Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gardens Part II - Irrigated

Saul the agriculture extension agent gave us a tour of his gardens. Huge beautiful fields of cabbages, with tomatoes and peppers along the edges. Even a small patch of rice. Banana trees and breadfruit trees. And a couple of huge trees that survived the deforestation. It was impressive.

Then we went to his garden that has irrigation canals. It was like a botanical garden. Different varieties of bananas. Coffee trees. Cocoa trees! - the orange things in the picture are the cocoa pods. I suggested that Saul open a restaurant overlooking the gardens, and give tours. It’d be a perfect place to relax and enjoy the beauty and food of Haiti.

This final photo shows corn being irrigated, right next to coconut tree. I don’t know if it is as productive as the same sized Kansas corn field, but they also aren’t trying to grow the corn just to feed cows like they do here in the US. That Saul can grow his own rice is a huge deal. The Haitian rice farmers are driven out of business by the importation of American rice (cheaper due to subsidies). Thus

people lose jobs and can’t feed themselves, and the money goes to the US.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hillside gardens

My last Saturday morning in Haiti my guide took me on a hike to the large cave that’s 2.5 miles from UCI, which isn’t that far, but the 730 ft rise in elevation in ½ mile is tough. We had made this arrangement before I got sick that week, and since I had been there last year, I knew what a steep hike it was, so the day of the hike I said I’d like to go to the smaller, closer cave instead. He said yes. Knowing that my guide says yes when he doesn’t always understand, I reiterated – The small cave. He said yes. I reiterated – The cave that is close. He said yes. Well, we ended up going to that far cave which turned into a 5.5 hour hike! The route didn’t seem like the way to the small cave. The stream crossing confirmed that we were indeed going to the farther cave. Oh well – that’s where I originally wanted to go and I was feeling a bit better. Only I didn’t have enough water for that long of a hike and ran out before we were heading back.

The way there seems very long because of the steep climb, it took us about 3 hours. My guide said he can make it in an hour. We were birding along the way, I was taking pictures, and I wasn’t used to this kind of climb. Last year he and his sister did the hike in flip flops. The same bottles of reddish Corona beer were there, along with the cat skull and chicken bones. We heard the bats fluttering around this time, didn’t hear them last year.

The gardens along the way were amazing. Not that they were large and productive, but that anyone could garden on a steep rocky hillside. There were small plots of corn. Gourds, pigeon peas, and banana trees were tucked away everywhere. On rocky terraces (mesiks, see picture) people planted manioc, potatoes, beans. We saw older men and women out there harvesting their vegetables. They must be in super shape! The hut in the photo is a little garden plot.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Use of water quality test kits in Haitian ecology conference

At both ecology conferences I taught about bacteria using the portable microbiology labs that Dr. Bob Metcalf of California State University developed for use in Africa. The kits detect both coliform bacteria that usually occur in the environment and do not cause human health risks, and a type of coliform called E. coli that come from human and livestock kaka (the universal term for poop).  One type of E. coli makes us sick, but even the presence of non-harmful E. coli indicates that our kaka is in the water and probably other things such as cholera and dysentery that makes us sick. Contaminated water needs to be boiled before drinking. It seems that people already treat their water, so I presented this as a way to track down sources of contamination. The coliform bacteria in the water sample will grow as red spots on the petri plates and make the water in the tubes turn yellow. If these coliform are E. coli from kaka, they will be blue on the plates and fluoresce when a black light is shone of the tubes. The tubes and plates need to be incubated for 12 hours the bacteria to grow. In lieu of an electric incubator one can incubate them against the body under the waistband.

