These stories are not about Haiti. They are about Germany.
Two months before the Melton Foundation’s DeepDive, I did a fundraiser with colleagues and friends. It was the first time I took an initiative like this and I expected that most people would give two to five Euros, giving me a total of $300. But many people gave 20 Euros or more, and in the end I was able to raise more than $1000. Now, how do I get the money to Haiti? Put it in my pockets? I feel extremely uncomfortable carrying a lot of cash on me; I feel like a walking cash machine. The DeepDive team had warned me that it would not be easy to withdraw money from an ATM in Haiti, so I decided to get the money in New York at the JFK Airport. “New York City – the capital of capital – there’ll be no problem,” I thought. No problem? At the end I was glad that I found an ATM near the hotel to get $500. None of the ATMs at the airport worked. When I reached Haiti, I learned very quickly: Money is nothing at all. Even in an aid-project. Rather, especially in aid-project.
Four-stroke engines have valves and valves need valve clearance. This clearance is defined by the producer, mostly between 0.1 and 0.3 mm. To adjust the clearance one needs a feeler gauge and the information of the producer. Perhaps it is possible to buy a feeler gauge in Haiti but I didn’t find such a tool anywhere. And I found no information about the technical details of the Haojin motorbikes. No tools, no information – mission impossible for Germans. But Haitians mechanics have their own way: Gillette. They use a simple razor blade.
Next problem was a special crown nut. To open this nut I always look for the special spanner. To find this spanner in Haiti – see above. The Haitian solution: hammer and chisel. Archaic, but it works.
I realized that I solve technical problems using the following scheme: analyze the problem, search for information, buy special tools and replacement parts, and repair by choosing the defective part. But I grew up in East Germany and so I remembered what you can do without the special tools, replacement parts and so on: analyze the problem and the possibilities you have. A holder for a brake lever can be made by a simple rope – if the rope is the only thing you have.
One evening we came back from a shopping tour in Port-au-Prince. I was a happy person because I carried my recently purchased screwdriver and a socket driver set – tools that I had been trying to hunt down for days. Then the gearbox of the grey, light-less Tap-Tap with the prudent driver had a problem near Lumane Casimir village. Not a real problem in Haiti; within a short while we moved to another Tap-Tap with lights. In the darkness in the mountains I heard a bump. We had hit a cat; unfortunately the cat died immediately. We stopped the car and someone placed the carcass on the car. 3 kg of fresh meat will not be wasted in Haiti. We in Germany have cats to our pleasure and maybe we pay more for food for one of our cats than a child needs for food in Haiti.
Project Haiti started in my mind after the 2010 earthquake. Sequences of crying children, traumatized faces, destroyed streets. That was my expectation before I arrived in Haiti. But I saw something totally different: friendly people, love, and happiness.
Sure, Haiti needs aid. But there is more need for normality: real tourists, real exchange of products, real trade from and with other countries.