My Life in Haiti Feels Kind of Like Camping Out

I love camping, and Haiti is a lot like camping.

Here are some similarities:

First off, we are out of electricity. Apparently the Port-au Prince electricity tree ran out of fruit. Never were many power outlets in the great old outdoors either, unless you’re closeby Seth’s camper.

A moth just flew off my pillow. This morning I sprayed poison at the line of ants marching across my fridge. Last night I dispatched a cockroach with my shoe as it ran across my shower.

Speaking of showers, they are cold, because I don’t have access to hot water (unless I boil it on the stove). In fact, hot water faucets aren’t even plumbed in Haiti! The knobs are there, but they don’t do anything.

Reminds me of the famous “Nick & Joe Campout to Freezing Arkansas in January” when I tried taking a bath in a an arctic creek in January. Joe just laughed. Then left me to freeze while he went hunting for rabbits or squirrels or some such.

Sometime I feel like I’m living on a full-time campout, but also my job is sort of like being on a campout too. It is very primitive. For instance, our main oven is on a concrete pad outside our bakery and currently has no covering. Yesterday it was raining hard. The man working our oven was standing in the pouring elements rapidly taking racks in and out of the oven and running them inside. What a system?! We need a covering.

Like back when we were in Mound City and would pride ourselves on seeing if we could start a raring bonfire in the middle of a Noahic deluge. As I recall the best we could do was stink our clothes up with smoke and get ash smothered all over our faces as we improvised our lungs for bellows.

When I’m counting money or doing paperwork in our office, mosquitoes are attacking my legs. Dirt from the street swirls in, coating everything. Each morning we wipe surfaces down, but dirt still enters everywhere. Our keyboard on the computer has so much dirt inside it hardly types. Keeping up with the cleaning is a full-time job.

Just like a campout, everything is always dirty.

Tap water is not pure, so drinking water needs to be purchased separately and dishes rinsed in bleach solution. I remember being with Seth in the back woods of Kentucky purifying already-clear water for drinking. I also remember trying to purify Cheney lake water for drinking, somewhat less successfully.

I’m one of the lucky few who have access to a washing machine, but it is a mixed blessing. I can only run it when we have city power, and that is only at night-time (most nights). There have been times I’ve set my alarm clock for midnight to put a load in, but when I woke up city power still wasn’t on! So I set an alarm for 1am, and when I woke up city power WAS on, so I blearily went downstairs to put a load in, came back up to bed, and then watched with dismay as city power clicked back off!

This past Saturday, my laundry situation was desperate, so I paid for some diesel to put in our generator so I could run the laundry in the day. But then it rained or I forgot or something, but needless to say they didn’t get out on the line. Sunday I went to church early and was gone most the day, they still didn’t get dry. Yesterday morning I finally got everything on the lines and right when all was just about finished….. a torrential downpour suddenly erupted and my clothes got soaked before I could pull them off. So I left them on the line to dry out last night. This morning I went out and saw some of my clothes now have bird poop on them, other clothes have mud that splattered up from the ground during the rainstorm., and it looks like most the laundry could use another washing!

It’s not so frustrating to be in Haiti as long as one doesn’t try to do too much. The frustrations come whenever one tries to DO something, such as wash their clothes. I’m going on my 4th day of effort in simply getting a load of laundry clean.

Similar to campouts. The best ones are where you sit around and do a lot of nothing. I’ve learned long ago the best part of hiking is when the hiking is finished.

Let’s see, what else feels like a campout? Well, the last few days my primary internet connection has been down. So I’ve been tethering my laptop to my telephone, or just using my telephone.

This reminds me of Dad trying to figure out where the heck we were using his cell phone on some campout in Oklahoma. Or the time I was using my cell phone to try getting the up-to-date nearby tornado reports while we hunkered down with hail falling all around our heads.