I handed out 3 bags of 4 kits (plate + tube) to people at the first conference on the second day of the conference, then wizened up for the second conference at Riske de Cayahonde and handed them out the 1st day so that people could bring them back and I could help them interpret the results. These observations are from the 2nd conference (see pics). I showed three people how to use the kits (with the rest of the class watching), but didn’t have a spare plate to show for real how to put the water on the plates. That was a mistake – only one person got it right! I don’t know what the old man did – he had time to do only 2 of the tests and it looks like he just put a couple drops of water on the plates. The tubes were still clear which means he didn’t incubate anything. He also didn’t label anything. He later spoke up and commended the woman who did everything perfectly and said it’s a lesson in taking education seriously. The class gave her three rounds of applaud. Three people worked together on the third batch of kits. The water wasn’t distributed evenly on the plates so I don’t think they got enough water on it (1ml which is measured with the supplied pipette). But everything was labeled and incubated properly. Next time I need to color code the pairs of tubes and plates since I have difficulty reading the Haitian handwriting. Then at least I know how to pair up the tubes and plates even if I can’t figure out the writing.
Another thing that was difficult was seeing the fluorescence of the tubes with the black light. I didn’t realize that it needed to be very dark to see this. I put the tubes in a cardboard box and peeked in and could tell which tubes fluoresced, but it was too difficult to show this to the class. Next time I’ll use a black bag we can stick our heads in. (Also I didn’t try to explain fluorescence, I called it glowing).
The results are in the pictures of the white board. If the tube is clear and no bacteria grow on the plates, the water is sterile – none were like this of course. If the tube is yellow and the bacteria colonies on the plates are red, then there is coliform but not the E. coli kind. Four of the 8 water samples were like this. Two samples fluoresced but had no blue colonies, thus a moderate risk of getting sick from kaka-carried diseases. Two samples did not fluoresce but did have a couple blue colonies, also a moderate risk of getting sick from kaka carried diseases.
I will translate some of the instructions and interpretation of results into Creole for next year. People need to record the dat (date), lokasyon (location), if the tube turned jòn (yellow), if the colonies were ble (blue), and if this means a risk of maladi (illness). Non = no, wi = yes. Locations included sous (spring), gwo rivye (big river), and a ravin (ravine). Locations in the 2nd board are place names or descriptions: ti pye = little tree, not sure what the other two are. These kits are great tools for teaching about health and water quality, and I learned a lot about how to better structure the teaching to help people get better results.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Two more schools – one repeat and one new

On Thursday I taught ecology at Maranatha school which I taught in an assembly last year. This time I went to each of the 7 classes which is more affective in finding out what the kids know and drilling into them “pa krasse ze yo!” – don’t crush the eggs! The kids all remembered me from June and when asked what they do when they see bird nests all but the youngest class said they protect them. The youngest class of preschoolers didn’t know what to do, and two boys in other classes said they catch the birds. I asked why and they said to eat, but admitted they have chickens to eat too. The kids put a rope in the nests to catch the birds. We reviewed the benefits of hawks and hummingbirds, and then talked about the bats. The youngest kids didn’t know where bats come from – it’s nice to have fresh minds to teach! The older ones thought they come from old mice. At each school the kids seem to know that the bats live in caves.

The final school I taught at was the Catholic school, Ekòl Mè, which is on Hwy 3 at the east intersection to Caiman Rd.* This was my first time at the school (green uniforms) so I only taught about birds. There are 6 classrooms, one room having 2 classes in it (not uncommon). This time it was the older kids in 3 classes of 3rd – 6th grade (12 – 18 yrs old) who said they protect the nests, plus the youngest preschool class. In the middle classes the girls said they protect the birds, while the boys said they catch the birds to eat. And when asked what hawks eat they all yelled chickens! I explained that yes they eat chickens, but eat more rats and chickens, and the rats eat the chickens too.

This month I taught at 4 schools and reached 530 kids. I look forward to my next visit and seeing what the kids remember. I’ll probably teach about snakes. There are no poisonous ones in Haiti, but kids kill them because they think snakes are Satan!

*I’m glad to find out the name of the road that UCI is on – Caiman Rd. The customs guy at the airport really wanted to know the address I was staying at while in Haiti. I know I’m in Caiman the village but really doubt UCI has an address since there is no mail service.