10 May 2010

Two-Man Job

Before I begin, I have some unfortunate news…right now, I have things to write about, because so many things are new or different here. But already, things are starting to become, well, normal. And I fear that I will soon begin to struggle for interesting things to write about. Already, you may have noticed a distinct reduction in the number of my posts. This is your warning: I am almost out of “firsts.”


But yesterday had two “firsts.” The first occurred after church, when we were offered a ride. We eagerly accepted, because I assumed that it would be in a car. We followed our generous friend down a dirt alley, until he stopped at a large gate. “Wait here a second,” he said. (He actually did speak excellent English.) Before long, he returned…pushing the handlebars of his motorcycle. Before I continue, there are a few things you should know about motorcycles here. 1) Almost no one wears helmets. (This guy didn’t have one, let alone three.) 2) There is no “correct” side of the road for them to drive on…they drive the path of least resistance. 3) I’ve never been on one, having been instilled from birth about their hazards. 


I stared at it for a moment, contemplating. My church skirt was straight and denim, and there was no way I could sit properly, unless I rode side-saddle, as most Haitian women do. However, this left the problem of hand-holds…as David pointed out. “Can’t you hold onto the bike?” he yell-whispered as we pulled out onto the road. Answer? Why no. I had one hand firmly clamped on his knee and the other less-firmly clamped on my driver’s shoulder. (We’d just met. A firm clamp didn’t seem appropriate.) It was definitely good that I had two of them to help keep me on, and my feet threatened to slip off their footrest several times, but over the rocks and despite the swerves around donkeys and pedestrians, I actually felt quite safe. Also, another advantage to motorcycles became apparent: we arrived home 25 minutes quicker and not bathed in sweat from head to toe.


Speaking of bathing, I turned on the shower this morning to discover the tank was empty. (I pity the people I sat next to in church…then again, they didn’t smell much better.) The nice guy who runs the school where we live is out of town, but before he left, he warned us that this might happen and gave us a number to call. (Like I said: nice guy.) At 8 AM, I called the number: “This is Madam David, and I live at the college. We don’t have any more water,” I told him in Creole. “I’m coming right now,” he told me. Five hours later, still without water, I texted him: “Could you pretty please come and fix the water soon?” (Yes, I really do know how to say “pretty please” in Creole.) No response.
 

It was time to take matters into my own hands. Literally. With two gallon-sized plastic water containers in hand, I sojourned across the compound to find the pump. Since I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, it took me a while—they’d hidden it inside a pump house (of all the nerve). It was dark inside. Empty potato chip bags, cracker packages and candy wrappers were piled up along the wall. At least it didn’t smell as bad as the latrines, which I hadn’t had to try yet (but might have to if we didn’t get the tank filled soon). The first ten pumps did nothing. The long handle squeaked a kind of chorus, and as the water started to flow, I noticed that most of it was flowing onto my gallon, not into it. I shifted the container, but not before the water stopped, leaving me unsure about which way to scoot it. This was proving more difficult than I thought…what I wouldn’t give for a bucket. The first gallon, I could feel my back starting to tighten up, my muscles unused to such work. I changed my stance for the second gallon, trying to use my arms more, which improved things a little—until I had to carry the gallons back across the compound. Climbing the stairs, heart pounding, sweating on my church clothes, I had a sense of real accomplishment. I had just pumped water in Haiti, all by myself! That sense of accomplishment quickly turned to dismay, however, when I used 1½ gallons to flush the toilet. Suddenly, latrines were starting to make a lot of sense.
 

Disappointed, but determined, I headed back across the compound, only to discover that a little boy in a bright yellow shirt was peeking at me from inside the pump house. A lot of kids here haul water for their families—in buckets, on their heads, quite often. I approached the pump house cautiously, not wanting to scare him. His bucket was empty, but when I inquired, he insisted that he was done and that I should go ahead. I tossed my gallon toward the spigot, not bothering to position it, until the first water began to flow. My friend, however, beat me to it. Not only that, he replaced the second gallon when the first one was full. Maybe this water-pumping thing wasn’t so bad after all—maybe it just required the assistance of a friend. When I finished, I thanked him and offer to do the same for him, but he shyly assured me that he didn’t need help. Still, as I slowly gathered up my gallons, I subtly scooted his gallon under the flow with my sandal, and he grinned at me. He was almost riding the pump handle, like a one-man seesaw, throwing all his weight to pump it. “Mesi!” he called breathlessly as I started back across the compound. It only took one more visit to the pump house that evening to get enough water for the bathroom at night and enough to do dishes after dinner. This time, I brought my own help…after all, it’s a two-man job.
 

Our work here is a many-man job…we couldn’t be here if you didn’t pray for us. Thanks.

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