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Haiti 2013

Update: Here is a news article giving more information about the crash at Port Au Prince: http://www.defend.ht/politics/articles/international/4371-brazilian-air-force-plane-crashes-in-port-au-prince-haiti

Update 2: Adding in ToC, pictures, and some spellchecks.  ‘Day 8′ added.

Table of Contents:

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a travel scare in my life. While attempting to get back to the USA after my time in Haiti, I learned of an inccident involving a crashed airplane on the Port Au Prince airport runway. Thanks to Becky Welter I was able to secure a seat on a flight today, instead of being forced to wait until Thursday to get home. Currently I’m hanging out next to an outlet at my layover in Miami. Below I will be posting a journal from my time outside the country, un-spell-checked, un-changed, and un-edited.

It’s good to be home.


Day 1 – May 21st, 2013

Day 1 and Haiti has begun. I woke up at 3:30am in Minneapolis, enjoying the last moments of an air conditioned bed before showering and heading out the door. Erin kindly brought me to the airport at 4:15am, and I lugged along three heeping suitcases and a backpack. Inside two of the suitcases were a multitude of shoes, shoes recovered from my Papa’s storage unit back in McHenry, IL. Leaving MSP, I had a layover in Miami where I met up with my Aunt Renee and the rest of my family. The first leg of the flight had barely working air, and I was sweating in just a tshirt and shorts. I wasn’t too excited about that, as I wouldn’t be experiencing any cooler weather for the next week.

The layover in Miami was celebrated with some Orange Chicken and fried rice. I did my best to sleep through the second leg of the flight, though that was occasionally interruped by turbulance. I was surprised to see the massive improvements that have occured at the Port Au Price airport. When were last here, it was barely more than concrete walls, a dirt floor, and a conveighor belt to bring suitcases in. This time there was a clean room for baggage pickup, some minimum A/C, and a tiled floor.

The flight down to Haiti
The flight down to Haiti

Baggage claim: where the choas begins. Men gather around the baggage claim with a smile, and an offer to help you with your luggage. Well, it’s less of an offer, and more of a grabbing at your stuff. They’ll carry it for you, but then beg you for money. Just outside of the airport we were greated by a guy selling rosaries for $1. Almost immediatly after buying one, my dad was told “Actually, it’s $5″. The guy hounded him for another $4 until he just gave the rosary back and took back his dollar.

And this was a nice area...
And this was a nice area…

We loaded up with Loll and one of his helpers. Loll is one of our main correspondants here in Haiti, and lives up in the mountain. He makes the trek down from the mountains in his off road SUV to pick us up from the airport and bring us to the Missionaries of Charity. There we are unloaded with our luggage and we spill into the volunteer house next to the orphanage. The drive here was…. well pretty intense. There are NO rules of the road. Right of way is given to the person who cares the least about getting hit, which is usually the biggest vehicle on the road. Motorcyclists ride with up to 4 passengers. Garbage is strewn about everywhere. And somehow, admist all of this commotion, there resides a wounderful group of nuns taking care of children.

Our front door.  One might think it's a prison from the outside.
Our front door. One might think it’s a prison from the outside.

We’re divided amoungst the rooms in the sleeping quarters. On the third floor is a boys’ room, girls’ room, and a room for Debbie and Bob, the regulars. Below us on the second floor and Johnny and Inès, each in their own rooms. I haven’t had much interaction with either of them, but they both seem very nice.

For dinner we gathered in the kitchen to a feast of Mac ‘n Cheese, tuna, wheat thins, apples, and peanut butter. It’s about 10pm at night, and the temperature is a balmy 89F. I’m sweaty, and about to down some sleeping pilss. Goodnight Haiti, I’ll see you in the morning.

Day 2 – May 22nd, 2013

The view out back
The view out back

Another swealtering day has passed. Maybe it’s the heat, but I feel far more exhausted today than yesterday. In the morning we took care of some of the orphan children, holding them and rocking them in our arms. Some were energetic enough to play with us, though most just wanted to be held. Noon signified a break for the nuns, and we hopped back over to the volunteer building for some lunch. Now, I love hamburgers as much as the next guy, but it’s hard to enjoy a hot meal when it’s ~90F. Hamburgers, baked beans, and corn off the cob prepared us for the daily nap.

At 3pm we were allowed back over to see the kids, though I accompanied Bob and my dad to the roof of the building to try and diagnose the electrical problem they were having. On top of the roof are 10 large solar panels. Haiti has no shortage of sunlight, and harnessing that solar power to charge batteries is a good idea. There is a battery bank at the ground level on the outside of the building, and large cables run down the walls to charge them. Seeing all of the wiring really made me miss the clean electrical systems we have in the US. Nothing was labeled, and even even worse was that a black wire sometimes meant ‘hot’, and sometimes meant ground.

