Ponderances of the Planet

Some final thoughts. On my way home from Puerto Rico, I watched the movie An Inconvenient Sequel, released 10 years after Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth. You truly get the idea what a champion he is for the planet. The movie follows him as he goes to the Paris Climate Accords and to Greenland where you can see active melting of the glaciers. He is the right person to spread the word about global warming. He’s informed, articulate, knowledgable, and has clout around the world. He was a major player in getting India to lean towards Solar and Wind power instead of building more coal plants. China is now also a major solar/wind player as well.

Last year, 2017, was a horrible year for natural disasters. Winds in California drove horrible wildfires, several hurricanes affecting the Caribbean and Florida, massive flooding in Houston. It never seemed to end. 1 in 100, 500, 1000 year events. It was the first time I thought to myself….we’re losing the battle…to protect the planet…and seriously, survive.

Heck, on today’s morning news there was a story about the North Pole being 50 degrees above normal at 43 degrees. Wow. No doubt the planet is heating up. There is an unusual wicked Nor’easter passing along the East Coast as I write. Winds with gusts up to 50-60mph. What is going on?

When I first started going on disaster relief assignments following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there just weren’t that many to “choose” from. It’s not an easy thing to align your life and available time to coordinate with a natural disaster. With the Red Cross, I need to leave within 24 hours once I make myself available. I have a little more flexibility with All Hands. Lately it seems they have 5-10 projects going at a time. I can pick one. Sheesh. Last year I could see Red Cross volunteers jumping from one deployment to the next to keep up with the need for help. Volunteering for months at a time rather than the usual 2 weeks. The demand was higher than the supply of volunteers.

It is seriously disturbing to have a choice of disasters that I can support. And very alarming the rate at which these disasters are happening. I am more than a little worried about future generations and this apocalyptic looking future. The only thing we can do as those living and taking care of the planet is become active in making this stop. I’m not sure everyone understands how. I’m not sure I understand how. Some thoughts:

  • Reduce your consumption…of everything! Clothing, paper goods, you name it. Buy used goods and clothes, recycle everything you can. This stops production and carbon output.
  • Turn your thermometers up or down more. There was a time when there was no air conditioning and heat was from the wood stove! Again…reduce your consumption.
  • Switch you electric bill to Wind and Solar with companies like Clean Choice Energy. We’ve already seen some funky happenings with the power grids on the east coast, as have the airlines.
  • Buy hybrid or electric vehicles. ASAP! Heck, in 15 years you may not be able to buy a gas vehicle. Yay!.

I could go on. The message is THINK! How is what I am doing today affecting the planet for tomorrow? Actively, responsibly make changes in how you consume and live your life. Think about the next disaster and how you could be affected!


Random reflections and photos

It is an awesome feeling to arrive on base to friendly hellos and meet people with like minds willing to help the less fortunate. There were MANY non-US citizens on this assignment from countries including: Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany, Japan, Morocco, Wales, UK, and probably more I am forgetting.

I love the new friendships made. When 5 of us got together online to share a ride from the airport to base, it was quite the coincidence that we became the Women of A Certain Club (thanks Patty for coining the saying). We relied on each other during all our stays.

Then there were the friendships with the locals. Some evenings I would go down to la Colmada (the corner store), part sundries and groceries, part local bar. We would chat and dance with the locals and I worked with Winda on my salsa!

A few images from around base:

We should have named her. Donated by the city, she kept us alive electrically. Sadly, we had refrigerators, plugs for electronics…things the locals didn’t.

The pavilion. The central hangout.

If you don’t have these, get them! On physical work days, I would come back and lay on them. From tailbone to shoulders. They use your body weight and it completely opens you up. Amazon.com. Haha

The fleet. Ready for the next day’s work.


Corrugated roofs typically were ripped off in the storm with the contents inside disappearing too.

This photo personifies Puerto Rico right now. Spaghettied power lines, tarped roofs.

Frequent radio adds advertised PTSD help. Very sad. Just imagine your life without electricity for 5 months with absolutely no end in site. You have no generator. No refrigerator. No TV. You’re retired. You either have all your relatives living around you or they all went off to the US. I’ve talked to folks with both scenarios. The days with no lights are short…the nights long. I can’t imagine. Keep these folks in your thoughts. They have a long way to go.

Puerto Rico will rise!!

Day 15 – There shall be rest!

Today I had to leave at 11:30 am. I putzed around base packing up, doing some sweeping, cleaning and waiting for our driver, Gerardo.

Goodbye shot with sweet friends, Lynn and Leana.

Nearby bunk buddy, Haley.

Chatting with Gerardo on the way to San Juan, I realize it would be nice if he had one of our purple shirts to identify him at the airport and a sign for his car. I email back to base to see if that’s possible. I also talk him into starting his own fundraising page as he has relatives in the US. Woot!

Found a cute little Airbnb near the airport and beach. Take an immediate 1 hour nap! Then just hang here. Never left the property!

Kitchen and dining at the Inn. Lol. Kinda cute. And guess what…for the first time in 2 weeks, I’m alone! Yippee!

Day 14 – Assessments in Humacao

It’s time to pass the torch. Previous Spanish speaking assessors Britt and Marion are off on a 3 day break. Today I head out with Eva and Emily, both fluent. Second time for both, they do a great job.

We were in Humacao, about 20-30 minutes from base along the shore. Nice coastal ride. So many beautiful vistas! We meet 2 ladies at the local community center who actually escort us to homeowners in need. With their help, we wrap up 5 assessments in good time and then have lunch with one of these ladies.

View from one person’s home we had assessed.

View from another person’s back door as Eva and she look at damage in the backyard.

I hadn’t really eaten at any of the restaurants here but we were taken to one that had less fried food and… vegetables! Imagine that. Later back at the office, the 3 of us are in some kind of coma. I realize it’s doggone MSG that they put in everything here. Plus the rising humidity. A deadly combo…especially when working on inputting data into the computer!

I said my farewells at the nightly meeting. Sad to leave so many new friends. But ,alas, it’s time for rest.

Day 13 – Sunday is funday…again!

Four of us took off for the beach after a stop at the grocery store to buy steak/chicken/salad for dinner later. We planned on grilling on base after the day out.

Luquilla! A nice beach with nice sand and some shops/restaurants near by.

Although I consider the food on base fairly good, it’s still not what I usually eat. There’s one entire fridge dedicated to personal food so I had stocked up as best I could. Believe me, organic does not exist in PR! Fried, fried, fried!

Dinner! Yum!

There are always 2 staff members on base through the weekend. Here’s George and Jon treating themselves to 1 1/2 lb steaks!

Day 12 – Office Work and karaoke night

I was supposed to be driving to San Juan today for some shopping at the big box stores. Figure PR is an extension of the US so any of the stores like Costco and Walmart , etc. all exist here. Our closest Walmart is closed due to damage. I see a lot of repair activity going on so hopefully it’s not long before it opens.

Instead I am in the office doing data entry of the assessments. Easy. Quiet.

Last night we had an auction on base. A fundraiser which made $1500! Not bad. Crazy things auctioned like “how much would you pay for me to shave my head? ( says the girl with hair way down her back). Apparently $190! My last office duty of the day was to come up with a spreadsheet of winning bidders, payments made towards bids, etc. Easy peasy.

The office which I imagine was the school’s office as well.

Fatigue is beginning to set in. I feel like I’ve been sleeping well but am easily wakened in the commune by a weird scrunching noise the air mattresses make against the metal rings that serve as a platform for them when people turn at night.

The green bug tent is where I’ve slept for 2 weeks. I was lucky to have no one overhead while I was here….scrunching away.

Saturday nights we have an extra 1/2 hour before lights out at 11pm. Woohoo! Lucky us had a volunteer named JG who had a fabulous Josh Groban type voice who DJ’d. A local lent us his equipment. Fun! Thank god it ended around 9:45pm because I was starting to imagine the locals being upset with the noise. Although they LOVE to blast music just about everywhere. Seriously, with most having no generators, I can’t imagine what they do after dark but go to bed.

Karaoke night with JG in neon yellow.

Day 11 – Assessments in the hills…oy!

Holy cow! The mountain roads around here are crazy. I feel like many are greater than a 45 degree angle. Heading up hill, I’m always leaning into the steering wheel…as if that will help. Several times I have wondered what it would take to flip the front end of the car over the back on a steep hill. Then you get to the top and can’t see the (very steep!) downhill. Freaks me out!

Today, Marion and I found another high priority case. 3 Elderly siblings living in a mold infested house. Broken louvered windows. Many trees down on a large property. Massive amount of work.

You bet we had a crew out the next day. They started to cut up the trees. What else can we do on a property like this? A debris removal team will move all the cut up wood to the front of the property for pick up by the city. They will also remove tons of other debris including 2 refrigerators.

Hoping we can get a roofing team out next to clean up and seal the roof. Then the mold sanitation team to clean up the mold on the inside. Hazmat type suits and all. The trees out back felled another building on the property, one that will not be rebuilt.

We will also replace (with FEMA aid) 12 doors and Windows. That’s a lot! Huge job all around but the homeowner is experiencing asthmatic type symptoms from the mold. We’ve got to move quickly.

These folks have no generator. Without it and the refrigerators they are keeping things cool in a cooler. I noticed the homeowner adding ice. Still…she offers us coffee or water. Super sweet.

Day 10 – Organizing Assessments

Office work today. Not exciting but necessary. This project is only 6 weeks old. So every day we work at getting a grip on the volume of work and increasing efficiency.

Today I organized the stack of 450 (or so) unassessed intakes. At this point they were added to a pile. Period. Now that I’ve organized them, they are sorted by intake date (going back to 1/17/18) and alphabetically by first name. Easy to find any of them. The staff is working on how to prioritize these so we can get those with the most vulnerability done sooner. Everything is in the computer and various data sorts can be done to accomplish this.

We see many, many elderly in our assessments. So sad to me.

I am also now an approved base “Uber” driver. We only have so many vehicles so some teams are dropped off and picked up, etc. errands need to be run, we need to drive to Assessments and whatnot. It also means I can borrow a vehicle to run errands after work or go to the beach. Woot!

Sadly we said goodbye to 4 international volunteers (2 from Wales, 1 from Morocco, 1 from Japan). Unfortunately for them, breaking the law by smoking weed on base means an automatic expulsion. They made their way to the airport and were scrambling on what to do next. Big lesson on live and learn.

View from a house we were assessing.

View from house we were assessing.

Day 9 – Assessments

Another day with Marion from France. Lovely young lady taking a year off with her boyfriend, Nico, who is also here.

We finished 4 assessments today. We were in the home of a 94 year old who is demented. Her daughter is her sole caretaker and was very upset telling us the story of how the hurricane damaged her home. All their other relatives are in the US.

We had passed through a bedroom with what appeared to be an unmade bed but was actually the tiny 94 year old curled up in the fetal position. This room had the most mold. Active water leaks were still occurring. Ugh.

At this point, All Hands has about 450 unassessed houses. That means folks have visited our base camp and completed an intake/ request for work. That’s a lot! There’s much work to be done!

When I go out on Assessments, it’s the actual house visit where we survey the damage, take photos of damage, and assess what we can help with. We then head back to the office to input our observations in the computer. We estimate the number of volunteers needed and the number of days work to complete the various repairs needed. We write a materials list for the team leaders so they know what tools to take out on the job.

The last thing we do is indicate a priority for the job. We don’t see many high priority at the this point 5 months later. But in the case of a 94 year old woman living in a mold infested room, we make sure this house gets to the top of the repair list.

Pretty much everywhere we go, tarped roofs, spaghetti wires, most cut.

Day 8 – A nasty roof job

Oh brother. As soon as we get on this roof we know it’s trouble. It’s large, has visible cracks, has multiple layers of sealant and is just plain ugh.

It’s hands and knees tedious work to prep this one. Days and days of work.

All I can say is thank goodness I only spent an afternoon doing it!

The best news of the day was that it was the only job I got to spend time with friend, Natalie Gipson!

Day 7 – Roofing

Today we made our way to 80 year old Lunta’s house. Sweetie that she is, she greeted us with a smile and lunch! On the first day. Imagine that. So decent to make a crew of 4 lunch. Very humbling. All I can think of is all she has been through. He roof still leaks after 5 months. She doesn’t have much but she’s making us lunch. Sheesh.

Lunta made us pasta with meat and plantains.

We are sending 4 roofing teams out a day. It’s priority #1. Stop the leaking. I’ve been in many homes by now. Mold is setting in. Spreading. Puerto Rican’s are very resourceful. They have fixed what they can. But the roof is an expensive job.

Most homes are one story and concrete with flat roofs. That makes our jobs a bit easier. BUT… when was the last time it was sealed and what condition is the sealant in?

Lunta’s House. You may not be able to see it but center top of the house is a short brick column where various lines come together. All cut.

So Team Leader’s go up top, access the job to be done, set up safety perimeters, meet with the group to discuss work for the day, and we’re off. I mean up! To the roof. We scrape off any old sealant we can. We power wash some of it up. We working towards the cleanest, driest surface we can.

The guys working out a power washer issue. Mind you, this is a pretty good looking roof. Many have multiple layers of sealant, big cracks that need fixing, etc.

We try a new all-in-one primer/sealant. One coat. Previously, prime one day, one coat of sealant 2nd day, 2nd coat of sealant 3rd day. And it all has to be dry when you start each process. Hard to do with it raining some most days.

Ta da! Lunta’s completed roof. 2 days later, significant rain. We check in with Lunta. No leaks! Success!

Day 7 – Sunday is funday!

Amen to sleeping in until 7:15! As is everywhere in the Caribbean, roosters abound! Fighting dogs. Gladly, no loud cows like Haiti.

A group of 8 was going to the beach so I hopped in the van. Ended up being 2 1/2 hours away and mid southern coast of PR. Ponce. A nice boardwalk marina…but the boardwalk was closed! So we just ate and went to the historic area. Also mostly closed because it was Sunday. Dang. But I got a PR tee shirt. PR shopping done!

Ponce cathedral reminds me of Cuban architecture.

PR is mountainous. Beautiful green landscape that is somehow different. While many, many trees came down in the hurricane. The rest got shredded. Meaning all the vegetation and many branches are gone. Now, in late February, new growth is appearing and it just looks out of place. Much is leaning. Power poles, trees. It’s just odd. Beat up.

Coming over the mountain to south shore.

Odd, ugly part of landscape.

We also managed to stop at a local stand of handmade crafts. No one realized the whole place was under a fallen tree!

I was just excited to end the day at a grocery store! Got some of my own fruits, etc. There is zero organic anything here. Not my thing but trying the best I can.

Day 5 – Assessments in Camino Nuevo and Jesus, our savior

Holy cow. What a great day…that could have been a disaster!

Assessments again (visiting people’s homes to evaluate their needs). We were a bit southwest of the city of Yabucoa. Today I was with sweet young Britt who, coincidently is from Long Island (like me!). She is so mature and speaks fabulous Spanish and has just graduated college. We had a mission to do 6 assessments and be back at base at 1 o’clock.

We set off for the neighborhood Camino Nueva. Realize that it is mountainous here. I don’t even know how they build some of these houses on such sharp/steel angles. Driving up one hill, we were on such a steep incline I wondered what it would take to flip the front of the car over the back. We were close to doing that!

After asking neighbor after neighbor, we find the first house high up on the hill. Uninhabitable, roof gone, we meet with the owner. As we’re chatting with this client, his friend Jesus arrives. Jesus is glad his friend is finally getting some help. He needs it badly.

As Britt is handling some questions with the client, I get into a conversation with Jesus. He’s asking where else we have to go…in perfect English, by the way. He offers to take us there. He ends up staying with us the rest of the day and taking us front house to house…of course asking this neighbor and that until we finally make it to our destination.

Turns out Jesus is a retired mailman who knows all the roads in the Yabucoa area! Wow, what a find. He loved helping us and his fellow Puerto Rican’s. He was such a perfect fit and I asked him if he’d like to volunteer with us. He would! Yay. So we told the staff and they’ll be in touch with him soon.

Public art spotted today…

Glory to the hands that work

Glory to the hands that work!

Puerto Rican flag

Day 3 -Assessments

After a day of demolition in the sun, I was ready to do something else. Once word gets out that All Hands and Hearts is here, folks know to come to our base and fill out an intake form. They are basically stating what their needs are. The next step is for Assessors to go out and really hone in on what they need vs what we can actually do for them.

On this site, All Hands can do demolition (with sledges, chippysaws, steel cutters for rebar), minor repairs (doors, Windows, door handles, window handles, cracks), roofing (power wash, prime, seal of mostly concrete roofs), and muck and gut (not so much because we’re 5 month’s post hurricane. This job would include getting mud out of houses, gutting walls. Most are concrete homes though and if there were mud, it’s been cleaned out.). So we’re able to go in and assess based on what we know we can do.

FEMA is also involved. They can provide doors and windows. Not sure about roofing which is badly needed.

So out assessing we went, me and Marion from France. She’s Spanish fluent so she did the talking and I did the paperwork. We set out on foot in the local area. 5 1/2 hours out better us 5 complete assessments with signatures. No signature, no work.

Assessing is both rewarding and frustrating. Rewarding when you can actually find the house and the person at home. Frustrating when you can’t! I love listening to their (heartbreaking) stories of surviving the hurricane. They’ve been through so much.

Street names are not really marked. Marion had a general idea where we were headed. We get to a spot, find someone outside, then ask them if they’ve heard of the person we are looking for. Depending on the answer we either move closer to the house, or find another person to ask more directions. With this process we eventually find the right home. At this point, we look up the GPS coordinates and mark them on the work request form. We’ll never have trouble finding them again!

We see everything from minor repairs to uninhabitable homes full of mold. It’s our job to prioritize. The jobs as high, medium or low. High is a house that people are living in (they have no place to go) that is dangerous because of mold or other structural issues. The people’s house that was full of mold was not high since they have a place to live…their son’s house next door.

Day 2 – Training, orientation, demolition

Well…I’ve lost Day 1 due to crappy cell. Onward…

Wow. 6 years since my last All Hand assignment. Boy have they grown up since my Haiti days. Excellent PowerPoint orientation to the NGO (which I already knew), the PR project, etc. Followed by intro to job training in roofing, minor repairs (doors and windows), demolition. MUCH emphasis on safety and other procedures. Hard hats on most of these jobs. Many, many changes for the better since my Haiti days.

Questions anyone?

The famous job board is back. This is where you learn what you are doing the next day. And here’s my assignment…

Humacao is about 30 minutes away. And here’s the House…

Mission? Take off the entire 2nd floor! We made good progress today. Got all the extra stuff out (furniture was already gone) but various junk around. Interior doors out. Trusses (so to speak) and tarp off. All ceiling and door trim gone. We hand to throw everything over the 2nd floor fence to the driveway and cart it all to a huge pile across the street.

By the way, 0% power on the grid in this area. Some people have generators. Certainly not all.

Day 1 – Made it to PR!

Success! Our group of 5 met at San Juan airport with no issues. I met a nice group of Baltimore Gas and Electric guys here for a months to do some power work. They’ve been hired by FEMA who are all over the place down here.

Here’s an airplane view of San Juan. See all the tarped roofs?

I found the driver I had hired and he took us to Puerto Rican BBQ for dinner. Yum! Arrival was as the nightly meeting occurred. We got an orientation around base instead. We are the property of a former school. Classrooms are sleeping areas. Showers have been installed. Cold water only. It’s completely surrounded by a high fence. Very safe. Gates are closed at 7pm. No one allowed out. No electricity beyond (some generators) which makes it unsafe.

Friend, Natalie, and I scored bunk beds in a nice area. We’re happy. I’m on a top bunk but moving to bottom tomorrow when that woman goes home. Mixed housing. Make/female. Little space for luggage and such. You have got to keep yourself organized or you will lose your mind with so little space. We ended up in the community room. Not too bad. Folks are respectful and lights are out from 10:30pm on the dot! Until around 6:30am.

That’s my top bunk of the right. The big cardboard box in Center? Playground equipment to be put together another day. My mattress deflated with it an hour of getting in it! Plan B? Quietly get my sleeping pad out and sleep on the floor!

Fantastic training and orientation with much more emphasis on safety and job training. Very impressed this tour of duty. Assignment for tomorrow…take the second story off a house that lost it’s roof.

Girl power on base!

Onward…and off to Puerto Rico!

What a monster Maria was. Category 4 with winds up to 155mph. Yabucoa, where I’ll be, is in the southeast corner pretty much where the eye hit. On the second map below, figure it’s right under the dark line south of Humacao, more near the coast.

Hurricane Maria Eye.jpg


Some good news. Electricity on base! Thumbs up! 5 months post hurricane. Still not sure about a hot shower but it’s not often needed (or appreciated!) after a days work in the Caribbean. Even in February.

I didn’t repack after my overweight 53.2 lb weigh in. Just moved a few things to a lightweight, collapsible carry on. Done!

I’ve called my cell phone carrier, T Mobile. They’ve assured me that there is service at the base address and surrounding area, albeit slow. I am hoping to post to the blog but it’s a we-shall-see scenario.

I’ve arranged a van to take 5 of us arriving on the same day to base. We’ll get there after dinner, probably get a base orientation, set up our beds, find out our assignments for the next day and be up and out by 8am for the days work.


How do you pack for a volunteer disaster assignment?

Well, I just checked and this will be my 10th long term assignment (2 weeks or more). I know what it takes for me to feel comfortable with what’s in my suitcase. Literally 1/2 of it is filled with my bedding, roll up chair, fan, pillow. By this time I’ve made investments into the right equipment…like any camper or hiker.

Clothes? Secondary! I started weighing these bags inside my suitcase. I’ve got 2 pounds of anything-you-can-think-of meds, antibiotics, bug spray, etc. I’ve got 4 lbs of gluten free oats, tea, supplements, healthy snacks and my own tea mug. I’ve brought my own woman sized work gloves and N95 masks. A lot of these items won’t come make the return trip…which is good weight wise.

Can I live without any of this? Thinking twice about going to a land of limited access. It’s been 5 months since the earthquake. 20% still without electricity. What supplies are available? Don’t know. Roads still bad and it’s hard to get things where they need to be. The thing is…I don’t know a lot of things. I tend to make up for it with what’s in this piece of luggage. If you get a stomach bug, do you think there’s time to go out and buy meds that may or may/not be available? Thus what may seem to some like overpacking.


Above is my lunch on a usual day. Green tea, whole grain toast, avocado, pumpkin seeds, chicken. Will I see that on assignment? Naaaah! I’ve written about this before. Rice and beans! Carbs galore! Limited protein and fresh anything. I’ve brought seeds (a combo of sesame, ground flaxseed, chia) to add to anything for an added fiber/protein punch. I’ve brought my green tea and my gluten free oats (already packed in individual servings with walnuts, cinnamon or ground cloves or nutmeg). Yum!

You get the idea. Self care. Your head can get pretty messed up mentally seeing all you see. You body surely takes a beating with the daily labor. These are things I need to find “ooommmm” on an assignment. Curious…what would your “ooommm” items be?

OK. Weigh in time! And it looks like I’ve got some work to do!


How do you describe hope after a disaster? Origins of the 4 blog banner photos.

How do you describe hope after a disaster? I’ve selected 4 photos that randomly show up at the top of the blog. They all remind me of the meaning of hope and new beginnings.

Open Shelters – I’m not sure if this was before or after Hurricane Sandy hit NY in 2012. But I think the photo would be similar regardless. It was the number of Red Cross Shelters available for you to go to for either food, supplies or shelter. Manned by thousands of volunteers who were pre-positioned before the storm hit. Hope? A place to go eat, sleep, be safe and get a hug. A diversion and safe place to be until decisions could be made.

Little Haitian boy eating – One of my favorite photos ever. All Hands has completed building a school. We are at the opening ceremony. The children are lining up for a group photo in front of the school. This child was not giving up his meal…which may have been his only one for the day. Hope? A meal and a new place to learn.

Hauling seaweed in Japan – Tsunamis are ruthless. They are more gentle by nature. They quietly move in…and then out…within about 24 hours. This photo was taken in the port town of Ofunato at a fish plant. The Japanese had an awesome handle on piling up and recycling their damaged goods. With “All Hands” (literally!) we pulled all the perishable goods out and loaded them in a dumpster to be carted away. Hope? Little by little this site would be cleaned up, helping the owners toward the day they could reopen their business.

