Dusty Roads and Drilling Rigs: Water For A Thirsty Land (part one)

by: Phil Barkman

 

The hot, humid atmosphere of the tropics greeted us as we descended the steps of the plane. To the east lay a low mountain range, the gray/brown of the bare slopes scarred white by landslide and excavation. It was a warm welcome to Haiti.

Earlier on that morning of Saturday, January 19, Landon Troyer and I had boarded a plane at Pittsburgh International Airport, en route to New York City. Landon is our staff photographer, and the two of us were off on an adventure. After a brief layover in New York, we continued to Haiti aboard a Boeing 737.

We were seated in the very last row, and two and a half hours into the flight, a steady stream of people began moving back the aisle to the lavatory. I was seated by the aisle, so each time a relieved traveler exited the tiny cubicle, they had to squeeze past the other folks still waiting. The aisle was scarcely wide enough for a rabbit, so this encounter with strangers severely infringed upon my personal space. Finally, after three and a half hours, the plane settled onto the crumbling tarmac in Port-au-Prince.

A bus took us to the main entrance, and then began the trek through the terminal. Fill out this paper, stop at that desk, get into this line, have your passport stamped here, pay this man $10. Finally, we were through and got to baggage claim.

Grabbing our bags, we worked our way through the crowd, ignoring the over-eager offers of help. Just having our luggage tags verified brought forth the hushed invitation to tip. Avoiding all entrapment, we exited the building on the parking lot side and spotted Kevin and Curt, our guides for the week.

Kevin Kate and Curt King were the reason Landon and I were in Haiti. Both of them have been drilling water wells there for years, and Landon and I were there to… well, we were there to write the story and take the pictures that you’re looking at right now.

Kevin and his wife, Linda, live on a cattle farm close to Winesburg, OH. Kevin grew up in a well-drilling family, so it seemed a natural fit to start drilling in Haiti.

“I’m a fourth generation driller—I was born and raised around the business. My parents sold out the drilling business, but I wanted to continue drilling… and wanted to do so in a third-world country, or where water was needed. Through a mutual friend, I met Curt and came down to Haiti in 2006. That’s where the story started. And I’ve been coming down ever since.” (Curt and Kevin met in Missouri in 2004.)

Kevin is on the Board of Directors of Clear Blue Global Water Project.

Curt and his wife, Mary, are from Washington. Curt was a third-generation well driller but wanted nothing to do with it.

“I grew up in the ‘60s, that whole era where you didn’t do what your parents did… but God had a different idea. So I had to go back to well drilling ‘cause I couldn’t find a job…”

Mary didn’t have any interest in missions but became a follower of Christ shortly after she and Curt were married. In 1978, they read about a preacher in Haiti who was drilling wells after a three-year drought, and Curt thought, “I can’t preach, but I can drill wells.” He went to Haiti for a month, and then Mary joined him. Healing Hands International now employs Curt to drill their wells.

These were the men who met us at the airport, and we walked out to the pickup they had brought. We piled our luggage into the bed of the truck, covered it with a tarp, and strapped it down securely. Curt got behind the wheel, and the adventure of Port-au-Prince traffic began.

It was quite the experience. The traffic was a glut of tap-taps (small pickups used as taxis), dilapidated trucks, and a never-ending flow of motos (motorcycles). The concept seemed to be that if there was a space, even a small one, then just go for it! Oncoming traffic, tight spaces, cross traffic—it was all irrelevant. Just go.

One of our first impressions of Port-au-Prince was of poor air quality. Traffic stirred up a gritty dust which, mingled with the black exhaust billowing from countless tailpipes, drifted through the air and settled on our skin, leaving it with an unpleasant fumes/sewage/dirt smell.

The buildings crammed tightly along the streets were an interesting mix of block, concrete, tin, and wood. Walls are everywhere; block, ragged tin, or long sticks tightly lined up against a few wooden crosspieces. Many of the walls are topped with razor wire as an extra measure of safety; a few had broken bottles cemented along the top.

Bright paint covers some of the walls, the garish colors clashing with the ever-present grime. Piles of garbage lined the curbs, with tendrils of smoke drifting up from some of them.

Sidewalk stands offered any number of products and services: snacks, water, gasoline, or even a shampoo. Tire repair “shops” consisted of a few hand tools and an air compressor set on a tire.

