Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A little bit of background...

It's been tough keeping up with the blog since I've been home, but I need to do it in order to finish this thing as a complete Haiti photo journal for myself, and there may be some people that still want to hear about the rest of the trip, about coming back home, and about what my plans are now that I have returned home. No, I won't answer any of those questions now...I'll keep the few readers I have in suspense :)...(aka, buy myself some time to figure out those answers myself).

Ok, back to Milot. But before I begin, I need to give a brief explanation as to why Matt & I went up to Milot in the first place.

As I think I've mentioned in previous posts, I attended the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT...just graduated in May), and through the course of my studies I came across a student-run organization called Engineers Without Borders (EWB...for more info, check out There are chapters of EWB all over the US & abroad, and there were a few students that were just getting the NJIT chapter started.

As it turns out, there was a group of doctors that would travel to Milot each year to provide their services at the local hospital. They approached the newly formed EWB-NJIT chapter saying the following: "People in Milot drink the water, they get sick, they come to the hospital, we fix them, they go back out, drink the water again...and it's a never ending cycle. We need someone to break that cycle".

From there, I travelled to Milot for the first time last year with that group of doctors and two other EWB members. During that trip, our goal was to assess the situation, meet with locals, and collect as much data as possible. Bringing that data back to NJIT, we assessed the situation, and started our research on different clean water technologies appropriate for Milot. Through our research, we came across Clean Water for Haiti and the Biosand Filtration technology, and we selected that as our solution for cleaning the water of Milot.

With that, I graduated from NJIT, and was pursuing different volunteer opportunities that could potentially be long-term. One of the organizations I contacted was Clean Water for Haiti, and so I planned a visit to go down and spend some time with them. It just so happened that an EWB-NJIT group was also going to be travelling to Milot during the time period I would be in Haiti, and the students were planning on purchasing filter molds and other materials from CWH. So, wouldn't it be nice if Owen could drive up to Milot with all of the materials, and help us get this project started? What a great idea! Ha, ha.

As I was getting all the details worked out with CWH, they suggested that Matt join me for the trip up there, which I was thrilled about. And so, the trip was planned. Matt & I would be travelling to Milot with tools & materials to meet the EWB group and help them get their very own biosand filter project started.

I'm sorry to bore you with all of this, but I hope that it sets the stage for future, more interesting posts. Check back soon.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cross-Country Adventures - Part II

The next morning, Matt & I got up at 5AM in order to hit the road early for our travels to Milot. The sun hadn't risen yet, but by the time we got our stuff, climbed down from the roof, and were ready to go, the morning rays were upon us.
Unfortunately, we used our stealth moves to leave without waking anyone, only to find that one of our truck tires was very low on air, and we couldn't depart for our journey until we woke people up to ask for a pump. And no, driving to the nearest Exxon station with "free air" wasn't an option for us.

I climbed back onto the roof to wake an AMURT volunteer, who then hopped in the truck with us to drive to the nearest AMURT office. We get there and find the two security guards sound asleep (sleeping so soundly that we couldn't wake them up with loud noises...and we didn't have the heart to shake them). We eventually talk to the landlord of the office who said there was no pump there. So, we drive to another location where volunteers sleep outside on a concrete slab (5 star accommodations). With a little convincing involved, we got our Gonaives tour guide friend from the day prior to hop in with us and show us a place where people are set up in the street to fix tires.

We needed the left front tire pumped up, but I guess the right one needed air too :).

We got pumped up, dropped our friendly helpers back off, and restarted our journey at 6:15AM. It was a rather scenic drive over the mountains, and the total trip time was about 4 hours (even though it was only 4 hours, that number should be multiplied by a factor of 3 to accurately calculate the mental exhaustion felt after 4 hours on Haitian roads).

Over the hill and through the woods.

When we arrived in Milot, Matt and I met up with the EWB group (Bryce, Melissa, and Dr. Meegoda). They were ready to begin water testing, so we immediately headed out into the town so I could show them each source where people collect water (I was rather impressed with my memory in that I remembered all the locations just from my first visit to Milot last year...all of the sources except for one are semi-hidden).

