Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Follow the cobblestone road. Follow the cobblestone road. Follow, follow, follow, follow...

Here's Part II of the story I began telling yesterday about my birthday adventure...

We had arrived at Klinik St. Joseph and the place was mobbed. It was payday for a joint project with a great NGO, CRS. The Church does some great stuff. I think they’re one of the biggest charities in the world. We were working together on a road extension project.

Apparently there were villages beyond the end of the road… and “Blanc” was going to take me. No, Geral’s not a white guy. But he is fairly light-skinned and he’s got a full head of hair and a beard – both of which are completely white. Hence, the name Blanc which dumdum me finally figured it out.

After grabbing my water bottle from the truck, we began hoofing it. Frankly, I wasn’t entirely sure where we were headed… except out in the field to see the roadwork. And though there was clearly some new road construction down the hill to the left, we were marching forward, up the hill.

Ok. I guess so. I’m usually game for some adventure. And we were definitely headed somewhere that I would never find in my Lonely Planet… so I knew this would be fun… just always had those lingering concerns about cholera… and considering how quickly it kills, after about fifteen minutes of walking I was thinking… ok… don’t touch anyone… don’t take any chances. We soon crested the hill.

There she was. A beautiful, brand-spankin-new, cobblestone road that most four-wheel drives could handle. What I could see was winding, but pretty much flat and we weren’t allowed to drive on it yet. It was clear that this part of the road went thru the wetlands. So this work was really just elevating the road. Not easy stuff to do when you have no heavy machinery, but it was almost certainly easier than what I had heard was happening.

We came to the road and toward the mountains we went. The road here had never seen any motor vehicle with more than two wheels. It was an easy enough walk, except for the heat. And even that wasn’t too bad. As I learned on Kilimanjaro, when you're a mile high... even the equator can be cool.

Passing a 2,000 square foot, cement church on the left… going by some beautifully manicured lawns and a house painted sky blue on the right… here’s a candy, rice and flour vendor on the left… and there’s some people doing their wash in the river over there… it’s everyday life in these remote parts. But then, this wasn’t really that remote.

A stand of trees was behind us now and I saw some incredible roadwork. Unbelievable really. A cobblestone road heading up one heck of a steep climb. I looked at Geral and he looked at me, "allez." He nodded for us to head up the hill… umm… ok. I was secretly hoping that that was it. But no. It wasn’t. As we began our ascent, I thought I’d seen enough… I was tired… I didn’t need to see anymore. But there they were. The laborers. And that one steep stretch had hundreds of workers all over. That was why I was here... to see what we're doing in the field.

The genesis of this project was where the earthquake met healthcare. People had been living in these remote villages for centuries. And really nothing had changed significantly. There may not have even been much population growth since Haiti’s revolution in the 1790s. The earthquake changed all that.

Port-au-Prince collapsed on January 12, 2010. And there was a huge outward migration from there. People fled to the hills… fled to find their family… even distant family because they had nowhere else to turn. The tent cities are a nightmare. There’s no personal safety. From what I hear, the level of crime in them is extremely high. And on top of that, you have the fear factor. Who wants to live in constant fear?

So the influx to the remote mountain top villages began. With it came a strain on healthcare services – particularly those for expectant moms – that were already in short supply.


Turn a three hour walk into a one hour drive! Well, not exactly. But that’s the general idea. Plus there are other huge benefits to the project that I'll get to....

As we walked past team after team, it was apparent to me that this was a community effort. Some people were getting paid. Others were volunteering. Children… probably 12 to 15 years old were raking the red clay to provide a flat surface… it had been carved from the hill to provide edges to the road. Elderly who had little strength were slowly positioning the smaller rocks and placing them in the soft clay before the young adults – men and women – were banging them into place with other rocks and sticks. There was no sexual discrimination here. Even with the little equipment they had -- some shovels, pickaxes and a couple sledgehammers -- everyone was participating and doing what they could. It was an amazing sight. I love it when a community can come together.

Actually got me thinking about how great it was for so many Cheshire residents to come together around the turf. Now don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t have supported it last week. But different from other Council members, I wouldn’t have supported the linear trail either. We just need to stop the spending. Take a breather. Distinguish between maintaining and expanding services. And encourage community service, while simultaneously not placing further burdens on future taxpayers. But I digress...

Throughout the climb I was simply stunned at the work that was being done, but also couldn’t believe how steep some parts of this road were. There were definitely grades better than 45 degrees, yet Geral assured me that the SUVs would be able to get up here.

Ok. I’ll take your word.

Perhaps most telling to me though about work ethic was how many people were barefoot, while other wealthier individuals had nothing more than dilapidated plastic flops. Much of the red clay where they worked was soft. But when you can look at the face of a 20 year old and see the feet of a 50 year old, you know this isn’t an easy life. Plying these walking paths barefoot for twenty years takes its toll.

We had gotten to end of the ongoing road construction / extension. So now we had literally gotten to the proverbial end of the road, though the foot path continued higher into the mountains. There were still more villages toward the skies. And Buzz Lightyear’s human reincarnate, Geral, wanted to keep going.

To infinity… and beyond!

And with that, I think I’m gonna call it quits for the night. This is already getting a bit long and I’ve got some other stuff to do before catching my flight back stateside!

Tim White


Breachway said...

Merry Christmas Tim.....stay safe.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Anonymous said...

"how great it was for so many Cheshire residents to come together around the turf."

I don't think there are that many people in Cheshire that are for the turf, and those who pushed for it didn't have to sacrifice like the Haitians that you saw. In Cheshire, all they do is beat on the government to supply the money and if they don't get it when they want it they moan and b---- until they get the town council to cave and force everyone to pay for their wasteful, unnecessary projects.

Imagine what the Haitian people could do with $875,000.