Saturday, December 25, 2010

Access: Using the Bathroom

Every animal, of every species, is making poop, *every single day*, everywhere on this planet.

I mean to tell you there is poop happening all. the. time.

If you are alive, and you are an animal, you will be -- making sh*t happen!!!!!


Birdies just let theirs fly.  Whoop, off ya' go!  No matter where it lands.....

Kitties bury theirs meticulously.  Doggies make a big scene and do it right out in public. Cows leave 'em in big patties on the ground.  Babies....well babies fill up their diapers indiscriminately according to everything that has passed through them -- just like all other animals (but with fancier diapers).

In the U.S. where I live, for us humans once you're weaned from a diaper, most people start to use the toilet.  It's great!  You just sit down on it or stand next to it to do your business, and when you're finished you just flush a handle and - swoosh -- it washes away!  Ne'er to be seen again.....

Pretty convenient when you think about it -- the only time I ever have to deal with my "stuff" (unless I'm camping or traveling) -- is when my toilet backs up!!  (Get out the plunger and hope for the best, right?!  Gross!!)  I mean, I pay my utility bills, but I don't really think about what it means -- what I'm paying for, ya know?

Can you imagine what it would be like if we couldn't do that??

If you couldn't flush your stuff?

Can you imagine moving into an apartment or house anywhere in the U.S (that is up to code!) that doesn't have a bathroom - ??   As any carpenter or architect will tell you, our modern houses and indeed - our cities and towns are completely built around massive and brilliantly hidden plumbing, electrical wiring, gas lines, and what is known as "infrastructure".

I know this isn't exactly NEWS.....but I point it out as a way to demonstrate how easy it is for those of us in the modern world to forget about it!  It is actually a privelege millions -- indeed -- billions of humans who share this planet with us do not have.

Imagine!  Not being able to "use the bathroom" - anywhere!

Where would you go?!  What would you do?

It has to happen -- otherwise quite honestly you will die of toxic poisoning.

I think it's fair then that we could call this a "basic necessity" for human existence.  So it's hard to understand why so many people (2.5 billion or HALF the population of the world - have no access to this and other such actual necessities, such as clean water, food, and shelter.  (As opposed to a box set of "Lost".....).

The thing is, the health hazards which begin to multiply within days of losing one's access to basic sanitation are deadly, particularly if you don't have access to clean water with which to clean your hands either.....and it's hard to know where to place the blame, who to go to for help, what to do.

And yet -- there is a simple way to intervene in the above process!

Instead of leaching into the ground water and infecting people trying to live their lives, instead of expensive collection techniques that transport the wastes from public latrines to open pits of raw sewage further compromising public health in the region (can you say "cholera"?), instead of leaving people with the indignity of having to figure out what to do with their own "stuff" --

This film tells the story of a very simple solution to the above recipe for disaster, where human wastes are managed and recycled in such a way as to actually create healthy fertilizers.


SOIL is a non-profit organization working in Haiti since 2006 that is implementing a technique known as "Ecological Sanitation" (EcoSan).  SOIL and its partner Haitian organization SOL have built over 200 dry, composting toilets in displacement camps in Port au Prince in the past year, hired 300 Haitian staff to collect the "poop barrels" and deposit them at compost sites throughout the city, where they are mixed with sugarcane bagasse and monitored closely according to the staff agronomist.

Soon SOIL will begin a process of selling the wastes and actually stimulating the local economy!

All with a simple, ecological, sustainable, clean, urine-diverting toilet.

Stay tuned.....

Saturday, December 18, 2010

home is where the heart is

(journal entry, 11/4/10)

3 days back and i'm finally remembering my name.  "what i do" combining with "how i do it" and i step back into the routines of my life, while the thick rocky streets of port au prince linger in my mind, the tires sorting it out with the unmade roads....

i hear the sounds, smell the smells, feel the heat, see the faces....and yet i am here in my living room with the small lamp shining sparkles onto my drum-kit, my heater turned on, socks on my feet, and a huge, warm, clean bed waiting for me to climb into.

port au prince, the home of african kings and queens, the land of lions and dragons, the schools and the wagons, grace mixed with passion, and a great deal of fashion, style worn in attitudes, displayed with fortitude, traffic exhaust pot-holes gas-fumes, heads held high with huge smiles wide, generators roosters water trucks church choirs........

ayiti chere

(film update:  working on it!  got some graphics comin up, a website happening, first meeting with my editor tomorrow night.......stay tuned!!)

