26 August 2012

Sur la Terrain

Harvest in the Lowlands
To have a day like today, this is why I do the work I do. Adventure, experience, getting to see local culture, and gaining a better understanding of the needs of the communities we work in - this...this is what keeps me coming back. 

We went out today to do a rapid needs assessment in the communities we work in, looking at what happened during Tropical Storm Isaac. We had been receiving lots of information by phone yesterday, from our 'operations base,' also known as our kitchen table. And the information we were getting was showing that there was a great impact. But we wouldn't know for sure until we went out and verified it. 

We knew that need to verify would come soon, and come quickly, so I was prepped and ready to go with all the tools, the processes, the people we would use. All were aware it could happen at a moment's notice - the green light to go. So this morning when I was just chatting to friends on Skype, taking my time to get the day started, and I got the green light - well...we sprung into action. Our area coordinator had been at a meeting with other NGOs and the local governmental response body (the DPC) to see what needed to happen in our commune. So, when they said we need more information, we said, let's go. 

Within 45 minutes, we had the teams here, drivers here, vehicles waiting, questionnaires printed, areas assigned, and process to use communicated. I led a team going to the lowlands area of the Leogane commune, that which was accessible. 

Many of the communities we work in are only able to be accessed by driving (or walking) up the river, and with the amount of water that dumped on Haiti this weekend, some rivers are still impassable. The route taken by our driver today required the use of our sturdy Land Cruiser to manage the mud, crevices, rocks, and river traversing that was necessary to reach the two communities. 

Since I don't speak Creole, I was in charge of photographing (woo!), taking GPS coordinates and making observations in the area. The other 2 on my team went to houses to ask questions about what happened during the storm and what the need was. 

On a side note, I had free reign to walk around the communities, chatting with people, traipsing through mud, wandering through fields, petting goats, waving 'Bonswa' to children. Oh my. Just, maybe the best. I loved my job today.

At the first community we went to, I wandered, and we talked to 4 households and the local government representative. We found that overall, the damage had not been too bad in the community. There were trees felled, houses that were slightly damaged, and quite a few goats that got stressed and died (ok, there is a small part of me that finds that hilarious, but goats are a huge source of income in these communities, so the humour I find is just really really inappropriate. Bad thoughts, Ang), and there was a lot of mud. Local gardens were affected, but not many, and there were not really any that were completely destroyed. 

A good find. A relatively good outcome for the community. There will be affects, but walking around showed that the community was living life as normal - sitting on porches, braiding hair, gardening, taking care of animals, managing shops, and chatting with each other. 

We continued up the river to the next community. However, to get there, we had to drive up the river as far as the car would go safely, and then we continued the rest on foot. We removed our shoes, my team rolled up their jeans (damn skinny jeans and not being roll-up-able!), and we traversed the muddy, rocky water, joking about what a nice beach we were visiting! 

While this community was not devastated either, it still spoke the remnants of a massive storm. With all the rain, the river had swollen, taking down plantations and gardens, ruining harvests, and creating new cavernous water-ways on paths. Mud was present; more animals had died; and we heard of 5 houses that had been demolished by the wind. 

While my team questioned houses, I was shown around by various members of the community, all pointing out where the damage was. It was evident that this community would bear the brunt of the storm for much longer than the first. 

But still, the communities continued life as normal. Haitians are notoriously resilient, letting things like this storm come and go and just accepting that it is a part of life. Whether this is a good or bad thing, I cannot say, and that is another topic for another day. 

Life continues as normal - including Football!!!
The walk back up the river caused lots of laughter in the communities I think. It's definitely not every day that they see a 'blan' walking up a river in wet jeans and bare feet. I earned the term 'ou capable' (expressing shock at my ability to hike through mosquito-infested jungles, and traipse up a river in bare feet) by my team. 

The meeting upon my return to the office found that many of the other communities visited experienced the same sort of issues. We are so thankful that it is not worse than this. No deaths were reported; most houses survived. 

I woke up this morning bored at the thought of being stuck in the house another day. Instead, I am heading to bed with more mosquito bites than when the day started, dirty feet, sweaty skin, and a smile on my face. 

Isaac, thank you for not being as mean as you could have been, and for giving me a bit of adventure in the meantime. 

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