We worked on it for a while, and eventually Bob suggested we try to draw everything out on a piece of paper to help get our minds around it’s complexity. I went over with a voltmeter and started measuring things here and there, as well as drawing out a schematic. I soon realized that one of the power lines hooked up to the battery banks wasn’t in the right spot. Borrowing some tools, I took it off and placed it in the correct location. We then flipped a few fuses in the circuit breaker and they had power! The nuns seemed quite happy as it hadn’t been working for several weeks.

Immediatly after fixing the electricity it started raining. I stood outside and ejoyed it for a while, as it’s the coldest thing I’ve felt since arriving. For dinner we had potato soup with shredded cheddar cheese. A good meal, but still hot food in hot weather. Olivia, my mom, my dad, and myself played ‘Toss Up ‘, a decently fun dice game that I won.

Since I’ve arrived down here I’ve been trying to put myself in the mindset of a Haitian child, what it must be like to live here, and how these conditions are normal for Haitian life. Roads aren’t paved, water isn’t safe to drink, weather is always hot, and any building with importance or valuables is surrounded by high cement walls with barbed wire on top. Garbage lays out in the streets, as there is no proper waste management system. Put simply, I don’t even think I can begin to imagine what life would be like to live her. Even though the days are long and hot, I still know that on Monday I can jump into an airplane and fly back home to my girlfriend and puppy, and blast the air conditioning and have steady/cheap electricity all day long. I wish I could say I empathize for these kids, but I know I truly can’t.

Day 3 – May 23rd, 2013

Day 3, or as it will be henceforth known, ‘The Best Day’. Today felt like an actual vacation day. Since we were here last year, the nuns have instated a rule that volunteers are not allowed to play with the children on Thursdays. This gives them a day for prayer and time to deal with the children and not have to worry about managing volunteers as well. While today was a good day, last night was the worst I have slept. The rain from yesterday cooled it off before going to bed, but my dad’s snoring was the loudest I have ever heard, and the rooster across the river decided it was time to crow at 3am. I “slept in” until 9am, and then got ready for our trip to a local artists’ shop. I bought a few magnets and metal turtles, and then we drove off with Loll to the “Visa Restaraunt”, which was a restaraunt attached to a nice hotel. They had a nice buffet which included mushroom chicken and beef.

While it was interesting to drive through the city, I find it truly impossible to put into words the conditions that you see people living in. We bought $2.50USD worth of fried plantanes off of a guy on the side of the street, and he said it was his “biggest sale of the day”. It’s hard to imagine his biggest sale of the day being pocket change for us.

Rain, rain.... don't go away, please stay!
Rain, rain…. don’t go away, please stay!

Recovering from a bad night of sleep, I took a nap after we got back to the orphanage. I woke up and shortly before dinner it started to rain. Then it started to rain harder. I ran outside and played in the rain along with my mom. We were soon joined by Debbie, Bob, Mary, Olivia, and my dad. We all ran around singing and dancing, enjoying the cool rain to refresh us after a hot day. Some of us, including myself, grabbed some shampoo and washed our hair with clean rainwater. It was a great way to have some fun before cooking up dinner. The Grams also arrived today, and they joined us for dinner. I played some Toss Up with them, and won!

Game night!
Game night!

Tomorrow we need to wake up at 6:30 to get ready for a trip up the mountain for food distribution. Hopefully I can get a good night of sleep in order to make it up the mountain and do some good.

Day 4 – Morning of May 24th, 2013

Haiti and I are not on good terms. Whoever is throwing a concert at 6am is a jerk, the rooster across the river needs to be made into chicken soup, and the person dragging steel plates across one another needs to just stop.

Beautiful, but dangerous
Beautiful, but dangerous

Day 5 – Morning of May 25th, 2013

Hard to believe it’s Saturday already. I had my best night of sleep yet as my Aunt Renee gave me some foam ear plugs that expand out after you smush them into your ear. Still more bug bites though.

Yesterday we went up into the mountains with Loll. It is quite the trek to get up there, as it takes an hour and a half when there is no traffic. We made our way through the city, and eventually made our way onto dirt roads that barely qualify as roads. We drove right up to the school and were greeted by the whole town. Students from the school, parents, grandparents, everyone showed up to see what we had brought. (Side note: we just lost power) It was a bittersweet experience, as it was great to be able to give things to these people, people who obviously needed it, but as resources were scarce people seemed to fight one another just to get there hands on a little bit more. We gave away DumDum lollies to the kids, and it quickly became a brawl for obtaining more candy.