The leveled lot in Haiti – As much debris as you see in piles around this photo was on the leveled lot. The house to the left belonged to the same owner as the leveled lot. With “All Hands” and in about 5 days with crews of about 10 a day, sledging, cutting rebar, loading into wheelbarrows, carting away, and sweeping became this result. Hope? A chance for the owner to put a temporary or build a new home on the clean cement pad.

Your donor dollars are not wasted on organizations like American Red Cross and All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response. The free labor provided in these photos is a token of what it takes…to give hope a chance.

Getting Ready

A week to go til I’m in Puerto Rico. Packing has begun for communal living, no electricity, cold showers, bugs. How do you get that all in one suitcase! Ha. Never easy. Today’s chore…spraying my bug net and clothes with Sawyer Spray. I’m not a fan of chemicals…like…at all. Sawyer Spray contains permethrin which my research tells me has a low absorption rate into human skin. I used it in Haiti and got very few mosquito bites. So aside from dengue and malaria, the world now has zika. Great. Can’t live without Sawyer. Doesn’t smell. Works through 6 washings. It’s a winner. I spray it on my bug net and all my outer clothes. Sprayed my shoes with water repellent too. I NEVER go barefoot anywhere in our communal living

The garage is the perfect spot to spray everything down on a cold day.

base or obviously on a disaster site. You cannot imagine where your shoes go and what they are capable of picking up. You’re usually not allowed to wear your work boots onto base. Leave the crud at the door!

It’s been a while but it’s time to go again.

Seriously? It’s been 6 years since I’ve been deployed. Life, including a job with lots of travel, a new home, a new beach home and 5 grandkids, have intervened….in the best way! But now it’s time to deploy again.

The number of disasters in 2017 has been incredible. Climate change? Most likely. Hurricanes, wildfires of huge proportions, floods. More than the mind can handle. More than anyone’s wallet can handle. Especially those affected. Enter All Hands and Hearts, Smart Response. They’ve grown since my last posts. They’ve perfected their gig. Combined forces with Petra Nemacova’s Happy Hearts NGO. Petra survived the 2004 tsunami in Jakarta. Remember that one? She lost her partner, survived hanging on to a tree with a broken pelvis. Then decided to give back by organizing Happy Hearts.

The combined talents of Petra and All Hands Volunteers’, David Campbell is a beautiful thing. They were in the same business – helping those affected by disaster. They’ve come a long way (baby!). They are known nationally and internationally and have maintained their humble roots. What does that mean? Still finding base camps near the landfall sight, center of the action, where a major number of homes and businesses are likely affected.

No fancy hotel for me. Commune. Base camp this time is in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. Near the landfall site of Hurricane Maria. I’ll bring all my bedding and sleep in a bunk bed, work from 8-4, team meetings every night to discuss the day’s work…and tomorrow’s. Meeting new people including volunteers and Puerto Ricans.

Five months after the hurricane roofs are still leaking. So that’s priority one. Roof tarping. Mucking, gutting homes. Mold has set in, so mold remediation. Every day a new adventure to helping Puerto Ricans salvage what they have left.

At the point of this writing, there is no Wifi on base. My guess is that will change but I don’t know. I’m not sure how often I’ll be checking in because of that. The best thing for you to do, if you want to follow along, is drop your email in the box to follow. This way, you’ll get an email that there’s a new post.

Hasta luego! (see you soon)

Final Random Thoughts and Photos

 So after 2 weeks, I’m spent. I probably did more physical labor on this trip than any other. It’s all good though. You get charged up by everyone else working at the same pace. Bashing walls, prying up floors, and hauling endless debris to the curb. It’s all rewarding. New friends and acquaintances. Smiles. Tears…of joy. Homeowners who can’t believe they got all this help…for free. People helping people…interesting concept. 🙂

Speaking of which…check this photo. See the extension cord inside the fence? Look closely as it crosses the street. Probably too difficult to see it going up the red steps. People helping people. Shedding a little light.

See the condensation in this car window. No license plate. Abandoned car. I came to recognize them. This day I saw 4 within a 4-5 house radius. I also drove past the car graveyard every day where they probably will all end up.

I think this one just floated here. But why is it still there after a month?
Ramp to the Long Beach boardwalk. Messed up.

Upended dock in Island Park. It’ll wait ’til spring.

The best part of these trips….camaraderie. Here’s Erica, Jake, and Becci…I worked with all of them in Japan last year! And now again in New York.
And these dudes made my day every day…clowns that they are. Awesome fun with Tim, Zack and Jake. Plus I brought them snacks every day so they’d be friends with me. 🙂
And we worked in Carmela, Jack and Anthony’s house. So of course this Italian mama made us mangia! I met all of these people on this given day and will probably never see them again but the camaraderie is instant…if only for a few hours of a day.
Isn’t he cute? Grandson photos a huge bonus while away volunteering. 🙂

 And so, the work has only begun on Long Island, the daily debris piles continue to mound here…and all over the south shore. Once again I feel my contribution is small compared to the task at hand. But I’ve done what I can and must take solace in that. Peace Out!

The story of Richard , Part 2

By day 2, Richard is doing much better emotionally. Another crew of 12 descends on his house and the gutting continues. The “Claw” comes to remove the huge pile of debris that has accumulated. On day 3, the last day, another huge pile of debris replaces the first as the sub floors have now been pulled up. Exposed below is the crawl space, which was also cleaned up.
All Hands has completed their task. 3 full days and, by my estimate, 190 man hours to gut one house. It’s now ready for contractors to come in and rebuild. Richard has come to terms with what is going on. He’s so appreciative and feels blessed to have found us. Handshakes, hugs, goodbyes. Fast friendships with homeowners dissolve as easily as they were made only days before.
My brother, Scott, and nephew, Erik, work on cleaning up the  gutted kitchen.
Mold evident in a closet was the same all throughout the house.
One month after the storm, this is what the underside of the bedroom floor  looks like. If you looked at the floor before we pulled it out, it looked normal.

And so, another house is completed. Ponder this…every affected house probably needs roughly the same amount of work. 190 hours times thousands and thousands of homes, across the south shore of Long Island, and Queens. Tack on New Jersey and Connecticut while you’re at it. It’s astounding. A look down any street, other than piled debris, looks normal. The homes aren’t leveled like in a tornado. They look normal from the outside yet all this work awaits on the inside. My fear is that not everyone is doing this kind of work on their homes. They might have pulled up the stinky carpeting but the wood floor looks ok, right? Well I’ve just shown you, they’re not. I fear in 6 months or a year there will be a rise in mold related illnesses. Let’s hope not.

I know this….the city of Long Beach along side other agencies like FEMA have done door to door canvases to make sure every homeowner understands what needs to be done to their homes and what resources are available to them. It’s a herculean effort and I hope everyone who needed to be reached…has been.

The work on Richard’s home is complete. Ready for rebuilding.

Long Beach and the story of Richard, Part I

Long Beach, in Nassau County, was hugely affected by Superstorm Sandy. It’s a barrier island to the south shore of Long Island. It isn’t far from the ocean on the south shore to the bay on the north shore…maybe 1/4 mile? Needless to say, the bay met the ocean amongst the neighborhoods of Long Beach.
All Hands Volunteers tries to find greatly affected areas that are perhaps off the beaten track. The ones that might not get the most media coverage. Ones where the population is more needy to begin with. They found that in Long Beach. Most of it looks to be low income. Smaller homes of maybe 1000 -1500 sq ft in the area we are working. And the need is certainly there.
Richard was home during the storm. His wife, Vivian, has multiple sclerosis and is wheel chair bound. He made sure she was safe and not at home, as well as their 12 year old daughter. He watched the water rise, never having seen anything like it. When it got to his doorstep he really started to worry because he didn’t know when it would stop rising. Luckily, it rose only a foot more, covering about 12″ of the first floor in his house…and about 4-5′ in total given the elevation of his house. I can’t imagine being home and watching this. Surreal.
Richard’s home with the first pile of removed/gutted debris.
Once water infiltrates and submerges your carpeting, sub floor, furniture, cabinets, etc…you ‘ve got to work fast…and I mean immediately…to get it all out of the house before mold spreads. As it was, a month had passed before Richard found the help he needed to help with the task. He had been overwhelmed by what he knew had to happen and simply didn’t know where to start. Everything looks to be OK when the water recedes except it’s soggy…and then the stink sets in and you know you’ve got problems.
The day we got there, his possessions were all still in the closets and about the house. He and his family have been living in the local Best Western with a few safe possessions. 15 anxious-to-get-to-work people showed up on his doorstep and entered his house. It takes a bit of time for the team leader to find a spot for everyone to begin work. Some just start doing what they think needs to be done….not the best thing to do. In this case the homeowner was present and sensitivity to that was important but some people aren’t tuned into that. They’re not being selfish they just aren’t aware. We needed Richard to direct all of us but that’s just impossible. I decided to stick by his side and help him think. He identified major furniture he wanted to keep. We agreed to remove all his furniture/possessions and place what was salvageable (albeit all of it needs to be decontaminated with a clorox solution or washed in hot water) in the garage as well as gut the lower part of his walls, flooring, sub floor.
The team went to work and Richard and I stuck together and started going through closets. We had a “keep” bag and a “trash” bag and everything went into one or the other. Imagine going through everything in your house in a few hours time and deciding whether to keep it or not. By lunch time he looked like he was going to keel over….literally. His head runneth over, I could tell. Aside from making decisions on the closet stuff, 14 other people were shuffling around his house moving things out and then they started banging and knocking on the walls with hammers. He startled several times. I could see he was upset so we stopped and chatted about it. Everything was happening so fast without the time he needed to process it all.
 A silver lining…we found Richard’s long lost wedding ring during the gutting.

Lunch break. I talked to him a bunch about what was happening. We went to the local MLK Community Center for lunch. Along with hot meals, clothing, food, toiletries, clean up supplies, blankets and more were very organized in this center. Hot showers were available in a trailer outside. The break was just what he needed to clear his head. After lunch, he appeared more invigorated and accepting of what was happening to his house. And, yes, we finished the arduous closets task. He took the opportunity and ditched quite a lot of never used  and old stuff. But, smart man that he is, saved his wife’s extensive hat collection!
My son, Ryan, removes rusted radiator covers. It was behind these that he found silver lining #2…$100! Trim and paneling have been removed here…lower part of walls and floors come out next.

By the end of day 1, we’ve got all the possessions out, the paneling down (which was on every wall in the house), a good amount of the walls chalked and some of the demolition below this chalked line begun. Plaster walls to boot. You learn a lot about a home when you start to take it apart!

Day 1 crew includes my son, Ryan (far left) a crew of church members from Connecticut, Richard, a college crew, and Jake (far right) who volunteered with me during my 3 weeks in Japan after the tsunami.

And then there was New York

I came to Long Island for Thanksgiving….and stayed. How could I not help service the area where I was born and raised. 30 years there to be exact. Descriptions from the many relatives still living here were horrific. One had no electricity for 11 days. The never ending wait for power wreaking havoc on anyone’s psyche…it really messes with your head! And it was getting colder. Like 9/11, everyone knew someone with a tale to tell. They were putting up people in their homes, devastation on the south shore, and mostly…we never thought this would happen to us.
All Hands began an operation in Staten Island and was about to start one in Long Beach, Long Island. I spent only one day in Staten Island in the office. Lots learned, new people met but I was glad to transfer to Long Beach closer to where I was staying in Seaford. (A HUGE shout out to Marybeth and Bob Gang for the crib for 2 weeks!). A quick pic of Staten Island. Ever feel like a boat out of water?
I’ve been on the Long Beach project for a week now. Much accomplished! A church and 3 homes gutted. By that I mean the walls (down to the studs) removed to above the scum/debris line and floors cut out . The average height of the water where we are working seems to be about 4-6’. No one has ever seen anything like that in this area. Ever. Here’s a photo inside the church that shows a distinct scum line.
Here’s what the room looked like with the walls out and the floor tile being removed.
And the outside of the church with all the debris…this was only the first pile. It wrapped around the building and we started it all over again once the debris was removed.
And then there’s “The Claw”…a specialized, and HUGE dump truck/crane type truck that comes by and removes all the debris. Here it is removing the church debris.
I pass the new “dump” where this all ends up every day on my commute to Long Beach. It’s oceanside in Lido Beach. It’s massive. I can’t imagine moving it again…so I guess it stays? Or gets carted off into boats on the ocean? No clue. But it’s curious nonetheless. It’s wedged right in between beach clubs on the ocean as a constant reminder of Sandy’s wrath.
Newsday, the local paper, has stories every day about the recovery. Comparisons to Katrina have been made. In damaged homes, there are 305K, which exceeds Katrina by nearly 100K. Most of the south shore, especially in Nassau County, has suffered unbelievable damage. Tens of thousands of trees came down. The silver lining there is tons of free mulch where all the trees and yard debris have been ground up. 
Many people are without power AND heat. Still. In December. Over a month after the Oct 29 event. That is slowly being remedied. We chatted with a Fema crew that was going door to door making sure people had heat and power. There’s a special “Step” program they have that helps provide a plumber and electrician to repair electricity and provide  a new boiler for heat even if it’s a temporary solution until total repairs are done. 
They also told us that they’d been informed that the Fema Recovery Centers will probably be there…til the summer! The Recovery Centers are usually in a park with space to house trailers for insurance companies, Red Cross Feeding,  hot showers and Fema itself. Here’s a lok at the one at Cedar Creek Park in Seaford.

Great efforts are being made to communicate…well…everything. Where the Recovery Centers are, what assistance is available from what agencies, how to get the help you need. Red Cross feeding vehicles are prevalent on the roads, newspaper and TV reporting is constant. Recovery takes a very long time and the media attention is much needed.

On the road again…Hurricane Sandy

Super storm Sandy…wow. You did your thing all right. 900 some odd miles wide, full moon and wham! Annihilated the east coast to the tune of billions of dollars. Exceding Katrina in number of homes damaged. Leaving thousands living in homes with no heat or electricity because insurance companies include water surges in flood insurance and not the usual homeowners insurance. Most people, of course, didn’t have flood insurance.

In November, I spent 2 weeks volunteering with the Red Cross before/after the storm. The first week was spent in Baltimore headquarters for the MD/DE region. I waited out the storm in a Baltimore hotel room. Got our supplies…some food, candles, enough reading materials…and hunkered down. Wasn’t too bad in the area. After a week, most shelters were closed. Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV) were filled with food and water and sent to needier areas.

Working in headquarters was not exactly my cup of tea. In the long run, I learned a lot about the behind the scenes work and met some really great people. Working in the area that services Feeding and Sheltering…wow…what a scramble. As soon as a shelter opens, the manager is working towards closing it. Either people come or they don’t. As it turns out, DE/MD was less affected so they closed quickly. Shelters open the longest were in WV and southern MD. After a week, they were all closed and that operation was winding down.

A partner and I then drove an ERV to West Virginia where we spent the week taking food and supplies to blizzard affected areas (yes, caused by Sandy),  in the mountains. Humble people. Appalachia. Poor. And yet, in a door to door canvas, when asked if they needed meals, we were told to take meals to those who needed it more than they. Maybe it’s a pride thing for them because I couldn’t imagine anyone needier than the person I was facing! On a particular gas stop in an impoverished area, I ran inside for a soda. The woman behind me, recognizing Red Cross garb bought my soda! You want to cry but a simple thanks and a hug sealed the deal. I tried not to feel guilty for allowing her to do that but knew it was important for her to pay it forward.

Well, 2 weeks at home to decompress after that deployment and I was ready to hit the road with All Hands Volunteers (my Haiti/Japan organization) in New York. More on that when I check in next.

(Photos: Headquarters..always bustling; a look at the number of shelters open after Sandy; my partner, Moira, and  I work on unloading the ERV into this pantry.)


Hurry up and wait – Day 2 – started as just that. Hurry to the Frederick office. Find out there are no assignments yet. Wait..they’d know by 5pm. We were sent to spend the day as we liked so I went home and everyone else back to their hotel.

I am paired up with Pete, from West Palm Beach, FL. Nice dude. I can tell that we’ll get along just fine. Yesterday we picked up a pallet of water at Sam’s Club and snacks so the truck was loaded. Look at the photo shot today to see what the water looks like now! Oiy vay! All you hear in the back is the creaking of shrink wrap. As the load sways the wrap stretches. It throws off the balance of the vehicle and you can feel it on the turns. We figured it weighs 800-900 lbs. It’s planted just forward of the rear wheels where it should be but you can hardly help the movement of the water cases unless you go super duper slow. We’ll be doing mostly highway miles so we’ll be careful and if need be, disassemble it.
Not just any volunteer can drive an ERV. You’ve got to have training which includes everything from vehicle maintenance and inspections to safe food handling. There’s inventory of cleaning supplies, serving supplies, important documents, etc. Knowledge of what to do if there’s an accident?, how do you pay for gas?, etc. etc.

Sure enough, at 4:30pm my call comes through. I am assigned to Middletown, NY and am to leave in the morning. On the map it’s west of the Hudson river, west of Newburgh, a few hours north of New York City. I check my handy dandy American Red Cross Shelter View app (photo: each red dot is an open shelter…a tremendous amount. Middletown is center and left.) and see there are many shelters open nearby. I’ll bet power outages too.
I’ll never find out. After that phone call I called the hubby of my best friend. She’s been very ill and was recently put under hospice care. I find out that the hospice nurses think her time is short. Not what we thought or expected. I immediately call my Red Cross boss and explain and am released from the disaster response. I’ll be spending the coming days helping her family so she can remain in hospice at home. Priorities.
With that, I’ll bid you adieu….’til next time. Peace Out.

Hurry up and wait!

The logistics on a disaster operation are enormous. The Red Cross is trying to mobilize thousands of volunteers to hundreds of locations, tons of supplies and equipment to hundreds of locations, and on and on. The first days of an operation can often end up in a situation we call “Hurry up and wait”. Hurry up and get there and then wait while the Disaster Operations Center figures out where to send you.

It’s raining when I get here so the hurricane is not completely out of the area. We have been fortunate. Small debris covers the roads, small branches are down and the occasional tree. We have never lost power. My son in New York City reports no power outage on the Upper West Side but many trees and limbs down on nearby Riverside Park. Reports of 4 million people without power along the coast and much flooding.

In my case, I got here to my local Frederick Red Cross office at 8:30am. I know I am to be anERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) driver. This office is a staging area for ERV’s arriving from across the country. We’ve got 15 that have come from FL, NE, TX and MD. There are 200 Red Cross ERV’s across the country and 150 are here on the east coast for Hurricane Irene. Our main office in Baltimore has no power. They are working an entire operation for MD/DE off of 4 cellphones that keep dying. They go out to their cars to recharge them. They’re assessing needs up and down the coast.
At 4:o0pm, I’m was still in Frederick. We have taken the ERV’s to Sam’s Club to load with pallets of water and come back. We have loaded them with snacks. They’re ready to go. Where? is the big question. At 4:30, I have orders to go home! Some ERV’s have orders to go to Baltimore in the morning. My orders along with my new ERV driving partner, Pete (who has spent 2 days driving from West Palm Beach office), are to report back to Frederick office in the a.m. for orders. Hurry up! I’m waiting………………
Photos: Loading snacks and water onto ERV’s, ERV convoy at Sam’s Club …each receiving a pallet of water, inside an ERV…serving window on the right. Red containers are cambros. Hot/cold containers used to serve meals. Rest of space is storage for food and supplies.

Red Cross deployment for Hurricane Irene

What’s going on in the world? Disaster after disaster. Kinda scary. Last week we experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake here in Maryland. Unheard of. Now Hurricane Irene is zooming up the East Coast of the US. Currently a Category 1 hurricane, it might be halfway through it’s predicted North American path and already 1 million people in VA and MD are without power.

Countless (well actually you can count them but there’s a lot!) Red Cross Shelters are open all along the coast. Needless to say, I’ve gotten a call to deploy. I leave early tomorrow morning and will be driving an ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) with a yet to be named partner. We take these to affected areas and serve food and water to folks in need. I’ll be headed to Baltimore and receive my assignment there. I have no idea where I’ll be headed until then.
You’ve probably been glued to the TV receiving updates on the storm. You are hearing mayors and governors telling people to listen to the evacuation orders. You can only imagine the incredible happenings, mobilizations, preparedness tasks, etc that are going on with millions of people and organizations. It’s mind boggling.
Since the storm is not over in our area, they’re only beginning to know how to respond to what Irene has left behind. I guess I’ll know in the morning when I leave.

Japan vs. Haiti

A disaster is a disaster is a disaster. Disasters may differ by cause but they turn lives upside down…forever. They don’t discriminate…they just devastate. As I waded through my third international deployment in Japan, I couldn’t help but compare it to the deployments I did in Haiti. A third world country and a developed country. Worlds apart in many ways. Similar while coping with a huge disaster.

The disaster – How can it be that a 7.0 earthquake in Haiti kills 230K people while a massive 9.0 earthquake on the other side of the world in Japan and ensuing tsunami kills much less? In my opinion, the answer lies in the government. I’ve heard the Japanese criticize the government. Personally, after viewing many tsunami-damaged towns, I feel a tremendous amount has been done in just 2 months in Japan. Some roads have been rebuilt, new telephone and electric lines are going up, streets are clean, debris is mounded wherever you go and ready to dispose of. Rebuilding is evident on every street possible. Loss of life was at a minimum due to a tsunami warning system. It seems organized beyond word. Heavy equipment is everywhere. On the other side of the world in Haiti, poor housing construction, lack of communication from the government, poorly built roads and infrastructure, greedy politicians stealing the people’s money and many other causes resulted in huge loss of life. Response to the disaster is slow. Efforts from the government seem nonexistent. It takes months for anything to improve and it’s usually being done by the UN, another country, or a non-governmental organization (like All Hands).

The people – Grief and suffering manifests itself in different ways in different people. But it is largely the same in that it stems from huge losses in a disaster. Loss of family and friends, loss of homes. Lives changed forever. Mental health is a huge issue. Stress beyond stress. However, reverence, gratefulness, appreciation towards those of us helping restore a new “normal” is exhibited largely in the same way in both countries. A simple “Thank you for helping my country”, an invitation to a shared meal, a hug.

The land – Big contrasts here. In Haiti, the land has been stripped bare. Mountains deforested. Water tainted by God knows what. Plenty of potential in a tropical climate but lack of decent government to protect the land and what could potentially be beautiful is a sin…really. Brown. Dulll. Drab. North eastern Japan…huge contrast to Haiti. Lush forests and waters. Properly forested for new growth when sections of pines and cedars have been cut down. Green. Well appreciated and maintained. Breathlessly beautiful.

The culture – The Haitians are laid back, easy. Easy to engage and converse with. The Japanese are respectful, orderly, sometimes not as easy to engage. They don’t touch each other. Each has centuries of culture engrained in it’s people. The tall order for those of us staying to help for a length of time is to learn the cultural etiquette so we blend in and not offend the nation we are visiting. It didn’t seem that hard to me. It’s a matter of respect to the nation I called my home for a few weeks at a time.

The food – Haitians have a limited diet. Rice, beans, occasionally some protein. Almost no dairy due to lack of refrigeration. They love spicy! The Japanese love their fish and saki! And rice and noodles as well. Tiny portions. You don’t see fat Japanese people. Both cultures love their carbs. I always find myself craving protein and fruits and vegetables when I get home

The government – The Haitian government is virtually invisible. I never knew while I was there what efforts were being mad on behalf of its people by their government. They have a new president and unprecedented pledges for financial help. Handled properly, these funds could help this impoverished nation tremendously. In contrast, Japan is a model of government efficiency. Uniformed teams of workers were evident everywhere responding to the disaster. Government workers were reassigned new (probably temporary) jobs in response to the disaster. Everyone, it seemed, was pitching in to help heal the nation. In Haiti, life simply went on…around piles of rubble that seemed to stay forever. Progress is slow.

In the end, it’s sort of all the same to me. Honor a nation’s culture while serving the people affected by disaster. I listened to their stories, made new friends, was affected in many ways by what I saw very day. I served the affected nation’s in my small way in an effort to give hope a chance. Everyone deserves a little hope…don’t you think? Sayonara, Japan. Peace out.

Random Thoughts

As I say goodbye to this beautiful land and it’s people, I reflect on a bunch of random things or observations about the country and it’s people…

· Someone told me there were 5.5 million vending machines in Japan. I believe it. Every ½ block you see at least 2.

· I saw a 5 year old school girl walking in a major city to the public bus stop to catch a bus for school. You’d never see that in the US!

· I saw single file lines of school kids, led by middle schoolers with a neon flag that they waved while elementary kids followed them to school. Not a one was out of line or goofing off. The middle schooler made sure they stopped at crosswalks and guided them to school. You’d never see that in the US!

