Follow us as we document our philanthropic adventures rebuilding Haiti with Architecture for Humanity.

Color and Graphics

If you are in Haiti around Easter, you’ll notice that kids start flying kites during Holy Week.  Kites are for sale on the roadside- we stopped at a colorful kite stand on the way home from a hike on Friday. Stacey and Nancy both bought kites; Stacey took hers to the horseback riding ranch and left it with one of the children there who was a skilled kite flyer. 

Good Friday was a Haitian day off which we observed.  We drove up the road away from town and hiked through a neighborhood along a ridge.  Amazing views of Port-au-Prince and the bay.  The houses were on the larger side, and we came across a couple of large concrete houses that had been abandoned during construction.  We passed a 20-ft tall retaining wall that had major earthquake damage. There are missing sections of wall with vertical rebar from the failed columns dangling below.

The little towns we drove through were full of colorful, painted graphics on their buildings.  Using paint to create interest is part of the vernacular.  I love the bold use of color and text.

All weekend long, we heard large groups singing as part of Good Friday or Easter services.  I woke up Sunday at 6am to beautiful singing, it sounded like a large group of 200-300 gathered at a church down the street. 

 Office Life

Six days a week, we carpool from the AFH house to the AFH office at 7:30am sharp. It takes about 15 minutes to go from the hills down to the town.  Lots to see on the way (like the Nick’s Exterminating truck), including puffs of black exhaust from the cars ahead, which you then have the pleasure of breathing in. 

For lunch, we frequent a local bakery, Marie Belliard’s, where they grill delicious sandwiches.  I like the poulet/fromage (shredded chicken/cheese) and the griot (shredded pork and Haitain cole slaw).  They cost about $3.  Another option is to get a chicken plate at a local tiny restaurant across from the office.  It’s a traditional meal of chicken drumstick, rice mixed with beans, fried plantains, and cole slaw or other vegetable. They also serve a sweetened grapefruit juice.  This meal also costs $3.

Yesterday, I met with the client for our school project, Haiti Partners. We had a good discussion about the site plan and how they want to phase the buildings.  Things will move forward quickly- we have a few months to draw construction documents, then they break ground in August!

Montrouis Beach, Sunday 4/17

Today we went to Montrouis Beach, a 1-1/2 hour drive from Port-au-Prince.  In an effort to balance out the “luxury” in my previous blogs, I’ve included some of the scenes from our journey through Port-au-Prince and the countryside.  It was hard to tell if the questionable structures were a result of earthquake damage, poor construction practices, or extreme poverty.

We opted for the public beach ($1/person) rather than the private beach ($20/person!). The beach was beautiful (sorry, Jonathan!), and when we arrived there was loud dance music playing. We found a shady space under one of the many palm trees, then the beach vendors swarmed in.  It was a pebble beach, and the water warm and calm.  Swimmers share a narrow swimming zone with the boats, so you have to watch for jet skis and rowing boats.  It’s the same as walking down the street, you always have to watch out for something that could hit you.

The beach had a fun, party vibe but it was very relaxing at the same time.  The ride there and back was certainly eye-opening.  It was sad to see the extreme poverty and disrepair, I was visually exhausted by the time I got home.

Decorative Metalwork

One of the local crafts in Haiti is decorative metalwork; everywhere you look there are different designs for gates, doors, railings, stairs, and wall art.

On Sunday after horseback riding, a group of us visited the Metal Market, Croix des Bouquets. It’s not a traditional bustling “market” with booths in a large covered space; it’s more of a zone. The shops are houses with metal art displayed in the front rooms, sometimes with a production area right outside.  If Haiti had tourists, it would be a tourist trap, but we were the only ones there (and our Haitain driver, Isnard, who was very helpful).

The walls are covered with beautiful metalwork, and I bought several pieces for $5-$20/ea. I wish I could get one of the really large pieces. I’m already pushing my luck with one that I need to carry on the plane.

In case you are wondering, yes, we have designed extensive metalwork into our school project!  We have large sliding metal doors that let the classroom space expand into a covered outdoor area.  The decorative metalwork will be by local craftsmen, and the designs will vary to give each classroom its own identity.

Horseback riding, Sunday 4/10

Today, a small group of us went to a beautiful horse ranch in the middle of Port-au-Prince.  The proprietor, Paco, is Dominican but has lived in Haiti for 21 years; he competed in horse jumping and has several trophies.  He started the horse ranch about ten years ago- it was a place for recycling glass and he cleaned it up.  Now it is a tranquil and lush retreat amidst the rubble of Port-au-Prince.

Paco was serious about horseriding and teaching. If you didn’t have perfect posture, you would hear about it.  He taught me to trot, which is good because my experience with horses was limited to trail rides.  During my lesson, he held the leash (?) and I rode around him in circles. “UP, down, UP, down!” he would command.  It was hard to get the rhythm right at first, then he wanted me to close my eyes and put my arms out to the side! I actually did it. Turns out you have to hold on with your legs.  By the way, what a cardio workout.

After we finished riding, we watched Paco ride around and do some jumps on the course.  There were two cute little girls, about 3 and 4 years old, who entertained us while we waited for our driver.  Paco is passionate about horses, and has a big heart for children.  He holds summer camp for special needs children, and uses the proceeds from lessons like ours to fund the school tuition for several local children.