Since nothing is dependable here in Haiti, backups are necessary for everything. For instance, I have two telephones I always carry with me. One is with Natcom, one is with Digicel. If one system goes down (which does happen) I have a backup. With internet ít’s the same way, I have two internet plans I pay for each month through separate providers. With electricity we also have backups: battery backups, solar panels, diesel generator.

On campouts you need backups too. Generally duct tape can be used to backup most anything, which is true here too. One time Luke didn’t even trust that the fluffy pine needles were going to be cushy enough for an improvised pillow and brought his 15 lb feather pillow strapped to the top of an already over-flowing backpack. We were all in awe at the ginormous weight he was lugging, as well as the ponderous angle to which he was leaning forward in order to keep his center of gravity somewhere over his feet.

Electricity being scarce, electric ovens aren’t used here. Instead the ovens are propane. Same with clothes dryers, if you can find one, they are propane too. Same as campouts. Now that we’re all so green to not hurt the environment, fires are frowned upon and we cook over gas stoves in the wild, unless we’re feeling cold in which case we build a monster bonfire anyways. I remember many times trying to dry out wet socks by sticking them beside a roaring fire. Usually I ended up burning one side while making the other wetter somehow.

These last couple months have been pretty hot, and I especially notice it at night. During the day the concrete absorbs heat, and at night they radiate heat back inside. Oftentimes my apartment feels about 10 degrees hotter than outside. But inside is bug-free (more or less), so it’s a trade-off. Each night I usually sleep on top of my sheets in shorts with a fan blowing directly on me at high, and still my sheets are often damp with sweat when I get up and invariably a few mosquitoes will have snacked on me while I slept, fan notwhitstanding. Yesterday morning I woke up with a few bites on the palm of my hand, which I didn’t even know mosquitoes could bite there!

The hottest night I ever remember in my life was camping with the Gillman’s at Lake Texoma. It must have been 110 degrees, and inside of my tent rivers of sweat were trickling out of every pore. It was the most miserabilst of nights, made worse because I knew the Gillmans had air conditioning over in their tent-thingy, as they always tended to bring everything including the kitchen stove when they went camping. Yes, they were forward thinking souls, light years ahead of the 90s camping culture.

Yes, Haiti feels eerily similar to a campout. Just one that never ends!

The great news is that I love camping. And I feel like living in Haiti is giving me good practice for camping again someday when I get a chance.

The Funeral Which May Never Happen

I have a friend I met in Ravine Seche last summer.  His name is Noah and he is 20 years old.  He has a “wife” who is 18 years old.  Her name is Berlin, and together they have a child who is 2 years old.

Last summer when I met them both in the village, he and his wife weren’t seeing eye to eye and were separated.  For several weeks Noah even lived in my home.  I remember oftentimes walking across the stream to where his wife and baby were to visit.  Berlin, for her part, wouldn’t make eye contact or acknowledge Noah’s presence, but would allow him to spend a few minutes with their child.

On many occasions I encouraged Noah to be reconciled with his wife, even later after I left the village and he would come visit me in Port-au Prince.  I especially pressed he take the lead in reconciling because I knew he was the primary person at fault in their separating, as I had gathered both from his personal acknowledgment of guilt as well as other people having exuberantly retold me of past altercations (or one in particular). 

Eventually the two of them did reconcile, and once again began living together.  In fact, Berlin was now pregnant with their second.

Two weeks ago I heard the news Berlin had suddenly died.  “Wow, that is crazy,” I thought.  Just recently I had seen her and the baby when driving Noah back home, and she had seemed healthy.  In fact, Berlin apparently showed no signs of illness right up until the day before she died  She became sick on a Monday and died on Tuesday, along with her unborn baby. 

I asked many questions trying to determine cause of death.  Her symptoms were: 1) a stabbing pain in the middle of her chest that went through to her back – as if a knife were being plunged in, as it was described to me 2) pain in one of her legs 3) complaint of being cold and they put blankets on her. 

