If you reflect on the average problems we face in our everyday lives, you may think of long work days, traffic congestion and slow internet. But all in all, we have in Calaveras County highly functioning local entities that provide us our basic needs and at reasonable prices. I remember when I got a phone call from the folks at Calaveras Telephone wanting to put in a DSL line to our ranch. My first thought was that they have no idea how far it is from the road to our barn. After they trenched and installed 4,000 feet of DSL and phone cable, I was a little afraid to see the bill … but was charged only $32.85!
The infrastructure to get Pacific Gas and Electric Co. electricity to our place involved another 4,000-foot ditch and a very reliable setup designed by Jim at Gold Electric in Murphys. My neighbor Willie designed and built the septic system for us. Wells were drilled by Tanko Well Service. Everything works great 15 years after we built it, so, all in all, life is pretty good here in rural Calaveras.
I only reflect on this when I compare how most of us live versus the rest of the world. My oldest daughter is a registered nurse for a decent-sized hospital in the foothills, and recently traveled to Haiti for a medical mission. What she shared with me can only be re-played in her own words. Here is how she describes what she experienced there.
“The eeriest thing about Haiti is that there are no birds. You don’t hear birds chirping in the morning, the skies are empty of movement. Once it was explained to me, it was obvious: no clean water equals no birds. Granted, they do exist on other parts of the country, but the capitol Port-Au-Prince is void of aviary life.
“For a country that was pancaked six years ago by a massive earthquake, you would assume the recovery would be further along. Some things have improved, but the advancement post-earthquake (people living in tents) to current conditions (people living in houses made of three solid walls, wall No. 4 being a tarp and a roof made out of tin) doesn’t seem like years worth of progress. At least, not to our standards.
“My bandana became my best friend while driving through the streets both in the city and the countryside. For reasons that are lengthy and intricate, Haiti has a lack of infrastructure that is astounding. Health care is a joke, business systems are infantile and the government is so corrupt it shouldn’t even carry that name. The school system top-to-bottom is a disaster, and you have a country of adults with negligible education and very little foresight. I could go on, but I will expound on why my bandana is a pertinent part of the story.
“Haiti burns (its) trash. All trash. The streets are lined with piles of communal trash. Large canals run through the city, canals that in Venice or Amsterdam are filled with water and provide beauty and transportation, are filled with trash in Haiti. Oh, and goats eat the trash. At dusk the trash piles are lit and burned, often at other parts of the day as needed, but always at dusk and the smell is so overwhelming it seems to fill your nose and mouth and eyes with a thick, foul smoke. You cannot travel in Haiti without a bandana.
“Clean water is scarce. Buying clean water is expensive and a real hassle. The streams are visibly cloudy. A person I was traveling with said they brought samples home to test in the lab and saw some insane strains of E. coli and other infectious agents in the water. A huge portion of my time there was educating people how to make water clean. I couldn’t believe an entire country could be lacking in such a basic necessity.
“And now this miserably impoverished country has gotten slammed yet again with a natural disaster, some sovereign force of nature that flattened any meager development and left in its wake no shelter, no food and very little hope. Cholera will once again surge through the country like a wildfire through dry brush and the people in Haiti will be left off even worse than they were before, which was pretty deplorable to begin with. The worst part is they are left, yet again, without an infrastructure to rebuild.”
Aren’t we lucky in Calaveras County that we have the infrastructure that we do? We have at our ranch highly functioning and reliable water, electricity and waste disposal systems. The dirt roads are a little rough, but really … garbage collection and dumps (love the folks at the Milton waste facility), clinics and hospitals, shopping, clean water, food availability, the opportunity and freedom to start, grow and own a business, education, and last, but not least, BIRDS!
Rarely in my previous prayers did I mention “local infrastructure” but it certainly is on my list now. That’s worth writing about when you realize that two thirds of the world still lacks what we can easily take for granted.
Ken Johnson, a software industry entrepreneur, routinely contributes to the Opinion page. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.