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Do good, and good will come to you: The Story of Claudia Martinez

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Claudia Martinez - The original newspaper article

How we discovered Claudia Martinez

As some of you know, I worked in the Dominican Republic. I arrived days after the Haiti earthquake early January this year, and flew back to Rome last week.

I already told you a story from my time in the Dominican. Something else happened during my stay, something to be know of “The story of Claudia”.

When we set up our office in the Dominican, we called in staff normally working in other parts of the world. One of them was Anisa. I worked with her back in my Dubai days, where we considered her “the mama” of the office. While she was probably the shortest of us all, she had the biggest heart of the bunch. Anisa is the person who considered the office as dear to her heart as her own home. She is the one coming in early to put a flower on people’s desk, goes around with soup when we – once again – have a long day… And come up with the craziest ideas, born in her big heart.

I called in Anisa to help us in Santo Domingo…. where she immediately resumed her ‘mother-ing’ role, and looked after us like we were her own. For the coffee, the fresh fruit and the occasional “time for you to get out of the office, you have been here long enough!”.

In the early days of the emergency, she wrote me an email, titled “Gesture of generosity to appreciate a local Santo Domingo hairdresser”. (and I thought: What now?):

Peter,

I read the attached article in Gulf News on 23.01. It really touched me that here is a soul who is reaching out to others in her best capacity, physically, financially as well as emotionally… as she is doing it with her heart.
I am sure she herself penny pinches but has a heart of gold and filled with generosity to reach out and bring a smile on another human being.

So I cut out the article and was going to ask any one of our staff who would be in Santo Domingo to trace her. I wanted someone to give her a small donation from myself. This would then enable her to continue spreading the happiness and cheer to a lot more other ‘Haitian patients’.

But then I was asked to come her myself. I was in a state of shock …. Was this a calling for me to come over personally and seek this woman out or what?

Well, I cut out the article and from the time I have arrived I have requested Amelia and Elizabeth to help me trace this lady – Claudia Martinez. Which has not been easy.

Eventually, Elizabeth managed and has spoken to her and we have her phone number. Claudia is willing to come to the Hotel and meet with us. So my humble request is can we keep a small box for a collection? Have a write up stuck up above the coffee station with the box and staff can pitch in as they feel best.
With the donation and our best wishes she can then continue with her ‘good deeds’?

An opportunity for the our staff to reach out and bring some happiness and support to the less fortunate…..

Thank you,

Anisa.

I read the article Anisa attached. It was a piece from Gulfnews, one of the local newspapers in the UAE. It told the story of Claudia Martinez, a Dominican lady who volunteered to help some of the Haitian earthquake victims in the main Santo Domingo hospital. She helped by… doing their hair. As the story said: “Her task may seem trivial, but she believes restoring a bit of beauty and humanity to people who have lost everything and survived deplorable conditions is important.”

A story that speaks to one’s imagination. We collected over US$300, and finally met Claudia in March. She came over to the office together with the hospital volunteers’ coordinator. I introduced her to the staff in the office, and we engaged into a lively conversation. Claudia, a single mother of two, was not aware of the newspaper story. “One day, a guy at the hospital took some pictures and asked me some questions, and that was it”, she said. Nor did she realize it was picked up by Agence Presse, and got republished in many newspapers all over the world, from the US to the Middle East, Pakistan and New Zealand. And she had no idea how she had inspired others.

We emphasized the money we collected was for her, and to use it for something she wanted to do. Asked what she wished for, she answered: “I wished I could learn how to read and write. I wished I could give my kids a proper education”. That was quite a challenge as she could barely make ends meet, and her eldest is speech impaired. But still, she volunteered most of her time at the hospital. “It is heart-breaking to see how little those people in the hospitals really have”, she said. “I feel rich compared to them”…

Anisa and Claudia

Anisa (L) and Claudia (R)

We sat outside for a long while, with staff from the office joining into the conversation, and Gaby patiently translating between English and Spanish. We got to understand the hospital is the largest in the Dominican. Often patients were brought in, and left there. Many did not have a change of clothes. Kids without anything but a pair of pants. Their families simply did not have the means to take care of them. Neither did the hospital. Claudia asked if we wanted to come over, to see for ourselves. Which we promised to do.

