Friday, October 23, 2009

Our Lovely Abode!

Two weeks ago, I sleepily reached over and turned off the alarm on the night stand. Rubbing my eyes, I stumbled to the kitchen to put on a pot of water for coffee. I then took down a mixing bowl and happily started stirring water into a bowl of floury mix. Holding a lit match to the stove, I waited for the “whoosh” of a starting flame and then put a frying pan with oil on the burner. Today was pancake day!

That day also marked the first time in our marriage (nearly 3 months old) that we had eaten a meal in our own home. The unbelievable amount of growth this has brought to us defies any possible description, but I’ll take a few blog entries to recount some of the adventures that brought us to that glorious day.

When we arrived in Haiti, Andrea and I were unbelievably excited to visit our new, under construction home. We expected a ramshackle, tin roofed hovel; but we found a brightly lit, cozy flat with large windows. The carpenters were sending sawdust everywhere as they installed draws and cabinets for our room and the office. Another worker stood in the kitchen planning out where our kitchen sink would go. That whole week, we could see lights on in our house late into the night.

Although Haiti is a poor country, Haitians work incredibly hard when they get the chance. They will even work all day in tropical heat with no water and no food. Far from having a local Home Depot, the workers frequently scavenged parts that were lying around the complex. We watched the carpenter take long rough planks, cut them, then plane them down to smooth 2x4s.

After almost two weeks, the dust began to settle. The container had arrived with all of our furniture and we eagerly awaited moving into our new home. However, it took 3 weeks before we did. Let me first list what needed to be done so you can appreciate our frustration:

  1. Install gas line for oven

  2. Fix counter top

  3. Install kitchen sink and water for it

  4. Fix windows (close the six inch gap)

  5. Install screens

  6. Install a drain on the back porch (we found 2-3 inches of water in our house on multiple occasions)

From all outward appearances, this list is quite short. In fact, Andrea and I probably could have done most of it. As we waited for work to finish, we came to understand and hate three basic problems. 1) Too many “bosses,” 2) Lack of foresight and 3) Nobody “owned” the construction.

Bosses are the Haitian equivalent of a handyman. Fr. Medenel knows a boss for just about everything under the sun: “Boss Electricite,” “Boss Ceramic,” “Boss Mason,” “Boss Dlo” (for water), “Boss Carpenter” and the almighty “Engineer” (Architect-ish). Each boss brought their own skill set, but, unfortunately, not their own material. In some cases, they didn't even bring their own tools. Instead, they would come and inspect a problem, give a diagnosis and then leave Fr. Medenel with a new list of materials to purchase.

Let's take one example and see how it played out: the kitchen counters & sink.

  1. Boss Ceramic arrives and slaps down some tile to make us a counter top.

  2. The next day, after everything dries, Boss Carpenter puzzles over the sink and can't figure out how to put it in because the hole is too small. Rather than troubleshoot the problem, he simple leaves, never to be seen again.

  3. Fr. Medenel examines the sink and also discovers that the hole is too small. He assures us that “they” will fix the problem.

  4. A couple days pass and nothing happens.

  5. Water gets under the ceramic tile and separates it from the cement that is holding it down. Because we can easily pull it off with our hands, we do and show Fr. M. Andrea, on a whim, glues down some tile with a random bottle of glue that was sitting on the counter

  6. The next day Fr. M calls Boss Ceramic. He arrives and sizes up the problem. The problem turns out to be that the tile didn't stick down. Noticing that Andrea's experiment had worked, he asks for more glue. We don't have enough, nor do we have cement. He doesn't either.

  7. A couple days later, Fr. M goes to a hardware store in Cap Haitien. This involves an hour and a half drive through insanely bumpy roads in a truck that breaks down more frequently than the “Anti-Christ” from The God's Must be Crazy.

  8. A few days pass and Boss Ceramic shows up to repeat step 1.

  9. The next day, cracks again appear under the tile. Our opinion of “Boss Ceramic” plummets.

  10. 3 weeks after step one, nothing has changed and we still don't have a kitchen sink.

While at the end of this, polls regarding “Boss Ceramic” are coming in at an all time low, our opinion of Fr. Medenel could not be higher. The man worked endlessly to get our house done. Problem after problem came up and he was always there to help us. We had to remind him a few times, but I'll never forget seeing him stand in the middle of a group of bosses, talking on his cell phone with one hand and painting our kitchen cabinets with the other. (That being said, he didn't paint all of them and we spent an additional 6-8 hours on it.)

We're both glad beyond description to have a house. But it is too bad we won't see Fr. Medenel as often!

Problems #2, #3 to come in my next blog!



  1. Wow, both of you must be operating on another level when it comes to patience!!!

  2. Sounds like you need a Boss Boss to manage all of the other Bosses.

    Call us on Skype!!