More Questions Answered

EDIT: Pictures have now been added.
Disclaimer: I tried and tried to post pictures with this. I even walked around the neighborhood to take them so I could have them. Blogger is being a stinker and is not cooperating on any level. I’ll keep trying, but I can’t make any promises. Sorry :(

About a month an a half ago Vicki emailed me with a bunch of questions, fearing that I had nothing to write about. Ha! Actually, at the time I received the email we were just announcing to the world that we had brought Olivia home and were still reeling from the possibility of her being HIV positive. Now that things have calmed down slightly I wanted to take some time to answer the questions because they’re all good. I’m glad Vicki asked them because sometimes I don’t know what you want to read about, what’s interesting to you. I look at the same things every day so it gets normal for me and I forget that not everyone lives in what we live in. So, here goes…

1. What kind of sewer system do you have at your house? What kind of sewer system do your neighbors have?

We have a septic tank and normal flushing toilets, which I’m grateful for. We can flush everything which isn’t always the case here. Many of our missionary friends have to throw toilet paper in the garbage because their systems can’t handle all the waste. As for the neighbors, it depends on which neighbors you’re asking about. We live in a different area where most of our immediate neighbors are actually boujwa Haitians that own weekend homes, and we only see them on big holiday weekends, or maybe once a month or so. They have the same kind of system we have for the most part. Our other local neighbors aren’t so lucky. Most of them live in small cement houses and go to the bathroom outside. They may or may not have a latrine. If not they have designated spot on the ground where they go. HOWEVER, never before have I ever witnessed so many men peeing in the wide open. There isn’t much discretion here. Also, buses will stop on the side of the road, often in the same place, and everyone will pile off for a pee break. I’ve see 20-30 people all going at the same time, on the side of the road. Women just sort of squat. It’s so crazy. I can only imagine how our children will cope with returning to North America and NOT seeing that all the time! Ha ha.

2. When you go shopping in another town and need to go to the bathroom, are there public bathrooms?

It depends on where you go. When we go to Port we often shop at the same places and I know which ones have bathrooms. If I don’t see one I’ll ask, often a female employee, and they’ll show me where I can go. I find people are pretty accommodating for me if they can be. I think it’s because I’m white which makes me cringe, but when you’re doing the pee pee dance you take what you can get. Now, just because there’s a “bathroom” doesn’t mean it’s pretty. If you get one that has running water you’re doing great. Toilet paper, even better. Soap and something to dry your hands on and you’ve hit the jackpot! I carry a small zip pouch in my purse that has small packs of Kleenex, wet wipes and hand sanitizer and more often than not I need all of that. It’s also good if I have to squat on the side of the road, which I’ve had to do before. One time we were getting grass chunks for the lawn and I had to go. The whole area was wide open and though I didn’t see anyone, I knew that someone could materialize out of no where the second I squatted, so I found a dry ditch. I was just pulling up my pants when an old man came walking by. We just smiled and said Bonswa! LOL.

3. Have you been to Cite Soliel?

No, I haven’t, but Chris has. He was there once I think before everything got bad, so it would have been sometime early 2003. Hasn’t been back since. We try to stay away from that part of town so we don’t have to encounter any of the stuff that goes on there. The closest I’ve been has been driving by the port on my way to Carrefour. Even that area is sad. There are literally piles of garbage as high as buildings. There are people everywhere. When it rains mud will cover the streets and turn the garbage into this black slime. The Port au Prince market is down there too and for what feels like miles all you can see is stick built marchand stands. We had to drive down through there to get to the clinic when we had Olivia tested last month. I remember sitting in the truck on the way back through and seeing all the women selling their vegetables in and around piles of garbage while the wind blew all of the sheets and tarps that were being used as shade coverings on the marchands stands. It was extremely sad and extremely beautiful all the same time and everything in me wanted to take a picture but there’s no way that it would have captured the emotion I was feeling. That, and it could have been dangerous to do so in that part of town, though one day I might try.