· Women wear aprons all the time. You’d never see that in the US!

· The elderly don’t look old in Japan. Many still have black hair with a tad of gray. It’s hard to find wrinkles. Dang. Must be all the fish oil.

· I don’t know why I was surprised to see the same spring flowers we have in the US…daffodils, iris, azalea, cherry trees, wisteria.

· I can’t find a garbage can to save my life in this country. I walk around with trash all day until I finally spot one then dump it all. The amazing thing? There is not one spec of roadside trash here…anywhere! You’d never see that in the US!

· Walking back to the base where I slept at night (in the mountains) from the base we meet at (in the city) is ½ hour. You pass all the rice paddy’s and are accompanied by the most amazing frog chorus you’ve ever heard!

· I have never felt so safe and protected in a country in my life. The Japanese are amazingly respectful of others. I could leave my suitcases in a lobby or at the front of a store, while I go in to have a look around. NO problem. You ALWAYS know what to expect from people here and there’s a certain amount of comfort in that.

I’ll probably check in one more time before signing off but as I leave a land I may never return to, I have many fond thoughts of the people I’ve met during this journey. I think when coming to another land it’s appropriate to try to blend into their culture as best you can. Absorb it. The Japanese made that easy. After learning the slipper thing, the squat thing (toilet and showers), the bowing thing (greetings) and a few key Japanese phrases, I felt at home here. Respectful, honorable and grateful these people are. I’ve learned a lot. But I’ve got to tell you…I still don’t like fish that much. I do, though, have great respect for a country that offers Kit Kat’s in flavors like Miso, Tiramisu (wait a minute…you copied that from the Italians!), Wasabi, and Custard!

(Photos: 2 of millions of vending machines in Japan, private spring garden in Ofunato)

In search of salad

I’m looking at Tokyo Bay and Disneyland. Just happens to be where my hotel is. Totally drained…and I mean totally. Needless to say, I won’t leave the hotel but rather, lounge for a day…and rest.

Arrived here by Shinkansen (bullet train) with speeds upwards of 200mph. Took 3 hours vs. the 8 hour overnight bus I took from Tokyo up north. 1/2 price sale sealed the deal to switch.

Reflections. Missing the good people I met here already. Fun times. People from all walks. Everyone with a story to tell about how they have the time to spend in Japan. Many, many extending their stay or going home for just a bit and coming back. I told you…it’s compelling. Insta family. You already have one thing in common by trekking halfway around the world to serve those affected by disaster.

It was a good trip with much accomplished in Ofunato. The local Japanese are slowly coming around to the fact that yes, we will help them. Yes, for free. They’re tired. Mentally and physically. From looking at all the destruction, from smelling that smell, from the permanent disruption in their lives. BUT, many have new Facebook friends who have shared experiences with them in making their city livable again. They have seen people from all over the world do the worst jobs…the ones they no longer want to do…cleaning up stinking, rotting seaweed, cleaning road gutters full of filthy smelling debris, crawling under the 3’ crawl space of a house to clean out tsunami waste and spray the area with sanitizer. They are grateful, smile, and say thank you in many ways. It’s amazingly rewarding for both the affected and the volunteers.

I’m hungry. Now if only I could find a salad…or a juicy steak.

(Photos: Shinkansen arrives, nice and orderly Japanese stay inside the lines…to line up for train. You’d never see that in NYC!)

Time is up!

Finit! Completed the job at the future new base. Moved all 2nd floor furniture to the 1st (via a ramp that goes up 2 flights of stairs!) and it’s ready to go to the dump. The upstairs/sleeping area is about 18’ x 90’. Pretty massive. Ready for bunk beds and a new place for All Hands volunteers to call. I drew up some space plans for the staff to follow and am anxious to see some finished photos when it’s done.

Tomorrow I get up at 6am to catch a 2 ½ hr bus to the bullet train in Ichinoseki (south of here). The bullet to Tokyo (4 hrs) to a subway to a hotel for a night. I’ve done the hotel thing for the last 2 Haiti trips plus this Japan trip. I’m finding I need the decompression time. Time to think about the situation I just left and about re-entering “real” life. And enjoy a real bed…not a floor mat.

Tonight our volunteers cooked for the 60 evacuees/residents living at our center plus our own volunteers…about 120 all together. All Hands pays for it…a way to say thank you for having us here. Delicious. My turn to say goodbye. Hard to do since we have such a family here. This is a good, good group of people. The average age is older than Haiti…by a lot. Maybe up to 10 years older….like mid 30’s. The maturity level was much appreciated. Sadly, one volunteer was let go today for drinking and driving. The others getting in the car with him were given a warning.

I’m down at the Sakari base tonight (in the city of Ofunato) because it’s just a few minutes walk from the bus stop. Dang, 11pm and it’s chilly in here already. No heat. Well…up at 5 to start the journey home…

{Photo: Abigail and me. She’s an evacuee who lives at the shelter we stayed at. A 15 year old we can always count on to add some sunshine to the day)

Blast from the past

Only a few days left of work. Sad to think about leaving although I’m ready. If that sounds conflicted, it is. It’s always bittersweet to think about the end of these projects. Mostly, I’m tired and need some rest. Come down with a head and chest cold and could really use a nap…you know those days?

We’ve had an interesting bunch of 3M employees from Tokyo…14 to be exact…for the last few days. They brought 11 of their local 3M friends today. They’ve worked hard for their country and discovered the commaraderie in the type of communal living/working that occurs in an organization like All Hands. From their goodbyes, you could tell how affected they were in such a short time. One dude gave us his pretty darn good rendition of Amazing Grace (using a power strip for a mike). One of our memorable All Hands moments.

Today I lead a team to clean out a building that will be the future All Hands base. It’s across the street from the main base (we have 2 now). It’s an abandoned former electronics store. Pretty amazing. It looks as if someone locked the door one night and never came back. Tons of shelving and equipment and electronics. The guy was a pack rat. The place has been out of business for 25 years. As we waded through all this stuff, we found things from Sega, Nintendo Playstation, lots of retro furniture (to be used in future base), an assemblege of electronic parts and tons and tons of shelving. Can’t imagine what he used it all for. Our job…go through everything, keep what could be used in the future base, ditch the rest. Sort of fun to reinvent certain pieces of furniture as something new. I won’t see the finished product but fun to figure out what the base needs.

All Hands will spend about $15K putting in mostly plumbing for bathroom/showers and a kitchen and move in about a month. The first floor will contain the office area, common room/eating area, plus kitchen/eating area. The second floor is a mammoth sleeping area that they will put bunk beds in. This project had an original end date of 7/11/11 but most likely, that will be extended as they get in more funds to support the effort.

(Photos: Left – 3M guy singing his goodbye, Right – a bit hard to see but everything eventually cam out of this room to make room for new base)

Gag Fest

I really like to do something different every day. When the jobs are described the night before, it’s not always detailed as to what they’ll be. This one was called Fish Friday and described as moving boxes of seaweed down by the port. Good lord…an understatement. We were taken to a now defunct business down at the port. Everyone from the company is missing. 😦 The business packaged and distributed seaweed. The tsunami…or rather the recession of the tsunami…pulled all the contents of the business (and the building) toward the port in 2 huge piles. Now 2 ½ months later, our task was to remove this rotting mountain and put it all in dumpsters to be hauled to a dump just for anything that will rot. We nearly gagged our way through the day. What a disgusting smell.

Somehow, I didn’t mind it…the work that is.. We had to wait for the empty dumpsters to return so spent a lot of time talking to the city worker in charge. He was so taken that we would come from around the world to help his country. Volunteering is just not something you see in Japan. He wanted to take us to dinner. He wanted us to meet his family. He wanted to organize a playtime with the elementary school kids. So many ideas, so little time! He lives by the base and said the locals want to talk to us but are afraid (that’s just the Japanese way…to be reserved and quite). We encouraged him that we are always willing to engage the community. That’s why we’re here after all. We invited him and his family to the base after dinner. We invited volunteers to stay and chat with them. It was a pleasant evening for all and his family loved it.

As we conversed with him during the day he told us his tsunami story. He lost friends and relatives. He couldn’t find his entire family until 11pm that night (Tsunami occurred just before 3pm). The tsunami water didn’t recede until the next day (I’ve heard varying stories about that). I asked how many times a year the tsunami sirens go off…he said 10! Usually only about a foot of water though. This tsunami came in 2 waves…one of about a foot, then the second which did all the destruction. And on and on. Love these stories and relating to the locals. Makes my day.

(Photos: Xavier (France) does the most disgusting job of shoveling 2 1/2 month old, soppy seaweed….blah!, Moi hauling a lighter load)

Paddy Wackers

We give teams goofy names. Today I went out to some rice paddys with the Paddy Wackers. The detail was to clean large debris into piles to be picked up by larger machinery. We had a really coherent crew…lots of fun. We also ended up cleaning out drainage ditches (Ditch Bitches!) and the equivalent of road gutters. There’s just so much to do to recover, to help people get back in business, to help the Japanese recover.

Owner of the rice paddys told us that they will have to remove the top 6” of soil. We cleaned up what we could see but there’s debris underneath. The soil has to be highly salinated as well. Rice planting season has already passed so this owner will not have a crop this year. I’m wondering if he will even be ready next year.

We dug up anything from clothes, VHS tapes, cassette tapes, roof tiles, books, all kinds of wood, metal, a washing machine, and a microwave. Many photos were unearthed which we keep and hand over to a massive restoring project that is going on in Ofunato. I found another clock where time stood still at 3:27pm. Caught a few tears when I unearthed a small teddy bear smack next to a child sized pair of shorts. So sad.

Nice chat with teammate, Paul, from the UK who is a neuropsychologist. An intriguing conversation because he is an expert in Asperger’s Syndrome and we suspect we had someone on base with this syndrome before he got here. Jacob is a pilot and Anne works for the FAA so they had some interesting things to chat about. I love this part of being here…learning about the other volunteers.

Random thoughts: Another pretty good aftershock last night. Tick tock…only 4 nights left. I cancelled my overnight bus and will take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo for a night before the long trip home.

(Photos: top left – rice paddy after, bottom left – rice paddy before, teddy bear and child shorts unearthed together)

Ancient Temples

Tuesday…day off! I arranged a trip to Hiraizumi. A city about 1 ½ hours south through the mountains. There are several sites where ancient temples are built. So a crew of 15 hopped one of our All Hands busses. We hired one of our All Hands drivers and paid for the gas.

It was quite an adventure. We had a number of new people and traveled the coast on the way there. This was an eyeful for them…all the towns that are no longer. The number of excavators working is incredible. There are areas that actually look like they are ready for rebuilding. Clean land, cleared of debris….not much, but some. I am a bit conflicted about a USA Today story I read today about the pace of the recovery. As we drove through these towns I thought…you’ve got to be kidding me. We passed hundreds of workers along the way. New phone and electric lines being put up, roadwork, excavation work, dump trucks being loaded, piles of debris gone that were previously mounded high. To me, the pace is unbelievable. I saw one team, also, that I believe must have been looking for bodies. They all had shovels in a specific area near a house. You never see that here..mostly just heavy equipment.

Anyway, up and down mountains for several hours and we arrive in Hiraizumi. We went first to Chusonji Temple then to Motsuji Temple and Land Garden. Both around 1000 years old. The Chusonji Temple is actually a series of temples, each for worshiping a different God. Also, a temple covered in gold and inlaid mother of pearl. Tried to picture the ancient Japanese lords back then.

This is my last day off and I was glad to spend it this way. This time next week….adios Japan.

(Photos: Outside a temple at Chujinsu, inside a temple at Motsuji.)

The Office and hard goodbyes

So it seems I’ve become the Base Manager for the center we are staying in and it became my work for the day. A bunch of things needed to be organized since we are at capacity. A few Excel spreadsheets later and we’ve got a food supply reorder list, some base rules and a bit more structure. Always tweaking the rules to make our presence nearly invisible to blend in with the evacuees around us.

Oddest thing happened while I was working on spreadsheets. The city public address system went off…the same one that provides tsunami warnings. Obviously it was Japanese, but what they said was, if you are a living relative of one of the missing people, please come forward to give a DNA sample. My guess is that they are trying to match remains to the list of missing people via living relatives. Sad. I’m told that when the tsunami warning goes off, there will be no mistaking it. It’s a decisive sound with Japanese and English warnings that tell you to get to higher ground…”this is not a test”. Fear not, we still get aftershocks every day but the intensity lessens with time and I seriously doubt a warning will happen again soon.

At the end of every nightly meeting, we have goodbyes. It was time for Sara Bareilles and the band to say theirs. Sara couldn’t get through the first sentence. She was in tears. Javier, the guitarist took over for a bit. Sara finally sobbed her way through her speech. We made quite an impact on them, as did they on us. She said it was bittersweet and hard to leave. She was in awe of the work we do and the impact we’re having on the Japanese people. Having done this before, I know how she feels. The work is compelling and the bond made with both the volunteers and locals is unforgettable.

Photos: You guessed it…the ladies toilet and communal shower. The tsunami warning system found around town.


Finally. Our 4 apartment cleanup/gutting job is finit! As a lead, I took 5 people in with the intention of completing the job. Our awesome team included pop singer, Sara Bareilles, and her videographer, Mark. The rest of her band was off to various jobs. Finishing the gutting was a long time coming and felt awesome to walk away, never to return…in a good way.

With the announcement that Sara B and her band would be joining us, discussions ensued as to whether their intentions were genuine or a PR opportunity. The only real way to know was to watch them work. They just finished their Asian tour and Sara brought up the idea to the band to do this volunteer work. Most took her up on it. They were to follow all the same rules as us…no special exceptions. They honestly blended in beautifully. Mark, the videographer stopped occasionally to film just for a minute or 2, then set back to work. The guitarist was under a house all day in a dark space with a headlamp removing dried mud in a 3’ tall crawl space. I’d say they all paid their dues and did a formidable job at it. They have one more day of work before heading home to the states for a break.

Sara and I worked by ourselves in an apartment for quite a while. It was interesting to have the same conversations with her as I would with anyone else. Where are you from? Where did you go to college? What for? She’s as down to earth as could be. Her music backgound is not what you’d think. She never had many lessons nor did she go to college for music. She’s one of the few who sat at a piano, loved it and made a career out of it. While becoming better known in the music world, she played a sold out 1600 seat theater in Jakarta and only filled 100 seats of a 200 seat theater here in Japan. Interesting day, interesting conversations.

Gutting and special guest volunteers

Gutting and more gutting. We’ve been working on this 5 apartment unit forever. Tomorrow it will be over. I took a smaller crew to another 4 apartment gutting job right behind it. The previous team leader had some interesting standards. It’s not exacting what All Hands wants to be known for and the owner complained. I could see why when we got in there. Tomorrow we will finish them as well…yay! Always feels good to finish massive jobs.

On another note we got in 7 new guests today…Sarah Bareilles and her band! Look her up if you don’t know who she is. You’ve probably heard her songs “Love Song” or King of Anything” on the radio. They are being treated just like the rest of us. No special exceptions. So they’ll be out on work crews with us for the next 2 days.

Whopper of an aftershock at dinner today. Probably around a 5.0. Still having several a day. Building shook a little more than most were comfortable with.

(Photo: Time stands still in Ofunato on 3/11. We have found stopped clocks all around town. Closer to port has times closer to the 2:46pm earthquake. Most are around the 3:30+ time. Sad reminder.)

Tuesday is the new Sunday….aka day off

Well, I’d like to say I slept in today but that’s hard to do. The sun rises and it’s completely light out at 4am! I do have an eye mask and most nights I sleep very soundly. I could always use a nap but our room now has 22 people in it. They’re all very respectful but you’d have to be a deep sleeper to catch some shut eye mid day.

Relaxing morning and out the door for a walk. Found the supermarket near here and other stores in case I need things. The walk is completely downhill since I’m descending the mountain. (Would rather have gone by bike but there are no bike rental shops . Bikes are prevalent but the ones they use are cruisers and won’t get me up the mountain.) Back up the mountain to join a crew who want to “tour” the coast. We hate to use the word tour…there ARE tour busses cruising the area. It kind of sickens the locals. We are careful not to inappropriately use our cameras. We (me and the boys…there is a 3 to 1 ration of men to women in our “dorm”) ascend another mountain (in a car a local owns) to reach a campground and stop at an overlook for the absolute most beautiful panorama. You just can’t capture it with a camera. We just stand there and gawk. You see the shoreline spotted with all the towns that no longer exist contrasted with those majestic mountains again. Awesome and sad at the same time.

Several of us had been invited to dinner with a former politician. He is the friend of the family that owns the print shop near the port. This is the job where we salvaged books for authors and an apartment for personal belongings. He wanted to show his appreciation for the work we did. Becci, Tony and I were invited. There were 8 all together including 3 locals who work for All Hands, 2 of whom translated. Turns out the gentleman who invited us was the former head of the Communist party here in Ofunato. He is still active in their cause. The Communist party is still a prevalent party here in Japan with many influences. Awesome occasion to have experienced while I am here.

(Photos: Views from the top of the mountain, dinner with friends)

Sometimes the best jobs are the ones that require a bus to get there. It’s the only way we get away from the base and see the beauty of this country….and also the devastation. Today we traveled to Rikuzentakata which is about 20 minutes by bus. Also decimated and a coastal town like Ofunato. there are still 1000 people missing whereas Ofunato is missing 150 people.

Today we headed to the primary school. Tasked with sanitizing certain rooms (essentially using a non toxic cleanser applied with a sprayer) we set out to spray walls and floors. The school, on a hill, near this highly devastated area, was closed for only 5 weeks after the tsunami. Amazing. We met several other groups of people making deliveries, etc to the school. I love it when they try to use their English. “Where are you from?”, they’d ask. “Washington, DC”, I’d reply.” Ooooooooooo” say the school girls. They are learning about the United States. Another group of water delivery guys all whipped out their cameras to take photos of us. What??? We’re that interesting? Many thank you’s ensued for coming to help their country.

The other bizarre happening occurred when my 3 other teammates sat down for lunch on the hill overlooking the decimation. A hawk actually swooped down on them trying to get food. They screamed some and bolted. Kim tripped and landed on her back in the parking lot with her food beside her. He does it again! Swooping out of the sky, he nabs part of her lunch and is back off soaring with a majestic wingspan of probably 3-4’. He showed us who’s boss! Kim was a little shaken us but fine.

Still experiencing aftershocks every night. Last night there were three. The 4am rattler actually measured 4.9. It was a good jolt.

(Photos: Playing with the kids at school, killer hawk comes in for another landing…Kim’s meal is to the right on the ground, view of Rikuzentakata from the hill by the school, school entry (which we sanitized)…leave your shoes at the entry.)

Salvage Work

How eerie to be going through someone’s things. Someone who was swept away in the tsunami. Our job today was at a printing company, located one block from the port at Ofunato. I’ve seen the decimated areas (the ones closest to the body of water causing the tsunami), walked through them, but not worked directly in them to date. What an odd feeling. Teammate Becci and I decided that the government must be working the infrastructure like a medical triage. Let the dying go. There is absolutely nothing worth keeping. Whatever remnants of buildings left standing would need to be torn down. It’s an eerie ghost town.

The printing company housed a printing business, owner’s apartment and several other apartments that were empty. We went through the second floor of the business, salvaging many copies of at least 4 books…at least those that did not have mold. They were to be returned to the authors. Then we were asked to go through the owner’s apartment. Oh boy. Sad. Going through the personal effects of a life once lived. We were to look for old photos and letters. We found some. Every time I see a personal effect anywhere (usually in the debris along the sides of roads) I pause and try to reflect on the life that once possessed it. It’s a grounding thing for me. Reminds me why I’m here to begin with.

As we dug through the debris, Becci nearly got sick. The smell all over the city today was horrible. She thought she smelled something decomposing. Ugh. We lifted every tatami (sleeping) mat, went through every closet. Nothing. Thank God. Some of the things we were finding were still wet…2 months later.

We ate lunch on the roof where our position revealed, yet again, the juxtaposition between mother nature’s beauty and her destruction. On the last stair step before walking out on the roof, we found a portable, wind-up radio/flashlight. Hmmm…staring at it I couldn’t help but wonder if the owner was on the roof using it at the time of the tsunami. His fate, to me, was obvious.

(Photos: Left – Printing business we were searching through. Right – the owner’s apartment we searched for mementos.)

The Volunteers

Seems like most of the work right now is gutting (demolition). So I headed out to do just that, this time the 1st flloor of an apartment complex. We’ve got 6 units to gut. The scum line is ¾ way up the first floor walls. It’s amazing the power of the water of a tsunami. I’d say most buildings that weren’t smack near the water are intact and looking very good. We have to use a bathroom in a local park for this job and I stood staring at the chain link fence surrounding the park. Its poles were bent right at the bottom…steel poles…like a herd of elephants stampeded it.

I’ve had some very interesting conversations with the volunteers here. Love to hear their stories. Some are such free spirits traveling at will to wherever their spirit leads them. They own few possessions, work for a little while for some travel money, live like paupers andlove every minute of it.

Zed has been all over Asia and then some trying to visit the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World. He has one left. I’m sure he’s not even 30 years old. Loc, a New Yorker, left his job at an insurance firm and is traveling all over Asia as well. I met Brett in Haiti. He’s all of 19 now…very mature. Not one for school, he took off after high school and has been traveling all over the States, and the world. He left All Hands in Haiti and went to Japan. Was in Japan when the earthquake happened. Came to Ofunato and started asking around about volunteer groups. The local police brought him to a spot where they knew an American group was working. It was All Hands! What are the chances of that happening? He’s going to take a few days break soon and go into the mountains around here and see if he can build himself a cabin without using nails. He’ll just sleep on the ground, he says. The stories go on. I realize doing volunteer work like this is not only an opportunity for me to serve the affected in Japan but to meet the neatest people, both volunteers and local. It’s the most rewarding part of this work for me.

(Photos: My first meal in Japan with Setoshi and Diana. Thanks God Setoshi was there to translate the menu! Typical Japanese home. Temple-like. Roof material is like a glazed clay pot)

Cleaning the onsen…public baths

Interesting day at an evacuation center where 100 people live. Our job…clean the public baths and start heating the water. They change the water 4 times a week and it was our turn to help. They’re set up in blue tarped Quonset huts. The water is heated by a wood stove that pushes the heat through to the cold water. It takes hours to change the water, chop enough wood, feed the stoves and heat the water. Quite laborious for this cherished Japanese tradition…the public bath.

Ate lunch with the evacuation center manager and some staff. All are city employees who are not doing their regular job. There were teachers or worked with the forestry dept. and are now doing something completely different to accommodate the needs of the tsunami. We shared/compared a lot of information about work life, life in America/Japan, etc. One manager asked me if I knew if Osama bin Laden was dead. 🙂 I told him there were parties in the streets to celebrate.

Observations about the Japanese. Some adjectives that describe them would include patient, orderly, reserved, respectful, quiet, trustworthy. There is much respect for the people around you. You will never see someone talking on a cell phone in public. You won’t hear one ring in public either. It’s a sign of disrespect. I think we Americans could learn a thing or two from them!

One of the biggest problems All Hands has had in Japan is gaining the trust of the Japanese. If you ask to help they might ask why or not understand why you’d be asking. The government pretty much takes care of everything. Slowly the word is getting out of our work and that’s it’s free. Our list of jobs is increasing.

Marc, our Ops Director, showed us an 8 minute video tonight taken by a local Ofunato resident. The tsunami sirens had gone off. This city is surrounded by mountains so it is fairly easy to run to higher ground. He did just that and began to take a video and within the 8 minutes you could see the entire town begin to gain water. It picked up every house, building, and ship and you watched the whole town move from the right to left hand side of the screen. You heard the exclamations of the people standing next to him in the background. The videographer never gave up his hold on the camera. He wimpered some but by the end of the video he was wailing. Hard to watch and listen to.

(Photos: cleaning the public bath, one view outside the evacuation center)

Settling in and first day of work

So I’ve actually settled in to a different building than our base. Good choice because none of the conditions I listed before exist here. We have heat and hot water. Awesome. It’s called Fukishima Center and is actually an evacuation center for locals. We have our own room. Communal sleeping and get this Americans…communal baths. Walk in, leave your stuff in a cubby, get naked, walk to the next room where there are 3 showers (low to the floor). Squat, use the portable shower head to wet yourself and do your thing. There is a small communal bath/pool in the same room. Walk back to cubby in the other room, dry, dress.