Donkey parking lot we saw on the way up the mountain.
Donkey parking lot we saw on the way up the mountain.
Cute kid
Cute kid

Eventually Loll broke in and established order. He told everyone to be nice or they would get nothing. We then distributed some shoes, children’s cloths, and stuffed animals. After that we visited their computer room, where we had donated an additional 10 laptops. The students seemed very excited to have computers, and some even had flash drives with music that they started listening to. Next we brought in some new donkeys, and donated them to families in need. A donkey costs about $250, and it makes a world of difference for a family on the mountain. Normally while parents work on the farm, kids have to travel several miles to get fresh water and bring it back to their home. On the other hand, a single person can lead several donkeys from multiple families to carry back much more water as donkeys are stronger and faster than little kids. The largest impact this makes though is that it frees us a child’s time so they can go to school. With an educated they can break the cycle of poverty that their families are in. I learned a lot about this last year on my first trip to Haiti, so when my mother called me to ask me what I wanted for Christmas that year, I gleefully replied, “A donkey.” I was extremely pleased that year when I received several pairs of underwear and an ornament with a donkey painted on it. “I couldn’t wrap your donkey, so that’s to represent the donkey you’re getting for Haiti”, Mom said.

The kids enjoying our Montini jerseys.
The kids enjoying our Montini jerseys.

There are only two hangups with getting donkeys:

1) We have to purchase them from a local donkey breeder, and he can only produce a limited number of donkeys each year.

2) We’re supposed to pick out names, and finding a name that Hatians can pronounce is sometimes harder than you would think.

The donkey, "Sage"
The donkey, “Sage”.  The guy in green is Loll.
"Gene", another donkey
“Gene”, another donkey

The first hangup should really be considered a good thing. We’ve bought the maximum number of donkeys available each year because people are so willing to help. This year Mary’s boss at Sage bought two donkeys, named ‘Sage’ and ‘Nick’. When thinking about what to name my donkey, I thought back to my grandfather passing away last December. He was stubborn at times, and liked to carry around a bunch of stuff in his little S10 pickup. As donkeys are typically known for being stubborn and carrying stuff around for their owners, I thought Eugene would be fitting, though I shortened it to ‘Gene’. Six donkeys were donated this year, and the smiles on the faces of the families receiving them were priceless.

If you are interested in donating a donkey, or anything else to a family in DesPinas, please email me at joe+haiti@pintozzi.com.

The final event up in the mountains was to donate food. It is often that families in DesPinas are unable to grow enough food to sustain themselves, much less make extra and sell it at a local market. In order to help them, each year Lol gathers donations and we do a food distribution to the local families. Last year we donated rice and beans, but nearing the end a small riot started and we had to shut it down. This year we had pasta noodles and oil for the people, and things went much more smoothly.

View from Loll's balcony
View from Loll’s balcony

After we finished all of our projects for the day, we stopped at Loll’s house before heading back down the mountain. He thanked us with lemon water and crossaints wrappedaround hot dogs. The ride back to Port Au Price took two hours as traffic was getting worse. I learned the reason for the traffic was that all students get out of school at noon on Fridays. We got home around 3pm, and I slept until 5:30pm. Upon waking up, Aunt Renee and I started making spaghetti for dinner. Mary and Olivia kindly helped by making garlic bread. We arranged all of the tables in the breezeway to fit all 11 volunteers. It was a good day, and while there was no rain yesterday afternoon, the temperature was cooler than usual as I fell asleep.

Day 5 – Night of May 25th, 2013

Bebes
Bebes

The day has passed and it was one of the “usual”. Holding, playing with, and feeding kids. A few of the orphans went to the zoo today, though I heard it was a goat, some snakes, and not too much else. The rest of the kids got the pleasure of spending the day with us. It was a very tuna filled day, as lunch was tuna on crackers, and dinner was tuna cassarole. Being a fan of tuna I didn’t mind, especially as dinner was prepared by team Gram/Horvathand. After dinner we played Crazy 8s, a few rounds of Hot Potato, and then Keep Up. I don’t know if it’s the heat, the confinement to small spaces, or just enjoying time with my family, but it was a blast. It’s also been cool hearing Bob Welter’s stories from being a motorcycle dealer for Kawasaki.

A number of the kids here are having their first communion tomorrow. There is an open air ‘church’ next door that has a tin roof. Througout the day today it has been getting decorated with flags and colorful streamers hanging from the ceiling. There is a strict dress code enforced however, and as I did not bring pants nor closed toed shoes I will most likely not be attending. Sad to think we only have one full day left. While I miss my life back in Saint Paul, MN, I’ve really enjoyed the time with my family and the rest of the people here.

Tonight should be a good night of sleep. We have electricity and there it is raining, which always helps put me to sleep. With the windows ajar and a few sleeping pills in my stomach, I say, “na weh pita”.

