Crazy Town, Crazy Island – At the mission

Our American host quietly and humbly explained the system to us, and how he had both devised and implemented this incredible and workable system based on reading all the scientific journals and books on how to fish farm.  His education was totally unrelated; he had majored in divinity.  It seemed totally juxtaposed that a man with a background in belief and thought and theoretical argument had managed to apply science in such a practical way.  But he seemed to see it as a holistic truth; God had given him the skills to look for the right learning and build the fish farm.  This place was the modern equivalent of the monastery; within the strict structures and institutionalised rituals of a religious existence, there was a symbiotic relationship with experimentation and practical application.  There was no dichotomy here; it all came together in one place.  I’m not a religious person but apart from some of the language this guy used that rang wrong in my head, it seemed he had developed a very humanistic, balanced and working livelihood.  I’d see it as the appliance of good science; he saw it as a gift from an unworldly being.  Whatever it was, it was operating well.

After an hour of being out in the full sun we were flagging, and our host invited us back to the main house for drinks.   It was a standard Caribbean villa, simple architecture with balustrades and open terraces, although on the lower floor the terrace was heavily barred.  But on the outside someone had painted “The West Virginia Hotel” and we noticed that a nearby outhouse was the “Sheriff’s Office and Jail House”.  It was a sort of joke, although it looked incongruous in its surroundings.  We were led through to a cool open kitchen and our host and his assistant quietly searched for some glasses and water.

Looking around the room, I felt like I was in a youth hostel.  The decor was very hostel like with beige painted walls, the odd religious poster around the room, the usual characteristics  of a shared space including ketchup bottles, baskets for cutlery, plastic cloths.  And around the wall flip chart paper containing the cooking, cleaning and activity rotas for all the volunteers.  Everything has its place both in time and space; people fit in to the order ,and maybe the Order.  And the tranquillity and order of this mission washed over me.


Crazy Town, Crazy Island – Visit to the fish farm

We finally reached open country; at least as close as you get driving along the coast road in Haiti.  There were still many villages and the road was serviced with markets, stalls, fuel stations and other bric-a-brac.  We turned off down a series of short tracks to end at a large iron gate.  We waited for a few moments while our government colleagues went inside to check on our arrival.   Next to the compound was a small concrete guardhouse, and stacked up a coconut palm trunk were several examples of Creole art.  Considering how we were at the end of a cul de sac in amongst the deepest countryside, I wondered how they expected to sell anything at this location.  But I did not have too long to consider this as we were then greeted by a quietly spoken American man.  This was an American funded Christian mission, but this guy, with a series of other co-workers and volunteers, had established a self sustaining farm.  He guided us past the pigs and chicken sheds through to the fish farm.  It was devastatingly clever.  They were growing tilapia here, or Nile perch.  These fish are commonly used in development science as an easy to keep, high protein, transferable stock in fish farming, although they have caused some problems if released into the wild where their aggressive reproduction has squeezed out natives.

Here in the confines of the concrete tanks, they were part of a big system.  A nearby spring had been tapped and its water poured into the first large earth tank.  Slurry from the chicken shed was piped a few metres down into the tank, which turned the water into a thick green algal rich soup.  This water was then fed downhill into about a dozen more concrete tanks – and tilapia at various stages from nursery to fully grown fish were happily swimming around in the water feeding off the nutrients from the farm.