Friday, November 19, 2010

right now; a rant in verse

Right now
I rest on my couch
with my cat
a solid day having been spent
in my house, the rain
light-showering the trees out
side and the drive.
The drive rests in styrofoam sleeves
in a box
full of footage I can't see, captured
images of people, before the outbreak
turned, before the shots were fired before
when I was there, only a month ago.

What do I know about it?
I've only been there 3 times.  A foreigner.
foreigner with a cause, a camera, and a computer.....

We all mean well!  Don't get me wrong.

But some times,  I do wonder, seeing the t-
shirts matching with "save haiti" plastered
in easy font a pastel flag of hope and pig-
tails flying behind at the gas station,
(where we had lunch, a cafe of international
proportions on the way to Trutier, a shrine
to bad planning and the Port au Prince city
dump), whether this trip, this "mission"
you might say, with the matching t's and the
morning prayer meetings.

I don't know what I want to say about it except.

Just by the nature of traveling to Haiti people think
I'm going there to "help".

I honestly feel like I get more help from the Haitian
people I meet than I bring with my camera my limited Kreyol
and my good intentions!  It's SOIL who is really doing
the work on the ground in Haiti; I'm so lucky
I get to tell their story!

See that's the thing.  Here I've had a gentle day,
idyllic really, so mellow with my desk all cleared
off and my closet, magically organized and my film
still trapped on the drive.  But when I think
of the people who don't have homes, the people
here in Oakland, the people in San Francisco, Palo
Alto, Port au Prince, New York City, Belize, Jamaica,
Ghana, India, Afghanistan, France.  How does anyone do it?

Living under a tarp?

Sleeping on a side
walk? Under a blanket with toes
sticking out or in a tent, babies lined up
no kitchen, no bathroom, no closet no job.

I have recently traveled to Haiti and so yes, I can say that the level
of poverty in Haiti is distinct than here in the U.S. or other places
I have traveled but poverty.  Poverty is no relative concept for millions
of people who cohabitate this planet.  Poverty goes far beyond
the number of dollars in one's bank account just the same way wealth

What you don't have doesn't determine your existence -- your value --
any more than what you do!

Nonetheless, certain things have been determined as basic.
Human rights.




And that is where I cannot
be silent.  And that is where I do
raise my voice.

Ten years ago!  Ten years ago the U.S. blocked
aid for clean water solutions for Haiti.

The year: 2000.  Ten years of water purifications in Haiti
would have really been a major impact!

But now.  Now we have a cholera epidemic brewing,
we have people.  People living under these tarps, people
whose plight beckoned billions of dollars in aid from around
the whole world.  Eleven months ago.

Eleven months and still the aid - MOST OF THE AID - has
not been distributed.

I know it seems like one can't really do anything about it sitting
here in our homes all cozy after dinner and preparing for a night
of sleep (most of us on beds with sheets and everything!) but I don't
understand how to deal with my anger about this situation.

It's not right.  People should not be dying of cholera.  Just as people
should not be dying of starvation either - or violence through war or
civil unrest.....

I recognize that I'm speaking in very broad terms.

I am speaking in my own terms, and that is another hidden
privilege that comes from being white, american, middle class
and relatively well-educated....

My friends, I do give thanks for my computer,
my cause, my camera, and the cash I was given
to make this film.

May it shed new light on a complicated situation;
may it bring forward the unnecessary nature of
much injustice:  simple solutions, cash-flow, and
sustainable jobs for Haitians are already being

Holy crap!!  (Toilets never smelled so good......)

Hope for Haiti is hope for all humanity!!!

Bless you for reading my food for thought, and may you have a Thanksgiving full of gratitude, good food, and positive vibrations.....