Since then, “our project” continued: we donated several parcels with used toys for the kids and basic clothing for the patients. But then another thing happened unexpectedly: Just incredible how things go sometimes…:

A few weeks after I met Claudia, I was in North Italy, on a short break with my family. Frau Preindl, the owner of the hotel, knew I worked in the Haiti emergency. Just as we were leaving, Frau Preindl said “wait!”. She grabbed an envelope and put it in my hands: “Here, you will know what to do with it. Go and make a difference. You know, we seldom realize how lucky we are. We have all we need, so the least thing we can do, is to share some of it.”

It was not until I got back to the Dominican, three days later, I realized there was a real significant sum in that envelope. And I did not have to think long what to do with the money…

Stay tuned for Part II of the story.

Written by Peter

June 21st, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Stories

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Haiti, where Mañana is not an option…

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Log Base in Haiti

“Mañana, por favor!”, I answer when housekeeping knocks on my door. Mañana, please, I am working…

I sit, computer on my lap, on my bed reading through a backlog of emails, catching up on work done, being done, and work to do.

I just got back from two days in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It has been almost two months since I landed in Santo Domingo to coordinate the support functions for the Haiti crisis, out of the Dominican Republic. My days are full. My attention is switching from a meeting with one of the ministers, staff recruitment, debugging a cash advance problem, a meeting on limiting the overtime the drivers can do, a shipment which seems to be lost but really is not, stamping the numbering on the food coupons, staffing contracts and a security incident.

It is not the amount of work that tires me, it is the intensity in which issues come, and need to be dealt with. Not that I don’t like it, but in the evening, I pass out on my bed…

After two days in Haiti, I wonder how my colleagues can deal with their work, which is a ten fold more complex than mine. They don’t have a comfortable hotel room, five floors up and 1 minute away from the office. They either live in Camp Charly, the tent camp for the humanitarians, or have to shuttle to the boat anchored off shore, to spend the night. Given, the boat is more comfortable, but it takes anything between one to two hours to get there. Some of the staff pitched their tent in the back of the container park, in “Log Base”, right next to the airport, where most UN agencies set up tents, tarps and office containers, making it the “humanitarian nerve center” of the operation.

The humanitarian part of Log Base is nothing but one narrow road, lined with parked vehicles, crowded with people moving around between the offices, and filled on either side with “offices”.

The fortunate have a 20 foot office container, some with airconditioning, with tarps over them to avoid water sipping through the joints. The less fortunate have massive tents to work in. Meetings are held in open spaces covered with tarps, or half open shelters. Lack of working space is common with most containers cramped with four people, hardly fitting the make shift desks, filled with files and folders hardly leaving space to fit their legs inbetween.

The noise is constant, mostly from planes and helicopters taking off or landing on the airstrip a few hundred feet away. During the meetings, when the screaming noise of yet another Ilutsin taking off builds up, people just stop their sentence for thirty seconds, and then continue as if nothing happened. Like pushing the ‘pause’ button on a video.

Most of the containers are now properly wired up onto the generators, and have network connections to the servers and satellite links. Nothing much we can do these days anymore without connectivity, be it for emails, telephone calls, or registering all procurement or logistics transactions onto the central servers in HQ.

Luckily, during my two days, it was neither hot, nor raining, and many staff commented “this weather is as good as it gets”. I can imagine the dust, humidity or mud on other days.

There is a constant flow of visitors. Army personnel, staff from the other agencies and NGOs, civilians, people from the government and local communities, people coming back from assessment missions or distribution points. It makes it hard to keep concentrated to the task at hand, as people get interrupted every other minute.

And although the spotlight of the world’s cameras is no longer focused on Haiti, the humanitarian operation is still to peak. While during the first six weeks, the utmost urgent needs were being met with loads of cargo being flown in, the steady massive flow of the aid cargo coming in per ship has started. While one plane can bring in up to 100,000 kgs of aid supplies, a ship can bring in 400,000,000 kgs in one go. So the logistics and distribution challenges are only starting now.

On top of it all, the rainy season has begun, making the need of the bringing in supplies even more urgent. And we have the hurricane season just around the corner.

So, sitting back in my hotel room on this Sunday, I can not have but admiration for the staff working in Haiti. Many of them were present during the earthquake. They have lost their homes, suffered from loosing family or friends, scarred by seeing the human misery day by day.

I wish anyone criticizing the humanitarian agencies on the ground in Haiti, could spend a week there, working with them and feel what it is to be faced with the daunting tasks ahead, where “Mañana” might not be an option.

Pictures from my visit to Haiti, and random snapshot from day to day life here, can be found on Shot from the Hip.

