Friday, June 29, 2012

The Netherlands or Holland...which is it?

We arrive in Amsterdam Central and take our train to a little town (some direction) from downtown. The town of Hilversum was our new home. It was beautiful! Cobblestone streets, amazing bike paths, quaint shops and a really cool little pub called the Carousel. We had just eaten dinner and Dave said want to have a beer somewhere? I gave him a blank expression, which made him laugh. I taught him a travel tip and it was this....walk slowly down the street and listen......for what he asked. I said,"For music and laughter of course." and so began our connection to new friends and culture in the little hamlet of Hilversum. Several things were quite different in Europe then they are at home. Observations: 1. They don't bring you the bill unless you ask for it. That was an interesting waiting game at several restaurants, I would look at the waiter/waitress they would look at me, I would nod and they would nob back, but no bill. We finally figured out that they find it rude to plunk down a bill before it is asked what a concept. 2. Every beer they serve comes in a glass with that beer's name on it. (That is a lot of different glasses) 3. When they pour Amstel (especially) they take what looks like a paint stick and wipe the head off, lots of beer down the drain. 4. All the bathrooms are small, Dave barely fit in many of them. Big people have extra struggles in Europe. 5. Take cash, many places want your card pinned and chipped. I don't even know what a chipped card is. 6. People don't say 'bless you' to strangers, or at all. 7. People in the Netherlands are a bit stand-off-ish until they feel comfortable and then you are family. Not sure the french open up ever. 8. People in Norway will come up and ask if you need help if you just stand there with a puzzled look on your face. 9. Candles are used a lot! 10. People play with their children, a lot. 11. Biking is a was of life, and it doesn't even have to be a "cool" bike, in fact most are just functional. 12. People will sit outside at a cafe, even if it is cold, in their shorts and dresses. I am tough, but I could not do that. 13. When asking someone if they speak English the most common response is: "Of course"

Red wine my ass

Paris: What keeps people trim? Red wine they say. I think they need to consider smoking and stairs. It was rather a shock to see soooo many people smoking, everywhere. While they walked, while they ate lunch, while they breastfed their babies in the park, while they stood in line, while they were making out (people do show a lot of affection here). It was a bit discouraging. Then came the thing no one tells you about. The stairs. They are everywhere as well. To get down into the subway to come up out of the subway, to use every bathroom that is in Paris is down a circular flight of stairs. Paris is not a very wheelchair friendly place. Actually Paris is not a very friendly place period. They children were all very nice and would engage, not so much the adults. On our first day in Paris we took the subway into town (very easy to use and figure out as long as you knew where you were going) we stopped a little outside cafe (very Parisian) and had a beer (ok two) and I had to use the restroom, which were down a flight of stairs and in a very small closet. As I was in the stall the light in my stall went out, the stall was completely sealed. Total black. I have to feel where the paper is the lock (that took a minute) and the flusher (ok, I gave up on that until I could open the door and could peak) I went to wipe and leaned forward banging my head on the door which caused me to giggle and then when I stood my elbows hit everything else the room I started to laugh, then as I struggled with the locking mechanism and door handle I was almost in hysterics with laughter. I am sure I left an impression on everyone else in the room. The sites were fun and we met many wonderful tourists waiting in line with us. Our host was wonderful and when our time was up we were ready to move on. The best site was the enormous train station that we left out of. Just gorgeous. Watching the board that keeps track of all the trains is a masterpiece. It is not electronic, but rather copper plates that rotate individually to find the right letter or number or space to spell out the train name and which gate it leaves from. We also came across a very nice young man that helped us in the Europass line find a free way to use our pass to get to Amsterdam. He worked so hard to get us to understand what he was trying to tell us (he is working on his English) Dave and I had to change trains 5 times to get to Amsterdam, but it allowed us to get acquainted with the different systems that are used in the various train stations. We were off, little did we know that stairs would become a constant in our trip of traveling Europe.
Have you ever had that feeling that maybe you should have reconsidered a decision? That is how I felt as I sat in the fuselage of the small airplane that we took from Flint Bishop to Chicago. The plane was delayed by 2 hours and I was stressed that we would not make our flight to Paris. The delay was caused by high winds in Chicago. There were high winds everywhere, especially the tail section of the plane we were on. I have never moved in so many directions simultaneously except as a child on the tilt-a-whirl. Wow, what a start to a vacation. When we got to Chicago finding the correct plan was a chore, no one seemed to know where our plane was. We ran (backpacks and all) to two different concourses (of course to the very freaking end of them) before they put us on a shuttle and we drove across all the runways to get to the international terminal where we were the last people on the plane and there was a man in our seats (he thought we weren’t coming) and we barely got my son’s backpack in the overhead bin. It really should have been checked, but the guy in Flint said go ahead and good luck. The flight across the Atlantic was very bumpy and sleeping was not going to happen. We got into London and to be honest I have no idea how we made our connecting flight to Paris, that part is a blur. In Paris we figured out how to get from the airport to our proper stop on the metro and we walked up out of the subway to a foreign land. We were at a corner where several streets, it always seemed like more than 5 have to cross in order for there to be an intersection, nothing is at right angles. We guessed which direction we should walk in (our directions said to walk toward the hospital, really?) As we were trying to figure out where to find the street signs (they are carved into the sides of the buildings next to the intersections) a man standing next to me said, “Are you Kelly.” It was Hakim our first Airbnb host. I said yes, how did you happen to know we would be here at this time? He smiled and said, I always come out to the street at this time looking for Americans. A friendship was born. I must say it was easy to spot Dave and I in this neighborhood, even minus the large backpacks and exhausted expressions. We were in a very ethnic part of Paris, very Arab/African/South American. It was wonderful!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The walk-about: without being prodigal.

