Monday, October 27, 2008

Wild, Wild West

Hello everyone,

I am at the UN base in Gonaives right now, and only have a second to give an update. Matt & I drove from CWH to Gonaives on Saturday morning, a trip which took us about 2.5 hours. A guy from AMURT hopped in the truck with us and gave us a tour of the disaster area (the whole city). It's horrible, and I'll share pictures later. People are shoveling/scooping mud out of their homes (what's left of them), and dumping into the streets. In some areas, the mud is mounded so high that the roads are impassable.

After our tour, we grabbed lunch at the UN headquarters (cheeseburgers, woo hoo), and then headed to visit another of AMURT's project locations in Sou Chod ('Sue Shode'). It took us 2.5 hours to get there, and it turned out to be the Haitian desert. Who knew Haiti had deserts? Well, they do, full with cacti and all.

Sou Chod is famous for its natural hot springs, in which we did get a chance to take a dip in the hot, hot water (over 100 degrees F). Even though the area is known for the springs, no one goes there because of how far away it is, and how bad the roads are. You can't call these things just can't. Anyway, we stayed there last night, and in the morning got up and headed for one of AMURT's really neat projects, a salt farm.

Our visit to the salt farm landed up being much crazier than I had ever imagined in that people who weren't hired to do work were shoveling away, and expecting to be paid. They thought they wouldn't get caught actually doing the work because it was a Sunday and they didn't expect anyone from AMURT to show up, but we did. Before we knew it there were 100 people there, and they were not happy :). I don't know where all these people came from, it was all desert as far as I could see, but they continued to emerge from behind cacti. When I say 100 people, it could have been more, because I did a rough count. People got so rowdy and angry that some Haitian fist fights broke out, and people were chasing each other around with machetes. Everyone carries a machete in Haiti, and it's something you just get used to as you walk around. But, this was the first time I've seen them swung at other people.

It seemed as if it was all for show (Haitians LOVE drama...especially out there in the wild west), but one guy did land up grabbing someone else's shovel and started banging it against rocks trying to break it. It didn't break fast enough for him, so he grabbed a machete and just chopped the handle in half. A useless shovel, wonderful...that was probably weeks worth of wages. Personally, I like the woman who grabbed two big rocks in her hands and started going after people. If I had a video camera I could be making money off this stuff :).

Don't worry, I didn't feel like I was in too much danger as Haitians normally don't bother foreigners, well aggressively anyway. Dharma, a guy from AMURT, seemed to get most of the conflicts sorted out, and he seemed pretty happy about the overall outcome.

After driving back to Sou Chod from the salt farm, I landed up playing the drums with a whole bunch of local kids. AMURT had just gotten a whole bunch of handmade Haitian hand drums, and I started playing one with one of the AMURT guys. Before we knew it, there were at least 20 people from the village standing around watching me play the drum with a whole bunch of Haitian kids. It was a lot of fun, and I have a lot of great pictures to show when I get back from this trip.

After the drum session, Matt drove us back to Gonaives, and here I sit at the UN base typing this update. I'm going to see if I can get any food from the cafeteria before we leave for AMURT's rental home in the area.

We leave first thing tomorrow morning for Milot to meet the EWB-NJIT group, I can't wait. I'll update the next chance I get. Toodles.


Anonymous said...

Hello, this is Steven again. Desert must be no fun at all. People fought there were a little violent, but you will get used to it. Just imagine that you were watching boxing without referee. Hahaha...

I think those kids enjoyed your performance on the drums. Are you going to teach them a little?

If you catch the fighting people again on camara, just post it on youtube. I like to watch free boxing match. hahaa...

Anonymous said...

I aaaaaam Megatron!! Oops... I mean I am Steven.

Just curious to ask whether you can access Internet in the desert or not.

Owen said...

Steven: To answer your question, no, I didn't have any internet access in the desert. There's no electricity out there either.

Anonymous said...

Cmon Owen, stop tormenting your stalkers. Tell us about your week and send us those promised photos. I know you're headed home and once you leave Haiti it'll all fade from your memory. You write so well -- fill us in puhleeeeeze?
Gramma Rolling

Owen said...

Dear Gramma Rolling,
Thank you very much for your encouragement, it's been difficult to get back to it since I've been home. But, while I was away without internet access in Haiti, I did type a word document to keep track of what was going on, so I shouldn't have lost much. I am working on the blog post check back soon :).