Written by Peter

April 1st, 2010 at 9:06 pm

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Sailing – not all gold that glitters

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The skipper. But a dad first

People sometimes get an idealistic idea about how it is to sail a yacht. True, I love sailing. I love the ocean, the freedom, even just the idea of moving on an endless sea merely pushed forward by wind and tides.

But when I go sailing with the family, it is different. Up comes the endless feeling of responsibility. In our family of four, I am the only one who knows how to sail a yacht. Tine, my wife, knows how to assist maneuvering a yacht in a harbour, and helps me steering the boat against the wind when I raise the sails, and she picks up a mooring buoy like no other, but she does not know how to sail. Our daughters, Lana (now 13) and Hannah (nearly 11), know how to sail a dinghy, but not a yacht.

So my nightmare is “what if something happens to me, while we are under sail”… Imagine for one or the other silly reason, I fall overboard – accidents happen on a yacht -, what then? Or even if it is just when getting into bad weather, where I would need skilled hands?
It is different if you have a crew that knows what to do. As the skipper, you stay on the helm and give simple orders: “Trim the main sail”, “reef the foresail”, “look up the course to the nearest port”… But when we sail with the family, it is different.
Even though I take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of my loved ones: I have taken every possible course. I have quite some experience in bad weather, in strong tides, sailing in busy commercial shipping lanes, sailing at night, and maneuvering in busy ports. I know how to read weather charts, calculate tides, and all radio procedures. I know first aid, and emergency procedures. I know how to anchor a ship, pick up a man over board, and maneuver in tight quarters. And still, when sailing with the family I always get nervous.

Let me tell you a story how fast things could go wrong.

Back in 2004, we sailed from in the Caribbean from Martinique to the Grenadines. One morning, we lift anchor from Bequia in the Grenadines, to sail to St.Lucia, about 60-70 nautical miles further North. The weather was nice and the forecast was perfect. I made one mistake: I calculated the trip to be a bit shorter if we passed St.Vincent -the next island North of Bequia- via the East, the Atlantic side, rather than the quieter Caribbean (East) side.

When we cut between Bequia and St.Vincent, the weather turned overcast, but the winds and the seas were quite calm. As we sailed past St.Vincent’s East side, the wind picked up to about 15 knots, still quite easy, even though I could see some isolated squalls coming our way. I kept an eye on them and changed course regularly to pass in front or in the back of them. As we sailed along, we saw the skies getting darker, and I did not have a comfortable feeling. I put in a reef in the main sail, just in case, but did not get too worried until I saw a real dark squall heading our way, just as we were getting close to the North of St.Vincent.

I ordered the family to put on their life jackets, and clipped the kids with a lifeline onto the ship. I clipped myself onto the lifeline, put the ship on autopilot and went to the bow of the ship to put in the third reef in the main sail. Just as I stood hooked onto the main mast, it started raining, and the wind picked up. Tine dropped some of the main halyard so I could put the reef in the main sail. I got soaked by the spray and the rain. By the time I got back into the cockpit, the wind had picked up to 35 knots, turning and twisting from all sides. It was then I remembered someone warning us of the usual foul weather due to the huge mountain at the North of St.Vincent.

The sea turned into a boiling pot, with waves coming from all sides, spraying over the side of the boat, soaking my crew. We already had our rain jackets on, but it got really cold. The wind gusted from all directions, making it difficult to keep a course and to keep the sails filled, so the boat would hold a steady angle.

The rain gusted down, and the visibility was close to nil. Long had we lost sight of land. I had plotted our course, so I knew we were about five miles off land, but also knew there was no harbour this side of the island. It took probably half an hour until I realized something was wrong. The wind had shifted 90 degrees, and to keep the sails full, I had lost my bearing. The compass and my GPS indicated we were heading straight for land, sailing West instead of North…

I needed both hands at the helm, and told Tine we were getting off course. Once the going gets rough, Tine is all business. Even though I know she is not comfortable in foul weather (that is an understatement), she stood up, and told me calmly “Tell me what to do!”. I told her to “take the green rope, put it over a winch clockwise, and to crank it up, until I told you to stop”, an order which for an experienced crew would be “pull in the main tight”. She did it perfectly. Next came “take the white and black rope, put it onto a winch, open up the clamp of the white rope, and start winching in the white and black rope”, a order which would be “pull in the foresail”. I revved up the engine, changed the course back to North and headed into the wind.

