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.
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!
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.
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.)