I have convinced my 21 year old son to spend 6 weeks with me in Europe to explore new cultures. This is an attempt to get him to love travel and see the world through citizenship rather than isolated beings co-existing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Put the lime in the coconut.

I came to Haiti knowing I had a mild heart condition known as SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) it is where your heart, for no apparent reason, starts to beat at a much accelerated rate, mine getting up to 200 bpm. When I left the states I had an episode that I had to be “converted” in the hospital this had never happened before and it was over in a second. I told the cardiologist that I subsequently saw that I was going to Haiti and I was concerned about this happening there. He assured me that my condition was pretty common and that every hospital has the chemical that would convert my heart. So, I left for Haiti with little trepidation.

While in Haiti my heart did have a couple moments of rapid heart rate, but I was able to convert it on my own by submerging my face in cold water. Everything was going great until the last two days of my stay. We were working feverishly at trying to get the houses done as much as possible before the big Expo when my heart decided to take off just as we were finishing lunch. Getting my face in cold water proved to be problematic. I resorted to filling a lunch bag full of our drinking water and submerging it while we tried to navigate the roads and the traffic in Haiti. This worked for a moment and then it kicked right back in. This caused me some concern because this had never happened before. My project manage drove to a restaurant and broke back some ice in order to make the water a bit colder. I got a great case of brain freeze, but no re-setting of my heart rate. I told the PM that it was time to go to the hospital. Well, this became quite the adventure.

The PM then became a man with a mission. He called to find out where the closest hospital was. He drove like a mad man through the congested streets yelling at people in Creole to get out of his way. We got to a trauma hospital and it was in full swing people yelling, running, sweating. They were manned by many doctors without borders and one of them came up to our car and did an intake. He checked my rate which was about 185 and said he would try to help. He left and came back to tell us that they were overwhelmed with gunshot wounds and advised us to go to another hospital. He told me to stay calm and ran off stethoscope swinging.

We were off again we got general instructions on where the next hospital was and we dashed back into traffic. My oxygen levels were going down in my blood and I was feeling quite light headed. When I told the PM that I may pass out he went into overdrive. He pulled into a place that had a police car and insisted that they give us an escort. By this time my blood had been coursing through my kidneys at such a high rate that I had to pee really bad. He told me to go in the street like the rest of the Haitians. I was not quite ready to do that. My work partner helped me into the store we stopped in front of and as the PM convinced to police to help us he convinced that folks inside to let me use their bathroom. I looked like shit by this time.