I spoke with Joseph Smith, a VP of Operations with Healing Hands, and he said,

“The real difference between somebody in Haiti… and people in the United States is not intelligence or ability; it’s opportunity. We are where we are because we have had an opportunity in a system where we’ve benefitted from the people who have gone on before us. Many of the people in Haiti have a lot of ingenuity. Necessity is the mother of invention, so they make do with what they’ve got. They make do, and they figure out how to make it work.”

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We headed out of town towards Titanyen, where the Global Outreach/ Healing Hands compound is located. We turned off Highway 1 onto a narrow dirt lane that is paralleled on the right by a towering block wall topped with razor wire. After about seventy-five yards, we arrived at a massive steel gate in the wall. Kevin unlocked it and pushed it open, and we entered the compound.

This is the Global Outreach facility, and Helping Hands International rents a portion of it. Situated on a hillside, the 66-acre compound overlooks the Bay of Port-au-Prince, with the city on the far side. It’s a beautiful view across the blue waters of the bay to the mountains, where the outer limits of the city climb up the slopes.

In the afternoon, what looks like a gentle gray mist drifts out across the bay. It loses its appeal, however, when you realize that it is smoke from the city garbage dump.

We took our bags into the small mission house where we were staying for the night, then went out for pizza. After a few minutes travel on Highway 1, we turned onto a dirt street that headed up the slope. It was rough and rocky, lined with the usual assortment of Haitian houses; grim and gritty, but lit by the setting sun across the bay.

We turned left towards a tall steel gate. A young man stood by the gate, and as we approached, he slid it open. We drove through and continued up a short gravel drive to a stucco building with a covered veranda along the side. Close beside it was another structure, enclosed on three sides. Bright, cheerful colors adorned the walls, the tables, and the small metal chairs that were set on gravel.

This is Fleri Boulanje, a bakery/pizzeria started by a young man from Boston. We settled onto the wretchedly uncomfortable chairs and ordered our pizza. We chatted, becoming better acquainted, and sipped Coke out of glass bottles as we waited for our pizza to arrive. When it did, we discovered that gourmet pizza can be found almost anywhere, even in Haiti.

Morning came after a good night’s sleep, and after breakfast, we headed north along Highway 1. The drilling rig was up at Terre Blanche, where we were going, so we took the water truck—an aging Ford L9000—and the Toyota pickup.

On up the coast we went, through towns with names like Cabaret, Deloge, and Saint-Marc. At times we passed close to the beach, sunlight flickering off the waves and inviting us to take a quick dip. (We didn’t.)

Approximately four hours later we arrived in Gonaives, a city along the coast. From there we headed inland and, on the outskirts of town, stopped at a church. A well had been drilled there previously, and we were to install a pump.

It was a fascinating scene; people came by to watch every move, and you could feel the excitement in the air. When the last piece was finally installed and the pumping began, everyone gathered around to watch that first gush of water. They filled their cups, splashed water onto happy faces, and lifted praise to God for the gift of fresh, clean water.

We left Gonaives, and the road turned from blacktop to dirt, liberally studded with fist-sized rocks. The ride was jarring; we traveled at about 5–7 mph. We headed farther north on Highway 1, then turned onto Highway 5.

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We finally arrived at Pastor Delamy’s mission compound in the late afternoon. It’s a sprawling complex, located in the mountain foothills.

We were ushered into a building that contained our dorm room, a kitchen, a dining room, and Pastor Delamy’s office. A stairway led up to a flat roof, which was furnished with a number of lawn chairs.

During our stay at the mission, we spent several evenings—and a few late nights—talking or just relaxing on this roof. The view was stunning.

To the east, a mountain range ran north to south, with a deep pass providing a glimpse of the jagged ridge-tops beyond. As the sun sank into the west, the mountains glowed with a golden light.

Dusk crept through the valley and edged its way up the slopes until rocky outcroppings, treetops, and the few huts melted into the darkness.

With no light pollution, the stars were brilliant, flung across the vast expanse of the deep void.

An hour or so later, the spine of the mountains would reappear as the moon pushed its way upward. As it peeked over the mountaintop, its rays stretched down through the clouds floating by.

Various sounds drifted through the night; the squawk of a bird, the barking of a dog, or the nasally bray of a donkey. Then, one evening came a song, the haunting melody of women’s voices softly wafting through the night air with the mystery that accompanies a language not understood.

