A Long & Winding Road
Last week I had the opportunity to go out on a delivery day with our guys. You might think that we do this all the time, but we actually don’t. In fact, I hadn’t been on a delivery in several years simply because my work load and schedule back at the mission didn’t allow for it.
When I do get to go out I love it. I feel like it grounds me back to why we do what we do. When we only see the front end and production side of things, then rest becomes theory and it’s easy to feel a bit disconnected from it. When I get to go out on the truck I not only get to see the end game while filters are being installed, and meet our new filter owners in their homes, but I get to spend time with our staff in a different context. A context where they’re in charge, not me.
Our days start early here at Clean Water for Haiti. 6 am to be exact. For part of the year the sun is just barely starting to make things light when we circle up and pray for the day. The delivery truck has to leave right after that, especially if it’s heading to the Artibonite Valley, because the police shut down the cities to large trucks from about 6:45-8:30 am for school and work traffic. It’s just a way of easing some of the congestion, but it means we have to be on our toes and get through fast.
This past week we had a board member and her family visiting, so there were 11 of us on the truck. I always try to sit in the back on top of the filters with the guys if I can. I love the view from back there as we head out in the wee hours. I get to see people getting their day started and Haiti coming to life. There are very few times where things still feel quiet and kind of still here, and it only happens in the early morning.
Driving down into the Artibonite Valley is one of my favorite things. At one point you come around a corner after cresting a hill, and the whole valley is there before you. In the early morning as the sun is coming up you can see the haze that happens when warm air starts to meet the chill of the night. The air is still cool, and you can see charcoal fires letting up their puffs of smoke. A certain times of the year when the flamboyant trees are blooming there are bursts of orange dotted through the valley of rice fields and crops. It’s really breathtaking.
As we came down that hill I looked back at the guys, all lost in their own thoughts and only occasionally trying to talk over the roar of the road noise. The sun was coming up and I kept thinking of the day ahead and what it would hold. We were heading out past Ti Riviere, a place I hadn’t been to since my first year in Haiti, so at least 11 years.
After a quick stop in Pont Sonde to get some food, we turned off the national highway. Eventually we drove through Ti Riviere, which was much more developed than the last time I had visited. I’m always excited to see progress in Haiti, because it’s easy to feel like not much changes. Slow change is good though.
About 5 minutes out of town, as we were driving down a dusty road, there was a pop! Then a hiss as the outside back tire of the truck quickly lost all of it’s air. Richard quickly pulled over and we had not one, but two flat tires. We hadn’t even installed a single filter yet. The guys quickly took the tires off and one of them hopped on a moto taxi back into town to take the tires to the repair boss.
Two hours later the tires were back, they were mounted back on the truck and we all loaded back on. When I asked how far out we were going the guys told me it was far, really far. It was going to be a long day, tires aside.
We drove up and down hills for over an hour into a part of Haiti I had never seen before called Savanne nan Roche (savannah in the rocks). I found it hard to describe to Chris later because it was green in places, and dry in others. There were a lot of natural water sources, and I lost count of the number of times we crossed them. At least 20, but probably closer to 30. We would be driving down into a little valley and all of the sudden there would be a clear spring of water next to the road with people bathing or washing their motorcycles. Then we would be climbing up again heading over the next peak.
The thing that amazed me when we did finally get to our general destination is the number of people that actually lived out there. Remember, we’re at least an hours drive away from the nearest town, over roads that will definitely wash out and be almost impassible during the summer rainy season. And yet there were always more people.
We started to let guys off at intervals to deliver and install filters. I was looking forward to this part because it meant being able to just observe them as they did their jobs. The interaction that our staff have with the filter owners is one of the most important parts of their job, and we’ve got newer technicians out in the field now.
Typically, back at the mission, I’m “Madamn Direk” – Mrs. Director :) Some of the guys that have been here longer call me Les, which I like, but they do it with respect, knowing that there are still employer/employee boundaries. They defer decisions to me or Chris because we’re responsible for everything and we need to have last call on most things. Out in the field though, things are a bit different. I’m still Madamn Direk/Les but I don’t wear the hat as blatantly simply because installing filters isn’t my area of expertise – it’s theirs.
I loved being able to watch almost all of the guys do an installation. I liked that as they were doing them we were having conversation back and forth about their process, not in the sense that they felt like I was checking up on them, but as co-partners in work. When the filters were flowing too fast we threw around ideas about why that was. When we were pressed for time Richard threw the clipboard at me and asked me to fill out the installation form so Oberto could focus on the installation. I was given the marker to write the number on the filter lid, or asked to time the flow rate while the guys held their container under the spout. I got to work alongside them, and let them be the experts.
This is really my favorite part about delivery days. Yes, I love seeing how families are excited about their new filter, and having the chance to talk with them and take pictures, but more than that I love being able to just be with the guys. We get a chance to do and talk about things we don’t normally get to do and talk about at the mission, simply because we have different jobs there. The best part for me is that I see how encouraging it is for them to have me seeing how they do their jobs. I know they’re proud of the work they do, and having the chance to show that off just makes them prouder. And let me tell you, our guys are worth being proud of. They’re an amazing team that are so dedicated to what we do here. I really don’t even have the words to describe it in a way that will do it justice. You really just need to come on a Vision Trip so you can see for yourself.
The guys were right, it was very, very far. And it was a really, really long day. We installed our last filter as the sun was setting, then had to drive at least two hours home, arriving at around 8:30 pm. I would love to say that this is abnormal, but it’s really not. Delivery days are typically at least a 12 hour day. Our guys work SO hard, and I respect them so much because of it.
I have a ton more to write about the whole experience, but I think breaking it up in bite sized pieces is a better option than dumping it all right here, right now. I’ll look forward to sharing more with you next time.