We took off with our police escort and wound our way through mid-day traffic to the sound of sirens, horns, and yells from by standers. When it became apparent that we were able to get through traffic quicker than anyone else we began to have a parade behind us. I now find that part quite humorous. We finally made it to the hospital and I was in rough shape. I was sweating and my breathing was labored my heart was beating like a bat out of hell and my vision was beginning to telescope. We had to go to three different gates in order to find the correct one. The PM was getting more livid. Finally we got to the correct gate and in we went. There was no reception and in fact it was difficult to tell which person to talk to first.

Thankfully the PM found a doctor and proceeded to tell him what my condition was and what I had instructed him what needed to be done. The nurses were trying to get a blood pressure on me and were not successful. They squeezed my arm so many times and so tightly that my whole arm went numb. I told them that they needed to try the other arm because the one they were using didn’t have any blood left in it. The doctor tried to get a BP and was checking my pulse with his thumb. I wasn’t impressed and asked if there was an American doctor on site (I meant one that spoke English) I pissed the first doctor off and he left. The second doctor spoke a little English and understood what my condition was and determined a course of action. I did not recognize the medication that he was considering and wanted to talk to my daughter before they injected me with anything.

A nurse hooked me up to oxygen, but didn’t turn it on. An orderly looking guy came in with another patient and glanced at the tank beside me and immediately came over and turned it on. A little later the nurse turned it off again. I don’t know what that was all about, but it happened three times. He would turn it on and say something to her and after a while she would come over and turn it off. I finally just took it off my head when I wasn't dizzy anymore.

I got a hold of my daughter and she gave me the spelling of the medication that they used in the states that converted me before. The doctor said they didn’t have that medicine, but he felt the alternative would help. She said what they wanted to use was a beta blocker and it would be ok, it would just take a while. I received my first injection. The nurse did a good job with this. When my color came back and the oxygen was helping my head not be so foggy my work mates headed out to close up our work site and would return.

The ER of this hospital is open air and has no curtains. All of the patients lay on rubber beds facing each other. After a while the sweat under my body became unbearable because of the rubber and I got off the bead and sat in a chair. They don’t use sheets. I watched people undress, bleed, spit, vomit and sleep and they watched me. There was one young man that woke up while I was there and would just watch me. So, I just watched him. I finally gave him a little wave and he gave me a peace sign. We were friends. He had malaria and vomited several times while I was there. He needed a mom. I gave him the best mom look I could, I think he appreciated it.

After two hours the doctor came back and my rate had come down a little, to 160. He then said that he would give me the medicine I requested when I got there, the medicine that he had told me that they didn’t have. He explained that they don’t have the proper monitoring equipment and he was not comfortable giving me the medicine, but he wanted my rate down. My friends were not back and the phone I had couldn’t get through to the states. I looked him in the eyes and said, “Let’s do it.” He nodded and went and got the nurse. The nurse was the only one around when she gave me the shot and then left, so much for even primitive monitoring. The young man across from me watched me though and that made me feel better.

I had to use the bathroom while there and they pointed in the direction of the toilette. They didn’t walk me there and there was not sink or toilette paper. I managed.

When my friends got back the doctor was confident that I would be fine. I wasn’t so sure, but I didn’t want them to give me any more medication so I was ready to die either in traffic or up at the B & B. The doc said he would give me a beta blocker to take with me in case I had more trouble. My rate was still pretty high, but they had done all they could do. The doc couldn’t find any pills that were beta blockers so he gave my two syringes and a vial of beta blockers. He said to only inject 2.5 ml at time if my rate got up to 185 again. I thanked him for not killing me (I kept that to myself) and put my boots back on and began to leave. I looked at each of my roommates and gave them a nod. When I got to the young man with malaria I touched my heart and nodded to him. He touched his heart and then kissed his fingers and then pointed at me. I smiled and cried a little. We are all just human beings trying to make it through this existence best we can.

When we left the hospital we had to be decontaminated. We washed out hands in bleach water and they sprayed the bottom of our shoes.

By the time we got to Satigny my heart rate was better, but my chest really hurt. I think I bruised the inside of my rib cage. What a day.