Front to back: Bryce, Melissa, me

Left to right: Onlooker, Melissa, Bryce

We had lunch after water testing, and then Matt & I showed the EWB group all the goodies we brought to get this Biosand Filter project going.

The goods: Molds, a filter (not broken in transport, woo hoo), lids, diffuser plates, tubes, luggage, etc.

The rest of the day was spent unpacking, showering, rigging up mosquito netting, and planning our activities/goals for Tuesday and the rest of the week.

You'll notice that in many of the pictures taken in Milot we are wearing scrubs. The organization we stayed with runs a hospital, and most of their volunteers are doctors who all have to wear them. So, there is a large supply for all guests to wear. They're very light & comfortable, and we didn't have to wash them :).

That's all folks. Goodnight.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cross-Country Adventures - Part I

Please accept my apologies for this extensive gap between posts, I didn't know people actually read this thing (besides my family).
Because of how eventful last week turned out to be, I will attempt to summarize the happenings with a series of posts as opposed to just mustering up one big one. It will help me chip away at documenting the adventure bit by bit, and it will give people things to read as I go.
With that said, I will first share some of the promised photos from the last post, Wild, Wild West. As I mentioned, Matt & I toured the area of Gonaives, and then headed out to visit Sou Chod.

First thing you see entering the Gonaives area.

More homes underwater.

Mud on the ground and dust in the air, rather unpleasant.

One example of an impassable street. In the background you can see excavating taking place. The dump trucks haul the mud to the outskirts of the city and dump along the sides of the road.

I couldn't pass this one up. For those of you who are familiar with "Dora the Explorer", this one's for you :).

The UN presence in Gonaives. Is it overkill? Maybe, but they keep the peace, and make the place safe enough for other organizations to get in there and help out. Either way, I'm thankful.

Here's a little video clip I took while driving through the streets of Gonaives. It's not representative of the whole city (some areas are better and some are worse), but I figured I'd include it to give a better idea of what it's like.

Ok, that pretty much wraps up our first tour through Gonaives before we headed out to Sou Chod. Saturday (Oct. 25th), we stayed overnight in Sou Chod, and our tours of the salt farms were on Sunday.

The desert sunset.
AMURT's salt farm project (to learn more about AMURT and their projects, check out

The scuffle I told about in the last post.

Playing the tambou (drums) with the locals.

In the late afternoon on Sunday (after the drum circle), we headed back to Gonaives and stayed there overnight in preparation for our trip to Milot the next morning. Volunteers with AMURT brought us to their brand new house to stay the night, which Matt and I were thrilled about. As seen in the pictures below, the rooms are quite nice with their clean tile floors, but the airflow was very poor in the lower level, and the mosquitoes were horrendous. We hand-pumped some well water, took bucket baths, and then headed for bed. We both tried sleeping using one bed sheet each. I tried wrapping myself in the sheet to protect myself from the malaria carriers, but it was so hot that I sweat through the entire sheet within minutes. So, I pulled the sheet off praying for the slightest breeze, but received nothing but an air-raid from my flying friends.

Due to lack of airflow in the room and the fact that we were being eaten alive by mosquitoes (yes, I am still taking chloroquine), we decided to head to the roof and try for at least a little sleep. It was a flat concrete roof, and it was significantly cooler because there was a breeze constantly passing over us. As a result, I was able to rewrap myself in the sheet, stay cool (I use that term loosely), and defend myself from the bloodsucking bandits.

Oh, and one other thing. Unfortunately, sleepwalking has shown its ugly face in my past, so I carefully positioned myself near a piece of rebar protruding through the roof, and tied my wrist to it giving myself enough slack to move in my sleep, but not enough to allow myself a long painful drop :).

Phase I of our sleeping arrangement.

Phase II of our sleeping arrangement. If you look close, you'll see another volunteer's tent set up on the roof. We didn't have a tent, so we were under the stars...and the mosquitoes. Notice that it could have been a painful fall had I gone for an unconscious late-night stroll :).

This wraps up everything until Monday morning, Oct. 27th. Check back soon for the next episode. Thanks for reading.