Ominous sky
Ominous sky

Day 6 – Morning of May 26th, 2013

This morning I was greated to another rock/regae concert from down the river somewhere. It wasn’t necessarily the best way to start the morning, but there is a small breeze flowing through the building today, so I’m grateful for that. After laying down for bed, my dad asked me an interesting question: “Joe, why do you come here?” I immediatly understood the root of his question. My family is extremely religious, especially my parents. Since going to college I’ve started to move further and further away from Christianity and more towards an agnostic faith. Down here in Haiti, the orphanage we work with is run by the Missionaries of Charity, a group of nuns. Religion is a large part of what drives the work done here. What I understood my father’s question to be was, “Joe, if you’ve lost your faith in Jesus, why do you come here to do his work?” For me, being down here has absolutely nothing to do with religion and everything to do with wanting to help other people, plain and simple. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. I don’t come here to earn ‘Good Christian Credits’ to earn my way into Heaven, I come here to take care of orphans, and help those in need, because that’s what we all should do.

That whole conversation made me think of one of the other volunteers here, Katie. Yesterday after dinner we talked about college, those of us who graduated talked about our past experiences, and those in college talked about current experiences. Katie mentioned she wants to be a social worker, and my immediate reaction was, “Why would you want to do that?” Not said aloud, but thought in my head, and after thinking some more it totally makes sense. She wants to help others, for the rest of her life. I enjoy a comfortable desk job, sitting in front of a computer, manipulating bytes, and once a year I come to Haiti for a week to work with those in need. Katie, on the other hand, looks to do that for the rest of her life even if it means making little pay. I find that to be extremely admirable, and I think maybe we all should put some effort into being more like her.

As of this moment, the First Communion Mass is occuring about 40 feet from where I’m sitting. Through a wall and across a short walkway is the open air chapel. Things here aren’t on an exact schedule. Mass was supposed to start at 9am, but as the priest isn’t local and has to travel from far away, mass just starts whenever he gets here. Last year he arrived about 45 minutes after 9am, though today he seemed somewhat on time. While I can’t understand the words of the children singing, they still sound just as great as any English speaking group of kids. It’s interesting though, because the regae concert hasn’t stopped from down the river, so it almost feels like a Battle of the Hatian Bands(tm).

The only thing I wish for is that my family can be happy with my willingness to do good here, and not have it marred by the fact I don’t share their same religious beliefs.

Day 6 – Post Shower Thoughts

Nap time
Nap time

It’s hard to describe to people how things are here. The quality of everything here is lower than that in America. For example, take our shower. There is plumbing inside of the walls for the shower, but it was done with poor construction and eventually started leaking. Instead of taking the old system apart and fixing it, they installed a second system with 1/2″ PVC pipes on the exterior of the walls. This has resulted in two knobs, one for the existing system that now does nothing, and one that controls the flow through the new PVC system. There is also just one knob for the water because there is no hot or cold, there is just water, which happens to be whatever temperature the sun has heated it up to. The water is stored in 100 gallon plastic drums on the roof, and is connected to the building via an array of pipes leading down into the rooms. The drums on the roof are filled with water pumped up from sisterns below ground, which just collect runoff rain. Last year there was a fairly large dry spell, which resulted in a few of our water reserves running empty.

5 stars on Yelp!
5 stars on Yelp!

The building construction is completely different. As there are no fire stations, nor fire hydrants, and I highly doubt fire extinquishers, fire is a real problem in Haiti. Buildings are constructed almost completely with non-flamable matterials. Cement walls, steal doors, glass windows with metal frames. All of these things contribute to a prison-y feeling when you’re staying inside. Doors do not have knobs, just locks/deadbolts that you need a key to open. There are bars over every window, even the internal ones that lead from a bedroom to a shared hallway. While we were up in the mountains, Loll showed us how a company is Florida is trying to market “American homes” to the people of Haiti. Wood homes with nice siding, wooden front doors, all of the typical things you see in America. He went on to say how he didn’t think they would take off, because American homes do not have a place in Haiti. They burn easily, they are easily broken into, and require far more upkeep then four cement walls and a tin roof. It brings to light the truth that Hatian problems can not always be resolved with American solutions, which I think is sometimes a hard concept to grasp.

Day 6 – The Final Night

A late night in Haiti is anything past 9pm. The heat combined with the ever building exhaustion forces people to fall asleep early. Tonight I attempted to tough it out a little longer than usual in an attempt to enjoy the last night in Haiti. For dinner we cooked up some pizzas that we made with dough, sauce, cheeses, pepperoni, and some mushrooms. After that we baked several kinds of muffins and some brownies. The prolonged usage of the oven caused the kitchen to get really hot, so we hung out in the breezeway to cool down. The Grams joined us for dinner, and afterwards Aunt Renee and I tackled a Sudoku puzzle. Either Sudoku puzzles have gotten harder, or my puzzle solving skills have greatly decreased.

