Back in November of 2010, these two babies were born to a single mom named Carol who lived in one of the post-earthquake camps where I worked. Their names are Jean-Reginald and Sara-Regine. (Reggie and Regine for short-- Haitians are into naming twins similar sounding names.)
This is them a few weeks later. And then, once our camp program was finished, we sort of lost touch.
A few days ago I was in the market and I ran into Carol. She begged me to come see the kids. I told her I'd get to it soon. But then the next day she called and said, "When?" And I said, "Soon."
The next day she called and said, "When?" And so I said, "Okay, coming over now."
Anyway, went to the camp and got to have a short visit with these two cuties, who are now three and a half. In Haiti, losing touch for a while can be an uncertain thing. But it's always nice to catch up after a while and the kids are not only still living, but appear to be thriving. This mom, who was SO overwhelmed with her situation back then is doing a great job. I am so glad she stuck it out when she thought she might have to give at least one of the kids up. The kids even went to preschool last year.
EDH stands for Électricité d’Haïti. It's our power company. And, well, let's just face it. It sucks.
According to this Wikipedia page, those of us in Haiti are "facing a deep, permanent crisis characterized by dramatic shortages and the lowest coverage of electricity in the Western Hemisphere with only about 12.5% of the population (25% if illegal connections are accounted for) having regular access to electricity."
Pa bon. (Not good.)
And just to clarify, by regular access to electricity they don't mean 24 hour/day electricity, they mean the average (also mentioned on that page) of 10 hours per day. And that's on a good day. We are all in the midst of "power rationing" in Jacmel right now, meaning that we never know when (or if) we will have electricity, and when it turns on, we don't know how long it will stay on. In fact, over the past 61 hours, we've had a grand total of 8 hours of electricity. We had it from 10PM Saturday night to 1AM on Sunday morning. And we had it from 8PM Sunday night to 1AM Monday morning. (Definitely not the most useful time to have power.) And just FYI- our EDH bill for the entire month is around $200+/-.
Now, unlike many of our Haitian neighbors, we do have a backup generator (which can run almost everything in our home) and an inverter/battery system. (Actually, we have 2 generators. One is smaller than the other so we use that during the day (if necessary) and the bigger one at night.) When we have EDH, we have chargers that charge our bank of 8 deep cycle batteries, and then when power goes off, our inverter pulls from those batteries to power our home. Currently, this system, (with 4 chargers and 8 batteries) gives us about 5-7 extra hours of power, if we turn off our freezers. The range depends on several things. First, did they get a full charge from EDH? And then second, how much electricity are we pulling from the batteries? Certain things pull more current. (Ideally, we would get 4-8 more batteries and 2-4 more chargers and could get twice the amount of electricity saved up to make not using a generator necessary, since fuel is so expensive, but we have bigger priorities for money at this point.)
If we run the generator all day long (when we don't have electricity), it would cost over $30-40/day in fuel. So, we try to run it for a few hours in the morning when the inverter dies to charge up the batteries a bit, and then flip over to the inverter which will give us another couple of hours. Hopefully, EDH turns on by late afternoon and we're good to go. But usually, we have several hours per day with no power. We try to keep that to a minimum because of food safety, but it's the way it is.
I have been told (and just an FYI- I have no way to verify that this is true) that the reason that EDH cannot provide power during the day is because government offices never pay their EDH bill. And EDH can't shut power off to government offices. And so several months ago, there was this new director at EDH who decided that she was going to improve EDH in two main ways. First, she was going to aggressively work to cut down on power stealing, which is a huge problem here. Second, she was going to go to the different government offices and hand them bills for the hundreds of millions of gourds they owe. Both of those ideas had a lot of merit if you ask me. However, this really irritated people in the government who all put pressure on EDH until they fired her. The new director's plan for how to handle the situation is to have rolling blackouts. Brilliant. (Not.)
The most frustrating thing about the whole EDH situation is that it EDH almost always provides power for the World Cup games. They will cut on the power as the game is starting, and then cut it off when it is over. But then they will need to "make up for it" in another place, which means no power that night or the next. That doesn't work for me. Or for local businesses who rely on having power during certain periods of the day/night.
