The trip back to Ouamaninthe

UN Soldier in Cap-Haitien

UN Soldier in Cap-Haitien

Wow, the trip back to the border was a speedy 2 hours. It’s the type of drive that SUVs are made for. TiDane, Madame Michel and her husband accompany us to see us off and make sure Saul gets back alright. Saul lives in Washington DC with his wife and kids. He’s currently in Haiti trying to help his eldest 2 children get visas to come to the States. It is a bit frustrating how lack of a communist dictator makes this process so much harder for Haitians. His Mitsubishi makes for a mighty nice ride given the road conditions.

We get stopped on the way by the Haitian police. Saul says it’s the first time that Haitian police officers have been genial/polite to him. Is it better training, that they are having a good day, that there are two white men in the car, the UN presence? Beats me. They request his license and registration. Why? Who knows. They ask for passports from Bill and Pete. I reach for mine and Madame Michel hides my hands. Duh, I think. If you can blend in, blend in. Sometimes it is much less trouble.

After that, it is fairly smooth sailing except for a scare with the battery about 200 meters away from the immigration office. We say our goodbyes and shortly we are back in the Dominican Republic. I’m sad to leave.

Again there is that shock of the massive jump in development. Here there are beggars. There weren’t really any in Cap. It’s odd how pan-handling occurs at that weird intersection between rich and poor. What is also interesting is that either because I am a woman and/or because I am Haitian, people expect more sympathy from me. My problem is that I hate being rude and this is what starts the endless dance. It takes me a while to realize that I just have to be cold and curt for the interchange to end. For the kids, the whole process is like a sales pitch and there are measuring up the psychology of the prospect, me. Everything short of an outright “No” is a maybe. After a few more passport checks for me (not Bill and Pete of course), we on our Caribe Tours bus and moving west.

Presenting the peanut butter maker in Petite Anse

Early morning karaoke means that Pete and I are up to say goodbye to the MIT team. So much for sleeping in. Ah well, it’s nice to say goodbye to everyone. It’s been a great trip. Amy x 2, Dan and Shawn are heading to the airport at 5:30/5:45. Gerthy and Jules are staying another few days. Pete and I have to head back across to the border to the DR. Bill, who is flying out of Puerto Plata, is joining us for the trip back. Our desire to be diehard users of public transport has waned. The three of us are getting driven to the border later this afternoon.

Peter Haas and Gerthy Lahens speak to the women of the Petite Anse peanut butter cooperative

Today (from 8:30 ish to 11) we do some of the filming for Design Squad. We’re taking the two peanut butter maker designs made by the high school students and presenting them to the peanut butter cooperative at Petite Anse. They are about 5 ladies of varying ages who are looking for a less labor-intensive way to make peanut butter. The designs still need some work, but Amy S. agreed to have her class work on improvements in the coming semester. We’re thinking pedal powered.

One thing that must be said is that stainless steel is really a non-trivial material to work with. I don’t want to give the show all away (the overall series premieres in 2007), so I we’ll just leave it at that.

We have some high quality tapes from WGBH and I am on cameraman duty. Unfortunately, we have some worries about the sound quality as it was fairly noisy at Petit Anse that day. As soon as I can get the video off the tapes, I will try to pop some here.

Oh I almost forgot. When looking for parts for the peanut butter maker the other day, Pete ran into a man who had a simple Chinese meat grinder hooked up to a diesel generator. It spewed peanut butter at an amazing rate. We’re thinking that the ladies might need/prefer something that can work with an engine (if gas is available) or with pedal power if it’s not.

Hurricane Ernesto

Being somewhat isolated from the news and our email accounts, we’ve just learned that a hurricane is in our midst. Hurricane Ernesto. There are many predictions for its path: New Orleans? No, Florida? Rain expected as far north as Virginia. It seems to be yoyo-ing between being a tropical storm and a hurricane. Northern Haiti is to be spared. The mountains up here and in Northern Cuba have a large impact on these weather systems. It’s just expected to rain fairly lightly throughout the whole day. Southern Haiti is supposed to get hit hard, unfortunately.

