafe (on picnic tables), an area where people can relax and smoke and have movies (thanks to laptops and the internet), and the carpenter shop. This overhang isn't really safe for people to sleep under - it didn't make it through the earthquake quite intact.

Behind is the office area where there are a few computers people can use and also a laundry area as well as the shower stalls that we built. We use bucket showers - no hot water. However, we brought a solar shower with us that we heat up in the sun everyday. Feels really good.

At the far end of the yard is a covered stage area where some people have put up tents. To the left and right of this are the men's and women's bathrooms. (Really quite a set up) We have real toilets but have to flush using buckets of water.

To the left of the stage is the kitchen and a covered area with a few tables and folding chairs for eating as well as the main door. We eat most of our meals outside the door where there's a large tent.

Dining area:

Joe's bar (cold beer and cokes):

We use a generator for all power. It runs for a few hours each night, running the usual lights, pumping water from the well to cisterns on the roof, etc. as well as charging a bank of about 18 large truck batteries. These batteries run the base during the day. Fuel for the generator is a primary concern during lockdowns when we can't get out and get more fuel. If we run out, we no longer can pump water.

The picture of the two of us is taken up on the roof where people have put up tents. Nice view, more privacy, but you do have to contend with the rain.

The water that we pump is not potable so we have Culligan water delivered as well as using our own bio-sand filters.
We do chlorinate all water, though, as a preventive to cholera.

The man who owns the building also owns a small bar next door. He turns his power off when we turn ours off -- at 10 PM. Everyone has to be in the base at that time. Doors are locked.

We also have guards for the base. They primarily man the gate in front, the Joint Logistics Base on the enclosed five acres out back, and there is a night watchman inside.

We have a cook who mans the kitchen although everyone pitches in to do dishes and to clean the entire place every day. The kitchen itself is pretty rudimentary -- a propane stove with four burners and lots of huge pots and a sink. We do not have refrigeration so everything needs to be eaten up - not a difficult chore if you've been out rubbling all day.

Rainwater catchment system:

Laundry time:

Ever wonder why it is so hard to do business in Haiti? This cheap-a$$ed electric fan that would cost maybe $59 in the States goes for $200 here !
A simple plastic top folding table like the ones in your school cafeteria-- maybe $100 or $125 at Costco? They're $300 each here !! Just about anything that comes from outside sells at a 300 pct markup. Yikes!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Life in the Big House

Prevented from working on earthquake relief projects in the community, the All Hands inmates turned their creativity toward boredom-relief. The first Lockdown Olympics was staged on Saturday.

There were a number of competitive events including Slack-rope Walking, Tai Chi, Best Jingle, Wife-carrying, Delivery of Pickup Lines in Mandarin & Spanish, Relay Race, and Juggling.

Other talented volunteers created a fleet of Adirondack chairs and also a Foosball game table.

Celebratory meals of rice & beans, beans & rice, and chicken were served.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


The first round of Haitian election results was announced last night. There were something like fifteen candidates and only two made the runoff. That leaves a lot of ticked off parties and some popular unrest. The troubles were more pronounced in Port au Prince. Leogane was fairly quiet but there were a few scattered protests, some rock throwing, some burning tires. Nothing much in our part of town, but it was judged prudent to put the base on lockdown for the day.

We got a little work done inside but mostly just hung out and read. Luckily, the vendor of cold soft drinks appeared at the door and was able to pass drinks in through the bars. We had a couple tasty meals prepared by the cook.

It was also a great chance to do laundry. We have a nice spot indoors for that, equipped with water taps and some real old fashioned washboards.

We're hoping that things will quiet down by tomorrow although we're prepared to stay in for more days if needed.

The sad thing is that the four people who were scheduled to fly home were unable to depart since all flights were canceled. They got up at 4:30 only to find out we were on lockdown. American Airlines is not flying in or out tomorrow as well. Time will tell what happens in the next few days. (All this reminds us of our days in Iran during the revolution, minus the tanks.) The people who drive in to Port au Prince and bring people to and from the airport are also unable to do so so even when the airport opens. There may be a delay in being able to get to the airport. (The road goes through part of PAP.)

