Creative Juices and Cat Calls

Haiti makes me laugh some days. Other days it makes me cry. Some days it’s a mixed bag.

On Friday I busted out and went to St. Marc to purchase some supplies to fuel my creativity. You see, I asked for power tools for my birthday, and I was itching to put them to use.

Several months ago I discovered – and I realized that plenty of average people were building their own furniture. It was possible to buy 2×4’s, 1×4’s, 1×6’s and other regular pieces of wood, and with very little experience, make something that looked good. And was useable. And did I mention, looked good?

In Haiti there are some things that are crazy expensive. Furniture is high on that list. Whatever you might pay for something back in North America, you can almost double it here in some cases. And, the selection is not that fabulous. It’s either all modern looking (if you shop in the expensive stores) or, it’s made by a local “boss” who may or may not give you what you want. Case in point – some friends of ours hired a guy to make them a table with benches. When it showed up at their house it was a table with benches – attached, like a picnic table, and it was too high to be comfortable. They had to cut some things and do some trimming to make it useable. There are some lovely pieces of furniture made here, but they all tend to be in the same style, or are not quite “right”.

Importing thins is another option, but on top of paying for the item itself, you have to ship it in. A few years ago we bought a table and chair set for one of the houses. We decided to order online and ship it in because that was less energy consuming than hiring someone to make something that wasn’t quite what we wanted. The set cost just over $400, and it was just a simple table with 4 chairs. The shipping was another couple hundred. You get the idea.

Sooo, the idea of being able to build things, in Haiti, that we liked and that were functional was so exciting. I made my list of tools that I wanted to start with, keeping in mind that I already had certain things available at the mission to use. My sweet husband obliged me, yet in the back of his mind thinking I was slightly off my rocker. While we were home I stocked up on other small tools and things I would need. Like a tool box. That I could lock. So no one would borrow my stuff and forget to return it to me.

I spent a couple days working out all the plans of the things I wanted to build, and then Friday I set out to buy my wood.

I guess it’s not normal for a white woman to walk into the construction/supply yard and actually know what she’s looking for :)

My presence made quite a stir, but the guys that worked with me were helpful and respectful and appreciated that I spoke Creole. After we confirmed that they had the wood I wanted I went in and paid for my stuff. As I was paying I was explaining that I was building furniture for our house and the girl behind the counter said, “Are you building it yourself?” When I said that I was she got this nice smile on her face that I think only women really understand. It’s that “you go girl” grin.

Then the fun really began.

I went back to the yard, backed my van up to the area where the wood was stored and we started choosing boards. I was thankful that the guy helping me understood that I needed good wood. After he figured out what I was looking for he was the one that started saying, “No, that’s not a good one… You don’t want that one.”

Both of our trucks were occupied, so I had the van, and it almost became entertainment for the work yard to see how the guys would load the wood through our roof carrier. It’s made of steel and has decorative sides on it that had enough space to slide the boards through, but they ranged in widths from 4-12 inches, so it took some trying to figure out what had to go in first, etc. And did I mention they were 16 feet long?

Eventually it was all done and I was on my way, observing life in St. Marc since I had left 8 weeks before. It was all still there, humming along at it’s usual pace. There were new neon vests on a bunch of the motorcycle taxi drivers. New licensing thing I guess. Traffic was still crazy and I was amazed at how well I flip back into Haiti driving mode where all of one’s senses need to be in high alert and prepared for anything at any time.

Friday evening I spent time sanding. Oh, I didn’t mention that, did I? Most of the wood you get here is still pretty rough. I had fun with my orbital sander though. I figured if I did the prep work on the boards then I could start working on Saturday morning.

And so I did.

I spent the entire day working on the deck of the round house, with the ocean only about 30 feet away and a decent breeze for most of the day. Chris was brewing his first batch of beer since we returned (he was exercising his creativity too) so the kids were hanging out with me, which is not my ideal, but it worked.

By the end of the day I had most of the pieces for a coffee table that I’m working on done. I had come to terms with the rough wood and had been telling myself and Chris that it was like working with reclaimed wood – it had warps, imperfections and character. I was okay with things not being perfect, because, well, we’re not a perfect family. I want our furniture to be useable, kid friendly, and something we can really live with. It’s not for show, it’s to use. To put our feet on. To bump against. So, I was okay with “rough”. I started sanding and something magical happened. I first off discovered the beauty of different grits of sand paper. And then I discovered that the “rough” can become something very cool. With character. And knots. And different colors in the grain. As I sanded I got more excited about what I was creating.

Tomorrow is sanding again. This time the wood filler for screw holes. And some assembly. The fun part though is that today I got to spend time stopping at three hardware stores to find stain. The first two didn’t know what I was talking about and the last was like hardware heaven. I’m excited to see what we get when it’s time to start finishing things.

Also on the highlights list in the last few days…

  • Today I got a new stove. That’s pretty exciting for someone like me that likes to cook. But honestly, I think I’m more excited about the wood stain. Crazy!
  • Alex has come through his week long funk and has started to return to his sweet, funny little self. Today he learned how to play the kazoo. And no, I am so not joking about that. When I got home from Port au Prince I got to watch my kids put on a show where he played the kazoo and Olivia danced around in Chris’ new gum boots. They were up to her thighs. I got it on video. You know, for posterity sake.
  • I spent a day in Port and got everything done that I needed to do, in almost record time. I even feel like I “won” in the PaP traffic game because everywhere I went the heavy traffic lightened up and places that usually take an hour to get to took a third of that time.
  • Did I mention that we got a great deal on the stove? It has everything I wanted on it, and was on sale for $250 less that what we would have been willing to pay. I almost feel like we ripped them off. But we didn’t!

That’s all for tonight folks!


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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.

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