Monday, September 16, 2013

Things that Keep You Awake at Night

I thought that coming back from Haiti would mean peaceful nights.  The nearest hospital is 10 miles away, and no one near us is expecting a baby any time soon.

This peaceful night was shattered at 4:00 am by a tremendous squawking and howling from the back yard.  Some animal was surely dying in the teeth of another.  We were witnessing the food chain right here in our own suburban back yard.  It took us a few seconds to identify the lower half of this food chain...


I never knew a chicken could howl like that.  It was creepy.

I leaped out of bed and ran outside, grabbing a flashlight along the way.  Reaching the chicken coop, I pointed the flashlight inside, expecting carnage and some slavering, saber-toothed monster growling at me.  Instead, most of the chickens were milling about the roost area, one of them was in a nest box leaping up and down like it was doing jumping jacks.  There appeared to be no other animal, just a few very agitated hens.

Shining the light downward to the ground, I spotted a small patch of light gray fur.  Opossum.  Then the opossum moved into the light a little more and the small patch of light gray fur became a light stripe on a black body.  His little beady eyes shone in the light as he looked at me.

Skunk.  Just a little one.

I backed away.  Even little ones are considered armed and dangerous.

I had very little in my arsenal.  I cast about for something to coax the skunk to go away.  I soon spotted some ammunition.  Pears.  I was standing next to one of the pear trees and most of the pears had fallen to the ground, having ripened about a week ago.

From a distance, I started lobbing overripe pears at the skunk.  It dug its way under the wall of the coop, since my first pear had hit the door and slammed it shut.  Then it ambled slowly to the other side of the fenced area, looking back occasionally, and disappeared.  I lobbed a few more pears in the general direction just to make sure.

The chickens had calmed to a point where I could finally take a count.  Apparently, flying pears are not as traumatic as a little skunk.  12 legs, divide by two, equals six chickens.  All present and accounted for.  The skunk must have been after the eggs which no one collected yesterday.

Who needs an alarm clock with such drama in the back yard?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Thursday, September 5

I only took three pictures today, two of them being pictures of rocks.  David and I spent the day in the hospital again, finishing up the lighting in the maternity waiting room, the pediatrics room and then moving on into the Family Clinic.

The Family Clinic was a very small room with a desk and 8 chairs for waiting people.  Two very small closets formed an office and an examination room.  The waiting room was lit by only a single bulb so we hung two fluorescent fixtures from the ceiling.

Rewiring a small room when it is in use can be an interesting experience.  It's hard to ask someone to move from their seat when the only word you know is "bonjour".  We did figure out how to get someone to move, however.  It's really quite simple and very effective.  Just start dropping things on them from above.  I removed a screw from a light socket and fumbled, dropping the screw on the woman right next to where I was working.  I apologized as best as I could (I'm sure she didn't understand me), and she moved towards the front where David was working.

David was installing a blank plate over an empty electrical box and fumbled it, dropping it onto the same woman's lap.  I'm not sure he even tried to apologize.

Another way to get people to move is with heat.  Especially on a warm day.  We had to bend some rigid plastic conduit with a conduit bender, basically a box with a big heater in it to soften the plastic.  The only place to plug it in was in the front of the room.  When I opened the box to insert the conduit, the waves of heat pouring out caused the nearby people to scatter rather rapidly.  Several people chose to wait outside.

We completed the job, in spite of having to work around people in close quarters, and hope that the improved lighting will be of benefit to those who use the clinic.