There have been over a thousand aftershocks since the quake. Last night there were 2 while we were sleeping. Nothing major or long. It’s still unnerving to feel the ground shake under neath you. There is very little evidence of the earthquake here. Some roads are messed up and you see small cracks on buildings, etc. The length of the coast that was affected by the quake/tsunami is 500 km. The tsunami pretty much wiped out every coastal town in that distance.

First job today was gutting. A house is salvageable but needs the walls, floors, and/or ceilings cut out. In this house, the water filled the first floor and rose halfway up the 2nd floor stairwell. The floors are in very good shape and really only need to be cleaned but beneath them is dripping wet insulation….still….2 months after the quake. A shame really. The owner said the water was in his house for 5-6 hours and receded.

Outside on the street in front of the house, heavy machinery was taking away huge piles of debris. The stench was awful. Part dead fish, part fecal matter. Sickening. We wear masks which is partially helpful. Down the street, a dead body was taken away. There are still 150 people missing in Ofunato. An elderly gentleman stopped by our job site and was talking to the translator. His wife was swept away and he hasn’t seen her since. He is staying at a shelter and finds himself very lonely. He wants to talk to someone (presumably a mental health professional). The tranlslator lives in this same town. Her entire family survived and her home is intact. You could tell she felt awful. Survivor’s guilt.

No photos yet.:( I have them…still having a terrible time with internet. Will keep trying.

Made it!

Two tiring days later and here I am. Ofunato, Japan. Lucky for me, the San Francisco to Tokyo leg of my trip was spent in Business Class compliments of a friend who has lots of seniority as an airline employee and was able to share a companion ticket (at 1/3 the regular price) with me (Thanks, J!). That meant my own TV with on demand Movies, music, books, games, etc., a chair that reclines to a bed and some great meals. Awesome for the 10 ½ hour flight. The flight doesn’t correspond with my normal bedtime so I catnap here and there.

Tokyo is humming like any big city. I arrived during rush hour, made my way by train to the bus terminal where I had to wait for 3 hours for the overnight bus. I’m really beginning to feel grubby and will sleep on the bus tonight. People watching on the subway had me noticing how people dressed. Everyone is very professional. In fact, I saw no evidence of jeans, sneakers, hoodies, etc. Refreshing, actually. No business casual either. A smattering of people wear white masks over their noses and mouths. I’m told it’s allergy season plus it’s considerate to wear one if you’re sick…so as not to spread germs.

Overnight bus. Nice reclining seats. Blanket. Black curtains pulled around entire bus including the front. Makes for fairly decent sleep. 2 short bathroom stops and 8 hours later arrive in Morioka, the largest city in Iwate Prefecture (geographic area). The city looks fine and seemingly unaffected by natural disaster. Another 3 hour wait and I will see something entirely different. It’s 5:30am. Nothing to do but wait. I decide to wash my hair and clean up in the sink of the ladies room. Feel much better afterwards. Need to hop another 2 ½ hour bus ride over to the east coast. I like this one best. Views of the mountainous countryside. The bus moves only about 30mph on narrow roads. Really no evidence of earthquake or tsunami damage even at base.

Meet Diana and Satoshi, both from Tokyo. Satoshi has his car and takes us for a drive around 2 local coastal cities. OMG…totally wiped out. The juxtaposition of the wiped out towns against the beautiful mountains and waterways is surreal. I’m told the waters have already been cleared of flotsam and debris from the disaster. An amazing amount of work has been done already. Heavy equipment is everywhere. Car graveyards over there, mounding debris over here. Hard to comprehend it all.

Eeriest of all is the daily 5pm tsunami warning test. It now plays an instrumental version of the Beatles song….Yesterday.

(Photos coming. Tried today but internet is extremely slow)

And I’m off…

No 100 lbs. of luggage (like Haiti) this time. Just one 50 lb. bag and a carry on. Most of it is my tent, mat, sleeping bag and other gear. It’s going to take me at least 2 days to get there. Check out this travel plan:

  • · Fly to Tokyo via San Francisco (flying standby via a very generous friend’s airline companion ticket!)…arrive 20 hours later.
  • · Metro to Tokyo center to find bus station …1 ½ hours
  • · Overnight bus to Morioka (largest city near where I’m going)…8 hours
  • · Another bus over to Ofunato, where the All Hands base is…2 ½ hours

And that’s just travel time. I’ve traveled internationally but not this length of time. I have no idea when I’ll sleep or what my body clock will be doing. Just going to wing it…and collapse, I suppose, sooner or later. This is for just a 280 mi. trip. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a one way car rental which seems much more logical.

Some have asked me, “why didn’t you go to Alabama with the Red Cross?” Well, the earthquake/tsunami happened, I saw a window of time and began making plans. Then the tornados came along. I could have gone out with the Red Cross (first time in 4 years and I’ve been waiting to go!) but timing is everything and it didn’t’ work out.

What is the All Hands base like? Originally there were 20 people sharing one room of a former office building. It has a small kitchen with running water, but no centralized heat or hot water. Volunteers will be sleeping on the floor on tatami mats with kerosene heaters. Some volunteers may also be located at a local camp ground. We will be livings as the Japanese do where shoes are not worn in the house. House slippers are on the packing list. We have one bathroom with two toilets and will rely on buckets/scoops for showers. Neither the sleep space nor the bathrooms are gender-separated.

Since the original 20, the crowd has swelled to 120. No clue where everyone is staying but I’m looking forward to the adventure. Bucket shower in 45 – 65 ° temps doesn’t sound nearly as enticing as the sweltering heat of Haiti. Brrr…. Sayonara.

(Photo: almost 30 of my 50 lbs…camping gear alone!)

What I’ll be doing in Ofunato

You’ve seen all the photos. 10’ high piles of debris. Everywhere. Boggles my mind that so much destruction could happen in such a short amount of time. It will take years to clean it all up.

All Hands will begin to support the local governments with volunteer management, debris cleanup coordination, and fresh food distribution. Once they assess a job they create a Concept Document…exactly what it is they’d like to do. You can take a look at it here (good photos here too):


I really respect that All Hands tries its utmost to immediately honor the culture it is serving. They don’t go in with guns blazing claiming “Looky here…this is how we’re gonna do things” and impose our western values. Instead, they ask ”What do you need to overcome this? What are your priorities? How can we serve your people best?” They observe that country’s holidays, serve that country’s food, learn that country’s language, teach that country’s people how to do things effectively and gradually phase themselves out once they know the community is becoming self sufficient again.

Bottom line, I’ll be mucking out houses and public buildings, tearing down walls to the studs readying them for new drywall, distributing food from a warehouse, salvaging and cleaning usable items from the mounds of debris. Here’s a quick link with some great photos of All Hands has been doing so far:


Almost waylaid by my own disaster!

When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. Dammit. 🙂 I’ve transcended the mood of the day…which was pretty much pissed off. Made some lemonade…sweetened for good measure.

There’s a thousand things to do to make a trip like this happen. Nearly all of them are done. None of them includes a major claim to the homeowner’s insurance policy! About 10 days ago, just before leaving for a fine trip to New Orleans, I tripped over an area rug in my living room. Lifting the carpet, I found the floor buckling. What? What did this? Water? Check the room directly below…no leaks to the ceiling. Alert husband. Get on plane.

Flash forward to today…the living room floor is gone…cut out! There are many, many holes in the sheetrock. Downstairs room shows beginnings of mold. Remediation is needed. Seems contained to one room. Moisture still evident in some walls. Where’s it coming from? No conclusions. Contactor can’t come until next week to check it out. Next week??? I’m supposed to be in Japan!!! Throbbing headache. Try to think. Can’t. Pilates class. Relax. Think. Brain works now.

Plan B always works. Rooted in all disasters is the fact that Plan A is always a maybe. Be flexible because Plan B is right behind it. You never know what Plan B is, of course, until Plan A fails. Little did I know I’d be tested before my plane even left the ground. I’ve got an understanding husband and a few good friends (they know who they are!) to thank for helping me get through this. Plan B almost included scratching the whole trip but they saved my butt big time by being available when I couldn’t be. I thank them. The Japanese people will most assuredly be grateful.

I still leave on Sunday, May 8. 🙂

(Photos: Ripped up floor with 6 fans and a dehumidifer, Buckled floor before it was torn up)

"The world won’t get no better…"

“…if you just let it be.” That’s my answer. During my recent attendance at New Orleans Jazz Fest, I was being entertained by John Legend and The Roots, who sang a rendition of this Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes classic. Wake Up Everybody! Knowing the original song was already in my iTunes music library, I listened to it again and realized…this is the answer to those who asked me the question “why?” There were several who, when I told them of my plans to go to Japan, asked me the simple question…why? Why would I do that? My first instinct was to answer, why not?

Disaster response is not for everyone. I spent 7 weeks in Haiti last year on 2 separate occasions under many hardship conditions. The opportunity to affect people who have lost literally everything, save their own lives, is compelling and powerful. Put yourselves in the their position. You might understand the difference a smiling face can offer. I understand. I can handle it.

And so, I’m off to Japan for almost 4 weeks. I’m working with All Hands Volunteers again, the same group I went to Haiti with. They were on the ground, in Tokyo, very shortly after the earthquake and tsunami, working with local leaders to find out how they could be of service. They ended up with a base in Ofunato, Japan in the Iwate Prefecture (geographic region) that is about 280 miles north of Tokyo and 125 miles north of the Fukishima nuclear plant, on the eastern coast of Japan…near the epicenter…of course.

Hakuna Matata. (No worries!) people. I’ve done my homework. To prove my safety to you, I quote from a 4/21 11 NY Times article…

“Radiation levels around the plant have fallen sharply since the days just after the accident, clearing the way for returnees. A reporter who roamed through various parts of the evacuation zone for five hours on Thursday had a total exposure of about 50 microsieverts, about the same as one would experience on a round-trip flight between New York and Los Angeles.”

And that’s around the nuclear power plant. So you, and I, have nothing to worry about except maybe the smell of dead fish or the occasional car or boat sitting atop a random building.

I leave in 6 days on May 8.

Day 22 ‘Til we meet again, Ayiti!

So here we sit in the airport. Our flight doesn’t leave for 3 hours but we had to shuttle here with 3 other people who leave earlier than us. Nicholle is (finally!) tending to some homework while I write this last blog entry. The car ride was eerily silent, each of us taking in the last sights of this neglected country. We passed through some really poor parts of Port Au Prince. The piles of trash on the streets are disgusting next to vendors selling food. I was fighting a psychological battle with the exhaust and smoke fumes. No emissions testing here. Good news. Many signs of recovery along the ride from Leogane to Port Au Prince. Slowly…new and reconstructed buildings, fresh paint, and (remarkably!) sewer pipes being installed. I found myself thinking that as we passed along the coast the property here would be worth a fortune in any more civilized part of the world. Here, it is nearly a wasteland flanked by those beautiful Carribean waters we are all familiar with. The results of the Presidential election are not yet known. There is hope. There is recovery. There is plenty of potential. Again I am trying to convince myself that my participation in the recovery of this third world has made some small difference to the people here. Is my work complete here? All Hands has committed to Leogane through at least 2011. They will soon begin an Economic Recovery program with the aim of adding 1000 jobs in Leogane next year. THAT talks to me. Speaking with Executive Director, David Campbell, last night we talked about my owning a business for nearly 20 years and the value in coming back to help small businesses owners write a business plan as part of the continued recovery efforts. All Hands is also fully engaged in helping locals write CV’s (their resume’s) and getting jobs at other NGO’s. Computer and English skills have increased remarkably among them since last I was here. I sat with Berlyne the last few nights working on her Visa application. Another volunteer is helping her look into a possible 4 week intensive course in New York for English/French translators. We talked about how she would live there and possible outcomes and decisions she might have to make once she experienced the United States. For sure, there would not be many jobs for here to come back to here. So much potential in these young people…. Is a third trip to Haiti possible for me? All I can think about right now (admittedly selfish) is a comfy bed, a hot shower and a steak. Beyond that…only time will tell. Back to the land of plenty. Peace out. (Photo: I want them all!)

Finit! The distribution went OK. No one was mauled….but close. Even though everyone had a ticket that guaranteed them a kit, folks still nearly stormed the gate. Need a psychology degree to figure out why arguments ensued. I’m sure a lifetime of neediness had something to do with it. 2 women were nearly tearing each other apart because they might have to SHARE some supplies. Survival of the fittest at it’s best. Despite it all, we all lived to tell the exhausting story. The other near tragedy (my humble opinion) is the money that Canadian CHF spent on shelters that absolutely no one is occupying! Talk about being off the mark and not knowing your audience…sheesh. I’ve asked many locals why these nice square shelters are not occupied. They all stated the same thing…they are not safe. A machete could easily slice the side and your things could be stolen. Really? The dark, tarp tents you live in…isn’t that the same situation? No answer. The CHF shelters have a steel frame but no door. I don’t know why the Haitians can’t be resourceful enough to figure one out. This really a crime against humanity or at least the donors to CHF. I know I’d be pissed if I sent them money and saw these photos. Oh yeah…that’s USAID also printed on the tarp surround…our government money at work. Ouch. Or maybe that’s not at work. And so it goes…another 3 weeks has passed in a blink. Nicholle and I were just remarking this morning how much we accomplished. Notice I never rubbled? By design. J I’m trying to save my shoulders and elbows. (Photos: 1 empty shelter in the city, a cluster of 4 empty shelters on the outskirts of town, distribution gathering…waiting for hygiene kits with brooms)

Day 20 Ticketing for Hygiene Kit distribution

What an interesting day. The last of the hygiene kits (bucket with bleach, soap, sponge, rubber gloves, broom, mop) are going out tomorrow…totaling 750 over the last 2 weeks. Today we went to the last of the neighborhoods affected by Tomas. Leogane was one of the most affected areas…the photos you saw in the papers a few weeks ago were from here. So we were seeking out families who had mud through their homes. An incredible bunch of our teams went out after the storm to de-mud homes for about 10 days. Unbelieveably disgusting work and much appreciated by the community. This is the follow up…part mud hygiene, part cholera prevention. I went house to house with Local volunteer Jean Claude. We gave each household a ticket to appear at a certain spot to receive the hygiene kit tomorrow. For the most part it was orderly. Occasionally crowds gather to see what’s going on and we ask people to please go wait at their home…we will get to them. One team was a tad unlucky and left the area because if some people in the crowd think someone else is getting something they are not…arguments ensue. If we can’t quiet them down, we leave. No taking chances. All told about 250 tickets were given out, most peacefully. Nicholle stayed on base and is becoming quite the carpenter! Then she had some fun with Alice in the bathroom…turned it into MacKenzie Childs décor…Haitian style! Hard to believe we will be working ½ day tomorrow, then packing to go home. Where on earth did 3 weeks go? At tonight’s meeting, Stef, the Project Director had a chat with the crew here about how the locals are complaining what slobs some of the All Hands people are. Truly, some of the work crews are filthy disgusting and those that think it’s cool to continue to look like this after they should have come home and showered are who the comments were directed at. They think the filth is cool when in actuality the Haitians are cleaner than they are! It just boggles my mind that they have to say to US how dirty we (well…not everyone you know) are. Do we really have to tell adults from the civilized world to take a shower and wash your clothes? (Photos: Apprentice Nicholle, New look in ladies bath, My kindred Haitian spirit…at a sewing machine!)

Day 19 Lockdown…Day 2

Wow…just taking precautions here after it was recommended we do a second day of lockdowns. Disturbances in many parts of the country. Leogane has been fairly quiet. Psychologically, it’s hard! Couldn’t even go out for a soda. L I’m sure you’re reading crazy tales of most of the candidates wanting the election cancelled, moved, or whatever. Ballot boxes stolen, ballots found in the streets, just insane things happening. I just don’t know what it will take to bring some sanity to this country. So as the world beyond our walls went crazy the base was ripped apart and some nice improvements made. I worked in the garden weeding and turning the compost pile and assorted small duties near the meeting tent. Nicholle was in the woodshop making some new soap holders (improved over the old ones). The kitchen crew pulled out all the prep tables and scrapped them clean and found some disgusting growth underneath. Totally G-R-O-S-S! Executive Director, David Campbell, arrived today. Always nice to have him here. He sits and chats with everyone about his vision for All Hands. The humblest of guys. Tick, tock…only a couple of days remain in our 3 week stay. Did I tell you that Nicholle extended her 2 weeks to 3? (Photos: Gardener Gang, Djemson proudly shows off his corn, Nicholle putting the finishing touches on the soap holders – they’s hold a butter tub that the soap is put in).

Day 18 Lockdown…

…isn’t half bad. Nice and quiet. Slept in, laundry, knitting, computer stuff, watching a movie and catching up on Glee, sunset yog. J Beautiful weather and another nap. I was ready. So I find myself thinking of what an assault on the senses Haiti is. Why is that? Conclusion…because ALL your senses are altered from your version of “normal”. Check out this world I’m living in: SOUND – the morning animal caucaphony ritual; a chorus of roosters, dogs and cows, tent zippers shattering the morning silence, flip flopping passing by in the night from bathroom visitors (that would be after the zippers!), Joe’s bar pounding music until 10pm, the children’s “hey you’s”, moto horns honking. Now imagine these all at the same time. SMELL – ever pungent odor of burning trash (we have 3 kettle drum “incinerators” out front), body odor, motorcycle exhaust, toilets that are rarely flushed and the occasional waft of someone’s delicious smelling deodorant…a simple pleasure! TASTE – occasional sweets, spicy sauces, rice and beans (ahhhhhh!), pulverized fried food. TOUCH – the constant feeling of dirt, grime and dust all over your body, the drip of sweat down your back, the slime of yet another squirt of hand sanitizer, gloves on your hands. SIGHT – the moon as our guiding light on top of the roof (awesome!), the constant dust cloud from road traffic hoverinf off the ground, armed guards, beautiful smiling children’s faces fully engaged in communicating with you. It’s all so different, right? Some other random thoughts: We had a great first aid training the other night specific to the type of wounds received here. Very thorough. I love standing on the rooftops and watching the Haitians dance. You can look down at Joe’s bar and see them. It’s a very innocent type of ballroom…maybe a 2 step. It’s very soft and easy, hands always touching. It’s a far cry from the skanky club dancing you see in America. I finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy after I got here. Wondered about my choice because I was coming here. It’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel I’ve put it off for a long time because I knew it was about an apocalyptic earth. One where the entire earth has burned and remains covered with ashes like snow. There is no sunshine, only gray. Dad and son survivors are making a daily trek south on “The Road”, ransacking houses that didn’t burn completely foraging for any canned food. They’re starving. Sound bleak and hopeless? It was. Then I come to Haiti and find myself thinking…ya know…life here has been hard this last year. But it’s not hopeless. After all, 80% of the population has cell phones and this trip I’ve noticed new businesses opened…including a dry cleaner! Lastly, oink oink alert…Nicholle ate an entire package of Oreo’s in less than 24 hours! She said she was gonna share….waaaaaah! (Photos: Base on lockdown…reading and staying connected, laundry, Risk tournament, group cook)

Day 17 Sifting sand is THE most important job

So I spent a low key day working on Biosand Filters. We cast 4 new cement forms in the morning and sifted sand all afternoon. Then we washed the sifted silt about 6 times. Perfectly boring but suitable for me who had no energy today. Gorgeous view of the mountains out the back of the base and your hands massaging sand. Almost therapeutic. Made for some good conversation with my cohorts. Working on the filters is time consuming but to me is one of the most important because it provides folks with potable water they desperately need. Base management has one person dedicated to security and communications with other NGO’s, the UN, etc. She’s been giving us Presidential election updates. As it happens, businesses have been asked to close at 6pm tonight which is effectively a curfew. No one should be on the streets. All hands is on lockdown from 10pm tonight until at least 6am Monday. This could be extended if there are any disturbances. Yesterday 2 of the candidates were in Leogane and there were a few road closures we had to drive around. No problems though. I’ve spoken to a bunch of the locals about whether they are voting and most said no…that they didn’t feel like any of the candidates would actually do anything to improve Haiti. Worked along side a local named Onel. He was in school in Port Au Prince when the earthquake happened. He studied computers. He really was articulate and very interesting to chat with. His biggest problem was that when he finished school there would be no job for him. The lack of jobs is just a crime in this country. Onel would be one good solid employee and there’s just nothing here for him. Some random thoughts…Haitians love Justin Bieber! If I hear “baby,baby, baby, ooohhh…” one more time…

Day 16 Haitians, Haitians, Haitians

All things considered the School 5 Opening went really well. The director had a well organized program that even included a speech by a little girl who said it in memorized English….quite an accomplishment for someone her age. Many kudos were given to All Hands in appreciation for building the school. Probably 15 of our volunteers were in attendance. Anyone who worked on the school is invited to come. The children came dressed in uniform. I have never seen so many children so well behaved. They sat in their seats, quiet and hardly moving for almost 2 hours. I’ve never seen anything like that…not in America! The Haitian women cooked a special table of food for us volunteers…very nice. Now for the disappointing news. Yesterday this school director came to us and said the 5000 gourdes ($125) we gave him for food was stolen. He was basically looking for us to replace it. No way. Matt, the School Build Project Coordinator suspected he pocketed it. The Haitians have a way of sweet talking you. You believe them. If they ask for $1 and you give it to them, they ask for $10 more. While I was at the Opening today, we left our backpacks in a class with a closed door but unlocked. I went in to get my water bottle and caught a guy red handed with stuff from my backpack in his hand. He fumbled and ran out the door. I immediately saw that the pocket I keep my money in was empty. I ran out the door, saw him, grabbed Matt who ran after him. We brought him back and you should have seen the community come down on him. Of course, he denied it. It could easily have escalated because things like this cause a huge scene anyway. I had to oversee the tear down of tents and loading of supplies in our trucks. But one of our local friends was able to get the guy to confess. He had my money in his shoe and his pockets were filled with other assorted items from other people’s backpacks….mostly food items. Sad. Lesson learned…I should have made sure the door was locked. Yesterday, when we served Thanksgiving dinner to our locals and their guests, it turns out that most of our silverware was…stolen! I understand the frustration of our long term volunteers (like Matt) who are burning out after constant happenings like these. I really wish it didn’t have to be this way. (Photos: Thanksgiving dinner for 140; Feast served to All Hands volunteers; spirited St. Armand attendees)

Day 15 Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope everyone out there enjoyed feasting with family and friends. We had dinner for 140! All the volunteers plus every Haitian volunteer was invited to bring 2 guests. The chopping crew started last night. The cooking crew got up at 4am and worked alllllllllll day. Dinner was served at 7pm. Turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, croissants, cornbread, rice and beans (yuck) and pumpkin pie. Delish. Awesome feat by the cooks and everyone that helped. Nicholle stayed on base to do homework and help out some. I went with a crew of 8 to Jacmel…crafts capital of Haiti and on the southern ocean shore. We had a blast and everyone appreciated the day spent together. It was quite a bonding experience for sure. The ride goes up through the mountains and back down towards the shore. Twisting, winding roads full of crazy Haitian drivers. We actually sideswiped a truck on the way home…albeit very lightly. We laughed and were grateful to have made it back in one piece. We hung at the beach for a few hours then went into Jacmel to shop. We caught the sunset on the way home and then feasted when we got back. Spoke to both our families (and the dogs!) via Skype. Virus was still with me all day but is waning. Could have used a nap! Much to be thankful for! (Photos: WalMart Haitian Style!; Is this the most beautiful sunset shot??; Nicholle on the chopping team; There is paradise in Haiti…Jacmel coast.)

Day 14 Crap…Virus!

Ahhh…thought I could avoid it. The virus. Started feeling crappy last night. Freezing and achy all over. Good news…sort of…it doesn’t seem like the “death bed” version. Managing OK with acetominophen. Finished last minute details for the School 5 opening for Friday and taking it east this afternoon. DON’T want to miss trip to Jacmel tomorrow…south, up over the mountains, and to the beach side town. Crafts capital of Haiti. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund supports artisans here in Haiti by making it possible to sell their stuff worldwide. Just check Macy’s.com! Nicholle worked on the BioSand Water Filters today. Sifting sand. Pretty boring stuff but I told her if you weren’t doing that, school children might die. Simple as that. These filters make potable water…something that could save lives easily. A concrete form is made with a tube that runs from the bottom to the top. Pressure forces the clean water up the tube from the bottom after it has passed through several layers. It is filled with 4 layers, I think, of gravel, rocks and a special sand that takes out the bacteria and makes it potable. That’s the unscientific explanation (since I don’t have the scientific one!). They are placed in the school classrooms that we are building and in homes. The filter lasts 20 years! It’s cheap and portable. Such a simple solution to a very significant problem. Nap time. Over and out. (Photos: Various layers that go into the filter; the concrete portion of the filter; Filters in action in our office.)