The wind was howling, the rain came down in buckets, and the waves gushed over the bow of the ship. We continued head-on into the wind, for what seemed an eternity, but in reality it was probably just one hour. The rain came down that violently I could see the dinghy, which we were towing behind our yacht, filling with water to the rim, slowing down the ship considerably. I kept on hoping that the engine would not fail as there was no way we would be able to sail on this course, head on into the wind. But the engine purred like a cat, and after a while the rain became lighter and all of a sudden, the kids shouted “Look there: dolphins!”.

That is when I knew all would be ok. Dolphins have always been a token of good luck for me. So it was no surprise that as the pod of dolphins swam alongside the ship, the wind turned again, the rain stopped and the seas calmed down. The squall had passed us, with nothing else but clear skies ahead of us.

I put the ship on autopilot again, and pulled the dinghy closer to the yacht. I just had to heave out the water from the dinghy as it was slowing us down too much. I told Tine to keep an eye on the course, and got ready to jump into the dinghy, knowing if I would miss my jump, there was no way for me to get back onto the ship. So I jumped, heaved all water out of the dinghy, pulled myself onto the ship again, and away we were.

The silver lining of that trip came soon: the seas became dead calm, with a broad side steady wind blowing at 15 knots. I put all sails back up, and trimmed them. And boy, we sailed! With our 35 ft yacht, towing a dinghy, we sailed at 10-11 knots, at a perfect angle, and with perfectly trimmed sails for hours, until we reached St.Lucia.

The strange thing was that the kids had no idea in what danger we had been. The only thing they said “Dad that was exciting, when can we do that again?”. Kids!

Some lessons learned:
- Never pass an island in the Caribbean on the Atlantic side.
- Always be prepared for the worse, and hope for the best.
- Be aware of high mountains in the vicinity of where you sail. Often the weather changes near them.
- Better one reef too much than one too little.
- Be prepared, be prepared, be prepared.
- When sailing with kids, make sure they always wear their safety jackets and are hooked onto the boat, in foul weather. You should be able to concentrate on the ship, and not have to worry where the kids are, and what they are doing.
- When things go bad, kids have to get into the habit of following orders without questioning…

More about sailing on The Road.

Written by Peter

July 13th, 2008 at 1:55 pm

How NOT to moor a yacht – take 2.

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our ship, properly moored at The Bitter End Yacht Club, Virgin Gorda (BVI)

Two years ago, we moored at the Bitter End, in Virgin Gorda – British Virgin Islands. A nice anchorage in which we took one of the outer mooring buoys.

Late one evening, we were sitting on the aft deck, having a drink, looking at the night sky, counting the shooting stars. It was new moon, so the sky was dark. Pitch dark… While watching the sky, suddenly, the corner of my eye caught some movement ten yards from our ship. I pulled myself up, and saw the dark mass of a big catamaran moving silently past us. No navigation lights, no cabin lights, nothing… It was too dark to see if anyone was on deck, but I presumed they were going for a night sail, and had forgotten to put their lights on.

For at least an hour, we watched that ship making all kinds of strange twists and turns. Sometimes it would go even backwards, all without any sails nor lights on.. “Really weird”, we thought, “Wonder what those are up to?”…

It was a few hours later, about 1 am in the morning, we were already in bed, I was awoken by a dinghy racing by and circling around our ship. I got on deck, but could not see very well what was going on. I could only hear voices of two men in the dinghy, with one of them shining a small flashlight to and fro onto the water. During one of the times they passed close to our boat, I could clearly hear one shout to the other: “But I am sure we left it here!”. I did not think much of it. The guys went back ashore, and I went back to bed.

Two hours later, I heard a call on the marine radio: ‘Salvation One, this is Salvation Two’.. “Salvation” is a call sign often used in a rescue operation.. I got curious and listened into their conversation. They were clearly two vessels in a rescue operation, looking for a ship. A catamaran. Apparently I was not the only one listening in, as I heard a fisherman breaking in:
“Are you guys looking for a white catamaran?”
“Euh yeah!”, answered one of the salvation vessels.
“About 45 feet long?”
“Yeah!”
“White hull?”
“Indeed”.
“Well, I know where it is”, the fisherman answered, clearly enjoying himself: “I see it drifting onto the reef, and according to my calculation, it will crash onto it in 15 seconds!”.

There was a weird radio silence that followed.
Half a minute later, the fisherman came onto the radio again: “Ok, you should no longer hurry, it just crashed onto the reef !”.

