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My Life in Haiti Feels Kind of Like Camping Out

August 26th, 2014

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.

One Response to “My Life in Haiti Feels Kind of Like Camping Out”

  1. Danny R Says:

    I love camping too Nick! Like you mentioned about hiking, it is fun when it is over… Doesn’t seem like your camping trip has an end. That would wear on a soul like me. I pray for you often that you will have strength and safety. I enjoyed your post.

    I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Ps 16:8

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