The food served to us was, by itself, a good reason to make a return trip. We enjoyed rice, beans, and chicken, tasting as it only can in Haiti. There were crisp salads and, one time, a spaghetti dinner complete with garlic bread. And, of course, goat meat. While not generally found on dinner tables here in the States, it was actually quite good.

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In 1991, the Lord led Pastor Delamy to start the church at Terre Blanche. There was nothing there except two trees, which are still there. Now, the compound at Terre Blanche is a busy place.

Located on the grounds are a church, a school, and a medical clinic. A doctor comes and stays Monday through Friday, and medical teams from the U.S. come by to help on a fairly regular basis. There is also a birthing center, where a midwife stays over the weekend.

The compound also has a medical laboratory, where practitioners will soon be able to do testing on-site instead of sending samples out to be analyzed. They are also constructing new buildings to better deal with tuberculosis and HIV/Aids patients.

When asked what the most serious issue is for the children in this area, Pastor Delamy had a one-word answer: “Malnutrition.” The school serves one meal to the children every day, and for some of them, that is the only substantial meal they receive.

This all sounds a bit overwhelming, but Pastor Delamy says, “I dream to have big things, because we are serving a big God. It’s up to God. The main meaning of my vision and my calling is going to the poorest of the poor. And that’s why I came up here, and to transform the life of people.”

Landon asked him, “If you look at the vision for the next five or ten years, what are your dreams that God has given you for growing?”

Pastor Delamy paused in thought, then said, “How can someone stop dreaming when God has called? I dream big because God is big, and I do not have fear of the challenges because God is bigger than the biggest challenges. Where I am right now, I want to pray to empower them (the individuals he is mentoring), to have them stable. In ten years I would like everyone to be in good health. I would like to have people to delegate. And also, my wife helps me so much.”

When asked, “What is the best part of it all?” he said simply, “The best part of all of this is Christ; the church. The most significant thing in my life is the Gospel.”

The mission at Terre Blanche receives support from Haiti Foundation of Hope, a “Christian organization addressing the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the people in the impoverished and underserved rural communities of northern Haiti.” 1

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The Desperate Need in Haiti

Having clean, safe drinking water is a matter of life and death, but in Haiti, obtaining it can be a challenge. Clean water may be only 100 feet away, but if it’s straight down and there’s no means of accessing it, 100 feet may as well be 100 miles. In some villages, water has been found by laboriously hand-digging a well, but this can be a risky endeavor. The walls of the well may collapse, the well may go dry, and contamination is always an issue.

For countless numbers of Haitians, the choices are few: walk for miles to a well and wait in line, or perhaps go to the river and find water there, most of which is contaminated.

The task of collecting water tends to fall on women and children between the ages of eight and thirteen. As a result, women are often unable to get jobs or contribute financially to their households. Children are often unable to go to school or get an education due to the thousands of hours they have to spend annually just hauling water. 2

In 2017, the child mortality rate for Haiti was 71.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. 3

In contrast, the mortality rate for children under age five in the U.S. is 6.6 per 1,000.

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On our first morning at Terre Blanche, we were up early for a breakfast of oatmeal, pancakes, bread (liberally smeared with peanut butter), and juice. There were five of us: Kevin, Curt, Patrick—a local man who helps with the drilling—Landon, and I. After loading more pipe onto the water truck, our little caravan headed out; the drilling rig, the tandem-axle Ford towing a large air compressor, and the pickup.

Haiti is a land of contrasts: smiling people live in abject poverty, beautiful fields of grass stretch to mountains that have been stripped of trees, and banana and papaya trees reach for the sky from bare, rocky ground. A narrow river, cool and clear, ripples through a valley, then becomes clogged with garbage as it flows by a town.

As we bumped and rattled along the rock-littered road, dust was kicked up in billowing clouds by passing buses, tap-taps, and motorcycles, and was swirled through the air by the dry breeze.

We passed by an elderly lady who was sweeping the dirt path that leads down to the dusty road from her small, tin-sided house.

We continued south for several miles, then turned onto what looked like a four-wheel-drive trail. It took a while to recognize that this wasn’t a rarely used path; this was a road leading back to more villages. Deeply rutted and bordered by small trees and tall grass, it wound aimlessly through the countryside. Now, where exactly are we headed?

To Be Continued...