Typing now from Manalo’s Inn in Petite Rivière De Nippes on the northern end of the southern peninsula. Tonight we met with most of the ten mentors and about a dozen of the children. Before that Adam and I braved our way through Port Au Prince, Carrefour, Petite Goave, and Mirogoane in our rented Mazda pickup truck.
Let me just say that actually driving myself through Port-Au-Prince is a completely different experience. It’s a real trip navigating through a chaotic stream of pedestrians, motorcycles, trucks, buses, and animals. Not hard, actually, but very different. There’s a comfortable calamity to the maelstrom, though I was glad when we got out of town onto Route 2.
For a while it was smooth driving, then we went off 2 onto a secondary road. The bumps and chasms and impromptu lakes were another layer of fun. Then we started picking up passengers in the truck back … first a man … bump, bump (Is he still there?) and then a mother with a ten year old girl and an *infant*. Driving through mini ravines without ejecting your passengers out of the back of your cab is a new experience for me. I somehow made it through, with everyone smiling behind me.
Then we arrived at Manalo’s, which was surreal to say the least. This Italian fresco resort like place after a full day of tent-if-you’re-lucky. Now Manalo and his guests are enjoying the very loud strains of ja-haz while I’m type.
And yes, I’m tired! But we’re in Haiti, and survived our first long solo car trip (Adam’s doing great with his French). Oh, and yes, there’s a hurricane coming. Gotta love it. Tomorrow’s the last official day of hurricane season, but they made a special effort.
Sitting in Newark Airport, waiting to board my flight to Miami, watching the hundred or so strangers also waiting, I’m pensive and patient and getting philosophical.
With years now to this effort, with tens of thousands of dollars invested that will not go to my daughter, with my wife’s clingy kisses this morning, and my tired sore limbs that need rest . . . Why On Earth am I doing this?
Why am I flying to Haiti when I could much more easily train teachers in my local elementary school? Are these people around me less worthy than Haitians? What of their children, their futures, their hopes and frustrations? Shouldn’t I be improving my own community, the neighborhood I live in, and not some faraway place?
I have no connection to Haiti other than a trip I took with my mother when I was twelve. I have no reason to be there, or anywhere else outside my home. So why the expense, the danger, the endless hours, the pit in my stomach?
Because it’s the place of greatest need. Plain and simple. Because there’s a real difference to be made there. Because I can.
Materials arrayed at my feet, awaiting my carry-on packs, ready to leave tomorrow at noon. There’s a calm that comes when you see the time when decisions are over. When I get on that bus, I’ll have everything I’ll have, and no more.
This morning started with a terrific call with the head of school at JP/HRO, the Sean Penn camp outside Pétionville. Lisa sounds very interesting in having a pilot there.
Talked details with Beth and Adam. We’re pretty amazed that we’ve arranged as much as we have in so little time. Eleven organizations want to hear more, with five more awaiting responses. We couldn’t have hoped for a better result three weeks ago when this autumn trip first became a possibility.
Today was printing day … mentor certificates, English & Creole lesson books, waveplace intro letters. Went a couple of rounds with Staples and picked them up tonight. Aside from choosing too light a weight for the intro’s (trying to save money), they all came out well. I’ll have good stuff to hand out down there.
Went trick-or-treating with my daughter and wife, then to a Halloween party to chat with friends. Told the Haiti trip thing a few times. Just now thinking how odd it must seem to people first hearing about it. It’s like any truly experiential process, like raising children or starting a business, etc. Unless you’ve done it, it’s pretty much impossible to describe.
Haiti, with eyes wide open. I’m ready to go.
We’ve passed the point where planning means much. From here on, it’s pure scramble: what do I absolutely need before I leave?
This morning I tested the new XO build on both my XO 1.5 and the older XO 1.0. I’ll be upgrading 50+ laptops and reflashing 100 more, so it helps to have it down now. Troubleshooting becomes much more difficult in the field. I’ll also need to debrick a portion of the laptops. I’ve got a debricker cable and will try on one bricked donated machine tonight to remind myself of the process.
Beth sent new mentor certificates to my local Staples for me to pick up. We’re also considering printing out new copies of our courseware. We still haven’t settled the transportation issue, though we have a rental car reserved for $462 a week, which is half what we were quoted before. Looks like Adam and I will be braving the treks from town to town, relying on local translators rather than bring along our own.
