Saturday, February 2, 2013

Thursday, January 31st
Day 5 in DR, Day 2 of Rotary

My room-mate Greg was supposed to arrive from his home in the US Virgin Islands at 10:30pm last night. He didn't get here until 2am, and without his bags. Worse, for him, his hearing aid batteries are in his bags, and he's deaf without them.

We gather together for breakfast at 7am in the largest of the 3 villas. Moises, the head of the Good Samaritan Hospital, and his team, are supposed to meet us here at 7:30am, but don't arrive until 8:30 - that's typical Dominican time, says Dr Bob.

Dr Bob has split us into 3 groups of 8 each: One team will do filter installations, another will go to a different batay to build a latrine, and the third will go to yet another batay to build a fire pit where the batay's garbage can be burned. The teams will rotate over the next few days. We learn that no-one is sure of the derivation for the word 'batay', not in English, Spanish, French or Creole. Something like 3000 of the filters have been installed so far, but it's only scratching the surface. Batay's can have from 50 to 100 homes, and the aim is that eventually every home will have it's own filter, and there are thousands of batay's. Moises has a team of technicians who do filter installations year-round, full-time. They are paid and trained, and Moises runs a tight ship. They accept up to 60 teams every year, of various sizes, from Rotary, medical groups and church groups, to participate 'hands-on' in filter installations, sanitation training and so on. In reality, we are interruption to their work, but everyone is so grateful and happy to see us.

We go first to the hospital where the filter supplies are kept. From there, we head out to the batay's in a variety if vehicles - a 12-person school bus, a larger travel bus and two pick-up trucks. The roads out of La Romana are in excellent condition - and paved! - probably because the government bends over backwards to accommodate the sugar company. At some point, though, after about 20 minutes, we have to break off onto the dirt roads that network the sugar cane fields. Even the dirt roads are in good condition, and we arrive at our batay after another 20 minutes.

Batay homes are wood shacks with tin roofs but built on raised concrete foundations. The homes are in orderly rows, built by the sugar company, and sequentially numbered. The batay's themselves are usually numbered - we are at batay 105 today - but occasionally have quirky names, such as Noir (Black) and Comoquierra (Whenever).

This is the first time a filter installation team has visited this batay, and so the first order of business is for the occupants of the homes that have been chosen to receive today's 15 filters gather in the only meeting room large enough, the chapel, for training. The team leaders, who are part of Moise's team, have a flip chart pictorial presentation that they go through, because often the Haitian women can't read. It's just the women present because the men are away in the fields cutting cane. The homes chosen are those with the most children, or with old other words, those at greatest risk. They will supply clean drinking water to the other homes around them, until such time as each home in that batay has its own filter.

The children are attracted to the goings-on, and several of have fun taking pictures and showing them to the children. Some of them can really ham it up, and they often collapse in laughter.

Once the training is done, it's about 11:30, and the team leaders distribute the filter housings. I think that sense of immediate possession encourages the families to want to protect and take care of their filter. We go off to help with the distribution of the bags of sand to each of the designated homes. Once that's done, it's time for lunch. We pile into the bus to leave the batay, otherwise the children would pester us for food, and we go a short distance away to the water pumping station, where is the well and a diesel-driven pump that sends the water up into a 10,000 gallon water tank raised on concrete pedestals about 30 feet in the air. That tank supplies the batay with its water, usually a communal tap but, in newer batay's, to a tap in each home.

The filter itself quite a genius piece of simple engineering: a conical plastic housing into which we have to pour and level 3 different grades of sand. We verify the flow rate - too slow and the filter is not efficient, and too fast might mean that the filter is not filtering enough - which should be 700-800 mL in 60 seconds. Then we put on the lid and attach it with a plastic tie tag that carries a unique identifying code. We give that code to the team leaders, and they will check on the family periodically to make sure the filter is being used properly.

The families are warm and welcoming. The simplicity of their lives is striking, and yet the homes are neat, with their few possessions stored around the frame if the shack and which serve as shelves. Their is usually a table, and it always has a tablecloth, sometimes in simulated lace. The floor is clean and swept, and we feel we should take off our shoes, as they do. The yard around their homes is beaten earth and it is generally SWEPT: Swept, that is, into a no-man's land between each home, where the garbage just accumulates. Many homes a small fenced plot - small meaning 8 feet square, perhaps, in which the home will be growing its own papayas, peppers, beans, bananas or other food crop. Most homes have a chicken or two, some have ducks, one might have a pig or a goat.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of idle time, and it may be a Dominicano thing. For instance, it takes the better part of a half-hour for the team leaders to divide 15 homes on a list into 4 teams. It's not that complicated. Never gives us more time to have fun with the children. Everyone, mothers and seniors included, respond to 'Bonjour', or in Creole, 'B-joo', smile and reply. Sometimes they'll come over and shake your hand. If you make the first move, they really seem to appreciate it.

A the end of our day we go to join with the team building the latrine. One if the members the shows a photo she took of a huge spider they killed and that she was told was a tarantula. Yuk! Despite that, they have made good progress, but they worked a lot harder than we did.

We return to La Romana, visit a money exchange place for those members who didn't yet change their dollars into pesos, and then stop at a supermarket to add to the supplies of booze and snacks that Dr Bob had already laid-in for us.

After supper tonight, we will be attending a regular meeting of one of the 2 La Romana Rotary clubs. It's supposed to start at 9pm, but Dominican time means that it might be a late night!

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