This morning we visited the community of Lawob, where, with a grant from the European Union, the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) has constructed a small dam to capture the water from an intermittent stream.
This deep into the drought there was not sign of the stream, anywhere. When we arrived at the site, we saw a small blue and black rowboat sitting under a mango tree in the middle of what looks like a desert. The lake was out of sight until we walked down a winding path, but before we got could even see the water, it was obvious that there was something special about this place.
Flitting through the air were half a dozen Antillean Palm Swifts, tiny little insect eaters with pointy wings. They are supposed to be ubiquitous in Haiti, and these were the first I had seen after three days of looking. Downstream from the small lake was a lush garden that was greener than anything we’ve seen since we arrived in Haiti. (Most of the plants we have seen are covered with a fine layer of dust.)
Celina Noel, an organizer for the MPP and our guide for the day, was talking about the benefits of the dam and the irrigated gardens it makes possible. There are a few dozen families who benefit directly by being members of the co-op that manages the dam, growing food for themselves and to put on the market; there are hundreds of people in the surrounding community who have access to water for cooking, cleaning and drinking water. (Celina grew up in the neighborhood and remembered having to walk many miles to the nearest water — which wasn’t even potable — during the dry season.) She also said that the wider community the surrounding towns and villages benefited by having access these nutritious vegetables available in the market. Okra (callalloo or gombo in Creole), beets and eggplants were all ready to be harvested today.
The swifts that we saw — along with several Green Herons and a Greater Antillean Oriole — are signs that an even wider community is benefiting from the water capture and reforestation efforts at the site. The MPP’s agro-silvaculture concept stresses that farming has to take place within the context of a healthy environment, and those birds are a small sign that the environment is rebounding in the neighborhood.
I asked one of the peasants working in the garden if he knew the Creole name for another bird that we saw there, the Smooth-Billed Ani. He told me that it’s called boustabac, and he said that they loved having them in the garden because they eat harmful insects. There were several flocks of them patrolling the corn field.
With a small earthen dam, a tiny muddy lake stocked with fish and a few PVC irrigation pipes, this one small corner of Haiti has started to return to health. The feeling of possibility was invigorating.
On the walk back up the dusty trail to where our truck was parked, back up to that landlocked boat, I was reminded that while a little water goes a long way, Haiti has a long way to go. It is a privilege to meet the people who are walking that path, stewarding those waters, and finding ways to make the desert live again.