Wednesday, January 13, 2010

First week in Haiti – birds, cement floors, and earthquakes

My first week with Pastor JeanJean and Kristie Mompremier has been a great cultural immersion. I am practicing Creyole on many people and they have all been willing to spend time to teach me. Louders, my pupil from last year, and I have had 3 English and ecology lessons, one 4 hour bird tour (including a sugar press), and a 2.5 hour market trip. Last year he hardly knew any English. This year he can successfully give bird tours on his own, though the market was a little confusing – we haven’t practiced market phrases yet.

Tuesday morning I went with Mike and JeanJean to 2 houses where concrete floors were being poured. It costs about $300 per house, and improves the standard of living as people no longer have to sleep on dirt floors and the houses can be kept much cleaner (i.e. easier to clean where kids pee, floors can be swept free of pests, etc.). While Mike helped with the floors I taught a lot of kids about birds and how to use binoculars. One little girl kept calling me ‘blan,’ their term for white people.

Tuesday afternoon was my first ecology lesson at one of the UCI* nutrition centers. 40 kids and 20 adults were there. Each kid received an English/Creole birdtract and a bird or insect sticker. They had fun learning the parts of birds in English and Creole. The adults got into a discussion about birds damaging crops. Saul the Haitian ag extension agent pointed out that the birds are forced into the gardens because so many trees are gone. I am equipping each center with a pair of binoculars and a French Birds of Haiti book. I will visit 5 more centers this month.

My 1st week ended with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook Haiti at 4:53pm on Tuesday 12 January 2010 while I was in the house checking email. At first I thought it was the wind picking up and shaking the roof since it was raining, but it didn’t look windy out. Then I thought it must be a plane flying low overhead, but large airplanes don’t fly low here, then I realized the whole house was shaking, and still shaking as I went outside – all this happened in maybe 8 – 10 seconds. A 5.9 aftershock occurred about 10 minutes later. Everyone was outside and excited, but now the news reports are coming in and it sounds bad in Port-au-Prince (PAP). Almost exactly 1 week ago to the hour I was in a 4 story office building buying bird books in PAP. Phone service is down so JeanJean and his brothers can’t contact their family who live in PAP. Last night I felt 4 aftershocks. It felt like someone was in the dark room with me pushing on my bed! Exciting during the day but not so much at night, especially after realizing the devastation in the city. As I finish this blog the morning after the earthquake, JeanJean is sitting in his truck listening to the radio to find out information.

Photos of my trip through in the capital on 5 Jan. 2010, one week before the earthquake:
The presidential palace decorated for Christmas;
Houses on the hillsides of Petionville;
Rivoli, a fancy hotel in Petionville;
Houses in various stages of construction –
they seem to just build on top each other.

Photos from my stay at UCI (above):
Louders my birding guide;
Sugar cane juice being boiled for rum production (the gov’t shut down the processed sugar mills so they can collect the customs fees from imported sugar);
Men mixing cement for new floors;
Kids trying out the binoculars (the then carried water from the river for the cement mixing)

*United Christians International, the Mompremier’s organization LINK

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the update, Debbie. I will update my friends on Facebook - The news from PAP is horrific; have been praying for everyone there.
    Phyllis (Mike's friend)