Thursday, October 28, 2010


"Hand-to-mouth -- "barely enough food or money to satisfy immediate, basic needs"

This phrase occurred to me a couple of days ago as I was wrapping up filming and packing for a few days in Cap Haitien.  The entire time I've been in Haiti I have been being extremely cautious about putting my hands to my mouth, and have been especially careful not to get water into my mouth when bathing.   So far this trip has served as my first trip here without getting sick!!

But how do you love someone genuinely - in the way we love each other out in the streets, like a neighbor greeting you kindly as you walk by their mangoes neatly lined up on a fabric on the ground, and with an open heart, grateful to be in their country, graced by their culture, in awe of their kindness -- then walk away spritzing your hands with sanitizer.....?

Hand to hand embraces your hand......we stare into each others eyes for a moment with a great deal of joy and delight........and I walk away to a car and spray spritzer on my hands......

I find this part of traveling here to be extremely confronting.  Hopefully, my Haitian brothers and sisters are spritzing their hands too.  You never know what these foreigners are bringing into the country.....

But the phrase has taken on a whole new significance for much of Haiti, as this cholera outbreak threatens to move into epidemic status.   It was discovered yesterday that the ground water of Port au Prince is contaminated with cholera (I do not have a reference for this, nor do I know if it refers to all of Port au Prince or only certain regions.  But I did hear it from a reliable source.....)

How would you clean your hands before eating if the only water you had was contaminated water?  What if the only water you have access to drink is contaminated water?  Or how about this -- what if the tent where you live with your family is literally a few feet away from open raw sewage, contaminating the air you breathe let alone the ground beneath your feet?

One of my new friends in Haiti, Daniel, says Haiti is surrounded by angels, protecting and guarding it and its inhabitants.  I am using all my psychic/spiritual/shamanic powers to view these angels guarding every hand, every mouth, every one who lives, eats, drinks, sleeps, and loves in Port au Prince.

Certainly SOIL is taking every precaution, going to 20,000 tents door to door to educate and inform people about how to avoid, recognize, and treat cholera.  In addition they are implementing new safe practices for their staff,  and I view their efforts as part of that powerful tribe of angels, protecting a peaceful people from yet another devastation......

One would think that the billions of dollars of aid that was promised to this tiny country might finally be released to ward off an epidemic.   Would you consider contacting your representative to ask them why the aid promised by the U.S. government has not been released?

Houses for Haiti!  Clean water for all humans!  Adequate, sustainable sanitation in every home!  No more hand-to-mouth, no more basic human rights lost to political agendas, no more lives lost due to de-valuing of the poor and displaced......

Hope for Haiti is hope for all of humanity --

Friday, October 22, 2010

port au prince

Like a prince he carries 30 lbs. of sugar cane wrapped in fabric and balanced perfectly on his head....Like a prince he cuts coconut deftly with a machete, leaving a perfect straw-hole and hands it to me with grace to receive a few coins......Like a princess she hands me a cold coke out of a strange refrigerator, sitting under a tarp in a camp for the displaced.......Like a prince he runs through the thick rocky streets on bare feet, his back perfectly straight while his baby belly bloats......Like a prince he comes to our door every morning dressed immaculately and wearing a smile.   He waits patiently for us, he carries our gear, he answers all our questions, he smiles for the camera.  He picks us up in his air-conditioned truck and guides us through his home town, telling the stories, listening to the mental commentary of our confused conscience......Like a princess she hides in the shadows, wordlessly gliding down the hallways with laundry on her mind and a sick child in a tent city..........

This is a city of complexities, internationals here to "help", gracious locals attempting to make sense of our presence, stumbling over 3 languages interwoven like vines on a brick wall.  Everyone can see the disparities, the internationals safely housed in still-standing buildings, clean drinking water, 3 meals a day!

For me, it is the outrageous smiles of a dignified people that pull me deeper into this country, attempting to understand my role, attempting to be of service somehow, learning more about what i can handle, what I cannot......forgiving myself for my need for a constant fan to blow over me throughout the night, for my bug spray, for my well-digesting meals.......

