The Mad Mad Mad Mad World

Be sweet, and do awesome stuff all the time

The Best Rubble Site Ever December 5, 2010

True to my word, I’ve been doing a lot more rubbling since I’ve been back from break. In the past week I had my first experience as a rubble team leader, on what has been referred to by newcomers and veterans alike as “The Best Rubble Site Ever.”

One of the biggest problems with the aid work that’s going on around these parts is the lack of co-ordination between actors. For example, All Hands has been clearing residential rubble sites since the project started up in February. The idea was that once the slab where their home got cleared, families could safely move back onto their property. At first the immediate goal was to get tents to the people who’d lost their homes (they were still working on this when I arrived in May), then they moved on to transitional shelters (or “T-shelters” as they’re called in NGO speak – we’ll take any chance we can get to condense terminology into acronyms), which are basic one-room houses with metal frames covered in plastic sheeting to make it weatherproof. The next step will be the safe reconstruction of homes, and there’s no word on a plan for that so far. Coming back in October, it was disheartening to see rubble sites that we cleared in the Spring still sitting empty, tropical weeds overtaking the concrete slab, with no family and no form of shelter. There is an endless list of reasons why and excuses that we’ve heard from all sides, most of which have to do with the bureaucracy that goes along with issues related to land ownership and giving away something as large as a home for free. Still, it’s hard to see the hours of work we put in seemingly going to waste.

But wait, this is a happy story! In the past few months All Hands has been partnering with the Red Cross (the Canadian sector of which has a small T-shelter factory in our backyard) in an effort to expediate the process of getting families out of temporary living situations, such as IDP camps and living in cramped quarters with extended family and neighbours, and into a shelter on their own land. The Red Cross gives the family tools to clear their slab, and we send a small team of volunteers to help them with the smashing and the shovelling. The work usually goes pretty quickly, as the families are motivated to move the rubble that’s been keeping them off their land for the past 10 months. After the slab is clear, the Red Cross sets up a T-shelter for the family and they can move in right away. Brilliant! Why weren’t we doing it this way all along?

The site I was on was a bit unconventional (yes, there is a full spectrum of rubble sites, ranging from “classic” to “epic” to “f***ing insane!!”). The first storey of the house remained structurally sound, but the second floor was badly damaged and threatened the integrity of the rest of the house. Our awesome demolition team came in first to tear down the most dangerous part, then the rubblers came in to help the family clear off what is now the roof of their one-storey house. Charlie, an amazing carpenter and all-around great guy from northern California, MacGuyver-ed up a “rubble chute” to (somewhat) safely get the rubble to ground level, where we used it to build a new road for the neighbourhood.

The family was great to work with, especially the lady of the house. She worked non-stop, running giant wheelbarrow loads out to the street and eventually taking charge of the actual construction of the road. A neighbour passing by stopped to gawk at her, and commented that she shouldn’t be doing hard labour like this. Without missing a beat with her shovel, Madam answered “Apre douz janvye, tout moun travay,” – After January 12th, everybody works.

Happy International Volunteer Day, everyone!

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Back in Haiti and Sweaty as Ever October 16, 2010

Filed under: Haiti,rubble — themadmadmadmadworld @ 2:30 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I arrived back in Haiti just over 48 hours ago and the amount that I have sweat can already be measured in litres. The seasons have changed since I left here in July, and everyone agrees that it’s much cooler than before. Great news! I no longer pour sweat out of every part of my body from just lying around; I now have to at least lift my little finger before I feel that familiar trickle.

Today I lifted much more than just my litte finger. It was my first full day back out in the field “rubbling”, and man was it ever amazing. When I first started volunteering with All Hands Volunteers in May, it was called Hands On Disaster Response and their main function in Haiti was clearing rubble and doing demolition work for residential properties. Over the course of my time here, and during the three months that I was back home in Canada, the project has changed a lot. Instead of having 120+ people living together on base all the time, we’re down to about 70-80 volunteers. And instead of sending out 5-10 teams of volunteers to rubble, today we were just one team of 12. More people are here long-term and are involved in more sustainable development-type projects like developing hygiene education programs and constructing schools. It makes for a very different feeling on base…fewer sweaty shirtless men, more people cooped up in the office or in meetings, and a generally elevated level of hygiene. Being a fan of filth, I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.

Not that it’s not great to be back. In many ways, I feel like I never left. A lot of my friends who were here before have either stuck around over the past few months, or have done as I have and left for a while and then come back. The volunteers who are new to me all seem wonderful, and it feels good to be back in this communal environment where everyone feeds off each other’s energy and ideas so readily. I’ve been blown away by how well received I’ve been. All our Haitian voluteers made me feel like a long lost sister when I walked through the door, and random people from the community who I never expected to remember me have been calling me by name to come get a hug and a “welcome home!”. We had a big dance party my first night back, and I’d almost forgotten how good it feels to dance barefoot to terrible Haitian hip hop in the pouring rain. (Still very sweaty!)

Whenever I’m about to set off on a new adventure (or set out to revisit an old one), I always have a few solid freak-out sessions during which I question everything and wonder what I was smoking when I decided to go through with this crazy plan, whatever it may be. (Usually this process involves  teary phone calls to my parents and at least 2 of my best friends, and eating my feelings through either ice cream or poutine. All of the above is sounding pretty good right now, actually…) The more I’ve experienced the easier it has become to reason with the voices inside my head, but they still pop up every single time. Even once I get to where I’m going and am doing what I’ve set out to do I can’t help but experience serious doubts now and then about the choices I’ve made and my reasons for making them. I tend to act on impulse or instinct (often confusing the two) and my “shoot first ask questions later” lifestyle does catch up with me from time to time.

But no matter where I end up, I always end up finding something that reassures me and makes me want to keep doing what I’m doing. In this case, it was my reception from the Haitians I was involved with last time. No matter how different or frustratingly the same things are here, I know I will be able to count on the personal relationships I’ve established, and the culture I’ve grown to love, to keep me going. I still have conflicting feelings and opinions about “the situation” in Haiti and my role as a volunteer here, but at the end of the day I know that if I have treated people well and kept a smile on my face, I’ll know I’ve done some good. This is one lesson that is amazingly easy to forget, considering how relevant it is to everyday life no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

I am excited about what the next 3 months have in store for me. Over the weeks to come I’ll figure out what I’m doing as far as work goes and what my role in the orgaization will be. But for the time being, I am just so unreasonably happy to be back with a sledgehammer in my hands and an obnoxiously repetitive song called “Anba Dekomp” in my heart (and in my head, 24-7). I can’t wait to build up some muscle again and get dirty cleaning stuff up. 

The generator gets shut off in half an hour, so I’d better wrap it up. Now it’s off to treat my heat rash, drench myself in carcenogenic DEET to avoid Dengue fever, check my teeny tiny tent for tarantulas and poisonous centepides, and curl up on the concrete floor on my yoga mat so that when it inevitably pours rain tonight I don’t get wet from touching the tent walls.

Wait…what the hell am I doing back here again?