Day 13 School furniture fabrication

Well, I put my new skills to work again today cutting and assembling the furniture for School 6. Easy enough. Spent a good amount of time making a template for future furniture builders so it’s lickity split to assemble more kindergarden tables for the next school. Had some great help painting from 3 local volunteers. It’s such a good experience for them. They really enjoy being with us and learning skills and the camaraderie is pretty awesome. We help each other learn the other’s language. You’d be amazed at where a few Creole words and some sign language can get you! Volunteer Carolein (from Holland) spent the last her last 3 days with a virus and was just well enough to help me by painting a sign for Friday’s School 6 opening. Yahoo…free place to stay if I get over to Amsterdam. She’s been awesome. Our furniture team leader, Paul, looked so lousy after lunch we fired him! J He spent the rest of the afternoon asleep. He’s the one who pulled the white blob out that left a crater in his arm. He showed us today he hand another pimple like thing growing on his upper arm. After discussion with another volunteer who had the same thing we discovered that’s it’s probably a staph infection. She was able to tell him what to do when future “pimples” show up. Lordy. Turnover of volunteers has been really, really small. It’s so nice…really. There was so much turnover in March when I was here. It was sort of unsettling. You can really get to know everyone now and I’m liking that. There was another drinking incident a few nights ago where a girl who had been here a long time got completely trashed, was throwing up over the side of the roof, peed herself and was once step away from alcohol poisoning (said her friend who is a PA and stayed up with her until the wee hours to make sure she was OK). It was discussed at the meeting the next night and made known that she would not be allowed to visit any future projects. Too bad for her. Nearly everyone here is an awesome worker. I’ve said before it’s basically a more mature crowd than March (except for this incident) and her behavior wasn’t really known to a lot of us…no elevated noise level, etc….until the next day. Always something new (of some kind!) every day here. Nicholle spent the day spray painting All Hands “hand” on a bazillion mud removal kit hygiene buckets. The final distribution of these (for hurricane mud removal) is tomorrow. (Photos: Carolein works on the school opening sign, Local volunteers help paint the kindergarden tables)

Day 12 Truss Masters!

I think it’s a base record. 27 completed trusses in a day and a half! That includes cutting and assembly. Same team as yesterday which helped a lot. We didn’t even speak that much. It’s an awesome team when everyone just notices what needs to be done and does it, anticipates the other guys next move to have tools and supplies at the ready. Spent the afternoon working on School 5 opening for Friday.There’s some sickness going around the base. I think it’s viral. Knocks people out badly for 2-3 days. Not stomach related. Fever, chills, death bed sort of looking and can barely move and get up. They usually don’t eat but we try to keep them hydrated. Fingers crossed I can avoid that. A few days ago a guy showed me a photo of some kind of white blob about ½” round that he pulled out of his arm near his elbow. His arm was very tender before he pulled it out and showed immediate relief in the day or 2 after that. His arm had a crater in it! Another guy got a wicked spider bite that swells your arm up unbelievably. My friend, Lauren, from the UK had that happen in March. She evacuated and went home after no one in Haiti could figure out what was happening. Spider bite just below the elbow, huge amount of swelling and then paralyzed arm from elbow down. She eventually gained most feeling except her pinky and ring finger and she can’t close her hand into a fist. That’s permanent. Some have had malaria and dengue fever…both mosquito related and not pretty. Crazy. Much cholera prevention taking place. Several clinics opened in Leogane. Lots of teaching people where they are so they can get hydrated before it’s too late. We have access to Medicins sans Frontieres…Doctors Without Borders in case anyone gets sick. Every day is interesting one in Haiti!

School Prefab

I like to try most every job being offered on the base. I love change and I love All Hands philosophy that no one is incapable of learning any job here. Knowledge gets transferred to new people for continuity and somehow it all works. Some jobs require a few skills. Carpenter Mike (so called cuz there’s a few Mike’s on base) is just that. He lead the school prefab team. The foundation for school 4 has been poured. On to prefab. Today we began making the trusses. I was the table saw queen! Fun! We were quite the production team. Cut all pieces and assembled 9 trusses. Same team tomorrow makes it easier to get things done quickly now that we have our production line down pat. It took 9 weeks start to finish to complete the last school. Nicholle spent her 3rd day on a job site that has been pure sledging. No shoveling and wheelbarrowing due to difficult ability to get the rubble off the site. I think she said a bobcat would be needed to remove the stuff. She’s starting to get “sledge hands”…tenderness in the wrist and a ton of blisters. She’s got to give it a break and hopefully tomorrow she will. I remember this happening a lot last time I was here. Sledging is tough work! Lastly, I’m thinking of starting a rooster slaughter program to help reduce the population. It probably tastes like chicken. The Haitians could get fed and maybe people could sleep at night. What do you think? If that doesn’t work maybe scientists could figure out a way to genetically alter their vocal chords. The chorus is really getting to me. Zzzzzz….. (Photos: Me cutting vertical and diagonal pieces for the trusses; a partially completed truss; Nicholle getting her rubble on!)

School 4 Opening

“It’s in Haitian time.” That’s what I was told about planning the School #4 Opening. Haitian time means roundabout, approximately, or whenever they get around to it. So for us Americans and Europeans planning anything here can be quite interesting (or frustrating depending on your approach). You never know what’s gonna happen. Knowing that, I have to say, most everything went pretty much as planned. Our tap tap driver made some kind of detour before picking us up that set us back nearly an hour. There were several truckloads of stuff to get to the site. I had a crackerjack team who could raise tents, run generators, and run computers with projectors. The MC wasn’t who I was told it would be…which didn’t matter because there WAS one…a replacement. That in itself was a miracle. Our biggest problem belonged to us…All Hands…when the generator failed. There wasn’t enough amperage and the DJ kept trying to blast the speakers. Try to communicate to a Haitian it would be helpful if he turned the volume down! Problem was he didn’t want to DJ with low volume….but que cera cera. In the end, we had to go back to base to get another generator. I was amazed at the skills of our volunteers to try to jump start the broken generator and somehow work around a broken pull cord. Food and snacks were served in an orderly fashion. Order doesn’t have a lot of meaning here. It can be quite chaotic in the wrong atmosphere. They really are hungry. They take huge portions. I always wonder when the last time they ate was or when their next meal will be. The Pastor/Director did a great job getting them to line up for their lunch and then drinks/snacks. It was a rather somber crowd with not a lot of community support. This Pastor is not well liked. Long story short…he asks for the world. We gave him what he could…a new school, a celebration, biosand filtered water (systems built by us making water potable), and soon, a compostable toilet system! We told him it would be nice if he recognized major contributors/volunteers of the school build (we give them certificates) and he put HIS name first on the list! I expect next Friday’s opening of School 5 to be a lot different. 320 guests expected and a lot more community support. (Photos: FYI…I have no idea what order these show up in when I post. 😦 Orderly lunch serving from one of the school windows; This little kid was precious…time for a school photo and NO WAY he was putting his plate down; Ceremony under way; awesome local volunteers serving snacks)

Day 9 Party Planning et finit!

I’m beat. Many details accomplished for tomorrow’s School Opening. I am told to expect things NOT to go as expected. OK…bring it on. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ve got a timeline for 3 hours plus setup/cleanup. Tomorrows party is for 225. That’s the smaller of the 2. Will report back tomorrow on the festivities. Nicholle had an awesome time sloshing around in the putrid mud. 😦 Yuck, but she loves it. Meanwhile, I’m getting daily “Warden Messages” from the State Dept. about the protests in Port Au Prince. The elections are coming up on 11/28 but I’m not even sure they’re all about that. Some crowds are mad at MINUSTAH (UN). They believe what they want and they’re mad because they believe the unproven story that the cholera epidemic started with the Nepalese soldiers. (The cholera strain is the same as that found in Nepal). Look that this excerpt from a story published online. It’s about a bus traveling with a white person (blan) on it.

After Limbe, where cholera has killed at least 100 people, we came to the biggest “barikad” yet in the highway. Thick trees lay across the road and hundreds of people, a few holding machetes, blocked the way. The bus driver once again descended to negotiate, but didn’t appear to be making any progress. Most passengers grabbed their belongings and got out. I decided to go too. As I gathered my things, there was a debate among the remaining passengers:

“He’s a blan (foreigner), he’s going to get hurt.”
“No no no, he speaks Creole, he’ll be fine.”
“They’re going to think he’s MINUSTAH. They’re not logical.”

But as we passed through each barricade, everyone – young girls and rotund market women mingling with demonstrators yelled out, “MINUSTAH ou ye?” (MINUSTAH are you?)

I yelled back, “Non, mwen se yon journalis Amerikan.” (No, I’m an American journalist.) The suspicious stares softened into smiles and understanding looks. After passing the third barricade that way, we started laughing.

They’ve got our backs. It feels like that a lot in Leogane. They’d help us in a second. If they’re not on your side, watch out for flying machete’s! (Photos: Party decorating team represents US, England, Sweden, Switzerland…cool!; Nicholle and Max making a game table)

Day 8 Day off around town

Fun day today. Nicholle and I borrowed some bikes from base volunteers and decide to find the ocean. Well…biking in Haiti is like off roading in the US. Good God. I needed my padded shorts! Got a nice crushed crotch to prove it. J Our first stop was on the way to the beach…Cordaid, a Dutch NGO who decided they would build shelters with the money they received. Their base is right around the corner from ours. I had met Mike last time I was here. He’s an architect. I asked Nicholle if she was interested in talking to him. I could hook her up. She is interested in studying architecture. Sure, she said. He had a lot of good recommendations and we toured the models they had on their base. She got his contact info and some good ideas to search on the internet. Anyway onward…lots of friendly faces and shouts of “bonjou”, “bonswa”, “Hey You” and “Blan” along the way. So we ended up in a fishing village and found a tree with some shade and were just going to sit and have some water and snacks. Didn’t happen. When a Blan shows up in any village you become the entertainment. People come to just stare at you. So you play with the kids and take their photos and try to converse with the adults (Nicholle and I know enough French to have some sort of conversation). We met Wilson who had perfect English. He’d spent 20 years in West Palm Beach, FL but ended up in jail for 4 years for grand theft auto and marijuana possession. He’s 33 and has 7 kids! He prided himself on never missing a child support payment. Once again, I mentioned…if you want to stay in the US you have to be good! He has changed his ways, he said. He was very likable and I invited to come to base to talk to the Project Director about work or volunteering. He was very interested. Told him times to show up and he said he would. We shall see. Back to base and the usual laundry, nap and now I think we’ll hit MINUSTAH which is the UN cafeteria where they have burger and fries. Yum! (Photos: Me and Cholle get ready to have a biking experience in Haiti; we found a fishing village. They wanted Cholle’s earrings and her bike. 🙂 ; CordAid’s spec homes! Nice for Haiti)

Day 7 More party planning

Lovely morning started with a complete chorus, soprano to alto, of roosters calling incessantly, constant dog chatter, and cows bellowing. That’s every morning but it was particularly non-stop today. Sometimes I wake at night to pure silence. It’s almost odd. If we’re lucky it’ll be quiet from around 10:30pm (everything powers down everywhere at 10pm) until maybe 3am. Then the animal chorus begins. I’ve got earplugs and try my best to ignore it and sleep. More party planning for the school openings…got a DJ and music, snacks and drinks secured, program done after meeting again with both Directors, generator arranged, tents accounted for. Friday, I’ll be buying stuff like tissue paper to make those tissue paper flowers and crepe paper streamers (apparently they have that stuff here). Nicholle got out and got her rubble on! She learned how to sledgehammer and was all smiles after returning to base. Party planning…not so much her thing. J Tomorrow is a Haitian holiday that celebrates a battle the Haitian slaves won over the French which basically gave them independence from France…which means…we have a day off. Yay! (Photos: finally, our tents on the roof…Nicholle at back, me at front; Marc leading the nightly meeting. Discussions include wrap up of the days work, assignments of tomorrows work, hellos to new people, goodbyes to those leaving,etc.)

Day 6 Meetings with School Directors and work on planning opening ceremony parties

Just as an aside, Nicholle and I spent our first 2 nights in the bunks then moved to the roof. It’s quite pleasant and the temperatures have actually dipped into the mid 60’s at night. I have only a sheet! But I’m using my towel as a blanket when needed. Marylander’s check this out…I found a stink bug in the tent! Haha…stink bug invasion brought to Haiti via US volunteer! God help me. I had set the tent up in my living room weeks before. How the heck he made it here ALIVE…go figure. Hopefully he didn’t have a girlfriend in tow. The Haitians don’t need any more problems! So Nicholle and I met with School 4 & 5 directors to plan the opening ceremonies which will happen on the next 2 Saturday’s. It’s a big community event…something they love to do. Speeches by the director, singing by the children, DJ and dancing music, slide show of the school build photos, recognition of community contributors, snacks and drinks for 300 people per party are all in the plans. I dealt with two entirely different directors. You’ve probably had meetings with similar personalities…one as humble and gracious and grateful as could be. He’d invite “tout le monde” (all the world) to celebrate and rejoice in the community coming together to build his school. The other has great expectations for EVERYTHING to be paid for by someone other than himself and really wasn’t interested in inviting too many community members and wanted to make sure HE got a certificate of recognition when really, he should be honoring all those who helped him. Interesting differences between the two men. I chatted with a neighbor near School 5, Roosevelt, who used to live in Queens, NY. All his family was still in Queens but they sent him home to Haiti after he went to jail for anything from jumping subway turnstiles to drug possession. He was legally there he told me. I told him…Roosevelt, if you want to live in the US you have to be good! He laughed and proceeded to show me his house next door to the school which got completely pancaked. That means the first floor disappeared and the second floor became the first floor. So sad. He told me his earthquake story including the fact that he had a bad feeling and quickly dodged out the back door only to have his house collapse seconds later. (Photos: Our home sweet homes, Nicholle in back, me in front; meeting with Director Armond and Berlyne (translator) about the school opening; photo of one of Armond’s classes before they finally move).

Day 5 Housecleaning and Meeting with School 4 Director

Well, somebody’s gotta do it…clean the toilets that is. Clean the showers, the breakfast dishes, burn the trash, etc. Exciting morning followed by a meeting with the Director of School 4 to plan the Opening Ceremony. Nicholle and I have signed up as coordinators for the Openings Ceremonies of Schools 4 & 5 which will happen on 2 successive Saturdays. We met with Matt, School Build Coordinator for All Hands, and School Director Fernel. Ceremonies are typical with a few speeches, a slide show of school build photos, some refreshments. The children are very excited to get back to school. All smiles. Matt and I had in interesting discussion on the walk to School 4. He had been on leave and considered himself burned out. Took a bit of time off and came back with a better attitude and will stay until February. I believe that will put him here for about a year. I asked him to be specific about what his version of burned out meant. I think he had become somewhat disillusioned with some of the Haitian people. They don’t always do what they say they will….changing their minds constantly…sizing you up to see how much they can get for free from NGO’s and, yes, some corrupt. It gets to you after a while. You make plans, buy supplies or whatever around what they tell you only to find that they change their minds, don’t feel like doing it any more, or just don’t understand there’s a better way which maybe makes no difference to them. It can be quite discouraging and make you question what the heck you’re doing here. It’s cultural. Case in point…the workers at the orphanage use any available clothing as diapers. Used “diapers” mound up outside in a mountain. Dirty. They are not cleaned on a timely basis. All Hands volunteers have instructed them about hygiene, possible cholera outbreak reaching Leogane, how to prevent it, etc. It essentially means, cleaning the “diapers” every day properly. No matter. The orphanage workers never did anything about it. I’d have to be a psychologist to understand it all. (Photos: Entrance to base and bleach footbath which MUST be stepped in to enter base…a cholera prevention technique; Matt and Nicholle chat about school opening inside one of the classrooms. Both school and furniture built by All Hands.)

Day 4 – Sunday’s Random Thoughts

Sleeping in on our day off means until 7am. Up and at ‘em cuz a tap-tap is leaving for the beach at 8am and Nicholle and I are headed there. Ride takes 1 ½ hours. Tap tap basically dies along the way! Becker (driver) is resourceful and gets us a ride the rest of the way. Roads were pitiful. Giant potholes filled with water. One bridge on a main highway was not passable by car. Solution…unbelievable…cross the river it goes over! What if the river fills? Dunno. Nice day at the beach. This one the land of fancy $30 lunches and air-conditioned NGO SUV’s. No thanks, I’ll have a Prestige (beer) and a Clif Bar. Some nice changes on base. Better internet access, shower doors (instead of tarp flaps), painted bathroom stalls and what seems like new toilets (or at least the bowls are not rusty brown…an incredible psychological difference!), meal tent, enclosed and gated compound with armed guards. That’s mostly due to the Joint Logistics Base that I’ll chat about another time. Many, many long termers here now. For 6 months, 1 year or the entire project (which for now is through 2011). The volunteers seem different. It’s a much more mature crowd. I’m again one of the oldest and Nicholle is definitely the youngest. No matter. It’s so easy to make friends here and there’s always someone to hang with. There are an incredible number of countries represented: Holland, Germany, England, Ireland, Switzerland, South Africa to name a few. They are more familiar with the country and their travel radius (which used to be small and contained Leogane) is endless. They own bikes and one guy owns a motorcycle. They speak the language pretty fluently. There are good changes out on the streets of Leogane as well. Most roadside rubble mountains are gone. Some new structures and businesses going up, old ones fixed up and painted. Signs of new (or perhaps old) commerce back in business. Ever so slowly. Don’t get excited, but cholera has now reached Leogane. 2 confirmed cases a few days ago which means more by now. It is completely treatable. And, yes, we have plenty of drinkable water and electrolytes. A new foot contamination basin now resides outside our front door. It’s a bleach solution you MUST step through to get in the base. Washes off any wet street crud. Oh, and attention Nicholle’s parents…she doesn’t want to go home. You’ve been warned! (Photos: Haitian road repair…trouble is no one wants to be the first to ride on top of it; Catch of the day Haitian style…no FDA here…they’ll gut and cook it for you on the beach as an added bonus; Bridge over troubled water…bridge is earthquake damaged so why not cross the river it goes over! )

Day 3 Finishing touches on School 5

Interesting day at School #5. It needed the finishing touches. Last bits of paint. Some holes for air drilled. A last coat of paint on the furniture. I wanted to see a school at this point. Foundation for School #6 is being laid and it takes 9 weeks to get the structure to this point. I knew I wouldn’t be around for that. So my job was to put a second coat of paint on the interior studs. My mind wandered as to why? That’s an American value…to make sure there are no streaks and the coat of paint is good and solid. I guarantee you the Haitians don’t care. The roof over their heads will do the trick. So why are we doing this? Do NGO’s tend to come in and impose their values of what they think Haiti should look like? As I posed the question to another volunteer, it was philosophical. She had a practical answer…listen, she said, if the second coat of paint makes this building last a little longer in this weather it’s worth it. OK I’ll buy that. Over 100 children will attend this 3 classroom school. 9 teachers have already been hired. I’m not sure if kids are taught all at once or in shifts. Owners/pastors have to prove land ownership and have a good standing in the community. Assessors for All Hands take care to meet with the community initially to find out what they want/need as far as schools to determine if that area of Leogane is a good candidate. The schools cost about $25K and are considered Transitional. Believe me, transition will most likely last as long as the building stands. We had the afternoon off (plus tomorrow). That was voted on and approved by the volunteers. They worked 8 straight days to get the base hurricane ready and deserve the break! Oh yeah, and in the afternoon, Nicholle and I went with Berlyne to visit her family. We met Gitto, here fiance and chatted with Charite, here mom. Took a stroll with them all to the market. Charite was particularly adept at finding just the right vendor for oranges, bananas, and carrots. We got a tour of Berlyne’s house. She and Gitto have purchased supplies to build on to the existing structure. They had a well pump with a filtering device that makes the water potable. Also a toilet and separate (bucket) shower area. So good to see. These are very decent conditions. (Photos: Gitto, Berlyne, me, Charite; Haitian bike shop! 🙂 ; kids outside School 5; Completed School 5)

Orphanage, Mud Removal Hygiene Kits andMucking

Signed up for orphanage work. It’s a no photo zone. Good thing…justs makes you want to cry. 38 children being taken care of by maybe 5 people. No diapers, no running water, no toilets. Barely any food. All Hands provides support to just play and be with these attention starved children. Got there around 8:30 and most were in pretty good moods. Around 10 you could tell they were all hungry, crying. Slowly the plated food came out…a sort of rice mush with salt and powdered vitamins added. So hungry. Tiny infants, not walking and toddlers eating a huge plate that may be equivalent to maybe 5 baby food jars. The older children are patient, standing by. They know they are next. They also eat any leftovers from the young ones. I’m not sure when/if there will be another meal today. Some of the volunteers have prepared lesson plans. Basic shapes the subject. Much singing. I brought out chalk and helped them draw on the cement. Puddles every 5 minutes. Children without diapers either naked on the bottom or swathed in a piece of cloth. Peeing, diarrhea right on the floor. Moped up with a mop full of urine. Very little water to rinse it in. Noses running. Chests congested. Trying to be civil but all the while I’m somewhat disgusted with what could be on my hands. Sanitize. I’m thirsty but won’t drink in front of the children. They don’t have water today. One or two happy. Many despondent. Definitely understand failure to thrive. They just sit on a chair and won’t engage. Rub some backs and feel bones or an unexpected curviture. One little guy definitely a drama mama…milking his crying for whatever attention he can get. I’m happy to give it to him. Another has a belly button the size of a Clementine, the result of a home birth no doubt. Many unusual belly buttons here. Leave the orphanage after several hours. Afternoon work was inventory and assembling Mud Removal Hygiene Kits including sponges, gloves, brushes, soap, bucket, Haitian broom. Finished 100. Nicholle had a tough labor day doing mud cleaning of a canal near mid town where people bathe. It is a disgusting assemblage of dirty, filthy, God knows what’s in it muck. Volunteer Nate waded in up to his chest had handed out buckets while everyone else hauled them away. Volunteers filthy with mud upon arrival at lunch and again later. Can’t come in base like that so you head to special showers that include a bleach contamination process…twice a day. (Photo: Hygiene kit assembly line.)

Day 1 Ayiti!

Traveling with 150 lbs of gear is a bear. I am so glad to be on the ground in Haiti. Stayed overnight at JFK airport in NY to wait for Nicholle. JFK has grown I don’t know how many fold since I was there last. It’s a mile walk to anywhere. While there I was in touch with Berlyne’s Dad and he didn’t have transportation to get to the hotel. We had a nice chat. He’s a very honorable man. I promised to be in touch upon my return. Same deal…staying overnight on the way home. Anyone watch “House” on TV? The woman who plays 13 was on our flight. I was good and left her alone. Nicholle and I had a 2 ½ hour wait for the 4pm flight to come in upon which was Tim…another shuttle mate to All Hands base. From the air you can see the muddy swollen rivers overflowing. We were over the wing so no photo ops there. The 20 mile trip from Port Au Prince to Leogane is endless. I’ve never seen the traffic so bad. It took us almost 2 ½ hours. Cars, buses, motorcycles, and people converging within inches of each other. The smell of combination exhaust, burning trash and sewage is suffocating. No vehicle emissions testing here. It’s gotten dark. The windshield of this car is completely cracked up. The tranny sounds like it will give way any minute. The car has no lights but it seems ok because of the lights from neighboring vehicles. Very few lights around the city. The markets….little booths where vendors sell whatever…never seem to close. Small gas lanterns light them. Here we are in Leogane. Familiar streets. Finally at the base. 7:30pm Ready for a quick tour, some settling in and my first bucket shower. Glad to b back in Ayiti! (Photo: Nicholle in our “waiting Area”)

Last minute details

7am…up and at ‘em. Change some sheets, laundry, breakfast, shower, check emails, out the door to my last pilates class before leaving. 10:30am…meet journalist at Starbucks for interview for local online magazine, pick up new eyeglasses that were due 2 weeks ago, home. Camera check. Ahhhh….wait…NOOOOO. Damn. It’s flashing and doing crazy things (collateral damage from an unexpected dip in the pool over the summer…camera in pocket). 600 post-its on the table with things to do…596 put in “later” pile for when I get back, down to 4. 1:30pm…back out the door to buy a new camera at Costco…same as last one so no learning curve, while I’m at it off to AT&T to investigate Haiti discount roaming plan, sign up, home. 3pm…test camera, fold laundry, more emails and phone calls, test home phone…yay it’s turned off and gone forever…one less interruption in my life, do what’s on post-it notes, pack up the dog’s stuff, close luggage, check weight…maxed out at 99 lbs., good to go, load car, 6pm…glass of wine, jammies, 0 post-it notes, knitting, relax, shift mental gears to what lies in the third world.

