Fixer upper, with Bay views

No need to mince words.

Cite Soleil is a dump. A pigsty. Footing is rancid muck at neap tide, and liquifacted bilge at the perigee. The stench will do for your appetite. Pigs thrive, but people look transient, the kids in tattered shirts, excoriated skin eruptions.

The ramshackle structures had one advantage. Nothing much was lost in the eathhquake.

It’s a notoriously lawless place, violent, run by various thug outfits. There’s disproportionate mayhem, and the police don’t care to go in after dark. Women are at risk.

Open cook fires result in horrific burns, which fester untreated.

The hind end of it, on the bay, under the middle marker for the ILS for runway 10 (what the hell- add jet noise to the mix), is called derriere chabon, behind the charcoal.

The place is just chaos, entropy’s bitter end.

In Rick Freschette’s words, a fixer-upper.

He doesn’t seem to think like the rest of us.

Lives in hand, we took a mototaxi down to see what he’s doing down there.

He went down to confer with the gangsters he hired at shop rates to build his primary care clinic and hospital. The plan is to treat basic problems here, and refer the sickest ones to St Luc’s. A standard hub and spoke system- it works better for medical care than air travel.

He opened an internet cafe there, too, but it’s been slow going- the net company stiffed him, or at least didn’t fulfill the terms of the contract. Just advancing the concept surprised me- no water, no electricity, no solid structures:

Rick, what the hell are you doing setting up an internet cafe?

Well, how are they going to participate in the modern world, look at Craig’s list, submit a resume, get a job without net access?

Rick, they don’t even have pants.

Right, they’ll need to get those, too. Make a list.

A tough guy to argue with.

First, he got it off the ground- literally. All that rubble in downtown Port? Just scooped it up, and lay it in Cite Soliel, and built on it. Dry feet.

The hospital will be pretty nice- open wards with enclosed bathrooms in the back,

a throughway in the front, like the cholera hospital layout.

He used the gangsters to build the hospital and the adjacent residences. They’re not bad as builders, and the result compares well to the surround. They seem proud of it.

He visits them daily, talks things over (and counts the silverware, I suspect). It’s a vigorous discussion.

They come to some agreement, everybody representing. They connect with him.

Later, he wants to power it with solar panels (possible), truck in water (expensive) or build a water tower (very expensive), and lay out septic lines (Nah. This place couldn’t pass a perc test at gunpoint) or collect the honey pots with a very expensive truck.

Honey pots- what, they called in George Orwell to head up the department of obfuscatory monikers?

But you get the idea.

Start with a completely naive assumption.

Everybody everywhere deserves a little dignity, something clean and decent in their lives- regardless of the setting.

Then pretend everything is normal, and try to make it so.

In just a short time, this leads to surprising ideas.

I spent most of my time looking down, at the pigs and the filthy kids, at the amazing cluster of garbage and detritus at the water’s edge.

That’s a doctor’s view, I think- feet of clay. I looked at the bottom of this next picture, and asked why? Rick looked at the top half and asked why not?

That’s what faith will do for you.

But when I looked up and squinted a bit- a process made easier by my lack of wraparound shades, which would have kept perilous quantities of grit and road dust out of my conjunctivae- when I looked up and squinted, I could sort of see what he was talking about.

Every month, things change. May now, and the rains are picking up. Mosquitos are tough, the census at St Luc’s doubled in the last week.

Lady from the CDC came, looked us over, and said no she couldn’t give us RDT’s (rapid diagnostic tests) to cinch the diagnosis of cholera because they were afraid we didn’t even know how many cholera patients we had. How did we know it from other watery diarrheas? This after we’d reached 30,000 cases, crikey! Why did she think we wanted the tests?

Felt like I was talking to the joint commission, felt like spanking her and sending her to bed without her supper.

Instead, I went down to check on the progress at Cite Soleil. Rick is out of town, everybody’s gone this week, so I took a motorcycle down alone- a new development for me. I’m no fast Eddie on a bike, and the traffic and road grit are considerable, you come home with hair like Brillo. But I needed to get this lady out of my head.

And things are different.

36 houses are built now, and the slum is getting scooped out, bit by bit.

With the rains, you can really see the advantage of building it up a few feet with the rubble from downtown:

The contrast is pretty stark.

The builders are still at it, gangsters no more, at least not when I was looking:

This guy, Robert, I remember from October- he looks like he goes home tired at the end of a day.

The hospital is up and running, with a regular outpatient clinic:

and 20 cholera beds occupied:

Pharmacy on the walls of each ward- easy to see what you are running out of.

Murdock himself would have a problem improving on this.

Jet A for the generator.

Toilets and showers-

And, will wonders abide, solar street lights:

Dinner is near:

Francois’ mother still thinks he’s sick. I still think he looks indestructible.

So… nobody’s idea of a place to aim for…but better than last fall.

Rick’s vision becomes clearer:

Where I see Howrah below, he sees Santa Barbara above.


Love this packet. Especially Robert’s portrait. Very WPA.

The CDC needs to be disbanded. Along with the FAA and 42 other agencies I can’t think of right now.

Howrah disses are kosher only when delivered by desis.


You should not be disappointed that only eggheads like Sanjay reply to these stories.

Many people read them. The rest of us are here, staring agape at our monitors. Or crying. Or bragging to others that we know you.

  • 1 what Jim said!!

You should be proud of your fine work! Well done.

Indeed. All of the above.