Haiti – Days 13 & 14

Posted by Ted on Mar 18, 2010 in Causes, Travel

The last two days have been about saying goodbye – to Jacmel, to SIDR, to Haiti.

Instead of working onsite yesterday, I walked around Jacmel. I went to the market with Bill, bustling with activity which had been utterly quiet on Sunday. The cobbled streets were lined with vendors, and between them people, moto-taxis, and trucks jostled for position. Then I set off on my own, catching a ride with ‘Black’, a gentleman who I kept running into for a week, who took me to an artist gallery that he represents. I saw a painting I liked, but not for $80. I then walked through Zone 2, the hardest hit of the city. I saw more destruction than I’d seen anywhere else, but was heartened by the number of crews I saw who were working to clear rubble. I met an artist named Isidor whose workshop collapsed, his art still under the collapsed roof. I met four sisters who are living in tents in the street, looking for work. I took their names and numbers to give to SIDR. I ended up at the river, and walked along it to the bay. Along the way I passed a backhoe ambling along like some big yellow giraffe, both out of place and yet joining the dogs, goats, and cattle also roaming the shoreline. I took my sandals off when I got to the beach and walked through the surf. Turning inland again, I passed the grade school that we’d worked on when I first arrived. Feeling I had said goodbye to Jacmel, I hopped on a moto-taxi back to camp.

A few of the guys decided that a trip to the beach would be a proper send-off, so we took a tap-tap up to the party beach. It was much less crowded than Sunday which was kind of nice. I frolicked in the waves and then watched the guys play in a soccer match. An orange sun set behind palm trees, and then I joined the guys in the water again before we left the beach in darkness, a crescent moon replacing the sun.

This morning started earlier than usual so that I could pack up. For the first time ever, I leave with less than I arrived with – my tent, sleeping pad, and sandals being further donations to SIDR. As it rains tonight, I am comforted to know that Cherilus, my friend and camp cook, now has his own home away from home. Both items cost about $100, and would have gone right into storage when I got home. Now I now that they will be used every night, providing a home to someone who busts his ass cooking in the morning, and shoveling rubble in the afternoon.

Then my ride arrived – a white SUV, marked U.N. Police. I caught a lift with Laura who was heading back to Canada to see a friend who had a stroke and is in a coma. Our driver was a Columbian officer, and we listened to Tito Puente as we twisted thru the lush hills between Jacmel and Leogane. When we finally arrived at the Minustah base in P-au-P, I felt like an interloper, surrounded by military personnel from Chile, Uruguay, Japan, Yemen, and India. I finally took my leave of Laura and the U.N., and hopped on a moto-taxi to my hotel, Auberge du Quebec in Carrefour, a district farther away from the airport than I’d like. The trip was interesting tho, as we wound through traffic for half an hour, a motorcycle being the perfect vehicle for negotiating past trucks and over rough roads.

Finally at the hotel, my culture shock continued as I was surrounded by more blancas than I’d seen in two weeks. Suddenly I felt very removed from the Haiti that I’d come to know. It was too clean, the bar has color-cycling LED lights, and the security guards have shotguns. I took a shower, a dip in the pool, and enjoyed the quiet luxury of reading a book while sipping Barbancourt and Coke. I had an early dinner of tender Lamby, and then decided to leave my comfortable hotel and walk the streets. Ostensibly I was scoping out where to try to catch my morning transport, but really it was to get back to something more familiar. I didn’t have far to walk until I was once again among street vendors, colorful tap-taps, and streets overrun with trash and overflowing water.

An old grey-haired man approached me who spoke very good English and asked me where I was from. We struck up a conversation, and Mathieu told me he was an artist who also used to be a boxer and a timeshare salesman. His sister died in the earthquake. He took me to see some of his family, and I got to meet his albino neice, as well as a cousin living next door, living under a tarp anchored to a wall. We walked back down the street towards my hotel, and when he asked for money, I gave him a couple of American dollars. Whether it had all been a beggars ploy I don’t know, but it was a small sum in life’s grand scheme, and worth the experience.

Now back at the poolside cabana bar, I listen to a pouring rain. Soon I will go to bed on a real mattress, underneath a celing fan, and I won’t need earplugs to block the sound of dogs, goats, and roosters. I look forward to continuing my long trip home tomorrow, ever closer to the waiting arms of my one true love.

Tags: , , ,


Haiti – Day 1 & 2

Posted by Ted on Mar 5, 2010 in Causes, Travel

The first day is always the longest. Starting in SFO at 8p on Thursday, I arrived in Port-au-Prince just before noon on Friday. As I traveled across the country through LAX and Fort Lauderdale, I saw increasing numbers of people carrying tents and sleeping bags just as I was. The first person I met was a man in the jetway in LA, who remarked upon my REI bundle of tent and sleeping bag. He was traveling with his two young daughters to volunteer in Leogane. On the plane to Haiti I sat next to a Spirit Airlines stewardess named Marie, and we talked about the beaches in Jacmel, which used to be the best resort town in the country.

Flying into P-au-P, I saw several blue-tarped tent cities and many buildings with standing walls and no roofs, looking like D&D maps I drew as a kid. After landing and getting thru immigration, I started walking toward town, and hopped on a moto-taxi, one of hundreds of motorcycles that zip around every town. Holding my pack in my lap behind the driver, my thighs ached during the ride to the tap-tap “station”. Wildly decorated covered pickups, they get their name from what one does to signal the desire to get off. I took one heading west towards Leogane, the biggest town closest to the epicenter of the quake. The devastation was indescribable – very few buildings were standing, the smells and smoke of bonfires filled the air.

A kind young man named Junior helped me find a ride to Jacmel, through the mountainous region between the coasts. The road twisted through wrinkled hills, dirt and debris piled high on both sides, and we passed by a truck that had taken a turn too quickly and fell over blocking part of the road. We came through the pass as night fell, and could see the lights of Jacmel in the distance. Once in town, we stopped to ask directions to ‘minustah’, the local encampment of the military division of the U.N., next to where Shelters International has their ragtag camp, conveniently under the watchful gunsight of a manned guard tower. I set up my tent that would be my home for the next two weeks.

Today I got a tour of the market, bustling with people selling everything from meat and vegetables to toiletries and shoes. Then we walked around town, as Laura and Bill pointed out sites that their team had removed rubble from. The most recent was the collapsed second story of a two-room school. The ground floor was not much better, with cracks in the walls and the foundation, recently painted over. They want to reopen the school, but it really should be demolished because it’s not safe. This is unfortunately the case throughout the town as cracks are covered up and called ‘good as new’. These buildings will be the first to crumble in the next quake or aftershock.

Tonight I’m sitting by a roaring bonfire in camp, with broken desks burning away, sending embers up into the night sky.

Tags: , ,