David and I stopped up at the Mountain Maid for a break in the afternoon.  This is a self-help gift shop and restaurant administered by the mission but run by the Haitians that offers jobs to the locals.  The restaurant is an open-air building that offers a commanding view of the ravine and the mountains on the other side.  Many parts of Haiti are very barren because of deforestation, but this area is lush and green because of the practice of terracing.  It really was a beautiful setting.  One of the missionaries said she never tires of the view because it is always changing as crops grow and are harvested.  It's an always changing patchwork.
The picture doesn't do it justice because of the mist of the day, but I would tend to agree.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Haiti has a lot of rocks.  In some ways that's a good thing because there is plenty of material to build walls when creating terraces on this steep terrain.  And in this part of Haiti, many people have done so.  There are many stone walls used in the formation of the many terraces around this area.  Walls are made of rocks, roads are largely made of rocks, the hillsides are rocks, houses are made of rocks (and concrete).  Rocks are everywhere.  So they have a lot of building material.  If Haiti could export rocks, they would have an endless supply.

In other ways, all these rocks are a bad thing because even the good soil is full of rocks.  I thought the soil in one of my gardens at home was poor soil until I came here.  The pictures below are of one of the gardens on the mission campus, and this is considered good soil.

If you want rocks, I know where you can get a whole bunch of them.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Ride to Greffin

Just after lunch today, Trey came by and said now would be a good time to try to locate Abigail's sponsored child.  He added the disclaimer that, when school is not in session, some of these kids can be hard to find, because they don't have addresses, and they often go to relatives or grandparents during the summer.

We crowded into the 4-wheel-drive along with Jean-Bernard, who would serve as a translator and was also described as the "best bloodhound" they have.

To say that the road to Greffin was bad would be a serious understatement.  After getting out of Fermathe, the pavement ended and what was left was just a path of large rocks, barely one lane wide.  We were jostled about the vehicle continuously, and probably the only reason we did not receive any injuries was because we were packed in so tightly.  Abigail sat in the middle by the gearshift and Deb, David and Jean-Bernard were packed in the back seat.  On the way back we remarked that, as we got farther out in to the mountains, the road behind us seemed progressively better because the road ahead got progressively worse.

After nearly an hour of this, Jean-Bernard told us to stop because he was going to ask the locals where Marianna's family lived.  After a few minutes, he re-appeared with another Haitian who thought he knew the family.  I'm not sure how they communicated this because the Haitian was deaf.  Jean-Bernard hopped back in, and the Haitian also hopped in and we went back the way we came for a short distance.  

After a few more turns, another halt was called, as the house to the right may be where she lived.  We all piled out of the vehicle and were surrounded by a growing crowd of Haitians.  After some excited talk in Creole, one of the children pointed back up the hill.  This was not the house, but she lived up that way. Back in the vehicle, back up the hill we had just come down, and a short distance later, we passed by a couple of kids walking down the road.  One of them was a little girl who, when asked her name, said "Marianna."  We found her along the road.  We later on found out that there was news that a vehicle (a rarity in this area) full of white people (even rarer) was coming looking for Marianna.  News travels fast in these parts.

We parked the truck near the foot path leading to her family's house.  Marianna's father and mother appeared, along with about a dozen other people.

We followed them down the narrow foot path to their house, a simple block house about 200 feet from the road.  Corn was drying on blankets on the ground, and the small field next to their home had small plants that I was not able to identify.

On their porch, we exchanged formal greetings and asked a few questions through the translator, then Abigail gave Marianna a backpack with a few gifts.  We had also purchased a box of rice and beans which we left with them  Twenty bucks to feed this family for about a month.

We asked them about taking a few pictures and they were fine with that.  Both mama and papa disappeared into the house and emerged a few minutes later with different clothing on.  They had to look their best for the picture.

We learned that one of Marianna's favorite subjects in school is math, which is one of Abigail's least favorite.  Marianna helps her mother in the house and also helps carry water up from the stream about a mile away.

We told them we would send them some of the pictures we took. Before we left we linked hands in prayer, two families from two different cultures and two different countries, praying to the God we have in common.  How cool is that?

Answered prayer and miracles do happen, and this was one example.  To have found her so quickly in so remote an area could only be a God thing.

The ride back was no less difficult, but Abigail (and us) now had vivid pictures in her mind and in her experience of what life for Marianna was like because she witnessed a small piece of it, in person. She told us that all that work selling tomatoes and goods that she sewed to earn money for Marianna's sponsorship was now worth it.

