We have made a few references to being busy with readying and moving into our rental house here in Haiti so I thought we would share with you a little more about expat housing in Haiti. I say expat housing because the shelter we are calling our home is vastly different than what the vast majority of Haitians ‘enjoy’ and while we are definitely not wealthy people by North American standards and we can certainly not compare ourselves to the wealthy Haitian class, here in Haiti our home is an indicator that we are still very privileged people.
Finding a place to live was our first challenge. Here there is no kijji to search or classifieds to check out. With the assistance of Tracey’s sister, we hired someone to do the search for us. We gave a wish list of things we hoped to have in a house and he found a few places for our consideration. As in most house hunting expeditions being in a good location is important. Safety, proximity to school and work, and daily temperatures were our main contributing factors. Port au Prince is set on the side of a mountain so the farther up the hill you go the cooler the temperatures, which is a big plus. The down side is that traffic can be horrendous and the daily commute to school and office would be long. In the end a short commute won out over a cooler living environment.
We were very fortunate to find a house that has 4 bedrooms which means that we are able to welcome our children to come and spend time with us and it also means that we will be able to have other guests stay with us rather than requiring them to stay at a guesthouse. There is also a large enough living area to be able to host visiting teams for things like dinner or group learning opportunities.
Everyone here says that we really lucked out with the house we have. It is quite spacious, is good value for the rental price and our landlord seems to be proactive in taking responsibility to have things repaired. But the house had not been lived in for quite a while so there were a number of things that needed to be fixed or added to the facility in order for us to be able to live here.
The number one concern with housing is safety. Our house has a wall around it but it was not high enough so it needed to be raised with barbed wire or broken glass added to the top to deter intruders. If an unwanted guest would make it past these protective barriers the second thing the house needed was iron bars and doors on every window and door. Many windows and doors were missing this protection so a welder was hired to make and install all of the ‘fe foje’.
Next up was taking care of a number of plumbing and electrical issues. There was no electricity running to the house since the local transformer had blown-up a while ago so a new pole and transformer were installed on the property. State electricity is supplied sporadically so 2 other systems were added to the electrical system. First is an inverter and battery set up that the house automatically switches to when state electricity cuts out. With this we can run lights and things like computers and fans for quite a while but we cannot run our refrigerator so quite often our fridge is not really doing the job it should of preserving food. Finally a generator was installed in a storage building at the back of the property. The batteries for the inverter have a limited life cycle before needing to be recharged so the generator is our final backup if state electricity is out for too long. The house also has a plethora of outlets and switches, many which did not work or we have no idea what they are connected to. With some electrical tweaking we now have outlets that work in every room.
Plumbing issues are always fun no matter where you live. We have 2 cisterns in the ground at the back of the house, one for city water and the other for rainwater collection. Like the state electricity the city water is sporadically turned on to the neighbourhood. When it is, the city water cistern fills and when we have electricity water is pumped to a tank at the top of the house (the chateau dlo) to supply the house with water pressure. The city water is not safe water to drink or use for things like brushing teeth so we also buy 5 gallon bottles of water. At first there was no electricity which meant that water was not being pumped to the chateau dlo. Once the tank was filled and water started flowing into the house we found that almost everything in the house attached to the water system leaked. The plumber fixed a number of things but in the end there were a few things that Larry just took care of himself. Currently we are dealing with a drainage issue with aromatic grey water coming back up drains in different places in the house. The plumber was positive the problem was the septic system (though we didn’t think so) so now we have a very empty septic tank but still cannot shower without collecting water back in a bucket elsewhere. We are hopeful this will be fixed this week.
Most of the repairs needed to be done using Haitian trades people. This has been a challenge sometimes too because we can’t communicate with them very well especially when they are talking about technical things. Sometimes they will also not do the work until we have provided them with the parts they need which can often cause delays. First the person will come and assess what the issue is. Then they will put together a list of the parts they think they will need, give that to us and tell us to call them once we have assembled the parts. This has been a challenge in itself because sourcing out parts in a place like Port au Prince is nothing like doing the same in Canada or the United States.
We have been very fortunate that while the majority of the work was happening and we were not able to live in the house we had a gentlemen who was hired to stay at the house. Michel speaks very good English and has been a blessing to us helping to monitor the work and help us communicate to different tradespeople. Even though we are now in the house Michel continues to come a couple of days a week to help Larry with the page and a half of smaller odd jobs that are on our ‘to do’ list; things like building shelves for closets and making screens for windows.
Overall we are settling quite nicely into our new home in Haiti. Tracey is slowly painting some of the walls to make the space more homey and we have arranged to have some furniture (items like a book case and computer desk) made for us by a local organisation which is helping to transition young adults out of orphanage life to real life by teaching skills such as woodworking and sewing. Once we have these items we will finally be able to unpack the rest of our suitcases and organise the piles of things waiting for a home.
Having a safe and comfortable house to come home to everyday is an amazing blessing for us here in Haiti and we thank God for the ways He provided this for us. It helps to provide stability physically but also a sense of security emotionally and mentally as well. It will not be a place to block out what is going on outside of the walls of our property (we hear that quite clearly with the windows open all the time) but rather we hope it will become the physical sanctuary where we can come together as a family and recharge for the tasks that God is placing on us in Haiti.
Feel free to post your comments and ask your questions about housing in Haiti.