4. Have you seen UN troops on patrol?

Yes, many times. They’re all over the place, which is fabulous. I often stop and think about that lone fact of life here. It comes out in the form of, “I live in a country where soldiers with guns are always around. Huh.” It was never something that I thought I would live in, but I’m amazed at how normal it has become for us. In fact, there are certain parts of town that we feel uneasy about going into if we don’t see the UN tanks around. Initially Haitians were really against the UN being here because they felt as though nothing was being done. Once the UN got the go ahead from Preval to start raiding Cite Soliel things changed. Now people are quite happy they’re here because they see how much safer things are. In our area we actually see a lot more UN people than other places because we live in a bit of a resort belt and they come out here for their respite breaks, usually by the bus or truck full. Our experience with them has been positive as anyone that we’ve met has been very friendly. Often there’s a wave and a smile. One time Chris was in St. Marc in a hardware store and some troops came in to buy some things. They were from Pakistan and one of them asked if they could take a picture with Chris, which seemed funny because we would have thought it would be the other way around until we realized that some of these guys may have never seen a white person before coming to Haiti. When they posed for the picture one of the guys held Chris’ hand, which I laughed at when I heard it. Mostly because Chris was almost traumatized. LOL


5. What does your neighborhood look like?

My “hood” is wrapped around the National Highway. Our driveway actually comes right down off of it. We live in a different area, so to speak. Generally communities here tend to be one sort of social class. Where we live is right on the beach and all of our immediate neighbors are upper class Haitians that own weekend homes. Our place was one of these until the mission moved here. Now it’s one of the few homes that’s used year round. Our other neighbors are of a much lower class, so it makes for a very interesting dynamic. Geographically, we are right on the coast, sandwiched between the ocean and the highway. On the other side of the highway the mountains start going up. We are about 40 minutes from the Artibonite, and about 1 1/2 hours north of Port au Prince. It is dusty and hot, but our property has many trees and because of it we have a lot of shade and it’s usually about 5-10 degrees cooler at our house.

Looking to the right from the top of our driveway, towards Port au Prince.

Looking to the left from the driveway north towards the Artibonite Valley.

Looking down the top of the driveway to the lane that leads to our house. We’re around the corner.

Some of the neigbors homes, the poorer neighbors that is.


Down around the corner towards our house. We’re just past the little green shack on the left.

Standing in the lane looking left. That’s the mission house where we live. It also holds the office area.


Looking right from the lane into the work yard where all the filters are made and the sand etc, is prepared.

6. What do you cook for supper?

Ah, this is a good question. First off, I don’t cook Haitian. I’ve learned how to make a couple of things, but don’t really cook them. I prefer to let the Haitians cook Haitian because it tastes much better when they do it. I like to cook so I end up making a lot of different stuff. We eat a lot of chicken, and beef in all forms. I cook American style food mostly, but also like to experiment. I can make a pretty decent curry which we love. I’ve tried Pad Thai which is one of my favorite ethnic dishes. I’m Ukrainian on my mom’s side so I broke out and made pyrogies and cabbage rolls and have the ingredients to do so again this week to freeze. I can and have cooked a turkey dinner, and have plans to have our missionary group over for an Easter potluck where I’ll cook the ham. I enjoy baking too. I’ve worked at making my kitchen functional for me, once it became my kitchen and I was able to put things where I wanted them and keep it that way. It was too hard to do that before we got married because someone else was doing the cooking. Now, some people might look at my kitchen and think it “rustic” but I love it and it works for me. I’m content with it I guess. I’ve always liked cooking, just ask my mom. She actually paid me a really big compliment recently and said I was a better cook than she was because I like to play around with things. I have this weird little quirk about me and that’s that I can go out to eat and taste something that I love. The memory of the flavors will stay with me and when I get a craving for it I can pretty closely make exactly the same thing without a recipe. It’s kind of fun and has led to some pretty good food in my life time. I like a lot of flavor in things. I figure if it makes my mouth water then it’ll be a bit hit with everyone. Okay, I’m a goon and this is obviously something I could talk about for a long time :)

7. What’s on your grocery list? Where do you shop?

I’ll start with the second part of the question first. We have a lady that comes in twice a week to work. She does house cleaning, like she is today, and on Thursdays she goes to the market for us. Chris learned a long time ago that you save money when you send a Haitian to the market because they know how to shop within the culture. Yonese generally goes to the market here in Pierre Payen if we just need basic stuff like vegetables and eggs. If I need anything special she’ll go to St. Marc. Things like chicken, which we buy in a big 40lb box, laundry soap, canned milk, or any pre-packaged stuff that we know is available in town.