Satigny B & B

Satigny is the name of the B & B I am staying at here in Haiti. It is high on the southern mountain chain overlooking Port-au-Prince and the ocean. It is ran by two very charming people, Ralph and Raphael, a husband and wife duo. Raphael is a teacher and runs her own school for kindergarteners during the school year and has a summer camp during the summer for 5 – 14 year olds. She is amazing. Her mom ran a very popular school in PAP for decades. The wealthy 1% went there. It was completely destroyed in the earth quake. I don’t know if they are going to rebuild.
Ralph is a sports nut and is very fit. He is a perfect match of Raphael, who is go, go, go. He is I am coming, I am coming, I am coming sort of guy.
They have a staff that is wonderful. There are two main waiters that serve breakfast and dinner, I think they are brothers because they look alike. They must be in their late fifties or sixties. They take their jobs very seriously although they only serve one person at a time they get the job done. Since they don’t speak English and I don’t speak Creole we have a few words we exchange: Prestige si bleu plaite (beer please), Dulo si beau plaite (water please) Prestige (beer) dulo (water) that is all I need in life.
The food is good and they serve soup every evening before the meal. The bread is amazing and the pumpkin soup my favorite. They also have dessert every evening. I tend to skip that. I usually go right to bed after dinner.
The estate has some ponies that roam around and munch the grass. There is no mowing at Satigny. There also is an amazing playground for the school children. Ralph has two hunting dogs is lets run in the morning and evening. They are full of energy. One came charging into my work partner’s bedroom the other morning and jumped all over his bed. I heard Chris say, “Hey now”, One of his favorite expressions. The mud prints on his bed had to be explained to the non-English speaking housekeeper; that was fun to watch.
Satigny has many visitors that come from all over the world. I have met many different people: an Australian cell phone tower guy. He was funny and never wants to visit America, life goal; an executive of the textile industry who has factories in many developing countries, yes one of those guys, he was strangely conservative and thought that the population problem in Haiti could be settled by the rhythm method (apparently he hasn’t read the stats on that, but apparently it worked for him); steel workers from Canada rebuilding the Canadian embassy (they have tattoos of a man carrying a steal beam on their arms) a photojournalist from Britain (didn’t talk to her much); member of a group called Building Goodness Foundation (a non-profit out of America doing projects all over the place, seems like a cool group), a computer dude from California that free lances to the highest bidder (nice guy, but computer geek) I am the few females that are here and the only construction worker that I have met.
Although the drive up to Satigny is long and slow the respite when you get there is worth it. And besides the malaria carrying mosquito can’t fly this high. This was one of the main points that was made when I arrived.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The WTF's of Haiti

Our instructions went like this: When you are in the car and parked leave the car running in case you have to make a quick getaway. If you are leaving the car everyone goes, no one stays in the car alone. Do not go to City Sole. Lock everything all the time. Don’t eat or drink anything from the street. They sell alcohol right on the street corners, we were told the bottles are tampered with.

There is a pole we pass everyday on the way to the worksite that has at least 25 meters on it. You know the kind that the Consumers man comes and reads at your house. The “man” must come and read these 25 meters and then he doesn’t have to walk down the cliff to the individual houses to get the readings. How he knows which one goes to what I have no idea.

Energy here is sporadic and most people don’t receive it. The people that are on the grid also have a converter (some kind of contraption that takes energy and charges batteries that they then can use when the energy stops flows, which is often) and a generator so they always have lights. Other people walk around in the dark using their cell phones to see steps and objects in their paths. It gets dark around 6:30 here in Haiti, because the sun is up at like 5 a.m. That means there are a lot of people walking around in the dark in Haiti. Those that want the energy, but can’t afford it steal it. They connect long strings of wire to each other and then they loop it over the power line. What they do with this I have no idea, but now that I know how they do it I see them everywhere. Good thing their houses are mostly made out of concrete because the fire hazard has got to be huge, not to mention the shock potential.