Beloved Berlyne

Remember my tale about wanting to sponsor one of our All Hands translators, a native Haitian, a trip to the US? I helped set her up with an email and Facebook account before I left Haiti in April. Someone else was kind enough to purchase a netbook computer for her. She’s a quick learner and both her English and computer skills have increased tremendously since I met her. We have been in regular contact since I left. She has applied for and obtained her passport. Yay! Now she’s trying to get her Visa. It didn’t seem like such a big deal to me. Apply online, pay the fee, get a tourist Visa. Not so simple. I am admittedly a little nieve in the matter but can find nothing online to help me out. Berlyne went to Port Au Prince (I believe to the US embassy) and they tell her she needs the equivalent of $1300 in her bank account to go. Whaaaaat? Thanks a fortune in Haiti. I intend to investigate this when I get down there, perhaps with another trip to PAP and the Embassy. Berlyne hasn’t seen here Dad for 17 years! He came to the States to earn money to support his family, lives on Long Island (where I’m from) and tries to send his family money when he can. As I’ve said before, I’m going to JFK airport (not far from where her Dad lives) and staying overnight for a night. I decided to try to contact her dad to maybe meet him before I go….show him some photos I took back in April, etc. I spoke to him yesterday. I don’t believe he has a car but is looking to borrow one to come to the airport hotel. We’ll see what happens. He seemed like a very humble man and was very sweet…just like his beloved Berlyne! Photo: You guessed it…me and Berlyne.

I’ve got company this trip!

I shared my photos with many after I got home in April. Having seen them my niece Nicholle, age 17, immediately said,”I wanna go”. I told her in all likelihood I’d head back and asked about her seriousness. “Definitely”. I asked her to chat with her parents and I’d answer any questions they had. I told her I had no specific time but to let me know what works for her with her senior year in high school. She picked this November timeframe because of school holidays (yes, we’ll be there for our own “Fakesgiving”). She’ll accompany me the first 2 (of 3) weeks I’ll be there. She’s had some experience on a mission with her church to New Orleans. She’s had financial support from her French Club at school and her church. At least one teacher has given her a reprieve on homework as long as she shares her experiences with the class. We’ve gone over a gazillion details but my biggest piece of advice was to keep a journal…for both therapeutic and historical (at least her history!) purposes. She’ll, no doubt, be the youngest on base and there’s a chance I’d be the oldest. An interesting duo!

Supplies and more supplies

I left for Haiti in March with 2 bags and 100 lbs of supplies. Came home a month later with 1 bag and 30lbs. Got rid of my tent (a new one…albeit cheap), a suitcase and a slew of other things I knew the Haitians needed more than me. It was the plan all along. Then, dang, the thought of going back to Haiti re-entered my head. Ahhhh…back to the REI website to choose a new tent and other goodies like a camping pillow and towel, got my 25% DEET bug spray, my beloved Sawyer clothing spray (more bug repellent that lasts through many washings), dug through for more crappy clothes and underwear, etc. The requisite Clif bars, trail mix and Peanut M&M’s will also be on board (protein, protein, protein!). Lesson learned…I WILL be bringing home all my camping stuff and some of my clothes this time. New supplies (also from lessons learned) include Italian seasoning (for the ketchup they call tomato sauce!), tuna in a foil package (MORE protein!), V8, lots more electrolytes, antibiotics, Immodium, and Cipro (think Cholera and any other assortment of stomach ailments). From the All Hands wishlist…maple syrup, dry erase markers, printer ink, and 6 bottle s of bug spray and maybe some screws (if I have the poundage available). Oh…and Tootsie Rolls for the kids. I haven’t weighed the bags yet but will in a day or two. Then it’s back to the stores for more wishlist items until I hit 100lbs. I must say thanks again for those who donated old suitcases. It’s nice to know I can leave at least one behind when I leave Haiti. Believe me, I will find a suitable donor.

Tropical Storm Tomas

I’m hoping it’s a “say Allelujah” day for Haiti. There is some flooding but it hasn’t been terrible. Mudslides? Remains to be seen. Hopefully not. It’s 7:30pm on the day that Tomas passed by Haiti. I know several things. The internet on All Hands base works…yay! I’ve seen several very recent posts from Facebook friends with updates. The base itself its fine. Many preparations were made to spare as much as possible from flying or being damaged by rain. Parts of Leogane are flooded to knee height. Several deaths were reported (by Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore) due to people trying to move through the rushing water. So…we’ll see. Forgot to mention my flight to Haiti leaves on Thursday, Nov. 11. Tweets from All Hands report that all is well. They’ll spend the next day or so putting the base back together then it’s back to work. It remains to be seen whether it will be a go for me. I HOPE there are no problems. Several things will have to happen. 1. The flight is not cancelled by the airline due to airport damage, etc. in Port Au Prince. Weatherman Jim only reported 2″ there last I checked. 2. All Hands has to verify that it’s food/water supply chain is not interrupted and that they can continue to feed volunteers. 3. We can drive from Port Au Prince airport to Leogane (road damage??). I’m thinking it looks pretty good but time will tell. I’m going to try to re-post some Twitter photos taken today. Let’s see what happens….

Earthquakes, Cholera, and a Hurricane? Geez.

Come on..the Haitians have had enough…don’t ya think? I am just having a hard time imagining what will happen to the tent cities once Tomas goes through Haiti. It won’t matter if it’s just a tropical storm…the wind and amount of rain alone will, no doubt, kill people with flying debris, mud slides, and lord knows what else. There is just NO place for the a million Haitians to go and take refuge with most buildings collapsed from the earthquake. On base, at All Hands, they have battened down the hatches. There are interior rooms that are mostly walled in. Hurricane preparations are under way and I’m sure they’re doing the best they can to cover openings, get all the tents off the roof, stockpile supplies, etc. The complex has been inspected by structural engineers and most areas are considered safe to live under. They have a satellite phone for communication so they’ll be in touch with those of us coming in if their food/water supply chain is interrupted, the roads are not passable or whatever plethora of other conditions might happen that prevent us from flying in on time. Cholera has not reached Leogane…yet. The Cholera outbreak is north of Port Au Prince, Leogane is West of PAP, a total distance of 4 hours drive from the outbreak. Don’t freak out! Cholera is very treatable with antibiotics and electrolytes and I’ll have both with me just in case. Cholera hasn’t existed in Haiti for over 50 years. They are investigating whether it came to the country with some UN soldiers from Nepal (whose sewage is apparently ending up in the river where the outbreak started). The constant barrage of…what…bad luck? fate? mother nature?…in 2010 in Haiti is really, really hard to wrap my head around. One step forward, ten steps back. Why them? No answers. Just say your prayers for the Haitian people.

What All Hands Volunteers has been doing since I left in April

After receiving over 1 million dollars in the last fiscal, a huge jump for them and the most that has ever been donated, they committed themselves to Haiti through 2011. It was my hope that they stay longer, but that could only be supported with donations to do so. If there was one thing I learned in my reading, it’s that you can’t just form a group, go to Haiti for a month or 6 months, do your thing, then leave. An anthopologist wrote of a German NGO (non-governmental organization) that came in for 6 months and built windmills. A fine idea to produce energy. Problem was when they left after 6 months, there was no money or training of Haitians how to use it to sustain the effort. So they sit and rot. What I love about All Hands is that they are dedicated to sustainability. How can they best teach Haitians to sustain themselves? By building compostable toilets with proper hand sanitation, by building bio-sand water filters, schools with desks (see photo below), gardens, and continuing rubble removal with 2 donated Bobcats…all side by side of Haitian volunteers they are teaching. Show them the way. Really…how else will they emerge from poverty? Take a look at the complete list of All Hands work in Haiti:


THAT’S compelling! I’m happy to support that kind of effort. I’ve asked before and I’ll ask again…PLEASE donate. It’s such good work. Don’t you think everyone deserves a chance at decent life? You’ll know EXACTLY
where your money is going…to support base of 70 people who do all the things described above. Check out Executive Director, David Campbell’s Annual Appeal. You’ll get a look at other domestic and international disasters they have worked on:


Little did I know…

…how compelling it would be to work in Leogane, Haiti. The thought of going back never occurred to me while I was there. I said my goodbyes, had a profound experience, and learned much about another culture. But too many questions remained after I got home. How would these people survive even more centuries of neglect? Poor politics? Rampant corruption? Lack of jobs and money? Lack of clean water and proper sanitation? Poorly built housing? Things need to change. I’ve read 4 books about different aspect of Haiti with subjects including everything from its politics, to the thoughts of an anthropologist having spent 10 years there, to a woman who opened an orphanage, to a book of short stories to help me understand the superstitious/voodoo culture that exists. I’ve also read the Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti (adopted in 3/10 as a result of the earthquake.) If they do everything they said in the plan, Haiti would become an “emerging” country within 20 years. Now’s the time to make changes with the money coming in and awareness created by the earthquake. I hope it happens. The only answer for me was to continue to do my teeny weeny part to help the Haitian people add some sort of decency to their lives.

Home Sweet Home

Cancelled flight rescheduled. Home by 3pm today. Sitting here in the Miami hotel with a few last thoughts before I grab a cab to the airport. I can already tell what my biggest issue will be…at least maybe for the next few days. It has nothing to do with the emotional side of leaving Haiti and it’s people. Like I’ve said before, it’s not my first disaster assignment and I knew what to expect. But has more to do with having lived a simple life there. One free of obligations and decisions. My only decisions were which job to take on the job board every day and what I wanted on my egg sandwich. No cell phone for a month. Nothing scheduled on my calendar. Not many choices as far as food (thus the weight loss maybe). I enter the US and immediately I am barraged…with the overindulgent and overscheduled lifestyles we live here. My phone starts ringing and texts come in (I am NOT complaining here…all family and friends and great to hear from them). I immediately have to deal with a cancelled flight which arrived via text, I stand in the Subway line and am hit by all the choices (maybe that’s why I get the same thing every time!). I think about how to maintain the weight loss (which is actually 8 lbs!) and what actually led to it. How come I wasn’t able to achieve that in the land of food labels and informed choices? My email inbox has at least 25 emails sitting there as reminders that I have to put meetings or places to be on my calendar (which was non-existent in Haiti) or follow up on something. I will go home to my big house with many rooms and drive my Mercedes Benz about town. Whaaat? Is that my life…really? My head hurts. It’s too full already. I’ll sort it out because I have to. I’ll need a few days to tiptoe into the land of plenty from the land of little. By the way, I have discovered my 7 minute video is too big to publish here. ☹ So to those who took this journey with me, I hope you got a look into both what it’s like on a disaster response and living in a third world country. Thanks for hanging in there. All Hands will in all likelihood extend their 6 month obligation to at least a year. Their momentum is incredible and they have much to do. If anyone out there is interested in heading down there, let me know. I have half a mind to go back…maybe in the fall…for a shorter stint…maybe 2 weeks. See what happens. It would be nice to take some familiar faces along. Peace out people!

Day 32

Left the base at 10:30am for a 1 ½ hour 28 mile ride to Port Au Prince. The roads here are really truly unbelievable. Partly paved, many not. Those that are not can only be traveled at about 5-10mph due to severe potholes and, well, lumpiness. Better take some Dramamine for motion sickness. Arrived at the airport at 12pm for a 5pm flight. Get this…I had to go through security 3 times! Including 2 pat downs and having to take the shoes off, computer out of your bag, etc. 2 times. Cuhrazy! Lots of waiting but I had a shuttle mate from Leogane which cuts the price and I’d rather have traveled with someone than not. So guess who came trotting right past us unrecognized by most? Katie Couric. This is such a tiny airport. The two of us just looked at each other and said “Is that who I think it is?”. The airport is air conditioned! My pants were sticking to me until we got here. I must have lost weight because I can’t keep my pants up…they’re so baggy. I actually threw out some other capris, etc out along the way because they just wouldn’t stay on me and rubbling had killed them. I looked like one of the boys from the hood! Anyway, I just tried to upload a 7 minute video here at the hotel and it wouldn’t work WIll try again tomorrow from home. Dang…just learned my flight for tomorrow has been cancelled. I’ll probably check in one more day on this blog and then bid you adieu.

Day 31

Wow…my last full day in Haiti. This month went fast didn’t it? I slept in (until 7:15), worked with Berlyne on her Facebook account, did some packing and giving away of things I don’t want. My bag won’t be very full at all going home. I have to stay overnight in Miami on Wednesday and hope to get 8 hours sleep. I haven’t had that since I’ve been here. During lunch break I went with Berlyne to see her home and meet her mother, then went to the bank to figure out how to wire her money she needs to come to the US. Things are falling into place for her visit. Look at it this way…at least I’m not coming home with a baby! Ha! It’s time to say a few goodbyes 1. To the Evil Day Ball…I love your light but will spend the rest of the spring and summer in your shadows. See ya. 2. To the ants in my tent…listen, get lost. Future resident, Alejandro won’t appreciate you either. 3. To all the roosters, dogs, and cows…in the end, I didn’t hear you as much but, dang, you can make a racquet. Adios. 4. To my damp bed…I never did like you anyway and certainly won’t miss you. Au revoir. 5. To rice and beans…yuck. You are ALWAYS associated with any disaster I’ve served on. You’re nothing but a bad memory. Don’t be too upset when I replace you with salad. Good riddens. 6. To my farmer’s tan…I can’t shake you no matter what. The bikini tan on my feet is something else. You’re like a bad tattoo. 7. To the Haitian people…YOU will be sorely missed. The shout outs of “hey you”, “blanc” , “what is your name?”, and “give me a dollar” will ring in my ears for a long time to come. Your smiles will long be remembered in my mind’s eye. May your country learn many lessons of rebuilding after this toughest lesson of all. Your resilience, tenacity, and lifelong endurance of hardship are inspiring. Bay-bay. 8. To HODR…what you’re accomplishing in Haiti bolstered my every day. “Hands On” is such an appropriate name. Your ability to reach out and touch so many people in so many different ways with your association with so many NGO’S is both fascinating and admirable. Rather than say goodbye, I’ve you with…’til we meet again. Photos: Berlyne and her mom, Charite. Berlyne’s post earthquake home.

Day 30

Back to the hospital today. I really like that job the most because you can interact with the locals. It was great to see everyone again for one last time. Some of the more educated locals have email addresses and even Facebook accounts. Today, during our lunch hour, I helped Berlyne set up an email account. After dinner, I will help her set up a Facebook account. She has many American friends now to add to her Friends list. I’m leaving Wednesday, so I’m actually taking tomorrow off to do some packing and work with Berlyne on some of the technical details of a possible trip to the US…like how to transfer money to her when she doesn’t have a bank account! There’s a Western Union here so that’s a possibility. Another thought is to send some with other All Hands volunteers leaving from my local area. Greatly anticipating going home to all things familiar and some creature comforts. My first 3 weeks here were awesome with some great friendships made. The last week has been interesting in that the activities of a selfish few have affected the karma of the commune upsetting most people. There’s a certain crowd that goes drinking every night and it all reached a sort of feverish pitch Saturday night when they came back falling down drunk. Quiet time starts at 10. They went up to the roof and proceeded with their loud, raucous behavior until 2am or so. One of them actually peed all over someone else’s bunk and never remembered it. The rest made so much noise the people in the neighboring camp had to yell up to the roof for them to be quiet. After all the Haitian people have been through and all that All Hands has done to reach out to the people of Leogane it really sours my stomach. The policy here is to throw people out if they drink on base and in my humble opinion that should have occurred after this incident…it wasn’t the first time this has happened. Maybe that’s what upset the karma…because it wasn’t dealt with like it should have been. I’ll likely spend the day tomorrow trying to revive the spirit of the first 3 weeks in my mind and all the good that is going on here. Photo: A really bad picture of me and a really good one of Berlyne.

Day 29

Loving this lazy Sunday. Same old as last week. Knitting, pilates, reading, hanging out. Dinner at the American junk food place, Masaje. So let’s talk about carbon footprint. Wikipedia describes it as “the total set of greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event or product”. Or, if you ask me, energy usage. We have pretty significant carbon footprints in the US. But in Haiti…wow…much less. It’s taken a visit to a third world country to realize how little is used here….or how MUCH we use in the US. In the past month, I have NEVER: taken a real shower, flushed a toilet, used more than 5 gallons of water a day, used hot water, driven a car, used any major household appliance, watched a TV show, or been in a temperature controlled climate. I’m thinking that’s a CONSIDERABLE savings over my “normal” usage. I think I’ll feel pretty guilty getting back to life in the USA. It will give me reason to pause and think about how I’m affecting the planet in the future. Speaking of never’s I’ll add a few more…not carbon footprint related. I have NEVER: worn makeup, used moisturizers, been TOTALLY clean fore more than 5 minutes, sweat more calories on a daily basis, consumed more rice and beans before, slept in a bed, eaten anything coming from a cow (OK, ONE exception is the ice cream at Masaje), walked around in public with more permanent bedhead, or talked about poop so much in my life! On another subject, I am working on sponsoring a trip for a local Haitian, Berlyne, to come to the US. Her Dad lives in Westbury, NY and she hasn’t seen him in 17 years. I figured I can help make that happen. She’s 23 and the sweetest girl you’d ever want to meet. It is her dream to come to the US. She’s working on getting info on how to get a passport, then we’ll take it from there. In the next 2 days (my last full days here), we’ll set up an email and Facebook account for her as methods to communicate. I was working with her today to show her how Facebook works. She works on base here as a Creole/English translator and is loved by one and all for her smile and her immense spirit. Hope it all works out.

Day 28

Rubble at Pierre et finit! Fun and physically exhausting week but satisfying to see this rubble project from beginning to end. Jacques, the homeowner was soooo grateful…he couldn’t thank us enough. Check Day 23 for the before picture. We had 10-12 volunteers a day, 5 days, 7 hours a day. We figured 340 man hours to clear this. Can you imagine how quick it would go with a jackhammer and some heavy equipment? The rubble is now piled in the street in front of his house. I have no idea how/when/if this will be removed BUT he now has space to have a transitional shelter put up plus ½ his house remains standing. We finished by lunch. Spent the afternoon playing with children again at the back of our property. You have no idea how rewarding this is. We walk through the surrounding camps with a ball in our hands. The kids come pouring out of their homes and follow us like the pied piper. We end up in the field with 40-50 kids. They LOVE this! We had Frisbees, soccer balls, bubbles, jump ropes. One kid made a TOY out of a REAL dragonfly. He caught the dang thing (which was rather huge), added a string tail to it and PLAYED with it. We played Haitian games and simple things like duck, duck, goose. Their joy is so humbling to watch. They never leave. We were there for 3 hours. Great weather the last 2 days. The humidity has dropped some and it makes a huge difference. The last spring breakers are leaving tomorrow and the population is volunteer dropping considerably. Photos: Completed Pierre site, Pierre crew with homeowner Jacques.

Day 27

Nice easy day today in deference to Good Friday. Many of our regular street food vendors weren’t there. ☹ I hung around the base and did some more organizing including a photo Who’s Who photo board of all the HODR regulars who are on the project. At least I didn’t get the job of collecting cow dung from the back field for the future vegetable garden! Rain again last night. It’s a swamp under my tent and neighbor tenter, Nancy, spent a good amount of time with a huge squeegee trying to dump water off the stage where we live. Nice breezy day plus working in the shade made for less sweat. Yeah. Let’s talk about DIRT! I cannot wait to bid adieu to dirt. It is ALWAYS EVERYWHERE here. I open my computer, use it for an hour, close it, open it next time and it’s got a coating of dust all over the keyboard and screen. My toenails are gross but I refuse to clean them until I hit Miami. I pick dirt out of my fingernails every day. It’s futile! I try to keep certain clothes as my “clean” clothes…also futile. I wash my sandaled feet at least 2x a day because they’re covered in DIRT! ‘Nuf said. Base talent show was tonight. Kudos to all who entered including our own Scottish stripper in his kilt! Photo of the day…my laundry wash after washing maybe 6 items. Yuck.

Day 26

Wow…it’s April. Tick tock. Back to rubble at Pierre today. Freakin’ hot again. We let the local kids do a bunch of work. REALLY helps take the load off us. Most do it barefoot! We give them gloves if they want them and water. They can handle the heat…unlike us! We had a Seattle guy who has only been here a couple of days get sick…like heat sick…throwing up. Almost done with this work site, ½ day’s work left. The locals keep bringing us gifts of cherries (a treat!) and today, a few coconuts which we snacked on. I’ve developed a heat rash all over my hands and wrists. Too many days in soaking wet gloves! Rain again last night. I’m starting to let myself think about going home…which will be next Wednesday. Dry sheets, ice cream, no heat, more junk food and fruits and veggies…creature comforts. ☺ I bequeathed my tent today to a long termer and asked him to leave it to another long termer when he’s done. He obviously doesn’t get it until Wednesday but I’m glad to leave it behind. It’s dusty dirty and I don’t feel like hauling it back. Have another group of structural engineers staying with us. They went out and inspected a bunch of Leogane homes and about 75% were perfectly habitable allowing 150 people to move back in BUT most won’t. They’re still very afraid. That’s been the story since we got here. Maybe once a long period has passed with no aftershocks, they’ll feel better. Photos: Pierre after Day 4, Stephen cuts up snack coconut with…well the only thing we had to cut it…a hack saw.

Day 25

Rain last night. Probably the 4th time it’s rained since I’ve been here…each time at night…nothing too torrential, just steady. Since my tent is on blocks now, I don’t have too much trouble…except maybe suffocating inside! Tent has a small leak somewhere but no big deal. Spent the morning at the base redecorating the office. It was a mess. Piles of stuff everywhere. They’ve been able to add more tables, chairs, electrical outlets, power strips, etc. All it took was someone to do a little space planning and organizing. Little by little the base gets more fine- tuned. A woodworker has been here for 3 weeks knocking out all kinds of things on base: Shelves, desks, racks for hanging tools, as well as umpteen projects out in the community as well. Someone who knows concrete re-graded our shower area so the water drains properly, and now another person who knows plumbing has added more faucets, and corrected the dripping ones. Seems like Friday we’ll have an abbreviated workday and do some more base chores that improve our living conditions here. Back to rubble at Pierre this afternoon. Wow…things are coming along. I forgot to take a photo at the end of the day but got one of Jeremy and Nikki with all the kids. Nikki is so petite but she’s a beast with a sledgehammer! The kids with their happy smiles are constantly with us. They all want to help but it’s a tight site and they end up getting in the way so we take some time to converse with them and exchange English and Creole translations. You won’t believe this…the kids are sharing their EMAIL addresses and phone numbers! Who da thunk it? They don’t even have electricity but I imagine before the quake they had a limited supply and some access to computers. My laundry, by the way, done by neighbor, Fallon, was spotless! She wouldn’t take any money. Can you imagine? She has no income, no job and she’s doing our laundry. We decided to accept it with thanks, bring her more every day, and pay her when the rubble job is done…maybe Saturday. Another hot one…nothing new there. I come home at lunch and dinner break and immediately take my boots off. My socks are soaked, my feet are prunes! 2 pair of socks a day for this work!

Day 24

Started the morning conducting another hospital orientation for about 9 newcomers. There was a shout out at our nightly meeting that because we had organized all the incoming hospital supplies so well, staff was easily able to get their hands on what they needed to save a baby’s life! Woohoo….that’s what it’s all about. After that, headed out to the rubble job at Pierre (I assume that’s the family’s last name) for Day 2. The Evil Day Ball was doing a job on us. It hit 95 degrees so we took many water breaks. I don’t do it but can you imagine these guys and gals sledgehammering in that? Buckets of sweat! A remarkable amount of work has been done by our team of 10 in 2 days. (Check the photo today vs. the one yesterday. The second is you know who getting her rubble on!) God…it seems, and is, such a tedious chore BUT like Extreme Home Makeover, the masses get it done quickly. Today, a neighbor, Fallon, age 19, offered to do our laundry. I think she wants to do it for “work” which is fine with us. I’ll get the team to put some laundry together to give her a chance to earn some money. She’s so sweet…she was helping us rubble and told me she was so happy we were there. She taught herself English and is better than she thinks. The owner of this house is very active with us. Some owners are, some aren’t but he’s out there sweating himself all day. He was lucky and didn’t lose any family members. Had a discussion with the other volunteers…you know if we have a disaster in the U.S., everyone pitches in for the common good. People step up and do what they can to help those in need. That just didn’t happen here after the quake. There are very few tell tale signs of the community pitching in for each other. It’s seems to be just another thing that is not a big deal for them.

