Dlo se Lavi


I went to Haiti last week with a medical missionary surgical team. I am not a doctor, know little about the medical field, and don’t do well with blood and guts. I have rather large veins in my arms, easy targets as it were, but am pretty much passing out from anxiety when the Phlebotomist gets hold of me for blood testing.

I was there to basically keep the team running from a mechanical perspective — translation — I spent most of the week looking up at a leaking sink or down the back side of a toilet, making sure the generator had fuel, the solar panel system was on or off, etc. Power and water. That was the game. Four doctors and nine nurses with various specialties, and four teenagers there to learn.

Day one – most things were broken. Several water lines were clogged, and after about three hours of running a snake through the lines, we called the local plumber. Tree roots had invaded the lines (yes, those tiny trees in the photo). This took all day to dig up, repair, and back fill. The man in the burgundy shirt is the maintenance guy on staff at the facility. Notice his shirt? My donation from last year. Those are my pants too!

Haitian plumbers, 100 feet of clogged pipe replaced


The water in Thomassique, the Haitian town where the medical center is, is pretty bad. Very high in sediment, silt, calcium, and it is not potable (for Americans anyway). After the cholera epidemic, which shortly followed the earthquake from January 12, 2010, there was an earnest push to educate and elevate the Haitian way of dealing with their water supply. Six years later, this effort is still going on, and will probably be an ongoing project until Haiti establishes some actual infrastructure.

Dlo se lavi means “water is life” in the literal translation from Creole. In my efforts of being scrappy, looking for whatever objects I could convert into some magical Band Aide, I found a few tee shirts from an earlier campaign. Of course I snagged one! All of my tee shirts by this time were seriously stinking (need I remind you that I was laying on the tile floor in the bathroom of a Haitian medical facility!).


The very ugly sink repair in the image above was my way of coping with a lack of plumbing supplies and needing to get a sink repaired immediately. Yes, four strips of plywood screwed together, jacking up the sink, and lots of duct tape. You know what? It works, and it will hold until the real maintenance team makes it back down with parts. This was one of my more frustrating jobs for the week, one that tested my senses, taxed my sensibility of doing a job “right”, coupled with a tarantula running over my foot while looking for parts (yes, I screamed like a little girl – wouldn’t you?). My job was to keep the water moving. Done.


While I did not turn water into wine, I did turn wine into something good. Nothing like getting a few precious bottles of wine, and no cork screw. I think I was the most popular guy that day. Like I said, my job was to keep the team running, and if that meant getting a wine bottle open, that was just the job, and happy to do it. This team worked so incredibly hard, I had trouble keeping up. They performed 80 surgical procedures, and over 30 out patient services in the five days of surgeries. Every patient went home before we left, and almost all of the procedures changed peoples lives in a significant way.

Flying home, thinking of my week in Haiti and what I would say, I decided to break up the blog into a few posts. Dlo se lavi is the first, as I spent most of my time dealing with water.

Water, clean water, reliably delivered water. How important is that? My mind raced around the  globe to Flint, Michigan, climate change, carbon footprints, carbon credits, coal mine river dumping, China, and the like. Most people take water for granted. I certainly do, or did. But as I was taking my first hot shower in 9 days, I was reminded and grateful again for what I have.

We all live downstream from someone.

Mark Gatterdam


One thought on “Dlo se Lavi

  1. Mark,
    This is awesome. You have a creative writing talent. Love the picture of the tarantula…omg. I have fond memories of sipping my first glass of Wine after a 13 hour day with Joan last year. What a wonderful gift you gave to the camp, running water and steady infrastructure support. Many thanks to being there for Anna and the team.


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