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God Bless My Haitian Home

November 12, 2011

My dream of a home of my own here in Haiti has become a reality.   To my delight, a couple of friends of mine made a remarkable find on the beach just south of Pierre Payen.   About a fortnight ago, learning that despite my repeated attempts negotiations with the owner of a house I looked at several weeks ago were going nowhere, they asked if they could look for something else for me.  They have tried before, but what they found was unsuitable, usually far too large and far too expensive.  But they were anxious to be of assistance, telling me they truly want me in their community.  So I agreed, but took care to explain exactly what was important to me and what was not.  In no time they ferreted out a house that fit the bill completely.  It’s perfect in size, will meet all my needs, and very importantly, thanks to an impassioned appeal to the owner on my behalf by one of those friends, is very affordable, rare for oceanfront property anywhere.

The slow rhythmic lapping of waves on the beach lends to the house an air of familiarity, even friendliness, as does the glorious seascape I have come to love—the ever-changing palette of blues that is the Caribbean, from the palest celeste through cyan, turquoise, azure, cerulean and sapphire to the deepest ultramarine, set against the steel blue brushstroke of La Gonave that defeats the best efforts of the eye to get it in sharp focus, all under a watercolour wash of delicate blue tropic sky.  There is a softness, a gentleness to it all that fits me with the comfort of an old T-shirt.

The house is small (under 600 square feet), one of my chief requisites, but not at all claustrophobic.  An abundance of windows and the sunny yellow paint throughout much of the interior afford a bright and cheerful airiness to the house.  It will be a very welcome change from the gloom of my room in Saint-Marc.  With the double doors in the kitchen thrown open, the house has a sense of continuity with the outdoors.

The kitchen has jalousie windows, so it is bright even when they are closed.  In the other rooms the windows are not glazed, but have jalousie shutters that can be closed to darken them when desired, provide privacy, and keep weather and vermin outside.  The way they are set into their frames makes adding screens to exclude flying and crawling things very straightforward.

The multi-coloured ceramic tile floors throughout the house kind of looks like someone bought up the odds and ends at a tile store, but it will take only a quick pass with a broom and a damp mop to keep them clean.  The paint on the walls has a fresh look.  The few rough spots resulting from minor renovations will be easily repaired.  There are no interior doors, but the owner agreed to hang one on the bedroom, and then today offered to put one on the living room as well.

The house has only three rooms and a full bath, but the rooms are of an adequate size.  One enters the kitchen (11 x 10) from a raised patio/porch that is under cover of the roof and will be an alluring setting for alfresco dining or just kicking back with a cool drink.  At present the kitchen has only a rickety worktable with a stainless steel sink set into it, but I foresee lower cabinets with a crisp ceramic tile work surface and open shelving above.  There is ample space for a generous table and chairs and, should I happen upon a good used one, a full-sized propane range.  Alternatively, the very affordable small one I saw in Port-au-Prince would serve me well.

A small refrigerator would be a very welcome future option, decreasing the frequency with which I need to go to the market, reducing waste through spoilage, increasing the variety in my diet, and allowing for cold beverages.  But it would be a very big ticket item; it would either have to be a pricey 12-volt DC unit that draws very little power or a much cheaper but more power-hungry AC unit that would require a considerably bigger solar array, bringing its cost up into the same range as the DC unit.  But this is for future consideration.  I had thought about purchasing a large picnic cooler as an interim measure, but canned that option when I discovered that coolers are outrageously expensive here.

The only blemish in the house in my opinion is the startling green “feature walls” in both the living room and the bedroom; I will definitely expunge that in favour of something more soothing.  That done, I can envision an expansive Mayan hammock in the living room (11 x11 plus an alcove) in the hues of the Caribbean with lots of pillows, a sumptuously intimate sanctuary in which to lose myself in a good book, that will also serve as a place for both myself and my guests “to repair our nature with comforting repose.”   (Henry VIII, Act 5, Scene 1)

The bedroom (11 x 11) has a closet, not very common here, and double-sized at that, albeit without doors.  The bath, just off the bedroom, has a roomy shower, but as I mentioned, no door.  There is a whole different perspective on privacy here.  A curtain on a tension rod in the doorframe will suffice for my needs until I come up with a more substantial solution.  All rooms come together in a 6 x 9 hallway that has room for my ironwork wardrobe.

