We’ve survived the slog to windward and made it back to Puerto Rico after leaving Ile A Vache, Haiti, eight days ago. Though I can’t say two of my fingers survived very well. Regardless, Ile A Vache just seems more and more magical the longer I spend there.
Our March-April Projects
We completed our priorities for the trip, and the Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti will be making a return trip in May – will I be back again that soon?
Here’s the rundown:
The hen house was more or less complete when we left. It was nothing more than a small clearing when we arrived; we helped the locals learn some woodworking skills and by the time we left the walls were up and the roof was covered. All that was left to do was finish the door, fill it with sawdust, and get some hens!
Most of the eggs will go to the village children for some much-needed protein, and some will go to sale at market to cover the costs of running the hen house. Click the image to view its progress.
The school. Oh the school.
Bertin, the man who had held the school hostage, went on the local radio shortly after we left and admitted to the entire village that he was wrong. It was important for him to save face in order to keep living here, but it may be too little too late. He defrauded the Haitian government by impersonating the director of GSF and getting grants for projects that we were doing but he was pocketing the money, and he also threatened the headmaster with a machete while we were there.
The school was cleaned, painted, and new locks were installed, and the children were able to get back into their normal classrooms the Monday after Easter.
The morning we left, they were all lined up neat and orderly in the courtyard; a couple of students were chosen to raise the Haitian flag on the small, crooked flagpole, while everyone else sang the national anthem of Haiti. Not everyone was in unison but it was still awesome to see them get to that point.
Sails, swim masks, and dive fins were distributed to the fishermen. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to bring enough swim masks. A fisherman will pass you on a dirt path and know that you’re part of GSF. He’ll then make O-shapes with his fingers and put them over his bright-red, cataract’d eyes, asking for a swim mask. We just don’t have enough to go around and so they’ll continue to swim on their traps day after day without them.
Sunglasses are easily broken here, so I think it might be good to bring the fishermen ball caps to at least keep some of the sun off of their face and help prevent cataracts (children as young as five have them).
One last small project was to complete a demonstration cooking oven with stone, bricks, and an old oil barrel. Most cooking ovens on the island are made of stone and only good for a short while before needing to be reconstructed. These new ovens use materials readily available on the island and require little maintenance, and they last forever. When a baker on the island pays to have one of these ovens installed, some of the proceeds will fund GSF.
To donate to the Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti, visit their webpage.
It’s not easy living, but it’s simple. And I guess in turn that makes it easy. Consider your “first world” life. Schedules, meetings, traffic, alarms, disturbing 24-hour news, big box stores that overload the senses, narcissistic reality TV, and so on.
On Ile A Vache, there is no electricity. You might see the occasional solar panel, charging the rare businessman’s laptop, or cell phones, which are the kind you might have had way back around the year 2000. You can’t tap or swipe on them. You make a quick call to coordinate something then hang up, because minutes cost money, and a lot of people here are lucky to make $50 per month.
There is no refrigeration, no TV, no light pollution. Dinner time is family time. You sit on the porch and visit with each other. Kids play with toys made of sticks, know the value of imagination, and how to play with each other.
Everyone plays a role and children start carrying water on their heads after they learn to walk, starting with small bottles and working their way up to five-gallon buckets before they’re teenagers. They walk because not everyone has a horse; the island only had footpaths until last year when the government cleared a one-lane dirt path through the island and introduced motorbikes.
You only procure & prep the food you can eat now because it will go to waste otherwise. The same goes for fresh water – you only know the value of a resource if you see first-hand how scarce it is, and treat it accordingly.
Do you think you could live like that? Not just for like a weeklong camping trip, but forever. Would it make your life more complex or simpler?
New Thoughts on the Dominican Republic
I had a rough time with the authorities the last time I was in the Dominican Republic. We had to stop at Marina Zar Par in Boca Chica last week for fuel, and I had a very pleasant experience this time around.
I learned that last time I was there, I had been profiled as a drug mule because I was a solo male sailor. No qualms with that.
My attitude towards sailing to the Dominican Republic has gone from I’ll never go back there again to I can’t wait to go back. Now that I know what to expect!
Public Service Announcement
Be very aware of where your fingers are when the anchor windlass is in operation. The photos are a little too graphic to post here, but they should look normal again in about six months!