By Michele Rager
This is the second article in a series of articles describing my year of mission work in a Haitian orphanage. Please follow along as I describe how my Marine Corps training and experience help me to adapt and overcome the challenges of living in third-world conditions.
So now I have been in Haiti for 7 weeks. The next thing people want to know is how I am adjusting to the 3rd world conditions in my new home. I am living in Delmas 33, on a 2 acre property. We have toilets, running water, a water purification system, refrigerators, DVD players, the internet, (well, sort of), and even an air conditioner for my apartment, (apartment is a stretch, but since I get three whole rooms to myself I don’t want to downplay it too much – by Haitian standards I live in luxury!)
The average temperature since I’ve been here is 92 in the daylight and it’s gotten as low at 79 at night. Now, even though my Michigan
friends might think, “Pshaw! We’ve had weather in the 90s all summer!” keep in mind that the heat index in Michigan has hardly gone above 95 and the UV index is usually around +1 or +2. In Haiti, it is usually around 50% humidity until just before the rain and then it hits 110% humidity. The heat index is usually around 99 degrees or even in the hundreds, and the UV index holds at a steady +10. The best way to fight this off is with water. Clean drinking water is a precious commodity here in Haiti. We are fortunate in that Poured Out, along with the US Navy, has provided a sand filtration system that is quite efficient. We also supplement this with the purchase of Culligan Water.
The mosquitoes are, to quote Rainn Wilson, “On the SEAL Team Six of mosquitoes.” They will bite me even through 99% DEET repellant. They will often spend their entire short-lived 24 hours existence trying to get thru my mosquito net. If I miss even a one square inch spot with repellant, I will receive no less than 10 bites in that spot. For those of us that are Parris Island trained, you will easily recall, sometimes with horror, my favorite (note the sarcasm) pest in Haiti, the sand flea. Yes, that irksome little devil is small enough to get thru my net, so I have to defend myself with corn starch. Apparently they dislike this very much. I cover my bed in it in the mornings and it kills most of them off by night. As much as I cursed my DIs for not allowing us to scratch all those biting little buggers, I now can appreciate my ability to ignore the biting and still get my work done.
The air quality here is so horrible that OSHA would declare the entire region a hazard pay zone. The number of people that are living on the streets or in the tent camps is so overwhelming. There are very few public restrooms or places for them to wash. Also adding to the cesspool of germs floating around is the constancy of their awful habit of spiting every where. I keep being told by the children that it is part of their culture. At some point in the development of their “civilization” someone must have decided that it was unhealthy to swallow your own saliva. I keep telling the older kids that they only do this because no one has ever taught them otherwise! Because of the plethora of germs I am exposed to on a daily basis, I have had a steady battle with pink-eye and skin rashes, not to mention the extreme difficulty my sinuses have had with adjusting to this region. But being Marine Corps hardened also makes me impervious to many of the bacteria that could make my life a living hell.
But before you write Haiti off as a filthy, disgusting place, understand that the Haitian people have an enduring spirit full of hope and determination. These people are survivors. They are spiritual. They are innovative. They are creative. They crave a channel through which all of this can flow. I hope only that while I am here, I can teach them half of what they can teach me.
For more information on how you can help the mission, please check out HaveFaithHaiti.org or go to MitchAlbom.com and click on his charity link.
The expenses to keep me down here are about $1,200 a month. If you would like to make a donation towards this, please contact Mark Mendelsohn at [email protected] for more information.