Friday, October 26, 2012

Mesay, Sharky, and Abu, and Hurricane Sandy

4 weeks old.
Rather than being thrown into the fiery furnace like Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, our month-old orphan kittens Mesay, Sharky, and Abu survived their first hurricane safe in the third floor guest house.  Hurricane Sandy hit Jamaica earlier this week, and here in Cayes Haiti we have had heavy rain and winds for three straight days.  I haven’t left the building since Monday (today is Friday), but I heard that roads were flooded and power was out in town.  I was to take my two classes to the botanical garden this week.  Tuesday morning as it became apparent that the rain would not stop, that got changed to staying in and watching a movie (Medicine Man) during class.  It wasn’t until later in the day on Tuesday that we realized this was a major tropical storm and everyone needed to stay home.  But four ecology students showed up yesterday!  So we huddled around my netbook and watched the 1992 movie starring Sean Connery as a researcher on the brink of discovering the cure for cancer in a rain forest about to get bulldozed for a logging road.

A couple Haitians that I don’t really know texted me to see if I was ok during the storm.  One even asked if I was scared!  Which put into perspective how they must be viewing the storm verses how we are, all safe in our concrete building.  Watching movies, making pizza, snuggling the luckiest kittens in Haiti.

For more details about how Sandy has affected Haiti, visit this post by a friend who lives in Port au Prince.

My favorite, Mesay, named after her mom Day-o.

At the pizza restaurant with Uncle Earl - 3 weeks.

2.5 weeks old.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Audubon Center of Les Cayes Haiti

This past week, in addition to becoming the newest member of the American University of the Caribbean (AUC) Board, I am also in the process of resurrecting the Audubon Center which is housed at AUC.  Over the past 4 years I have developed an ecology program for schools and adult groups in Haiti, with no definitive home for it.  I started the program through United Christians International in Caiman.  In April I taught in a school in Merger, near Port au Prince.  In July I taught at HAFF back in the Central Plateau.  Basically, I have gone to whatever missionary group would have me.

But now I have found a home for the program!  The Audubon Center here at AUC.  The Audubon Center was started several years ago by people in the area who were interested in birding around Cayes.  And named after the world famous bird painter John James Audubon who was born here in Les Cayes in 1785.

The Center has a room at AUC where books, binoculars, and a GPS unit are housed for those interested in birding and the environment.  But the Center does not receive much attention.  So I have taken on task of reviving it and making an environmental education resource center for the area.  Here is the webpage of it and the activities we have going on.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Deye Switchbacks, Genyen Switchbacks – the Road to Macaya

A switchback in the road to Macaya.

There’s a Haitian proverb that says “Deye mon, genyen mon.”  Literally, behind mountains, there are mountains.  Meaning, if it’s not one thing, it another, which isn’t the point of this story.  The switchbacks were one after another though.  Today I went to Fomon (Fort Mon) on the outskirts of Macaya, one of Haiti’s three national parks.  A German group invited me to go with them to check out a water project there that has fallen into disarray.  So off I went with Marcus and Peguy (pronounced Peggy, a Haitian man) who I had never met before our 6am rendezvous which really was at 5:30am.

From Les Cayes, one travels Route 2 west and heads north at Torbeck on a fairly decent road for about an hour.  We stopped for coffee and bread right before a river crossing, which we were able to make despite the rain all night.  Shortly after the crossing, the road turns into rocks with switchbacks after switchbacks as we climb about 1000 ft.  And no guard rails.  Two people I mentioned this trip to said, woah, you are going by car?  Due to expert German driving, I thought the ride went fine.  Other than being jostled about for 2 hours is tiring (update the next morning – my back and shoulders are super sore, as if I had been working out).  Someone with physical health problems would not have been able to make the trip.

Training new bird guides.
Once we got to Fomon I went with Marcus as he checked the pvc pipes that carry water down the mountain to various faucets that were installed to make it easy for people to get water.  The hillside is eroding, rocks are up-lifting, and along with them the pvc pipes.  The plan was that it would take an hour to get to the water source, then I would go with our guide into the park for about an hour, then come back and meet up with the group.  Walking up a mountain on a rocky path after being at sea level for over a month turned out to be way harder than I expected.  Fortunately two kids had joined us and made me feel like an old lady as they helped me up the steep path.  We finally reached a point where I said I couldn’t go on.  Plus, I was watching my footing the entire time and not enjoying the scenery.  So the kids stayed with me while Marcus and the guide went on.

Turned out to be a great decision!  The kids knew I was there to see the birds and really got into the role of being bird guides.  I did see two I hadn’t seen before (Hispaniolan Spindalis and red-legged thrush), maybe 3 (one of the two todies), and a bunch of little yellow birds that I just couldn’t identify.  I paid them, so I might have been their first official ecotour customer!  Though it turned out to not be an intense birding trip, and we didn’t actually go into the park, I did get to mentor those two kids about birding, and that made it all worthwhile.  Well, actually just being up in the cool air among some pine trees made it worthwhile.

The river crossing.
A section of pipe exposed in extreme erosion.

Note the 5 lone trees at the top of the hill.

The rocky road to Macaya.
Checking the water system.