Solar is an option we're looking into, but that's a big investment, and, if I am going to be honest, I really love having an AC unit in our room at night in the summer. Solar is probably not going to produce enough power to let that bad boy run unless we have a giant system.
So, for now, we just degaje (make do). We don't have the elegant solution for power right now, and we probably won't ever. But it works. (However, if Nick Mangine ever left me, I would have no idea what to do because he keeps it running.)
So that's our basic power situation. I know we have it way better than most of our neighbors. We try to be generous-- running an extension cord with a power strip at the end out to the front gate during times when the power has been off forever and we have the generator running. This way our neighbors can at least charge their phones. (Society practically shuts down during longer blackouts because no one can charge their phones, so no one can get in touch with anyone else.)
But until some major improvements are made on an infrastructure level, this power thing will always be a problem. And with the bureaucracy the way it is in Haiti, I am not holding my breath that it will change any time soon.
Edited July 9, 2014 to add: So, it appears that fuel prices are going to be going up almost $2US/gallon. (Already about $5US/gallon.) That's a problem in a lot of ways. First, the cost of driving is going up. The cost of fueling our generators for power is going up. The cost of moto-taxis will be going up. The cost of public transportation. The cost for businesses to have power to run. But also, big ramifications for EDH, the electricity company, who seems to be preferring to cut our number of hours of electricity they are offering rather than shell out bigger electricity bills to people who will most likely manifest instead of paying them. 2015 needs to be the year of solar for the Mangines.
A few months ago, I wrote this blog post which I entitled, "The cost of comfort." The point of the post was that it is really expensive to buy American-style food (read: processed food) & items in Haiti. However, that doesn't change the fact that Nick and I get really, really, REALLY tired of Haitian food.
So long ago, we made this family tradition that Nick and I would work together to plan and prepare American style food on Sunday afternoons for the whole family (and live-in staff). There's currently 16 people in our home and we try to keep it to a total cost of $50 for the meal or less. Sometimes we're in a big rush and we get deli ham and cheese and make sandwiches and serve it with Pringles and cookies. On those weeks we almost always go over budget. But we usually try to make a really nice meal for the family.
Nick has this goal to open a restaurant here in Haiti when we "retire" from raising our herd of children. He wants to call it "Manje Blan" (white people food) and serve American-style food, made from local ingredients. To that end, he's always trying new recipes out so that we can try them on our family. It's so amazing how much delicious (and nutritious) food can be made with locally available ingredients, and without shopping at the import grocery stores.
Here's what today's Sunday meal consisted of:
Roasted chicken. Cabbage/beet salad. Macaroni salad with fresh vegetables. An all-fruit smoothie made with fresh mangoes, cherries, bananas, pineapples, watermelon, and passion fruit.
The grand total for 16 people's lunch?
$20.75 (or just under $1.30 per person).
Our family got a great, nutritious meal, and it cost less than HALF of what we normally budget.
Having such a dominant batch of girls at our house all the time, I feel like it's not too often that we get to spend quality "boy time" together. Yesterday Nick was busy working and I decided to take all my boys to the pool at Cap Lamandou. It's only $2US for each of them to swim ($4US for adults). I don't ever mention that Yves is 18. And then I let them each get a soda, so another $1US each. With tax and all that, it turns out to be right around $25, so it's not something we can do every day, but we try to get our money's worth. Yesterday we were there for four and a half hours.
Here are a few shots of our fun time together.
The whole crew.
They were adding water to the pool when we got there, so Schneider had a blast sitting on the steps.
Nico perfected his backflip.
Jean Louis was his teacher.
They practiced for hours getting their synchronized flips just right.
Josiah got to use his snorkeling gear and the big boys took turns carrying Schneider around once I was too tired to swim any longer.
And then I made them all take a shower in the outdoor shower before we left. I even brought shampoo with me to get the chlorine out of their hair. Yes, I know this is kind of white trash, but better to use their "boughten" water than ours.
A really fun day and everyone said and unprompted thank you at the end of the day. Definitely worth $25. My cup runs over.