Day 23

Back to rubble today. It’s been a long time. It’s very rewarding plus it beefs up the pecs and burns calories like crazy! Plus you sleep REALLY well at night. The site is a complicated one since the house next door also collapsed and is leaning into it. I still can’t believe we can demo an entire house with sledgehammers and a hack saw to cut rebar! Crazy. Lots of new people on the site plus my South African friend, Steve, as team leader. He’s a very mature 20 year old with more life experience than I had by age 40! Our team consisted mostly of Urbanites…a new breed that seems to be taking over for all the college spring breakers we just had. A slew of NYC teachers came in over the weekend. We are currently at 90 volunteers and will max out at 100 by mid-week. When I got here there were less than 50! Ch-ch-ch-changes! All Hands is making waves in the NGO world and strengthening their ties with some of the larger ones. I may have mentioned our huge backyard is becoming a joint NGO logistics space that may include a helipad! Word got out that we actually HAD a helipad and the US Army landed a helicopter today. When founder, David, left last week he was on the way to a meeting with the Clinton/Bush Foundation for some fundraising. If they receive it, All Hands will be elevated to new levels in the NGO world…well I actually think they already have. It has a LOT to do with the fact that their hand is always extended and with their willingness to work alongside other groups. I’ve said it before, it’s impressive. Photos: The BEFORE shot of our rubble site. We’ll be taking odwn everything to the right, OMG…neighborhood kids at the rubble site…how cute are they?

Day 22

And on the 22nd day she rested! Slept in until 6:45…woohoo. AFTERSHOCK last night around 2:15am. The first since I’ve been here and the first here in about a month. Let me tell you there is NOTHING like Mother Earth shaking her booty! I’ll liken the rumble to feeling the ground shake on a NYC street as the subway passes underneath….only turn up the volume 1000%. Everyone came pouring out of their bunks into center court…they all have cement overhead. I was sleeping in my underwear, with no glasses and earplugs. By the time it registered what was happening and I thought to throw some shorts on…it was basically over. I did here the crumbling of rubble outside the base and then a couple of times I heard something like a small piece of rubble dropping very close by. No worries…everyone OK. Took a walk towards what we thought was a beach. We walked for an hour and found nothing..rested…trekked back. Took us out in the country some. I can’t tell you friendly the Haitians are. So many smiles. When they see the “Blancs”, it’s a phenomenon for them. You’re like a rockstar! If you stop walking, you’ll have a crowd of fascinated locals around you in no time asking your name and where you are from. One of our ladies spoke better French so we were able to converse some. Back to base camp. Nap. Pilates and..woohoo…some knitting. Light breeze and slightly less humidity always welcome. Today was pigout day. New arrivals brought a hoard of cookies and candy. Lunch = Oreos + small Snickers bar…OK I threw in some trail mix for at least a little protein. Dinner at a place called Masaje, the only place that serves American junk food and always mobbed, was chicken sandwich, French fries, ice cream, beer. Oink! Photos: Art Shack…loved this. Found on our walk, Worst damage I have seen.


Forgot to mention the photo is some cute kids…kite runners…who I met on the way to the hospital. 1 can + found string + found piece of plastic = kite! Too cute.

Day 21

Another good day as a hospital runner. I conducted an orientation for about 8 new runners. After that kept busy finishing mapping out the central supply area for future crews. Doctors were scrambling today when a burn victim came in at the end of the day. He had been hit by a motorcycle which pushed him into a street vendor that spilled a vat of hot beans down his side. We proved that our supply system worked when we could easily find some burn dressings that were needed pronto. Existing staff were actually phoning the incoming new team of doctors who were on the way from Port Au Prince to confer on how to treat the burn victim. Moved my tent onto cinder blocks because it’s in a puddle prone area and it had rained one night this week. Much better. I paid the Haitian volunteers in the next tent a little beer money to help me. Many newcomers today who brought goodies of candy and tools…and low and behold our first rebar cutter! Wow…rubble teams will be fighting for that vs. the hack saws they use. We’re supposed to be up to 103 volunteers by mid-week. That’s our saturation point. The base is getting crowded and I don’t think it will be comfortable with much more than that. Off to Joe’s bar behind us for a brew.

Day 20

Today I signed up to help organize our tool shed. We’re getting more tools and wheelbarrows in and they need to be better organized. Unfortunately, we had no generator for electricity because our gas mad didn’t get here until the afternoon. This meant the shelves everything was to be stored/organized on couldn’t be completed. We spent the morning reorganizing and cleaning another supply area on base. The tool shed was completed later while I worked on other base cleanup. Funny thing about a commune…SOMEBODY has to pick up the ball to do certain things or they pile up and get ignored. ☺ So I went out back to our World Food Programme tents to see all the activity going on. CHF, a Canadian company, is bringing lots of money for MANY Transitional shelters. All Hands will help assemble them on lots we’ve cleared and other places as well, I suspect. It’s meant to be a 1st step for families where they can add corrugated materials or perhaps a cement filler to the outside walls to make it their permanent home. On another note, 11 people leaving tomorrow…that’s a lot. All I can say is thank God for Facebook. I can’t even count how many people have become instant friends only to leave a short time later. Part of doing disaster work like this. You don’t even know their last names! Photos: CHF Transitional Shelter prototype, Locals oogle an almost complete T-shelter, Work force is busy pre-fabing the t-shelters under one of our massive tents.

Day 19

Finished all the Central Supply move today. Just have to finish a map of how to find things in about 150’ of storage space. Ready to move on to something new. It takes several days after the doctors come in on Saturday to get a rhythm going with them and then they’re gone! But we’re getting better at training THEM about the available resources. We now have all the controlled substances under control, inventoried and under lock and key as they should be. We were able to grab some of the doctors at the end of the day to help us sort through some stuff we couldn’t identify. We got some unusual shipments of salt, baking soda, and sugar that I’m sure can be used to cure certain ailments. The sugar went next to the coffee machine! The baking soda and salt to the pharmacy. We actually got in a used prescription for the record books…it expired in 1972! So I tried something a little different today. On the walk to work, I took a video as I walked to give you a feeling of what it’s like walking the streets here in the early a.m. I just tried to post it but was afraid it would eat up too much of our band width so I’ll post it as soon as I get home. At the evening meeting they revealed some statistics…namely that 49 homesites were cleared of rubble from Feb. 15 to date by All Hands and that it was the equivalent to 350 tons of rubble. Awesome!

Day 18

Started moving all the shelving in the hospital’s Central Supply today. Got about 50% done. Finish tomorrow hopefully. Awesome team. We were worried about security because things walk and we managed to barricade the 75’L x 6’W corridor where all these supplies are going. Still missing some keys to doors but we’re working on it. Trying to find a locksmith in Leogane is interesting. We heard there is one, but you have to ask this person to ask that person to ask another person if they know where he lives….and it’s all done in Haitian time which means….whenever! We’ll see. During the lunch break we went to the market. You would all cringe and the Food and Drug Administration would shut it down in a second. Flies crawling over everything…yuck. I don’t buy anything but fruit and veggies with skins that peel or come off. I got carrots, grapefruit, bananas, and oranges that should last me about a week….oh and some popcorn of all things. You can get sodas here that are moderately cold and there is no such thing as a diet anything. The things we are health conscious about in the US don’t exist here. Case in point…I heard one Dr. at the hospital trying to tell a patient (who was having anxiety problems) not to drink things with caffeine in them, and another Dr. talking to a patient about rebound headache (which you get from taking too much of the same meds or, in this guys case…drinking to much of a Red Bull type drink). It’s just not part of their lifestyle. Last night was almost unbearable. I don’t know much about weather forecasting stuff but I know that when the dew point gets high, your level of discomfort increases. The dew point is about 80% and I was literally soaking wet all night. I’d sleep naked but keep at least a tee shirt on in case there is a tremor and I have to run from my tent. I’m thinking the threat of tremors has decreased very significantly and have been lucky not to experience one yet. Photos: Central Supply shelves in their first home, Central Supply shelves in their LAST home, Meat at the market.

Day 17

After yesterday, we split the hospital team into 3. I am the team leader for the Central Supply area. That means getting the rest of the inventory sorted and onto our newly built shelves. The Central Supply room is located in what was/is a nursing school. Today, the Dean came in and told us the shelves were not in the right place! OMG…talk about miscommunication! It wasn’t All Hands fault but somewhere between the Dean and the folks running the hospital. To let you know how awesome and flexible the All Hands volunteers are…they really just took a deep breath and immediately began to systematically plan how to get everything off the shelves and moved to the new location. Between that and doing a bit more stocking, it might take 2 days. Good news about this work is that it’s in a building in the shade. Bad news is that we never sit. If you remember I hurt my coccyx a few weeks ago and it flares up during days when I stand a lot. I laid down during lunch and will hit the sack early tonight. On another note, when I put up my tent, I thought I’d be smart and lay some big pieces of cardboard under it for a bit of comfort. Ha! It rained all night one night last week…all is dry except for the cardboard under my tent. It smells like a combination of pond scum and wet Haitian street after a rain…DISGUSTING. So I bid you adieu and am going to go remove it. Ta ta for now…

Day 16

Back to the hospital today. Holy cow…it was mobbed….almost literally. I don’t know what it is about Monday’s but the place was jammed. People started arguing in several places about their places on line. As I stated previously about the water bucket debacle at the local water fountain, they are used to pushing their way to the front. It’s usually not a problem. Today we HODR people made an escape plan, if you will, to leave if it got out of control. We never needed it, thankfully. We got enough translators to get everyone into suitable lines and they did a phenomenal job. The are several other problems. We are short staffed as far as Doctors this week. We have many Dr. residents and surgeons but no pharmacists, gyn/ob, or pediatrician or other necessary positions. We have a physical therapist doing wound care…things like that. They also expect to have tools and supplies at the ready like they might in a US hospital. Well, they don’t get that here and they need to get it themselves. Lastly, they are trying to doctor like they would in the US with the same level of care and available resources. Last week’s crew was good at making the best decisions possible under the circumstances and sending patients along. This crew seems to have not reached that point and are trying to ethically find ways to treat patients like the US. Truth be told, the woman we saw that may have suspected breast cancer will in all likelihood die if it spreads. There are just not the resources to take care or pay for long-term illnesses that would be easily solvable in the US. Such is the state of Haitian health care….doing the best we can with what we have. All Hands volunteers have brought the whole thing up to the powers that be on the medical side and they will discuss at their staff meeting tonight. On another note….it was FREAKIN’ HOT today! We have dubbed the sun The Evil Day Ball! (The moon becomes the Benevolent Night Ball ). Your clothes stick to you all day with the humidity. My sheet and jammies are always damp. You literally have the moments that you are doing your bucket shower plus about 5 minutes after to enjoy being comfortable. Other than that, sweat starts oozing from your pores and life goes on. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it but I push it to the back of my mind so I don’t dwell on it. I will say this once…I CAN’T WAIT to be in air conditioning with dry skin and clothes, have an ice cream, or have a drink with ice in it. Done…stuffing the thought to the back of my head again. ☺

Day 15

And on the 15th day she rested…well sort of. I orchestrated the hire of a tap tap (taxi) for the day and a translator for a trip to the beach and the mountains. Our translator, Joseph (who escorted us last week as well), who lives in a local camp didn’t show which was a pain because the tap tap driver speaks mostly Creole. Joseph is going to get an earful from me about responsibility when I find him again. I am also working on getting him some work with All Hands which may not happen if he can’t show up for work! Anyway, went to Jacksonville Beach for a few hours then up into the mountains. Haiti, by the way, means “mountains beyond mountains”. I never knew about the mountains and it took me by surprise when we landed in Port au Prince. They’re about 9000’ high. Our driver knew just where to take us for a short hike and some phenomenal vistas. As we hiked up we came upon a camp whose people were very friendly (and probably a bit shocked to see “blancs”). Funny thing….after they greeted us and we took many photos, they presented us with a problem they had. They had received a latrine (which is basically 2 stalls made of wooden supports with tarps around it) and it kept blowing over. I don’t know why whatever NGO who gave it to them didn’t install it properly. The latrine was placed over a bed of rocks with no way to tie it down and obviously not in cement. (Mind you, it’s just for peeing. ☺ For the other end you go into the woods. ☹) What confounds me is that as resourceful as they are with using string and wooden sticks, etc., they hadn’t come up with a way themselves to solve this problem As soon as they saw the blancs they thought we could do it. So I guess what I’m asking myself is…did they just not have the skills to come up with a plan to fix this or do they think blancs just know and, therefore, will do things for them? I have no answer. We weren’t able to help without some tools and rope so there was nothing we could do. After that, back to base camp for a nap and some pilates. 2 weeks down, 2 weeks to go. Woo hoo. That’s neither a positive or a negative woo hoo because in the end it will be a bittersweet departure. Photos: How do you fix this latrine?, Mountain vista. Many more photos posted to my Flickr photostream at:http://www.flickr.com/photos/karigang/

Day 14

Another day at the hospital compound. In the morning, I was actually at the hospital…meeting the new staff and showing them around. The Drs and nurses change every Saturday so this week, probably our 2nd doing this, we can really see how ALl Hands is bridging the gap between the constantly changing staff and providing continuity for what they are doing. I worked in the hospital supply room stocking the new supplies every new group brings on Saturdays and giving a few tours to new staff. Other random thoughts…All Hands received it’s 100th volunteer here this week already (since their Feb. 15 start date). There will be 700 over the committed 6 months (August) of this project with no more than 100 physically here at a time. There were 3000 applications for these spots! OK…you may not believe this, but, most Haitian people here have cell phones! I believe they are the pay as you go phones. I’ve also seen DVD’s for sale and some with portable DVD players. Don’t know how they keep them charged with no electric but maybe there was SOME electric each day before the quake. Yesterday we had some water pump problems so we had to take our buckets out to the street where there is a community water pump. We proper Americans all stood in line while the locals all just walked up to the front and put their water vessels underneath the fountains. Hmmm.. a cultural thing perhaps? What was going on? We finally each wedged our way in there and I asked a Haitian volunteer what was up? It’s just what they do here. There’s no fighting or hard feelings, you just walk up and wedge your way in and get your water. In America it would start a fist fight! I see and talk to the people here every day. I’ve seen some pretty incredible health situations come into the hospital. No one whines or complains. For them it just is. Through it all they seem so resilient, patient and accepting. They can “make-do” like no other. When you see a kid with a piece of string wrapped around a can and on a windy day, he connects the string to a used piece of plastic he may have found in the street and calls it a kite…it just makes me think…I’d have gone to Toys R Us and spent $15 for something that would have ended up in a garbage dump. There are many lessons to be learned here in overindulgence, resourcefulness, sustainability and God know what else. OMG…someone just offered me a Girl Scout Samoa…my fav. Sugar orgy! I just don’t get that here!

Day 13

So last night we were told we had exceeded our bandwidth for internet…whatever that means. We have always been told about not downloading too much. Turns out someone had tried to download a bunch of Grey’s Anatomy. Tsk, tsk. No one could get on. Spent another day at the hospital clinic today. HODR finished some awesome shelving for a storeroom that was stacked with tons on medical contributions and supplies. It’s still not done but close. I also spent part of the day doing inventory on controlled substances. I don’t know how they do in the US but there I stood with cases of morphine, oxydodone, and the stuff that helped kill Michael Jackson, Propoven. What the heck? It was a bit insane and surreal to me. We also had donations of USED prescriptions! In other words, prescription bottles with people’s names on them that had unused portions. If it were up to me, I’d say throw them all out. How on earth do we know that the pills in these bottles are what the label says? So there I was counting pills like a pharmacist to put them in inventory. I also helped a lot of people get from one part of the clinic to another or to a hospital. You know when the doctors and xray techs all whip out their cameras there is an interesting case going on. Today’s was a man whose wrist looked like a balloon was implanted in it. Xray revealed that he was missing about a 3” section of his bone. Doc said it was either TB eating away at it or some kind of tumor. Meant to follow up but got to busy. I had a nice chat with the founder of HODR, David Campbell, at lunch today. He’s at base camp for a week before going to finish off their Indonesia project. We chatted about the differences between Red Cross and HODR, two similar but very different organizations, both of whom I like for different reasons. Photos: Girl power in the hospital stock room, What am I doing with these drugs?!

Day 12

Better today. Stayed in and did some office work. Didn’t eat much but will get to it when my stomach says so. I laid in my tent and have never enjoyed listening to my iPod more than I do here. Maybe it’s just comfort and familiarity. So a bit about yesterday’s work (that would be before the afternoon stomach upset)…I worked out back of the base camp where the 2 huge 30 meter X 100 meter tents are. We had to dig drainage ditches around them in preparation for the upcoming rains (which are the torrential/flash flooding type). These tents were given to All Hands by the World Food Organization who said they’d give us more if we could justify need. Well, guess what? All Hands has already worked with so many NGO’s that both tents are committed in entirety for space…to the Canadian Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and others. They’ll be sending us more and we’ll use rubble as the very bottom of the base for them (yay!). We haven’t been able to build a secure fence around them yet, so there are armed guards patrolling all day and night. I love the way All Hands works along side other NGO’s. It’s really impressive. So one of the NGO’s that has people staying with us is CordAid. They’re from Holland. I spent a long time talking to one of the architects they sent (and 30M Euro!) to build 10K transitional shelters. Their shelters are so substantial that the folks here will consider them permanent. Anyway, in the photos today is one they did for All Hands in Indonesia. They are both hurricane and earthquake resistant. Lastly, I probably had my most poignant moment yesterday….can’t imagine another like it and it brought me to tears…A bunch of kids were helping us dig the ditches and I was working along side one who was about 10. He surprised me by singing “We are the World” so I automatically joined him. He looked at me with such a radiant smile as we sang together. I thought, yes, this is what it’s about…me and him and at that moment, working side by side, we were the world. Just awesome. Photos: World Food Bank Tents and we dug drainage around, my helpers and We Are The World Singers.

Day 11

Ugh. My stomach’s been queasy for a few days and today was the day for the big “D”. Probably too much information and call it what you will…diarrhea/dysentery. I put myself down for sick bay tomorrow. Will check in again when I feel better. Wouldn’t you know this corresponds with a water outage in the ladies room cuz the cistern pump is broken! I have to lug water from across the courtyard to flush the stinkin’ toilet (pun intended!). 😦

Day 10

Fun day today working as a runner in the hospital clinic. A runner basically finds things at different locations throughout the clinic, supply rooms, and St. Croix Field hospital. It’s great to meet all the locals and staff. One man told me how thankful he was that the Americans came to help his country. Another woman was just radiant and gave me the biggest hug for helping get her daughter to Xray and back. The Dr.’s would say…come here and look at this…this is something you’d never see in the US. At the time it was a woman’s leg that moved back and forth in between her knee and ankle. Another older woman came in on a stretcher with her son. She left with a recast leg and a walker and was so happy to be able to walk on her own. So I talked to a few Dr’s about the state of things. One had been here in 1982. He said he can see that people are definitely better nourished and he sees old people…something he didn’t see much in 1982. Another answered my quiz as to why the Haitians have such beautiful teeth…they do….a whole mouthful of beautiful, perfectly lined up teeth…it’s really something. He said that’s because the don’t eat sugar (like we Americans!) plus they are all inbred, not like the US where different nationalities mate together converging whatever genetic idiosyncrasies they have. One of the nurses and I cooked up something at the end of the day where we sent one of the translators into the camp beyond the clinic gates to find 6 children who would pick up all the trash in the clinic and earn $1 US each. The nurse wanted them to put on gloves and watching them told me they had never put on a glove before! They did a fantastic job. It will undoubtedly look the same tomorrow because there is NO trash system in this country. It is all dropped on the ground. I think I’ll think of a way to have garbage receptacles at least in the clinic…gotta put on my thinking cap on. Not sure where you can even buy one. Photos: If there’s a baby around, I’ll find it!, Clinic shot BEFORE the trash got picked up.

OMG, my body is screaming today. Took what I thought was an easier job today…cleaning. Mel (my partner) and I were well suited. We were supposed to spend ½ day and we spent the whole day doing things these youngins’ never do….like the underside of a toilet seat or the wastebaskets. Oh yeah…no flushing TP here. So all these people with the runs and dysentery…well you get it…the underside of the seat and the second deadliest germ place…the TP basket which, we could tell no one was cleaning. Gross. We cleaned the 4 garbage cans inside and out. Tons of food scraps go into these things. Double gross. Flies were everywhere. We were the bleach queens. At least 1 person a day is in sick bay with dysentery and it is SO easy to see how. Onward..more random thoughts…the food served is pretty much the same almost every day. Breakfast…oatmeal or corn flakes with powered milk, lunch…rice and beans with carrots, potatoes and a ton of onions (yuck!) in a spicey sauce, and fried chicken, dinner…sometimes looks like lunch or spaghetti with ketchup, mayonnaise and hot sauce on it (double yuck!). Meat served with this could be chicken, goat, or something that tastes like a hot dog. Goat is off my list…it tastes like pork but takes forever to chew. I LOOOOOVE my bucket shower every night. Usually with several minutes you start to sweat again so I try to hold on to the mental refreshment! It rained last night for a short time. The tent was stifling. The rain fly has a few seams I need to seal with my sealer. I drink about 80 ozs. of water a day! I crave it. I also pee maybe twice, 3x tops. Haha…maybe too much info but just thought I’d share! We sweat it all off. Photos: Venus and helper prepare Egg Sandwiches for dinner in the kitchen, the sink and drying area, the storage and serving area.

And on the 7th day they rested. So Sunday is our day off. Sleeping in is nearly impossible in a communal environment…plus the dogs and roosters so I just rested in…until 6:45! 🙂 Meals are on our own. I had purchased some fruit and had that. I joined one volunteer, JT from Seattle, who had befriended a neat guy named Joseph in the camp outside base camp. Joseph knows English well and acted as our tour guide. He walked us around town and (no snickers now), I went to a Catholic Church service for a while, then what appeared to be one more evangelical. Everyone was in their Sunday best which was quite impressive. Dressy, clean as could be and looking ironed as well. Joseph then rounded up a guy with a car (hard to find) who drove us around Leogane and to the beach for a while. A “taxi” is a motorcycle here so finding someone who would actually drive us took a while. He got $50 for 4 hours plus gas. The beach is not as you would picture it. As is everywhere else, there was trash everywhere. Yeah, and a goat hanging out. You can find a goat, dog, rooster, chicken or cow hanging around just about anywhere here. This particular beach look resort-ish (for Haiti) and we met a Frenchman who was here with a Malaria study group who have been here for 14 years. They work in Port Au Prince that is close to a 2 hr. drive for the 28 miles. PAP has such horrible crime stories that this French Medical group chooses to commute to their awesome compound on the beach. Later, we went to a “nice” restaurant and back to our base camp. Took a nap (yay), did some pilates, listened to my iPod. About to watch a basketball match of All Hands vs. some Italian NGO guys (which turned out to be 1 Italian an a bunch of Haitian ringers…what the heck!). Photos: Goat on the beach; Me, Joseph, JT at the Haitian “resort”

Fun day today. During the morning, continued work on organizing the overflow of medical supplies at the hospital. OMG…the staff has been ecstatic that they can ask us for something specific and we can actually find it. It’s like sticking your head in a foreign language book you’ve NEVER seen before and saying…Here…read this. Who knew there were so many types of needles or syringes. I’m working along side a young EMT who’s got some great organizational skills. Good team. The afternoon was a blast playing with the kids. We do a kids play time every Saturday afternoon. We did things like Duck, Duck, Goose, Jump Rope, Drawing, Soccer, Bubbles, Haitian dance games. LOTS of fun to see the joy on their faces. How do we gather them? We don’t. We had a team of about 12, walked through their camp, and they just follow us. The kids yell “Blanc” (Whites) and hold their hand across their mouths like they’re going to get it washed out with soap. Funniest thing. We played on a field with tons of cow dung…and of course the cow! We joined hands with the kids, formed a big circle and sat. Geez, hard to find a dungless (is that a word) spot! Sad to say I couldn’t wait to get back and wash my hands plus I bleached my sandals. Gross stuff in the streets here AND you should see these kids hands. The garbage is just dumped…anywhere! Occasionally someone lights a match to them and burns stuff. One week down and no illnesses, major bug bites, etc. Volunteers are getting weird clusters of, we think, bites of some kind. Fingers crossed it will stay away from me. Photos (and I may have this order wrong): Me having some beach ball fun with the kids, My final tent resting place, look at this kids guitar! Made from an empty oil bottle. Yes it has strings and he was playing it. So sad. 😦 FYI…I have updated my Flickr photostream with many more photos than you see here. Check it out….

