The next morning, I had my first Haitian breakfast. The breakfasts during my trip in Haiti consisted of three different meals repeated over and over. My first breakfast was spaghetti with cut up chunks of hot dogs in it. The Haitians love eating this because it’s a high carb breakfast that really sticks with them and gives them energy throughout the day. (The other two breakfasts were fresh fruit & baguettes with butter and jam or egg sandwiches on baguettes with onion and tomato slices.) After breakfast, I went to my first morning meeting. Daily, after breakfast, we would all meet out on the back porch and go over all the pertinent information of the day. At this point, I had no idea what I was going to be on while in Haiti. After the meeting, Doug, a retired construction foreman from Brooklyn, asked me if I wanted to help him pour some concrete.
I’ve been around the construction industry my entire life. Growing up my father owned a flooring (carpet, ceramic tile, vinyl flooring, laminate, hardwood, etc) company. Around the age of 14, I started helping him during the summers and did so off and on till going to college. After college I still helped him from time to time when I was between jobs, and for the last five years I’ve actually been working with him as his business partner (long story that I’ll maybe get into some other day). Working any construction trade exposes you to other trades. I’ve seen so many different types of commercial, industrial, and residential buildings in various stages of construction for many years. I’ve learned a lot about construction, and I’ve even been building my own house (just finished the drywall). I also worked at a shipyard and learned to weld and paint using spray equipment. However, the one thing I have never had the opportunity to learn was pouring concrete. Thank you, Haiti!!!
Doing any type of work in Haiti is different than doing it in the United States or another industrialized country. Most of the work is done by hand without the use of very many (if any) power tools or heavy equipment. In the USA, when you pour concrete (unless it’s a very, very small job), you call the concrete company and they send a concrete truck out. They pour the concrete into the area that you have formed and then you use various types of equipment to level and smooth it out. In Haiti, you mix the concrete by hand in wheel barrels using hoes and shovels. You start with a huge pile of gravel that you shovel by hand into the wheel barrels. You then pour in powdered cement out of 100 lbs bags that you have to carry a few hundred feet to where you are working. Then you add water from five gallon buckets that you had to carry from wherever the closest source of water is (a few hundred feet again). Then you use the shovels and hoes to mix it up in the wheel barrel. Then you wheel it to the area that you formed up. In the USA, you can pour and finish several thousand square feet of floor space a day. Because we had to mix the concrete one wheel barrel at a time, and because it took dozens of wheel barrels a day, all we could form, pour and finish was about a 15 foot by 20 foot area a day. Add the 95-100 degree heat with nearly 100% humidity, and it was a long, hot day. This was to become a very typical way of spending my time between 8:30 am and 5:00 pm during my stay in Haiti.
After spending Wednesday and Thursday pouring concrete, concrete was put on hold for the weekend. Most of the people on the compound were loaded up onto GRU’s bus and taken a few hours away to Leogane for the weekend. Leogane was the actual epicenter of the earthquake (though Port Au Prince had more damage). Most of the people on the compound were going there to assist All Hands, an NGO concentrating their efforts in Leogane, with a project. Some people stayed on the compound for the weekend for various reasons, though. I decided to stay in Port Au Prince at GRU because my sinus infection was starting to get worse, and I didn’t want to get sick (and be in the way). After everyone left for Leogane, Justin, a journalist from Newfoundland who had arrived the day before, asked me if I wanted to go with him to interview Haiti’s biggest rap group. I had been taking some antibiotics and was feeling okay, so I decided to go with him.
to be continued…