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Let There Be Light

January 30, 2012

It has been a most “enlightening” day.  My electrician was here and made significant progress on my household electrical system.  At the flip a switch in each room I can have light.  All outlets are also functional.  Pretty mundane for Canada, but pretty significant for me here in Haiti.  I now need to purchase some low wattage fluorescent bulbs to replace the incandescent ones that are in the house; that will reduce my power consumption significantly.   Energy smart has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

But all was not well.  My little generator has been giving me problems.  The fuel tank cracked.  In Haiti, unlike in Canada, if there are problems with what one has purchased, returning it is seldom an option; caveat emptor, buyer beware, is a guiding principle.  So I found someone who could braze it for me.  After only an hour of operation it cracked again in another place.  I had to face the obvious; the tank was junk.

I had been weighing my options, thinking like a Haitian, applying the principles of degage, making do.  I had considering using a plastic jug for a fuel tank, or a motorcycle fuel tank.  Enter my friend, Israel.  I had run into him a few times over the past while and had invited him to visit me.  He chose today to do so.  I mentioned the problem and he said he would see what he could do.

A couple of hours later he was back with a friend and a used motorcycle fuel tank.  The friend rigged it up in my generator cage with an old bicycle inner tube Fritzner provided and some duct tape, and ran in a salvaged fuel line.  I have come to suspect that Haiti is the birthplace of the Red Green School of Mechanics.  A few pulls on the starter cord fired the unit up, but after a few seconds it died.  We cleaned the fuel line and tried again with the same result.  So the carburetor came off and was cleaned.  After a few minutes of four of us scratching around in the dirt for a dropped screw, everything was back together.  This time the generator purred like an old tomcat.

So I have the means to charge the batteries that power my house through my inverter.  As soon as my search for appropriate wire is successful, I will install the solar panel.   The frame I had built will accommodate two panels, but the second will have to wait a bit.  I will increase my battery bank to four very shortly and replace my inverter with one that can handle a good deal more wattage.  That should meet my needs nicely for some time to come.  But I am not about to give up my oil lamps.  The electric lights will be for tasks and for convenience.  For general lighting I have come to like the soft ambiance of my lamps.

The other event of the day was the first coat of paint on my bathroom.  The yellow has been toned down to a rich cream.  My painting crew is getting a bit better, but still needs constant supervision.  They are beginning to understand the concept of not getting paint all over everything and cleaning up drips in a timely manner.  I also got the vanity ready for paint.  The sparkling white faucet I found at a second hand shop while in Winnipeg looks so much more inviting that the very corroded one it replaced.  The basin has a crack, but does not leak, so it can await a “find” in the market.  I put up a rod and hung a brightly striped shower curtain for a door of sorts, and will install a few accessories like a towel bar, a soap dish, a toilet paper holder and a rack for my shower things.  My cabinetmaker will have the medicine cabinet, along with my kitchen table, ready in three weeks.  A couple of small shelves and the bath should be quite functional.

The resumption of the painting had been made possible by the purchase of an 8-foot stepladder from one of my missionary friends.  A new one proved extremely expensive.  The stores in Port-au-Prince tend to cater to people from the many NGOs  who seem to want top quality and don’t care about price.  I think the merchants in Saint-Marc set their pricing by those in Port.  More than once my comments about high prices have been met with, “In Port-au-Prince this would cost you….”

Attaching things to my concrete walls was greatly facilitated by the arrival of my little Milwaukee hammer drill.  I ordered it online from Home Depot in the US the third week of November, and I was notified it was in Fort Lauderdale three days later, but the 700-mile crossing to Port-au-Prince was a slow voyage.  I can make the trip in a couple of hours.  Packages take several weeks.

I haven’t been taking a lot of pictures of my renos as yet.  Not having any cupboards or shelving or anywhere to put things has meant I have been living in a bit of chaos.  Add to that accumulated supplies and doing the work and you will understand why I have been reticent to publicize my mess.  I will soon rectify the situation and photos will be forthcoming.

This week not only will the painting proceed, but I hope to get a start on the kitchen.   I can’t wait to being able to do some cooking again.  The plan is for a good friend to take me to Saint-Marc on his motorcycle Thursday to purchase materials to build my kitchen counter, some shelving and screens for my windows.  There is also a possibility I will buy my stove and a cooler; I have given up on a refrigerator for now until I can better afford one; ice is much cheaper and is available from the tiny store very near my home.   My friend will handle the purchases, as he will unquestionably get a better price than I could.  Somehow the buyer having white skin adds considerable value to things here.  My contractor has been anxious to get started on the project, but I think it will have to be a joint effort.  I want it to turn out at least close to what I envision.

I am underway with my English as a Second Language teacher’s course, and although it is not all I hoped it would be, it will undoubtedly assist me to help some of my friends and neighbours to learn some English.  The Vancouver company did not make me aware that their online course involved a text book, and by the time I registered there was no way they could get one to me before I left Canada.  But I will find a way to make things work.  I am going to need a blackboard for The Pierre Payen English Academy (nothing formal).  There is far more interest than I anticipated, and I think it is going to be fun.  I will teach English and my students will help me improve my Creole.  I don’t notice my progress very much, but others who don’t see me very often do.

I have settled back into my routine at the nursing school and things are progressing.  It is hard to believe the school has only been in operation less than four months.  We have opened the practice room and have acquired some equipment—microscopes, hospital beds and a lot of bones (I wonder at the source).  I have been in contact with some organizations and individuals in the United States who are giving very serious consideration to assisting us.  Most are, however, in amazement at the ambitiousness of our project.  We could certainly benefit from some partnerships to allow us to get what we need to bring the school up to international standards.

While in Canada I made some “baby steps” toward setting up COPSA-Haiti Canada.  I had far more difficulty than anticipated finding a lawyer who has expertise in international charity law.  It is my hope that I can do most of what is necessary from here and that I will find some assistance from interested parties back in Canada who will collaborate with me to bring the charity into being.

As the days go by the sun is hotter on my skin.  There hasn’t been enough rain to even settle the dust for a few minutes.  In a few weeks the temperature will push up into the 90s (that’s mid 30s for you Celsius types) and the nights will not be much cooler than the days.  I will very much appreciate having power for fans to make sleeping more comfortable.  The fresh breeze off the ocean we have been graced with over the past couple of days has been a boon, taking the edge off the heat.  I am so blessed to have found a home on the beach.

Leslie Rolling’s blog today kind of spoke for me as well.  It is getting harder and harder to come up with something original about which to write.  Life falls into routines, and for the most part it’s same old, same old.  Things that once caught my attention have become commonplace.  Familiarity has not bred contempt, but it has dulled the excitement.   As time passes life here is taking on a warm comfort.  Feels like home.

As I sit composing this post on my gallery as my Haitians call a porch, I pause, enraptured by what God has spread before me.  The moonlight and the breeze conspire with the trees to stage an ethereal fairy ballet of dancing shadows and light in my yard.  The Caribbean spreads a shimmering backdrop and offers its eternal rhythmic voice as orchestral accompaniment to the evening’s spectacle.  The deep indigo bandshell of the heavens, pierced from horizon to horizon by a million asterisms, with Orion, my friend since childhood, ablaze at its zenith, overarches all.  The magnificence of this vista never fails to hold me in awe.  Eden couldn’t have been much more exquisite than this.

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