Physics lesson: I work on the flat (sea level) I live on the mountain (way up), the streets are narrow with little gutters running along the sides to help shed rain water. Problem: When it rains in Haiti it comes down like a fire hose. Gravity pulls the water down it collects stuff, like rocks. Not just dirt and gravel, but football sized rocks that come off the mountain. We are trying to drive up the mountain against the now growing river that is overflowing the gutters and is racing toward us with the rocks and stuff. The rental call which we are driving has a very small wheel base and is very light………as we ascended against the deluge up one of the more vertical climbs we encountered that spot where loss of friction and gravity was greater than our upward momentum. This is known as the “fuck me” point. We then had no choice but to back all the way down the hill. Luckily there was only one other car behind us that had to figure out where to go; otherwise it would have been a real problem. I watched the mountain erode before my eyes. Two hours later we made it back to Satigny our Bed and Breakfast.

The trucks that go up the mountain with water and bricks are scary to follow even when it is dry if they lose forward momentum there are few escape routes available to anyone. We have seen the outcome of some of these accidents. Thankfully our drive gives those vehicles some “oh shit” room.

There are a few local crazy people we see regularly. They must have a similar schedule to ours. You can tell they are crazy because of their amazing clothing choices (consisting of many layers and some articles worn on the wrong body part) and their ability to talk to air, or argue with air, or dancing to music only they can hear. Everyone just lets them do their own thing and it appears they eat. My personal favorite is the naked man that walks along the road slinging little pebbles at the cars.

One of the houses we are working is a mobile home. ( I don’t recommend transporting them via the ocean, they don’t travel well) It was brought to the sight and an block apron was made for it and then some unlucky schlep had to get under it and pull the axels. The steal supports created ribs that run under the frame that are only about 8 inches from the ground. In between them there is more space but not much, these spaces run across the width of the mobile home. I was partially under the home looking where the plumbing needed to be connected for the plumber when I got a weird feeling I was being watched. My eyes had adjusted to the dark and so when I focused down the length of the home I could plainly see a goat blinking at me; a big pregnant goat. They sat the trailer down on her without seeing her, trapping her. A plan was needed. She had already been under there for days and was only able to scoot along on its elbows, I had never seen a goat crawl until that day. Since I was the only one small enough to squeeze under the steal ribs I said I would get a rope and try to tie is around the goats horns and we could forcibly pull her out. I did not appreciate at that time how much goat shit had accumulated under that trailer. I got to her after a lot of crawling but all I could rope was her butt. I couldn’t get her to turn around. When I tried to push her around she crawled to the other side of the trailer. My partner Chris took a sledge hammer and broke the blocks out of the other side and stuck his head under. He was close to her head. My other co-workers slid in a long piece of wood and I could get her to stay put by prodding her. I told Chris to get the rope around her horns and I would try and pull her legs sideways because that is the only way she was coming out (on her side). When he reached in she baaaaaaa right in his face he almost wet himself. I yelled that she wasn’t going to bite him and to stop being a Sally. I was the one lying in the heat amongst the goat shit, with my chest being squished and the smell beginning to affect my disposition. He finally got the rope around her neck and the pulled her right into the beam. I thought they were going to break her neck. I got a hold of her hind legs and pulled for all I was worth. She flopped on her side screaming and they got her head down and pulled her out. The mobile home needs some repair now, but at least smelling like dead goat it won’t. We put boards over the holes, but when we came back today to work on the plumbing a dog had gotten under there and had a litter of pups. They are still there. Dogs have teeth.

Drinking water is hard to come by and people can by it on the street in little pint sized plastic bags. They bite a hole in the end and squeeze it into their mouths. We take our water to the site in a big camping thermos and drink it throughout the day. Our workers will also bring their water to work; in bleach bottles. I couldn’t believe it and when asked they tell me that they rinse it out before they drink out of it…… They also said that some people will use oil containers, but of course they wash it out first.

Haiti has a lottery similar to ours, there are numbers randomly selected and you win money if you match the numbers. What we don’t have is a side business where you bet on the parts of the winning numbers. This is not run by the lottery at all, but by private individuals. They are called “banks” you see them everywhere. They are little sheds brightly painted. You bet on the numbers of the lottery, like the last two, and if you pick them you win a little money from that “bank”. There is no regulation on most things.

When you leave town there are these opportunistic entrepreneurs that sell gasoline on the side of the road. They sell them in milk jugs and the gasoline all has different colors. I guess there are a lot of people that buy it because these little stations are everywhere. We were told the gasoline is stolen.

The bakery we go to in the morning for our lunches has an armed guard.