Haiti – Day 3 & 4

Posted by Ted on Mar 8, 2010 in Causes, Travel

Arriving on Friday night couldn’t have been better timing. SIDR only works Mon-Fri, and takes both weekend days as R&R. I hadn’t planned it – Thursday was the first day I could travel after getting my shots – but I’m very glad for the gentle landing.

Yesterday started with a visit from the Salvation Army volunteers that Laura had met a couple of days earlier, lured to our camp by the call of real coffee. Then it was time to hit the beach. Laura, Bill, and I hopped a tap-tap heading east and got off at Timoulage. We parked ourselves under a palm tree and jumped in the water. Not as warm as Costa Rica, but it was joyous. A couple of hours were spent alternating between swimming and relaxing on the sun-drenched beach being accosted by wandering vendors, as is true on beaches just about everywhere, just with different goods being sold. In Haiti, there are carved gourds, straw hats, sea shells, wood carvings, tshirts, and fruit. The nearby restaurant owner brought us icy cold glass bottles of REAL Coca-Cola, with SUGAR. After awhile, we obliged the man by going in and ordering lunch in their thatched-roof seaside eatery, sharing the establishment with two different groups of the Croix Rouge, one Italian, the other Swiss. Service was slower than you can imagine. We had a local delicacy, ‘Lamby’, which is conch chopped up and fried in butter – chewy but very tasty. We were befriended by a scrawny dog, wanting company more than scraps. After we finally got our change, he followed us back to our spot beneath the tree and hung out with us until our ride came to take us home.

The moto-taxi driver took me back first, and asked I wanted to steer. Of course I said yes, and greatly enjoyed riding back to camp towards the setting sun, with the Caribbean on my left, and rolling green hills to my right. It was quite different than any motorcycle I’ve used, with a kickstart, no clutch, and soft squishy barely-adequate brakes. Sans helmet, wearing a short-sleeved shirt, swimming trunks, and sandals, I violated all my ingrained senses of proper riding gear, but that’s the norm just about everywhere except the U.S. and Europe. The rest of the evening was relaxing back at camp, and then early to bed for the day ahead.

Today was in stark contrast. Up before 7a, I donned jeans, a lightweight white shirt, and the same Doc Martens that I’ve been wearing for 20 years. Breakfast was corn flakes with diluted condensed milk, a piece of bread with La Vache Qui Rit, and coffee. We loaded a tap-tap with wheelbarrows, shovels, and pickaxes, and then hopped on and headed into town to the school that they’d been demolishing the previous week.

I tried my hand at breaking a collapsed roof with a sledgehammer and was summarily laughed at by the Haitians when I could barely wield it with my weak arms. So I took the easier task of shoveling debris into a wheelbarrow and wheeling it across the street to the pile of rubble that inched further into the middle of the intersection as the day wore on. I took a break by grabbing a pickaxe and broke down a couple square feet of the side of a staircase. While not the most graceful, I fared better than I did with the sledge.

Shortly before lunch, I moved on to dismantling the now-hanging rebar from the roof. Using a pair of pliers, I untwisted the rusty wires holding them together, thankful for my recent tetanus shot. It turns out that the long-forgotten skills from making chainmail returned rather quickly.

Lunch was beans and rice, and chicken in a green sauce. As I sat at a dusty desk in one of the classrooms still standing, I looked up at the history lesson on the chalkboard. Written across the top was ‘Mardi 12 Janvier 2010′, which reminded me of the famous Hiroshima watch, marking the moment of catastrophe. On the desk next to me was an abandoned physics workbook which I took as a souvenir.

Après-dejeuner was more of the same, albeit at a bit slower pace. Towards the end of the day I got out my camera to take pictures of our handiwork, much to the excitement of my Haitian co-demolishers, all of whom wanted their pictures taken while weilding implements of destruction. The tap-tap arrived at 4p to take us all back to camp, where we relaxed until dinner was ready – spaghetti with Jamaican curry powder, actually quite good. Afterwards I took advantage of being a white volunteer and went to the U.N. compound next door for a shower, and retreated to my tent to enjoy being truly clean for the first time since Thursday. It won’t last.

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An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. He is also managing editor for Rolf Potts' Vagabonding, where he curates a Case Study series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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