What had happened? Some guys had moored their catamaran onto a buoy, but clearly not fixed the lines properly. While they were partying on shore, their boat drifted away, by miracle missing all the other boats at anchor, and drifting gaily downwind, towards the reef several miles further.
When the guys came back with their dinghy, they did not find their ship, and warned the authorities. While the drifting vessel missed our boat by ten yards, it had hit the reef bulls-eye.

I guess these guys will take some courses in making knots when flying back home!

UPDATE: I just found this video. Something we witness every day in the Caribbean: a certain nationality typically thinks they can sail a yacht because they went out on the water a couple of times, charters a big catamaran, and then hope for the best.. ;-)

More about sailing on The Road.

Written by Peter

July 11th, 2008 at 1:34 am

How NOT to moor a yacht.

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anageda1

The principle of mooring, “fixing a yacht to a mooring buoy”, is pretty easy: A rope with a loop sticks out of a floating ball. The rope is connected to a chain anchored onto the sea bottom. The skipper approaches the mooring buoy against the wind while someone stands on the bow (the front end of a ship), to grab the loop with a boat hook (a long stick with a plastic hook on it). A rope is pulled through the looped mooring line, and both ends are fixed onto the bow of the ship.
All in all, if well prepared and executed, it takes two minutes to moor a yacht. If well prepared and executed….

There is a secret, sarcastic joy to be found in sitting on deck of your ship at sunset, with a drink in your hand, and looking, judging how well the others are doing, mooring their ship…
When you are on the other side, and you are the one arriving late at an anchorage, you know a lot of more people are watching and judging you. That is the point where the most inexperienced skippers get really nervous: the point where a lot of shouting goes on between the guy at the helm (steering the ship), and the poor person (often his wife), trying to grab the mooring line.

Anageda

Two years ago, we were moored at Anegada in the British Virgin Islands, and watched some Americans (I am sorry, but in the Caribbean, American bareboat charterers are amongst the worst sailors!) approaching a mooring buoy.
It was almost a recipe for disaster: the ship approached the buoy with the wind in their back, a definite no-no in the “yachting for dummies”-course: even if the skipper halts the ship close by the mooring buoy, the wind will push them past the buoy… So we already smelled some trouble, especially as they had three people on the ship’s bow. Tine and I looked at eachother: “Novices!”..

Sure enough, the boat approached too fast. One of the guys hooked the mooring buoy, but the wind pushed the boat forward. The guy who held the boat hook, the long stick with a hook at the end, tried to pull as hard as he could to lift the mooring loop.. Of course, the ship, a good 30 tons of dead weight, moving at 5 mph, would not stop, the wind pushing it gently forward. The only thing the poor chap could do, was, with the hook in his hand, and the mooring buoy at the end of the hook, walk alongside the ship, towards the stern (the back of the ship).

Loads of shouting, and orders flying around… Unfortunately, the guy reached the stern in no time, still pulling onto the boathook like there was no tomorrow, but standing at eh very back tip of the boat, he decided to let go of the mooring ball. Unfortunately, the boathook did not unhook from the mooring ball, and fell into the water.

Loads of cursing of the captain made the guy decide “Oh shit, now I’d better get the boathook!”, so he jumped into the water, to get the boat hook. “Cool stuff”, I thought, “Not only did they miss the mooring buoy, had a boat hook in the water, but they have a man overboard too!”.

It only got better. With one of the crew in the water, the skipper panicked and turned the boat sharply to starboard, forgetting he was still going downwind, in a real busy and crowded anchorage. The boat turned right in front of another moored yacht, so its keel grabbed the mooring line of the second ship. I saw the boat jerking to a sudden halt, pulling on the second ship’s mooring line. Now the ship was dead in the water, the wind pushed the yacht against the second one, and all the crew was ordered to hold off the ship with their bare hands. There they were: all hands on deck holding off a ship pushed by the wind against another boat, one crew in the water, and a captain frantically trying to rev up the engine to get the keel untangled.

To make a long story short, it took them at least half an hour to unhook their keel, by which time, the guy in the water – with the boat hook – got onto the ship.

They went off, with red cheeks, to anchor somewhere far away from all the other yachts. They did not even come on land for dinner, probably avoiding the snickering from the crew of the other yachts who witnessed the whole endeavour.

More about sailing on The Road.

Drawing mooring buoy courtesy RYA

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Written by Peter

July 10th, 2008 at 1:06 pm