I think so to.

There are over 60,000 kids in Haiti just like Marianna that could benefit from a sponsor. Do check it out at

Lighting Up the Place

The job-du-jour for David and I was to finish what we had started yesterday in the pediatric ward and possibly move to maternity if we had time.  We had already installed the lights yesterday, now there just needed to be a couple plugs mounted on the walls so they could actually plug something in.  A whole large hospital room and no place to power any equipment.  At least now you could see something.

While David was finishing up the pediatric ward, I moved into maternity.  The waiting room had some women milling about or sleeping on the beds, none of them looking at all pregnant and I soon figured out that at least one or two of them were there using the only working outlet (which was located in the birthing room) to charge their cell phones.

There were a couple women that came in and out a couple times that were looking quite far along, so we thought we would work on the birthing room while it was empty.  One of those women could decide to give birth at any time, and we wanted the room to be ready.  I just hope she doesn't decide to start in the wee hours of the morning.  The Labor Symphony of two nights ago was enough for a while.

The birthing room was quite dark mostly because its one window faced into a copse of trees (and towards our apartment).  The lighting was terrible, and the sockets hung down from the ceiling on their wires.  No wonder the poor girl the other night screamed so loudly.  I would, too.  We removed old sockets and mounted three bright fluorescent fixtures and added a second outlet to the other side of the room.

We actually got this all done by noon.  Now that my key to the depot works and we have some supplies on hand, we can actually get some work done. The only trouble is, the depot is located a couple hundred yards from the hospital, and the entire walk is steeply uphill (both ways!).  After making that walk several times for the part I forgot the last time, my legs were starting to feel it.

After our trek out to the village of Griffen (described in another post), there wasn't a whole lot of time left before the generator was due to be turned off, so we turned our attention to the ambulance.  A few of the flashing lights were out and we took a look at those.  We asked if we could take it for a test drive with all the lights and the siren on, but were told that the Haitians would probably not move aside for the ambulance any more than they move aside for honking vehicles. We would just end up in a Haitian traffic jam.

Wednesday, September 4

It has been quite a day.  I think it's best handled by different posts, each about one of the major events.

We started out the day with devotions overlooking the ravine.  John 11 describes the story of Lazarus, and Neil's point was that God sometimes doesn't answer our prayers in the way we would like, even through what we are asking for is a good thing. Verses 4 and 15 gives the reason that Lazarus died, so that "the Son of God may be glorified through it", and, for the disciples, "that you may believe".  Jesus told them "I am the resurrection and the life", and bringing Lazarus back to life drove that point home in a big way.

A Visit to Abigail's Sponsored Child

From Abigail:

It was worth selling tomatoes and headbands for money to sponsor Marianna.  She was shy, but our families were able to pray together with the help of a translator.  She was glad to receive the gifts that we brought to her including the marble bags that I made.  I even gave her a Chinese noodle bowl with spices for her to try.  You, too, can sponsor a child in Haiti to help with their needs at

Haiti Time

Time seems to travel differently in Haiti.  I got a good taste of that yesterday when working on wiring in the hospital.

We got a bit of a late start because we went to the market in Kenscoff in the morning, but we were ready to start at around 10:30.  Since we ran out of ballasts for the lighting in the clinic yesterday, we moved to a utility room, intending to replace an electrical panel or rewire a large inverter.  Both of these items were rat's nests of wiring and needed to be updated.  In trying to figure out where all the wiring went, we discovered that de-energizing the panel would probably take down half of the hospital and was appearing to be a larger job than originally thought.

Plan B was the pediatric ward, which needed new light fixtures.  The ceiling in this room is quite low and the two bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling are constantly being broken by people walking under them. 

We hiked to the depot (the supply room) to grab the new fixtures and other supplies.  Everything is a hike around here because the roads are so steep.  Since we would probably be returning here several more times, I needed my own key.  45 minutes and 3 keys later, we finally had one that worked in the lock.