Day 6

Oxfam shelters are complete. Yahoo. About 1200 of them. Then transferred over to L’Hospitale St. Croix…one of the field hospitals. It’s located around the corner from us and is on the compound of the only nursing school around plus another building where Notre Dame has a study going on about lymphatic filariasis which is a parasitic disease caused by microscopic worms spread from person to person by mosquitoes. Not to worry folks…You need to get many bites over an extended period of time. I’ve had 1 mosquito bite the entire time I’ve been here. Anyway, the hospital is organizing their teams of doctors and nurses in the Notre Dame “frat” house. I did an orientation to become a “runner”. That could mean anything. Since the buildings and supply rooms are separated it might mean running from the hospital to the supply rooms looking for supplies (that are barely organized). It’s been quite a deal to get rotating teams to provide continuity. Once one team gets to know where things are…it’s time for them to leave a week later. This is a role that will evolve for HODR and something I’ll do a few days a week along with whatever else. They are looking to provide a bridge of service so the hospital staff can count on someone to know where things are. FINALLY, went to Joe’s bar behind us for a Presidente (Domincan) beer. He blasts (and I mean blasts!) music from about 6:30-10pm when the electric is cut off. A beer is 60 Gordes or $1.20! I can get a soda from a street vendor for 25 Gordes or 50 cents. An egg sandwich costs the same. Oh, and the roof tent didn’t work out. OMG…you could hear the dogs howling even worse! Plus, even though I closed ALL the zippers and the rain fly, there was a coating of dust on everything…something I didn’t experience in the bunk. Move number 3 (and hopefully final move) was to an elevated small tent city in the center courtyard of base camp. More pics later of that later. Photos: SUpply room at the hospital (notice shelves are cots), only xray machine at the hospital, this is the way Venus washes the clothes (I’ve actually been doing my own).

Day 5

Continued work on the Oxfam shelters today. All the tarps are cut but we ran out of rope. More coming tomorrow. There are 2 identical concrete sides to base camp. Concrete floors, columns, roof. One side contains the bunk beds (they’re in one of the photos I posted a few days ago) and the other didn’t pass the structural engineers inspection to be able to sleep under. Supplies are stored there. They started replacing the column supports today by hand chiseling out the old ones. One corner ot that side actually fell slightly during the earthquake and today we could see that several other columns were giving way to the tonnage of cement above it. You should have seen the workers. OSHA and any American union would cringe at the working conditions. First, the lilting side of the building (near the fallen corner) wasn’t supported in any way by a jack of any kind. The workers do not wear hard hats, masks (much dust), work gloves, steel toed boots…nada. It was a bit scary and I won’t be going under that side of the building any time soon. Good news…the new support columns should be completed in a few days making that side safer again. More good news…I have a new home…my tent on the roof of the building (the safe side of the building….don’t worry folks). We have our own camp….about 6 of us…trying to get some more air. The views are incredible. More pics hopefully tomorrow. I’m listening to an allelujah chorus as I write. They are conducting a religious service of some kind in the camps right outside out base. Very pretty to listen to. By the way, thanks for your emails. My sore butt and wrist were OK today and it got a bit better as the day went on and I stretched some. I’ll lay low again tomorrow just to be sure.

Day 4

Continued with the Oxfam transitional shelters today. Our team has probably finished ¾ of them or about 900. Had every intention of going back to a rubble job tomorrow but, silly me, after all the talk of job safety, tripped over a 1 x 12 that was standing up and fell right on my coccyx, back, and left wrist on a cement floor. Other than heavy bruising, shouldn’t be a problem. But no rubble for a few more days. Humidity increased markedly today. It was really weighing everyone down. Most of the volunteers are my kids ages with a few oldies like me. They are staying for 2, 3, 4 months! So when asking what their story is and how they can manage their lives…what do they do for income…I’ve found many live sort of itinerant lives. They are FAR more traveled than me. Some work enough to support volunteering for All Hands for years. All they have to do is get themselves to the destination and you’re feed and really doesn’t take much money to live. It’s remarkable how frugal they are. Some are rubble rousers..they love the challenge of the heavy rubble removal and getting down and dirty. They are also the sledgehammer hounds! Every team needs people like them to survive.

Today’s job was in coordination with Oxfam (a large NGO that works around the world with impoverished nation’s) Huge rolls of tarp and rope needed to be cut to size and folded/rolled. The combination makes a completed transitional shelter. This is probably a 3 day project which I’ll most likely do tomorrow. I’ve been sleeping OK. Lights go out promptly at 10 and it becomes very quiet pretty fast. It depends on the night whether it stays that way. Dogs are the biggest problem. They make so much noise barking and howling. I don’t think anyone actually owns a dog. They all roam the street mangy looking and starving. The roosters start around 3:30 a.m. I knew to bring earplugs and it helps a good bit. Needless to say, it’s not hard to be up by 6 or 6:30. We leave at 7:30 for the worksite of the day. We return to base camp at 11:30 until 1:30. The rest is sorely needed with so much physical work. We return from the day’s work at 4:30. So it’s 7 actual hours of work but, dang, you hurt pretty good by day’s end. Today was unfortunately full of some injuries that were a bit disconcerting so much talk at the nightly meeting after safety on the job. One woman had a piece of rebar pierce her leg and is now on crutches (her first day here!), another sliced his hand with a knife and got a few stitches, a third jammed his hand playing basketball (OK so NOT work related) and is evacuating because he needs surgery in a short amount of time. I also jammed rebar into my hand and took a chunk of skin off it but it’s nothing major. Lastly, my ass hurts! LOL. I have never done so much bending over and stretching and it hurts to sit. NOT complaining! Photos: tarps being rolled out and folded, rope and tarps being cut and folded, Before pile of tarp material and after pile of rolled/roped shelters. P.S. These were taken at base camp where I live. See the tents and bunk beds?

Day 2

My first job: rubble removal. It was the 2nd day for this home. It will take 1 more day to complete. OMG…an unbelievable amount of physical work but gratifying. We are like the doctors in the field hospitals trying to do surgery without anesthesia. We cut rebar with a hack saw. Handles on sledge hammers break regularly. The wheelbarrows break from the weight of the load. The best workers….the children! They were amazing…many working in bare feet. Dirty is the norm for them. We gave them plenty of water and I shared my stash of Dum Dum lollipops. They loved them. The volunteers are, for the most part, work horses. I knew they would be. You don’t sign up for assignments like this and sit back. Every night there is a meeting after dinner. Team leaders share progress on the jobs. There were 2 rubble teams, a team putting up a fence at a hospital, and another doing pharmaceutical inventory at the same hospital. There’s also one long term volunteer “assessing”. He goes out about town and looks for new work. The nightly meeting also results in the job board where everyone signs up for the next day’s work. We found the bank today and finally got some Haitian Gordes. Good…money for snacks and fruit tomorrow. So far so good! Photos: Me and new buds Jeff and Dudley, A huge rebar cross being removed from our job site, Our taxi or “tap tap” takes all 12 of us and supplies. Once we’re all loaded someone tap taps the roof to signal a go to the driver.

Day 1

Wow. I made it. What a chaotic place. Arrived around noon and was bused to the “baggage claim”…a free for all mob trying to see the bags coming into the building from a small opening. It probably took me an hour to find my bag then locate my shuttle driver. Another 1 ½ hours to drive the 18 mi. drive to Leogane. He didn’t take the coastal road but the interior roads. Oiy vay. Everyone is grabbing your bag, trying to sell you something, little kids begging for money… in your face. There are hoards of people roaming the filthy streets…trash and rubble everywhere. They drive on both sides of the road (although the right side is correct)…whatever suits them. The roads have been cleared of rubble that now mounds the road sides. In deference to the people here, I didn’t take any photos of them today. The folks outside our camp are very friendly. The kids are cracking me up already. They stand outside our gate yelling “hey you”. It’s the only English they know. I set up my bunk. Cozy as can be. ☺ I’m off to my first bucket shower. Literally, you fill ½ a 5 gallon bucket, wash yourself with a washcloth and soap, shampoo your hair and dump the rest of the bucket over your head for the “shower”. Joe, our landlord, has opened his bar right behind our complex with…ICE COLD Heineken! ☺ I’m sure to pay a visit sooner or later. So far so good! Photos: Rooftop view of our neighbor camp, my Home Sweet Home (I even have shelving…see it?).

Random thoughts

You can’t imagine how excited I was when my first bag “weigh in” resulted in a 45lb and 40 lb bag! I get 2-50 lbs for free. 15 more lbs…wow. Another trip to the grocery store for more chocolate and maple syrup for the volunteers got me close to 50 lbs each. I’m hanging in Miami overnight tonight. This is a frequent flyer trip and I couldn’t do it any other way without getting to Haiti close to dark. There’s a 6pm curfew and no way was I going to trek to Leogane in the dark. I’ll land at Port Au Prince tomorrow around noon. Much better. Oh, and while I’m at it:
Dear American Airlines,
We’re friends right? You see me often enough. After all, I’m a frequent flyer. Please (that’s both a plea and a prayer!) DO NOT lose my luggage for this flight. Where I’m going I can’t replace much if you do. I’m glad we were able to have this chat and reach an understanding.
Your appreciative friend,
I hope that works. I’ll check in again as soon as I can. I’ve heard the WiFi is finicky so postings will be when I can. I’m sitting here in the hotel looking at a “heavenly bed” in my air-conditioned room. Hmmm…hold that thought…I’ll probably need to conjure it up where I’m going.

Diet, thanks for your thoughts and I’m off!

I changed my diet in the last 5 years. Lots of whole grains, fruits and veggies, less sugar (but, dang!, how do those Peanut M&M’s keep finding their way into the pantry??? You can bet I packed some too!). Maybe that will make the transition to Haitian food easier: rice and beans, plantains, limited chicken and goat, spaghetti, and modest vegetables. What? No chips, French fries, soda, cookies or other alien American diet staples? Thank God. Maybe I’ll lose some weight too.

Well, I’m leaving tomorrow for Miami where I’ll be staying overnight before heading to Port Au Prince on Sunday. I just wanted to thank you all for your kind thoughts, phone calls, emails and, in general, keeping in touch. MUCH appreciated. I will hold on to them all in my mind for what one friend calls “strength of spirit”. I like that.

Latest Tweets spell progress!

A quick check on the latest tweets show significant progress by ALl Hands in 2 ½ weeks. I’m duly impressed with how they extend their hand to whatever the needs of the community are as is evident in these Tweets:
• Visited GTZ prototype shelter builds. Modular units that we could potentially adapt into transitional classrooms in local schools.
• Visited 2 field hospitals today; will help build out their infrastructure and possibly help with some administrative duties
• 23 rubble jobs completed! Discussion at tonight’s meeting about stories behind the rubble, cleaning up as a part of healing process
• Only roles on jobsite aren’t just w/ tools. Engaging community, letting children get involved but keeping them safe important too.


I’m probably in the best physical shape I’ve ever been in. Retirement has it’s benefits! Of course, at MY age it doesn’t take much to aggravate some body part or another but advancing age has it’s limits and I’m trying to work within them. (My mind doesn’t always cooperate and, believe me, the body says so the next day!). I’ve been doing Pilates for 2 ½ years. Awesome for rock hard abs. It really does work all your muscle groups and I have pecs to prove it with NO fancy equipment used. This winter, I bought a road bike…beats my beach cruiser!…and was working out in a speed shop. You bring your bike to the shop, load it on a computrainer that reads your average MPH, RPM, calories spent, etc. You work on drills and endurance in hopes of getting out to ride in March. Usually up to 30 mile stints for me. That said, I’ll report back as to how well this worked in preparation for removing rubble!

My 3 Bibles

I’ve got 3 documents that I’m calling my Haiti Bibles. One is from the State Dept. It’s essentially a travel warning with all the Embassy information I hope I’ll never need. The second is from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and is a Guidance for Relief Workers. It’s got good info on diseases in Haiti, items to bring (health related), how to eat and drink safely, how to handle exposure to human remains and info on stress management and psychological/emotional difficulties. It says that some common normal reactions to a disaster are:
• Profound sadness, grief, and anger
• Not wanting to leave the scene until the work is finished.
• Trying to override stress and fatigue with dedication and commitment.
• Denying the need for rest and recovery time.
Since this is not my first disaster I can say that I probably went through the last 3 bullets pretty fast on my first national disaster (Hurricane Katrina). Yes, there are a lot of mental churnings about the first bullet but I’m pretty pragmatic about handling emotions. I can’t do my job right if I succumb to….whatever the emotion of the day is. I met a woman once who applied to volunteer with the Red Cross during Katrina. She asked if she could just fill her suitcase with teddy bears and very little clothes. She didn’t make the cut. Her heart was in the right place but a red flag goes up when you let your emotions drive your behavior. It’s hard to separate sometimes but you have to move on. Kind of like a Doctor, huh? The last document is one from Johns Hopkins Travel Clinic that contains Health and Travel Highlights. Probably the most comprehensive about various diseases and symptoms, how to prevent them, treatment, etc. More info on safe food and water, etc. I’ve already been told to expect traveler’s diarrhea at least once while I’m there. Can’t wait. BUT I have my meds and will do my best NOT to get it. For now, a binder clip is going over all 3…one which I hope I never have to remove!

Donations needed at All Hands Volunteers

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask a few times during my stay for your donations. Organizations like All Hands Volunteers just can’t do it without you (or me, I guess!). So I’m asking again. Click here…to donate then click through to Haiti Earthquake. That money will go DIRECTLY towards: providing the volunteers at Project Leogane, Haiti (where I’ll be staying) with a tolerable living situation including some electricity (from 6-10pm), a new well for water, bunk beds, and food. (Note that volunteers are responsible for getting themselves to Haiti and for any special personal equipment needs.) It will also provide us with tools for rubble removal, whatever we need to build transitional shelters for the Haitians, etc. Rainy season will be upon us next month and we need to move FAST. Please…DONATE NOW…ANY amount. Merci Beaucoup!

A few lasting Key West Images

Can’t help but share a few images of our last full day on Key West. Top: Moonlit Wave by Ryan Gang. Pretty incredible, right?Center: Our sailboat (no we don’t have a clue how to Captain the thing…just enjoy the views). Check out the color of the water. Call me a color fanatic. I love working with it. Bottom: Me freezing my tail off on a 1/2 day sail. Suffice it to say, I made it into the kayak with a wetsuit but skipped the snorkeling.

Am I nuts?

Thanks for not asking me that! Would you believe I found the initial email from All Hands in my spam? About to delete it, I thought I’d take a look. Instantly intrigued, I read all the details of the assignment, took a deep breath and thought about it overnight. Did some research into who All Hands was, how they work, and what the risks were in going to Haiti. And, you betcha, I lost much sleep thinking about it all…for about a week! My mind was in a constant frenzy of thoughts and what-ifs. So here I am. The blog has worked wonders already to sort things out mentally. I just started typing in Word and it has worked to continue that way to organize my thoughts. Risks of this assignment? Many. I’ve grinded them all through my head and am now OVER IT! Rest assured I have covered all my bases including evacuation if need be. Apprehensions? Sure. But at this point I’m just ready to get on the plane, meet some new people and be of service. So….am I nuts? Naaah. ☺

Tweet, tweet, tweet…

The Tweet update: 1. All Hands has accepted volunteers from Haiti, USA, Slovakia, Canada, England, and Ireland. Awesome! Can’t wait to meet everyone. 2. Aftershocks…well, truth be told, there have been close to 60 with several stronger ones in the last few weeks in and around Leogane. My thoughts? Everything is already demolished. Heads up, breathe deep, swallow hard, and in a minute it will be over. I can’t begin to imagine the Post Traumatic Stress this has caused the Haitians. 3. All Hands Assessment teams have learned that of those Haitians camped in front of our Base Camp, ½ the people rent and ½ own, their dwellings. Land can only be cleared for owners. What to do about the renters?? 4. Volunteers are happy to have found the “Egg Sandwich Lady”. Yum, protein. I’ll take it! 5. An All Hands volunteer who originated an earthquake safety training for kids in Indonesia, is now working on a Haiti program. 6.Screws, apparently, are very hard to find in Leogane. A day of searching yielded one small cupful. This is now holding up infrastructure projects. Sheesh. 7. This one directly from Twitter: “Got our large tents cleared through customs. Used a broker, HIGHLY recommended. Only paying a fee for loading the boxes.” I’m thinking they charge whatever they want, whenever they want in these situations. Corruption continues unless you put your foot down and they buy into it. Sad way of things in Haiti. Where is their gov’t? Oh yeah…they’re part of the corruption scheme. How do you stop something like that?

Mother Earth has a belly ache.

Mother Earth….I love the beautiful things about you. I’ve seen your orchids in Hawaii, your sunflowers in Tuscany, your towering Redwoods in California, your rainforests on St. Kitt’s, your ability to grow vineyards in Austria. Your ability to please the eye and the senses, as witnessed by the warm breezes and swaying palms I’m experiencing in Key West, is remarkable. But I have to wonder what you were thinking by belching out another earthquake in Okinawa a few days ago followed by the one yesterday in Chile…right on the heals of the one in Haiti. You’re wreaking havoc on us humans…killing way too many and leaving umpteen others mentally stressed out. Enough already. If I could, I’d give you some Pepto Bismol the size of Canada. In lieu of that, all I can do is ask you to cut it out. Please.


….and now for a brief respite. We’re leaving today for Key West for the next 5 days. Much has been accomplished in the last few weeks for the Haiti trip. I’ve been to Johns Hopkins for whatever required shots I could get…typhoid, Hepatitis A, prescriptions for malaria and dysentery (traveler’s diarrhea), electrolyte powder (in case of the former!). I’ve registered my trip with the State Dept., purchased Medical and Evacuation insurance. Most packing is done. Many trips to the store have resulted in purchases of tent, sleeping mat, mosquito net, self inflating chair (think stadium cushion with back…for knitting!), clothes line, headlamp, Sawyer’s clothing insect repellent. This is a cool product you spray on your tent, mosquito net, and clothes that lasts 6 weeks even through washings. I’ve got the equivalent of a medicine cabinet plus first aid kit and umpteen other small things like bungee cords, D rings, vitamins and supplements I take, water bottles, tea bags, trail mix, Clif Bars, N95 respirator masks, work gloves, bubbles and beach balls. Whaaat? Bubbles and beach balls?? Yup. I intend to find me some kids to play with. Gotta keep up my pied piper image! Love hanging with the kids. The end game? Leave nearly everything there. No way am I lugging this stuff home. Ideally, I’ll come home with just a back pack and possibly a small carry on.

Haitian Creole

Creole. Dang. At first glance, I was expecting some sort of French derivative. I’ve had 4 years of French in school that may come in handy. But Creole (at least this variety) looks like some sort of African derivative with a French twist. Check this out. “How are you?” Creole: Koman ou ye? French: Comment allez vous? “How much is that?” Creole: Konbyen sa? French: Combien ca? Numbers, 1-10. Creole: Yonn, De, Twa, Kat, Senk, Sis, Set, Uit, Nef, Dis. French: Une, duex, trios, quatre, cing, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix. “United States”. Creole: Etazini. French: Etats Unis. Hmmm…so I’m starting to get it. Things may sound similar but they sure are spelled differently. Maybe my French will come in handy after all. Or maybe not. I just found out Microsoft has worked (this quickly!) with the folks at Bing to come up with a Haitian Creole translator. So I put in “Do you want to play ball? Which translated to “Èske ou vle pou yo jwe boul la?” Whaaat? I’ve obviously got a lot to learn…and sign language will come in plenty handy!

Winter Wonderland —> Paradise. Hmmm….

Seems my life is meant to be a series of contrasts from February to April 2010. Here in Frederick County, MD, we have seen 4-5’ of snow in 10 days times this February. Neighborhoods have one lane where corners are hard to negotiate. Schools have been closed for 7 days. Traffic and parking can be a nightmare with the snow piled EVERYWHERE. There’s another 4-8” coming tonight. Give me a break. Snowmagheddon. In a few days time, I’m leaving for 5 days in Key West. That’s been arranged for a while. What a nice interlude. Gorgeous western sunsets. Feet in the sand. Bicycles for transportation. Cheeseburgers in paradise. Marguaritaville. We get home 4 days before I leave for Haiti. Then I’m off. Near total destruction. Living outdoors for a month with few conveniences. Unforgettable sights and smells. Aftershocks. Quakeagheddon. I’ll come home on April 8 and spring will have sprung. The air will be warmer and the tulips will be ablaze. Familiar faces will be seen again…and NO MORE FREAKIN’ SNOW! ☺ Home Sweet Home. See what I mean?

More Tweets

The latest Tweets: 1. Add earplugs….for roosters, radios stations, and dogs. I heard about the dogs from CNN buddy, Anderson Cooper. Packs roam the streets barking, howling, and fighting with each other. They’re probably starving. Well, I already had the earplugs packed. 2. We now have a housekeeper/cook/launderer named Venus. Wow. Venus was the god of love and beauty. I’m thinking it will be a beautiful thing to have my laundry done! I’m appreciating Venus more than she knows…already. ☺ Oh, and 3. Generator/inverter power of some sort from 6-10pm…and GET THIS…4. WiFi!!!!! Via satellite. Yes, you heard me right. I am beyond ecstatic at this ability to communicate. 5. Bring maple syrup (can’t get it there) , insect spray, hand sanitizer, and HP60 Ink cartridges to share if I can. Life IS good…even in Haiti.

Flexibility and Teamwork

F-L-E-X-I-B-L-E. That’s one of the key traits you need to have on this type of deployment. Things change all the time. The unexpected ALWAYS has potential here. Better be good at coming up with Plan B. Team playing is also important. It’s not really the place for you if you can’t do it. Human nature always plays a part in how the roles of the volunteers shake out. It’s not the place for personal drama (but that happens too). It’s about the fundamentals of getting along as a group. The Red Cross makes that easier because you know what to expect. You choose what area you’d like to gain expertise in. You take classes in what is expected of you in that role as a representative of the Red Cross. There is opportunity for advancement into leadership roles. There are organization charts and hierarchies. You usually know what you’ll be doing before arrival. It works…provided you have the ability to get along with people. With All Hands…not sure what to expect but I’ll do my usual thing…play the casual observer until I can figure out what’s going on. Then start bossing everybody around! Hahaha…just threw that in for everyone who knows me well. Nothing like taking the bull by the horns! Rest assured…I WON’T be doing that unless asked. It’s all about the team. Really.

So what are we actually doing?

Leogane weather? Lows in the 60’s, Highs in 80’s. Humid. Rainy season supposedly starts in April. How sad will that be for all those Haitians in their make shift shelters. Dust? Everywhere. Day and night. We’re to bring masks/bandanas (and expect to be dirty!). What will we be doing? All Hands has met with other local and international NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) and asked what can we do to help you? It was determined that people in Leogane were setting up their shelters in front of their destroyed homes. From what I understand we’ll be helping with rubble removal to clear their fallen homes so they can move their shelters onto that clear space. Latest Tweet on that: 5 homes/spaces cleared in first 4 days. Canadian heavy equipment is helping to take the rubble away. Hand clearing rubble is better when it is suspected there are bodies inside. In time, the effort will then expand to transitional construction, sanitation, and other NGO support activities. Subject to change without notice.

Base Camp is looking good!

I’ve got basic information from All Hands about the deployment but it’s all so fluid every day. I get updates constantly from Twitter. Some are pretty exciting. So, good news…Base Camp has been secured with a perimeter and security. They’ve hired people to dig a 100’ well for water from which there is running water. Cold bucket showers with stalls…yay. They’ve installed 14 shower stalls already! I’ll be appreciating ANY kind of shower after the work and heat of the day. And they’re building some toilets. ☺ Sleep space was supposed to be mainly tent, now they’ve got bunk beds and get this…lockers! Tents are optional with limited space. Shoot. I was looking forward to some tent privacy. I’m still bringing mine in case. Needless to say leave your vanity and modesty at home! Things are looking up at Base Camp!