Rain coming down the mountain
Rain coming down the mountain

I was hoping tonight would give us time for Keep Up 2: The Squeeky Chair’s Revenge, but as everyone was tired I guess it’ll have to wait until next year. Bob and Debbie have been coming to Haiti, and have been doing this work for over ten years now. They also usually stay for atleast 3 weeks. I have a lot of respect for them, in that after one week I’m very much looking to go home. At the same time, I look forward to coming back and hope to bring a few friends with me next time.

There is another volunteer group that has been working with the Missionaries of Charity at the same time as us, though they are not residing on the grounds here. Instead, they drive in each morning, and go home each evening. They have been doing some other activities as well, including visiting San Fi (the house of the dying), and helping out with a shoe and clothing distribution in Tent City. Tent City earned its name by, if you haven’t guessed it already, being a city where all of the homes are just tents. It is true to the saying “the poorest of the poor”. Several volunteers who worked at the distribution came to the nutrition clinic in the early afternoon and told us of the sadness that occurred. They started distribution around 9am, and in an effort to not encourage hand-outs, people were required to give 5 gots (Hatian coins) in order to gain entry into the distribution center. At the time of writing this, $1 USD is equal to about 42 gots. This means 5 gots is about 12 cents. I guess not long after started distribution, people starting trying to get in for 1 got, or sometimes for free, and following that a riot broke up. No one knows why, maybe people got impatient, maybe they were worried that the shoes and clothing would run out. A Hatian man with nails coming out of a plank of wood started swinging it at other people to move to the front of the line. The mob tried to pull two of the volunteers who were guarding the front doors out into the street. Sadly, they had to shut down the distribution before it was even finished.

It’s a bittersweet feeling to know I am going home tomorrow. I’m excited to be back in my cozy and warm bed with the air conditioning cranked to the maximum amount of snowflakes, to be able to shave with a fresh Feather blade in my razor, and to even just communicate with people via text message. But I’m sad that I will no longer be able to volunteer my time alongside my sisters, my parents, my aunt, my new friends, nor will I be able to pick up and help take care of the children here. It’s common to not know a child’s real name while here, as they either don’t talk, or may speak so incoherently that trying to pick out the word that is their name in a sentence comprised of a foreign language is impossible. Often we will give them names that we make up, or name them after people they remind us of. There is a small girl here who seems to love picking up garbage off the floor, so she was named “Lil’ Gene”, in honor of my Papa. She is always talking and moving around, either babling like babies do, or speaking some very sloppy Creol.

I’m happy to have been reminded of what is important in life. It’s not my car, nor my motorcycle, nor the bar across the street from my apartment, nor my fancy laptop. Family, friendship, laughter, taking care of others. That is what is important, and that is why no matter how hard things may get at times down here, I’m still happy.

Day 7 – The Not-Final Day

It’s 5pm on Monday. I should be in Miami, waiting to board my flight to Minneapolis. Instead, I am just finishing up putting a baby down to sleep at the nutrition center. “But Joe”, you may be wondering, “Why did you not take make your flight to Miami?” Well, that’s because that flight never occured.

Yesterday at 2pm an airplane bound for Brazille started to take off from Port Au Prince. Before finishing take off one of the engines started on fire. The pilot aborted takeoff and turned into the grass. All ~139 travelers were able to make it off the plane safely, but the plane did not fully clear the tarmac. The tail of the airplane is currently sticking out, preventing any other aircraft from being able to take off. All flights since 2pm have been cancelled until tomorrow.

I learned of these events this morning. Inès ran up to me and exclaimed, “You are not leaving today my friend!” I incorrectly assumed she was joking, and simply loved having me around so much that she just wished I would stay longer. Interested in whether is was my charming good looks, my amazing sense of humor, or maybe my washboard abs that had her pining over me, I further enquired with, “Oh, is that so?” “Yes, a plane crashed on the runway.” O_o That ruled out the abs, but atleast I still had a chance with the humor and smile.

It’s definitely a bittersweet feeling. The hardest part about not going home today is that my mind was mentally prepared to be home by 10:30pm tonight. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t care that I was drenched in sweat and slept like crap. I could sleep on the way home, and change into my final clean outfit before departing for the airport. Life was looking good, and I would treat myself to a chocolate shake when I got home. Now that is not the case. My ‘going home’ outfit has become my final clean outfit that needs to last me three more days. As the nearest washing machine is probably in Florida, I brought already worn pairs of underwear and shirts into the shower with me this morning and scrubbed them clean. Currently they hang in the breezeway, providing mild shade in the evening sun.