Now, we’ve been going into Port au Prince usually about every two weeks, which compared to when I first moved here is a lot. Until after we got married I only went to Port if we had to go to the airport. Since things have calmed down and are much safer we go in regularly to do errands. I think I’m at the point where I would be okay going in on my own if I had to, but I don’t know if Chris is there yet :) And, it’s a long drive – 1 1/2 hours each way for us, plus a whole day driving around. If we can, we spend the night with friends in town which means we get to socialize and it makes the errand day better. So, all that to say that since we go in regularly we can shop at the American style stores. My preference is Caribbean Supermarket. It’s the biggest one, and it has the best, consistent selection. A lot of places might get something once and then never have it again. At least at Caribbean they’ll generally have the same things. The items that are often the hardest to get are dairy, like cheese, sour cream, yogurt, Parmesan cheese etc. It’s not that they don’t carry them, it’s that they aren’t always in stock on the day you go. Some days it’s all there, and others none of it is. Overall we eat really well, and a lot more healthy than we would if we were living back in North America, mostly because we don’t buy junk food. Mostly we eat fresh vegetables that have been grown here or in the DR. Our eggs are from the DR. Our chicken comes from the US, beef is local, I think. We can get pork if we want to. I like to get stuff from the deli. Yes, there’s a deli. Chris was very impressed with me the first time I had ordered from the deli because he hadn’t even ever done it. We don’t buy pop and stuff like that, though I do get those little packets of Crystal Light type juice powder when I can because it makes me want to drink more water. There’s actually a lot of ethnic food available here too because Port has a Syrian population, and the UN shop too. Heck, you can buy caviar off the shelf, right next to the tuna.

I’ve been realizing I have this small problem to overcome. Because we would not often be able to go shopping, I got into the habit of stocking up on things when we could. Now that we go in a lot more often I’m having to retrain myself and only buy what we need for a couple weeks because our shelves were getting way over loaded. It’s kind of funny actually. When I went to the store on Thursday I had to physically remind myself I didn’t need 4 cans of corn or 4 bottles of salad dressing. I realize this even more when I go back to North America because here, if they have something that can sometimes be hard to find, you buy all of what they have so you have it in reserve. This is the mark of a long termer here. We all laugh about it. The crazy thing is that when you go back to North America you have to fight the urge to buy multiples of things, because they have it. It’s kind of funny when you catch yourself saying, “I don’t need to buy 2 bottles of this shampoo, Walmart will still be here a month from now and they’ll still have the same thing!”

8. Where do you buy the cement for the Biosand filters? How much does it cost?

We buy all of our materials locally with the exception of the diffusion plates in the filters, which we have shipped in because the material we use isn’t available here. Our cement comes from a hardware store just up the road called Yvan Materiaux de Construction. Cement now costs $50 Haitian, or 250 Goudes. That’s about $6.70 US per bag. One bag will make two filters.

9. Do you put re-bar in the concrete? What does the form look like?

We don’t put re-bar in the concrete. We actually use a really dry mix with lots of gravel. This gives us a good, strong filter that’s less likely to crack. Using re-bar isn’t necessary because the filters aren’t a structural item and it would be really, really time consuming.


We’ve had three different sizes of filters here since Clean Water for Haiti started. Chris helped with the first redesign that we’ve used for the last 3 + years. In the last month he’s done another redesign and we just poured the first filter on Thursday. We were very excited when the filter popped out without problems on the first try. Chris was able to take 28 lbs. off the weight and made it 4 inches shorter which means we can transport more of them at once. Pretty exciting considering we installed 120 in February, and have 90 orders waiting to be filled.

10. Show us a picture of an actual filter, diffusion plate, sand, whatever else you use.

The filters. The one on the right is the size we’ve been using for the last few years. The one on the left is the newly redesigned filter. You can see how much smaller it is compared to the old one.

The tube that gets cemented down inside the mold. It carries the water from the bottom of the filter and out. It’s actually the “spout” if you will. The white square thing is the Diffusion Plate. It sits on a lip inside the filter and it’s job is to slow down the water being poured in the top so the water doesn’t destroy the bio-layer that lives in the top part of the sand.

11. What kind of drill rig do you have?

The drill rig we have here is an LS200 . We don’t actually own it though. Cup of Cold Water supplied the rig and we drilled the wells in partnership with them. We haven’t actually run our drilling program in over two years because we didn’t have the man power to do it well. Well drilling in Haiti is hard, partly because of the terrain and partly because people don’t want to take responsibility for their wells. They want someone else to maintain it etc. This is a very normal mindset here and the reason a lot of community sized systems don’t work. We decided we would rather focus on individual families and give them something that would treat the water, rather than supply it. We’ve made more progress in the last two years than the mission did in the years before that so we feel like we’re on the right track with things.

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This entry was posted in this is haiti, this is life by Leslie. Bookmark the permalink.

About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

One thought on “More Questions Answered

  1. Oh yea! That’s what I’m talking about! You are wonderful! I loved every word of your blog. The pictures are amazing and I’m just full of a thousand more questions. Thanks for taking time to walk and take pictures and answer (this set) of my questions! I’m so excited. I’m spreading your word far and wide across the United States. My sister and I talked about you for an hour last night. More supporters… spreading the good news…Have a great weekend. I’ll send more questions soon…. ;-)V

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