Saturday, May 28, 2011

Home Improvment: Degaje

*updated with pictures*
In Haiti things break often. It is part of life. There is a constant need to fix the broken thing or set about buying a new one. Sometimes this is easy. For example, K and I both broke our watches in the same week. The extremely luxurious Target watches finally gave out after 18 months in Haiti. I was able to super-glue mine back together... for the second time.

Some times those breaks are not such an easy fix: generator problems, car repair, or a/c needs may take a while. Our school has a great maintenance staff that will even deal with petty issues at our apartments. But the list for repairs can get long. Sometimes, I remember back to a former life where I handled my own repair needs and I get motivated to do it again. This is a blog entry about trying to do that.

We got a new wall-mounted air conditioner a few weeks ago, which was amazing. I finally experienced cold in Haiti, which was a sensation that my skin had forgotten. However, to install this new ac unit they had to punch a hole in my exterior wall. "No big deal", I thought, since the ac covers most of the hole. Then it started raining.

All of a sudden I started to notice a dramatic increase in the amount of water on my floor. I kid you not, it took three storms before, with CSI-like investigative skills, I finally put all the clues together and realized that rain water was coming in, running down my wall, and creating a large pool on the floor. It is a wonder I have not been the victim of more con artists.

Thus began a home repair project. I had a day off in the middle of last week and thought it would be a great time to run to the store and get some spray insulation. This brilliant plan completely ignored the fact that my day off of school in the middle of the week was due to a National Holiday! Nothing was open. A very handy and resourceful colleague happened to have caulk and a caulking gun (why he has these, besides a McGuyver-like resourcefulness, I do not know).
So, with a ladder that would give a safety inspector a heart attack, I set about trying to seal this hole. I thought this was a tiny sealant issue. I. Was. Wrong. This was a knocking-a-fist-sized-hole-into-a-wall-for-a 2-inch-hose-is-overkill problem. Caulk meant for the bathtub was not going to cut it. But what could temporarily keep Poseidon's waters at bay? It was a very overcast day, which probably meant more rain! Rocks.
That's right. Rocks. Haiti does not have a lot of tillable land, trees, infrastructure, potable water or jobs, but it has more rocks per capita than any other country. Scientific fact. So I gathered five that looked like they would be exceptional at the task of hole-plugging and went to work. Caulk. Rocks. More caulk. More rocks.
This demonstrates perfectly the definition of the Haitian phrase, degaje, which means "make it work". And it did work, for the most part, with only a trickle coming down the wall during that night's rainstorm.

I searched a few more places for spray insulation. Imagine walking into a hardware store in a foreign country and trying to mime spray insulation. You get shown to an aisle of spray paint. I have seen nearly every aisle of spray paint in Port-au-Prince now.

A mason will come while I am gone for the summer. That could be June 1 or August 1, so in an effort to further cover this hole and keep from wearing waders when I return home I bought premium aluminum foil tape. $11 USD for tape. Special tape. The kind of tape that seals tightly and is supposed to keep out moisture. The kind of tape that you need to keep in an environment with less than 50% humidity. Wait, what? Haiti's relative humidity is between 100 and 110%. ALL THE TIME.

I got home and realized the adhesive on the tape that I drove to the other side of town for, was bad. Stickiness completely gone, ruined by the humidity. It was essentially a role of 2 inch thick aluminum foil paper that I paid $11 for.

In Haiti things break. And when they do I am letting someone else fix them.

-B

1 comment:

  1. Ben, you always crack me up. At least you have an excuse. Humidity, lack of supplies, spray insulation charades. I'm always trying to figure out a way to blame my wife. Let it to the 'experts', you're the brains of the operation.

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