From Haiti, With Love



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Nataila Portman – Blogger/Designer

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From atop the mountains looking down, they look like white serpents slithering through the landscape. On the ground walking through them, they feel like the surface of the sun.  That is where I am now, walking over millions of smooth white stones of a nearly dry riverbed. Mountains rise steeply to my right and left as we make our way through the valley.  Periodically, Frantz and I hop from rock to rock, crossing over what’s left of the river.  The heat from the blazing sun is almost intolerable, yet around us the riverbed is full of activity: men, women, and children bathing, people washing their clothes, kids playing.  As we walk, we pass dozens of people on their way to school, church, the market, or some other venture.  Many of them are carrying fish, leading goats, hauling lumber either on their backs or on donkeys, mules, and the occasional horse.  “Como ou ye?” I say to a man as he smiles at me.  “Mwen pa pi mal.” he replies in Creole.  I smile back and continue on my way.

Scenes like this stretch all over the Sud-Est Region/Department of Haiti.  During the rainy season and especially during a hurricane, rain falls on the largely deforested mountainsides, creating landslides carrying rocks and debris down into the rivers below.  And this is what remains when the water rushes out into the ocean:  a riverbed three times as wide as it once was and all the white stones which fill it.

Frantz, my colleague, and I are on our way to visit a group of recently finished homes.  Our truck dropped us off about a mile farther back, at which point it could no longer continue.  From the drop point it is about a 45-minute hike to the project site.  When we arrive I will look over the homes and discuss with Frantz the corrections that need to be made in order for them to be considered complete, and for the construction teams to be able to move on to the next construction sites.  We will be out for hours, including the hottest part of the day.  We will most likely miss lunch, and get back in the late afternoon.  In my pack, I have water, snacks, my notebook and pencil, multi-tool, camera, and of course, my ENO.

I work for a Swiss NGO (non-governmental organization) called Medair.  An NGO is basically the more technical term for what most Americans would know as a non-profit organization.  Medair’s mission is to respond to human suffering in emergency and disaster situations in the world’s most vulnerable countries.  My job is shelter project manager in Côtes-de-Fer, Haiti.  The project I am managing is providing homes and training to families who were affected by Hurricane Sandy last October.  As project manager, I am responsible for all aspects of the project, including quality of design, supervising the community trainings, overseeing construction of the homes, managing the budget, ensuring procurement of materials, keeping on schedule, and solving the never-ending problems and challenges inherent to any project, especially those implemented in a developing country.  However, I am not alone.  I have a whole team of people to help me accomplish all these things.

As you can imagine the job has its perks; fresh air, long hikes, beautiful landscapes, new culture, and above all serving God and people of His world in a way which not many people have the chance.  But the work also has its challenges. Being away from the comforts of the developed world, as well as my family, friends, and recent fiancé takes its toll, often in the form of stress or anxiety.

On the evenings and weekends, one of my favorite pastimes is to dive into a good book or podcast.  And my favorite spot in which to do this is in my ENO.  Whether I am on a long hike, a quiet beach, or just at the house, there is nothing quite as calming or quite as relaxing as jumping in my hammock with my iPod or a good book and letting the stresses and pressures of this work melt away.  Across 5 continents and countless countries, my ENO has gone everywhere with me.  When I am in the States, it stays in my car.  When I am traveling or working abroad, it stays in whatever pack I am carrying with me that day.  The truth is, you never know when a terrific hammock spot with appear.  Actually you do know – a seasoned ENOpian can find a good spot anywhere.


by Scott Brelsford

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