The house is wired with adequate lights and outlets, but it is not tied into public power.  It will be a simple matter to connect my solar panel and batteries to where the meter once was, energizing the entire house.  In future, as I can afford, I will expand that system to deliver more amperage.

There is ample water pressure, but I suspect it will always be present; erratic public water supply is the norm here.  If my suspicions prove true I will have to look into a rooftop storage tank and perhaps a small pump.  This is just part of the reality of Haiti.  One positive aspect is that the water main is considerably higher than the house, so even when pressure is low, gravity will come into play.

I appreciate the additional shower outside to rinse off the ocean’s salt after a swim and to wash the grit and grime off feet before coming into the house.  I think a change hut with walls of woven palm fronds and a thatched roof would be a picturesque complement.

The shower will also provide a convenient source of water for laundry, and the raised patio will make a comfortable work platform for scrubbing clothes. There is a clothesline, and the same ocean breezes that will cool the house will fully dry my laundry and soften some of the wrinkles.  The line on the balcony in Saint-Marc was too sheltered; the humidity that hangs in the breathless air prevented anything from completely drying

The exterior of the house is beginning to cry out for maintenance, but the owner has agreed to provide me with paint in the colour of my choice.  I will go with something tropical; a mango with turquoise trim appeals to me.  Today he said he would provide paint for the interior as well, a very pleasant surprise

Although the yard is expansive (I would estimate 300 feet wide by 100 feet deep), the high wall has a cocooning effect.  Not topped with razor wire or broken glass as is common here, it depends on its height alone to provide privacy and some semblance of security.  The view of the sea is unobstructed as the yard is open on the beachfront side.

The yard offers limitless possibilities.  Presently it features lots of shade trees, some with delicate flowers, a large banana garden and an apiary.  I will appeal to the owner to show me how to husband the bees; honey harvest is in December.  The piles of rock stacked neatly along the beach side of the yard (a future protective wall against storms I am told) immediately invited thoughts of steps to allow more comfortable access to the beach and an outdoor ‘kitchen’ to avoid adding heat to the house.  I look forward to trading city dirt for rural soil, to creating a garden to nurture both my body and my soul.  Somehow a home that I can make my own always becomes a labour of love.

The location of my new home has it benefits and its drawbacks.  I am familiar with the area and have friends there.  However it will mean a longer commute to the nursing institute, but I rather like the tap tap rides.  They are often a bit of a social event providing opportunities for conversation that helps to advance my Creole and to build relationships with those in my community.   Dr. Felix has generously offered to drive me to the tap tap station every evening after classes, and occasionally to transport me all the way home.  He also offered to pick me up before classes, but since tap taps don’t observe any kind of schedule, I considered this too much of an imposition.

I will be within walking distance of Pierre Payen Hospital where I enjoy helping out from time to time, and where I can connect with visiting teams of Canadian and American medical professionals.  I will also be within walking distance of the village’s market that will become the source of much of my food.   But as it is a smaller venue, it does not offer the selection that the great octopus of Saint-Marc’s sprawling market does, its tentacles of vendor stalls reaching out for blocks in every direction, seeking to snag all who pass with their combination thrift store/dollar store merchandise.  But commuting to the city daily will provide continued access to its market and the businesses I have come to frequent.

In this climate beach access is a drawing card for most, offering some respite from the heat by way of water and ocean breezes.  Already I have friends offering assistance with maintenance and yard work in exchange for an occasional splash in the ocean, and asking if I will have room for them to stay on weekends.  I will very much welcome these opportunities as they appeal to my love of entertaining.  Lately my social life has been only a small step above that of a lighthouse keeper.  But there is a limit.  Olivier, insensitive to my Canadian predilection for privacy and personal space, thinks since I have so much room, he should be able to move in with me.

Today in Pierre Payen I saw several of my friends.  It seem that the moment I arrive they materialize.  Most already knew about the house and were very excited about my return to the community.  Some I know are very skilled and offered their services to make sure I had everything the way I wanted it.  When I returned to Saint-Marc, I walked through the market with new eyes, peeled for the things I will need to make my house my home.

To me, having this house is just the latest in a long list of affirmations that God is walking with me in this enchanting land.  I am so grateful.  My needs are met as they arise, often in ways that I could not have imagined and that are far beyond my expectations.

God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.

                                                     Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Entry to my home. Right side faces beach.

Other side of house



Living room








My kitchen. There will be many changes here

A bit of the banana garden

My landlord and a friend tidying the yard.

My Caribbean view

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