The reprecussions of being stuck her vary for each of us here. Mary has no additional PTO banked at her new job, so she’ll be taking these next few days unpaid. I myself am allowed to spend PTO before earning it, but this means I will probably have to cancel the second vacation I had planned for this fall. The malaria medication I have requires that I take it 5 days past my return to America, but the amount I have assumed I would only be here for 7 days. I’ll have to make an appointment with the travel clinic to get three more pills, but I’m supposed to fly out on Friday down to Chicago, so I have a 18 hour window from when I land in MSP to when I take off again to get to the clinic. The list goes on with what I need to do, but I’ll stop here.

For now it’s time to eat, and I’m quite hungry. Hor voua.

Day 7 – Cause I’m leavin on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again

“It’s getting hot in here (so hot!), so take off all your cloths.” Wise words Nelly, but sadly I can’t strip naked in the middle of the volunteer house.

Dinner was spaghetti with some noodles we had cooked up a few nights ago, sliced cheesy potatoes with spam, mangos, and a muffin. Personally, I’m starting to get a little sick of mangos. They are naturally sweet, but so much so I find it a little overwhelming. The cheesy potatoes hit the spot, though I’m still craving something cold to eat. Ice cream, a turkey sandwhich, ice cubes, I’d take anything at this point. We have a freezer atop the refridgerator here, though as the power goes out intermittently throughout the day, it’s not often that things get cold enough to freeze.

After dinner everyone gathered out on the balcony of the 3rd floor. The girls talked about weddings coming up this summer, and past travels when studying abroad. The men talked about sports and workman’s comp. laws. For a while I got to talk to the Horvaths about bringing other people next year, things we loved about Haiti, and things we didn’t like as much. We (the Pintozzi’s) have done this at the end of each day, calling it out “Pits and Peaks”. There weren’t many peaks today, as we’re still currently stuck, unable to travel until Thursday.

Yesterday we gave Johnny and Inès most of our food that was leftover from the week. Upon hearing that we were unable to depart today, they brought it back upstairs with a smile on their face, knowing we would probably need some of it. Inès and the Grams/Horvaths are staying on floor two, and Johnny is staying on the first floor. I discovered today that the second floor gets cool enough that Katie sleeps with a sheet over herself so she doesn’t get too cold. I think I can honestly say that for the first time I am jealous of someone else down here. I’d love to be cold not-hot enough to warrant the use of a sheet/blanket.

Currently Dad and Olivia are sitting on the balcony listening to an internet radio stream for the Blackhawks vs Redwings game. It’s the end of the first and it’s tied 1-to-1. I’m rooting for the Hawks more than ever, because Dad says if the Hawks win this game to tie the series 3-to-3, and they play the series final on Wednesday, he’ll consider getting a room at the Visa Hotel down the street to watch the game. They also happen to have free WiFi, air conditioning, beer, and a pool, the only four things I’d care to have right now. There has been a good bit of thunder and lightning for the past two hours, but it’s just been one giant cock tease as no rain has fallen and it’s still 89F out. It’s so hot and humid that I almost appreciate it when someone sneezes on me, because atleast then there is some air moving past my body. I have to wonder through it all how people live like this for their whole life. Sitting with two battery powered fans, a ceiling fan, and a standing floor fan blowing on me and I still feel like I’m melting. Yet, at the same time, millions of people live in this country, some never even knowing what air conditioning is. With each passing day my respect for the people who volunteer here grows. Yes, they give up their time as a donation, but they also take on monetary burdens (plane tickets here are not cheap), they give up the comforts of home, and most don’t even know the language. How some do it for three weeks, others for three months, I’ll probably never know.

We’ve been working with Becky, Bob and Debbie’s daughter, as she is some kind of enterprise travel agent for Mercedes who deals exclusively with American Airlines. Rumor has it that AA will be sending 1-2 additional planes in tomorrow to help get the backlog of people out of the country. She is going to do her best to get us out of here earlier, though I’m not banking on it. My brain is starting to feel scattered. Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the fact that all of my plans for the week have been thrown into a total loop, maybe it’s the lack of sleep and beer, but I’m finding it hard to concentrate. I know I’ll wake up sweaty in the morning, uncertain of what the day holds for me. All I can do is hope for the best, and pray I don’t get a terrible case of diherria.

Day 8 (and 9, 10, 11…) – Finally Home

I’m back, I’m finally back. On Tuesday, around 11am, my dad rushed into the room where Olivia, Mary, and Katie were hanging out and exclaimed, “We’re going home today!” We looked puzzled, and I was a little skeptical. We had been told we would be waiting until Thursday, and this was two days sooner.