Pete and I are fretting about the drive back over the border. It’s dirt road most of the way with a few unmanageable potholes. How will the tap-tap do? Will we be able to hire a driver instead?

Hostellerie du Roi Christophe

We all went to the Hostellerie de Roi Christophe after the training ended today. We’ve been going pretty much nonstop for several days now and some R&R was in order.

The Hostellerie is one of those beautiful old colonial hotels that you see all the time in the developing world. Full of “Old World Charm” and all that. We came for beer (Prestige), ambiance and the turquoise water of the swimming pool. It is so warm and welcoming. They also, quite sensibly, have generators to deal with the intermittent power supply. Upon leaving, we learned that they have satellite internet and wireless.

We will be back. Oh yes, we will be back.

If you are ever in Cap, it costs $65-$75 a night.

Bill tells us that the last time he was in Haiti (around May or June 2005), the owner of the hotel had just been killed by gunmen in Port-au-Prince. Now his son runs it.

I'm sick and tired of all these goats on all these boats

In a meeting with the rest of the co-op yesterday evening, Bill convinced them to consider a different tack: goat farming (for the rapid creation of revenue) and building small fiberglass boats (could be an awesome business, but will take a while to get off the ground). There’s a lot of information gathering that needs to be done to determine if they could do the latter profitably, but in the meantime, goats.

What was the clincher? I’m not exactly sure as I didn’t attend this meeting, but it might have been the extra $5000-$7000 of import duties, cruelly high tariffs or other charges that they would have to pay if bringing in a boat from say Miami. The economic bounty of fishing was simply not certain enough for them to be willing to basically throw away that kind of money. They figured that there were far better ways to use In Kind’s donations. I would have to agree.

(Man, I can’t wait to see “Snakes on A Plane” when we get home.)

Bill and the Fishing Cooperative

Catherine Laine and Bill Dolan Speaks to the heads of the Petite Anse fishing cooperative.

I almost forgot. Bill Dolan arrived yesterday. A cheer rang out from the upstairs when folks saw his taxi. Bill has graciously carried many needed extra supplies (e.g. contact lens solution, tripod, extra MIT T-shirts for the participants, a massive Creyole-English dictionary, and more). I think he managed to get from the DR to PAP by bus, then flew here.

He’s a fascinating guy. For years, he worked in real estate. He got into philanthropy/development work after helping a family sell off several million dollars worth of property and set up a foundation with the proceeds. Along the way, he met Gerthy and long story short, he agreed to help spearhead a project with a fishing cooperative based in Petit-Anse.

His objective in the project is to create a sustainable long-term income stream for the fisherman that is environmentally sound and responsible. The charity that he’s working with, In Kind, is looking for the optimal way they can help the co-op that will have the longest lasting/biggest impact on their economic situation. It’s no easy task to maximize the benefits that one’s help provides while minimizing all negative side effects. There are just so many choices. The fisherman want new fiberglass boats and perhaps a truck to make it easier to get their catch to market. On the other hand, maybe they need to get out of the fishing business altogether and start making new boats for the other fisherman?

Issue 1: The small-scale fishing industry in Haiti is in trouble. The waters closest to the shore are already extremely over-fished. As is happening all over the world, the catch is just getting smaller and smaller. Unlike other locales, where fisherman end up buying larger and larger boats to dredge up the contents of the sea, these guys simply do not have the capital to do that. Good for the environment, bad for them. So this leads to the question of whether getting them a bigger boat is the best thing for a) their long-term economic prospects or b) the environment. Is it ethical? But then again, there is also the question whether the cash they raise on the short-run will put them in a better position to shift to another industry later. The answer really isn’t obvious.

Issue 2: The co-op is really keen on an option that will have a short turnaround time for bringing in revenue. They want to be able to start selling their products as soon as possible.

There are, of course, other issues but we’ll leave them off for now.

I did a bit of translating for Bill in discussions with Ti Dann (the main captain and director of the coop). He struck me as a soft-spoken man with a sailor’s face and a kind smile underneath his beard. I regret to say that I don’t remember the name of the other man we were talking to. I don’t know how translators do it, letting words flow through you like an oracle, without letting your own biases and impressions shine through. It’s tough.