Today we head back out to Cite Soleil, where we will be swarmed by children wanting to hold our hands, wanting us to take their pictures, wanting us to feed them, wanting us to give them anything even a glance a smile a dance......while their more seasoned parents sit on the side-lines feeling all the complexities that we do.......Day 8 of filming begins with a slight breeze and the sun beating its drums of Caribbean heat.......

More to come and with love from Port au Prince.......

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day 6

Well folks, things have been going amazingly well here in Port au Prince for me and my incredible crew.

First of all we have all been in very good health and very much enjoying our meals over at the Matthew 25 house, where each day we meet another set of foreigners in town for different purposes, mostly either missionaries or medics.   And I personally have become very fond of this little corner of the world where I walk between the Coalition house, the SOIL house, and Matthew 25, greeting folks with my limited Kreyol and being very warmly received by each stranger-turned-friendly-acquaintance.  

Our first day of filming took us out to Cite Soleil, a part of Port au Prince mostly known for its intense impoverishment and constant rumours of violence and gangs.  Our film's host, Daniel Tillias, works in Cite Soleil with the kids doing empowerment programs, and out where SOIL has their toilets, by the soccer field, has erected several beautiful "billboards" with words of encouragement by various world leaders such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and others.  

Daniel is new to being on camera but you will soon see that he is an absolute natural!!!  For our segment in Cite Soleil he shows us the toilets and how well they are being maintained -- in fact -- believe it or not, these public toilets actually SMELL GOOD.  It's a far cry from any port-a-pottie I've ever been in that's for sure.  And the toilets have become a gathering place for the local community, where kids come daily to do their homework, hang out, and watch the soccer matches.  

Just beyond the soccer field and the toilets is one of SOIL's compost sites, where we were able to capture the daily dumping of barrels from the toilets.  SOIL's agronomist, Jean Marie, supervises the process, where each barrel is dumped and then covered with sugarcane bagasse, which immediately neutralizes the smell and begins the process of heating the wastes and transforming them into a vital resource.  Then, on a weekly basis Jean Marie tests the temperature of the compost, counts the barrels, and ensures that the process is occurring properly.

Then by contrast, yesterday, for our second day of shooting, we witnessed the other manner in which wastes are being managed in this city: they are sucked out of public latrines and spewed out onto a huge pit at the dump about 200 meters from the Bay of Port au Prince, combined with medical wastes and garbage, and left to seep into the ground and the bay to devolve into another form of public health disaster.


Today we are going to have a more mellow day of shooting, going out to get some audio footage of the amazing church choirs which constantly float through the air at all times of day, and then to do a little tour of the surrounding areas to get some establishing shots of Port au Prince and the general region.

Last night we had a thunderstorm (my favorite kind of weather when I have a warm, safe place to hide out from it....which 1.5 million people in this town do NOT)....and today it is a beautiful over-cast morning with a breeze!!! 

More to come......

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ayiti chere

 My first day back in Haiti, and my immediate and overwhelming reaction:  bliss.  I love this place!!!!  From the live acoustic folk music at the airport, to the chaos of finding my bags (all found in one piece), to driving down the dusty, rocky streets, I love this place.

First adventure of the trip:  going to the Oxfam office with a goat.  Here's what happened - Oxfam granted SOIL a huge contract to develop the compost sites (second contract this year) but for unknown reasons was slow to deliver the funds. Today, Sasha and Leah came up with the idea of going down to the Oxfam office to bribe our contact there to give us the funds -- with a goat -- just for fun.

One of the SOIL staff here at the house happens to have a sweet little goat, and was willing to let us borrow it for an hour to run our little mission.  So we loaded up in the back of the truck, me, Sasha, Leah, and the goat, and headed through Delmas toward downtown and the Oxfam office, laughing and having a great time thinking of the upcoming surprise.

