It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted anything here, and while I would love to give you all sorts of really amazing reasons why, the truth is life just kind of got away on me and writing here moved to the bottom of the priority list. That’s gotten me thinking though.
I often feel like people look at missionaries and expats, and what they do, as something exotic. When we go back to our passport countries for vacations and fundraising people sometimes interact with us like they might approach a celebrity. I’m not saying we’re like celebrities, quite the opposite. My point is that we’re very normal people, and I think what people imagine our day to day life is like here is much different from what the day to day grind looks like. I thought it might be interesting to look at some of that, and share with you what life at Clean Water for Haiti on an average day looks like.
Our days start early, before the sun ever makes an appearance. Our alarm goes off before 5 am so we can stumble down the hall and brush our teeth. Yes, we get morning breath too. There are about 10 minutes of quiet in our house where Chris goes outside to put the dogs back in their pen, feed and water them, and then unlock the gate. Some of our workers start showing up by 5:20, if you can believe that. During that time I start working on breakfast. As a family we’ve decided it’s really important to share as many meals as possible, so we wake the kids up early and we eat together. Sometimes they wake up well, and other times not so much, just like your kids.
After breakfast, we might have a few minutes for some quick snuggles on the couch, which is our sons favorite thing. At about ten to 6 Chris and I start gathering our things for the start of the work day. By this time our workers have started arriving, some on foot, some on motorcycles, and a few in a car that they purchased together to commute to work. As people arrive they head to their lockers and change into work clothes. Jimmy will get the keys and unlock the depot doors, the cement mixer and anything else that needs to be unlocked for work to happen.
At 6 am we circle up in the middle of the driveway and Fritzner leads us in prayer. This was something that the workers started on their own, and invited us to participate in which makes us so happy. It feels more communal and is something they initiated. We can encourage one another, which is what it feels like the Church should be. Prayer is a time where everyone prays on their own, but together as we hold hands. Many pray outloud, which is a cultural thing, and others pray in their hearts and heads. After prayer Chris reads a section of whatever chapter of the Bible we’re in, in Creole. Then things get handed over to Melix, our foreman. The day before he and Chris will go over the work for the next day and delegate tasks, and after prayer Melix goes over the sheet and tells everyone what they’re doing for the day. As everyone is given their jobs they break away from the circle to get going.
On any given day different members of our staff and our vehicles might literally be going in five different directions. Today is a great example of that. Richard had to take the van to St. Marc to get some repairs done. He’ll do other errands while in town to maximize the trip while the mechanic is working. Roberto caught public transit to Port au Prince to try to find some needed supplies for the roof that we’re putting on the work areas. Preval helped load up some filters into the blue truck, then he and Fritzner headed off on repairs and installations. Evens and Akins are using the red truck to carry the welder and themselves across the pad as they weld trusses in place. Chris had to take the white truck to drop our kids off at school, and after he got back the truck started getting loaded for a delivery in the mountains tomorrow, which means it’ll be gone for two days. Several times per week we would send a few guys out on motorcycles to do follow up visits on previously installed filters.
For those of us that stay at the mission during the work day, our jobs might be any variety of things. We typically have 3-4 guys just working on building filters. They’ll take the filters that were poured the day before and unmold them. Once those filters are unmolded they get lined up in our holding area and filled with water. The water helps the cement cure more slowly, hopefully reducing any cracking or leaks. That said, we do get leaks, and any filters that show cracking get put into a repair cue. Once a week one of the guys will take all those filters and chip away at the area, then refill it with new cement. 9 times out of 10 we can save a filter this way and it functions as normal. Once the filter molds are empty the guys will wipe them down and grease them with vegetable oil so the next filter will pull properly. They’ll bolt the molds together again and start preparing to do the days filter pour. Jimmy will mix up the cement in the mixer and they’ll fill the molds. They’ll dry overnight and the same process gets repeated the next day. We don’t pour filters on Fridays because no one works Saturdays, so the filters wouldn’t get unmolded. We can’t leave the filter in the mold for more than 24 hours or it will break the mold when we take it out.
Several times per week we have people washing sand and gravel to prepare for filter installations. This is all done in our sand washing area. At our new facilities we’ve been able to really streamline the process, which has been exciting. Overhead water pipes run water into the sandwashing machine. The hopper is loaded with sand, and the shaking from the fly wheel and the water work together to push it down over a screen. As it shakes the sand moves through three layers of screen in different sizes. From there it flows into different wheel barrows. It gets moved into drying bays where the water drains off into a trough, and then flows into a canal that flows into our garden to water bananas and fruit trees. It’s pretty slick.
We still have construction going on, so the bosses will be working on a variety of projects. This will be the case for the next year, depending on when we’re able to break ground on our new guest house/training center.
For Chris and I, our day will always be a varied smorgasboard of things. And frankly, most of the time what we set out to do in any given day will probably change as the hours tick by. We don’t have a lot of crisis moments, thank goodness, but there are always things that pop up that need our attention. For the most part though, you can find us in our office doing management and administration type stuff. This is actually a really exciting thing for us because until two months ago the mission didn’t have an actual office. Now we do, and it’s changed so many things about how we work.