Thursday, Dec. 9 . . .
Another day of lockdown. The airport was closed again in PAP and will be tomorrow as well. People have been hanging out playing cards, Scrabble, bean-bag toss, shuffleboard using bottle caps, and internet of course. Luckily, our electricity is holding out but we are conserving because diesel is short and the gas stations are not open again. We are also trying to conserve water supplies and food in case the situation is prolonged.

There was drizzling rain all day so the protests were minimized. But there are still barricades on the main highway to the east and west of us. Our butts are sore from sitting on metal folding chairs and concrete all day for two days. We did bring a couple closed cell foam pads to sit on, and that has helped some. We're hoping the situation gets sorted out tomorrow so we can get at least a half day of work done. Meanwhile, we get to enjoy an all-inclusive Caribbean 'resort.'

Monday, December 6, 2010


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Up at five am to the sound of many roosters. It's a nice time of the day. David headed to the kitchen to help with the Monday morning ritual, a pancake breakfast. Making pancakes for 80 people is quite a chore but we had a whole team at work.

Off to work . . .

There are about 70 volunteers here and not as many jobs as usual, so it's hard to get a place on the team you prefer. We had hoped to work on building bio-sand water filters but ended up doing rubble removal instead.

The house site is about a half mile from our base, out in former sugar cane fields. It was a one story house about 1600 square feet in size, now completely pancaked. The heavy cement roof-- about 8 inches thick-- was supported by pitifully small columns, not tied in properly and with no cross-bracing.

The rubble team had already spent three days sledging the roof to pieces by hand. Our job was to dig out the buried cement beams and posts and break them up, removing the rebar for re-use (not advisable) or for scrap. Unfortunately, the extremely poor quality of the cement mix helped cause the collapse in the earthquake. It's some of the worst we've encountered in our many eartquake rubbling trips around the world. But it does make it easier for us to break up.

First the posts must be exposed enough from the rubble so that a sledge can be used. Then the broken bits have to be removed. The wires tying the rebar have to be snipped and sometimes the rebar has to be cut, not an easy task. We do have a monster fingernail clipper that will cut through rebar but you can barely lift it.

In the afternoon, one of our two Bobcat bucket loaders came out to the site and managed to get up onto the concrete slab and start clearing some serious amount of rubble. They were able to do in an afternoon what would have taken our ten person team several days. The next day, the site was serviced by the Bobcat and just 3 volunteers to do the manual stuff like cutting rebar. The clearing was finished by the end of the day.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Arrived at Base

Arrived late in Port au Prince after AA lost the maintenance log for the airplane. Usual melee at PAP airport as dozens of hustlers try to carry your bags hoping for a tip.

Arrived at base after a 20 mile, 2 hour ride and set up bug nets and get a good nights sleep. Sunday: day off. Great chance to unpack supplies and organize our baggage.

Special brunch provided in honor of International volunteers: French toast, syrup, real bacon, Bongu cheese (Clone of Vache qui Rit), two kinds of mango, fresh squeezed OJ, and an orange. Wow-- no rice and beans, no fish heads.

Walked downtown, changed money, toured the open market place. Had forgotten how forlorn this place is. The market is a large mud lot with stalls made from crooked sticks, tarps, and scarp tin. (Bangladesh and Indonesia are years ahead.)

Very little change here since the earthquake. Families still living in the dirt under tarps or in tents. People were bathing in a scummy ditch beside our street. Cholera will certainly get worse before its gets better.

We accidentally left our malaria meds at home. We were able to buy some more doxycycline in local store for $3 (...less than the co-pay at home) sans prescription.

We met lots of old friends here although many have left by now after spending many months volunteering. All Hands have been here almost a year. There are many improvements at the base: hi speed internet, movie screen, partitions around the bunk room.

Sunday night there was an impromptu talent contest at Joe's bar next door (Joe also owns the base that we are occupying). This was international and local volunteers and we had everything from a fiddler to juggling and "The Twelve Days of Xmas" with some specially adapted lyrics. Great fun. David even did his magic trick.

Off to work in the morning. The roosters will make sure we're up at five.