When we had found out our flight was cancelled, we spent some time talking to our Aunt Patti, giving her our information, and she kindly helped us reschedule our flights. Later we found out that Becky Welter worked as a travel agent, and could possible be our fast track to getting an earlier flight. We called her and begged asked nicely if she could do anything to get us out sooner.

It turns out she could!  On Tuesday morning she had called and left my dad a voicemail.  His phone was off, so he didn’t receive the message until 11am (when he informed us).  We then had a mild panic.  Without having a car, we relied on others to get around.  A phone call to Loll and he said he would come down the mountain to give us a ride to the airport.  Upon arriving to the airport we were greeted with a long line.  While waiting in line, the power went out.  A true scare if I had ever felt one.  Thankfully power came back on shortly after, and everyone got checked in.  Walking towards the gate I looked down and saw I hadn’t actually been assigned a seat number.  Weird…

I asked the guy at the gate, and he informed me I was flying standby.  Oh.  Shit.  That’s not good, as the rest of the Pintozzi (and Dowe) crew had assigned seats.  My parents went up to bat and asked the lady in charge of checking people in what was going on.  She said that while I hadn’t been assigned a seat yet, I would for sure be assigned one by the time the plane came in.  A few minutes later I heard over the loudspeaker, “Joe-seph Pen-toe-zee, please come to the gate.”  I was stunned to be handed a business class plane ticket.

Business Class! Woohoo!
Business Class! Woohoo!

Mary and Olivia appeared quite jealous, but soon they too were called up to the gate. Our whole Pintozzi family was offered complementary upgrades to business class. A shining example of karma if I’ve ever seen one. The flight back was filled with free food and beer, it was fantastic. The only change to my flight pattern was that instead of having a single layover in Miami, I had two, one in Miami and the other in Chicago overnight. A slight curveball, but Brad and Danny were gracious enough to host me for the night. In the morning I took a cab back to O’Hare airport, flew back to Minneapolis/Saint Paul, took the train straight to the office, and got in a half day of work.

And free!
Delicious and free!

I’m still catching up. Not getting home for 2 days after I had planned really made a few things wonky. Thankfully I’m almost back on track and everything is looking great. It was an amazing trip and I hope to be able to go back again next year. I’ve obtained a greater appreciation from what I have in this world, and look forward to enriching the lives of the less fortunate for years to come.

Haiti – Part 3

Do the Haiti posts ever end?!?!  I certainly hope not.  If all goes well, by the time I run out of content to post I’ll be back there doing some more work.

On our third day in Haiti we were fortunate enough to be given a tour of Louverture Cleary, a non-profit Haitian boarding school that works to educate young people in the community.  Put short, I think they are doing some great work out there, but their headmaster/president/leader is a pompous ass.  That said, the volunteers are great people who truly care about the students there.  All of the students are friendly and respectful.  They have beautiful gardens with magnificent flowers.

The students themselves take part in maintaining the gardens, though they do have a gardener who helps as well.

Since Louverture Cleary is a boarding school, all of the students live there from Monday to Friday, and then go home on the weekend to see their family.  Having so many kids around requires a large kitchen staff with HUGE pots.  We walked through the kitchen and saw women hard at work with smiles on their faces.

Lunch never smelled so good

Since buildings cannot rely on electricity from the city, Louverture Cleary has installed solar panels on their roof, and maintains a bank of battery backups, in order to provide power all day long to their students.  They also have two large generators they can run in case the solar panels do not get enough sun throughout the day.

On the way back from LC to our temporary home with the Missionaries of Charity, I was able to snap a picture of one of the local “taxis”.  They are called “tap taps”, I can only assume because you bang on the side when you want to get off, and they pull over to let you depart.  Most of them are old pickup trucks that have a bed cover installed with extensions, so people can sit in the back.

The second picture is pretty out of focus, it seems my camera decided to focus on the dirt on the window, rather than the tap tap itself, but you can see people huddled into the back.  I’m not sure exactly how they pay, I think it’s just on the honor system.

It was great to see a children of Haiti being given a wonderful education, including three new languages!  (Spanish, French, and English were all taught there)  I hope LC and schools like it can continue their programs, and gain support from people/groups here in the States.

Haiti – Part 2

It’s been three full days since I’ve been back in America, and every day I’m reminded how fortunate I am.  From the little, to the big, everything in some way makes me remember how lucky I am to live in this country.  For instance, take our simple living arrangements.

Our "front door"

While I am both extremely grateful and thankful for the living arrangements provider to us by the Missionaries of Charity, I am equally if not more thankful for the home I have in McHenry.  In Haiti, the doors were always locked in order to keep us safe and off the streets.  The large steel doors made it feel somewhat prison-y, but they are used due to the fact that wood doors easily warp when not properly maintained, and steel offers better security against those trying to break in.

The weather never went below 88°F, and we considered ourselves lucky when a slight breeze rolled through our living quarters.