Right now I’m trying to catch up on months of stuff that got back burnered while I focused on working with the guys on construction and finishing stuff before we moved. We’re finally at a place where the things that still need to be done in the new mission house aren’t pressing and I can balance both. I’ve also been working on a website rebuild for literally a year. Why does it take so long? Like I said, things pop up. And, we live in a place where we can only use the resources available to us. Last fall I was making really good progress, then needed to come work at the new site for about 6 weeks. After we moved we had to face the reality that our internet situation was less than ideal. And, I need internet to work on the site. I desperately want to get this thing done and launched because it’s beautiful and amazing, but it’s going to mean being creative. It’ll probably look like dropping the kids off at school and then spending 6 hours sitting at one of the local resorts and buying coffee and drinks so I can have a place where my phone will pick up a stronger data signal that I can hotspot off of. These are the daily, unglamorous challenges of working in places like Haiti.
There are things that break on a regular basis, and those are unexpected interruptions that you just have to deal with. Sometimes it’s a piece of needed equipment, a power issue, a water issue, an accident, or a person. The other day one of our guys was working on the trusses, and the steel beam slipped and fell on his back. That means making sure he gets the needed medical help. Again, not planned, and means something else gets bumped.
While I would love to tell you that our days are filled with moments of wandering around out in the community and chatting with our friends and neighbors, or days filled with filter installations, they just aren’t. Like you, we basically go to work for 8 hours a day. Chris and I lead administrative and managerial roles for the mission becuase that’s the best thing we can do with our time to help the mission the most. That’s what our skill set is, and that’s what God has put us here to do. Aside from general admin and managing things, we might have to go do errands like banking, buying supplies, meeting with people… you get the idea.
Did you know that we might only go out on a delivery day once, maybe twice a year? I can honestly say that I haven’t been on a delivery day in over two years! While that might sound crazy because we’re here to be doing filters and helping people, we see it as a VERY good thing. For us it means that we’ve trained our staff well and they don’t need us to be there. They do their jobs really well. So well that Clean Water for Haiti has one of the best Bio-sand filter programs globally. We recognize that our presence on a delivery day can be a huge hindrance to them. Having any foreigner along is cause for distraction, and while we could easily help with installations, the people in the communities we serve are more likely to gain the most from the education that our staff do if we’re not there. It removes the idea that more can be gained or recieved simply because a foreigner is present. It puts our staff in the position of being the experts, the teachers, the community health workers, and that’s exactly where we want to be as an organization. The only exception to this is if we have a Vision Trip in or some other special reason to have foreigners out on a delivery day to see how it all works. In those cases Chris or I will go and help translate and explain what’s going on for the day, but we try to let our staff lead.
Just before 2:30 pm hits you’ll see our guys starting to put the tools away and cleaning things up. We keep to an 8 hour work day because it’s good for everyone. It’s consistent, it allows us to set healthy boundaries. All of our staff have families of their own, and want and need to do other things with their days. We have a family and other relationships outside of ministry and work time that need our attention. It’s not healthy to not have a break from the ministry God calls you to. Not being able to do that is a quick path to burn out. There are days, like delivery and follow up days, where our guys will be out later, typically about 12 hours. Most of the areas we serve are about an hour to an hour and a half drive away, so just the driving sucks up a considerable part of the day.
When you live cross-culturally over the long term, what seems crazy at first becomes just part of the day to day. I remember some of my first days in Haiti, and how everything stood out. The goats hanging off the side of a tap tap while on their way to market. A group of people hoisting a double door fridge onto the top of a piblik, an old school bus used for transportation between major cities. The sheer number of people that can fit on a moto taxi, or in a tap tap.
I think one of the disservices of visiting a place on a missions trip or some other kind of short term visit is that, while it can give us a taste of that place, it’s often not a very good taste of reality. Our hosts, if we have them, want to show us the best parts of life. You don’t get to see what happens when no one else is around. Doing laundry, grocery shopping, insuring a vehicle, paying taxes, fighting with a spouse, taking care of documents, enrolling kids in school, trying to take care of staff issues, fixing a vehicle, balancing work and home demands, answering to their superiors or board of directors, disciplining children, fundraising, administration work… I could go on. The bottom line is that most often our days are filled with similar things that your days are filled with. Yes, the location is different, and the actual way that those things need to get done can be VERY different, but we still need to do all of them.
While there’s a lot that doesn’t really blip on my radar anymore because I am used to it, there are still things that stop me in my tracks.
When we add the last months installed filter totals to our running total and I realize that our organization has been responsible for providing over 24,000 households and institutions with access to clean water, I stop and feel so grateful. We get to do this.
When I look at our staff and see people that have been with us for over 5 years, or over 10 years, and I remember who they were when they started with us, and see how much they’ve grown and the skills they’ve gained I feel really humbled. We get to do this.
When I hear our workers tell me how much they like working here because they know they’re helping their people, and how satisfying that is for them, my heart goes all soft. I feel so thankful that we’re able to help facilitate that for them. We get to do this.
While I don’t necessarily feel like our life is exotic, because it IS every day for us, I get it and understand why people think that. If there was any one thing that I would really want people to know about what it’s like to live this life, it’s this: It’s an overwhelming, humbling, amazing priviledge.
Do you know that your role with Clean Water for Haiti is just as important? None of what we do here could be possible without our support network. Your donations help make it all physically possible, and your encouragement and prayers help us keep going on those days where things are thrown at us from all directions. I wish you could see our staff light up when we tell them people are praying for them. It means something. Thank you for helping us do this thing.