But one thing I've learned in my brief times in Haiti:  nothing ever works out exactly as planned (isn't that true in most places?).  In this case, the truck broke down on a very busy street, filled with school kids walking home from school (most schools just re-opened yesterday), many covering their heads with wash cloths, using umbrellas, or simply sweating from the humidity, and all of which were confounded to find two white women hanging out in the back of a truck with a goat (Sasha hopped on the back of a moto to go on down to the Oxfam office to sign the contract....).

After a few minutes of pondering, our driver went off to find a mechanic, and Leah and I sat inside the truck to get out of the sun, scheming up options for what to do now.  Thankfully there was another truck available at the SOIL house, and Anthony agreed to come out in the middle of his busy work-day to assist us in our mission.  After getting lost he did eventually scoop us and the goat up from the stranded vehicle, driving through stop and go traffic up and over Delmas toward Petitionville, where the Oxfam offices are.

The timing actually worked out perfectly, as we arrived at the offices just as Sasha was completing her meeting, and with the permission of the security guard we went through the gate with the goat.  (Thankfully she pee'd and pooped right there on the door-steps -- before going inside -- good goat!)

It was a huge success as the entire office was laughing so loud to see a goat being paraded past their desks to the back of the office where our Oxfam officer was giggling and cracking up at our quasi-gift.  We sang him happy birthday (since it is his birthday), and everyone clapped and cheered.

And the money has been delivered so it was a successful afternoon.

Prior to the goat mission, Sasha and I walked over to the yard behind Matthew 25, a house which became a central refuge for thousands of people after the earthquake, and where Sasha and Nick actually slept outside under the stars for months.  Now it has been transformed into a "displacement camp", and very recently a wonderful school has been constructed.  It was so beautiful I can't wait to show you pictures!  The school has several classrooms, and the kids were being very attentive and cooperative.

In the coming weeks SOIL will be building toilets for the school -- possibly while the film crew is stay tuned.......and always remember when you go to the bathroom: sanitation should be a basic human right......but actually, it is a privilege we in the "first" world often take for granted.......


Friday, September 24, 2010

Haiti Here I Come

Well folks the time has come.  I am planning my next trip to Haiti and going there very soon to get started on the Holy Crap! film about SOIL (

Getting so excited.  It looks like me and my small two-person crew will be staying at the Coalition House down the street from the SOIL house, where apparently there are lots of other internationals for different projects.  We'll have one room with three cots in it, plus perhaps i might pitch a tent on the roof as well, as it will be cooler up there at night.

I've only spent two or three nights in Port au Prince on my prior trips to Haiti, so this will be great to get to know the capital a little better.  I guess the area we're staying in is called Delmas, and then there's Petionville, Cite Soleil, Carrefour, and at least one other district I believe.  Of course as in all major cities each district has its own scene, its own reputation, its own history.

So much of that history was crumbled to the ground in less than 5 minutes on January 12, 2010!  But of course it lives on in the memories and in the minds and in the hearts of those who made it through the shaking, made it through the concrete graves, who made it to sunrise and who live to tell the story of life before the quake.

But I am not going to Haiti to tell the story of the quake, nor of the thousands of starving people waiting for life to resume, nor am I going there to tell the story of aid left undistributed after massive international generosity drove the country from the public's mind with a 'we did what we can for haiti' and a 'time to do something for pakistan', nor am I going to Haiti to tell the story of political unrest.

I am going to Haiti with a small film crew to tell the story of how in  6 months one organization supplied 300 Haitians with jobs and built over 100 composting toilets in the displacement camps, where the human waste was harvested for compost and treated at an ecological site outside the city to be eventually used as fertilizer in a baron land.

Holy Crap!

Every animal of every species is consuming on a daily basis and discarding on a daily basis.  It is part of what defines us as animals, and without this constant churning through we would cease to exist.

So the very thing that sustains us:  food -- is also the very thing that is digested through the body in a system similar to compost -- then turned into waste which passes through the body regularly to make room for the next round of nutrients.....

Then, if you discard your waste using the correct kind of toilet seats at these very progressive state of the earth toilets, it will separate it for you and wise kind souls will take care of it for you and your family until it's ready to be used on your garden to plant seeds for new life......


stay tuned............