Spoke with John Engle for a good long time today. Looks like several children in the Cite Soleil school have diarrhea, which likely means cholera. We already know Mirebalais has cholera, so our trip could get interesting. I’m not so much worried about our own health as the health concerns and potential unrest around us.
Did a call-in interview for a New York radio station this afternoon. The broadcast will air this Saturday and will be available as a podcast. The interview itself was easy . . . I’ve got my rap down, having repeated it hundreds and hundreds of times. If anyone wants me to do an interview, contact Beth and I’ll make time, even down in Haiti if I’m connected.
I’m supposed to connect with these haiti cowboys, who are down there now. They were on the radio show last week. The article’s an interesting read, particularly, “DEATH TO THE NGO THIEVES” and news of the two aid worker murders.
Luckily, I’m in good hands with John Engle. He’s been through much worse while living in Port-au-Prince. I’m less worried outside the capital, though safety in Haiti should never be taken lightly. Our plan is to travel without stop from location to location, stay inside at night, and have a Creole-speaking Haitian with us when out of our car.
After nonstop San Francisco and homestead catchup and Haiti trip prep, my body’s crying out for some serious rest. Intended to take the day off today, but got called into a meeting anyway. I just now glanced at Twitter to see the ebb and flow of #cholera tweets and other details. Earlier went to LL Bean to pick up a $90 water purifier and some camping stuff, then CVS for mini-toiletries. I guess there’s no day off between two big trips.
The toughest part is pushing through when there’s nothing left in the tank. I had a day in SF where I was barely trudging through, which made me wonder about my twelve days in Haiti. Rest is a necessary of life, as the lack of it makes everything hard, particularly conjuring up good will and sincere discussion when inside it’s a struggle.
Somehow in the next three days I need to unplug and unwind.
Oh, yes, right . . . I’m going to Haiti in five days. Details for the trip were essentially sidetracked in San Francisco. This morning we confront all that’s still not settled.
* water purifier .. Bill left it home, so I’ll have to get another, or pills
* malaria pills .. I have some left over, but I’ll need about 14 more (and they’re expensive, at least the last minute ones)
* laptops .. I had hoped to hand out some XOs to potential new partners, but I left the five I was going to bring in SF at the Kleiders
* visit details … who, where, when, phone. Beth is working on this. We’re currently up to eight school visits and four organization meets.
* new organizations … we’re still hoping to meet with PIH, UN, Save the Children, JP/HRO, IDB, and others
* upgrade/backup … need to test the latest upgrade & backup stuff
These kind of details run the show until we fly home.
Flying east after five exciting days, I’m at a lost to sum things up, likely because I’m exhausted beyond words. Saturday night I went to sleep at 8pm and woke at 3am. I was then up for 22 hours straight, slept three hours, and am still up.
My favorite part of yesterday was the “service with high school & college” session where I finally got to see Beth and Christine present, along with the gentlemen from Upper Canada College and RIT. Later I lunched with the UCC folks and Christine. Something’s brewing with regards to North American students, not sure what yet.
My panel was decent, though I didn’t enjoy it much. Couldn’t find a Mac DVI dongle and so had to scramble to get my Etoys slides and movies onto Beth’s netbook. Got hurried before I could finish my main points and was noticeably miffed (“Travel 3000 miles to talk for six minutes.”) The questions were decent, though the usual panel dynamics ensued … “I agree with everything already said, and one more thing.” More and more, I’m believing the only useful conference format is informal discussion.
Listened in on Barbara Berry’s video interview in the hallway. She’s certainly a breath of fresh air. I’m feeling much better about OLPC in Cambridge with her in the mix.
The drive to Bolinas along foggy twisty Route 1 was dicey. We hit a boulder and got a flat, though made it to the party soon after. There I had great talks with Morgan Ames, Nadine Muschette, and many others. A long and tired drive brought us to Carol Ruth Silver’s house for our three hour nap, then the airport where I had a long, good, talk with Daniel Drake.
Throughout were many talks about Haiti, which has helped immeasurably to ready my head for my trip next week. Hearing so much enthusiasm from projects around the world has strengthened my resolve for the coming days. Now if I can only catch up on sleep this week.