Berlin herself ascribed the sudden illness to voodoo, claiming she had been bitten by a zombie.  Her last words to Noah before passing were, “Why did Jeanette do this to me?”  Jeanette being a previously close friend of hers whom she recently had a falling out with.  I was told their last interactions took the form of a public shouting match interlaced with profanity.  The topic of controversy being unknown to Noah, or perhaps he was unwilling to tell me.  Jeanette’s husband is a known voodoo practitioner, and Jeanette herself was also known to dabble in the black arts, or so I was told.

Another anecdote was relayed to me as an omen of import:

On Sunday night, the day before she fell ill, Noah and her were lying in bed preparing to sleep when they smelled a foul odor.  Getting up to investigate, they found a dead and decomposing dog at their front door.  The two of them decided to go out in the dark and dig a shallow hole to bury said dog.  As they were digging the grave, Berlin felt something pass in front of her, like a cold wind, and became frightened.  She told Noah what she had felt, and how she was scared, and he in turn told her it was nothing and she was merely frightened of the dark.  The next day she fell ill, and the following day she passed.

Did she die of complications with the baby?  Did she die of an appendicitis?  Did she die of a blood clot in her leg that caused a pulmonary embolism?  As there was no autopsy done, we will never know what natural causes may have been at work.  What about the supernatural?  Could she have died of a zombie bite?  Did Jeannette have a voodoo doll she was poking pins into?  What was with the dead dog and the cold “spirit” Berlin felt in the night?  Nothing?  Or something?  I defer judgment to the reader.

The mysterious aside, Noah is now left with the challenge of arranging funeral expenses.  Here in Haiti, funerals are expensive events.  Berlin wasn’t dead 24 hours before Noah was down in Port-au Prince looking for money from myself and other relatives to help cover the costs. 

He has not yet been able to raise the money he needs to satisfy the morgue, so….. they in turn are not releasing the body until he does.  Today is the 14th day since she died, and still there is no scheduled day for the funeral. 

I offered a few dollars towards the cost, more of a token gift than anything.  Berlin’s family was apparently upset by my stinginess, and asked Noah, “What is wrong with your Blan, that he’s not paying up?”  Referring to me.

Yes, if Noah didn’t know me, or more importantly, if the morgue and everyone else didn’t know that Noah knew me, I think the funeral would have long been over by now.  But since they know he has an “in” with a white man, they are holding out for the bucks.

Ahh, such is life in Haiti, a complicated and enigmatic place to be sure.

If you think of it, please pray for Noah, and especially for his young son, that arrangements will be made for the toddler to be taken care of. Noah is unable to care for the child himself.

Work Injury

We have a machine called a dough sheeter.  It has two big rollers that spin and the dough is passed between them to flatten it out.  It’s a heavy duty contraption ran by a 13hp diesel engine. 

Our model was built here in Haiti and didn’t come with many (any) safety features. 


Last Thursday morning, one of my guys (Blan) was putting the dough through (like in the picture above) and accidentally put his hand down into the rollers.  The machine kept going until someone could shut off the engine.  His hand was pulled in up to his palm.

His hand has abrasions, swelling, and his thumb is broken.  He’s in the hospital now, and I feel quite bad about it. 


Here in Haiti they are big on overnight hospitalizations.  So today is the 6th day he is in the hospital.  In the States I’m thinking this would have been an out-patient deal.  The hospital is really nice though (Médecins Sans Frontières) and they give all service for free (including the food) so I figure the R&R is probably good for him.  It’s the nicest hospital I’ve seen in Haiti.

Visiting “Blan” in the hospital has been difficult because the hours for visitors is limited.  I’ve been turned away a couple times.  Though one of those times time I managed to sweet-talk my way in anyways. 

The funny thing was, since it wasn’t visiting hours, once I was inside they thought I was a patient and didn’t want me to leave without seeing a doctor and signing out.  I kept explaining I was healthy and there weren’t nothing wrong with me and I was just a visitor and please let me out.