Hot. Every day.

By day 2 I was riddled with bug bites and used to avoiding water unless it came in a bottle.  For me, that was the hardest thing to get used to.  I’m one of those “weirdos” (read: engineer who likes efficiency) who brushes his teeth in the shower.  In a country where you can’t be sure of the water’s cleanliness, that is a big NO-NO.  No opening your mouth in the shower, no brushing your teeth with water from the sink.  Even the jugs that the water came in needed to be cleaned and rinsed with bleach water before we could open them.

Eventually all of these things became habit, but the first thing I did upon my return home was take a shower with my mouth wide open.  It’s just so refreshing.  And if you’ve never tried, you should.

Cooking was also an interesting experience.  Since we couldn’t leave the “fortress”, we couldn’t visit the grocery store.  We did have someone who helped us, a very nice man named Vilar, who could pick up a few things for us if necessary, but that was usually more along the lines of paper platers, napkins, etc.  Our frozen chicken and Bubba Burgers were smuggled in via backpacks with ice packs inside of them.  Cooking in front of a propane stove in 90° weather is not something I would put on top of my “Favorite things to do in Haiti” list, but it was definitely an experience.

Olivia and Dad cooking chicken and rice

No TV, and often no electricity, forced us to keep our minds off the heat and find ways to entertain ourselves.  Sadly I forgot my book at home, and became what Olivia and Mary would consider to be an annoying pest as I found ways to entertain myself.  One such way was to watch the lizards crawl around the ceiling and sometimes attack each other.  Of course everyone watched, and often a little bit of quiet reading time would be interrupted by a finger pointed upwards.  “LOOK!”

My name is Inigo Montoya...

The girls did NOT like when the lizard-battles were occurring directly above them, but I found it to be pretty exciting.  There was a large plus side to no TV/electronics, it was great for everyone to open up and share stories.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve laughed as much as I did on that trip.  We make jokes, shared childhood memories, poked fun at one another, and had a fantastic time getting to know each other.  I can also now say without a doubt in my mind that Mary’s boyfriend, Eddie, is a great guy and is a perfect match for her.  Though I mostly think that because he gives her crap and causes her as much grief as I do.

Just look at those faces

We helped the Sisters in any way that would could, whether it be holding children, feeding the babies, watching youngsters during mass, tiring out the energetic ones before bed, or other miscellaneous things like cutting pills in half.  A whole pill has a dosage that is too high for the babies who need them, so we spent hours cutting pills in half, which would then be administered to the children.

The pill gang

I’m happy to be back.  I’m catching up on all my TV shows that I missed, and reading more of my books.  One thing is for certain though; every now and again I’d like to turn off the TV, turn off the cell phones, sit around with my friends and family, share our stories, and enjoy the happiness that we bring to each other’s lives.

Haiti – Part 1

I start this as a part one because I know I will not be able to contain the last 8 days of my life into one post.  My trip to Haiti was exhilarating, heartbreaking, and most definitely an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

My family and I, as well as Father Sherry and my Aunt Renee, flew out to Haiti via Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, May 21st.  It was a tiring morning, as we left the house around 4am, but we were happy on the inside.

The fly out
The morning of our departure

The women were all professionals, as they had made the trip before.  I, on the other hand, had no clue on what to expect once we arrived.  I had seen poverty in China, back when I visited there in 2006, but it did not compete with the poverty of Haiti.  We stayed with the Missionaries of Charity, a group of nuns who have patience and compassion that I have yet to see matched by another human being.  They take care of orphaned, sick, and dying children on a daily basis, something that wore me out after one week.  I cannot begin to imagine all the things they have seen in the years they have been doing their work.

Butch with two babies
Dad with two little ones

For a while I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation.  The first day I was there I thought, “Holding kids is nice, but what can I build to help?  When does the construction/restoration/painting start?  Where is all the manly work?”  It was then that I was fortunate enough to meet a terrorizing youngster named Augustine.  She was a bit of a playground bully, but nice as far as kids go, and always had a huge smile on.  We were playing, and I was giving her piggy-back rides around the playground, when my mom came up to me with a somber look on her face and stated, “She has AIDS.”  It wasn’t meant to damper the mood, rather to educate, and it worked.  I realized that each of those children are there for a reason, and that holding them, playing with them, and letting them feel loved and cared about was more important than any door hinge I could fix, wall I could paint, or window I could install.  Were it not for the Missionaries of Charity, these kids would most likely die within a few days, alone and forgotten.

Helping Jameson shoot some hoops

Holding those children and playing games with them is the most rewarding thing I have done with my life, and while I want to go back to help restore homes and feed the hungry, I will always make sure to take the time to hold a child, and let them feel loved.