Yesterday was quite something. Each session at the OLPC San Francisco Community Summit seemed custom-fit to our current needs: first, solar power and storage solutions in *Haiti*; then research brainstorming focusing on *Jamaica*; and finally peer-to-peer learning in *Nicaragua*. Midway through I had great talks with Barbara Berry, Jennifer Martino, Morgan Ames, and many others. We even did fifteen minutes of whiteboard brainstorming about Sugar Journal instrumentation and a replicated question-map network (more on this later).
As for Haiti, I’m loving the new trending topic, which is #cholera. Had a talk with my wife yesterday about it. She’s worried of course. Truth is, there’s nothing to do other than what I would have already done: purify water & be careful about the food I eat. Still, even the word “cholera” raises my anxiety level.
I’ve got a half dozen unanswered emails regarding Haiti logistics, so swamped with the conference that I’m neglecting the prep. Transportation, meetings, translator. Decisions need to be made soon. More anxiety.
Later I’m presenting on the “Deployment Successes” panel, which is being streamed at 11:30 PDT (2:30 ET, 6:30p GMT). I’m less worried about this than cholera, but the word “success” is giving me agita. Not my title.
Anyway, I’m off for another day of nonstop talk. I’ve got this secret dream that the whole bunch of us could work together on some pilots. What a wonderful assemblage of talent and ideas .. a true dream team.
Great reception at the OLPC-SF Community Summit last night. Everyone I shook hands with seemed serendipitously placed in my path to help Haiti. One man’s brother worked at the UN in Haiti. Another was involved with the OLPC large scale deployment in Haiti. Mary Lou Jepsen knew a minister in the government. One group is working on alternative energy solutions with XOs. Etc, etc.
Amidst the flurry of activity here in California, the big questions remain regarding my trip in nine days. I’ve written about Lodging, Clothing, Food, and Water. Still in the air are the moving logistics: Transportation, Translation, and Safety.
First there’s driving & translation. We’ve got four possibilities.
1. rental car – This turns out to be hugely expensive. My first quote was $980 a week, which is double what it normally costs. This is without gas, which is also very expensive. There’s questions about auto insurance, and safety, and navigation, particularly if Adam and I drive by ourselves and rely on Adam’s French with varying Creole translation at each site visit.
2. driver/translator – We have a quote $1350 a week for a driver that can also act as a translator. Add to this the lodging and food costs for the driver. Benefits here are obvious … more safety, continuity with the translator, no need to navigate ourselves.
3. hop-by-hop – We’ve got offers to drive from one location to the next, each with their own costs, usually for gas and a little more. More plans mean more possibility for snafus, though it’s also nice to be able to spend time with more people. We’ve got drivers for the first week, but not the second.
4. bus – It’s cheap, long, and potentially less safe. A fall back.
Translation is always a concern. The first week with Adam should be better, as he can speak French fluently and we’re traveling in areas where French is spoken more. My concern at this point is communicating with the children. I’ve gotten pretty far with wordless communication (which has the added benefit of making them laugh at my antics), but there will be frustration at times without Creole.
Safety amounts to having a Haitian with us in case something goes wrong. Speaking the local language is a benefit should a fender-bender turn into an argument. There’s also the innate knowledge of what is safe and what is not, which as outsiders we can never really know.
Well, the conference is about to start, so I’ll post. I have some potentially good news about funding, though will have to wait before announcing.
Around you now, at a cafe, on the street, in the next apartment, there’s a person sighing deeply, bracing for the day. Not so much the tasks that weigh heavy, but what we make of them: our attitudes, our expectations. We think the worst not because we want, but because it’s happened before, and it hurts less than hope.
And it’s all the same between us. The twenty-something sighing because she lost her iPhone charger is no less worthy of compassion than the father worried about his children. Our struggles are relative to whom we’ve become. The yardstick we imagine of better and worse is as fluid as the weather. The woman who has no money for food has an easy smile and talks easily with a stranger on the subway. The Harvard son with manicured nails looks at the floor, trapped in himself, afraid to cross the chasm, empty.
So when we talk of “poor” when it comes to Haiti, one should keep relativity in mind. Haitians have each other in a way we’ve mostly lost.