Here is the info I got. The boats typically used by local fisherman are only 10-12 ft. They were saying that they can get out 3-4 km which seems like a massive distance for such a small vessel. There are about 3-4 full-on fisherman, with experience on larger boats, in the co-op and about 55 others who have varying levels of experience who just want good honest work.

There aren’t that many boats in the coop currently. There were only two engines; one of which has been broken for several months. Their engines use gas, though they would prefer diesel engines. Diesel is cheaper and the engines are better as far as they are concerned. Both fuel types are available. The current fishing stocks nearest to the shore simply don’t offer enough of a yield for the fisherman to make a reasonable wage. There’s a sense amongst the members of the co-op that the waters 10-15 km offshore are plentiful with fish, silvery and large. It’s unclear whether this is in fact the case or wishful thinking. If it is true, they don’t know how healthy the fish stocks are right now and for how long they’ll stay that way. A first step may be to figure that out.

Yeah, they’re very much interested in getting a bigger boat.

Training Day 2 and Questions about a Charcoal Business

Jules, Amy and Shawn talk about the sugarcane charcoal making process.

Because there were nearly double the number of expected participants at yesterday’s training, the Ekip Chabon decided that they would have to limit attendance today. While very excited about the large amount of interest, Amy and co. felt strongly that having so many people would hurt the overall educational experience. There weren’t enough materials to go around and each person would have less of a chance to do the hands-on part of the seminar. While the charcoal making process isn’t difficult, there are a few finicky sections where it is important to get a chance to do it yourself. The solution was to have the different groups/organizations select a leader and 4 other members to attend today and tomorrow’s sessions. The MIT team paid transportation costs home for group members that needed the financial aid.

It was a real shame to have to lose some people, but the smaller cohort that was left (a little under 40 people) was the optimal size. There were lots of questions, lots of participation; overall it was great. This cohort seems to be more interested in business development that the group at Les Cayes. There were also a lot of questions about alternative agricultural wastes that could be used.

There was one glitch that was sort of to be expected. The plantation that was our first source of the bagasse has since recognized the value of sugar cane waste and plans to use it themselves. Gerthy, ever resourceful, found another source and a massive amount of bagasse was delivered early afternoon.

This is something that’s rather important to suss out about if proposing that charcoal production could be a viable business. How will the prices of bagasse or other agricultural wastes change as people shift from seeing them as garbage to seeing them as saleable products? How likely is it that farmers and plantation owners begin to use the waste they produce for their own fuel needs rather than making it available on the open market as a raw material? I think the charcoal trainings have demonstrated that there is an interest in the product. It is easy to create and it works very well. The questions on the horizon have to do with who can produce it, can it be done profitably, at what scale, etc. etc. Another issue that is worth dwelling over is the tradeoffs between using agricultural waste as a fuel source vs. an additive to compost.

AIDG is very interested in creating and selling these charcoal makers in Haiti as well as in Guatemala, where last year’s Hurricane Stan revealed some of the devastating affects of deforestation. We’ll be doing feasibility studies to determine the answers to some of the issues raised above.

Training Day 1

Morning. I only wake up once due to 5am karaoke (WTF). I slept through the heat and the murderous dog battles. Eight mosquito wenches quiver for my blood outside the net. I’m not sorry to disappoint the evil little hunters. One or two managed to get in during the night, but I killed them. “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” It’s the small victories, you know.

Today is a super busy day. By 8, we already have 20 people waiting patiently for registration. By 9:30 we have our anticipated 40. Stenio Louis-Jeune from Zanmi Lasante is also here. At 9:45, Madame Michel from Petite Anse brings in another group. Soon we have another 23. Eek. The participants are from all around Haiti: Cange, Ile de la Tortue, Plaisance, Petite-Anse and Madeleine from Cap-Haïtien.

The final count was a whopping 72 people. It’s a wee bit too many people for tomorrow’s hands on session.

Check out the AIDG gallery for some great pictures of the participants and the overall charcoal making process.

Red Charcoal Maker

Also read the draft charcoal making manual put out by the D-Lab to learn more (Microsoft Word). I was going to blog it but it is really written far better there anyway.