Future BAR volunteers, if you get the chance to go horseback riding during your stay, I highly recommend it!

The Architecture for Humanity house is located in the hills of Petion Ville, Port-au-Prince.  It’s quite full with 20+ volunteers from all over the world, and everyone is friendly.  We leave for the office at 7:30am, return by 5:30, and dinner is served a short time later.

We have mosquito nets on our beds, but unfortunately, that did not prevent them from attacking me while I played Super Mario Bros on the Wii in the living room.

Lisa arrives in Haiti

I’ve arrived in Haiti and am sitting in the comfortable Architecture for Humanity office in Port-au-Prince.  Can’t say I enjoyed the red-eye flight, but after a nice Haitian lunch of bbq chicken, rice, and beans, I feel pretty good.

The drive from the airport to the office created my first impression of the area. It matches that of my other BAR colleagues. The driving system is chaotic, and the roads vary from smooth to extremely rocky; roads are maintained by the adjacent properties rather than the government.  There is lingering destruction from the earthquake, tent camps, and widespread poverty as expected.  Despite that, the city is not desolate but full of life.  Everywhere I looked there were people going about their business- people at street markets, women carrying baskets of fruit on their heads, school children heading home.  It left me with a positive or at least hopeful feeling.

Now I await the office-wide meeting that is held each Friday afternoon to review the status of all AFH projects.  The office is full of people working quietly, and it feels very pleasant with the fans blowing.

Coming up: I’m going horseback riding on Sunday!

Positive Energy! Two BAR efforts featured in Interior Design’s Positivity Issue, incl the Int’l Ctr to End Violence & our Haiti Fellowship.

Jonathan returns home

I’m back in San Francisco.  I left Haiti on Friday April 1st, and after 2 days of decompression in hot Miami, I got home on Sunday night, ready to return to the office on Monday.

While even in my last 5 days in Haiti so much happened about which I wanted to blog (the last update was about sunday the 27th of March) I just ran out of time.  So I won’t transcribe the details of my impromptu trip to an old and packed hotel where some hipster band was playing (whom I later learned was last year’s Album of the year Grammy winner).  I won’t bore you with how I nearly got stuck on an old remote rocky hillside road on a dark and rainy night on the way to the client’s house for dinner.  If you really want to hear about the my last developments of the project including the preliminary pricing excercise or conceptual look at administrational buildings, you can just ask me.  You can also ask about the discovery of perhaps the chic-est hip-est nightclub in Petionville, or the paper crane making fest we had at the house, or the Shakira-attended ceremonial “groundbreaking” of one of the AFH schools (I actually wasn’t there).

I am so glad I went to Haiti.  I am so happy that I have had the opportunity to get involved wih this school project, with Architecture for Humanity, and with the energetic, spiritual, and vibrant people of this mess of a country. 

There is a lot of work to be done, and some say that the country will never really get out of this hole in which it has fallen. (The previous folks and I have only scraped the surface in this blog.)  Nevertheless, not very much can happen without education.  That is why the Children’s Academy is so important. 

If you have enjoyed following my adventures, then keep checking this blog as Lisa Majchrzak of BAR takes the baton and moves the project forward for 3 weeks, starting tomorrow.  Bon Voyage Lisa!

Signing out,

Jonathan.

PS- official election results arent out yet (ballot fraud, what a surprise).  That’s why I was able to get out safely.  Work on the street is that Martelly “Sweet Micky” has won.

Community Meeting #3

On Sunday, the day after the party, I drove up to a little church in the hills of Mariaman, near the project site, to give a presentation to any interested community members interested in the progress of the Children’s Academy project.  With me were Stacey and Lyndia from AFH, Peter, Hannah, and John from Haiti Partners.  Not surprisingly, the road to the church was very bumpy- but since it was in the process of getting paved with pavers, there were a lot of loose rocks and gravel in one area.   I was riding in the back of the Ta Ta (our pickup truck) with Hanna, and the rear gate flew open and our bags almost fell out! 

When we arrived at the church, there were scores of people there, all dressed up.  After a few minutes, a train of men carried a very decorative pearly white casket out of the church, down the steps and down the dirt road, followed by the crowd.  At about a hundred feet away, the band started playing a funeral dirge in true Creole tradition. 

Then there was no one there but the men who work at the church.  We got the projector set up and a few people trickled in.  Eventually we had about 30 community members- not as many as in the past community meetings, but enough to carry on.

I presented a brief history of the project, and our current site plan, but spent most of the time discussing the architecture of the classroom buildings.  John, who speaks very good Creole, translated for the group. 

In the past, I have heard that the folks who would come to these meetings have been quiet, but this time there was a fair amount of discussion with the group, which felt good.  They really wanted to engage in the process.  Their biggest concern, as I expected, was about having a security wall around the whole site.  Much discussion surrounded this topic.  We also talked about the merits of having either wood or steel trusses on the roof, and rain and wind issues.

The community really reacted positively to the design.  They agreed to the idea of having a light and open classroom and seemed very grateful to have us designing a school for them.  When we asked a few young girls specifically what they thought, they said (with smiles) that this place can really help empower the community.  (The Children’s Academy is not just billed as an elementary/high school, but also a place to train teachers and develop Haitian education.)  When everyone applauded after the presentation, I blushed and quietly said, “Mesi.” (Creole for thank you.)