Back in the pediatric ward, we had to figure out a way to turn off the power.  It was most likely the main panel, located just off the operating room.  The door to the operating room was locked, which sent us on a quest for the key.

Everything here is locked.  If it is not locked, the contents will likely disappear in short order.  The culture here is big on community, and in this community, what's yours is mine and what's mine is yours, and if something is just sitting there, it's acceptable for anyone to just take it.  After all, I need it worse than you do.  Theft is not a bad thing.  So, padlocks are ubiquitous.  And the keys are always somewhere else.

The hospital administrator gave us a large ring of keys, one of which actually worked. We found the panel in a tiny storage room next to the autoclaves, one of which worked, the other which was used to store bananas and a few other items.

None of the breakers was marked, and we really couldn't risk turning off sections of a busy hospital, so we decided to work on it hot.

By this time it was lunch time and we had gotten exactly nothing done.  Neil, one of the pastors and the de-facto electrician, expressed frustration at how little work gets done sometimes.

On the way back to the apartment, we met up with one of the Haitian drivers who greeted us with a broad grin.  He had been to Port-au-Prince and had picked up another box of ballasts for the clinic.  We finished the clinic in the afternoon and even managed to start on the pediatric ward.

Progress, finally.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Night Sounds

Sleeping can be a challenge here.  Our central location here on the campus offers a sampling of a variety of sounds through the night, and that combined with the warm nights and open windows ensures an auditory experience that is unforgettable.

A cacophony of frogs starts up just after it gets dark.  Their high-pitched chirps come from seemingly every direction. At about 3:00 in the morning, when the frogs are dying down, the dogs take over.  There are quite a few dogs that just roam free and they seem to abhor silence.  Just before dawn, the roosters take over.  We're located right next to the zoo, which contains a particularly noisy one.

We are also located right next to the hospital, which sits at the highest point of the campus, almost on top of this particular mountain, and overlooks the entire ravine.  The birthing rooms are at the end of the hospital closest to our apartment.  Their windows are also open because of the warmth.

Someone had a baby last night.  I'm sure the entire ravine knew about it.  The impending birth was announced over and over for most of the night, starting just before the frogs got quiet.  Our location offered almost a ring-side seat.

Lady, I feel your pain.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Monday, September 2

Today is David's 20th birthday.  Today is also Labor Day.  To celebrate, we had a work day.  Before work, we joined the daily devotions on a small outside amphitheater which overlooked the ravine.  Neil led from John 10 (the Good Shepherd) and one of the Haitians translated for the  20 or so Haitians who were there.  A great passage in a great setting.

David and I worked on the lighting in the outpatient clinic, which has been without lighting for a very long time.  The waiting room was dark, the hallway outside the waiting room was dark, and all the examination rooms were dark, lit only by what light came in through the windows.  The clinic is part of the hospital and serves about 100,000 people per year.
The Hospital (It's bigger than it looks from here)
So we spent the day on ladders, replacing ballasts and re-wiring light fixtures.  Several times throughout the day we would get a soft tap on the shoulder or an expression in Creole, and someone would motion us to another room containing a dead light fixture.  We eventually ran out of ballasts and had to stop for the day.

Some problems were rather obvious, and those even remotely familiar with how these fixtures should look will recognize the problem with this one (and it's not missing bulbs):

Meanwhile, Abigail was sewing sheets for use in the conference center (There's 90 beds to make up!), and also small marble pouches for the kids.  Deb helped paint a bedroom for one of the MKs (Missionary Kids).  The desired color was made by mixing a few colors together.  When they ran out of paint, they had to do more mixing.  Hopefully it will match when it dries..  This was not your formula-based paint matching.
We had dinner with the missionary families in a dining room below one of the residences.  Large pots of rice & beans, chicken in a dark sauce, salad from the terrace gardens, and chocolate banana pie made for a great meal with our new friends and family in Christ.